In January, I facilitated a discussion about SEO at the WordPress Southwest Florida MeetUp. This blog post is a detailed outline of my presentation.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is an ongoing process of preparing your website content for discovery by search engines. Better preparation equals better optimization. Search engines find and sort information relevant to the user, based on key words and tags.
There are many search engines, but Google, Yahoo, and Bing are the world’s largest. Google certainly dominates, with 70% of the market share. A search engine’s primary functions are:
- Crawl: scan the web for new content.
- Index: organize the content and store it in a database
- Rank: prioritize the content according to its relevance to the search terms
Search Engine Results
When a user types a term into the URL address field or search field, Google provides the results in a hierarchical list on the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). As an example, let’s say the user is exploring the subject of WordPress themes, and types “Best WordPress Photography Themes”.
Underneath the search field are several filters to help narrow down the search: All, Images, Videos, Shopping, etc. When you click on the “Tools” button, a new set of options appear. In addition, you can specify the time period and whether or not you want to limit the search to the exact phrase you typed in.
Notice that paid and featured sites are ranked close to the top of the SERP. The organic results appear afterwards. Even when “Verbatim” is selected, the results are not limited to the exact phrase; they include any content that tackles the subject. The order of importance is determined by how well the content resembles the search term. To help the user distinguish the relevance, the search phrase is displayed in bold type.
Google’s other key considerations are:
- site security
- mobile responsiveness
- content quality
Getting your site to rank is not a simple task, nor will it happen overnight. You’ll need patience! With longevity, continuity, and quality, your site will at least have a semblance of hope in appearing in the top ranking tiers.
What Are Your Goals?
Clarify what you want to achieve with the website. For example:
- Increase traffic
- Establish credibility
- Generate sales
- Monetize the site via ads
- Build mailing list
Who Is Your Audience?
Know your target audience. Deliver the content they are looking for. Determine your typical and/or ideal site visitor with specifics:
- Demographics: age, gender, geographic location, income, education, home ownership, marital status, race, religion
- Psychographics: personality, attitudes, interests, values, lifestyles
- Behavioral attributes: brand loyalty, frequency of product use
Have a Plan
Formulate a plan for how you will deliver the content. It can be a multi-tiered approach that starts with the posting of the content, then sharing it through a variety of social network venues. Using an editorial calendar is a good way to keep track of everything.
Analytics tools provide information about the visitors, page views, likes, shares, comments, demographics, bounce rate, etc. It’s fascinating to see what resonates with users. By reviewing the results periodically, you learn what your audience likes. You can then apply similar strategies to future posts. Based on the successes you experience, you can return to older posts and make improvements .
There are plenty of analytics tools to choose from. I install Google Analytics on nearly all of the sites I manage, often with the MonsterInsights plugin. Other great options are Jetpack, WP Statistics, and Statcounter.
Content and Optimization
As a web designer, my focus is always on the visual. A site’s aesthetics, layout, user experience, and accessibility are paramount for me. But, I learned very early on in my career that Content is Queen and drives the design direction. Everything on a site begins with and rotates around the content: information, products, blog posts, articles, lists, guides, directories, infographics, recommendations, images, videos, slideshows, well you get the picture. The design should present the content in a way that is consistent with the person’s or organization’s central message, goals, and brand.
Basic SEO Needs
- Make the content easy to find with “crawl accessibility”. By enabling engines to read the site, details can be collected about each page.
- Provide something of value. Creating compelling, “share-worthy” content is a good place to begin. When users learn or gain something, they will be motivated to cite the post via links and return to the site in the future.
To start, I recommend taking care of a few WordPress settings.
Settings > Reading
- “For each article in a feed, show”, select “Summary”. This will generate excerpts for the posts on the blog page and will give users a great overall view of the content range.
- Make sure the site is NOT discouraging Search Engines from indexing it!
Settings > Discussion
- Allow Comments. This will generate user engagement.
- Control SPAM by manually approving comments and installing a SPAM plugin, like Akismet or Anti-Spam Bee.
Settings > Permalinks
- Stay away from the Plain and Numeric Permalink options! They are not user-friendly.
- Use a Permalink that has the blog post name: Day and name; Month and name; or Post name. Once you select an option, try not to ever change it because that would negatively impact your SEO.
- Install an SSL Certificate on your web host account.
- Install a security plugin on your WordPress site, like Wordfence or Sucuri.
- Keyword Research: Before writing anything, figure out which words will generate the most traffic. Then you can incorporate those words into the post. However, high search volume means it’s also more competitive. Keywords that are more specific attract users with a more focused intention.
- Topic Research: Keywords may also generate ideas for new topics.
- Keyword Optimization: Sprinkle the terms throughout the content to attract the search engines. The Yoast plugin for WordPress provides a good tool for this.
- Build a great UX: a positive experience helps retain visitors.
- Fast loading speed
- Ease of use
- Attractive design
- Organize the Content:
- Good site navigation: should make sense and be easy to use.
- Decide what will be pages vs. what will be posts. With posts, you can display excerpts, and use categories and tags. Take advantage of WordPress features!
- Write logically, sequentially, and clearly. Provide heads and subheads to help the user find and understand the main ideas. Use short sentences for better readability.
- Lists are very helpful.
- Create a sitemap and submit it to Google.
- Use redirects if a page address has changed.
- Write effective, simple titles and descriptions. Increases click-through rate (CTR).
- Snippet that summarizes content well. This helps the content stand out in the search engine results.
- Visual Enhancements: Images, videos, slideshows, and infographics support the content and attract viewers.
- Optimize the images: resize the physical dimensions to fit the maximum width for the content area on your website; reduce the resolution to 72 ppi; compress by saving it as a JPG, PNG, or GIF.
- Add alternate text to images to assist search engines.
- Promote the Content: Use social media to promote the content and make it more visible on the web.
- WordPress plugins
- Yoast SEO – features include keyword optimization, titles, descriptions, and sitemaps
- Rank Math – integrated with Google Search Console; features include keyword optimization, rich snippets, link recommendations, and sitemaps
- All in One SEO Pack – features include performance booster, keyword optimization, and sitemaps
- Broken Link Checker – identifies broken links
- Web Developer Tools
- Webmaster Tools / Google Search Console – data on overall performance, sitemaps, coverage, links, and mobile usability.
- GTmetrix – analyzes site speed
- Pingdom Website Speed Test – analyzes site load time and finds bottlenecks
- StatMyWeb – resources include speed test, traffic ranking, broken link checker, and page rank
- Google Analytics
- Audience – overview, demographics, interests, technology
- Traffic Acquisition – overview, channels, traffic sources, referrals, social activity
- Behavior – overview, behavior flow, site content, search, bounce rate
How to Choose a WordPress Theme
My Core Set of WordPress Plugins
WordPress Pages vs. Posts
A Guide to Incorporating Social Media with Your Website – part 1
A Guide to Incorporating Social Media with Your Website – part 2