I recently gave a little talk in Jávea, Spain to a group of digital nomads, and went over some of the best SEO practices for WordPress websites. I wanted to share some of what was discussed, and give people, especially WordPress beginners, a good overview of the bare minimum they should do with their WordPress website to help increase their search rankings when they produce new content.
Install a SEO Plugin
WordPress isn’t too bad out of the box in terms of SEO, at least for the main page. But beyond that, it doesn’t give a person very much control or ability to influence search rankings. For example, Google typically looks at some information buried in your website called the “title” and “description” meta tags. Google doesn’t have to use the information in them, but it often does. So it’s a good to make sure they reflect what your content actually represents.
In addition, social media is huge now, it’s important to have your website look optimal when shared on Facebook or Twitter. Ever see someone share a post on Twitter that has an image? Or if not, wonder why? Twitter doesn’t grab an image from your content automatically – your website needs to tell Twitter what image to use and how it needs to be displayed. If you don’t have that set up properly, you’ll never have an image associated with your content when shared.
You can get these types of important features with a combination of plugins, or you can simply use Elevate SEO, a plugin we wrote to help address all of these important issues. In addition, it performs a lot more than just those items, which will get to shortly.
But the very first thing you should do is install Elevate SEO for WordPress. It’s absolutely free, and available in the free WordPress.org repository under the name “Elevate SEO”. Simply follow the instructions for installing the Elevate SEO plugin for WordPress, and then continue on.
Configure Your Site’s Primary Title and Description Information
Once installed, you’ll be immediately presented with the configuration wizard. Simply go through each page one by one and answer the questions listed there. During this process, you’ll be able to configure the main search related title and description for your website, which is important for helping Google index your site properly. Elevate SEO will ask you for the name of your website, which is the primary branding for it. For example, if you had an automotive repair shop called “Joe’s Auto”, you would set that to “Joe’s Auto”. That information will be used on the next few pages, and will be automatically inserted into the search descriptions for the rest of your content.
On the next page, you’ll configure the primary search title for your site – this is important, as it’s likely what will show up in Google when people search for your site. Often you’ll want to set this to be as descriptive as possible. For example, if your customer base is primarily located around Vancouver, Canada, you might want to set this to “Joe’s Auto – quality automobile repair located near Vancouver, Canada”. If you only service BMW vehicles, you’d likely want to add BMW there too, which will help bring traffic from people who search for BMW in Google.
Once that’s done, you’ll want to configure an informative description for search engines as well. The description represents what visitors can expect when they visit your site, and what the nature of your business is – what is your unique competitive advantage? Imagine your site being listed with all your competitors? What type of description would help drive someone to your site and not your competitors? This is the type of information you may want to convey to people who see your site in search results, and you can modify that by changing the content in this field.
Set Up Your Social Media Presence
There are two areas that you need to configure for social media during Elevate SEO’s installation process. First, you need to specify a default image that Elevate SEO will use whenever your content is shared on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. If you have some type of unique branding for your website, then this is a great place for it. If you don’t, check out some of the free images on Unsplash.com and find something catchy to use.
The second thing you need to do is specify the Twitter account associated with your business. This will make sure when someone shares some of your content on Twitter that it’s properly associated with your account – this will help drive traffic to your website, and also your Twitter account.
Set Up Google Search Console and Google Analytics
One of the best ways to obtain feedback about how your site is doing in Google is via their Search Console tool. Surprisingly, many of the client sites I’ve looked at over the years, even ones that have a SEO plugin installed, don’t have this set up properly. So head on over to Google Search Console and create an account if you don’t already have one.
The next thing you should do is head on over to Google Analytics and sign-up for an account there. While Google Search Console will give you information about who is searching or your website, Google analytics will give you information about who is actually visiting your website. It’s an important difference, and it’s good practice to start monitoring both going forward. So if you don’t have an account, sign-up for an account now on Google Analytics. There’s no need to configure your website on analytics at this stage – Elevate SEO will do that all automatically for you shortly, as you’ll soon see.
The next step is to add your site and verify it on Google Search Console and also configure it on Google Analytics. In other plugins, this is mostly a manual process. But with Elevate SEO, this will happen automatically via the installation wizard. Once you authorize Elevate SEO for WordPress to have access to your Google account, it will set up your website on Google Search Console, verify your site if necessary (which involves putting a special text file on your server so Google knows you actually own it), and also setting up and configuring Google Analytics.
One of the primary features most SEO plugins for WordPress offer is the ability to automatically generate an XML sitemap. An XML sitemap includes a detailed list of all the content on your website, and can be used by search engines to obtain a very accurate layout of your website. Without a sitemap, Google has to try to figure out your website layout by visiting each page and following the links embedded there. But if you have some content that isn’t very well linked to, Google and other search engines may have a hard time finding it. So the XML sitemap ensures that search engines will find all the content on your website.
Normally a person would have to manually submit an XML sitemap to Google Search Console. But if you went through the Elevate SEO installation wizard, you can login to Google Search Console and see that it was already generated and and submitted.
Writing New Content
Now that you have all the technical stuff out of the way, the most important thing you can do is write great content. What that means is to write content that is genuine, targeted (i.e. often a single post should answer a single question, something that people might ultimately search for), and not sound like a robot wrote it (which unfortunately is the way other plugins seem to steer people towards).
We can’t help you write great content because every author needs to have a unique voice. But what Elevate SEO can do is help that post look great when shared, and also let you modify the information Google and other search engines will likely use when they index your content.
Once you have completed writing your new content, you can view the Elevate SEO section of the WordPress content editor. There you will see the title and description that will be populated for Google and other search engines to use.
Elevate SEO typically makes an intelligent guess at how to populate these based on your settings, but you can easily modify any field by simply clicking in each input field to start editing. Similarly to how you configured the main page in the configuration wizard, you can also modify the title and description to help drive traffic to your site. It’s good practice to make these fields sound natural, but also include words that people are likely to include when searching for this content.
If you think the site-wide social media image you set in the configuration wizard would be appropriate for your new content, then you can basically finish there. But if not, you should set a featured image within WordPress for the new content – this will ultimately cause Elevate SEO to use that image when being shared online. We personally try to vary these images for every new post we do so our content always looks unique, but depending on your content that may or may not be necessary for you.
When your content is already, you can use the Web Preview button to take a look at how your content will look around the web. If you’ve set a featured image for the content, you should see it take precedence here now.
It’s a good idea to use the built-in Web Preview prior to publishing any new post, since you can easily see how your content will look in Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn.
For the most part, installing Elevate SEO and following these simple steps for each post or page you create will help search engines better target your content, and also ensure your content always looks great when shared on social media.
For more information on Elevate SEO, or to grab a copy yourself, please visit the primary Elevate SEO plugin for WordPress page. Also, follow Elevate SEO on Twitter if you want to continue receiving great SEO tips for WordPress, and also be informed about exciting new features for Elevate SEO.