WordPress SEO Guide to Higher Rankings in Google

WordPress is the most widely used content management system (CMS) in the world, powering 27.5% of the top 10 million websites. WordPress leads by a significant margin compared to other publishing platforms.

Here is a breakdown of the CMS that the top million sites use:

WordPress is the clear winner and it’s not hard to see why.

Its ease of use and versatility makes it effortless to create a professional looking site even with limited technical experience. Best of all it’s completely open source and free to use. Getting started with your own fully functional site has never been easier and many hosting providers even offer one click installations directly from their control panel.

But if you’re creating a WordPress site, your goal is obviously to attract visitors. That means you’ll need a marketing strategy that incorporates SEO (search engine optimisation).

SEO is the process of optimising aspects of a site (both on-page and off-page) to rank higher in the search results for target keywords. In particular, you’ll want to focus your efforts on Google as that’s the preferred search engine of choice for a majority of consumers (over 94% market share in Australia).

Top rankings in Google connect your brand to prospects searching for your products or services. That kind of visibility ultimately translates to more traffic and sales for your business.

But first it starts with optimising your site.

Here we’ll look at how to optimise your WordPress to rank higher in Google for your target keywords. Note that this guide assumes that your site already uses WordPress with a new installation.

1. Use SEO Friendly URL Structures

Using a more SEO URL structure is beneficial from both a user and search engine standpoint. Search engines have a better understanding of what a page is about and visitors can preview links from their browsers before clicking through.

Examples of SEO friendly URLs include:

  • https://sitename.com/wordpress-seo-guide
  • https://sitename.com/services/website-design
  • https://sitename.com/mens-shoes/adidas

Note that each URL includes target keywords and it’s clear where those pages direct to. By default WordPress sets URL structures to something that looks like: https://sitename.com/?p=123. In this case it’s impossible for a user to know where they’ll be taken to.

To change the default settings, go to Settings and click on Permalinks. Then select the “Custom Structure” option and enter in “/%category%/%postname%/” (without quotes):

If your site has categories, they’ll be displayed here along with the post name. Alternatively, you can also simply select the “Post name” option. Every new post that you publish will now follow this URL structure for your site.

Note: Changing the URL structure of an established site can be risky. If you change your permalink settings, be sure that you’re properly setting up 301 redirects or you risk losing your rankings.

2. Install the Yoast SEO Plugin

What makes WordPress such a powerful platform is the ability to further extend the functionality of your site with plugins. SEO of course is no exception as there are numerous plugins to choose from that turn WordPress into a powerhouse even for beginners.

One of the best ones is Yoast SEO with the following features available:

  • Snippet preview of new content
  • Page Analysis of on-page factors
  • Automatically inserts meta tags
  • Advanced XML sitemap functionality
  • Edit your .htaccess and robots.txt files
  • Built-in breadcrumbs functionality
  • Social media integration
  • RSS enhancements

These features make Yoast SEO a must have. Start by hovering over the Plugins tab and click Add new. Then search for “WordPress SEO” and the Yoast SEO plugin will be one of the first results:

Click on the “Install Now” button to install the plugin. The plugin is straightforward to use but you’ll still want to take a moment to familiarise yourself with it.

3. Submit Your XML Sitemap to Search Console

A sitemap is a file that lists all the web pages of your site. Think of it as a directory which helps Google and other search engines efficiently crawl and index your pages. Sitemaps are particularly useful for large sites as web crawlers may often overlook new or recently updated content.

The Yoast SEO plugin automatically creates an XML sitemap for your site. Hover over the SEO tab and click on “XML Sitemaps”. Then click on the button to find the URL to your sitemap:

To ensure that Google is able to crawl your pages, you’ll want to submit your sitemap to Search Console which was formerly Webmaster Tools. Search Console is incredibly valuable as it provides key insight including how visitors are finding your site, the number of backlinks to your pages, and if there are any crawling errors.

Login to your Search Console account, then click on Crawl and Sitemaps. At the top right, click the “Add/Text Sitemap” button. Then simply enter in your sitemap URL which can be found in the Yoast SEO plugin or by appending “sitemap_index.xml”:

Then click the “Submit” button and you’re finished. Note that it may take some note before Google is able to crawl and index all your pages.

4. Optimise Individual Blog Posts

Just having the Yoast SEO plugin and submitting a sitemap aren’t enough to start ranking.

Google’s ranking algorithms weigh hundreds of different factors to determine rankings but on-page signals are easily one of the most important. These are aspects of your site that are in your control such as your page titles, headings, meta descriptions, and the content itself. According to data from Moz, on-page signals account for as much as 24% for local search rankings:

Optimise each of the following on-page factors for your blog posts:

  • Page titles: Page titles are the first thing that online users see in the search results. Be sure to include your target keywords here and craft a compelling headline to increase click through rates. Aim to keep your titles under 60 characters as Google automatically truncates titles that are too long.
  • Meta descriptions: Meta descriptions appear as short snippets of text beneath the page title and provide a brief overview of what a page is about. Include your target keywords and also include a call to action to get visitors to click through.
  • Headers: Headers are particularly useful as they improve readability by breaking up large blocks of text and provide search engines better context of what a page is about. Here you’ll want to use secondary keywords.
  • Content: You can’t expect to outrank your competitors if your content fails to deliver any value. Google provides a set of guidelines to creating quality content. In short, aim to create useful content that is also engaging and high quality.

What makes the Yoast SEO plugin especially powerful is the Page Analysis feature. Simply enter in a focus keyword and you’ll see a detailed analysis of how well optimised your blog post is along with suggestions to make it even better:

There is also a snippet preview so you can see how your blog post would look like in the search results once it goes live.

5. Implement a Mobile Friendly Theme

More consumers are browsing the web from mobile devices than ever before. According to data from StatCounter, smartphones and tablets accounted for 51.3% of all web browsing traffic compared to 48.7% on desktops. Those figures are only expected to grow.

Google responded to this trend in usage behaviour by announcing a new mobile-first index:

“To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”

What this means is that Google will eventually prioritise the mobile version of a site when ranking it in the search results. To ensure that your site is not negatively affected when the changes take effect, you’ll need to ensure that your WordPress site is mobile friendly.

First, head over to Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool and enter in your site URL. If your site is mobile friendly, you’ll see the following:

If not you’ll need to make some changes or you risk ranking lower in the mobile search results. There are two options that you have available:

Switch to a Mobile Friendly Theme

If your WordPress site is using an outdated theme, chances are that it may not be mobile friendly. One option you have is to upgrade your theme to something that is. Browse the WordPress theme directory and look for a theme that is already mobile friendly. Ideally, you want to look for a theme that is responsive (a grid-like structure that fits all screen resolutions) which is Google’s recommended configuration.

Install the WPtouch Plugin

A simpler and more cost effective alternative is to install the WPtouch plugin.

The plugin automatically enables a mobile-friendly version of your site that meets all mobile requirements from Google without editing any code. The desktop version is also left completely intact and is shown to non-mobile visitors. WPtouch is ideal if you don’t want to bother with changing your theme.

Conclusion

WordPress is already well optimised for SEO out of the box. But even with a fully built site and a beautiful design, traffic won’t suddenly appear overnight. The digital landscape has gotten incredibly competitive with more websites competing for visibility in the search results. Follow these WordPress SEO guide to gain a competitive advantage online.