WordPress SEO Strategies for Beginners Free Guide

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As a blogging beginner, you need a strong WordPress SEO strategy to gain traffic, boost your leads, and generate sales.

However, it can be a confusing process when you are starting out.

Overwhelming is an understatement with trying to keep up with all the SEO strategies when creating your WordPress blog.

Oh, I do wish I could claim to hold all the secrets to WordPress SEO success.

But, I can’t.

However, this actionable, step-by-step tutorial will have a positive impact on your search engine rankings.

By following these techniques, you can create pages, posts, and landing pages that search engines will love.

l share in this tutorial 16 WordPress SEO strategies for on-site and on-page SEO that can put your blog (or website) way ahead of your competition, and help you earn a most sought-after spot on Google’s number-one page.

What is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO refers to SEO strategies at a page (post) level – which are things like using relevant keywords in pages and posts, optimizing page/post URL’s, correct use of H1 – H6 headers, internal linking to your relevant articles, and linking to quality external sites.

What is On-Site SEO?

On-site SEO refers to SEO strategies used across your whole site – which are things like correct site hierarchy, relevant categories, related topics, and having a mobile friendly site to help you rank higher and get more relevant traffic from search engines.

1. Install a Dedicated WordPress SEO Plugin

Out of the box, WordPress is well known for being search engine-friendly.

However, you can benefit from installing a dedicated WordPress SEO plugin.

If you are not familiar with plugins, check out what are WordPress plugins and learn how to install them.

Two of the most popular WordPress SEO plugins are Yoast SEO and All In One SEO (AIOSEO).

Because both of these tools have features built in to help you optimize your WordPress posts and pages for search engines, you should only use one SEO plugin on your blog.

Yoast SEO plugin is my go-to plugin for my sites. It is updated frequently, easy to use and the free version has a lot of features to help you with your WordPress SEO.

The major difference is Yoast SEO plugin provides content analysis and SEO scoring whereas, AIOSEO doesn’t provide those features.

Also, Yoast SEO plugin gives you recommendations to help you optimize your post/page content by using a focus keyword you add in the SEO section for each post or page you create.

Once you add the focus keyword, Yoast will analyze your content or analyze while you are creating the content and give you recommendations for different areas within your content to make the content search engine optimized.

The different areas are:

  • SEO Title Width – fixed width of 600px
  • Meta Description Length – approximately 160 characters
  • Slug – post or page URL
  • Internal Links – hyperlinks that link to other content on your site
  • Outbound links – hyperlinks that link to other sites
  • Keyphrase in introduction – your keyphrase (focus keyword) is in the first paragraph
  • Keyphrase Length – optimum keyphrase length is up to 4 content words
  • Keyphrase density – number of times your focus keyphrase occurs in your copy
  • Previously used keyphrase – lets you know if you have used the focus keyphrase before
  • Keyphrase in subheading – H2 – H6 headings
  • Image alt attributes – provides alternative information for an image if a user cannot view it 
  • Text Length – regular post or page is more than 300 words
  • Keyphrase in title – if you have used your keyphrase in the SEO title of your post or page
  • Keyphrase in slug – the slug (as known as URL) contains your focus keyphrase

Additionally, to help you optimize, Yoast SEO uses a red, green, and orange “stoplight” notifcations.

  • Red – Need more work to fully optimize your content
  • Orange – is ok, but could use a little more work to fully optimize your content
  • Green – Excellent. Your content is optimized
How Yoast SEO plugin shows if content is optimized
Using Yoast SEO plugin to optimize content

2. Use a Focus Keyword for Every WordPress Page and Post

In Yoast SEO plugin, you can add a focus keyphrase for your content.

The focus keyphrase is a word or phrase that you want your content to rank for.

Helpful tip: Don’t optimize for a single keyword, optimize for a keyword phrase.

When you optimize for a single keyword that word is usually very competitive and your chances of being on the first page of a search engine results page (SERP) are minimal.

By focusing on a keyword phrase, this can actually increase your chances of ranking well and ultimately helps you towards your goal for the single word you originally chose.

For example, if you want a page to rank for the term “best camping gear”, enter your focus keyword or phrase into the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin.

Where to add focus keyphrase in Yoast SEO WordPress plugin
Where to Add Your Focus Keyphrase in Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin

Yoast will analyze your key phrase, then give you recommendations on ways to optimize your content for those specific words.

For instance, Yoast checks the length of your focus key phrase, and whether it contains any ‘function words’.

Some examples of common function words include “and”, “the”, “or”, and “yet”.

Because function keywords carry little meaning and don’t help search engines understand your content, Yoast filters them out from the analysis.

Yoast will also score your WordPress site’s content based on the presence of that focus key phrase.

This plugin checks your word count of the body text, content title, SEO title, and meta description elements.

You can also view recommendations on how to increase the chances of ranking higher for your focus key phrase.

For example, the plugin may recommend moving the key phrase to the start of your SEO title, adding alt tags to your images, or add more content to the body text.

By following these suggestions, this helps search engines understand your content and improve your WordPress SEO.

However, these are recommendations. They will not guarantee your content will rank on the first page of Google.

It’s very important to balance Yoast’s suggestions with providing a strong User Experience (UX) as having a great UX is also part of SEO.

You can improve your search engine rankings by providing high-quality, engaging content for your readers and balancing your SEO plugin’s recommendations.

3. Scan Your WordPress Site for Broken Links That Harm SEO

Broken links happen for many reasons.

You might delete a post, move it to a new location or merge two posts together.

Also, you may encounter broken URLs after migrating your WordPress site to a new domain.

A simple typo can result in a broken URL link.

When search engine bots encounter a broken link, they will crawl the URL to confirm it’s broken. This wastes crawl budget on your site.

Broken links are also disastrous for the User Experience (UX).

If a visitor cannot access the content they want, they may navigate away from your site.

If your site isn’t providing a positive UX, it will be reflected in your search engine rankings.

Therefore, broken URLs are bad news for WordPress SEO and UX.

It is a smart idea to regularly scan your site for broken links.

Scanning your site is very simple to do and you can perform this kind of content audit two ways:

WPMU DEV Broken Link Checker Plugin

Broken link checker plugin by WPMU DEV
Broken Link checker Plugin by WPMU DEV

Once activated, this plugin will automatically scan your site for links that don’t work, missing images and redirects.

If the plugin has identified any broken links you can find them by navigating to Tools > Broken Links.

You then have 4 options to pick from to fix the broken link:

  • Edit URL – change the URL of that link. If the link is present in more than one place (e.g. both in a post and in the blogroll), all occurrences of that URL will be changed.
  • “Unlink” removes the link but leaves the link text intact.
  • “Not broken” lets you manually mark a “broken” link as working. This is useful if you know it was incorrectly detected as broken due to a network glitch or a bug. The marked link will still be checked periodically, but the plugin won’t consider it broken unless it gets a new result.
  • “Dismiss” hides the link from the “Broken Links” and “Redirects” views. It will still be checked as normal and get the normal link styles (e.g. a strike-through effect for broken links), but won’t be reported again unless its status changes. Useful if you want to acknowledge a link as broken/redirected and just leave as it is. (source – broken link checker by WPMU DEV)

Free Online Broken Link Checkers

If your site is new and you don’t have many pages, it may be better to use an online broken link checker.

Both of the online broken link checkers I have listed above are free to use. They will give you a list of your broken links but then you will need to fix each one of them manually.

Whether you use a plugin or a free broken link checker is up to you.

When determining a web page’s ranking, search engines consider many factors, including the page’s URL.

WordPress default Permalink shows your site name, date the post was created and the name of the post OR it will show as letters and numbers.

By changing your WordPress URLs (Permalinks), you can help search engines understand each page’s contents. This can increase your chance of appearing in relevant SERPs. (Search Engine Results Page)

To look at and edit your site’s permalink structure, go to Settings > Permalinks

change wordpress permalink to a pretty link

To boost your WordPress SEO, I recommended ending the URL with the post name.

By establishing a consistent permalink structure, your WordPress site is set up for SEO success.

Furthermore, you can also optimize each post’s individual URL by changing the slug in the Yoast SEO plugin.

Whenever you create a page or post, WordPress will automatically generate a URL based on the title of the article.

First off, optimize your post URL by removing any ‘stop words‘. Common stop words are “it“, “should“, “and“, “the“, and “that“.

Stop words contribute little to your WordPress site’s SEO, but eat into your character allowance.

Ideally, optimizing a post’s URL before hitting the Publish button is the best bet.

But if you need to edit a URL after a page or post has gone live, hover over it in the WordPress dashboard and select Quick Edit.

5. Use SEO-focused Alt Text for Your WordPress Images and Media

Alt text describes an image or video’s appearance or function.

This is crucial for creating a more accessible site for your audience and search engines.

Screen readers use alt attributes to help visually impaired users understand a site’s content, even if they are not able to experience the associated visuals.

Alt text is also important for WordPress SEO.

Search engine bots use your alt text to help them interpret an image or video’s content.

Because of this, alt text helps search engines index your media correctly. This in turn helps your WordPress website rank highly for relevant keywords on the search pages and in the image search tab on Google.

There are two ways to add alt text to your images or video:

  • WordPress Editor
  • Media Library

Adding alt text in WordPress Editor

The WordPress editor is what you are using when you are in a post or page.

Select any image or video while you are on a post or page.

On the right side of your screen, click on Block.

You can then enter your text into the Alt Text (alternative text) box on the right side of your screen:

add alt text in wordpress editor

WordPress Media Library

You can also assign alt text to any image or video in the WordPress Media library.

Once you add this text, it will then be applied every time you use the same image or video on your site.

However, any images or videos you have previously inserted into your pages and posts will be unaffected by this change, so you will need to adjust them using the WordPress editor (see above steps).

To add your alt text, navigate to Media > Library.

Then select the image or video you want to add your alt text to and complete the Alternative Text field:

plain black tshirt with pocket

6. Use Relevant Keywords in Your Media Files

Your media files are all the items you upload to your site using the Media tab on your WordPress dashboard.

Using relevant keywords in the media files, not only helps search engines understand what each image, video, pdf, etc., is all about but also can be included in other searches (images and video).

Before uploading new files to your WordPress Media area (also called Library) include relevant keywords in your file name as there is no built-in way to rename your files in the WordPress media library once you have uploaded them.

If you have uploaded files to your media library with not-so-friendly SEO names, you can use the Phoenix Media Rename plugin.

This plugin adds a new Filename field to the Media editor, which will allow you to rename your images and videos for better WordPress SEO.

7. Arrange WordPress Posts and Pages Using Categories and Tags

Categories and tags are the two primary ways of grouping related content on your WordPress website.

Categories sort your posts into different sections (topics) within your site.

All WordPress posts must be filed under a category, and you can place a single post in multiple categories.

Meanwhile, tags describe your posts in more detail. Visitors can click on a tag to see similar content.

Unlike categories, tags are completely optional for your posts.

Categories and tags can help search engines understand your content.

Having a clear, consistent structure of categories and tags makes it easier for your readers to discover related content, which improves the UX, and as we’ve discussed earlier can help boost your WordPress SEO.

You can assign tags and categories to a post as you’re creating it by selecting the Post tab.

Then select Add New Category or enter your new tag into the Add New Tag field.

Adding category to WordPress Post
Adding Category and Tags to WordPress Post

Alternatively, you can create new tags and categories by navigating to either:

  • Posts > Categories
  • Posts > Tags
add new tags
Adding New Tags in WordPress

Word of caution, if you don’t place your post in a category, WordPress will file it under the default category “Uncategorized“. It is very simple to change this default to a new name.

You want to avoid placing your posts into this generic category, as it represents a missed opportunity to improve your WordPress SEO.  

If you want to have a general category for your posts, I recommend changing the title from “Uncategorized” to something more SEO friendly.

To Rename the Uncategorized Category

  1. Hover mouse over Posts
  2. Click Categories
  3. Click Edit or Quick Edit
  4. Change the name to any word that fits your content
  5. Click Update
rename uncategorized category in wordpress

Updating the category name to something a bit more descriptive about the posts that use this new category ensures to communicate something more meaningful about the post’s contents.

Which, in turn, is great for your WordPress SEO.

7. Boost Your WordPress Website’s Performance and SEO With a Caching Plugin

Google uses page speed as a ranking factor.

What this means is your site’s performance can impact where it appears in the SERPs.

Fortunately, you can often boost your page speeds using a WordPress caching plugin.

A caching plugin makes a copy of each web page after the first load, and then serves that cached copy to subsequent visitors.

Because of the caching of your pages, WordPress doesn’t waste resources performing the entire page generation process every single time someone arrives at your website.

There are many caching plugins available for WordPress.

For example, Comet Cache offers a wide range of options for Automatic and Intelligent Cache Clearing of Posts, Pages, Custom Post Types, Categories, Tags, Links, Themes, Users, and more

To enable the Comet Cache, go to the plugin and click on Enable/Disable.

Then click on Yes, enable Comet Cache.

comet cache plugin

Once you have enabled the plugin, you can tweak the plugin as you need to get your site’s performace at it’s best.

8. Protect Your WordPress Comments Section to Avoid SEO Penalties

Spam comments are bad news for your WordPress SEO.

Because search engines prioritize sites that provide a strong UX, spam comments can negatively impact your search engine rankings.

If you have a lot of unrelated spam comments it could make it difficult for search engines to determine what your site’s contents are about. This, in turn, could lower your chance of appearing in relevant SERPs.

To help protect your website from spam comments, you want to enable comment moderation in WordPress. This ensures no comment will be published without your approval.

To do this, go to Settings > Discussion in your WordPress dashboard.

Then select Comment must be manually approved checkbox:

wordpress settings discussion

You can also set some ground rules for your comments.

For example:

  • Only accept submissions if the author provides a name and an email.
  • Allow comments from registered members.

Many times spam comments contain links to malicious websites.

You can help WordPress identify and block this kind of comment spam by using the Hold a comment in the queue if it contains ______ or more links setting

wordpress hold comment

Alternatively, it is even better to use an anti-spam plugin such as Akismet.

Akismet usually comes pre-installed with WordPress and filters all of your comments through their anti-spam database and can stop the most common types of spam comments.

akismet spam plugin
Akismet Spam Plugin

The Akismet plugin is free to use for a personal blog, but you need to sign up for an API key

After activating Akismet:

Configure it by navigating to Settings > Akismet Anti-Spam.

There you can specify Akismet to automatically discard the “worst and most pervasive spam“.

Alternatively, Akismet can automatically send suspicious messages to the WordPress Spam folder and these will be deleted after 15 days. 

9. Avoid Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is bad for SEO.

Yes, this is true that duplicate content is bad for SEO but Google states:

Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.

Google

This in-depth article from Yoast goes into detail on duplicate content: the causes and solutions.

10. Create Better WordPress Summaries and Excerpts for Better SEO

Depending on how your site is structured, WordPress may display each post in multiple locations (on homepage, tage and categories archive page, and author’s page, etc.) using a summary for each post.

By default, WordPress generates this summary using the first 55 words of each post – although depending on your chosen theme, this number may vary slightly.

Instead of displaying the summary, you can have WordPress show an excerpt.

An excerpt is a short snippet that WordPress will display in key locations, such as your home page, search result, and archives pages.

By writing your own excerpt, you can create a more engaging teaser and SEO friendly snippet for your post.

Which in turn, can boost key metrics that search engines use as ranking signals, including the number of pages your readers visit and time spent on your site (bounce rate). 

Excerpts are also a great opportunity to include relevant keywords for that post.

However, be wary of keyword stuffing when you write your excerpts.

To write your excerpt, open a post for editing as normal.

In the WordPress editor, select the Post tab, and then click to expand the Excerpt section:

wordpress excerpt editor
WordPress excerpt section in post

Write your excerpt and publish or update the post as normal.

You can use this process for every post where you want to use a custom excerpt. 

Nofollow links are hyperlinks that will not influence your site’s rankings in the search engines.

When you use the “nofollow” tag, you are telling the search engines not to crawl these links.

Even though nofollow links don’t directly impact your WordPress SEO, there are some scenarios when they can help preserve your site’s SEO.

For example, the “nofollow” attribute is commonly used to avoid penalties when the search engines possibly identify a link as suspicious or penalize you for paid links.

If you’re using a WordPress SEO plugin such as Yoast, it is very simple to mark a link as nofollow.

When creating the link, just push the nofollow slider to the on position:

mark link as nofollow
Marking link as Nofollow for SEO

It’s worth mentioning that nofollow links may still have an indirect impact on SEO.

For example, if a nofollow link drives a large amount of traffic to a particular web page, the search engines may notice this increased activity, determine that the page has relevant, interesting content, and adjust its ranking.

Because of this, your nofollow link has indirectly improved your WordPress page’s search engine rankings.

12. Create a WordPress Sitemap to Help Your SEO

sitemap is a file that lists all of your WordPress site’s content in a XML format, which makes it search engine friendly.

Your sitemap helps search engines discover and index your content to help your site appear in relevant SERPs. 

WordPress 5.5 introduced a basic XML sitemap feature.

To view your automatically-generated sitemap file, add wp-sitemap.xml to the end of your site’s domain name in your browser.

For example, if your domain name is “www.mygreatsite.com”, you can view your sitemap at “www.mygreatsite.com/wp-sitemap.xml”.

There may be times you want to edit your default XML sitemap.

For example, you might want to exclude duplicate content, such as category and tag archive pages.

Doing this can not only ensure you avoid duplicate content penalties but helps the search engines not waste their crawl budget. 

In addition, many popular WordPress SEO plugins give you much more control over your sitemap.

For example, with the Yoast SEO plugin, you can customize your XML sitemap by going to SEO > Search Appearance > Content Types:

yoast content types
Specify search appearance for any type of content in Yoast SEO plugin

This feature lets you specify whether posts, pages, and other custom post types should be included in your sitemap.

Word of caution, if you decide to remove a post type from your sitemap it will also remove it from the search results. 

You can also get even more specific, and remove individual web pages from your sitemap.

For example, you may want to keep internal pages, such as author’s achives on a one person blog or thank you pages from email signups out of the search results.

You can easily remove a page by marking it with a noindex tag.

When editing the page or post you want to noindex, go to bottom of page or post to Yoast SEO, click to expand Yoast’s Advanced section:

Open the advanced drop-down menu.

The question that asks:

Allow search engines to show this Post in search results? 

Select No.

This will allow it to not show in search results.

noindex setting in Yoast SEO plugin
Advanced tab for Noindex setting in Yoast SEO plugin

13. Make Sure Your WordPress Site Is Using SSL and HTTPS

A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate encrypts all sensitive data and uses HTTPS to securely transmit information instead of HTTP.

This makes SSL an important tool for protecting your WordPress website against malicious third parties.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that Google uses HTTPS as a ranking signal.

Most all browsers indicate a site is using SSL by displaying a padlock icon alongside the website’s address.

secured site
Padlock showing site is secure

If your WordPress website doesn’t have a valid SSL certificate, a popup may show that your site is not secured and in seeing that notice, many visitors may distrust your site.

In turn, if they navigate quickly away, it can harm your WordPress SEO.

Some WordPress hosting providers include a SSL certificate in their hosting plans.

Since many hosting plans already include the SSL certificate, check your site to see if it shows HTTPS before your domain.

If it doesn’t, let’s get your site set up with one.

First, you may already have access to a certificate. Check your admin hosting account and see if it shows there.

It’s possible you have not set it up.

If you see one but it has not been set up, contact your hosting provider directly and they will step you through the process.

But if your hosting plan does not have an SSL certificate, you can purchase or acquire one from a trusted authority, such as Let’s Encrypt.

You can then install it using a WordPress plugin such as Really Simple SSL.

After activating this plugin, navigate to Settings > SSL:

You can then select Activate SSL.

Your done. That is all you need to do!

After enabling SSL, you should setup redirects for any unsecure URLs that are shared elsewhere.

For example, if a third party is linking to an HTTP version of your content, you should create a redirect to the new HTTPS version of your web page.

By setting up redirects, it ensures your site is not missing out on any traffic, or as a result of broken links you don’t incur any WordPress SEO penalties. 

If you need to setup any redirects, you can use a plugin such as Redirection that will manage all redirects on your WordPress website.

14. Optimize Your WordPress Site for Google’s Core Web Vitals

Google’s Core Web Vitals are a set of metrics that takes your website’s performance into consideration.

The set of metrics particularly include:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – Measures loading performance (web page should start to load within 2.5 seconds)
  • First Input Delay (FID) – Measures interactivity (how fast your web page loads – FID should be less than 100 milliseconds)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – Measures visual stability (this refers to shifting of images,, email signups, etc.,while the web page loads – CLS should have a score of less than 0.1)

By using these numbers, Google determines how users perceive the experience of interacting with your WordPress site.

Google has confirmed that Core Web Vitals will become a ranking factor as of June 2021. 

To help you meet Google’s Core Web Vital criteria, start with Google’s PageSpeed Insights to check the performance on your web pages.

Remember, this performance criteria check should be done for each web page on your site not just your homepage.

Run the PageSpeed Insights on your homepage first to see what (if any) items you need to work on.

If you want to add plugins (caching, optimize images, compressing your code, etc.) to speed up your site, install and activate them one at a time. 

By activating them one at a time, you will be able to verify they work well with your other plugins.

WordPress Plugins to Help with Core Web Vitals

  • Comet Cache – caching for your WordPress site
  • Smush – Optimize and compress images, turn on lazy load, and resize 
  • Autoptimize – minify JavaScript, CSS, and other types of code

Also, check your PageSpeed Insights after installing and activating each plugin to see what changed on your web page analysis.

15. Internal Linking for WordPress SEO

Internal links are hyperlinks that point to another page on the same website that the link exists on.

These internal links are important because they help the search engines understand your site better.

When you write an article, using internal links shows the search engines the other pages on your site that are important and relevant to the content.

For great WordPress SEO, use descriptive anchor text when linking to other pages on your site.

An example of descriptive anchor text would be using relevant text for the page it is linking to instead of using a generic “Click here”.

16. Organize Your Site Structure

Having a solid site structure will help your audience and search engines navigate your site.

There should be a clear path from your home page to individual posts and pages, and back to the homepage.

By adding categories and subcategories to your site, you will be able to bring order to your site.

Ideally, you will want to organize your site like this:

site hierarchy
Your site structure should follow a strict hierarchy

By having your homepage easy to navigate and not a lot of clutter, helps your readers find information easily.

Also, having a clear menu helps your readers navigate your site whatever page they land on when entering your site.

In Conclusion: The Complete Guide to WordPress SEO

Improving your WordPress website’s search engine rankings isn’t easy, but these proven WordPress SEO strategies tutorial takes the guesswork out and shows you how to implement them.

For you to succeed, you need to optimize every page, post, and media file using these proven techniques and trustworthy tools.

Installing a dedicated WordPress SEO plugin such as Yoast SEO can be a great first step to enhance your rankings in the search engines.

A caching plugin such as Comet Cache used in conjunction with Autoptimize is also essential for reducing page loading times, minify scripts and files to help your site load faster, which in this article we have found out that Google uses as a ranking factor.

For the best results, we also recommend looking for opportunities to include relevant keywords in your WordPress content: this would include in your titles, subheading, permalinks, excerpts, and alt text. 

Do you have any questions about improving your WordPress SEO? Let me know in the comment section below

As Always,

Create Yours: Step-by-Step,

julia at create a website tutorial

P.S. If you are struggling with creating your blog and want it to be a success, hop on over to my free tutorial on how to start a successful blog. See what steps you may have missed when making your blog.