Digital marketing · Website Development

What are the SEO basics for WordPress?

Richard Pridham Investor, President & CEO at Retina Labs

May 25th, 2016

I'm just about to launch our new site. It was built on WordPress and we did everything in-house. What are some of the SEO basics that we should apply? Meta tags, atl text on images, page titles...We'll bring in an SEO expert at some point, but I just want to make sure the basics are addressed. Also, are there specific WordPress add-ons that we should use? Thanks.

James Hipkin CEO, Managing Director at Red8 Interactive

May 25th, 2016

Yoast is the way to go but I think you are making a mistake not bringing an SEO expert in early. The Yoast SEO plugin makes it easy to manage the SEO but it doesn't tell you what you should be doing. We always recommend that SEO strategy be finalized before the design and build start. Adjusting later to changes in permalink structure and content can be challenging (expensive).

Brad Mehl CEO, Boundless Markets and Founder, Lively

May 25th, 2016

Yoast is a decent plugin for Wordpress. Overall though the keys are:

  1. Knowing what keywords you want to rank for (based on strategic considerations, and analysis of competition and search volume)
  2. A great website that truly serves users, with relevant landing pages particularly from organic search
  3. A steady stream of ongoing relevant content and
  4. Technical factors such as the ones below. 
We handle all of these and much more for clients, since we scale ventures into well oiled machines. Ping me offline if you'd like to talk.

Technical/SEO factors:

  1. Website architecture, inbound linking structure and outbound linking strategy.
  2. Crawl issues, linking, server, and website page errors.
  3. Proper HTML source code and page design structure
  4. Other issues, including:duplicate page errors, duplicate titles,400 errors,non-301 redirects, broken links, sitemap updating, search engine submission,robots file

Nick Eubanks VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, Inc.

May 26th, 2016

Richard - Find people who actually rank shit, in competitive verticals - and talk to them. 

Make this the first question you ask when speaking to people: "What keywords do you rank for? Where do you rank? And who do you compete against?"

This is a baseline qualifier - then ask them about how they do it.

Wilson Greene Owner at Cliche Group

May 25th, 2016

Here is a really good Wordpress SEO guide that was recently updated that covers all of your WordPress basics.  I also agree with James.  Get someone in to assist early as you start building your SEO foundation.  Also sign up with Google Webmasters.  This will ultimately help with understanding how Google views your site.

When you are ready to start researching keywords that you should be ranking for, head over to SEO Niche Finder and we'll provide a complimentary keyword research report for you.  This includes analyzing your competitors and providing you a list of keywords that will provide you the best opportunity to rank for. 

Also keep in mind that SEO has changed over the years and is extremely dynamic.  You need a combo of social signals, quality content and backlinks to dominate.  Best of luck.

Josh Kirschner Founder & CEO at Techlicious

May 27th, 2016

Hi Richard, you don't say what type of site you are creating, but if content is a key part, let me provide some advice for optimizing content around SEO.

First off, I'm not an SEO "expert" or consultant. I run a media company whose core business is content production. I've spent countless hours researching SEO for our own purposes, sorting out the copious bullshit advice out there, and collecting metric-based best practices from the most respected SEO sources (e.g., Google's own Webmaster channel on YouTube, SEO Moz and Searchengineland). We use those best practices for our own publishing process and have thousands of our own articles to analyze for what has worked and what hasn't.

Recently, I wrote up our process to help other content producers create content that will rank in SEO. You can find it here:

I focused the recommendations on the three key areas that will have the biggest impact on your content and provide suggestions for tools you can use (all free) to guide the process. I hope you find it useful. If you do give it a read, feel free to comment with any feedback. I plan to refine it over time based on Google changes and information I gather from our own experiences and those of others.

Jim Hodson Digital Marketing Strategist & SEO Evangelist

May 26th, 2016

All of Nick's advice is very good. I would just add that the it is very common for businesses to build a site and then ask an SEO to optimize it. That is not how it should be done. The BEST time to get an SEO involved is BEFORE you build it or BEFORE you start coding a site redesign.

Having a great site architecture with well organized content (most general near the root, most specific at the deepest points in the site) with strong, well designed internal linking structures (top nav, contextual left navs, breadcrumbs, contextual links, etc.) is probably the most important feature an SEO can offer you (assuming they know what their doing). It gives your site a strong SEO foundation.

As far as HTTPS... it is definitely worth it under two conditions.

1) If it is a brand new site that has never been indexed then build it with every page using HTTPS. You'll get a minor boost in rankings. OR

2) If you are doing a site redesign and pretty much every URL on the site is changing anyway (i.e. you already have to 301 redirect the majority of URLs) then convert it so that every page on the site is using HTTPS. The slight boost in ranking from HTTPS may offset much or all of the 10-15% loss in PageRank/link juice that will occur as the result of the 301 redirects you are already going to have to implement due to Google's Damping Factor in their PageRank formula.

But as Nick said, I would never just switch an existing site to HTTPS. But I would switch every site I own or a client owns to HTTPS as part of their next big redesign project.

I avoid plugins where possible. Every plugin you use in WP slows down your site, adds additional risk of containing malicious code (or getting hacked through SQL injection or some other method), and creates a dependency which may in the future prevent your from upgrading to the latest release of WP due to compatibility issues if the developer is not quick to release updates or stops supporting it. Most of what you need to do, you can do in WP except things like adding meta robots elements to NOINDEX specific pages or types of pages. But great themes like Thesis from DIYThemes expose these types of features in the theme's Admin pages. I've built MANY WP sites and I have never had to use an SEO plugin. It's mostly the poorly written themes that require it.

Nick Eubanks VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, Inc.

May 26th, 2016

Richard - No sorry, ask them what keywords they've ranked sites/pages for. Not necessarily their personal sites (though they could be) but more so the results they've delivered.

What you're looking for here is a sense of their capability to perform. It doesn't matter how many pages you're competing against; a better barometer as to the competitiveness of a SERP is who else is ranking.

If you told me you were the SEO for and you worked on their credit cards product - I would be interested to speak with you since Chase currently ranks #3 for "credit cards." 

Make sense?

Without turning this into a pissing match, my ecommerce company leans heavily on organic search for growth. We do this by outranking Amazon, Walmart, Ebay, Home Depot, Lowes, Wikipedia, Grainger, etc. 

Nick Eubanks VP of Digital Strategy at W.L. Snook & Associates, Inc.

May 26th, 2016

Ok just took the time to read a bunch of the responses here and just want to jump in; there's a lot of shitty advice in here:
  • DO NOT worry about the number of occurrences you use a keyword on a page or where in the DOM you use it. *Links* pass more citation flow from higher in the DOM but contextual relevancy is NOT scored this way; that ended ~5 years ago.
  • DO NOT just install a plugin and think you're all good to go - there are some great plugins that allow you to harness on site optimization and architecture but you need to understand how to configure them or you could shoot yourself in the foot and end up worse off than you were before the plugin.
  • "Optimized" names for image files is a waste of time, generally speaking so are alt tags (in all seriousness) it's not 2010 anymore, Google is the smartest natural language processing machine in the world and their engineers have moved past looking at freaking filenames for relevancy scoring.
  • You DO NOT need a plugin to be able to have complete control over your slugs; between wordpress's out of the box permalink settings and the htaccess file and a wee bit of RegEx, you can do whatever you want. If you're trying to change the default parent-directory display of categories in something like WooCOmmerce then you can use SEO Ultimate to strip these out.
  • DO NOT get an SSL just for the sake of having an SSL; waste of money as any benefit is negligible ESPECIALLY if you need to do a site redirect and deprecate 10-15% of your link equity for the small "boost" you might get from being all HTTPS.
  • Clean HTML is important but having it be W3C compliant, is not. Don't waste your time and instead use "Fetch as Google" inside Search Console to make sure all of your HTML is rendering in the correct order and clean.
  • Put the time in to learn how to analyze your server log files so you can figure out where your crawl budget is getting used and more so, if Google (or any other important crawlers) are getting hung up anywhere.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, anyone who introduces himself as an "SEO Expert," you can immedaitely discount their advice by an order of magnitude.

You want to identify where to get GOOD information from, ask people to point to sites and pages their ranking and then look at WHO they're outranking; if it's major brands (think Fortune 500) that's a good start, if it's other shill websites... well there you go.

Mike Masello

May 26th, 2016

I hear you on the "black magic" feeling.  And there's some truth to it.  Just look at how many different people have different opinions.  Create content that is useful and follow some structural cues to help give yourself a better chance.

Alec and Robert look to have pointed you in the right direction.  SearchEngineLand has a good one pager to reference as well:

Kevin Carney Content Marketing works, but needs better tools.

May 26th, 2016

In a way, the question you're asking is off target.

When most people ask "How do I do SEO"? or some variant thereof, what they're really asking is "How do I get found by people through organic search?".

SEO is a critical piece of the puzzle, but in an of itself is not enough. SEO alone with NEVER get you ranked (maybe not never, but you get the idea).

Yes your WordPress site has to be setup right from an SEO perspective. This includes things people don't ordinarily think of as setup, such as your website tag line and category names (assuming you've set your permalinks "right").

Yes your blog posts need to be properly formatted for SEO (which is more than "just" using a good SEO plugin. I agree with the lady who recommended NOT using Yoast - it's a good plugin but it shifts some people's focus from where it needs to be to checking too many SEO technical details, some of which matter very very very little.

So what does it take to be found today via organic search? Publishing!

You don't need an SEO expert per se, you need a journalist/marketer who knows how to properly format posts for good SEO.

I say "journalist/marketer" because what we call Inbound Marketing and/or Content Marketing is generally assigned to marketing, and many people fail because they fail recognize that Content Marketing looks A LOT like journalism.

You need someone who generates articles ideas, writes posts, schedules them, and treats your blog website as an online magazine catering to your desired audience, where the only advertiser in your online magazine is you.

SEO is no longer enough and hasn't been for a few years.

"Publish or perish" is no longer just for academia.

It's for marketing and lead generation too.