WordPress is a tremendously powerful content management system. We’re quite fond of it at EXERTUS, as we believe strongly in handing the keys over to our clients; we feel that proprietary and one-off HTML websites are needlessly limiting in most instances. With WordPress, you have control over your website, which should always be the goal.

To get the most out of your WordPress site, there are a number of best practices which should be followed. In fact, these best practice recommendations are nearly limitless. Fundamentals include code that is correctly and cleanly formatted; content that is topical, robust, and relevant; and page load times that are reasonable and short. Of course, with WordPress, not all of these factors are necessarily under your control (much of the site’s foundational code is built into the CMS, for example), but it’s always a good idea to be wary of them. When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, there are certain factors that influence SEO results – if you know what these factors are, it can greatly aid in your online strategy.

It is always our recommendation that you skew closely to Google’s own SEO recommendations, as set forth in their Google Webmaster Guidelines. Why take an agency’s word for it when you can go straight to the source? With that being said, the following SEO tips for WordPress users will certainly set your team down the right path. Implement these recommendations on your site and see the results for yourself – with the Yoast SEO plugin, most of these are easily accomplished.

1. Utilize Proper URL Structure

Your site’s URL structure and hierarchy not only help your readers and users navigate through the site, but help search engines like Google and Bing do so as well. If you utilize randomly-generated page URLs, it hinders search engines’ ability to crawl the site and determine individual page topics. In WordPress, the standard permalink structure is as follows:

?p=<postid>

If you are utilizing the Yoast SEO plugin, you can change your permalink structure under Settings to read /post-name/ or /category/post-name/ instead. With this structure in place, you can utilize your URLs for keyword placement, as well as provide search engines and readers with a clear page layout. You can accomplish this either by selecting “Post Name” under your permalink settings, or implementing /%category%/%postname%/ into the “Custom Structure” field.

2. Set Preferred Domain

It’s possible for a website to co-exist with both www and non-www versions. However, this is far from ideal. Google and other search engines prefer websites to have a preferred domain; in other words, a domain that takes precedent and priority over the other. Taking things one step further, it is even sound practice to redirect the non-preferred domain to the preferred domain in order to solidify this hierarchy in the eyes of search engines and your users.

To set your preferred domain in WordPress, simply navigate to Settings and then select General. In the WordPress address field, you can enter your URL either with the www or without. Once you’ve selected your URL structure, you will want to open Google Webmaster Tools (if you don’t have Webmaster Tools or Analytics set on your website, we can help; with EXERTUS Connect, plugins are made easy), and set the preferred domain under Settings. This tells Google which version to index in its search results.

3. Optimize Page Titles and Meta Descriptions

Search engines determine your site’s topical relevancy by reviewing its content. Though there are many individual elements that can come into play here, two of the primary content fields are the Meta fields – which include the URL, title tag (or page title), Meta description, and on-page headers (such as your H1 or Heading 1) – and your on-page body content. Including keywords and related terms in these fields can greatly improve your site’s SEO performance for relevant and related search queries.

With Yoast’s SEO plugin for WordPress, including keywords and related terms in your Meta fields is simple. Simply navigate to the SEO field on your page’s dashboard; once there, you will see the applicable input fields for title tag and description. The title tag field may be auto-generated based on the H1 or post title, but you can change this by manually overwriting it. When drafting title tags, remember to be concise and direct, and always write unique title tags. Generally, title tags should be no more than 70 characters in length, give or take.

4. Optimize On-page Content

Just as it’s important to optimize your Meta fields (the title tag is generally accepted as being the single most important field on the page in terms of SEO relevance), it’s also important that you implement your target keywords throughout the body content. Doing so reinforces to search engines that the site is in fact about the topic found in the title tag and Meta description. In fact, as a general rule of thumb, all of your on-page elements should reinforce the key topic or concept, including imagery and videos if present.

To ensure that your page content is properly optimized, take advantage of the Snippet Preview provided by Yoast’s SEO plugin. It contains a checklist of many key ranking factors, including page length, keyword usage, image usage, readability, and more. Draft up your page and then check this preview to find opportunities for improvement. For example, perhaps you could use more sub-headings or do a better job integrating your keyword – the Snippet Preview will provide you with this information so that you can act on actual data, rather than your gut.

5. Utilize an XML Sitemap

There are several ways to incorporate a sitemap into your website. Traditionally, many sites have included an HTML sitemap, which lists all (or key) pages as HTML links on a standard webpage. However, the better option is to implement an XML sitemap. Why? Because XML sitemaps are auto-generated and can be submitted to search engines. In effect, an XML sitemap allows you to tell search engines what pages can be found on your website. They can be tremendously useful, and are definitely recommended.

To create and submit an XML sitemap of your WordPress site, leverage Yoast’s XML sitemap module. Navigate to Settings and then select XML Sitemaps. Activating an XML sitemap for your WordPress site is as simple and easy as clicking the box to enable the functionality – the rest takes care of itself, thanks to WordPress and Yoast.

Make Your WordPress Site Work for You

With these essential SEO tips for WordPress users, you and your team can create a website that follows best practices, provides search engines with the information needed to determine your site’s topical relevancy, and allows for a positive user experience. If you don’t yet have a corporate website or are considering redoing an existing site, the team at EXERTUS can help. Check out our how-to on setting up the Yoast SEO plugin. To discover more, get in touch with EXERTUS today – we’re here to help!