Most people turn to WordPress when they want to build a website, and it’s easy to see why. With its accessible and intuitive dashboard, open-source nature, and thousands of themes and plugins, WordPress is the obvious choice for setting up almost any type of website.
Launched in 2003, WordPress has become the most popular content management system (CMS) globally. According to TechJury, over 455 million sites run on WordPress.
WordPress is the best platform to implement SEO best practices as a non-technical user. Running and optimizing a WordPress site is straightforward, making the platform is ideal for small businesses that don’t have in-house developers.
Are you planning to optimize your small business WordPress website? In this guide, we’ll share some tools and best practices to help you achieve your SEO goals. Let’s get started!
WordPress SEO Basics For Small Business Websites
Since default settings allow pages to be immediately indexed, WordPress is SEO-friendly as soon as it’s installed. However, WordPress’ SEO power doesn’t guarantee you’ll come first in the search results overnight.
We’ll cover some WordPress SEO basics, tips, and tricks to help you build an SEO-optimized platform for your brand.
- Carefully choosing your domain
- Using Managed WordPress hosting
- Setting up an SSL certificate
- Making sure your permalinks are set up correctly
- Installing an SEO-friendly WordPress theme
- Installing an SEO plugin
- Generating two sitemaps (HTML and XML)
- Configuring WordPress’ built-in SEO features
- Creating optimized content
- Having internal linking
- Strategically using categories and tags
- Using breadcrumbs
- Keeping an eye on site speed
- Promoting your site through social media, email marketing, and link building
Choose the Right Domain
The need for a domain name isn’t unique to WordPress. Regardless of the CMS your site runs on, choosing a good domain is essential for SEO success. Here are some guidelines for picking your domain:
- Whenever possible, use .com. There are many different extensions you can use, but .com is still the most popular. If someone can’t find your site or doesn’t remember the URL, they’ll probably try typing your brand name + .com. Users are accustomed to this extension, and Google is biased in its favour.
- Keep your name short and simple. This will make it easier for people to remember you.
- Choose a self-explanatory domain name. You may want to choose a domain that lets your users know what your site is about straight away. Some years ago, Google strongly preferred domains that included a keyword when competing against branded domains. But, as of 2022, this is no longer the case. Therefore, including keywords in your domain name will be a business choice, not an SEO choice. Among other factors, it will depend on brand recognition. For example, if you’re running a coaching business for writers and you’re just starting, a domain like coachingforwriters.com may perform better than your name. But, if you’re a renowned writer and your name is easily recognizable, maybe you should use your full name + .com.
- Avoid hyphens. Most people don’t remember to type a hyphenate in the URL bar.
Pro tip: In most cases, you’ll be able to get your domain for free as part of your hosting plan, so don’t buy a domain before you get hosting.
Use Managed WordPress Hosting
Once you’ve picked your domain, it’s time to look for a hosting provider. A hosting plan offers you a space on the web. Think of it as a piece of land to build a house. Or, in this case, a space within a server where you can build your website.
Depending on your budget and your plans for your website, you can choose shared hosting or managed WordPress hosting (among other options).
With shared hosting, you access a server’s resources at the same time as thousands of other websites. Shared hosting is affordable but also extremely limited.
Meanwhile, managed WordPress hosting provides a flexible amount of server resources, allowing you to support traffic peaks, and run a faster website. It also comes with other benefits, including:
- Access to an enterprise-level CDN
- Regular, automated back-ups
- Automatic updates
- Access to a staging site
Managed WordPress hosting is more expensive than shared hosting. Still, it’s the most reliable service you can get to support a growing online presence. Plus, site speed is crucial for SEO (more on this later), so you don’t want your hosting’s limited resources to slow down your site.
Whatever hosting provider you choose, ensure they offer 99% uptime and solid customer support. Once you’ve picked a hosting company and plan, it’s time to install WordPress. Most companies offer one-click installers, making it very easy for non-technical users to set up their site.
Security First: Set Up an SSL Certificate
SSL certificates indicate to users and third parties that your website is secure. SSL provides you with an HTTPS URL and a padlock icon in the URL bar. In the past, SSL was just a nice-to-have. Today, it’s essential. If you don’t have a valid SSL certificate:
- Search engines may penalize you, as Google uses HTTPS as a ranking signal
- Browsers may warn users that your website is dangerous or malicious
- You may have difficulties integrating payment gateways into your site
Aside from these factors, it’s worth mentioning that SSL certificates make your website more secure. In other words, if you want to rank in search engines, your website must be safe.
Make Sure Your Permalinks Have a Clear and Scalable Structure
Permalinks are vital for SEO performance. Thus, it’s one of the first things you should set up when building your site from scratch. Doing it later and redirecting the old URLs could negatively impact your SEO efforts.
If you don’t set a clear permalink structure from the get-go, the URLs of your posts and pages won’t be readable or memorable. This isn’t necessarily an issue, but it may affect the user experience and increase the chance of misspelled/broken links.
Most of the time, experts recommend creating URLs with one or two sub-levels.
You can change your permalink structure from the WordPress dashboard. Go to Settings > Permalinks and choose the option that works best for you.
Install an SEO-Friendly Theme
Most modern WordPress themes are responsive and mobile-friendly. However, if you’re not sure about a certain plugin, you can use Google’s free responsivity checker.
Today, the real concern when choosing a WordPress theme is performance. Google has been using speed as a key ranking factor for the past decade. The WordPress theme you choose shouldn’t be bloated with unnecessary code and features that could slow down your site. So, when picking your theme, make sure it’s lightweight.
Some of the most popular SEO WordPress themes include:
Install an SEO Plugin
SEO plugins can simplify your SEO optimization workflow significantly, allowing you to manage everything from the dashboard. Look for a tool with the following features:
- Automated sitemap generation
- Keyword tracking and content optimization insights
- Meta tag writing functionalities
- Redirect management
- Schema and OpenGraph support
SEORadar is also worth checking out. Unlike the tools mentioned above, it doesn’t aspire to be an all-in-one SEO toolkit. Instead, SEORadar monitors your site’s code automatically and notifies you when it detects changes that could affect your SERP positioning. It covers all critical elements of your website, including:
- Titles and subtitles
- Featured keywords
- Sitemap changes
Especially if you’re a non-technical user managing a website for the first time, it’s easy for minor but impactful code changes to slip by. SEORadar crawls your code looking for these changes and alerts you automatically through SMS, email, or Slack. SEORadar comes as a web app and as a WordPress plugin.
Although essential, these plugins may not be enough to get a 360° of your website. Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two free platforms most SEO experts swear by.
With Google Analytics, you can analyze your site’s traffic over time. Google Search Console is the 100% SEO-focused companion to Google Analytics. For more details on using Google Search Console, check out this complete guide.
There are plenty of other tools you can use to get information about your website and get better SEO results. Although the free tools are beneficial, more resources will give you better results.
Generate a Sitemap (or Two)
An XML sitemap helps Google bots understand your site’s structure and crawl it accordingly. Especially if your site is large, Google may not index all your URLs without a sitemap.
An HTML sitemap, on the other hand, helps your users navigate your platform and get the most out of it. Experts recommend creating both types of sitemaps. HTML sitemaps are most often included in the site’s footer. So, you can create your HTML sitemap when customizing your theme. No extra plugin or technical tinkering is needed.
But, to create your XML sitemap, you’ll need an SEO plugin. For instance, if you’re using Yoast SEO, you can set up your sitemap straight from your dashboard by visiting SEO > General > Features > XML sitemaps.
Additionally, you can make sure Google doesn’t index archive pages, preventing content cannibalization. To get started, navigate to SEO > Search Appearance > Taxonomies. Under Categories, you’ll find the question “Show Categories in Search Results?” Click the No button.
Configure Built-In WordPress SEO Settings
Be sure to check the Settings section of your WordPress dashboard, and make sure that “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is unchecked. You’ll never rank if Google can’t crawl and index your pages! To do so, go to Settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility.
Create Optimized Content
Optimizing your site only for technical SEO is not enough to rank on Google. We’re not the first to say it: Content is king. But, how can you create high-quality content? It all begins with a unique value proposition, solid ideas, and in-depth keyword research. You should also implement content writing best practices, to make your posts scannable and valuable for users. That’s how you build an audience, get backlinks, and climb up the Google SERPs.
Here are some quick tips to help you produce competitive content:
- Before you start writing, develop a content calendar. Analyze what your users want and need. Identify relevant keywords and their search intent. Next, design content that targets those keywords while addressing your users’ needs.
- Write as you speak. Use tools like Hemingway and Grammarly to make sure your content is easy to read. Additionally, use lists, subtitles, and visual content to help users navigate your posts and get the information that’s most relevant to them.
- Optimize your H1, so your users know if a piece is relevant to them. Make sure your post’s title accurately describes your content, while including your focus keyword. For example, the title of this post is “WordPress SEO for Small Businesses Websites: 14 Key Optimization Tips” so the user knows that:
- This post is an SEO guide
- Its target audience is small businesses using WordPress
- It’s an in-depth guide, containing 14 helpful tips
- Don’t neglect your meta titles and meta descriptions. Double down on your content’s value proposition, reaffirm what makes it unique. Include the focus keyword, and keep them under 120 characters. If your meta tags aren’t optimized, Google will probably generate your meta description automatically, which may not help you compete.
- Optimize your images and media content. Compress your images, so they don’t affect your site’s loading speed. Additionally, add alt tags to all your visual content. That way, screen readers and Google bots will be able to detect that content.
- Make sure you’re not competing against yourself. Use different keywords for different pieces, and don’t post the same thing twice. Otherwise, you may cannibalize your own content.
Use Internal Links
Links on your website that point to other pages and posts are known as internal links. These links keep users on your site longer, while building your backlink profile. Internal links tell search engines how your content relates to each other and what it’s about. By having a better understanding of your site, Google can rank it better.
Organize Your Posts with Categories and Tags
Categories and tags help you keep your website organized and neat. This is very beneficial both for users and for search engines.
As your blog grows, categories and tags become very useful. For instance, if you’re on a cooking website and you want to learn how to bake a vegan cake, you can look under “Vegan”, and then navigate to the “Cakes” tag. In this case, “Vegan” would be the category, and “Cakes” would be the tag. But it could be the other way around. How you’ll structure categories and tags will depend on your website’s niche and your users’ needs.
WordPress automatically creates archive pages for all your categories and tags. As we mentioned earlier in this article, you can prevent content cannibalization by making sure these pages don’t get indexed. WordPress also allows you to group content by custom taxonomies.
When discussing sitemaps, we mentioned the importance of giving users an HTML sitemap. This type of tool can help users understand the structure of your site and navigate it accordingly. Another small but impactful element are breadcrumbs. They’re usually placed between your site’s header and your content’s title, and they look like this:
Home > Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy
Breadcrumbs help the user know exactly where they are so it’s easy for them to retrace their steps and go back to a parent page or your homepage with just one click.
Speed Up Your WordPress Website
Google favours websites that offer a pleasant user experience, which is one of the reasons website speed is a key ranking factor. A slow website will cause users to get frustrated and leave. If your website’s fast, and your content is compelling, users will feel lucky to have found you and will stick around. A variety of factors can influence the speed of your website.
For starters, we recommend:
- Choosing a lightweight WordPress theme
- Using a CDN to deliver your website’s heaviest assets
- Enabling browser caching
- Deleting or deactivating unnecessary plugins
- Resizing your images
- Using plugins like WP Rocket, W3 Total Cache, WP-Optimize, or WP Super Cache to optimize how your JS and CSS load
Promote Your Website
How you promote your site is unrelated to WordPress, but it’s still crucial for SEO. You can promote your site by:
- Having an active and engaging social media presence
- Implementing a newsletter
- Implementing a link building campaign
At this point, you may be wondering: What does social media have to do with SEO? Most of the links you’ll get from social media sites are no-follow links. So, in the SEO playbook, they’re not that important. But Google receives a very positive signal from these links. Basically, through these links, you’re receiving real organic traffic, which is what Google values.
The impact of running a newsletter is a little less direct. Basically, a newsletter puts your content directly in front of a qualified audience. This audience will probably spend more time on your site than the average user, increasing dwell time. By increasing your content’s visibility, newsletters can also translate into backlinks – a key ranking factor. And that’s why you should also implement a link-building campaign.
As we saw in this post, WordPress is an efficient, dynamic, and accessible CMS. That makes it the go-to choice to create an SEO-optimized website. Remember, SEO isn’t 100% technical or 100% content-focused. Combine high-quality content with sustainable technical SEO practices, and use the right monitoring tools to catch errors before they affect your positioning.
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