Blogging basics: WordPress SEO for complete beginners
Search engine optimization (SEO) is often made out to be a convoluted, mystifying, and secretive discipline that only trained specialists and enlightened “gurus” can make sense of. And when it comes to claiming prime real estate for an ultra-competitive search term like, say, “SEO,” there might be some truth to that.
But SEO isn’t rocket science. Or contract law. Or anything else that requires specialized knowledge and intensive study. On the contrary, SEO is simple, intuitive, and accessible to anyone with a website and the will to learn a handful of simple techniques (most of which involve nothing more than putting words in boxes).
In this seventh instalment in our Blogging Basics series, we’ll introduce you to five dead-simple SEO practices that will help boost your search rankings, expand your readership, and give you a happier, healthier blog overall.
Pick the right keywords
You might not think you know how search engines work, but you know. After all, you’ve conducted some 8,145,942 searches in your lifetime, and each one has taken the same course: you enter some words in a search box, hit enter, and a half-second later you’re presented with pages of results that match your terms.
So it’s pretty important that you pick the right keywords. But how? One way is to put yourself in your user’s shoes and try to divine what they’re going to type (not recommended). Another is to use Google’s Keyword Planner. You’ll be able to search for your topic, find the top search terms associated with it, see how competitive they are, and watch how they trend over time.
You should decide which keywords and phrases you want to go after, then think about how you can add them to your site. WordPress SEO by Yoast allows you to set a focus keyword for each of your posts and tallies up how many times you’ve used it (more is better—to a point). It’s also got some other useful features, so if you aren’t already using it, you should probably go download and install it, like, now.
Write accurate, SEO-friendly post titles (and permalinks)
Post titles are one of the most important components of good SEO. Not only do they compel browsers to become readers, they’re also one of the main things search bots look at when crawling your site. If possible, try to fit in a keyword or two without exceeding Google’s 70-character limit.
It’s also a good idea to set your permalinks (also known as web addresses or URLs) to include the descriptive keywords you’ve selected instead of a mishmash of random dates and figures (as they often are by default). The keywords in the permalink will be highlighted in search results—plus, if you ask us, “themezilla.com/beginner-seo” looks a lot better than “themezilla.com/?p=63/u/2016-04-21/xyz”. You can edit the permalink for each post below the title in the backend of each post.
Make the most of categories and tags
When you’ve got a dynamite post you’re excited to publish, it can be tough to remember to tag and categorize it—but Google will reward your diligence. As we wrote in our post on WordPress categories and tags, “Thoughtful classification facilitates navigation (and good user experience) but it also offers up opportunities for increased search traffic and engagement that too often go to waste.” Basically, any time you can sneak your keywords into your blog without looking like you’re trying too hard, do it!
Master meta descriptions
The jury’s still out on whether meta descriptions actually give your site a lift when it comes to search rankings, but setting a meta description tag for each post you publish is still a good habit to get into. Why? Because even if Google doesn’t use the keywords in meta descriptions to determine its search rankings, it still bolds them if they match a user’s search terms. It’s an extra 155 characters you can use to hook your prospective reader.
Should you decide against setting a meta description for the pages you want to rank for, Google will set it for you—a snippet from the first couple lines of your post. Generally, this ends in an ellipsis. Often, it doesn’t include any of the keywords you’re trying to rank for. It just looks sloppy. Take the extra few minutes to write a clear, relevant and helpful meta description, and you’ll get more clicks to your content.
Building links is important for improving SEO, but you don’t have to sit around waiting for another site to find your blog and link to it. You can help search engines find and index your content by linking within your own site. We’ve done it twice in this post.
Consistent internal linking has the added benefit of spreading “link juice” throughout your site. According to WooRank, “The link juice obtained and distributed within your site keeps your inner pages popular on the web as well as your home page.” The more you link, the more visible your site becomes, so just keep linking back to yourself talking about linking back to yourself and remember, being meta is cool.
Each post you publish has the potential to boost your search engine rankings and get more eyeballs on your content. These strategies should get you off to a good start, but if you want to take things to the next level, we highly recommend checking out Yoast’s Guide to WordPress SEO and Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. You’ll be a “guru” in no time.
What do you do to improve your site’s SEO? Hit us up in the comments!