In this post, I’ll explore 11 essential SEO settings every new blog should consider. This is your intro to WordPress blog SEO!
Why? – you ask. Your site’s content is its most important asset, but it’s useless if it doesn’t attract visitors! SEO – search engine optimization – is a tool every website owner should use to make sure their content is optimized for search engine consumption, which will bring in more and more visitors.
And it just so happens that setting up your WordPress blog correctly is the first step to good SEO, so this is where the following tutorial on your essential SEO settings comes into play.
1. Make sure search engines see you
Just launched your blog? WordPress has a built-in setting that – if turned on – discourages search engines from looking at your site. This can be useful for development or private sites, but should always be switched off otherwise.
Head on over to Settings / Reading and look for the “Search Engine Visibility” setting. Make sure it is switched off and everything will be dandy!
This is probably the most important of all essential SEO settings for WordPress.
2. Fine-tune permalinks
In case you’re not sure what this is about; here’s the permalink for this very post, the underlined part, “essential SEO settings WordPress”:
However, by default, your blog doesn’t allow you to set permalinks in this custom way. To enable pretty permalinks, go to your WordPress dashboard → Settings → Permalinks. Select the structure labeled “Post name”, like so:
At this point, you can assign custom permalinks to each of your blog posts and pages. Furthermore, WordPress will predict what the best permalink for any given post is and assign it automatically.
Lately WordPress has become smarter and is filtering out unnecessary words from default permalinks. Until not long ago a post titled, say, “Ten essential plugins for ecommerce websites” would have used
ten-essential-plugins-for-ecommerce-websites. Depending on how you want to target your article you might want to use
essential-plugins-ecommerce-websites, or even
essential-ecommerce-plugins. Either way, the word “for” is completely unnecessary there.
You can fine-tune permalinks under the post title. If you don’t see a permalink, make sure to save a draft, it should pop up after the page reloads.
The main idea here is to put the main keyword for the post in the permalink.
Speaking of posts and their impact on your WordPress blog SEO:
3. Write good content and write often
Granted, this might not sound that intuitive when talking about essential SEO settings, but we think this is an absolutely crucial SEO tactic. Good content alone is not enough to propel your site to the top of Google, but goes a long-long way. Google has become pretty good at determining what constitutes good content.
If you’re writing about “motorcycling helmet cleaners” you’ll probably want to put that phrase in your article a couple of times, but don’t overdo it. Just because you have your key phrase eight times in a paragraph won’t do anything to budge your ranking – on the contrary, it may send you further down.
Write naturally, but be smart. If you have a good opportunity to drop in a keyword or two do so, but don’t go overboard. It might be an essential SEO setting, but too much of it and you’ve done more harm than good.
A regularly updated site will also help you in your SEO efforts. Not just because Google will see that your site is active, but because there will be more content to base your rank on. In addition, this helps with user engagement and retention as well – a double win.
As before, don’t go overboard, that’s one of the main rules of SEO. Updating your site ten times a day with similar content will just lower your rank. If you have the option to post unique and valuable content 3-4 times a day, by all means do so. Otherwise a site updated once a week with an extremely good article is way more valuable that one updated every day with fluff.
4. Optimize your site for speed
Website speed is a crucial factor. Google takes it into account as well. Moreover, site speed has a number of other effects which will add together to grind all your efforts to a halt.
Site speed is a critical factor in early exits, bounce rates, page view times because it directly affects user experience. As such, you will retain fewer visitors, your SEO rank will drop which will lead to even fewer visitors and many of those who stay will become increasingly frustrated.
Speed times can be helped a LOT in the WordPress arena with managed WordPress hosts. We can highly recommend:
- Kinsta – starts at $30 / month, 1 WordPress install, up to 20,000 visits / month
- Flywheel – starts at $13 / month, 1 WordPress install, up to 5,000 visits / month
- WPEngine – starts at $22.50 / month, 1 WordPress install, up to 25,000 visits / month
Either of these hosts will handle the essential SEO settings on their end – so that you don’t even have to look under the hood.
To perform basic speed tests on your site, use either of these tools.
And make sure to check out this post for some additional tips and tactics on how to speed up your WordPress site.
5. Set your categories and tags correctly
WordPress uses categories and tags to help you organize the content on your blog.
The general idea with categories and tags is to:
- use categories to group your posts under a common topic
- use tags to single out individual aspects or sub-topics of your posts
To make this a bit more clear, consider the following example:
If you’re blogging about the hottest topic of them all – food(!), here’s how you might organize three example blog posts:
- “Spanish Paella Recipe” – category: recipes, tags: dinner, rice, spanish
- “How to Make Scrambled Eggs” – category: recipes, tags: breakfast, eggs
- “How to Pair Wine With Food” – category: drink, tags: wine
That’s just an example, but you get the idea. Categories are more general and are sort of one level above tags.
The main SEO benefit of this way of organizing content is that WordPress creates separate archive pages for your categories and tags. If you create a good category and tag structure, those automatic category and tag archive pages become valuable resources on their own.
If you want to see what this looks like in practice, just hop over to the WordPress tutorials category on this blog.
6. Use an SEO plugin
One of the best SEO plugins for WordPress is Yoast SEO (though there are viable alternatives, too). It is updated continuously to keep up with search engine changes and contains everything you’ll need to make your site an SEO powerhouse, effectively taking care of all your essential SEO settings.
The good thing about Yoast is that it basically works right out the box and doesn’t require any difficult configuration. For the most part, you’re good with factory settings.
That being said, fine tunning some things will only take a couple of minutes and can pay off.
Here’s what you can do:
Go to SEO → General → Webmaster Tools. Provide your verification code for Google Search Console. Follow the highlighted link to get your code:
Go to SEO → Search Appearance and go through the individual tabs.
Start with Content Types:
Make sure you have all options enabled for both your posts and pages.
Next, Media. Just one thing there:
Enable the option to have the attachment URLs redirected to the attachments themselves.
Next tab, Taxonomies. This is where you can decide how you want to handle the category and tag listings on your WordPress blog.
Generally speaking, if your blog features a lot of categories and tags then you should choose to show them in search results. If you have only a few categories or just one category then disable it from search. This helps you avoid the issue of duplicate content – an important factor for your basic WordPress blog SEO.
Next tab, Archives.
Apart from your categories and tags, WordPress also creates separate archives for author accounts and sets up date-based archives.
For single-author blogs, disable the author archives. The date archives are up to you, but many people advise disabling them too.
This sums up your essential SEO settings inside Yoast.
7. Optimize your images
Managing your media properly is a great way to get an SEO edge, thus making it one of the essential SEO settings. Many website owners overlook image captions, alt text and file names. All of these are important and can be added so easily. The reason they are often skipped is that images are added after the post has been written. It took the author three hours to write the post, adding bits of text to 20 images is soooo tiring and will add another 20 minutes of work.
Fair enough, but is this worth losing rank over? Providing information to Google about what the images is about by filling out the name, making sure the file name itself is readable, typing up a caption and an alt text will add that much more information about your content.
Now, with that taken care of, the other aspect of image optimization is handling the image files properly in the first place. Here’s the thing with images; they take up a lot of disk space on your server, and thus also take a lot of time to load in your reader’s web browser.
The problem with that is two-fold:
- Again, Google now actively penalizes sites that take a lot of time to load – read: you will lose rankings
- people will generally not wait any longer than 2 seconds for your site to load; anything above that and they’ll leave
Luckily, fixing this issue is rather simple. All you need is an image optimization plugin that will take good care of your image files all on its own – working on autopilot. Check out Optimole, it’s the top solution in the market.
8. Give your post titles extra attention
Titles are the most important part of your page. This is what search engines see first and this is also what users see first. For users it has to be catchy, for search engines it has to be keyword targeted. Try to find a good balance between the two.
While I’d be a little hesitant to say this in front of an SEO crowd, I would lean toward the user if push comes to shove. As you’ll see below you can set the meta title of your page which gives search engines information about the page. The actual title is more for user-consumption in my opinion.
9. Use essential SEO settings for your posts
If you use the Yoast SEO plugin, you’ll see a “Yoast SEO” box under each post. Use the snippet editor to control how your result will look on Google. Set the focus keyword as well to get an assessment of how your post conforms to current SEO guidelines.
This is a great way to write content better targeted to search engines and gain extra visitors through the process.
I like to edit the snippet of every post, even though an automatic one is generated. These little touches are what can separate the serious websites from the floundering ones.
10. Test your site for mobile friendliness
Another thing that Google likes to see with websites when it comes to essential SEO settings is an optimized design that looks good on mobile devices. The reason? Simple; there are more people accessing the web via mobiles these days than there are doing so via desktop computers and laptops combined.
The deal is simple, if your site fails to load on mobile, you’ll lose your rank. Not a great sounding deal, right, but a clear one nonetheless!
Okay, so how to make sure you’re in the clear? Luckily, Google provides us with a tool where we can test our sites and make sure everything is okay. It’s simply called the Mobile-Friendly Test. You can access it here.
Test your site with it thoroughly. Make sure there are no issues with your homepage, your blog posts and pages.
If you can see anything worrying, follow Google’s tips to fix the issues.
11. Make friends
One part of this is social media. Make sure you have an active presence, engage with visitors and potential visitors (i.e.: your target group) as much as you can. Getting people to talk about you is one of the best ways to get incoming links which Google will take into account. The larger the website linking to you, the more weight it receives.
Another part of this is talking to website owners who write about your sector and making friends. Don’t just contact people if you want something from them. Offer to give advice or other means of help you can give. This will make you friends quickly who will want to write about you – again, valuable SEO fodder.
I’ve found that being nice has awesome far-reaching consequences and opens a lot of doors. Even if you need to go out of your way now, it may come back to give you a boost when you really need it.
When in doubt, be smart
Don’t know if naming image files properly should be one of your essential SEO settings for WordPress? Then take the time and name them properly, the worst that can happen is nothing, the best that can happen is that Google appreciates the effort and uses this in some small way to increase your ranking. It might not mean much, but a few minor things like this could give you the edge you need.
The image file example is a good one because many website use screenshots and are too lazy to rename them. It is so much easier to just take the screenshot, drag & drop and be done with it. Taking the time to rename the file seems like a waste of time.
Also, Google does take file naming into account, so there!
Remember the most important rule: Google is, and always has, attempted to figure out what your content is about by mimicking the behavior of humans. Humans are much better at figuring out what is valuable and what isn’t than computers. Therefore the more “naturally good” your content is, the better.
While there are certain tips and tricks you can use, these will quickly become obsolete. For example: In the olden days, people used to litter their pages with keywords and then hide them from view, gaining SEO ranking quickly. Google then figured out how to deal with these and punished offending websites with significant rank cuts.
Write good content, write targeted content, be sensible and utilize the tools at your disposal to tell Google as much about your content as possible. Those are your essential SEO settings. All search engines will reward you with a good ranking if you do things right.
Struggling with essential SEO settings on your WordPress blog? Share your story in the comments section below. Maybe we can help.
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Original text by Daniel Pataki and Karol K.
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