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Top 5 DIY Tips to Improve SEO on Your WordPress Site

Ken Moire//WordPress
DIY Tips to Optimize SEO on WordPress Websites

So you have a website, and it’s just not getting the search volume you’re looking for. Or perhaps you are creating a new site or overhauling an old one and want to do things ‘right’. If your site is more than a few years old, it’s probably not optimized to current SEO standards.

One thing you can do to increase traffic right away is to connect your WordPress site to Facebook and other social media platforms. We've written a simple step-by-step to help you navigate Facebook's quirks - check it out. Increased traffic, especially from high traffic sites, is always good for SEO, but on-site SEO tweaks are often overlooked.

For content owners, SEO can be daunting. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are great, but without understanding the basics of SEO, they can be difficult to navigate. Non-technical content owners often ask what they can do without wading into the deep waters of SEO. Here’s a list of changes and tweaks most users can make themselves from within WordPress or another content management system. Although the recommendations themselves are universal, I’ll use WordPress in my examples.

Before we begin, I’d recommend installing the Yoast for WordPress plugin. The Yoast plugin simplifies most of the recommendations given here and automates several of the more complicated ones.

#5: Create and submit a sitemap

Sitemaps are a way to tell search engines about pages on your site they might not otherwise discover. In its simplest terms, an XML Sitemap is an outline of the pages and posts on your website. Creating and submitting a sitemap helps make sure that search engines know about all the pages and posts on your site, including URLs that may not be discoverable by a normal crawling process.

An added bonus is the way Google displays sites that include a sitemap:

A Great Looking Sitemap Search Result

See now nice and organized that is? You want your search result to allow visitors to quickly find what they want. Submitting a sitemap doesn’t guarantee a search result like this, but it greatly increases your chances. Ensuring that your site is well organized overall is equally important.

There are sitemap generators for WordPress that do most of the work for you. If you already installed the highly recommended Yoast plugin, this is an included feature. This is a first step in ensuring that all of your pages are indexed and provides the greatest likelihood that your site will be displayed in sitemap form in search results.

Make sure to recreate a sitemap any time you update your site with a new blog post or updated content (or with any of the changes listed here). Many sitemap generators, like Yoast, can be set up to automatically submit new changes to search engines, making this a ‘set it and forget it’ task.

#4: Missing alt tags

Red X Where an Image Should Be

Isn’t that a cute kitten? At least you know it’s supposed to be a kitty, and not a T-Rex (also cute in a dino way). Alt tags are used to describe images or other visual media on your site. This serves two purposes: it helps search engines ‘see’ and properly index the image content, and it helps people who can’t see the image for whatever reason (vision problems, voice readers, mobile browser) understand what the image is supposed to be.

The alt tag can be added when you add your image to the library in WordPress. You can also review and change it as you insert it into your pages. I tend to keep the image title and alt text the same and keep them simple.

#3: Non-descriptive page titles and meta descriptions

Page titles and meta descriptions affect your search results in different ways. In the example below, I searched for “kittens for adoption”. The text in blue is the page title, and the text below the url is the meta description:

Compare Search Results With Good and Bad Page Titles and Metas

In this example, the first entry has a slightly more descriptive page title, but the meta description is not compelling in any way. The second entry has a better meta description, but the page title itself isn’t very descriptive or original.

This is a great opportunity to ‘speak’ to the user- make sure they know exactly what to expect on your page, like this result when I search for ‘adopting a rescue dog’:

Example of a Good Page Title and Meta Description

Page titles are indexed by search engines and like urls, are both limited and unique (or should be), which means that search engines will place heavy importance on that content. Taking care to include keywords and phrases and ensuring that each page has a unique, relevant page title gives search engines more specific information about your page and its contents, generally improving your likelihood of inclusion in a search for those terms.

Meta descriptions are not truly ‘indexed’ by most search engines, but can be just as important for click-through performance. The meta description is your opportunity to speak to the user directly, without the ‘filter’ of a search engine. Typically, the default meta description is taken from the first sentence or two in the body text on the page (see result #2 in the pic above). Sometimes this works out, but more often, the result is not all that compelling to a user. By writing your own meta description, you can ‘market’ the content of your page and stand out from the crowd in a page of search results. Be careful to make the meta description friendly and informative, as some search engines, particularly Google, will occasionally override your requested meta description if they think it is misleading.

Both page/post titles and meta descriptions are easily edited using the Yoast plugin. Once installed, you’ll see the Yoast box under the main content area of your new entry (or existing page or post). Simply rewrite the page or post title and meta description. Yoast even counts your characters so you can be sure you have the optimum length.

#2: Urls without keywords

Your page url is the first thing that Google indexes, and one of the most important aspects of SEO on your page. Because each url is unique and limited in scope, the actual words used are heavily weighted as keywords for that page. In the case of most “top level” pages, the word used in the navigation is typically sufficient. “About Us”, “Contact”, and “Careers” are decently descriptive, and “Services” is fine as long as you have child pages devoted to specific services and create descriptive urls for those pages.

For example, you may have “Pet Adoption” in your navigation, but “yourwebsite.com/adoption” doesn’t give a lot of context to search engines for indexing. In this case, a custom url would be helpful. Something like “yourwebsite.com/catering-for-weddings-special-events-in-st-louis” is far more descriptive and really helps people understand what you are about.

Here’s where you edit it in WordPress:

Example of How to Edit the Permalink in WordPress

In WordPress, the default page url structure can be changed via Settings → Permalinks. We recommend changing from the default structure to the ‘Post Name’ structure- this makes for friendlier urls that contain key words instead of the gibberish that the default spits out.

#1: Misuse of header tags

There are two common mistakes people make with header tags. They either don’t use them at all, or don’t use them correctly. This is easily corrected on your WordPress page, but packs a big punch when it comes to optimizing your site.

If you are using header tags, make sure your page (or post) title is an h1 (Header 1). If not, Google may be putting your important keywords into the wrong order hierarchically, which means greater weight on items of less importance. The first ‘headline’ on your page, assuming your page/post title is h1, should be an h2, with subsequent subheadings of h3, h4, etc as you go down your content outline, like this:

Example of an Optimal Header Tag Hierarchy

Not using header tags? Without some guidance, search engines can make some odd decisions about what is important on your page. Although WordPress provides a number of formatting options for content, most should be used sparingly, and never to indicate relative importance of content. Many content admins make the mistake of using bold and font size formatting to indicate section headers instead of actual header tags. Since search engines place more weight on header tags than anything else in the body text of your content, using formatting instead of proper header tags minimizes the impact those words have on your SEO.

Making these changes won’t result in overnight search result domination, but will certainly level the playing field for your site. My next post will focus more on evaluating the actual content on your pages, so stay tuned.