WordPress SEO Checklist – 45 Tips to Increase Traffic by 571% in 13 Months
Updated on June 15, 2018
Some might lead you to believe “SEO is dead.” Google that search term and what comes back in return is over 800,000 search results. However, just because SEO has changed drastically over the past decade doesn’t mean it is dead, it simply means it has changed. Businesses now have to take new and unique approaches to SEO to win the never-ending game in SERPs. Many bootstrap companies and blogs build their entire business from the beginning off of organic search. While this may be risky, it still is a sign that organic search is alive and well. In this in-depth post, we are going to share with you 45+ WordPress SEO tips that we use here at Kinsta. These will help skyrocket your traffic and dominate your competition.
WordPress SEO Tips 2018 (Our Results)
70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, focusing on the organic results. – imFORZA
SEO, or search engine optimization, are the methods and or strategies used to rank a website and content higher in search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, to result in more organic traffic. There are really two sides to SEO, the first is the technical part of it and the second can sometimes be more of a natural branding play among online businesses.
Coming out on top with SEO depends on delivering a high-quality website experience with awesome content. For businesses, this winning play comes with following the basic ingredients of WordPress SEO best-practices. Just how well does it work? Well, the proof is always in the pudding! Here’s a screenshot of our “organic” analytics here at Kinsta. By organic we mean only traffic from search engines (this excludes social media, paid, etc.) As you can see we grew our traffic by 571% in under 13 months.
Organic traffic increase in 13 months
We also tripled a number the organic keywords our site ranks for by following the simple tricks and strategies below. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, just a little hard work, and consistency.
Check out these 45+ WordPress SEO tips and frequently asked questions for 2018 to help you achieve better results in SERPs (search engine ranking positions). And make sure to bookmark this post as we will be constantly updating it with tried and true strategies that have worked for us.
A good #SEO strategy involves sharing tips that are actually useful! Watch their impact. 🤘
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1. www vs non-www Domain
If you are just launching your website the very first question you might have is whether not you should go with www or not, and how this affects your WordPress SEO. It is very simple, there is no benefit SEO wise to having www in your domain. It will not affect your rankings in any way. But that is not to say you should always go with non-www. So why do websites still use www? There are a couple reasons:
Using www as part of your domain used to be the standard back in the day. But that is not necessarily true anymore. Even we don’t use www here at Kinsta. One reason you still might see www being used a lot is simply because changing it after using it for years can be complex and cause issues. So a lot of older brands simply continue to use it.
Another reason large companies with a lot of traffic might want to use www is due to DNS. Naked domains (non-www) technically can’t have a CNAME record used in order to redirect traffic for failover. However, there are workarounds to this issue.
So when it comes down to www vs non-www it is more a matter of personal preference. Perhaps you prefer shorter URLs in which case you could go with the non-www. Remember, no matter which version you choose you can setup redirects so that each is accessible. For example, if you visit www.kinsta.com, it simply redirects to kinsta.com.
In Google Search Console you can set your preferred domain to appear in Google as www or non-www. We recommend setting this option, however, if you are running a WordPress plugin such as Yoast SEO (which we will go into more below) this is not technically required as the plugin automatically adds canonical tags to let Google know which version to index.
Google Search Console preferred domain
2. Install a WordPress SEO Plugin
WordPress out of the box is pretty good already when it comes to SEO. However, we always recommend that people install an SEO plugin when they are working with their WordPress site. This allows you to have full control over optimizing what Google sees from your website. In terms of popularity, the free Yoast SEO and All-In-One SEO Pack plugins steal the show with their end-to-end optimization capabilities. We highly recommend the Yoast SEO plugin and in fact, a lot of this WordPress SEO checklist will have examples using this plugin.
The Yoast SEO plugin allows you to write better content with page and keyword analysis, automatically generate XML sitemaps, enable breadcrumbs, add social and schema markup, as well as a multitude of other optimizations. As of writing this it has over 1 million installs with an impressive 5 out of 5-star rating. You can download their free WordPress plugin from the WordPress repository or follow the steps below to install it from within your WordPress dashboard.
Under the plugins section of your WordPress dashboard click on “Add New.” Search for yoast seo and click on “Install Now.”
Install SEO plugin in WordPress
Then click on “Activate.”
Activate Yoast SEO plugin
You now have an “SEO” menu in which you can access the settings of the plugin. We will be digging into more of the Yoast plugin options further below.
Yoast SEO settings
And remember, the plugin doesn’t do SEO for you. It simply offers recommendations for you to make more data-driven optimizations.
3. Setup Friendly Permalinks
By default, WordPress provides creates weird permalinks (URL structure) that simply are not very clean. The default structure currently inserts the day and name into the URL, such as seen below.
Google likes URLs that contain your title and or keywords in the post, but shorter URLs are generally better. We recommend using the “Post name” permalink setting as this is both clean and still can benefit you by using the title or your keyword in the URL. The format then appears like this:
You can change to a “Post name” permalink structure by clicking into “Permalinks” under the settings menu in your WordPress dashboard. Select “Post name” and click on “Save Changes.”
WordPress default permalinks
It is important to note though that changing the permalink structure after the posts go live can render all previous links useless and people sharing these links on social networks will remain unable to direct traffic to your site. If you are changing the permalink structure on an older site, make sure to redirect previous URLs to the new permalink by editing the .htaccess file or leveraging a third party plugin such as Change Permalink Helper. Make sure to also check out our in-depth post on WordPress permalinks.
4. Always Use a Focus Keyword
When it comes to WordPress SEO, it is important to remember that Google is still a computer algorithm, and that is why keywords still matter in 2018. You definitely should be writing for your visitors and customers as Google recommends, but write smart. You can easily write for your audience as well as keeping the best SEO optimizations in mind. And remember, other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo rely sometimes even more on what some may call outdated SEO practices.
Whenever you write a blog post or post a page on your WordPress site you should always have a focus keyword in mind. Don’t just publish a post for the sake of pushing out more content. We will go more into keyword research further below. Using the Yoast SEO plugin you can easily set the focus keyword that you want to write about. For example, for this post we are using the focus keyword “WordPress SEO.” You can see that Yoast SEO actually analyzes the keyword density and it is reporting that it is a little low for this post. Generally, a 0.5% or more is a good amount to aim for. So we should figure out a way to include our keyword a few more times, naturally of course, within our content.
WordPress SEO focus keyword
5. Importance of Title Tags
It is important that you have your main “focus keyword” that you want to rank for in your blog post or page title tag. Brian Dean, an SEO expert recommends to even place your keyword at the beginning of the title if possible as this will have more weight in search engines. For example, the title of this blog post is “WordPress SEO Checklist – 50 Tips for 2018.” We are placing our keyword, “WordPress SEO” at the very beginning. This might not always be possible, but can help give you a little boost.
You can manually set a title tag in the Yoast SEO plugin, as seen below. Remember that Google has a viewable limit of 65 characters, so if you go over that it might not appear. They are really limited by pixels now, but Yoast SEO uses characters which is a close approximation. And remember that title tags not only affect SEO but also your clickthrough rate (CTR). Some have reported seeing 20% increases in CTR simply by making small tweaks to their titles.
WordPress SEO title tag
Split-testing and A/B testing your titles can be another effective way to increase CTR and in a sense help Google see your content as more relevant. There are even WordPress plugins such as Title Experiments and Nelio AB Testing which can help you run your own tests.
It seems that Google still relies on us setting well optimised H1 and Title tags, and that even small, data-driven and well researched, changes to these can make a difference to your organic search performance. – Distilled
6. Increase CTR with Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions have no effect on your WordPress SEO when it comes to rankings. However, meta descriptions do affect your CTR. A better-written meta description can entice the user to click on your post instead of the one above or below it in SERPs. And it has been said, the higher CTR you have, the more relevant Google will deem your data, and rank you higher. So in a sense, meta descriptions could effect your rankings. But not in the traditional sense. You can set your meta description manually in the Yoast SEO plugin.
Previously there was a 156 character limit. However, Google updated this as of December 2017 to 320 characters. Check out the impact of the new snippet length. Anything over that might not be visible in SERPs. They are really limited by pixels now, but Yoast SEO uses characters which is a close approximation.
Also, it is good to include your focus keyword in your meta description because Google will highlight the search term in bold. For example, say we searched for “coolest car” in Google. KBB happens to have a post with “coolest car” in the meta description and so Google bolds this keyword as it is relevant to your search term. So by including your focus keyword in your meta description, you can stand out a little bit more.
Bold meta description
Remember though, Google also automatically rewrites some meta descriptions. So what you input isn’t what will always show up in SERPs.
Check out this great video from Brian Dean on how to increase CTR on your meta descriptions by using words that appear in competing AdWords text, as well as using what he calls “power words.”
7. Should You Use Meta Keywords?
Meta keywords are really a thing of the past. We are simply including this in our list for those that might be wondering if they should use meta keywords or not. The simple answer is no. Google and Bing used to rely on meta keywords in their ranking algorithms but no longer due. It appears Yahoo might still rely on meta keywords somewhat, but we wouldn’t recommend using them simply for that reason. However, depending upon where your site is located, it is important to know that the Yandex Russian search engine and Baidu Chinese search engine both still use meta keywords.
According to Yandex, <meta name=”Keywords” content=”…”/> — May be used when determining the page’s relevance to search queries. If you want to add meta keywords to your WordPress site posts and pages you can enable it in the Yoast SEO plugin by following the steps below.
Click into the “Title & Metas” section of the Yoast SEO plugin and click on the “Other” tab. You can then enable the “Use meta keywords tag” option.
Enable meta keywords in Yoast
Then on your post and pages the Yoast SEO plugin now has a section to enter in your meta keywords as seen in the example below.
Meta keywords – Yoast SEO
Again, we don’t recommend spending time on meta keywords unless perhaps you use a search engine that still uses them. Meta keywords have been deprecated for a long time in Google and Bing as it pertains to SEO.
8. Header Tags – H1, H2, H3
The Google crawler (bot) checks HTML header tags such as H1, H2, H3, etc. to determine the relevancy of your site content. Generally, the best practice is to have a single H1 tag per post or page and then multiple H2s and H3s underneath that. Think of it has a hierarchy of importance. The H1 tag is one of your most important header and should contain your focus keyword. Additional headers could also include your keyword or long-tail variations of your keyword. However, don’t abuse headers. These are used to split up your content to make it easier to read for the visitor.
Most WordPress themes, if coded properly, will automatically assign the title of your page or post as the H1 header. You can then assign H2, H3, H4 headers etc. within your post or page. You can create a header by using the dropdown in the visual editor. This automatically assigns the block of text the <h2> or <h3> HTML tags that Google will read.
You can also use the shortcut keys in the visual editor to more quickly apply headers:
ALT + SHIFT + 2 (H2 header)
ALT + SHIFT + 3 (H3 header)
9. Image Alt Text
ALT text refers to the ALT attribute or alternative text that is applied on images on your WordPress site. ALT tags are used by Google to see how relevant your image is to the content around it. They are also used by screen readers for visually impaired people. For example, if someone was using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, ALT text can actually help them navigate the page better. You should always add ALT text to your images. And if you haven’t been, go back and do it now.
Fortunately, with WordPress you don’t need to know any code to add the ALT text, you can simply add them upon uploading images to the media library or by clicking on an image within the visual editor. Follow the steps below to quickly add an ALT text to an existing image.
In the visual editor hover over your image and click on the “Edit” option.
Edit WordPress image
You can then enter in your ALT text description in the “Alternative Text” field. Usually, it is beneficial to add your focus keyword if it is applicable for the image. However, don’t just add your focus keyword as an ALT text across all of your images. As with all things SEO, do things in moderation. Google doesn’t like spamming.
Add alt tag to image
10. Image Title Text
Image title text isn’t used for WordPress SEO purposes and is not crawled by Google or Bing, and therefore you are not required to use them. See an example of what image title text, or the title attribute of an image, looks like below.
However, image title text does allow you to add tooltips to images. This can be a great way to simply add a little CTA when someone hovers over it. So while they aren’t technically going to help you rank better, it can help add to the user experience. Just like with ALT text you don’t need to know any code to add the title text, you can simply add them upon uploading images to the media library or by clicking on an image within the visual editor. Follow the steps below to quickly add title text to an existing image.
In the visual editor hover over your image and click on the “Edit” option.
Edit WordPress image
You can then enter in your title text description in the “Image Title Attribute” field under the advanced options.
Image title tag
You can then see the title text in action as a tooltip if you hover over your image.
Image title tag tooltip
11. Focus Keyword in First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your post and pages content in WordPress is very important! It is always recommended to add your focus keyword within the first paragraph if possible. The reason is that Google crawls content from top to bottom, and if it finds your keyword there it can help deem your article as more relevant to the topic. The Yoast SEO plugin even has a check for this to ensure you are keeping up with this best practice.
Focus keyword in first paragraph
12. Content is King (Word Count)
The old saying “Content is King” is still alive and well. Google and visitors love high-quality content. It is generally much better to publish higher-quality and longer-form content than it is to publish shorter content more frequently. This can vary of course. If you are a news site, this might actually be the opposite. But long-form content has time and time again proven to win in SERPs. Back in 2012, serpIQ published some statistics on the importance of content-length. As you can see the websites holding the top positions have a lot more content.
SEO content length
And while the above graph is over 4 years old the same still applies today. Not much has changed when it comes to content and length. Neil Patel, a popular internet marketer, has a great post from 2016 on how long-form content can help boost your rankings. And you can probably tell that we have seen the same results here at Kinsta, otherwise, we wouldn’t spend this much time publishing content this long!
CanIRank published their findings in an early 2017 study on the effectiveness of content length. They analyzed everything, such as seeing if longer content generates more backlinks and what happens to rankings for those on the third and fourth pages. In short, they found that content length, even with other possible factors in play, does still rank better.
Another advantage from long-form content is that over time you will also start ranking for not only your focus keyword but a lot of long-tail keyword variations, sometimes into the hundreds of keywords. And sometimes the traffic from all the long-tail variations will be more than that of your focus keyword. So it is really a win-win when it comes to long-form content!
13. Use Short URLs
Google likes WordPress sites that are clean, organized, and structured; this includes using short URLs. They can also help improve your CTR. MarketingSherpa ran a study and they discovered that executives are 250% more likely to click on an organic listing if it:
had a fairly short URL and
appeared directly below a listing with a long URL
So keeping your URLs as short as possible can be an enormous competitive advantage. The one thing to keep in mind is that WordPress automatically creates a URL for you based on the title. For this post we ended up with the following:
We can clean that up quite a bit and simply use our focus keyword. Follow the steps below on how to shorten a URL for a WordPress post or page.
Next to your URL (also known as a slug), click on “Edit.”
Edit URL in WordPress
You can then type in the URL that you want to use. Make sure to separate your keyword with hyphens. Then click on “OK.”
WordPress short URL
We then end up with the following URL, which is much nicer.
It is also important to remember that each URL or slug in WordPress has to be unique. So you can’t have two posts or pages that both use the exact same URL. So keep that in mind when you are writing.
14. Use Smart Image File Names
This is one thing that a lot of WordPress website owners do wrong, and that is naming your images correctly! With a few correct best WordPress SEO practices you can really see a nice little boost both in SERPs and Google Image Search.
Always name your image files with actual words related to your content before uploading them. For example, instead of DC0000.JPG, name it wordpress-seo.JPG.
Always include hyphens between words in the image file names. For example, if you were to name it wordpress_seo.JPG or wordpressseo.JPG Google won’t be able to read this. Google reads files with hyphens as individual words, so you will want to name it wordpress-security.JPG.
Include your focus keyword if applicable, at least on your featured image. We always name our featured image on our blog posts the same as our focus keywords.
15. Importance of Dofollow vs NoFollow Links
There are two basic types of links on the internet when it comes to WordPress SEO; and that is dofollow links and nofollow links. Here is the basic differences between the two:
By default, every link you create on a WordPress site is dofollow. Google crawls websites and when it finds dofollow links it passes link juice between them and the site they are linked to. This helps build authority and affects your rankings in Google. You have probably heard people say that you need more backlinks, well, they are usually referring to dofollow links from other high authority sites. In general, the more dofollow links you get the better!
Nofollow links are links that contain the rel attribute of nofollow, as seen below:
Nofollow links tell Google that they should not pass any link juice and that they should simply be ignored. That is not to say nofollow links aren’t important though. Remember that nofollow links can still generate traffic, even if they don’t pass link juice. For example, the link on your Twitter profile is nofollow as seen below. However, this link can still generate a lot of traffic and therefore is still important. Read our tutorial on different ways to add nofollow links in WordPress.
Interlinks are links that point from one page or post on your WordPress site to another page or post on the same site. Usually, this is when you are referring other content you have written or possibly you are linking to your own landing page. Moz has a great article on why internal links are important.
They help people navigate within your own website and increase time on your site.
They help to establish a hierarchy of your information and structure.
They help spread link juice throughout your own website as they are dofollow.
From 2nd page to position 2 – now to get their competitor off that top spot. Shouldnt take too long ;)
We always recommend adding at least 3-5 internal links on each post or page you write. And depending upon the length of your content, possibly even more. Follow the steps below on how to easily add an interlink.
To create a hyperlink click on the link button at the top of the visual editor, or highlight the word and press CTRL + K. Then click on “Link options.”
Link in WordPress
Then select the recent article that you want to link it to. You can also use the search to find the internal page or post.
17. Add High Domain Authority External Links
Just like adding interlinks above, you should also add some external links to high domain authority sites. This helps your WordPress SEO by letting Google know that you are linking out to high-quality content that is relevant to yours and improves the user experience by providing them with additional information.
It can also be a great way to start conversations with another brand. If you link to another company in your post, shoot them a quick email or tweet after you publish it and ask for a share. If they share it over their social profiles this can be instant free traffic for you! We use this approach a lot and it works great.
We recommend adding at least 2 high domain authority external links within your content. And remember, when adding external links a nice little trick to keep people on your site is to make the link open in a new tab or window. Some people might argue that they don’t like this, but it can help people come back and browse your site later on when they might have otherwise just forgot about you. Follow the quick steps below to make a link open in a new tab or window.
To create a hyperlink click on the link button at the top of the visual editor, or highlight the word and press CTRL + K. Enter in the external URL and click on “Link options.”
Then select the “Open link in a new tab.” This adds the HTML equivalent of target=”_blank” onto your posts, such as seen below:
Another popular approach that many bloggers take is to set external links to open in new tabs and internal links go directly.
18. Affiliate Links
A lot of WordPress bloggers and even some businesses use affiliate links on their websites. Affiliate links are generally used when you want to track a commission or referral of a product or signup between websites. The bad thing is though that Google usually frowns upon affiliate links. Some sites have even got penalized for having a lot of affiliate links. To safely use affiliate links, they should always be nofollow. A great way to keep track of your affiliate links and always make sure they are nofollow is to use an affiliate plugin such as Pretty Links.
Pretty Links allows you to create easy and short affiliate links which are always nofollow and also redirect with a 301. For example, a link might be https://domain.com/go/kinsta. This links redirects internally so that you can access reporting data on how many clicks are done on each link.
Affiliate pretty links
Sitemaps are used by search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yandex to grab the hierarchy and structure of your WordPress site as well as ensure better crawling. Are sitemaps required? No, search engines will crawl your site without it, but by creating this file it also allows you to get more reporting data about your site. We always recommend utilizing a sitemap file. The Yoast SEO plugin actually has the ability to automatically generate your sitemap file for you. Follow the steps below to enable or verify this feature.
Click into “XML Sitemaps” under the Yoast SEO options and enable the XML sitemap functionality.
WordPress XML sitemap file
It is always good to verify that your XML sitemap file is actually getting created. You can click on the XML Sitemap button and it will launch the file itself, generally it is located on the root of your domain:
It should look like this below. We will go into more details further below about how to submit this file to Google and Bing for fasting indexing and crawling.
Now that you have an XML sitemap file it is recommended to submit it to Google Search Console so that you can access additional data on the status of your WordPress site. We will assume you have a Google Search Console account already, if not, check out this more in-depth post on how to submit to your site to Google.
In Google Search Console click into “Sitemaps” under the Crawl section and then click on “Add/Test Sitemap.” Input the location of your sitemap file which you setup in the previous step and click “Submit.” It will show you how many pages/posts have been submitted and then how many are actually indexed. Google will now automatically crawl your sitemap file on a regular basis.
Submit sitemap file to Google
21. Submit Sitemap to Bing Webmaster Tools
Just like with Google Search Console, it is also recommended that you submit your WordPress site to Bing Webmaster Tools. Check out this in-depth tutorial on submitting your website to Bing.
22. Submit Sitemap to Yandex Webmaster Tools
Just like with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools, it is also recommended that you submit your WordPress site to Yandex. This is a Russian search engine, but if you have global traffic it can help! Check out this in-depth tutorial on submitting your website to Yandex.
23. Force Crawl for Faster Indexing
Typically when you publish content on your WordPress site Google will determine the crawl rate at which it indexes your content. This could be anywhere from a matter of a few minutes, hours, or days. However, did you know there is a way to index your content instantly in Google and Bing? This is just a handy little trick you can use to see where you stack up against your competition in SERPs faster.
Force Crawl in Google Search Console
To force crawl a WordPress post or page simply click into the “Fetch as Google” option under Crawl in Google Search Console and input the URL. Click on “Fetch.”
Force crawl in Google Search Console
Then click on “Request Indexing” and your URL will be instantly indexed in SERPs. Note, that Google doesn’t guarantee that it will index it right away. However, in our tests this always works. Some recommendations for faster indexing include ensuring that your WordPress site loads fast and nothing is blocking Google from crawling it.
Force Crawl in Bing Webmaster Tools
You can do the same thing in Bing Webmaster Tools as well. Simply click into “Submit URLs” under Configure My Site, input the URL, and click “Submit.”
Force crawl in Bing Webmaster Tools
24. Utilize Social Signals
Do social signals help your WordPress SEO? Such as tweets, shares, upvote sites, etc. The answer, unfortunately, is not black or white. However, we have seen first hand that they can temporarily affect your rankings in SERPs. We have noticed this from both Reddit and Y Combinator. In the past, we have seen posts trending on these sites immediately start ranking on page one of Google. After the trending stops, the rankings tend to fluctuate and the post settles down to where it actually is going to rank more long term. So what causes this to happen? Our theory is that because of the mass amount of traffic and social signals combined that Google deems this page as very relevant and so it bumps it up in SERPs.
Many SEOs will debate this, but we have seen this happen first hand quite a few times. You hit the front page or Reddit, and immediately you are ranking page one for a very competitive term. The next week, the post settles back down and your at the middle of the second page in SERPs. This then requires you to go back and further optimize the post, build backlinks against it, etc.. to work your way back up.
Below is an example of something we wrote with decent keyword volume that skyrocketed in SERPs the very next day because we sent a lot of social traffic to it.
Social signals traffic
The biggest takeaway is simply that shares, social signals, and more traffic does most likely influence your rankings so we recommend taking advantage of social media as much as you can. Here is another great article on how social signals might affect your SEO.
Keywords are still alive and well in 2018. That is why ranking matters. Remember as we mentioned before, Google is still a computer algorithm. It has to look at something to calculate rankings, and keywords are still a big part of that. This is an example of a client’s site that was started back in October 2015. In under one year they grew their website in to a property that now gets over 120,000 visitors a month, and 95% of the traffic is organic. And the awesome part is they only spent 2-3 hours per week on it. How did they do it? They found a good niche and did strategic keyword research.
Keyword research traffic
There are many great tools out there to help you do keyword research. A couple of our favorites are KWFinder, SEMrush, and Ahrefs. The trick is finding a good keyword with search volume while also not picking something that is too competitive.
Never assume people are searching. Write natural, but write smart.
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And don’t forget about multilingual SEO! Keywords in other languages are sometimes a lot less competitive. The English market is very saturated when it comes to content marketing and SERPs. For example, in English, we look up the term “marketing strategies.” We can see that it has a volume of around 40,000 search per month. And it is going to be hard to rank for. If you look at SERPs, you are instantly going against huge domains with high domain authority. If you are smart, you probably wouldn’t try to tackle this keyword.
Now if you take the same term in Spanish, “estrategias de marketing,” we can see that it doesn’t have as much search volume, but still a lot at around 15,000 per month. And guess what? The difficulty is not hard to rank for. The domains you are competing against all have low domain authority of under 40. That is now something you could tackle. When it comes to other languages you will find a lot of search terms are simply easier to rank for.
Backlinks are still very important when it comes to WordPress SEO. Backlinks are used by Google for passing link juice as we discussed earlier and to show that there is another relevant or important site that has similar information. When a high domain authority site links to you, it does a lot more than people think. Brian Dean over at Backlinko analyzed over one million search results and the conclusion was that backlinks are still an important ranking factor.
Generally, a good sign is seeing that the number of referring domains linking to you is on an upwards trend. This means that over time you are getting more and more websites linking to you. And in fact, in the study that Brian did, the number of unique referring domains was the strongest correlation in the entire study. The websites that had more referring domains were the ones with higher rankings.
Matthew Barby also did an analysis of 1 million URLs and discovered that yes, backlinks do matter. On average, the top 2 results on page 1 of Google equated to having 38% of all the backlinks from pages on page 1.
A good tool to get an overview of your backlink profile is Ahrefs. You can see the total number of backlinks to your site, the number of referring domains, organic keywords, etc. Another great feature is the backlink notifications. We have tried quite a few backlink tools and Ahrefs definitely takes the cake for accuracy. The “new backlinks” feature lets you see when new websites around the internet have linked to your WordPress site. Below is an example of someone that linked to our Google Amp article within the last couple days.
A little tip: Help share the content when people link to you. This helps build social signals for them on that page which in turn can help build up their page authority. And you want higher page authority links. So in a sense you can help yourself by sharing third party’s content that have taken the time to link to you.
27. WordPress SEO HTTPS Advantage
Google has officially said that HTTPS is a ranking factor. While it may only be a small ranking factor, wouldn’t you take any advantage you can get to beat your competitors in SERPs? And because of Google’s push for everyone to migrate to HTTPS, you can bet that the weight of this ranking factor will most likely increase in the future. Here is a great article on the impact of TLS/SSL on rankings.
You have probably heard the crazy term “schema markup” or “structured markup” being thrown around the web. Schema markup is basically additional code that helps search engines such as Google deliver more and better data to visitors. Ever seen those stars next to a review in SERPs? Well, the stars are a result of schema markup. Schema markup means you can achieve special spots in SERPs as well as a dramatic increase in CTR.
How much do stars actually help in SERPs? The CXL Institute ran a study and both companies that utilized stars for reviews saw a significantly higher click-through rate for organic SERPs, by as much 35%. Their conclusion was that this strategy does yield higher results.
A lot of WordPress themes have schema markup coded into them, but there are also those that don’t. You can test your website or blog post with the Google Structured Data Testing tool. Generally what you want to see is 0 errors and something come back in return. If it is completely blank on the right-hand side that means your WordPress site doesn’t have any schema markup added to it.
Google structured data schema
To add schema markup to your WordPress site we recommend the free Schema plugin. This will automatically add the necessary markup. You can then run another test in Google’s structured data testing tool.
29. Social Markup
Similiar to schema markup, there is also social markup. You know those thumbnails that appear on Facebook and Twitter when you share a blog post from your WordPress site? Well, those are generated using social markup. Fortunately, again the Yoast SEO plugin comes to the rescue. This plugin adds the necessary social markup for you. While it is unknown how much these affect WordPress SEO, it never hurts to let Google know just which social media profiles are connected with your brand.
We recommend going into the “Social” options in Yoast SEO and fill everything out. You can change things like the default thumbnail that shows up when your website is shared and the type of thumbnail that Twitter uses.
Yoast social markup
This is an example of the code that is automatically added for you by the Yoast SEO plugin. Facebook and Google use what they call OG tags to pull in information and Twitter uses its own meta information.
<meta property="og:locale" content="en_US" />
<meta property="og:type" content="article" />
<meta property="og:title" content="How to Install WordPress Locally the Easy Way" />
<meta property="og:description" content="Sometimes it can be more convenient to work with WordPress on your own machine. Check out how to install WordPress locally the easy way with DesktopServer." />
<meta property="og:url" content="https://kinsta.com/blog/install-wordpress-locally/" />
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Kinsta Managed WordPress Hosting" />
<meta property="article:publisher" content="https://www.facebook.com/kinstahosting" />
<meta property="article:section" content="Development" />
<meta property="article:published_time" content="2016-11-03T03:15:35-08:00" />
<meta property="article:modified_time" content="2016-11-06T18:55:53-08:00" />
<meta property="og:updated_time" content="2016-11-06T18:55:53-08:00" />
<meta property="fb:admins" content="1407415661" />
<meta property="og:image" content="https://kinsta.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/install-wordpress-locally.jpg" />
<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary_large_image" />
<meta name="twitter:description" content="Sometimes it can be more convenient to work with WordPress on your own machine. Check out how to install WordPress locally the easy way with DesktopServer." />
<meta name="twitter:title" content="How to Install WordPress Locally the Easy Way" />
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@kinsta" />
<meta name="twitter:image" content="https://kinsta.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/install-wordpress-locally.jpg" />
<meta name="twitter:creator" content="@brianleejackson" />
30. Last Updated Date in SERPs
This is a controversial topic for some, and that is should you remove the dates on your WordPress posts or change them to “Last Updated?” It really depends on the type of site that you run. If you have a lot of evergreen content then yes, you might want to change the dates to last updated. We actually use last updated on our blogs here at Kinsta because we spend many hours updating old content. Follow the steps below to implement this on your WordPress site.
Note: this may vary depending upon your WordPress theme. First you will need to edit your single.php file and find the following code:
<?php the_time('F j Y'); ?>
Replace the above code with this code:
Last updated on <time datetime="<?php the_modified_time('Y-m-d'); ?>"><?php the_modified_time('F jS, Y'); ?></time>
Your blog posts should now show a last updated date instead. The above code does validate in the Google Structured Data Testing tool and the updated date will show up in SERPs. As you can see in this example below, we actually published this article 5 days ago. However, we added an update to it 2 days ago. Google re-crawled it after our update and it shows as fresh in SERPs. This can help increase your CTR.
Last updated date in SERPs
Remember though, update your content. You can lose the ability to show those date bylines if you try to trick Google by faking the date to make it look more recent that the actual date/time it was published.
31. Evergreen Content
Evergreen content can be very important when it comes to WordPress SEO and long-term organic traffic. Evergreen means that it is content that is generally always relevant no matter when you read it. Usually, when it comes to publishing evergreen content it requires the writer to occasionally update it as most industries always change slightly over time. See some proof about the power of evergreen content.
Another advantage of evergreen content is that you can share it over and over again and keep building up backlinks and social signals against it. If you have the choice of publishing evergreen content vs news, you should definitely go for the long-term play!
32. Google Knowledge Graph
Have you ever seen that box appear at the top of Google? That is called the Google Knowledge Graph. If you get this it essentially means you can rank twice for the same keyword and post in SERPs. How do you get this? Unfortunately, there is no magic recipe to achieve this 100% of the time, but from our personal experience by adding schema markup and also using headers and bullet lists as they were meant to be, can help you achieve the coveted Google Knowledge Graph. Structure your posts in an organized fashion with markup and you should be on the right path.
Google knowledge graph
33. Negative SEO
Negative SEO is a very important topic as many people don’t know how to deal with it. Normally with SEO you want to get backlinks from other people as this helps build up your domain and page authority by passing link juice. However, this strategy can also be reverse engineered to hurt your website. Check out this article by Ryan Sullivan, Negative SEO: Destroying Businesses One Spammy Backlink at a Time.
This is why you should be monitoring your backlink profile. That is the only way you will know that no negative SEO is happening against your business. Check out this one instance where a business was attacked and the very next morning woke up with over 200,000 bad backlinks against them, all with viagra and pharmacy terms. And guess what? It took over 2 years to clean up the mess. That is how bad negative SEO can get.
Another tip is to claim all of your social media profiles ASAP. Typically businesses should do this immediately after launching their website. Most backlinks from social media profiles are nofollow, however, they can send you a lot of traffic. Another big advantage is that social media profile pages rank very well in SERPs! So for branding this can be huge. Let’s take Kinsta for example. If you Google our name “Kinsta” you can see that our Facebook page and our Twitter profile rank on the first page. And our LinkedIn company page ranks on the top of the 2nd page. Utilizing social media profiles are almost an instant win for your brand and require almost no effort on your part.
Social media profile rankings
You can use a free tool like Namechk to see which names are available across all the social media networks. Make sure to claim all of yours today!
35. Local SEO
Local SEO is a huge topic. Much more than we can cover in this post alone. Some quick tips is that local businesses should immediately register their site with Google Business and Bing Places. These are both completely free and will help you show up in SERPs locally. For example, below I searched for “organic italian” food and Picazzo’s, a local Italian place came back at the top of the list.
Local business SEO
Check out this in-depth local SEO guide from the folks over at TheSiteEdge. This is a great way to get started and stay ahead of your local competition.
36. Google Image Search
One big reason to setup your Google Search Console account and submit your sitemap file as we discussed earlier is so that you can monitor the index status of your images in Google Image Search. Traffic from images can actually add up to quite a bit over time so it is important to verify that your images are getting indexed. You can click into “Sitemap” under the Crawl section in GSC and check the status.
Google image search indexing
You also want to ensure that your images still index with Google when moving to a CDN. For users of the Yoast SEO plugin, you will want to add the following code to the bottom of your functions.php file. Replace of course the domain and CDN domain with your own.
If you don’t do this, it could result in your images getting de-indexed (as seen below), meaning you would lose out on all the benefits of Google image search. You can always check this yourself in Google Search Console.
Images not indexing on CDN
37. Don’t Index Image Attachment Pages
Whenever you upload an image and insert the normal way it creates a separate WordPress attachment page on which the image resides on. If you aren’t careful Google might actually start indexing these pages, which is sometimes not a good thing. If someone hits an image attachment page all they will see is the image, and not the content that is on the post. This will most likely result in them leaving immediately simply causing your bounce rate to go up. If you notice this on your WordPress site the Yoast SEO plugin has a redirect option to fix this. Simply click into the “Advanced” settings of Yoast SEO and enable “Redirect attachment URLs to parent post URL.”
Redirect attachment URLs to parent
38. Multi-language WordPress SEO
Adding additional languages to your site can be a huge game changer when it comes to WordPress SEO and traffic. Neil Patel experimented with this and saw a 47% increase in traffic after translating his site into 82 languages. Of course, this won’t work for everyone and it depends on your business and geographical location, but definitely something to think about it. When it comes to actually implementing this on your WordPress website, Google won’t ding you for duplicate content as long as you have the correct hreflang and canonical tags installed. In the following example, these tags basically tell Google that the English version is the original and that this is a secondary version only in Spanish.
There are plugins you can use to translate your content, such as WPML or translation services for WordPress such as Weglot. Remember, no automatic translation tool will ever beat having an actual person translate it for you. We recommend hiring a native speaker or using a translation service.
39. Website Speed
Website speed is huge when it comes to WordPress SEO. Google announced way back in 2010 that it does affect your rankings. Page speed matters to Google, and you know why? It is because page speed matters to visitors! Here are a couple stats for you:
1 in 4 visitors would abandon a website if it takes more than 4 seconds to load.
46 percent of users don’t revisit poorly performing websites.
Website owners have mere 5 seconds to engage visitors before they consider leaving.
74 percent of users accessing the mobile site would leave if it takes longer than 5 seconds to load.
Nobody likes broken links and neither does Google. There are a couple ways you can fix broken links on your WordPress site. The first is to simply to check in Google Search Console. This is yet another reason why you should be using it. If you click into “Crawl Errors” under the Crawl section you can see not found errors. You can then click on each error and see where the broken link is located.
Broken links in Google Search Console
There are broken link plugins for WordPress, however, we don’t recommend these as they will hurt the performance of your site. If you want to scan your site for broken links it is better to do a one time scan with a free online tool like Online Broken Link Checker or use a site audit tool as we will go into more below.
41. WordPress SEO Audits
A great way to instantly check on how well your WordPress site is optimized is to do a quick WordPress SEO audit. There are great free and premium tools out there to help you. SeoSiteCheckup is a great free tool that has over 50 checks to let you know how you are doing. Varvy also has an excellent SEO tool in which you can run your site through. It checks for Googlebot access, mobile usability, security, accessibility, pagespeed, etc.
Varvy SEO tool
SEMrush is a premium service that also has a great SEO audit tool. It lets you know if you are missing ALT tags, have pages with a low text-HTML ratio, and even low word counts. While these tools are pretty basic, they can be a good way to get started.
SEMrush SEO site audit
42. Mobile Usability
Google just recently announced the testing of their mobile-first indexing which means their algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages. This is a huge change in how Google is going to be indexing content. It means that mobile is now more important than ever. If you don’t have a responsive site yet, drop everything you are doing and get on that immediately. You can use Google’s mobile-friendly tool to see if your current WordPress site passes the test.
Google mobile-friendly test
Another option is to implement Google AMP, which is an open framework which allows websites to build light-weight webpages.
43. WordPress Categories
This is optional but indexing categories in Google can also increase the relevancy of your content to boost page rank and increase your traffic and improve your WordPress SEO. A lot of WordPress themes by default don’t show the category description. Follow the steps below to index your categories and show it on your site.
To verify that your categories will rank and show in Google, click into “Titles & Meta” in the Yoast SEO options. Click into the “Taxonomies” tab and make sure that the meta robots is set to index for “Categories.”
Indexing categories in WordPress
If your WordPress theme doesn’t show category descriptions on the front-end, you can use the following code and add it towards the top of your archive.php file. This will vary based upon your current theme.
<div><?php echo category_description(); ?></div>
Then enter your category description under the specific Post category that you want to index.
44. Google Analytics
The best way to know how well your WordPress SEO is working over time is to setup a free account with Google Analytics. If you need some help follow this step by step integration tutorial. One of the very first things you should do is link your Google Analytics account with your Google Search Console account. Under property settings for your domain click into Search Console Settings and it will walk you through the process of linking them up.
Link Google Search Console and analytics
This will then add an additional section to your Google Analytics account which will allow you to see search queries and your best landing pages.
Search queries in analytics
Another section to pay attention to is the “Organic Search” channel under acquisition. This is traffic that comes from Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
Organic search channel
45. Track Keyword Rankings
And last but not least we recommend tracking your keyword rankings. This allows you to monitor the progress of your “focus keywords” in your SEO campaigns. If you spend time optimizing your posts then you also need to monitor their progress long-term. A great strategy that we have had success with is to monitor your keywords that are at the very top of the 2nd page on Google. Spend some time on those, add content, add images, build backlinks, etc. And before you know it, that content is now on the 1st page!
We highly recommend AccuRanker. It is a great tool, with awesome developers.
Track keyword rankings
When it comes to SEO, there is both on-page and off-page optimizations that can be done. We shared with you some of each above, all of which are very important. But if you want to dive in even deeper, we recommend checking out this on-page SEO checklist (along with a huge time-saving automation template) from Robbie Richards or this other detailed on-page SEO guide.
WP Buffs also a great post on the top 9 SEO forums. If you are needing SEO help or perhaps are just starting out and are confused, these can be great places to ask for additional help, for free!
As you can see there are a lot of WordPress SEO factors to consider when running your WordPress site. It definitely can be overwhelming if you are just starting out, especially because not everything with SEO is black and white. Hopefully the checklist and tips above help get you further along! Did we miss any important tips or perhaps you have questions? If so, let us know below.
Brian is the Chief Marketing Officer at Kinsta. He focuses on everything from developing new online growth strategies, content creation, technical SEO, and outreach within the community. He has a huge passion for WordPress, has been using it for 8+ years, and even develops a couple premium plugins. Brian enjoys blogging, movies, and hiking. Connect with Brian on Twitter.
Kinsta is a premium hosting platform optimized specifically for WordPress, created by WordPress professionals.
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