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The WordPress Newbie’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to a series of strategies for making sure your content appears as early as possible in search results. It’s an oft-mentioned term when developing websites, and it’s so important that it warrants your full attention. However, it can be confusing to grasp and implement SEO effectively if you’re new to the technique.

While there are plenty of things to learn, the overarching concept isn’t that difficult to internalize, especially considering the benefits of doing so. Implementing a solid SEO strategy can help increase the amount of traffic to your site, and positively affect both your brand awareness and conversion rates.

This article will look at a few key concepts of WordPress SEO, explaining what they mean and why they’re important. Finally, we’ll show you how to improve your own site’s search rankings. Let’s get started!

An Introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of those phrases you probably come across regularly. It’s an umbrella term for a series of practices that are meant to improve your site’s ranking in search engines like Bing and Google. The better your site’s rankings are, the earlier it will appear in relevant search results:

An example of search results in Google.

As you can imagine, this makes SEO very important. In fact, 75% of search engine users only look at the first page of results. Not making it onto that coveted position can lead to a major loss in traffic and conversions.

WordPress SEO applies to all search engines, but we’ll focus on Google in this article, as it’s by far the most popular option. Google also provides the most information about how it determines website rankings. Let’s take a closer look at what the most important factors are now.

What Google Considers Important for SEO

Google doesn’t spell out exactly how it calculates ratings, as this would make it to easy to ‘game’ the system. However, we do know that it considers the following factors important:

  1. Mobile-friendliness. Google recently introduced a ‘mobile-first index’, which means that it now primarily uses the mobile version of a site to determine its rankings. Making sure your site is optimized for mobile devices is therefore more important than ever.
  2. Content quality. Google cares about your site’s quality above all other factors. No amount of SEO tricks can make up for poor-quality content.
  3. Site security. If your site doesn’t use HTTPS, Google will perceive it as non-secure and be less likely to recommend it.
  4. Site speed. Loading times are an important factor, especially on mobile devices. Google values the user experience, and a slow site is sure to lower that.
  5. Social media sharing. This is also known as ‘social signals’ and refers to how often your content is shared on social media. Not only will this make your site more visible and increase traffic, it can have a positive effect on your SEO rankings as well.
  6. Backlinks. A backlink is a link another sites makes to your content. When you have more backlinks, your site will be perceived as trusted and high-quality.

We should also point out that Google is always updating and tweaking its algorithms. This means that what’s considered smart SEO strategy now might not always remain that way. For that reason, it’s crucial to stay informed and update your WordPress SEO strategy as time passes.

3 Ways to Improve Your WordPress SEO

Now that we’ve covered the basics of SEO, let’s take a look at how you can turn theory into practice on your site. The following tips will focus on WordPress SEO, and show you how to improve your site’s rankings with a few simple methods.

1. Use the Yoast SEO Plugin to Optimize Your Content

There are several plugins that can help you improve your WordPress SEO. However, one of the most popular and trusted options is Yoast SEO:

The Yoast SEO plugin.

Yoast helps you optimize your content, by analyzing it to make sure it adheres to current SEO standards. It also features a number of other useful tools, such as an XML sitemap that helps search engines read your site easier, making it more likely to be indexed quickly.

This is an especially valuable plugin if you’re new to SEO. Yoast will take the more technical aspects off your hands, while teaching you the best practices for writing content that’s both engaging and primed for search engines. Best of all, most of the key features are contained in the free version of the plugin. The premium version includes more advanced functionality, such as automatic internal link suggestions, social media previews, and redirect management.

Yoast also offers a series of online courses to help further your knowledge of SEO. You may want to use these to dig deeper into SEO, once you have mastered the basics.

2. Optimize Your Site for Speed

We’ve already talked about the importance of speed, since it affects both the user experience and SEO. If your site is slow, Google’s ‘crawlers’ will struggle to access your site to index it, which can negatively impact its rankings.

This was recently made an even more pressing issue, as page speed is now a ranking factor for mobile searches. While this will allegedly only affect the slowest sites, it’s more important than ever that your site runs reliably and quickly at all times.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can speed up a WordPress site. For starters, you can implement caching, which improves your site’s loading times considerably. Some web hosts include a caching solution by default, but there are also plenty of alternatives out there for you to use. We recommend WP Super Cache, as it’s free, powerful, and very easy for beginners to get started with:

The WP Super Cache plugin.

Another quick way of improving your site’s speed is to optimize your images. This may sound technical, but is actually simple to implement. Optimizing images means compressing the files, so that they take up less space without compromising the images’ overall quality. Once again, there are many solutions available for WordPress users, but our recommendation is the ShortPixel plugin:

The Short Pixel plugin.

Not only will this tool automatically optimize every image you upload, you can even compress all your existing images and replace them with new, smaller versions.

3. Perform Keyword Research to Find What Your Audience Wants

An important part of optimizing your site is knowing what keywords you want to associate with your content. A keyword is a word or phrase that users search for on Google. How well your site ranks for relevant keywords determines how high it appears in those results.

Keyword research is the process of determining which keywords you want to aim for. It helps to find keywords that relate to your site, and to research what types of information your target audience is searching for. You can use this data to create content that appeals to your audience, and optimize it accordingly.

Of course, you should always focus on keywords that are relevant, and only use them in a natural manner. It’s important to avoid ‘keyword stuffing’, where you add popular keywords to your site just to drive traffic. Another bad tactic is ‘over-optimizing’ a site in the hopes that it ranks higher for a particular keyword. Google frowns on these types of shortcuts, and will penalize your site accordingly.

To perform keyword research, we recommend using a tool like Google Keyword Planner. You will require a Google account and need to register with Google AdWords, which is free. You can then access the Keyword Planner:

The first step of using the Google Keyword Planner.

Here, you can enter any keyword to see how many times it appears in searches each month, how high the competition for that keyword is, and what its related keywords are:

The results of searching for "wordpress seo" in Google Keyword Planner.

This is a goldmine for finding other keywords that your target audience is looking for. You can then optimize your content to target relevant keywords with a high search frequency, but that don’t have much competition.

Conclusion

Getting your head around Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can take a while. It’s a broad subject, and one that’s always changing. However, what we do know is that by optimizing your site and content, you’ll have a higher chance of performing well in search results. This should in turn lead to more traffic, and an increase in leads and conversions.

In this article, we’ve introduced some general tips for getting started with WordPress SEO. These include:

  1. Use the Yoast SEO plugin to optimize your content.
  2. Improve your site’s speed.
  3. Perform keyword research to find out what your audience wants.

Do you have any questions about how to improve your WordPress SEO? Let us know in the comments section below!

Image credits: Pixabay.

The WordPress Newbie’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
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Will Morris

Will Morris is a staff writer at WordCandy. When he's not writing about WordPress, he likes to gig his stand-up comedy routine on the local circuit.

  • This post was last updated on June 19th, 2018 at 11:02 am