No matter what your website is about, it sure is one of your most valuable assets online. Through that, you're able to gather visitors and show them what you're offering and tickle their interest into buying your product, get a subscription, or read your blog posts. All these actions are crucial to any website, and yours isn't not an exception: if you want to grow the number of your customers (or readers), you have to increase the traffic your website regularly generates.

And to do that, you need to get serious about your website's Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

What's SEO and why it's crucial to your website

Many times, definitions aren't as useful as they should be and to understand how to improve your SEO you have "to do things", rather than learning definitions. But anyway, the core idea behind SEO is that you should make search engines' life easier when it comes to crawling (and indexing) your website.

That means if your business relies on your website, you're committed to creating, developing and maintaining a well-coded, well-structured website with all information related to your business in place.

On a technical level, SEO resolves into taking care of several aspects like the title of your pages, meta descriptions, headings, links, keywords, website hierarchy, and many others I'm covering in a minute.

SEO is a matter of different elements and tactics combined that all fall under two main areas within SEO: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

On-page SEO vs Off-page SEO

on-page SEO vs off-page SEO

As the name might suggest, on-page SEO refers to all the elements that affect ranking and are in control of the website owner. Some perfect examples are blog posts, pages and meta descriptions. On the other hand, off-page SEO covers all elements that affect ranking, but website owners can't directly control, like inbound links, social sharings, domain authority, just to name a few.

Since off-page SEO hasn't to do exclusively with WordPress, we'll skip it for now, and I'll focus on all the elements you have under your control.

So the question is: how do you improve your WordPress website's SEO and rank up to the first page of search engines?

Structure and website information

Let's start by looking through all the main elements that have to do with your website but aren't required to be edited on a regular basis. Those following are more of a set it and forget it kind of things.

Website name and tagline

Example of WordPress site name and tagline fields

First things first, you have to take care of your website's name: go to Settings > General in your dashboard and fill up the "Site Title" field with your website's name. So, if you're woking on your business website, put your company's name, if you're a freelance, go with your full name only. Don't use keywords here because it simply doesn't make any sense.

Then add the tagline of your website, which is nothing more than a brief description of it or your unique value proposition, if you like to call it that way. In our case, we put "#1 outsourcing service for WordPress" because it perfectly describes what we do. Both these fields are shown on the results page (SERP):

WordPress SEO Site title and tagline

The tagline field allows you to wear the smart SEO hat because you might want to use keywords relevant to your business in it. If the description that comes out sounds natural, go all-in and use those keywords; if you're unable to get a great result, just go with plain, clear English or your preferred language.

Permalinks structure

Permalinks are the unique addresses of your website's elements, i.e. pages, blog posts, images and so on. They're created with your root domain followed by a string of words separated by hyphens like wordpress-seo-tips-guide in this blog post.

What's important here for your SEO purposes to know is that your permalink structure should be readable to let crawlers easily access your website's content. To set your permalink to a more SEO-friendly structure, head to Settings > Permalinks and pick "Post name":

WordPress permalink settings

With "Post name" all your permalinks will look like, and that's an interesting SEO structure because you get to choose the slug for each page, blog post and element you create.

WordPress permalink structure for SEO

Why should you pick the "Post name" structure over the others? Because you have the chance to put your keywords in it, while having dates would make your content look "dated", likely lowering your click-through rate (a factor Google takes into account for your rankings).

The only other option that might work here is to use "Custom structure" and set /%category%/%postname%/ as its value. Do this only if it makes sense on your website structure, as Matt Cutt clarifies in this video:

Which one should you choose? What's important here to understand is that it doesn't matter that much if you have category-structured URLs or not, from an SEO perspective. It's more of a UX issue here since your users might see your slugs as long spammy URLs containing keywords and they won't click them through.

How to write SEO-friendly WordPress slugs

If you want to have better slugs, some tips can actually improve your SEO. Here's the three most important:

  • 3 to 5 words it's the ideal length of your slugs
  • Make your slugs relevant to your content while trying to use your SEO keywords
  • Use hyphens to separate words

Pay attention not to change the slug once the page or blog posts go live since you're making that content unreachable for your users.

Code, XML sitemaps, and breadcrumbs

Are all WordPress themes SEO-friendly? No, they're not. And it all comes down to 2 main aspects: how clean is your code and how well-structured is your website. The more useless lines of code, and poor architecture your website runs, the more difficult it'll be for search engines to crawl and index it.

Before looking at the code and work to make it better (we can help you with that), you should immediately be sure to have an XML sitemap created. XML sitemaps are the standard file format to let search engines know about new, updated, or removed content on a website. Google XML sitemap is a great help for this; also, All in One SEO plugin and WordPress SEO by Yoast provide a way to create an XML sitemap.

Another important thing to take care of is to have your website featuring structured data, such as for example, so it can provide search engines with even more detailed information and data relevant to your content or pages. The results would be rich snippets within the SERPs, and likely an improved click-through rate.

Rich snippets review

Both the two most adopted WordPress SEO plugin automatically implement structured data for you. You can use the rich snippets testing tool from Google to see the results.

If you'd want to go the extra mile, try enabling breadcrumbs on your website, even just on some pages or sections where they make sense. They don't count from an SEO perspective, yet breadcrumbs are a smart way to have an internal linking structure in place while providing a better UX to your users.

Now that we've covered how your website's main parts should be let's move on to the "juicy" elements that can positively (or negatively) change your website's SEO score: blog posts and pages.

How blog posts (and pages) affect your WordPress SEO

Blog posts and pages are powerful content types that you create, for example, to update your users about a new product release, inform them about a new offer or just share your take on a topic of interest.

There's a widespread misconception about writing and SEO: many have the wrong idea that "if you want to rank for a keyword, you need to use it throughout a blog post". That'd be true only if we were still in the '90s.

Today Google and search engines are smart and can't be tricked so easily, and with their ever going algorithmic changes, they're penalizing websites that use such tactics. Still, you can do plenty of things to gaining the first page.

In a minute, I'll tell you how to write better blog posts and pages. But right now let's clear the air on some misconceptions: is the title of a blog post the same as the title of the page containing that blog post? Which one is more important for SEO? Let's see.

Title of your post vs Title of the page (h1 vs title tag)

WordPress blog post explained

Let's clear up what many still misunderstand: the title of a blog post is an H1 HTML element, and it'll be created within the <body> tag of the page. On an SEO perspective, you should always use just one H1 on every single page and post you create to let clearly crawlers understand the core topic of that page.

h1 in WordPress

This is how the title of your blog post resolves as HTML code. A different story is the title of the page, also known as SEO title:

WordPress SEO plugin explained

The title of the page is what you can easily create and manage via a plugin such as WordPress SEO by Yoast and that it'll be part of the meta information as a <title>tag. This how it resolves as HTML code:

Title tag in WordPress

Now that you know the difference between the two, you might want to consider that search engines give more importance to title tags rather than any other element in a given page. That's why you should try to use your keyword in it if you want to increase your chance to better ranking for that query. Also, don't forget that the closer a word is to the beginning of the title tag, the more weight Google will give it.

How about the title of your blog post (the H1 element) then? Well, it's still important as part of an on-page SEO activity, but it's more about content consistency and preventing users who've clicked your linked to leave immediately the page (behavior know as pogo-sticking). As Rand Fishkin of Moz perfectly explains:

it's almost certainly the case that a searcher who's just clicked on a result expects to see a matching headline on the page they visit. Failure to do so may increase the odds of pogo-sticking..

Pogo-sticking doesn't have to be confused with high bounce rate since the latter could also be something positive as to show that your page perfectly addresses your users' intents (think of Wikipedia pages). On the contrary, pogo-sticking is always a bad thing, and it occurs when users immediately leave your page, just after seconds they landed on it.

This aspect (quickly leaving a single page) is pretty important to Google because it shows that a given page doesn't satisfy the users' needs, which they "translated" into a query, and will likely be interpreted as a poor resource for that query.

I know there are a lot of things to take into account when talking about SEO, and here's the important ones to remember until now:

  • Use just one H1 and title tag on each of your pages
  • Title tags appear in search results pages (SERPs)
  • Search engines give more weight to title tags than H1 headings
  • First words get higher SEO value rather than all those following
  • Use around 55 characters to be sure your title gets displayed correctly

Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions are tags paired with your content that should inform search engines about the topic on a given page. Even if they aren't among ranking factors, they're crucial to getting better click-through rate within SERPs:

WordPress meta description

When writing meta descriptions, your primary goal is to create a compelling description that informs searchers about what your page is about. Since they don't affect rankings, using keywords in meta descriptions is a plus that might tickle searchers' interest clicking through your page. As always, don't try to use them unless they naturally read in that short paragraph.

How to write your blog posts and pages

As you should already know, placing the same keyword all over a blog post or page doesn't work when it comes to improving a website's SEO. Start from this straightforward tip from Moz and keep it in your mind as your mantra:

All good content has two attributes. Good content must supply a demand and must be linkable.

Supplying a demand is an elegant way to tell you your content has to be addressed to a specific kind of user (aka your visitor) and have a purpose while being linkable is pretty self-explanatory. The more your content satisfies those requests, the better rankings you'd end up with.

How long should your blog posts and pages need to be? As researches have shown, long-form blog posts and pages rank higher in SERPs:

avg content length

Content with ~2000 words ranks for the first positions on page results. Why? Easy said: there's more to index, thus more words to be ranked for. Besides, long-form content usually collect more social sharings, giving more visibility to that specific content. This doesn't mean all of your blog posts and pages have to be that long, but it gives you a better idea of how search engines evaluate content and which types they rank best.

So creating more in-depth blog posts and pages should be on your to-do list from now on. With that in mind, it could sound tough not to keep using the same keyword throughout a single blog post or page. But if you start thinking smarter and leverage synonyms and close variants, always without letting them sound unnatural, it'd bring you great results. Look at these sentences:

  • How to rank on the first page of Google
  • Rank on Google's first page
  • Get on the first page of Google

Those 3 are perfect examples of sentences you could perfectly use within a blog post entitled "How do I get on the first page of Google?" because they semantically relate one other. So, when writing your next blog post, don't over-optimize your keyword and go with natural synonyms and semantically close expressions.

5 features that make your blog posts and pages SEO-friendly

With all that said, a pretty good blog post or page should satisfy all the following criteria:

  1. Have one title tag only with your primary keyword
  2. Have a short, and readable slug with a couple of your keywords maximum
  3. Have a compelling, and informative meta description
  4. Have links both to internal pages (like other blog posts) and external to topic-related resources
  5. Have your reader's need as its unique goal: structure your content with paragraphs, headings, lists and any formatting and type of content that provides information at its best
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Wrapping things up

I kept the most powerful tip for the very end. If you really want to get better with WordPress SEO just don't think too much about search engines, think about how you search for information online.

There are no rules in SEO, just guidelines that work for an undefined time span. Focusing on your visitors' needs, getting to know what they're looking for, what they're researching and what words they use it's crucial here. That's why you should always prefer the natural wording to spammy content, which is another way to say: think of your readers first.

If you're in doubt about "going SEO" with a new blog post or write an informative chunk of copy, always go with the latter. You're creating content for real human beings, not algorithms.

How about you: what SEO tactics did you put in place on your WordPress website? Which ones proved to be the most effective for your rankings?