In either scenario, you’ve got a problem on your hands — unless, of course, you’re ok with funneling traffic to your site exclusively with paid ads. Organic search is the single most important driver of traffic for most websites, so getting your site properly indexed is of primary importance both for you and your web development clients.
The solution is to optimize site content for search engines, a practice that is generally referred to as on-page search engine optimization (SEO). In this post we’ll look at the key factors your on-page SEO strategy must address and how you can fix up your site for the best possible visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs).
Before we jump right into practical on-page SEO tactics, let’s first clarify a couple of terms so that we’re all solidly on the same page.
There are two keys to cracking the SEO code:
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
On-page SEO refers to the things you can do on your own website to improve your site’s appearance in search engines results. In essence, on-page SEO involves making it as easy as possible for search engines to index your site’s content properly.
Off-page SEO refer to the things that happen off of your website, but that improve your site’s rank in SERPs. Off-page SEO generally involves getting other sites to link back to your website through a combination of link-building strategies — guest blogging, creating high-quality content that earns backlinks from other blogs, participating in forums, commenting on other blogs, and so forth.
We’ve written about off-page SEO in the past. For this post, we’re going to focus on-page and talk about how you can configure a WordPress website for the best possible presentation in SERPs.
As a WordPress developer, in many instances you simply build a product and then hand it over to a customer. In that scenario, you’re responsible for the initial on-page SEO configuration, but ongoing on-page SEO and off-page SEO are both up to the long-term site owner. So think of this article as a “how-to” for building a solid on-page SEO foundation for every WordPress website you create.
Let’s get to it.The Four Factors That Define On-Page SEO Mastery
Fundamentally-solid on-page SEO boils down to four critical factors:
- Keyword optimization
- Proper title tags and meta descriptions
- Generous internal link building
- Comprehensive up-to-date sitemaps
Master those four factors and you’ll be well on your way to on-page SEO success.
The great news is that WordPress makes it really easy to handle many on-page SEO tasks. Have you ever heard anyone say that WordPress is good for SEO? Built-in controls for on-page SEO are exactly why people say that about WordPress. Armed with nothing more than the WordPress core, you can take care of three of the four on-page SEO factors relatively well, if not quite comprehensively. Throw in one easy-to-use plugin, SmartCrawl, and you can knock out the fourth factor and also fine-tune your approach to the first three factors.
Let’s take a look at each factor in turn.
Keyword Optimization for WordPress
Keyword optimization is the process of optimizing a webpage around a single set of target keywords. For example, the target keywords for this specific post are: “on-page SEO for WordPress.”
So how do you actually go about optimizing a WordPress webpage for a specific set of target keywords? I’m glad you asked. There are five places your keywords need to appear to produce the best possible keyword optimization results:
- In the title tag,
- In the first heading of the page, which is generally the page or post title,
- In the webpage URL,
- In one or more image alt text attributes, and
- In the page content.
You can tick off all of these boxes in just four steps.
Step 1: Add your keywords to your page or post title
The most important thing you can do for keyword optimization is to make sure you get your keywords in your page or post title. This is important for two reasons.
- By default, WordPress reuses your post or page title as a title tag and displays it in search results, thus taking care of items one and two from the list above in one fell swoop.
- Search engines place a lot of emphasis on the first heading to determine the subject of the webpage. And the keywords that search engines decide to apply to your page will determine the keywords that your site ranks for.
Step 2: Add your keywords to the page or post permalink
WordPress makes it thankfully easy to set up pretty permalinks which have decent SEO value right out-of-the-box. However, you can take things a step further by manually editing your permalinks prior to publishing each page or post.
While you should craft custom permalinks for pages prior to publishing them, you should avoid changing the permalinks of content you’ve published previously unless you’re willing to go all-in and also add 301 redirects to permanently redirect old permalinks to their new replacements.
Step 3: Add useful alt text to all images
Make sure that you add useful alt text attributes to all of your images. Once again, WordPress makes this easy with the Add Media tool. Simply drop a sentence-case description of the message conveyed by your image into the alt text box of the Add Media modal window and make sure to include your target keywords if applicable.
Step 4: Use your keywords as appropriate throughout your content
This last step is fairly self-explanatory. As you craft the content of your page or post, it’s important that you include your keywords throughout your post in a natural way. Don’t use them awkwardly or excessively, but take advantage of opportunities to naturally work your keywords into your post every few paragraphs for the best possible on-page SEO for WordPress.
See what we did there?
Write Proper Title Tags and Descriptions
Let’s talk about titles for a moment. When we talked about keyword optimization a minute ago we made it clear that your target keywords should be included in your page or post title — the title that appears at the top of each post or page. That means that your keywords should be included here:
However, the term title tag means something slightly different. While your post or page title will appear as the first heading on the page, a title tag is a separate HTML tag that is literally a
<title> tag. The title tag isn’t displayed on your site. Instead, it shows up in two places: on the browser tab and as the page title in search engine results.
By default, WordPress will reuse your page or post title as the title tag. However, your title tag can be different if you use a plugin such as SmartCrawl to change it manually — a step we’ll talk about momentarily.
Your page description is not used by search engines to determine the subject of your page. However, it is displayed in search engine results. For this reason, it’s important to provide a site description that will prompt search engine users to visit your site.
WordPress does not create a default page description. Instead, search engines simply grab the first portion of your page content and use it as the description. Quite often, this does not produce ideal results and you will want to use a plugin to manually write descriptions for every page and post. Keep reading and I’ll show you how to do this.
Internal Link Building
When a search engine encounters a link on a webpage, it associates the anchor text – the textual content of the link itself – to the webpage being linked to. Take the following link for example:
<a href="http://premium.wmpudev.org/blog">The best source for WordPress knowledge</a>
A search engine would associate the anchor text “the best source for WordPress knowledge” with the link http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog. This is one of the ways that internal links can help improve the on-page SEO of your website. By building internal links to related content you help search engines find your content and you associate specific keywords with your webpages by using those keywords as anchor text.
Internal links can be built in a few different ways:
- WordPress comes with automatic internal link building in the form of archive pages. When archive pages are indexed the page titles are used as anchor text and search engines are able to find lots of your site’s content.
- A related posts section at the end of each page or post helps build internal links. You can create a simple list of related posts and pages manually or use a related posts plugin to add them automatically.
- A powerful way to build internal links is to add them to your page and post content naturally. For example, in the previous bullet point, we linked the term “related posts plugin” to a recent post on the same topic. You can add these sorts of links manually or with an automatic internal link building plugin like SmartCrawl — more on this topic shortly.