WordPress SEO – Settings, Strategy & More

wordpress seo

WordPress SEO is easy!  You simply start with the basics, create a plan and test so you can prove if the concepts apply to other posts, pages and categories.  Once you find what works for your website, stick to it and grow it.

This guide will walk you through the basics like how to make your site visible to advanced topics like schema (with tons of bonus tips and hints).  It also contains easy explanations of how you can proactively optimize your WordPress website for SEO and shares private strategies I use with my paying clients.

Go get some coffee cause this is a long one and lets jump in!

How to do WordPress SEO:

  1. Update your code – Don’t get nervous, this is easy!
  2. Check your settings
  3. Clear out the excess
  4. Content Strategy
  5. Comments
  6. Schema
  7. Other

Update your code

Speed and performance is one of the easiest things you can do with WordPress SEO. And good news, WordPress makes it easy to have a lightning fast website.

Depending on your host security is easy as well.

Here is where to start for both WordPress speed and security:

  • PHP – Many themes and databases you buy have not been updated to the latest version. Download a PHP testing plugin from the repository (repository is a fancy word the plugins search).There are free plugins that will automatically tell if you have the most current version.  If you don’t have a recent version of PHP then you only need a quick and easy update.  If you’re not a programmer try writing to your host, they may do it for you for free.  Or you can go to any consulting site like GetCredo, Upwork or Fiverr and find someone to do it for less than $100.
  • Security – In addition to your host, make sure you check the notes in the top of your WordPress dashboard when you login to make sure your theme and your WordPress version, and all of your active plugins are up to date.  Many times the updates are to fix security holes.Backup your current site and then click update. Once updated you’re likely more secure.
  • Servers – Once your site grows, reach out to your host for a dedicated server.  Moving to a dedicated server from shared may provide some SEO value trust wise (this is debatable) and it can also help with speed and performance.I found this with the client in this Small business SEO case study about a local company beating national corporations. The server the site was on could not handle modern PHP which slowed the site down speed wise and the server was about to die.  We wrote to the company’s host and they moved the site to an updated server within an hour.  It was a quick and easy win.

I’ll get to some more speed wins below.  Many are plug and play.  But we have a few other things to do first, like checking our WordPress settings.

Check your settings

These are boring to think about but your settings are just as important as your copy and site performance.  If you don’t have your settings done correctly for your needs; you may waste your crawl budget, hurt the amount of authority your internal links can pass to important pages and you’ll make it harder for your website to show up in the search engines.

Tags

I personally tell people not to use tags, but others say go for it.

In my opinion tags create thin pages and normally compete with categories and your posts themselves (especially if you aren’t using “read more” breaks).  If your tags are keyword rich, they can also compete with your internal linking structure and confuse search engines about which pages should rank for what phrases.

If you do use tags on your blog posts, apply a meta robots “noindex, follow”.  By using a “noindex, follow” meta robot you can tell the search engines this page should not be indexed but keep crawling and trust the other pages within my website.

On this blog I use Yoast (for no real reason other than it is there) and to do this you click on the plugin symbol in the left, then on the taxonomies tab and click the switch to not show tags in the search engines.

meta robots settings in wordpress

The above screen shot is for categories. I select yes for categories which you’ll learn more about in the next section.

block categories from search engines in wordpress

Tags is right below categories. Expand the section and select no here.

block tags from search engines in wordpress

Categories

I do recommend making categories visible to search engines.

Categories are a main topic you cover and reinforce the theme by having detailed blog posts or pages with products or content related to the topic.

If your WordPress website is a store and someone types “Jewelry” into a search engine, your category listed as “Jewelry” will have your jewelry product listings and probably sub categories like necklaces and rings.

If you write about marketing like me, a category for SEO will contain lots of articles about SEO or if the category is Affiliate Marketing. you’ll find content about affiliate managers, or what to ask Affiliate Managers before joining an affiliate program.

Category pages are a good user experience for someone who wants information and hasn’t specified something within the theme whereas tags are duplicate versions of these and lead to thin results.

Bonus Tip – Make sure to apply a read more tag in the toggle bar after the first paragraph or two.  This way your reading pane stays clean and visitors can see you have multiple solutions for the topic.  If your meta robots ever changes during an update, these read more tags also help to reduce competing copy problems.  These are similar to duplicate content but not exactly the same issue.   

create a read more link in wordpress

Search Engine Visibility

The last of the settings to check is your search engine visibility. If you have the box to “discourage” selected then you’re telling the search engines you do not want them to show your website in search results.  Make sure you unselect this box.

wordpress SEO settings

Clear out the excess

One of the easiest WordPress SEO and user experience (UX) wins you can have is a fast site.  In virtually every SEO audit I do for WordPress websites I find the following three items. By deleting these the website or blog owner instantly gains speed and site performance bonuses.

  • Plugins not being used
  • Themes that have not been deleted
  • Comments in the spam and trash folders

Go in and delete everything you’re not using or that is just sitting there.  Then empty your spam and trash.  This is something easy to do and an instant win.

I get into some more advanced speed tips below. But I provide non-technical solutions for them so keep reading if you’re looking for ways to speed up your WordPress blog or site.

Thin Posts and Thin Pages

Thin Posts

Thin posts are blog posts that really don’t provide value, don’t have quality backlinks and aren’t getting any SEO traffic.  If there is no meaningful value to the owner of the website then I recommend deleting these posts.

If there is meaning (think of photos from a birthday party you shared when you started even though it wasn’t topically relevant) then I recommend the site owner adds a meta robot noindex, follow tag to the posts.

To find blog posts with SEO traffic log into Google Analytics and:

  1. Set the date range for the last year (six months works too)
  2. Select “acquisition” in the left hand side
  3. Click on “overview”
  4. Now click “organic search” from the middle section
  5. Sort by “landing page”
  6. Now in the top of the screen you’ll see export.
  7. Download this file and also export all of the posts on your blog.
  8. The last step is to match these posts up with the posts on your website.

Anything that doesn’t exist on the export or has little to no traffic is potentially a thin post and something to delete.

The other thing you can do is look at all of the posts with a bunch of traffic.  Once things taper off to 10 or 50 visits a year, and the content and visitors are irrelevant to your topic or business, these could be ones to consider eliminating.

Thin Pages

Thin pages could be landing pages, contact pages and lead funnels.  They provide value so you don’t want to delete them, but you don’t want Google or other search engines to focus on them.  For these pages a simple meta robots noindex, follow is fine.  If you can group them into a folder and place “disallow: /folder” in your robots.txt, that is even better.

Content Strategy

WordPress content strategies get tricky.

When we first start a site almost all of us talk about the goals and purpose or why we’re writing. Then we get distracted and lose our focus in the early days.  Don’t fall into this trap! Instead build the important “trust factor” pages for E-A-T and to help protect yourself legally.

Now we start building our first pages and outlining our copy by developing our WordPress content strategy.

Note: If you’re an established website and looking to increase traffic, skip the first set of bullet points and drop to the internal linking structure or topic research headers.

  • Create your about me, privacy policy, TOU, contact page and service pages if you have them.
  • Line up 5 category phrases that are topically relevant to your goal:
    • Fashion bloggers can try boho, minimalist, jewelry, tops and spring styles.
    • If you share recipes for kids then try kids snacks, kids dinners, school lunches.
    • Phone repair stores could focus on iPhones, cracked screen repair in XY city, cases for sale in AB neighborhoods.
    • Pet groomers may try dog training, cat care, pet events in AB city.
  • Now create 10 to 15 blog posts that work for each category (if you cannot come up with this immediately, it likely should not be one of your main categories)

By doing this you’ve created a series of topically relevant content silos.  This helps search engines learn the topics of your categories and builds a foundation for new visitors to become subscribers since they’ll find lots of relevant content that matches their interests and meets their needs.

Now that you have your first pages of copy and you have 100+ blog posts to write, you’re about to hit writers block big time.  Topic research gets tough, but don’t worry I share a few tricks to fill in the gaps and find close to 200 or 300 topics for virtually all niches easy.

How to find topics to write about

The first is to take your main keyword phrase and:

(just make sure whatever you do with the following is actually relevant to your topics)

  • Type it into Answer The Public to find questions.  Each question likely has a Google featured snippet giving you a great opportunity for an answer box ranking or “people also ask” feature.
  • Go incognito on your browser and type the phrase into Google.Now you:
    • Look at people also ask and write a post for each topic.
    • Keep track of auto suggest results and if something is relevant create a post for it or incorporate it into a different post.
    • Look for the recommended and related searches to find more topics at the bottom of the search results.
  • Next stay in incognito mode and go to YouTube and do the same as you did in Google search but with video titles, recommendations and other relevant queries.
  • Last find forums and sub-forums with lots of activity like reddit or Quora and plug those into topic and keyword research tools. You’ll end up with tons of topics and questions people are actively discussing or looking for answers on.  This is one of my top tips that I normally only provide to clients.  If you made it this far you’ve earned this one.

Build an Internal Linking Structure

You can read about internal linking structures here if you’re not familiar with the term.

If you have a website with lots of copy and blog posts, or even 20 to 30 posts, it is time to think about building some internal links. Internal links let search engines know what your most important pages or blog posts are and internal links guide your visitors to explanations if they’re interested in learning more about the topic.

In the link above I reference learning more about internal links and send you to a guide about internal linking structures.  If you’re not familiar with the term, this post will help you and then you can come back here and discover how to implement them.  I’ve also now told the search engines which page on my site I feel is relevant to show for that phrase.

That is why it is a good use case for this example.  Internal links can move the needle for you with WordPress SEO so take them serious and pay attention to your structure.

The first thing I do to build an internal linking structure is write down the big phrases I want to rank for.  Think t-shirt if you’re a clothing store.

Next I click on posts in the left hand side of the WordPress side bar. Then I type “tshirt”, “t-shirt” and “t shirt” in into the search box.

build internal links in wordpress

By doing this I now have a list of blog posts that mention the specific phrases. From there I look for the mentions of the specific phrase and ask myself if linking to the main category page will benefit the end user if they click on it.  If the answer is yes, I build the internal link.

Next I do the same thing but on the “Pages” menu item in the side bar.

If I want to be extra thorough I use a website crawler that has a content extraction feature (most do) and I extract all pages that mention that specific phrase. Now go to each page and look to see if the internal link would be naturally occurring and add value.  If it does then add the link.

Bonus tip: Make sure to set the crawler to ignore navigation elements (menus, side bars, etc…).  If you include those then your crawl will share every page on your site and it will be useless.

Comments

Blocking Spam Comments on WordPress

Next we need to begin addressing spammers, bots and the garbage that comes with having comments enabled.

The first thing to do is block anything that would be a “spammy” comment.  You can be proactive by including a detailed list of racial slurs and swear words; spammy niche words like gambling, casinos, payday and pills; and of course adult or bot traffic by using body parts and adult terms.

The good news is this is very easy to do and takes no code knowledge.

Click “settings” in the left side navigation and then on discussion.  Scroll down and you’ll find two boxes.  One for “comment moderation” and one for “disallowed comment keys”.

In these boxes you’ll enter spammy phrases, the words mentioned above, IP addresses and anything else that you see constantly hitting your spam and trash folders. I’m not going to include screen shots here because as I mentioned the words in the list are pretty much everything and anything not PC because I want them blocked and the comments to automatically go to spam or trash.

Bonus tip: You can also block comments that contain one link or multiple links.  I don’t recommend this in many cases because readers will sometimes ask a question and another person may provide a couple of sources which will help them.  This is not spammy, but each website is different so it is more of a case by case scenario.

Add the UGC Attribute to Comments on WordPress

The next step (aside from adding a spam plugin) is to apply the UGC (User Generated Content) attribute to your comments section.  This just means you’re applying rel=”UGC” to any link in the wording of the comment and the commenter’s bio URL field.  This lets the search engines know the link was added by users and not you so it should not count as a backlink.

WordPress started doing this when you upgrade versions so if you haven’t gone to 5.3 or higher then now is a good time.  If for some reason you don’t want to upgrade or your theme there are plugins that will apply the UGC code automatically to your comments section.  Make sure to find one that is compatible with your older WordPress installation and you should be fine; but you could open yourself to more security risks.

Schema

Schema is one of the more important things you can do help your blog or WordPress website stand out.  Schema is a type of code that defines what the specific page or a section of the page on your website is about.

You can use schema to say if the page has a recipe, a video, a recipe with a demonstrative video, if you offer a service like tutoring in a specific city, or if you have a blog post that also has questions and answers.

Here are the most common types of schema used on WordPress sites.  My preferred plugin for this is Schema App by Hunch Manifest, but most SEO plugins offer these so no need to pay unless you are serious about having an SEO advantage with your WordPress site.

The Most Popular Types of Schema for WordPress SEO Are:

  • Blog posting – This is the standard for all blog posts that are posts.
  • Article – If your blog post is more of an article (a helpful article vs. a personal blog post about your kids) you may want to choose article schema. Blog posting and article are mostly interchangeable so don’t stress if you cannot decide.
  • Recipe – When you write edible food recipes (not a recipe for a cleaning solution) then you’ll want to use recipe schema.  I use Bootstrapped Ventures WP Recipe Maker for my food blogs and it automatically applies recipe schema perfectly and easily.
  • How to – When creating a how to guide (making soap, fixing a leak, etc…) you’ll want to incorporate how to schema.
  • Service – If you offer a service then you can define the service on the page.
  • Area served – Is your service limited to a specific area or region? Then you can reference your service area from a city to a country or the entire world using this library.
  • FAQ – Does your blog post have a question and answer section?  You can nest FAQ schema into it under the “has part” section so that search engines know you answer questions specific to the topic.  Remember the topic is defined by your title and H tags so be specific when using them.
  • Same as – This type of schema is where you reference your other accounts like social media or if you have a wikipedia page.
  • Product – When selling products you can incorporate everything from the sku and price to ratings and reviews so that search engines know this page has products for sale.

Other

Authority Building With Author Boxes

One of the easiest things you can do to build authority and trust is to use your author box wisely.  This won’t influence a search result directly, but it does play a part of building E-A-T (Expertise, Authority and Trust).

In the author box you want to include a brief bio about yourself and your qualifications.  If you’re a pet blogger who is also a Veterinarian, include your certifications. The same goes for recipe websites.  Include where you’ve been featured in major media and any books you wrote that got published and became best sellers.

As you mention these you’ll want to link to proof. It could be where you published your dissertation when getting a PHD, or it could be linking to an article about you in a major media outlet. This builds trust with your readers, lets journalists and other bloggers have assurance that if they give your post a backlink their readers will get quality information.

Because of the link you are also building a graph of associations for search engine algorithms which may or may not be used to determine your authority on the topic.  To be fair, the comment above is a question for the engineers at the search engines as only they can answer yes or no for sure.  But from a user standpoint, it is good for your visitors.

Sitemaps

Virtually every SEO plugin has a sitemap.  Instead of walking you through setting them up (since they are automated) here is what to look for.

  • The sitemap exists within your robots.txt.
  • Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console.
  • Check each URL in the sitemap goes to your main blog posts, pages and categories.
  • Make sure all pages in your sitemap are official versions by checking the canonical links. The canonical links should reference themselves and never a different version.
  • Look to see if tags are included and have them removed from your sitemap.
  • Any pages that aren’t important like thin landing pages or your about me page can be removed.
  • If you find pages in your sitemap that link to 3XX redirects or 4XX pages, remove the redirect or remove the error page.

Bonus tip – If you have tons of images and memes, create an image sitemap. 

Bonus tip 2 – If you use original videos and host them, create a video sitemap.

Page Speed and Site Speed

Page speed and site speed are very important.  I created this post about the differences between site speed and page speed and how to improve on both.

And this is where I start with WordPress SEO.  If you have a favorite tip not listed above, share it in the comments below.  I’ll also add to this post as I have time, but right now I have to get back to client work.  And speaking of that, if you’re an active affiliate in the programs my company manages I have tons of free resources for you.  If you’re looking for help with SEO, contact me and let me know about your needs.

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