This post is originally from 2013. Although the SEO landscape has changed a lot since then, this post is still pretty much spot on. If I were to rewrite this post today (in 2015), I’d put a greater emphasis on social media and forging connections with real people.
Everyone is always asking me about getting into search engine results, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and about getting traffic to their sites in general. While there are a lot of ways to do this, and there are a lot of great guides online to help people figure out what to do to make this happen, I thought I’d put together my own beginner’s guide and try to keep things very simplistic.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a simple topic, and the guide has grown to be quite large, although it does focus primarily on simple issues and neglects more complicated SEO matters. I have removed a lot of the more technical SEO stuff and instead focused on a long tail and content marketing approach, which I feel is the best approach for the majority of my clients.
The following is my Beginner’s Guide to SEO for WordPress! If you have any questions, or want help with SEO, please don’t hesitate to contact me!
1. Identify Your Keywords
a. Google Keyword Tool– The very important first step in getting into Google is to identify the keywords you want to target. You probably already have a topic in mind that you either want your blog or website to focus on, now you need to find specific phrases related to that topic that people are searching for to find your topic. For most sites, you will probably have one umbrella topic that will be mentioned on every page and post, but you’ll also tackle smaller subtopics as well. It often is easier to get into the search results for those smaller, very specific subtopics.
To figure out your keywords, go find the Google Keyword Tool (see the link in the first paragraph of this section), and search for your topic. By searching for your topic, you’ll find the top phrases for it, along with the number of people searching, how those search terms are trending (are more and more people searching? Or fewer and fewer?), and the level of competition for those words (High = Competitive!) Figure out which keywords and phrases you want to target either for your site, or you could do this on a post by post or page by page basis. For your website as a whole, you should have some keywords or phrases in mind that will be repeated over and over.
2. Optimizing Your Content
Next, you need to optimize your content, using those keywords or phrases you researched. To make use of those, you’ll need to have them display in the permalinks (also called urls or web addresses), the titles of posts or pages, in headings, in the content itself, and in meta and alt tags.
a. Permalink structure– Make sure the permalinks (also sometimes called web addresses or urls) are words that describe your post or page, instead of just being random numbers or including dates. Having your keywords in the post url will greatly boost your content. You don’t want to just have numbered posts with no descriptive words. To change the permalinks, go to your site, to the WordPress dashboard> settings> permalinks. Change to post name.
b. Titles– The titles of posts or pages essentially should be the same or similar to the permalink. It should be a keyword filled description of the page or a phrase that people will be searching for. You can use your Keyword Research from step 1 to figure out the title and permalink. The permalink in WordPress automatically comes from the title, although you can edit it on each page (it is shown at the top below the admin bar).
c. Headings– Make sure your page is using heading tags for page titles and uses heading tags throughout to label different sections. <h1) should be the title, <h2> is secondary titles, and so on and so forth. These titles help search engines find important keywords on your pages, and also helps people skim your content (a lot of web browsing is skimming, supposedly like 90%!)
d. Content– To optimize your content, you just want to mention the keywords a few times, but not too many times. Generally long posts or pages are better than short pages, as they can have more keywords. You don’t want to use the keywords as more than 5% of the content. An easy way to optimize the content (along with the upcoming Meta Descriptions), is to install the WordPress SEO by Yoast Plugin. On each page you can enter your keyword, and the plugin will tell you how to optimize your content and give you a stoplight color to show how optimized your page is. Green is good. Yellow is ok. Red is bad.
e. Meta Description– Using the Yoast Plugin, on each page there will be a meta description box below the page editor box. There you can type in first your keyword (as mentioned above) and also your meta description. Yoast will give you some clues as to how the meta description should be based on the keyword.
f. Image Alternative Text– You can set tags for images in WordPress by just writing some alternative text for each image you upload. Again, it should be both descriptive and contain keywords.
3. Optimizing Your Website
a. Google XML Sitemaps– You will need a sitemap for your website to help search engines crawl and index your site effectively. I think the best way to do this is using the Google XML Sitemaps plugin for WordPress. It automatically updates when you change stuff on your site, and it is easy for Google to index. It also notifies search engines when you’ve made a change to your site.
i. WP Super Cache– This is a WordPress plugin that optimizes your site for speed by caching and condensing large files. To cache a page basically means that you save a version of each page and then show that to visitors rather than reloading the code each time. It’s a condensed version of the page allowing users to use less bandwidth to load the page, thus easing the load on your servers.
4. Getting Traffic To Your Website
a. Search Engines
Although you may be indexed by the search engines because of the Google XML sitemaps in the last section, or simply because they happened upon your site, you probably will want to register with the search engines by using their Webmaster Tools.
i. Google– The most popular search engine far and away, and really the only one that matters. They had over a Billion last month. To get into Google, create a Google Webmaster Tools account, go to submit sitemap, and direct Google to your sitemap web address. After about a day (maybe as long as a week), Google will crawl and index your site. Make sure your WordPress site allows for indexing. You can check that by going to dashboard>settings>reading.
ii. Bing– The second most popular search engine, they only had 165 million searches last month. You can get into Bing using their Webmaster tools, or just do nothing and they will add you simply because Google did.
iii. Yahoo– They are the third most popular search engine, with 160 million searches last month. They are very close to Bing in searches at the moment, but Bing continues to gain more and more, while Yahoo is trailing off. This is likely due to Bing’s television ads more than anything else. Yahoo actually uses some of Google’s technology, and if you are in Google, you’ll be in Yahoo. You can go to Yahoo and submit the same way you did with the other two search engines.
b. Social Media
Probably the best way to drive traffic to your site is through Social Media.
i. Facebook– The most popular social media platform, Facebook had 1.59 billion active users in January 2016. They are also now the world’s 2nd largest search engine. If you want to maximize your exposure online, you quite simply need to have a Facebook page. Facebook also offers an awesome advertising platform, where you can target users based on very specific data and advertising costs are often very reasonable. Another great way to get Facebook traffic is by posting in popular groups, writing on other pages, and general networking with users. Check out our guide to getting traffic from Facebook.
ii. YouTube– YouTube now has 1.3 billion monthly users (as of January 2016). They also are the world’s 3rd largest search engine. YouTube is almost it’s own section of the internet where a lot of users constantly hang out. More millennials regularly watch YouTube than watch cable television. If you want to maximize your online exposure, you really need to be trying to reach these users by creating videos that link to related content or landing pages. YouTube users are also more likely to engage with your content than other traffic sources. Plus, Google owns YouTube and they seem to put a greater value on YouTube links than many other link types. Also, it tends to be easier to rank a YouTube video than a brand new web page.
iii. Twitter– Twitter seems to be in an odd place as a social network. They have quite a few users, but a huge portion of them are fake or inactive accounts and they seem to struggle to make money, which has negatively impacted their stock price. Despite that, Twitter is still a great place to post content for several reasons. Twitter users seem to be more focused on searching for content and more willing to comment on stranger’s post than Facebook users. It seems to be pretty easy to get retweets on Twitter just by using hashtags and writing good content. That helps get your content in front of more eyes. There also are a ton of influencers on Twitter, making it a great place to network.
The last way to get traffic to your site is to get direct traffic from sources like blogs, directories, or print sources. These will also provide you with backlinks that raise your relevance in the eyes of Google.
i. Websites/Blogs– Getting guest posts or mentions on high authority websites or blogs that are in your industry is a great way to get quality links that Google loves and also to bring in targeted traffic.
ii. Directories/Forums– Unlike 5 to 10 years ago, you shouldn’t just spam directories and forums anymore, as that will hurt your SEO. However, getting a few links from relevant sources can still help you and bring in targeted traffic.
iii. Print– Getting listed in print could bring you some traffic and get your name out there. The effect of being listed in print really depends on who lists you. A mention in the New York Times (the paper, not the website) can lead to tons of traffic. Being listed in a small town newspaper wouldn’t be as effective. Basically, the link needs to be related or relevant or high authority.
5. Bring People Back To Your Site
The best way to get people to return to your site is to engage them!
a. Comments– Letting people comment on your website gives them an added level of interaction and can be a reason for them to keep coming back to your site. Comments are built into WordPress and I’d recommend having them on your posts. If your pages are purely informational, comments might not be appropriate.
b. Subscribe Forms
i. Aweber– This form starts at $1 for the first month, and then is $19 per month for up to 500 subscribers, $29 for up to 2,500 subscribers, $49 for up to 5,000 subscribers, $69 for up to 10,000 subscribers, $149 for up to 25,000 subscribers, and you contact them for pricing on unlimited subscribers. The bad thing about this software is that in the beginning it is more expensive than the free alternative, Mailchimp. However, if you are going to grow your list quickly into the 2,000+ subscribers range, Aweber will end up being slightly cheaper in the long run. I also think it is the better software, as they have better prebuilt forms to choose from, better tracking software, and they give you more tools to analyze your lists and campaigns. You can change from one form to another and take your list with you, but it is a pain to do.
ii. MailChimp– Free for up to 2,000 subscribers, then $30 for up to 2,500, $50 for up to 5,000, and $75 for up to 10,000. Mailchimp is pretty good. Their forms are kind of basic html and you can change the colors and the code. The fact that it is free for up to 2,000 subscribers is awesome. Once you get beyond that point and realize Aweber is both slightly better and slightly cheaper, it can be kind of frustrating. Are you really going to go through all the work of switching just to save $1 a month? Probably not, and now you’re stuck with the inferior product.
c. Social Media– As this was mentioned in section 4: getting traffic to your site, I’m not going to go into tons of details about the different sites and how to use them. Just know that if you are using those sites, you have made yourself available to a larger audience who can access your content from social media. You also have made it so that people can easily share your stuff on those social sites, and your content could go viral! A good way to get people to share your stuff is to use a sharing plugin like sociable or socialize, which then puts an icon for each social site on each of your posts so people can share your article with the click of their mouse.
6. Monitoring Your Traffic
a. Google Analytics– Once you sign up for Analytics, you get a tracking code. Take that code, go to your WordPress dashboard, install the Google Analytics Plugin, and enter the code. In a few days, your site will be tracked in Google Analytics. This shows you the number of visitors, where they are coming from, how long they stay, what they click on, what they were searching for, and tons more valuable information.
b. Google Webmaster Tools– After you install the analytics code on your site, you can sign up for Webmaster tools using the same account that you used for analytics, and it will verify that you own the site through your analytics account. This makes it easier then entering code in your website. Webmaster tools is a great place to enter your sitemap and make sure your page is being crawled correctly and without errors. You can also check stuff like search queries you come up for, and check your content keywords.
7. Reworking Old Content
a. Keep Your Star Content in the Spotlight– Inevitably, some of your content will be more popular than other content you’ve created. You want to make sure that your star content is easy to find on your site, and to continue to add to it and keep it up-to-date. A lot of people turn their star content into pages so that they can easily place it in prominent spots, and also because pages usually don’t have comments on them. You see, comments can mess up your keyword density, thus making a page that was optimized for SEO become not optimized, because of just having too many comments or because of what people are saying in the comments.
i. Change Star Posts into Pages– To do this, just make sure the url or web address of the new page is the same as the old post url. An easy way to do this is to go to the post, and see what the url is for it (probably write it down somewhere), then edit that url to make it slightly different. Then copy the post content, and paste it into a new page. Make the title for the new page the same as the old one originally was, and make sure the url is exactly the same as that old post url. Note that you’ll have to delete the old post or change its url to make that possible, as you can’t have duplicate urls.
b. Update Your 2nd Stringers Too– You will also want to update content that isn’t “star quality,” but still gets traffic and that still is relevant, or could be relevant. Just make sure it is up-to-date, and one day maybe it will become your most popular content. Many people in SEO think evergreen content is the best, because it is always valid and more and more people can just keep on viewing it, with very little work being done by the webmaster. I think that is true, but it is more valuable to create detailed content that has a lot of value to users than to just write vague stuff that will always be true. To have the details always be right, you probably will need to keep updating the content.
So there you have it! My beginner’s guide to SEO for WordPress! If you want to learn more, I would really recommend checking out the Yoast Guide to WordPress SEO and the SEO MOZ guide to SEO. You can also contact me!