These 15 SEO hacks for WordPress will push your pages higher up the organic search results.
Organic search has been called the ‘gift that keeps on giving’:
- It’s cost effective
- It results in leads who are already searching for what you offer
- It has a long life-span
If done properly SEO will keep on delivering a steady stream of traffic and new leads, long after you created your web page and optimized it for the search engines.
But it’s also highly competitive.
Beat your competition with these 15 SEO Hacks for WordPress sites.
1. Permalink Structure
This is one of the most important SEO hacks for WordPress. By default, WordPress will give you a URL that looks like this:
In terms of SEO, this is a really bad URL structure, because it doesn’t contain any keywords
The most commonly used WordPress permalink structures are:
I’ve heard it said that the most SEO-friendly URL structure for a WordPress site is the one that uses Domain.com/Postname rather than Domain.com/Category/Post-name.
Other authorities (e.g. Yoast) say it doesn’t matter: that this issue is SEO-neutral.
But Option #2 will give you the shortest possible URL and that’s always an advantage. For example, it will make your URL more readable in the search results.
On balance, I would recommend Option #2. And that’s why I recently removed the category tag from my URL structure.
In the WordPress Dashboard, click on ‘Permalinks’:
Then choose the ‘Post name’ option:
2. Enable Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs will help your pages rank higher in the search engines for a number of reasons:
- Your breadcrumbs will likely include your keyword, so they allow you to increase your keyword count
- The search engines can only find a web page if it linked to another webpage that the search engine has already indexed or found. Breadcrumbs help the search engines to crawl your site, and therefore they make your site SEO-friendly.
- Google likes breadcrumbs and it now displays them in the search results. If you have breadcrumbs enabled, Google will display the breadcrumb navigation instead of the URL. As well as looking really good, it gives your visitor an idea of how your site is organized.
If you are using a Premium WordPress theme, your theme may already include an option for breadcrumbs. That’s certainly the case with the theme I use (Magazine Pro by StudioPress).
Otherwise, the easiest way to add breadcrumb navigation to your WordPress site is by using the Breadcrumb NavXT plugin. It’s free and has been downloaded over 600,000 times, so it’s popular!
3. Remove Site-wide Links in Footer
The Google algorithm doesn’t like site-wide footer links that point to other websites (e.g. this site is powered by ____). These kind of links were once a popular black-hat SEO technique that resulted in millions of links all having the same anchor text.
If you have these site-wide footer links, you may get a Google penalty, so either remove them or insert a ‘no follow’ tag.
For instructions on how to modify or remove the links in your WordPress footer, see this video:
4. Use Yoast SEO to Optimize Every Blog Post
Yoast is widely regarded as the best WordPress SEO plugin. If you use the Yoast SEO checklist for every new blog post, you will ensure:
- Your keyword is in the blog post URL
- Your blog post title does not exceed 70 characters (and therefore does not get truncated in the search results)
- Your keyword is in the page title
- Your keyword is in the meta description
- Your blog post has more than the minimum required words (300)
Here's a screenshot of a Yoast report on a web page after implementing most of the Yoast SEO recommendations for that page:
5. Remove Spam Comments from Trash
Comment spam is now a major problem that affects anyone with a WordPress site. At a minimum you should enable comment moderation so that all comments require your approval before appearing on your web page.
Install the Akismet plugin to filter out spam comments. You should regularly empty both the spam folder and the trash folder in the comments section of the WP dashboard. Why?
- Firstly, if you let the spam comments build up, the sheer volume of it can seriously damage your site.
- Secondly, even though these spam comments have been deleted and are sitting in the trash folder, your web host can detect that you have a large volume of spam on your site and could close your site down until you have removed the spam. I know someone this happened to and believe me, it’s a nightmare scenario!
6. Update Your WordPress Theme
Many of the free WordPress themes are not SEO-friendly. So if you are using one of these free themes, you may be hurting your search engine ranking.
Most Premium WP themes have been SEO optimized. This means they are fast, responsive, secure, cross browser compatible, and use HTML5.
One thing to look for when buying a Premium theme is reliability. You don’t want to buy a premium theme only to find that a few years down the track the develop stops updating it. If that happens, you’ll be left with a WP theme that becomes more and more SEO-hostile with each passing year.
So look for a premium theme that was developed using up-to-date coding standards and where the developer has a long-term commitment to keeping the theme SEO friendly.
Most experts agree that StudioPress makes the most SEO-friendly WordPress themes. Matt Cutts, former head of Google's Webspam team, uses a StudioPress theme. That’s a pretty strong recommendation. Needless to say, my own site uses a StudioPress theme (Magazine Pro).
StudioPress themes are a little more expensive (about $99) than other premium themes, but it’s nothing when you consider that people with other themes are spending hundreds of dollars trying to make their websites more SEO-friendly.
7. Add an XML Sitemap to Your Blog
Use the Sitemap function within the Yoast SEO plugin to create a site map and then submit the sitemap to Google Search Console (used to be called Google Webmaster Tools).
In the WP Dashboard Menu click on SEO, then XML Sitemaps:
On the next screen, make sure that 'Sitemap' is enabled. Then click on the XML Sitemap link:
On the next screen highlight and copy the URL in the address bar:
Then go to your Google Search Console:
Click on ‘Sitemaps’ under the ‘Crawl’ heading:
Then click on the red button in the top right of the next screen:
8. Reduce Unnecessary Plugins
Avoid ‘WP Plugin Bloat’.
Too many WordPress Plugins can quickly slow down your site and negatively affect your SEO.
Try to have no more than 11 activated plugins.
9. Add Descriptions to your Categories
This is one of the lesser known SEO hacks for WordPress and therefore an easy win. Category descriptions can improve your search rankings.
Most people who use WordPress don’t have category descriptions, so this little detail may give you that tiny bit of advantage you need to push your web page higher in the search results.
In the WordPress Dashboard Menu, click on ‘Posts’ and then ‘Categories’:
Then click on the title of a Category:
On the next screen, enter your category description in the text box provided:
10. Maximize The Speed of Your Site
The time it takes your site to load is one of the many factors that the Google algorithm measures. Because Google is constantly trying ti improve user experience, the faster your site loads, the higher your page will rank in the results.
- Use SmushIT plugin to compress images
- Use Better WordPress Minify to compress codes
- Use a caching plugin like WP Fastest Cache to deliver static pages
- Use a webhost with fast loading times. I use BlueHost and my site loads in 1.1 seconds.
Do everything you can to make your website load in 1.5 – 2 seconds.
By simply installing the WP Fastest Cache plugin, I took my score on Google’s PageSpeed Insights® from 41 to 64!
You can test the speed of your website at these two sites:
11. Privacy Settings
Make sure that ‘Search Engine Visibility’ has not been turned off.
Go to Settings > Reading and you’ll see ‘Search Engine Visibility’ with a check box that says “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”. Make sure this box is unchecked.
12. Internal Linking
13. Use ALT Attributes for Images
Image ALT Attributes were introduced to help visually impaired people read web pages.
If you were blind and using a ‘screen reader’ to read a web page, the Image ALT tags would tell you what the image shows.
Search Engine bots are also visually impaired. All they can read is text - they can’t read images. So if you’re not using ALT tags with your images you’re losing a huge opportunity to inform the search engines about your page content.
Where possible use your keywords in the ALT tags.
But make sure the keywords are relevant to the image. For example, if the main keyword for your web page is ‘web hosting’ and you have an image of a web hosting server, then it’s fine to use ‘web hosting server’ as an ALT tag for that image.
If the image is in no way related to ‘web hosting’, you shouldn’t use ‘web hosting’ in the ALT tag. That could get you penalized by Google.
Enter the Alt Attributes in the ‘Alternative Text’ field when you upload the image to your site:
14. Use a Caching Plugin to Reduce Load Time
WordPress is a php-based Content Management System. This means that WordPress has to load a lot of information from databases every time a visitor clicks on a page link.
When you’re just starting and you don’t have a lot of traffic this may not be an issue. But as your traffic builds you are going to notice your site getting slower and slower.
A caching plugin stores a static version of your web pages, so that when the WP system receives a request, it can display the page very quickly, without having to load the data in ‘real time’.
There are many WP caching plugins. For a good review of the various caching plugins, read Adam Connell’s 9 Top Plugins To Speed Up WordPress (Caching Plugins And More).
I use WP Fastest Cache. These are the settings you need to apply for WP Fastest Cache:
15. Social Signals
One of the key metrics that the Google algorithm measures is number of social media shares. So make it easy for your visitors to share your content.
There are quite a few plugins that will display all the major social media icons and aggregate the shares into a single figure. These are great for getting more shares.
The one I use is Social Warfare plugin for WordPress.
I noticed a dramatic increase in my social shares after installing this plugin.
Here are some tips on how to get the best results from Social Warfare:
- In the Styles menu, under the heading ‘Floating Share Buttons’ choose ‘left side of the page’ and not top or bottom of the page. For some reason a floating panel of share buttons on the left side of the page gets more shares than in any other position.
- In the ‘Display’ menu, under the heading ‘Share Counts’ set the ‘Minimum Shares’ to 10. This means that your share counter will display nothing until you have reached 10 shares. The reason for this? Telling visitors that your page has had less than 10 shares will actually work against you. It does more harm than a page with no shares.
- In the same box (‘Share Counts’) turn the ‘Button Counts’ off. This means you will just be displaying a single aggregated figure for all your shares. You won’t be showing a figure for each individual social media platform. The reason for this? Any given visitor to your web page will have their own social media preferences, and they may not rate some platforms highly at all. Therefore it’s better simply to show an aggregated figure, without showing which platform those shares came from.
Wrapping It Up
Each of these SEO hacks may seem small in themselves but that’s how search engine ranking work.
All you need is a tiny, fractional advantage (for example a fractionally faster loading time for your website) in order for your page to climb one position higher in the SERPS (search engine results).
And one position higher means you get more shares, more newsletter sign-ups, more comments etc.
Those things in turn produce a further SEO advantage with the result that your page goes up another position in the rankings.
And so on.
It’s all about small increments! Or, as I said in another article, chiselling out one foothold after another in the steep rock face of blogging success.
Over to you!
If you have any thoughts on this topic, let me know in the comments below.
Also published on Medium.