Search engine optimization is the process that leads to ranking your website on Google and the other search engines, including Bing and Yahoo. A number of different factors are looked at by Google when determining the ranking.
Some of them exist directly on your Website and are known as on-site optimization.
Others are on exterior websites and social media, known as off-site optimization.
When used together correctly, it can provide a powerful force for pushing your business to the next level – Imagine ranking the top 3 keywords for a local service you provide!
First of all, it’s important to recognize that SEO is alive and thriving.
Although the landscape constantly changes as Google improves their search algorithm, there is still a fortune to be made in building your SEO.
Any reports that you heard about SEO being dead are greatly exaggerated, and you should take steps today to optimize your SEO.
p.s. This guide is focused on important on-site optimizations, and the steps were recorded while I was working on a brand new site for my client.
Step 1: Get Started with an SEO Plugin
WordPress offers many features, one of it being an extensive directory of plugins, created by various companies and independent developers.
Personally, I have tested and liked two plugins: Yoast SEO & All in One SEO Pack – they are also frequently compared side by side on websites like this.
This guide will be focused on Yoast SEO since it is the more popular choice and used widely on many websites.
To begin, navigate to ‘Plugins > Add New’ in your WordPress Admin Panel.
Search for “Yoast SEO” on WordPress Plugins and click install, then activate it.
The first thing you should do is to navigate to the ‘Dashboard’ page of Yoast SEO, and under the ‘General Tab,’ click ‘Open the Configuration Wizard.’
Now, select ‘Configure Yoast SEO,’ and select the most appropriate choices for the next steps (so the plugin can optimize the best SEO settings for you).
Don’t worry about making the wrong selection here; you can always come back to change them again (You can also skip selections if needed).
Some notable options:
1. Post Type Visibility
I recommend keeping the default options here. If you choose to let Google index every single media URL, it is not the most efficient use of your “Google Crawl Budget” especially if you just started doing SEO.
2. Google Search Console
This is an important step so do not skip this.
You can still come back to this at a later date, but I recommend to set this up immediately.
Follow the instructions by clicking ‘Get Google Authorization Code’ and you should be able to quickly setup your Google Search Console.
The Search Console allows you to know what keywords are ranking for your Website, and how visitors are finding your Website organically.
It also consists of other features you can make use of when you dabble into more in-depth SEO.
Once you complete all the selections, click ‘Close’ and move to the next step.
Step 2: Content / Keyword Focus
Now leave your plugin aside and get started with a brainstorming session.
Here’s what you need to know about ‘keywords’:
Keywords are identified and targeted to bring visitors to your Website, and you can plan your content to include these keywords.
This means when doing SEO optimizations, it is important to include your keywords on important elements of your Website.
Ask yourself these questions:
1) What ‘keywords’ do my customers search for?
2) Which should be my main keyword?
For example, one of my clients runs a tuition centre in Singapore.
Naturally, you want to target keywords like “Tuition Singapore,” “Tuition Centre,” “Chemistry Tuition,” and so on.
But how do you decide on which keywords work, which don’t, and which to select as the main keyword?
Personally, I use Google Keywords Planner (Under Google Adwords) for research and analysis.
If you haven’t created a Google Adwords account yet, you can start by entering your details here.
You can skip the payment details for Google Adwords and hop into the Dashboard.
Locate the ‘Keywords Planner’ from the top menu, and you should see an interface like this. Click ‘Get Search Volume Data and Trends.’
Note: If you do not have a ready list of keywords to research, you can click ‘Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category’ to help you build a list.
Enter your keyword list as shown below, and select the appropriate location and date range (In this case I selected Singapore over the last 12 months average).
Usually, you should have a way more extensive keyword list when doing research; the above is just an example
So the follow-up question comes:
Which keyword do I choose as my main keyword to target?
In the case of the tuition centre, we chose the keyword “Tuition Centre Singapore” to be an overarching keyword to be integrated sitewide.
But why would you pick a main keyword with lower traffic?
1) Niche keywords usually have less competition and are easier to rank.
2) The Website had no authority in SEO and was not ranked by Google previously.
3) If you don’t make it into page 1 of Google Search Results, the traffic volume will not matter anyway.
Combining the various reasons, it is more practical to choose a niche keyword to start with.
Once you establish ranking in niche keywords, you can aim towards more competitive keywords as your primary focus.
Step 3: Title + Description Tags
Bearing your main keyword and keywords list in mind, it’s time to touch up on the SEO elements of your website.
Navigate to your home page in WordPress Editor and scroll all the way down. You should see Yoast SEO interface like this:
Click on ‘Edit Snippet.’
Now start filling in the three tags you see:
1. Page Title: The main title visitors see when they search for your website in Google (See blue heading).
– Make sure your title is attractive so that visitors will click into your site. If you are unsure what to write, then look at top ranking competitors and learn from them.
– Include the main keyword you identified in Step 2 if possible.
– Include any other relevant keywords about the page if possible.
– Keep within the viewable limit as indicated by Yoast.
– Make sure it is unique and not repeated on other pages.
2. Page Slug: This represents how your page URL looks to visitors.
– Ensure your page-slug contains keywords about the page
– Page slug not too long and is relevant
3. Description Tag: The description that appears below the title when visitors search for your Website.
– Be unique and relevant to that page.
– Be written as descriptive ad text, with a call to action.
– No more than 160 characters in length including spaces and punctuation (140-150 is ideal).
– Include the main keyword and relevant keywords to the page in your sentences.
Repeat this step for ALL pages in your Website, and make sure they are all unique so Google does not penalize for duplicate content.
By setting attractive tags, more visitors will click into your Website.
As you gain more traffic, your site ranking will increase over time.
Step 4: Image Names & Alts Tags
For the benefit of search engines, code compliance, and visually impaired users, every image MUST have an ALT tag.
The ALT tag should accurately describe the image and should contain a keyword relevant to your Website (but only if the keyword is relevant to the image as well).
Image file names should be descriptive words, not numbers or query strings.
They should accurately describe the image, and if relevant should also use the keyword.
To edit the Alt Tags, click on the image you uploaded in your pages/posts and click the small pencil sign that popups:
Then, fill in the ALT tags according to the guidelines I listed above.
If you need to rename your files in WordPress, you can download this plugin – Media File Renamer.
By ensuring that all images are properly named and tagged, you will not only increase the SEO value of those images, but you will increase the likelihood of receiving referral traffic from image search results.
Step 5: Heading Tags – H1, H2, H3, etc.
Search engines weight text for SEO value based on text size and position on the page.
Heading tags are supposed to be larger than the other text on the page, and should appear prominently on the page, thus the added benefit of having the keyword in the heading tags.
Every page should have an H1 tag, as search engines look to the H1 to help determine the topic of a page.
It should be the first thing in the body text of the page and should appear prominently.
The sub-headings for paragraphs should follow with H2 and H3 tags in a hierarchy system (Refer to the example below):
No H tag should be used if the preceding numerical tag has not been used (don’t use an H2 if there is no H1, don’t use an H5 if there is no H4, etc.).
To get started, navigate to your Page Editor and highlight your headers.
It should indicate the type of header tag as shown here:
Correct all your header tags and ensure they are in precedence order.
For more advanced users, you can use the text/html editor and look for <h1>,<h2> tags and so on for easy identification.
I highly recommend having only one unique H1 tag per page, because it tells Google what the page is about (Too many H1 tags creates confusion on the Google Bot, and is not advised).
Step 6: URL Structure
A site URL structure is fundamental to both users and search engines.
Poor URL structure can hurt rankings, prevent pages from being indexed and lower your click-through-rate (CTR).
A simple but effective optimization that can be done is to ensure you have the ideal structure on WordPress.
IMPORTANT: If you already have a large website running, it is not recommended to change your structure without proper 301 redirects as it may affect SEO you have built up before.
You can reach out to me at email@example.com, and I’ll be happy to run you through some free resources you can refer to do the redirect yourself.
Navigate to ‘Settings > Permalinks’ on your WordPress Panel.
Select ‘Post-Name’ as your option and save the changes.
What does this do?
Basically, it switches the URL structure of your website to (domain-name).com/(page-slug).
By default, WordPress uses the page structure of day and name, such as – www.sproutgiant.com/2017/08/01/default-page
However, this structure is not beneficial to SEO because it doesn’ provide additional information to search engines what your page is related to.
Compare the following:
In the first example, Google bots can better determine the page is an article belonging to a blog.
Whereas in the second example, the page relevance is tied to dates, which bears no meaningful relation.
This applies to all categories, tags, and so on.
Step 7: Sitemap
An XML sitemap indexes all your pages and tells Google what pages exists on your Website, and help you to rank them.
Hence it should be created for every Website and should be updated and re-submitted whenever changes are made to the site.
Using Yoast SEO, we first have to enable ‘Advanced Settings’ by navigating to the Dashboard > Features, and enabling ‘Advanced Settings’.
Then, navigate to XML Sitemaps shown:
Simply click ‘Save Changes’ and your sitemap will be generated automatically for Search Engines to index your pages.
Personally, I will update the sitemap every time I make changes to my site.
That’s the end of this step-by-step guide to SEO optimizations.
The optimizations above are pretty much the basic optimizations you can do easily, and I highly recommend to get your Google Analytics and Search Console setup so you can track on traffic gains and adjust accordingly.
If you are interested to go more in-depth (There is still a whole load you can do!), reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll share some tips and tricks with you.