Search Engine Optimization For WordPress Websites

As I have mentioned, SEO is a huge topic and is all about how to optimize your website so that the search engines (read Google) will list it to attract visitors. These days Google and the other search engines will find automatically find your website as their robots crawl about the Internet but this lesson includes some things you can do to speed up the process.

There is no point in having a state-of-the-art website with all the bells and whistles that make it work like a dream if no-one ever visits it.

So you need traffic, which is a technical term for real people, with real eyeballs, eager to view the delectable content you have prepared for them.

Before we begin, what I can tell you is that Google likes WordPress websites because the WordPress behind-the-scenes code forces the site to be neat and tidy, without broken internal links, and with a spider-friendly structure that makes it easy for them to crawl the site. So, choosing WordPress is one big plus for you!

How Necessary Is SEO?

The answer to that question is that it depends on what your website is all about and who is the audience you are trying to attract. And it depends on how much competition you have for that audience.

If you are a local builder or lawyer or church and you just need to attract visitors from your geographic area then Google will probably pick up your website without much tweaking. Make sure that you have your contact details, including telephone number and postal address on a prominent place in your site (in the footer would be good) and Google Local will pick it up. To give your website further credence, make sure that you use some of the ideas I list out in Lesson 16 Promote Your WordPress Website.

But if your audience is nation-wide or even global then you do need SEO, so read on.

What Is SEO?

Now, as I have said, when we talk about SEO we really mean optimizing websites for the Google search engine. Google isn’t the only search engine but it is the largest, and what Google does, the others follow.

By ‘optimizing’ what we really mean is making it plain to Google’s automatic robots (‘bots’ in tech jargon) what your website is all about. Yes, the content of your website (pages, posts etc) is very relevant but there is a lot more you can do behind the scenes to make this very specific.

Are you a business, a hobbyist, an educator, or what? Do you want to attract those looking to buy, or those looking for information? Is your ideal visitor waving a credit card or simply in search of information or entertainment?

This can be illustrated by a brief example. Suppose I have a website all about teddy bears. I have many articles about different types of bears, all illustrated with beautiful photos. But Google’s bots can’t easily tell whether I am a collector or a retailer or even a zoologist. So, if I were a teddy bear shop I would need to make it quite clear that I am a retailer of toy bears. I would need articles and phrases like ‘buy this teddy bear’, ‘bargain teddies for sale’ and so on. Then my website would not come up if someone typed in ‘polar bear’ or ‘bear down’ or ‘bear market’.

What I want is that when someone types ‘buy a teddy bear’ into a Google search, my website will match that query. And if my site is well optimized my site might come up on the front page.

The basic problem that all webmasters face is that there are now literally billions of websites on the Internet all competing for attention. When someone goes on to Google and performs a search, they begin by keying in some sort of query, for example, ‘teddies for babies’.

Google checks its index and instantly displays ten results on the first page.

If the user sees what they want they’ll click on a site. If they don’t, they might just move over to the second page, but rarely beyond that. So, if your website doesn’t show up on the first couple of pages of the search, you are invisible.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if your website could appear on page one or two of the Google search results when someone types in a query applicable to your site? That’s really what SEO is all about.

The websites that appear on the first pages of the search results all have one thing in common: Google has sent its bots to crawl these websites and report back as to what their pages are all about. Google keeps an index of every website on its massive servers and when someone enters a query into its search engine it first matches that query with the ten websites that it thinks will most effectively provide that user’s answer.

How To Do SEO?

Google is notoriously secretive about effective SEO because they change the rules all the time. There are very few real experts out there (anyone who tells you otherwise is lying – unless their name is Larry Page or Sergey Brin) so what I am saying here is the generally accepted formula for effective SEO.

There are actually three aspects to successful SEO:

  1. Make sure that the content of your website (posts and pages) naturally contains the keyword phrases that your target audience would type into Google Search.
  2. Optimize your posts and pages by using meta data to inform Google’s bots.
  3. Get external websites to link to your website (see Lesson 16 Promote Your WordPress Website).

I will deal with the first two of these items here.

1. The Content Of Your Website

This is the very basic SEO that every web master should observe.

‘Settings’, ‘General’

‘Site Title’ is very important. It should contain (preferably start with) the main keyword that you want to optimize for. For example, ‘How To Keep Honey Bees’ is much more precise and descriptive than ‘Buzzing Around’.

Once your site begins to attract traffic don’t change this unless there is a good reason to do so.

‘Posts’/’Pages’, ‘Add New’

The post or page title is also important. Again, this should contain one of your site’s main keywords. Make sure that the permalink accurately records that. Edit it if it doesn’t.

The content of your post/page should be unique and should contain a sprinkle of words or phrases which have a connection or association with the keyword(s) in the post/page title. The main keyword(s) should be included in the text a few times but not to an exaggerated extent.

One of the latest features that Google looks for is whether visitors find your page useful and interesting. One of the ways it measures this is by looking at how long your visitor stays on the page, how many pages of your website they read and whether they share the content with others. If people tweet or like or share your web pages on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook then that boosts Google’s approval. If your visitors bounce straight off the page to another website then Google will frown. So make your pages and posts attractive to look at and read!

Also, make sure that you have a reasonable number of posts and/or pages. Google can ignore tiny websites because it believes they are unfinished.

Google also likes to see the main body of your text above the fold. This means that the user need not have to scroll down the page to find anything readable. If the top half of your page is taken up with ads then that’s a downer.

Also, your text should be grammatically correct with no typos or spelling errors.

If you have a long article on your post-page you should consider using sub- headings, again containing one of your keywords. Use the drop-down ‘Paragraph’ box to format subheadings as ‘h3’ (not h1 or h2 which your theme might use for other purposes).

If you have an image embedded in your text, add your keyword(s) to the image title, description, alternate text and, optionally, caption.

In the case of Posts, use one or more relevant categories and add two or three keywords to Post Tags.

2. Optimize Using Meta Data

Meta Data is information that is stored on your web page but that is not visible to humans. It is embedded in the source code of your page and is there solely for the search engine bots.

To do this I recommend the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin (see Lesson 12). Joost de Valk is an authority on the subject; he and his team keep up to date with the ever-changing SEO scene and they have an awesome reputation for getting it right.

The advantage for us is that although Joost offers his services as a consultant to some of the biggest names on the Internet (think Disney…) he provides his advice to everyone else for free.

So, install this plugin and you will see this form on your Posts and Pages.

As you enter the information into the form you’ll see comments about how effective your entries are and the plugin will give you advice as to how to complete the information. Joost provides much more information on his website so I will not repeat it here.

Just take it from me that if you are serious about SEO then this is the plugin to use. And if you find it all a bit complicated then please delve into his documentation because it will be well worth your time. Get your meta-data right and you’ll be streets ahead of your competition.

After you’ve built a few optimized pages on your website it will probably take Google a week or two to find your website and a bit longer than that to fully index what you have stored. But be patient, keep adding content and keep trying to get more inbound links. Over time, your work should be rewarded.

That’s the basics from me on this topic, but I encourage you to explore more for yourself because SEO is important for all webmasters to understand.

Action Steps

Go through all the steps in this lesson and decide how you will approach doing all of this over the next few weeks and months.

FAQ

What’s a ‘keyword’?

A keyword is one or more words that might trigger a match in the Google Search Engine. A keyword is often a ‘phrase’ rather than a single word so this terminology can seem misleading.

Start by imagining your ideal web visitor. What would he or she type into Google to find your website? Think of a word or phrase that is specific rather than general. ‘Wool shop in Clutterbucky’ is specific and if that applies to you then you should optimize your website for that keyword phrase and others related to it. So you would have pages about ‘Learn Knitting’, ‘Make Your Own Woolly Scarf’, ‘Clutterbucky Knitters Group’ and so on.

If you want your website to be found by your target audience then it’s important that you optimize your content for these keywords that they might use when searching for a site like yours.

Google saves every string of words that users type in to find something and their software calculates the frequency with which these phrases or combinations of words occur, over all the searches made. Therefore, they can calculate very accurately how popular a particular topic or phrase is. And, as you can deduce, the more popular the keyword, the more difficult it is to get your website to come up on page one because there will be too many competing websites.

For example, golf is a very popular topic that people want to search for. But simply typing in the word ‘golf’ is usually a waste of time because it is too broad. Millions of people simply type in the word ‘golf’ and Google does its best to come up with something relevant but the user could be looking for anything and the results they get will likely be too broad to be useful. And it would be virtually impossible for you to get your website to come up on the first page of Google when someone simply types in ‘golf’ because there are just so many other well-established websites competing on the same subject.

But here’s where the ‘optimization’ bit comes in. Canny surfers have come to learn that they’ll get results quicker if they search for something more specific, for example, ‘golf shoes’. But even that is very broad.

It’s much better to look for ‘men’s golf shoes’ or even ‘men’s blue golf shoes’ or ‘men’s blue golf shoes size 10’. That narrows down the search and the user is more likely to find what they’re looking for. These longer, more specific keywords are what the experts call the ‘low hanging fruit’ because they are easier to rank for.

So, if you’re selling golf shoes, it will be easier for you to rank your website in the search results if you optimize one or more pages for very specific words and phrases to describe exactly what products you have for sale.

‘Sportco Men’s Blue Leather Golf Shoes Size 10’ tells Google, and your potential customer, precisely what you have for sale. And you will have a much better chance of coming up higher in the search results simply because there is much less competition for these keywords.

Go to Google Keyword Planner to explore what keywords might be relevant for your website.

Yikes! Do I Really Have To Bother With All This Blather?

If this is all way beyond how you want to spend your time then the answer is ‘no’.

Just build a nice tidy website and keep adding bits to it and Google will eventually find it. The bots are quite clever at working out what your website is about although you may not quite reach the front page for the low hanging fruit. But keep on building your website and you might be surprised at how clever the bots are at identifying your objective.

When you’re a bit more familiar with the stuff of websites you could come back here and have another go. Read this lesson again (and again) until the general ideas sink into your brain cells. It may seem obtuse to start with but it will become more and more comprehensible, I promise.


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