You want your site to rank at the top of search engines like Google. WordPress gives you the tools to make that happen…but it’s going to require some work on your part to optimize your site for SEO. In this WordPress SEO guide, you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to give your site the best chance possible to rank at the top of Google.
Because this guide is specifically about WordPress SEO, these tips will mostly focus on the on-page aspects of SEO that directly relate to WordPress.
Obviously, there are other important aspects of SEO – like getting external backlinks. But if you follow all of these WordPress SEO tips, you should have everything else in place. Just add backlinks!
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started.
Here’s What Goes Into Optimizing Your WordPress Site For SEO
There are kind of two “levels” to these WordPress SEO tips.
First, you have the basic sitewide settings that will define how your entire WordPress site functions. I’m talking about things like:
- Picking a quality SEO plugin so that you have the ability to control important aspects of your site
- Choosing an SEO-optimized permalink structure
- Creating a sitemap
- Putting the right analytics in place (like Google Analytics and Google Search Console)
Then, you have the SEO settings for individual posts or pages like:
- Performing keyword research so that you know which keyword to optimize each piece of content for
- Actually optimizing your content for that keyword, and Incorporating other related keywords
- Choosing a good slug for individual pieces of content
- Adding a quality title and meta description
- Optimizing your images with alt text and filenames
- Using nofollow for affiliate links
And then, there are some other things you might not think about as directly related to WordPress SEO, like improving your site’s page load times and using HTTPS.
To help you do everything, I’ll divide this post into three sections that match what I laid out above:
- Basic sitewide SEO functionality that you need to put in place.
- SEO for individual posts and pages
- Other WordPress SEO tips that are also important
But before we get to that, you need to…
Pick A WordPress SEO Plugin For A Good Baseline
By default, WordPress doesn’t give you very much control over your SEO. So if you want to be successful, you absolutely need an SEO plugin.
Your chosen SEO plugin will:
- Let you edit titles and meta information
- Create a sitemap for you so that you don’t have to do it manually
- Perform lots of other important optimizations (too many little things to name!)
When it comes to SEO plugins, Yoast SEO is by far the most popular option, and it’s definitely a good starting point, especially for casual users.
Because it’s the most popular option, I’ll use Yoast SEO for all the screenshots in this guide.
With that being said, Yoast SEO is by no means the only quality option. If you want something different, three other good options are:
It’s important to note that you only need one of these plugins.
When you’re just getting started with WordPress SEO, it’s not especially important which one you pick. The important thing is just that you do have an SEO plugin.
Part 1: Get Your WordPress Sitewide SEO Basics On Point
Ok, once you have your SEO plugin in place, you’re ready to configure your site’s sitewide SEO settings. Some of these tips will use core WordPress settings, while others will require you to use your SEO plugin.
1. Pick A Good Permalink Structure
Your WordPress site’s permalink structure affects how your site’s URLs look. Not only does choosing a good permalink structure make things clearer for your human visitors, it also helps boost your site’s SEO because it provides more context to search engines.
Let me give you an example. Take two URLs:
The second URL clearly adds more context for both humans and search engines, right?
Well, permalinks are what let you set that up.
To set up your site’s permalinks, go to Settings ? Permalinks in your WordPress dashboard.
For most sites, you should choose the Post name structure, as it’s the simplest. That’s what we use here at WPLift.
With that being said, if your blog posts are all time-sensitive (like any type of news site), you might want to go with the Month and name or Day and name structures.
These latter two structures let you include the date in your URLs, which is good if the date is relevant to the content in the post:
2. Add Your Site To Google Search Console
Google Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools, is an awesome tool that lets you:
- Control some aspects of how your site looks/functions in Google search
- View important analytics for how your site performs in Google search
In order to use Google Search Console, you need to verify your site, which you should absolutely do If you care about SEO.
To verify your site:
- Copy the meta tag that Google provides
- Click on the SEO option in your WordPress dashboard (if you’re using Yoast SEO – otherwise you’ll need to consult your SEO plugin’s documentation)
- Go to the Webmaster Tools tab
- Paste in the code snippet in the Google verification code box
- Save your changes
And voila! You should be all set up with Google Search Console. You’ll see Google Search Console pop up in several other spots in this guide, so keep it handy.
3. Choose WWW vs non-WWW For Your URLs
Beyond choosing your permalink structure, there’s also another sitewide URL choice that you want to make:
Do you want to include WWW in your URLs or not? That is, should people visit your site at:
It’s not important which one you pick (there’s no right or wrong answer). But it is important that you pick one.
To do that, first go to Settings ? General and make sure your WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) use your preferred format:
Then, you’ll also want to redirect all traffic to your preferred version with a 301 redirect. If you’re not sure how to do that, check out our full guide to WordPress 301 redirects.
Note – if you read some other WordPress SEO guides, they might tell you to set your preferred version in Google Search Console. The newest version of Google Search Console does not offer that setting anymore, though.
4. Add Your Sitemap To Google Search Console
A sitemap is basically a list of all the content on your site. It helps ensure that Google is able to find and index all of your site’s content.
Your chosen WordPress SEO plugin should automatically create a sitemap for you at
yoursite.com/sitemap.xml. Here’s an example of what it looks like with Yoast SEO:
All you need to do is submit that sitemap to Google via the Google Search Console.
To do that, go to the Sitemaps tab in Google Search Console, enter the URL to your sitemap, and click Submit:
After Google processes your sitemap, you’ll be able to see statistics for how Google indexes the content in your sitemap, as well as any errors that Google encounters:
Part 2: SEO Optimization For Individual WordPress Blog Posts Or Pages
While the basic sitewide settings above are important, most of your SEO optimization is going to occur on the page or post level.
That is, you’ll optimize each piece of content’s SEO while you’re editing that specific piece of content.
Let’s go through your SEO checklist for each individual piece of content…
5. Perform Keyword Research So That You Know What You’re Targeting
If you want your site to rank well, keyword research is essential.
Basically, keyword research helps you match the content in your post to the actual words and phrases that people are searching for (based on real data).
Even small tweaks can make a big difference.
For example, let’s say you write a big guide to Photoshop. You could call it a Photoshop guide or a Photoshop tutorial. Both mean pretty much the same thing, so you might not put any thought into which one you use.
But what if you found out that:
- 10,000 people search for “Photoshop guide” in Google every month
- 35,000 people search for “Photoshop tutorial” in Google every month
Wow! Now it’s pretty clear that you should definitely use “Photoshop tutorial” because it’s going to give you a better chance at reaching an extra 25,000 people.
So what once seemed like insignificant word choice now is actually pretty important.
To perform keyword research for WordPress, there are quality free tools like:
And then there are also exclusively-paid tools like Ahrefs (both of the tools above also offer paid versions with no limitations).
The cool thing about these tools is that they basically let you enter one seed keyword, and then the tool will generate a bunch of suggestions related to those keywords.
Keyword research is a pretty big topic, so I recommend checking out our full guide to keyword research and WordPress to learn exactly how to use those tools to find the best keywords.
6. Optimize Your Content For That Keyword (But Don’t Keyword Stuff)
Once you find the best keyword for your post, you want to optimize your post to target that keyword so that Google can make the connection.
This is where things can go off the rails. You do not want to “stuff” your keyword into as many places as possible. Not only does this look unnatural to your human visitors, Google no longer rewards keyword stuffing (and hasn’t for quite some time).
With that being said, you do want to make sure that you use your target keyword a few times. Generally, you should try to naturally include your keyword once at the beginning of your content, and maybe another couple times throughout the rest of your post.
Only do it if it’s natural, though. You should never sacrifice human readability to just to fit your keyword in.
7. Include Your Keyword In Your Title, Meta Description, And Slug (If Possible)
Beyond including your focus keyword in your content a few times, you also want to try and include it in your post’s:
- SEO title
- Meta description
- URL slug
All of this information shows up in Google’s search results:
That means it doesn’t just help Google assign relevance to your content, but it also helps your human readers see that your content matches their query (which boosts the chance that they click on your site in the list of organic search results).
You want to do this naturally. Again, keyword stuffing is no good.
For your slug, you can usually just use your focus keyword, which you can set at the top of the page:
For your title and meta description, write text that will entice people to click on your site in Google’s search results. Then try to work your keyword in. Remember – you’re writing for humans first! You can set your title and meta description using the Yoast SEO meta box. Just click the button to Edit snippet:
Make sure that you pay attention to the word limits, as Google will cut off your title or description if you make them too long. Green is a good length – red is too long.
8. Incorporate Other Related Keywords (LSI Keywords)
In the old days, you could optimize your site for a single keyword and call it a day. Things have changed, though.
Now, Google likes to see that your content is optimized for an entire topic, rather than just a single keyword.
One way to accomplish this is to also use keywords that are related to your main focus keyword. This lets Google know that your content is relevant for the entire topic of your post.
Now, if you write a well-researched post, you’ll naturally incorporate many related terms without any special effort.
But if you want to optimize even more, go plug your main keyword into the free LSI Graph tool. It will then generate a bunch of keywords that are semantically related to that main keyword:
Once you get those keywords, try to naturally work them into your content. Again – there’s no need to stuff them in – always write for humans first. But even just using some of the related keywords a single time can give your content a boost in Google based on my experience.
9. Give Your Images Relevant Alt-Text And Quality Filenames
If you use images in your content, you should make sure to include relevant alt text for each image. Not only does this make your site more accessible to users with screen readers (a good thing all by itself), it also helps provide Google with context about your images, which offers another little boost of relevance for your post.
Again – don’t just stuff your keywords into the alt text. That’s not helpful. Instead, write meaningful, accurate descriptions. And hey, if you can include a keyword while doing that? Go for it!
You can set your alt text whenever you insert an image:
And if you don’t want to do this manually, there’s this really neat free plugin called Automatic Alternative Text that uses Microsoft’s Cognitive Services Computer Vision API. Using AI, it can automatically apply a unique, relevant description to most of the images that you upload (I’ve personally tested it and it’s scary how accurate it is!).
Beyond the alt text, you should also try to make your actual file names relevant to what the image is.
That is, instead of
sfsdfsd44234423.png, try to do something like
10. Use Nofollow For Affiliate Links Or Low-Quality Sites
Including external links to quality content sources is a great thing – don’t feel like you’re hurting your site’s SEO when you link to quality resources.
What you don’t want to do, though, is give dofollow links to crappy sources or affiliate links. Instead, you’ll want to apply the nofollow tag. Essentially, this tells Google “hey, I’m not vouching for the quality of this link”.
You can add the nofollow attribute by going to the Text tab in the WordPress editor and adding
rel="nofollow" to the link’s HTML:
Or, you can use a free plugin like Ultimate Nofollow.
Part 3: Other Important WordPress SEO Tips To Get Your Site Ranking
Beyond those basic sitewide settings and optimizing individual posts and pages, there are also plenty of other strategies that will have a positive impact on your site’s SEO rankings.
11. Try To Get Other People To Link To You
This one deserves its own mega post, so I won’t be able to do the topic justice in just a short section like this.
But a big part of your site’s SEO success relies on the links you get from other sites. In general, more links coming in from high-quality sites equals better rankings.
One way to get links is to just plain create content that’s so awesome other people want to link to it. Another way is to write guest posts on other people’s sites with a link back to your site.
Rather than writing any more, I’m just going to say that once you finish this post on WordPress SEO, you should read Backlinko’s guide to link building to learn everything you need to know about getting links to your site.
12. Remember To Use Internal Links, Too
Beyond getting other sites to link to you, you should also link to yourself with internal links.
For example, if you skip back a few sections, you’ll remember that I linked to our own keyword research guide when I talked about picking a keyword.
That’s an example of an internal link, and it can actually have a positive effect on your Google rankings. In fancy terms (according to Moz), they “help spread link equity (ranking power) around websites.”
So whenever you reference a topic that you’ve already written about, make sure to link to that post as well.
You should also periodically go back and check old content for chances to add internal links to newer content that you’ve written. Speaking of…
13. Update Old Content To Give It A Rankings Boost
Google loves fresh, updated content. But as your site ages, you’re going to end up with all these posts that haven’t been touched in years.
While those posts still might rank, it’s common for them to start to fall off after years of no attention.
One of the easiest ways to bring content back to ranking again is simply to update it. For example, we just rewrote our WP Rocket review and it went from the third page of Google straight to the first page.
You can either completely rewrite your old content if you think you can do it better. Or, you can just update a section or add some new sections to this existing content.
If you have a tool like Ahrefs, you can also do some pretty cool research to find high-value posts that are worth updating. This is an advanced topic, but here’s the basic idea:
- Analyze your site to find posts that are ranking on the second or third page of Google for high-value keywords.
- Go back and update those posts.
Often, you can get Google to bump your content up to the first page via that tactic, which makes updating old content incredibly valuable.
Check out some more real-life examples from WPLift in this post.
14. Write Longer Content (But Only If The Topic Needs It)
While I’m not suggesting that you start bumping up your word count like you’re trying to meet the minimum word count on a high school English essay, there is evidence that longer content correlates with higher SEO rankings.
For example, Backlinko found that the average word count of a first-page result is 1,890 words. And the first place results usually have the highest word counts – check out this pretty graphic from that Backlinko analysis:
Of course, because Google doesn’t publicly release their algorithm, we have no way of knowing if this is just a correlation, or if there’s actually a causal relationship here. For example, longer content just might get more links, which is what John Doherty found (at least back in 2012)
Either way, though, the data is still convincing. So if the topic has enough meat, taking 1,500+ words to really dig in seems like it might have a positive effect on how that content ranks.
15. Optimize Your WordPress Site For Speed
Optimizing WordPress for speed? What the heck does that have to do with SEO?
Well, site speed is actually a ranking factor in both Google’s desktop and mobile search indexes!
So if you want your site to rank as highly as possible, you need to make sure it loads fast.
To speed up your site, check out our big post on how to speed up WordPress, as well as topics like caching and image optimization.
16. Use HTTPS For A Small Rankings Boost
HTTPS is another one that might not seem like it relates to SEO. But beyond making your site more secure, using HTTPS is also a small positive SEO factor, according to Google.
Given that HTTPS is already so valuable for its non-SEO benefits, this one is a no-brainer. Most hosts offer free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates nowadays (you can also find other free SSL certificates). And once you have an SSL certificate installed, you can follow our guide here to set up HTTPS.
17. Add Schema Markup To Get Rich Snippets
Schema markup doesn’t directly improve your SEO rankings (at least according to Google’s public announcements). But it is still valuable because it can make your site stand out in the organic search results with rich snippets.
If you’re not familiar, rich snippets are things like those eye-catching review stars:
By making your site stand out in the SERPs, you can boost the chances that a searcher clicks on your site.
To add schema markup, you can use a rich snippets plugin.
18. Make Sure Your Site Works Great On Mobile
In March 2018, Google officially moved over to mobile-first indexing. In Google’s words, “Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”
That’s a big deal because it means that the mobile version of your site is what’s most important to Google.
So if your mobile site has issues – like some big ugly popup – your rankings might fall.
Make sure that:
You can also consider using Google AMP.
19. Keep Your WordPress Site Secure
Malicious actors love gaining access to WordPress sites to inject their own spammy links. Needless to say, having a bunch of spam links to weird pharmacy sites is not good for your site’s SEO.
So, keeping your site safe and secure is a big part of making sure it can keep ranking in the SERPs.
To start, follow the WordPress security best practices. Consider a security plugin, and also learn how to scan for malware (and then how to remove it if you do find something).
20. Don’t Forget About Social Media
People have long hypothesized that Google considers your content’s popularity on social media. While Google hasn’t been forthcoming on the topic, there is data to point to this being true.
For example, Hootsuite ran a big test and found “a strong correlation between social activity and rankings.” Now, they do just say correlation, and it’s definitely possible that the type of content that does well on social media is also the type of content that picks up natural backlinks.
But…getting noticed on social media definitely isn’t gonna hurt your site, right?
So – spend a little time learning about social media marketing. And consider adding some social share buttons.
Even if it doesn’t directly boost your SEO, you’ll still get the benefit of more traffic from social media!
Enjoy Higher Rankings For Your WordPress Site’s Content
Phew! This one turned out to be a pretty lengthy post, didn’t it? If you’re still with me, you should be a WordPress SEO master. Now, get out there and make your site dominate the Google SERPs!
Have any other questions about WordPress SEO? Or maybe you’ve picked up some other WordPress SEO tips that you think are helpful? Either way, we’d love it if you let us know in the comments!