There are more websites than there are people in the United States, by a good margin. The population in the U.S. is around 321 million while the latest web server survey in May 2017 stated that there are about 1.8 billion websites online. That’s a lot of websites out there that you have to compete against — more than there are consumers in the U.S.
The increasing number of websites online has made the website competition “to be found online” even more challenging. In other words, getting visibility online keeps getting tougher as search engines become saturated with websites. Creating a website and hoping for the best is not enough. Smart businesses owners must be on top of the latest SEO and paid advertising trends to beat the competition.
Furthermore, keep mind that your efforts have to be constant. Doing one SEO tweak every blue moon won’t yield results. Fortunately, website CRMs like WordPress make SEO easier to manage with user-friendly platforms and SEO plugins. Here you’ll learn the SEO fundamentals to use for WordPress to jumpstart your efforts. Let’s get started!
What Is SEO and How Does It Work?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to the process and methods to get visibility online from “free” or “organic” search results in search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. As you can see below in my search for “jumpsuits” on Google, I found paid listings — specifically, Google Shopping or PLA ads—and organic listings enclosed in green.
If I were searching for a service, I would have found a similar mix of paid and organic listings, but with a different look. In this case, there are no Google Shopping ads, but Google paid search ads.
The middle listings are locations found in Google Maps; they are also not paid. Getting listed on Google Maps or other local directories would be considered local SEO — still important, but not the primary focus of this article. We’ll mainly focus on SEO strategies for eCommerce retailers.
Factors Affecting SEO
There are on-site and off-site factors that affect SEO. Examples of on-site factors are a website’s content, structure, and speed. Some off-site factors that affect SEO are outside links pointing to the site and its social media following and engagement.
Search engines like Google want to provide the best user experience for the searcher; therefore, it uses these and other factors to rank websites. For example, websites that have an organized structure will have higher rankings than websites that don’t. This is because more organized structures help users find what they are looking for faster, which leads to better user experience — a priority for search engines.
Is It Really Free Traffic?
Another thing to keep in mind is that although organic rankings don’t require payment to Google, they will still end up costing you money. Whether you decide to hire a search marketing agency or do it yourself, advanced SEO efforts such as link building or writing will require additional paid help. Luckily, all the WordPress SEO tips we’ll cover in the next section can be done fairly easily.
WordPress SEO Tips
1. Permalink Structure
A permalink is a URL to a specific post. Instead of having a URL with numbers or dates at the end, such as www.yoursite.com/1234, the recommended permalink structure is to use more user-friendly URLs, like www.yoursite.com/seo-guide. These types of URLs are easier to share and are preferred by search engines.
Using dates, for example, can make posts look outdated (if the date is old), which, in turn, can lead to lower click-through rates. Which URL would you click on: a post with the URL www.yoursite.com/12-5-12 or www.yoursite.com/seo-guide? You’d probably skip the post from 2012 and opt for the one that says SEO guide.
To get the ideal permalink structure on WordPress, simply go to Settings> Permalink and select “Post Name,” as you can see in the image below.
If you haven’t used this structure so far, make sure to redirect old URLs to the new ones to prevent 404 errors. There are online tools and plugins that can make this process easier.
Additionally, you can add the category name before the post’s name. This may be a good idea if your categories and post names are short and descriptive. Otherwise, if your URL is too long, it may get cut off, which is not ideal.
2. Title Tags
Title tags are one of the most important steps in optimizing website pages for WordPress or any other platform. It’s the first snippet of content searchers will read about your page, and it will help differentiate your listing from the rest.
Keep in mind that title tags are meant to encourage the user to click on your listing—they can’t look like a bundle of nonsense keywords. They should contain certain keywords in a manner that is easy to read. It should contain your focus keyword, your brand’s name, and some supporting text to provide the user more information about the page.
Also, note that title tag length varies, according to screen display, so make sure your most important keywords are positioned toward the front. Title tags can help you increase your click through rate or CTR and, in turn, increase your organic ranking; so, the more enticing your title can be, the better.
3. Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are located below the listing’s URL. These are the snippets of information that allow the user to get more insight into the page’s content. They can help with click through rates; however, they don’t affect Google’s ranking anymore. In 2009, Google announced that meta descriptions and meta keywords don’t factor in Google’s ranking. Although this news has been out for quite some time now, there are still many people who use meta keywords. Don’t bother wasting your time.
Note that if you don’t use a meta description, it will be automatically generated by the search engine by finding the keyword searched for in your document and automatically choosing information around that. This shows a bolded word or two in the results page. See, below, an example of an automatically generated meta description in red and a manually created description in green:
As you can see, meta descriptions that are created manually look better and are more enticing than automatically created ones.
4. XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap shows all the pages in a website and shows relationships of content within the site such as organization, navigation, and labeling. It allows search engines to crawl your site and properly index pages. Having a sitemap won’t help you automatically jump in ranking; however, it will help search engines easily crawl your site and find pages faster. Also, it will allow you to keep track of all your pages to make sure there are no broken links and all redirects are properly in place.
The easiest way to create a sitemap on WordPress is using a plugin such as Yoast or Google XML sitemap generator. Using Yoast, you’ll simply have to enable the XML sitemap functionality. Every time a new page is created, your sitemap will automatically be updated.
5. Image Optimization
Image optimization is often overlooked, but it’s an important component in your SEO efforts for many reasons. To start, your images need to be the right size and dimensions. If the image is too big, the page will take too long to load and cause a bad user experience, which, in turn, results in lower rankings. The file size is measured in KB or MB, and you can think of it as the “weight” of the image. The file’s dimensions are measured in width, height, and pixels.
Regarding image size, full page images should be around 80Kb-100Kb at most. If the image is part of a page, 20Kb-30Kb is fine. Images in full-screen mode can be around 1280px, 1290px, or even wider. Fortunately, when uploading images, WordPress automatically creates three resized images in addition to the original one: large, medium, and thumbnail. Thus, you can select a different size if you need it.
Other useful optimizations are the addition of image alt tags and title tags. Alt tags show when an image is unable to display, and it helps the user know what the image is about. The title tags help search engines know what your images are about to index them properly.
Wrapping It Up
SEO is a must to increase a website’s visibility and stay competitive. Smart business owners must follow best practices to optimize all the various offsite and onsite factors that contribute to a healthy SEO.
Although it is meant to increase “free traffic,” there are advanced SEO techniques that will require some paid help. Allocate a budget for SEO tasks to ensure you’re prepared for any future workload. Putting these SEO fundamentals into practice will help you take your WordPress site to the next level.