In this post, I’ll explore ten essential SEO settings every new WordPress blog should consider.
Why? – you ask. Your site’s content is its most important asset, but it’s useless if it doesn’t attract visitors! SEO – search engine optimization – is a tool every website owner should use to make sure their content is optimized for search engine consumption, which will bring in more and more visitors.
1. Make sure search engines see you
Just launched your blog? WordPress has a built-in setting that – if turned on – discourages search engines from looking at your site. This can be useful for development or private sites, but should always be switched off otherwise.
Head on over to Settings / Reading and look for the “Search Engine Visibility” setting. Make sure it is switched off and everything will be dandy!
This is probably the most important of all essential SEO settings for WordPress.
2. Write good content
I think this is an absolutely crucial SEO tactic. Good content alone is not enough to propel your site to the top of Google, but goes a long-long way. Google has become pretty good at determining what constitutes good content.
If you’re writing about “motorcycling helmet cleaners” you’ll probably want to put that phrase in your article a couple of times, but don’t overdo it. Just because you have your key phrase 8 times in a paragraph won’t do anything to budge your ranking – on the contrary, it may send you further down.
Write naturally, but be smart. If you have a good opportunity to drop in a keyword or two do so, but don’t go overboard. It might be an essential SEO setting, but too much of it and you’ve done more harm than good.
3. Write often
A regularly updated site will help you in your SEO efforts. Not just because Google will see that your site is active, but because there will be more content to base your rank on. In addition, this helps with user engagement and retention as well – a double win.
As before, don’t go overboard, that’s one of the main rules of SEO. Updating your site 10 times a day with similar content will just lower your rank. If you have the option to post unique and valuable content 3-4 times a day, by all means do so. Otherwise a site updated once a week with an extremely good article is way more valuable that one updated every day with fluff.
4. Use an SEO plugin
One of the best SEO plugins for WordPress is Yoast SEO. It is updated continuously to keep up with search engine changes and contains everything you’ll need to make your site an SEO powerhouse, effectively taking care of all your essential SEO settings.
I recommend familiarizing yourself with the plugin and catching up on SEO trends at the Yoast Blog. The more you know, the better you can utilize the settings it offers!
5. Use WordPress image information
Managing your media properly is a great way to get an SEO edge, thus making it one of the essential SEO settings. Many website owners overlook image captions, alt text and file names. All of these are important and can be added so easily. The reason they are often skipped is that images are added after the post has been written. It took the author 3 hours to write the post, adding bits of text to 20 images is soooo tiring and will add another 20 minutes work.
Fair enough, but is this worth losing rank over? Providing information to Google about what the images is about by filling out the name, making sure the file name itself is readable, typing up a caption and an alt text will add that much more information about your content.
6. Give the title extra attention
Titles are the most important part of your page. This is what search engines see first and this is also what users see first. For users it has to be catchy, for search engines it has to be keyword targeted. Try to find a good balance between the two.
While I’d be a little hesitant to say this in front of an SEO crowd, I would lean toward the user if push comes to shove. As you’ll see below you can set the meta title of your page which gives search engines information about the page. The actual title is more for user-consumption in my opinion.
7. Fine-tune permalinks
Lately WordPress has become smarter and is filtering out unnecessary words from default permalinks. Until not long ago a post titled “Ten essential plugins for ecommerce websites” would have used “ten-essential-plugins-for-ecommerce-websites”. Depending on how you want to target your article you might want to use “essential-plugins-ecommerce-websites”, or even “essential-ecommerce-plugins”. Either way, the word “for” is completely unnecessary there.
You can fine-tune permalinks under the post title. If you don’t see a permalink make sure to save a draft, it should pop up after the page reloads.
Here’s the permalink for this very post, “essential SEO settings WordPress”:
8. Use SEO post settings
If you use the Yoast SEO plugin, you’ll see a “Yoast SEO” box under each post. Use the snippet editor to control how your result will look on Google. Set the focus keyword as well to get an assessment of how your post conforms to current SEO guidelines.
This is a great way to write content better targeted to search engines and gain extra visitors through the process.
I like to edit the snippet of every post, even though an automatic one is generated. These little touches are what can separate the serious websites from the floundering ones.
9. Make friends
One part of this is social media. Make sure you have an active presence, engage with visitors and potential visitors (i.e.: your target group) as much as you can. Getting people to talk about you is one of the best ways to get incoming links which Google will take into account. The larger the website linking to you, the more weight it receives.
Another part of this is talking to website owners who write about your sector and making friends. Don’t just contact people if you want something from them. Offer to give advice or other means of help you can give. This will make you friends quickly who will want to write about you – again, valuable SEO fodder.
I’ve found in my career that being nice has awesome far-reaching consequences and opens a lot of doors. Even if you need to go out of your way now, it may come back to give you a boost when you really need it.
10. Optimize your site for speed
Website speed is a crucial factor. Google takes it into account as well. Not in a huge way, but they do factor it in. However, site speed has a number of other effects which will add together to grind all your efforts to a halt.
Site speed is a critical factor in early exits, bounce rates, page view times because it directly affects user experience. As such, you will retain fewer visitors, your SEO rank will drop which will lead to even fewer visitors and many of those who stay will become increasingly frustrated.
Speed times can be helped a LOT in the WordPress arena with managed WordPress hosts. I can highly recommend Kinsta, Flywheel and WPEngine from personal experience.
When in doubt, be smart
Don’t know if naming image files properly should be one of your essential SEO settings for WordPress? Then take the time and name them properly, the worst that can happen is nothing, the best that can happen is that Google appreciates the effort and uses this in some small way to increase your ranking. It might not mean much, but a few minor things like this could give you the edge you need.
The image file example is a good one because many website use screenshots and are too lazy to rename them. It is so much easier to just take the screenshot, drag & drop and be done with it. Taking the time to rename the file seems like a waste of time.
Also, Google does take file naming into account, so there!
Remember the most important rule: Google is, and always has, attempted to figure out what your content is about by mimicking the behaviour of humans. Humans are much better at figuring out what is valuable and what isn’t than computers. Therefore the more “naturally good” your content is, the better.
While there are certain tips and tricks you can use, these will quickly become obsolete. For example: In the olden days, people used to litter their pages with keywords and then hide them from view, gaining SEO ranking quickly. Google then figured out how to deal with these and punished offending websites with significant rank cuts.
Write good content, write targeted content, be sensible and utilize the tools at your disposal to tell Google as much about your content as possible. Those are your essential SEO settings. All search engines will reward you with a good ranking if you do things right.