10 Easy Ways to Boost WordPress SEO without Plugins

Abstract image of increasing WordPress SEO

WordPress Knows that Optimizing Your Website is Critical to Your Business.

SEO techniques can be complicated, but WordPress makes it easy to do the basics—and it’s worth learning how. Tweaking the platform’s built-in SEO tools will help you rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) for greater visibility, traffic, and credibility. While many large companies use WordPress’s powerful CMS platform, it’s also friendly to small business owners who have limited technical expertise. While there is no guarantee you’ll be right at the top of a search page, there are plenty of easy ways to take advantage of WordPress’s powerful SEO capabilities.

So let’s get at it!

WordPress isn’t a magic pill. However, the platform goes a long way toward helping even inexperienced users stick to SEO best practices, without gobbling up huge amounts of time. Here are some relatively simple on-page and technical tips to get your WordPress site on the map.

Setting Up Your WordPress Website

I won’t spend a lot of time on these foundational website elements, but it’s important to take the time to research and set up your site with SEO in mind. Following are some of the most essential steps:

  • Hosting: First, choose a reliable hosting provider. The provider you choose will be an enormous factor in your website’s speed, security, and uptime—which are all SEO factors that Google uses to determine the position of each item on search engine results pages (SERP) in response to a user query. It’s a good idea to use a fully-managed WordPress hosting plan, in which the provider manages thorny administrative tasks including updates, daily backups, website uptime, and scalability. BlueHost, WP Engine, and SiteGround are among the most popular managed WordPress providers.
  • WordPress Theme: Some WordPress themes are more SEO-friendly than others. Whether you use a free theme or premium theme, choose carefully. The wrong theme, such as those that come bundled with scripts and plugins that you probably won’t use, will just slow down your site. Look for ones that have fast load times, responsive design (so it works well on all devices), clean code, and easy navigation. You can search for WordPress theme ratings and recommendations online. There are also free and paid tools for determining how well themes perform in certain areas. One example is Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page.
  • WordPress SEO Plugins: WordPress SEO Plugins: There are many plugins to help WordPress users with SEO functionality and analysis. Yoast SEO and All in One SEO Pack are among the most popular. These suites make it easy to adhere to SEO best practices, including optimizing for keywords, linking suggestions, sitemaps, readability checks, and more. Note that this article does not cover plugin capabilities.
  • Check Your Site’s Visibility Settings: One of the most important things is making sure your site is visible to Google for reading and indexing your webpages. Sometimes developers turn off visibility to hide the website while they are building it and don’t turn it back on after launch. It’s easy enough to check it and click it back on by going to Settings > Reading.

Once you have the above-mentioned elements in place, you can pay attention to more of the on-page SEO features provided by WordPress. Each is a major topic in itself, so consider this an overview of some key elements needed to optimize your website.

1.  Enable an SEO-Friendly URL Structure.

One of the first things to do is to consider the overall structure of your website pages—what content you need, where you’ll put it, how pages and content will relate to each other, and how you’ll identify them for users and search engines. How you set up your urls—which identify your pages, posts, categories, tags, and other structural components of your site—is vital to your SEO strategy. One of the great things about WordPress is that it provides flexibility to change 2 key components: permalinks and slugs.

Let talk about what permalinks and slugs are, and how you can optimize them.

Definitions of Permalink (full url sctructure) and Slug (the part of the URL after the domain name).

Permalinks: These are the permanent URL structures for your pages, blog posts, categories, and tag archives (more about categories and tags later); by default, the permalink includes the site’s domain name. By default, WordPress would create a permalink with this type of structure: https://domain.com/?p=123.

The problem is that “?p=123” (which is the slug part of the permalink) as doesn’t give Google or a user any idea of what the page is about, so it gives you zero SEO value. To fix the problem, WordPress lets you create a permalink structure that will count toward SEO. Just go to Settings > Permalinks and ticking the “Post Name” option. This will create permalinks that use the name of your post or page instead of nonsense letters and numbers.

However, this may still not give you ideal slugs for SEO, but WordPress allows you to change them further. For blogs click on the Quick Edit button below a post. Once in the quick editor, you can change the post slug among other things.

Here are a few more ways to optimize your slugs:

  • Shorten them: According to HubSpot, The top-ranking permalinks in Google average 59 characters in length. If your post (or page) name is too long, Google can cut it off—making it look sloppy or unclear what the post is about. WordPress lets you edit the slug to whatever you’d like. In addition to shortening the title, you can add other useful items, such as a city.
  • Include Keywords: While you’re, changing it, make sure to include your keywords.
  • Make them readable: Another tip for readability, for both Google and users, is to put hyphens in between each word.
    Note: Once the permalink and slug are defined and the post is published, the post slug should not be changed. If it is changed, the same content will be on multiple changes, and links to and from that page will be broken.

2. Carry Out Keyword Research.

Any SEO strategy has keywords at its core. A search engine’s job is to provide users with content that will be most valuable to them based on their search terms. Smart use of keywords helps Google determine the relevance of your page to the user’s search. If you are most relevant you get the highest ranking, for the greatest visibility and the most traffic. While keywords aren’t as prominent a factor as they once were, it’s still worth doing at least some keyword research rather than guessing.

There are great tools (both free and paid), as well as common sense ways, to research the keywords you will use to optimize your content. An example of a great free to is SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.

Example: I typed  “art supplies for kids” into the tool. The first four keyword variations that came up were art supplies for kids, best art supplies for kids, arts and crafts supplies for kids, and artsupply kids for kids. Along with each of these keywords are a variety metrics indicating, for example, how they are trending, the volume, how competitive they are, and cost-per-click price.

If I click on one of the keywords, I get a graphic analytical overview:

There are many ways to filter and slice-and-dice your results for even more insights.

You can also use Google SERP results to give you good keyword ideas by:

  • Studying the keywords used in the top results
  • Looking in to “People also ask”
  • Scanning the “searches related to…” items at the bottom

3. Format Pages for SEO.

There’s a multitude of things you can do for SEO on WordPress just by setting up how your page looks.

Often these techniques enhance readability and the overall user experience. The more users like a page, as indicated by traffic and other metrics, the more Google likes it.  

Here are just a few on-page formatting recommendations:

  • Chunking Content:  Break content down into logical, scannable sections that help Google and people find information more quickly and easily. You can do this by using subheads, graphics, images, and video.
  • Title Tags: The “name” of each webpage is its title tag, which shows up as the clickable headlines on the SERP. Well written title tags will grab the user’s attention, and provide a succinct summary of the page. . more descriptive, the more helpful they are for users and SEO. Users do not see the title tag on the webpage itself. Keep them 50 and 60 characters to avoid them being cut off. You can often improve on WordPress’s default title tag format—Blog Title > Archive > Blogpost Title by using an abbreviated post name, adding keywords, and including locations. Using a plugin, you can adjust the title tag (SEO Title) field for a post by going to Settings > General.  
  • Heading Tags: Heading tags help Google make sense of your content. Improve SEO by using H1 Tags for Page titles, H2 tags for headings, H3 tags for one level beneath that—and on down the line. For better SEO, make sure that the text below the heading closely reflects the heading.
    • H1 Tags: These are the page titles users see on your webpages. Optimize these by including keywords, but only as appropriate.
    • H2 Tags: Apply H2 tags to the main subsections of the content. Use them naturally, as appropriate, to avoid the chance that Google will penalize you for “keyword stuffing.”
Definition of Title Tags (clickable blue links on the SERP) and H1 Tags (on-page titles the user sees on the website).
  • Lists: Use unordered lists (bullets) and numbered lists to draw attention to details.
  • Emphasis: Use (but don’t overuse) bold, italics, and underline to make copy clearer.
  • Meta Descriptions: This is the short description of the webpage that you see under the title tag on the SERP. It tells users and Google what the page is about and they will improve traffic if well-written. The length tops out at 155 characters. You can create your meta description in the same location as your title tag.

Read more about how to improve readability and user experience.

4. Use the WordPress Excerpt Function.

Excerpts: These snippets of your blog posts that affect SEO in several ways. First, instead of accepting WordPress’s default excerpt of the first 55 characters, you can easily craft your excerpt to attract more readers. Second, by default, WordPress loads your entire post to the homepage, blog page, and site archive—which slows down your site and causes search engines to think you have duplicate content. Using excerpts can resolve both of these problems. Finally, you can use excerpts as teasers on your blog landing page that link to the individual blog page. This will prevent the user from having to scroll down longs posts to get to the next ones.

5. Structure Your Site With Parent and Child Pages.

Google loves lots of quality content and more pages. You can make this work to your advantage by using a nested page hierarchy that WordPress calls Parent and Child pages.

For example, let’s say you have a furniture company called Fun Furniture that sells three categories of chairs: wooden, upholstered, and leather chairs. You could have one page with the title Chairs, and talk about your three chair categories on that single page. Or, you could build out your site by creating a Chairs Parent Page (a landing page) that links to three individual Child pages nested under the Parent. The urls would look like this:

Parent Page: FunFurntiture.com/Chairs/

Child Pages:

  • FunFurntiture.com/Chairs/Wooden
  • FunFurntiture.com/Chairs/Upholstered
  • FunFurniture.com/Chairs/Leather

Not only does this create additional pages, and reinforces SEO. Google likes more pages, but it does not like “thin” pages, so only use this technique if you have sufficient to make each child page worthwhile. Also, don’t duplicate content on parent and child pages; each should be discrete.

6. Create Internal Links.

Create Internal Links abstract image.

Internal links, while not as important for SEO as backlinks (or external links), are still useful. First off, it helps your users navigate easily throughout the site. It also establishes to Google how different pages on your site relate to each other. Creating internal links is easy on WordPress. Just the text you want to link, go to the link button on the toolbar, and paste in the url you want to link to. With internal links, people may look at more pages of your site, a plus for SEO. Don’t force your link strategy and link to irrelevant pages just for promotional or Google may penalize you.

7. Use Responsive Design.

Internal links, while not as important for SEO as backlinks (or external links), are still useful. First off, it helps your users navigate easily throughout the site. It also establishes to Google how different pages on your site relate to each other. Creating internal links is easy on WordPress. Just the text you want to link, go to the link button on the toolbar, and paste in the url you want to link to. With internal links, people may look at more pages of your site, a plus for SEO. Don’t force your link strategy and link to irrelevant pages just for promotional or Google may penalize you.

8. Optimize Images.

  • Image file name: You should be using images and rich media within your content to break up your pages and make them appealing to the user. While it’s easy to upload a screenshot or image to the WordPress media library, help SEO by giving it an appropriate, optimized file name that provides additional context to the page. The file name should be descriptive, but short and simple. You can also rename the image file after it has been uploaded.
  • Image Size: Image and Video with big file sizes can seriously slow down your website. The image optimization section of the WP Beginner website (which I highly recommend as a resource) has good information on optimizing images that can send you in the right direction.
  • Image Title and Alt Text Tags: Adding alt text to your images makes your WordPress site more helpful to visually impaired users who rely on automated screen readers. They also enhance SEO by helping search engines understand what your image is about. You can do this as you create your post or from your media library. You can include a keyword, but only if it’s appropriate.

9. High-Quality Content is Your Priority for SEO.

The MOST important thing when deciding what how to rank content for search is high-quality. There are several different ways Google judges quality. As you would expect, it looks for signals that readers find the webpage to be valuable. It pays to know what your readers want to know, how they like to be spoken to, and where they consume their content. Google looks at the quality of both the overall website and its individual pages, so don’t skimp on either. Google reacts well to high-quality content this drives traffic, is shared, and gets backlinks. Other important ranking factors include how comprehensive your information is (long-form content) and how “fresh” your content (how often you post and update your content).

10. Utilitize Categories and Tags.

Differences between Categories (Broad Post topics used by Google and users) and tags (used as keywords in a post, by users--not for SEO).

Categories and tags are used to filter through website content, and they can be assigned while writing the post or at a later point. Categories are broad groups that enable Google to better understand the content and context of a post so that it can accurately index the content. Tags are more like keywords within posts. They can help users already on your site to zero in on the content that is important to them.

WordPress suggests defining five and 10 categories. Categories are hierarchical, so you can split categories into smaller groups. It’s also possible to create a permalink structure that includes categories. Avoid assigning each post to more than one category; it doesn’t help SEO and could even damage it by creating duplicate pages.

Don’t Be Afraid to Start Optimizing Your WordPress Site!

WordPress provides so many easy ways to bump up your SEO that it’s worth your while to take the time to learn the basic techniques described here. SEO can be complex and intimidating, but you don’t have to be an expert to start increasing your visibility, traffic, conversion, and brand building over time. Take advantage of all that WordPress has to offer by continuing to increase your SEO skills, hiring a reputable digital agency, and getting freelance copywriters and graphic designers that understand how they can support your website’s optimization goals.

Leave a comment to share ways that you enhance SEO with WordPress features!

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