WordPress SEO Guide for 2018 [Updated]
If you’re like me, you’ve read several “SEO” articles online, only to leave with no idea what to do for your own site. I’ve created this guide to create actionable tips to help optimize your SEO for your WordPress Site or Blog.
I’ve written this article assuming your site is already up and running, and you’re looking to ensure you’re taking the correct steps in improving your on-page SEO.
Step 1: Setup the Yoast SEO Plugin
Yoast SEO is arguably the most popular plugin available for WordPress. It’s easy to install & activate, and with just needs a few tweaks.
The first thing you should do once you’ve installed the Yoast SEO Plugin is to enable the Advanced Settings option on the General tab. This is going to give you access to the Sitemap functionality, which we’ll use later to submit to Google.
Create an XML Sitemap
Search Engines don’t see a website like we do. No beautiful photos, no videos, and it doesn’t care what colors you chose. They care about one thing, content.
In order for Google & Others to allow your site to show up in search results, we need to give them a blueprint of our website. This is done through something called a sitemap. Luckily Yoast gives us the ability to create a sitemap automatically.
On the Sitemap XML dropdown in Yoast, make sure “XML sitemap functionality” is enabled. You’ll want to click on the XML Sitemap hyperlink and save that URL for later.
Then move over to “User Sitemap” and make sure “Author/user sitemap” is disabled.
Lastly, click on “Post Types” and make sure Posts & Pages are the only ones selected as “In sitemap” You may not see the same items as in my screenshot, but the goal here is to make sure we’re not indexing media, authors, post categories, or post tags.
Step 2: Audit your Home Page SEO
Google is constantly changing what it deems important for SEO. It’s not about gaming the system anymore, but setting your site up properly with your targeted keywords to help your site improve in rankings.
We’re going to take a look local liquor store and perform a quick audit.
We have quite a bit of information from this result pulled directly from searching “Geabers Liquors” in Google.
The title tag is arguably the most important piece of on-site SEO on your site. In the example above, we’re given the name, address, and phone number. While the address and phone number are important to have, they don’t belong on the title tag.
I would make the following adjustments, assuming people searching for Geaber’s Liquors will be local (within a 5-mile radius).
Geaber’s Liquors: Beer, Wine, and Liquor in Wakefield, RI
We’ve included Geaber’s Liquors for a Branded Search, but also included “Wakefield” as in our keyword research we noticed “liquor store wakefield ri” was the variation with the most searches
*You’ll want to make sure your title is less than 600 pixels so it doesn’t get cut off in search results. You can find your title width easily here: http://searchwilderness.com/tools/pixel-length/.
Description tag’s don’t help or hurt you from an SEO perspective, but they do help your click rates when you include an enticing description. Including “Free Shipping”, “10% Off”, etc. in your description can help increase your Click through rates (CTR).
In the example above, there wasn’t a description included, so Google picked up content from the page that it felt fit best. We’ll want to update this to our own description to improve our page views.
Family owned since 1966, Geaber’s Liquors offers the best selection of Liquor, Wine, and Beer. Our friendly staff is always available to help you with recommendations for your next event.
*You’ll want to make sure your description is between 150-160 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search results.
Outside of your Title tag, the H1 tag is the runner up to your on-site SEO efforts. You’ll want to include your targeted keyword (in our case “Wakefield Liquors” or “South Kingstown Liquors”), and make sure to only use a single H1 tag on each page.
Let’s take a look at the H1 tag from Geaber’s Liquors above. Not bad, but I would expand upon “Geaber’s Liquors” to say “Geaber’s Liquor Store, Wakefield RI”, to hit home our target keyword.
Step 3: Crawl your Website
After you’ve updated your proper tags, it’s a good habit to check what Google sees when it crawls your site. We want to make sure it matches our new tags, and that it’s not throwing any errors.
We’ll use my site for this example. I recommend Screaming Frog SEO Spider for this, but there are other options out there you can search for.
I’ll enter in my domain at the top, and we’ll focus now on just the homepage “brandyn.co”
If we scroll over to the Title 1, we’ll see my title as expected. It also comes in at less than 600 pixels, so I may play around to see if I can fit another keyword in there.
Now over to the Description tag. As you’ll see my tag is right in between 150-160 characters in length, so I’ll leave that alone.
Our H1 tag looks good as well. As we can see there is only one H1 tag, which is something you need to look out for.
Checking on our H2 tag’s do you see an issue here? “Marketing Tips, Tricks, and Tactics” works for the H2 Tag, but “What I Do” has to go. I’ll need to review my site copy and either choose a different H2, or remove that from an H# tag entirely.
The one last thing we want to look for is any 404 errors. If your site is linking out to 404 pages, it’s going to get docked by Google. I use a great chrome extension that runs against any site you have open and will look for any 404 errors on the page. Broken Link Checker.
All looks good, no 4xx or 5xx errors. I do have a couple redirects (3XX) but those are mostly external links that are being redirected from HTTP to HTTPS. I can update these to remove those redirects.
4. Using Google Search Console
Google Search Console can provide a wealth of information about your site. I recommend you spend some time going through each of the sections and becoming familiar with it.
For this tutorial we’re going to focus on submitting the Sitemap you created back in Step 1 with Yoast, reviewing Crawl Errors, and reviewing HTML improvements.
If you haven’t used Google Search Console before, head over to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/dashboard, and log in with a Google Account.
Once you’re there, you’ll want to add your new site by clicking the “Add a Property”.
Once added, you need to verify that you own your domain. The easiest way here is to upload an HTML file to your site, but there are other methods (DNS, Google Analytics) if you’d prefer.
Once you’ve verified, you’ll need to do the same thing for the following variations of your site:
Ok, now that you’ve added each site, you want to verify that you’ve set your preferred domain for Google. You can do this by going to the settings for each of your sites, and click on “Site Settings”.
Make sure to choose the preferred domain that matches how your site is displayed in the URL.
Submitting your Sitemap
Back when you setup the Yoast Plugin, it generated a sitemap for you. You should click the Sitemap link (below), and copy and paste the location (which should be sitemap_index.xml).
Once you’ve done that, head back over to Google Search Console, and navigate to “Crawl -> Sitemaps”.
You’ll add your sitemap found in Yoast and submit.
Once you’ve submitted your sitemap, head over to “Crawl -> Fetch As Google”. From here, you’ll want to request Google to Fetch your site, and then index it’s contents so you start to show up in Google Search Results.
Once you’ve requested your site to be fetched, you can request it to be indexed. You’re going to be prompted with the option below, make sure to choose “Crawl this URL and its direct links”
Great, now your sitemap has been submitted to Google, and you’ve requested it to be indexed. You should check up in the next day or two to make sure there are no errors with your requests.
Step 5: Site Speed
Google has designated the speed in which your site loads as an important factor in SEO. My recommendation is that if your site takes over 2 seconds to load, you should be making changes to reduce the load time.
There are three places you should test your site on for speed issues. Each provides unique insight and suggestions on what you can do to make your site load faster.
For this example, we’ll use Pingdom. I’ve run a test against my current site, brandyn.co to see what can be improved.
A grade of 92/100, with a load time of 1.59 s. Not bad. When I dive into the top suggestion of “Serve static content from a cookieless domain” I’m shown a bunch of assets & plugins that Pingdom is recommended I serve from a cookieless domain. Something I’ll have to take a look at.
My #1 suggestion is to go through your list of plugins and make sure you’re disabled or removed any plugins that you aren’t actively using. I added several optimization plugins, only to find out my score was lower when they were enabled.
For areas where your site is performing poorly, I recommend just googling the suggestion from Pingdom. You’ll find several search results that will give you guidance to how to address the issue.
My takeaway on site speed is to not focus too much on your score, but focus more on how many seconds your site took to low. Try to keep this below 2 for an optimal experience.
I hope this guide was helpful to take actionable steps to improve your on-page SEO. If you have any questions or want clarification on the article, shoot me an email at email@example.com, and I’ll do what I can to help.