WordPress is a fantastic Content Management System (CMS), packing out-of-the-box functionality to help spearhead your Search Engine Optimisation efforts. The challenge I typically see for site owners is how to effectively use the native tools and also what complementary tools can be used to really bring on the visibility of the site.
Just a note before we get into my top tips around SEO for WordPress, I’d always recommend airing on the side of caution – if you need this guide and are new to SEO then I’d 100% recommend spinning up a test side, maybe around a topic you’re passionate about? WordPress is free and hosting is cheap, you’ll also likely learn more working on a low-risk site and having fun with it too. With that being said, let’s go straight into my top tips.
WordPress Hosting for SEO
This is an absolutely pivotal part of SEO in my eyes, especially if you are spinning up a new site, decisions made in this arena will likely pay you dividends over the longer term. I typically move over to MariaDB for the database over MySQL for marginal performance gains. I’ve got nothing against MySQL and use it regularly but each time I’ve been tasked with getting marginal gains for loading and query execution, MariaDB wins in my real-world experience. Following on from that is the PHP version, if it’s a new out-of-the-box WordPress installation, get yourself over to the latest PHP version. I’ve seen some sites run on 5.4 and moving this up to 7+ (this site is on 8.1, at the time of writing this). You do need to be careful with existing sites that may have legacy code to ensure that compatibility is there but the performance gains from the likes of 5.4 to 7.0 is massive – especially in the context of WordPress. Loading speed is a key factor and often when I see Page Loading Speed / Lighthouse scores there is one that crops up a fair amount – delayed server response (which can have multiple factors, see my guide on Website Loading Speed for SEO).
WordPress Image handling for SEO
Images often play a big part in the WordPress front-end offering, the true benefit of WordPress, in my opinion, is the ability to handle mass images in consolidation. For example, if you use a custom-built site or other frameworks / CMS, image handling can be a daunting task if the site has thousands of images – the WebP adoption is a prime example. So what I typically do with image handling is first, get it right at the point of uploading, this means spending an extra 2 minutes to write an ALT tag and title tag – the nature of these tags will not change regardless of where the image is shown – as I use descriptive tags with is relative to what’s being displayed rather than where the images appear (see my ALT tags for SEO guide here). The second component part to my image handling is the name of the file – ensuring it’s descriptive of again, what’s in the image in a more condensed fashion, e.g. Puppy.jpg with Brown labrador puppy sitting on the grass ALT tag. Again, try not to use keyword stuffing for naming files – I know how daunting this is if you work with a large site and have to retrospectively go back to do image SEO – see my point 1. If you have no choice there are ways you can work through the images in a more gradual fashion and this is through the media section of WordPress, which allows you to write ALT tags in a much more lenient way than page by page. You do need to validate your theme will publish ALT tags held this way, I’d maybe do one and validate on the page it is written on.
The next step is the file type, I use a plugin which converts webp, uses <image> tag and compresses on my behalf (I’ll put a list of plugins I use below). this heavy lifting with images is all done automatically and holds my confidence in getting it right. It’s relatively inexpensive and also has free options for small sites too.
URL handling for SEO
Every time I set up a brand new WordPress website I tend to follow the first steps religiously; changing permalinks to the page name – which I think is relatively standard for most sites. Where I often see the downfall is how the URLs are then structured beyond that point, I very rarely see nesting and breadcrumbs being used effectively – I often use URL nesting to allow the flowing of content and provide a topical hub, for example, this page, feeds into my WordPress SEO service page, which then feeds into my overarching SEO services page and then to my homepage. I often see fragmentation at this level which can really cause some issues. There are also, what I would call, secondary URL issues which are more of an infrastructure issue – tag handling, archive handling and also blog category setup – I’ve lost count of how many times unnecessary tags have been set up, conflicting with the main site – along with category handling – the overall arching URL infrastructure should complement and amplify E-A-T signals and topical hubs, instead I see URLs as a point of contention between search engines identifying suitable pages for specific topics; especially so with brand new websites.
Additional guides and tips for WordPress SEO
I’d like to first mention that if you’re struggling with SEO (especially if it’s a large site) please head on over to my dedicated WordPress SEO consultation service page – I can try and help you with any quick-fire questions but also provide professional support for squeezing the most out of your WordPress site – these guides are good but you often need to relay a solution to cater for the nuances of your setup.
Below is a breakdown of additional guides I’ve written to help WordPress owners get a scoop into how I typically approach SEO on this particular CMS. I’m currently working through these guides and if they appear as text and not a link, please do check back, I aim to update a new post every week where possible (client work depending). If you have specific global SEO issues, I do have a dedicated SEO technical audit breakdown, covering all the key areas found in traditional crawling tools and the likes of search consoles and webmaster tools.
In this guide, I’d like to walk you through the plugins I typically use for enhancing the core SEO functionality of WordPress. Each plugin provides a separate function to enhance specific areas around ranking factors.
When you deploy a theme on your site it can have a front-end impact on your organic performance. Often by loading speed but also can cause a few issues with crawling. Here I cover the main areas I’ve found with the likes of Elementor and Divi.
Overall website loading speed is the battleground most webmasters are taking on, improving not only user experience of the site but also impacting their organic performance. Often coupled with the User Experience ratings in Search Console.