WordPress SEO Guide – Make Your WordPress Website SEO Friendly

WordPress is by far the most optimized content management system which is used by millions of bloggers and website owners across the world. It is very easy to configure, less little or no maintenance and can be customized according to your requirements. In fact, WordPress is the most SEO friendly content management system which lets you build Google friendly websites in no time, with little or no technical know how.

That said, there are a few important things to know to make your WordPress website SEO friendly. Most of the settings come out of the box but there are a few things which you have to do to ensure you make the maximum out of WordPress and create a website which is friendly to search engine bots. We have earlier discussed what is SEO and why is SEO important for your business for you to succeed online.

That said, here are a few things to do once you have installed WordPress as a content management system in your website.

Check Search Engine Visibility Setting

Login to your WordPress administration area and go to “Settings > Reading”. Make sure the checkbox “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not checked.

Wordpress visibility settings

If you check this checkbox, search engines and crawlers will not be able to crawl the content on your website and index it. If the content is not crawled, it will not appear in Google search result pages. Hence, in order to ensure your website’s pages show up in Google search results, remember not to discourage search engines from indexing your website.

Choose an SEO Friendly URL Structure for Your WordPress Website

We have earlier discussed how to choose an SEO friendly URL structure for your website or blog. WordPress is no exception and it will greatly help in the long term if you choose an optimized URL structure (also known as Permalink) for your WordPress website.

Wordpress permalink structure

To Change the Permalink structure of your website, go to “Settings > Permalinks” and choose the “Post Name” permalink structure. This is by far the best permalink structure for WordPress which includes keywords in the URL and compared to other structures, this is short and easy to remember with no subdirectories or folders in the URL.

You can choose a custom permalink structure as well, this totally depends on your requirements. However, the most common and recommended permalink structure is the “Post name” permalink structure.

If you were using the default permalink structure or any other permalink structure and then later on changing the Permalink structure, WordPress will automatically redirect the older URL to the newer one, so there is no need to worry about broken links, 301 redirects and losing search juice because you are changing the permalink structure of your website. WordPress is quite intelligent and it will take care of redirecting the older URL to the newer one, so you are totally safe in changing the permalink structure anytime. Just make sure you check whether WordPress is redirecting the old URL to the newer one and if it does, you are totally fine to go ahead and make the change.

Choose The Website and the WordPress URL Wisely (WWW or No WWW )

Google and other search engines like to see only one version of your website – with the WWW or without the WWW. So it makes sense to configure WordPress so that it either shows the WWW version or it shows the Non-WWW version but not both at the same time.

Choose WWW or Non WWW version for website

Long story short, if your website is www.example.com, you have to either choose whether you want to show www.example.com or simply example.com but you cannot have both the versions present at the same time. When you choose one of the versions as your URL, the other version re-directs to the chosen version automatically.

For example, I have chosen to show the Non-WWW version on the website. So if you type in the following URL – www.cultofweb.com/blog/seo-importance-business/, it will automatically redirect to – http://cultofweb.com/blog/seo-importance-business/

The bottom line is that the same page on a website cannot be accessible from both the WWW version or the Non-WWW version. Choose any one option and stick with it (note that neither is better or worse than it’s counterpart)

Install an XML Sitemap

An XML Sitemap helps Search engines, crawlers, and bots to discover content as soon as it is published on your website. It also helps them discover content sequentially, without having to visit each page individually and manually crawling the links to discover content on your website on a regular basis. It makes life easier for search bots, so you should definitely install an XML Sitemap on your WordPress website.

The best way to create an XML Sitemap is to use the XML Sitemaps WordPress Plugin. You can also use the XML-Sitemaps website to instantly generate an XML-Sitemap for your website. The problem with the latter option is that you have to update the Sitemap manually, whenever you add new content on the website. While using the WordPress plugin, no more recurring work is required, since the plugin will automatically update the Sitemap file whenever new content is available on your website or blog.

Install an HTML Sitemap

Similar to XML Sitemap, an HTML Sitemap helps actual users navigate to the important parts of your website from a single page. It is like an index page of your website which links to all the content on your website from one location. While XML Sitemap is mainly used by search engines, an HTML sitemap is primarily meant for users.

HTML Sitemap in WordPress Website

Search engines also refer to an HTML sitemap to crawl and discover content which they may otherwise not find on the website. It is super useful to have an HTML sitemap alongside an XML Sitemap. Many bloggers and webmasters do not advocate putting an HTML sitemap but I strongly urge you to keep an HTML sitemap as it is really good for SEO in the longer term.

I use the Simple Sitemap WordPress Plugin to generate an HTML Sitemap for this website.

Install Yoast SEO Plugin

Yoast SEO plugin lets you tweak lots of SEO options for your website without having to do all of that manually. Yoast SEO lets you add unique title tags, meta descriptions to individual blog posts and it also lets you noindex specific sections of your website. You can also create an XML Sitemap with Yoast SEO plugin but personally, I prefer the Google Sitemap generator plugin for Sitemaps. We have written in detail how to use Yoast SEO, please read our earlier article – How to configure Yoast SEO plugin for your WordPress website.

Install Akismet to Fight Comment Spam

Comment spam is a really serious issue and has to be dealt from day one. Do not encourage spam comments on your website and keep the comment section clean, free from spam comments and junk links posted by spammers who will try to win backlinks form your site to theirs to improve search rankings (it does not help but they will keep trying).

Install the Akismet Comment Spam plugin and Stop comment spam in WordPress once and for all. This is by far the best and only WordPress plugin you will ever need to combat comment spam.

We have earlier written why preventing comment spam is so important for SEO, please check out our article here – How to prevent Comment spam on your website for better SEO?

Add a Robots.txt file in the Root directory of your website

A robots.txt file is a great way to tell Google and other search engines which part of the website should be indexed and which part of the website should not be indexed. If your website has lots of sections which are better not indexed and you don’t want people to find these sections from Google search results, Robots.txt is often the best way to prevent search engines from indexing a part of your website. Learn more on how to use Robots.txt for SEO

Switch to a Better Web Hosting Provider

Choosing a good web hosting company to host your website with is again fundamental in creating a website which loads fast and offers a good user experience. It also improves reliability since your website will not go through unnecessary downtimes, outages or system maintenance. If you choose a free web hosting provider or a cheap web hosting provider, chances are that your website will go through outages and downtimes due to improper maintenance from the company hosting your website.

Hence, it is recommended you choose a good and reliable web hosting company for hosting your website. We highly recommend Bluehost, Hostgator, Dreamhost, Siteground and Wp-Engine as a fast and reliable web hosting solution for your business.

Choose a Good WordPress Theme for your website which Loads Fast

Choosing a good WordPress theme is critical because the theme you choose decides SEO, Page loading time, source code, user experience, readability and the overall look and feel of your website.

There are lots of good free themes available in the WordPress Theme directory, I would strongly recommend choosing a theme which looks good to the eye, and has simple code in it and no fancy features. In the initial days, you will not need those fancy features and once your blog stands on its feet, you can develop a customized WordPress theme to suit your needs. For this website, I am using the Free Mercia theme because it is very fast (every page on the website loads under 2 seconds). And the best part of this theme is that it is clean and simple, without fancy features and too many SQL queries, which ultimately slows down the website.

Verify your Website in Google Search Console

It is very important to verify your WordPress website in Google search console to understand how Google sees your website.

As Google finds and indexes the content on your website, you should know which pages are indexed, which pages have not been indexed, which pages have duplicate titles, crawl errors, HTML improvements, mobile readability and lots of important things related to your website which you may otherwise not know. Hence it is strongly recommended to verify your WordPress website in Google search console and regularly monitor your search console account for important information and action items.

Show Only Excerpts in Home Page, Category, and Tag Pages to avoid Duplicate Content Issues

One of the very common problems with most WordPress themes is that they show the full content of a post on the home page and sometimes also on the tag, category, and other taxonomy pages. This is not the way to go since it creates duplicate content issues (the same content is available on the single post page and also on the homepage and the respective category and tag pages). To avoid this issue, it is very important that you switch to excerpts and now show full content in home, category , tag and other archive pages of your WordPress website.

You will need to tweak your WordPress theme and edit the WordPress theme files to modify how the WordPress Loop works. Basically, you will have to find the index.php, tag.php or archive.php file, locate the WordPress Loop and replace <?php the_content(); ?> with <?php the_excerpt(); ?>

You can use the following code and this will switch from full post to excerpts on the home page and archive pages.


if (is_home()) {
the_excerpt();
} else {
// rest of the code can go here
}

Alternatively, if you don’t want to edit the code on your WordPress theme files, you can use the Advanced Excerpts plugin to enable showing excerpts on all pages apart from the single post page. This plugin comes with advanced customization which lets you customize how excerpts are shown, the length, sentences amongst other things.

Install an SSL Certificate

SSL Certificates provide secure, encrypted communications between a website and an internet browser. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, the protocol which provides the encryption.

So how does SSL certificate affect SEO? Google has clearly said in a blog post that HTTPS is a strong ranking signal and that Google prefers showing HTTPS websites on search results over websites without HTTPS. If two websites with similar content deserve to be ranked, Google will prefer the HTTPS one because Google wants its users to browse websites which are secured through an SSL certificate.

You can contact your web hosting provider or your domain registrar to buy an SSL certificate from them. I bought the SSL certificate for all my domains from my web hosting company – Bluehost and the advantage here is that the SSL certificate automatically renews with my web hosting renewal, so it’s more convenient to manage.

Noindex Taxonomy Pages of Your Website – Tags, Categories, Author Archives

Not all pages of your website have original valuable content in them. Apart from the single post pages, the other pages of your website which forms the skeleton of the website do not have valuable content in them and there is no reason why you should let Google index those pages.

Noindex WordPress category, tag and archive pages.

Yes, occasionally you may get some visits to those pages but think about the bigger picture. When someone lands on a category, tag, author or on an archive page of your blog, the user experience is generally not good since those pages are a mere collection of posts and not focussed on one topic or solution. Most of the people bounce off from category and tag pages which results in a bad user experience.

Hence, it makes sense to noindex tags, categories, author and other taxonomy pages on your WordPress website. You can achieve this from Yoast WordPress SEO plugin in one click, without having to edit any code on your WordPress theme.

Nofollow Links in Comment Forms and Website Field

Links posted through the comment form of your website can turn out to be spammy in nature. Also, a lot of the times people post comments just to win a backlink to their own website and it gets really hard to manage all the links as you receive more and more comments on your website.

Hence, it makes sense to Nofollow links in comment forms and the website field of the comment form to ensure you are not linking to websites posted by users through their comments. It helps to keep your linking profile clean and you do not end up passing Google Pagerank to low-quality spammy websites, which may, in turn, hurt your own rankings.

In order to achieve this, you will need to edit the code of your WordPress theme and manually add the “Nofollow” attribute in the website field of the comment form and also ensure all comments posted through the comment form are nofollow in nature. If that sounds too much work, you can make use of the Ultimate Nofollow WordPress Plugin

Disable Author Archives

If you are the only author of your website and there are not multiple people contributing to your website, consider disabling author archives once and for all. Author archives create unnecessary pages on your website which are not required in the first place. If you are a single author website, there is no point in having author archives at all.

You can disable Author archives from the Settings panel of Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin.

Optimize Images For Faster Loading

Images are the files which take up most of the page loading time when your website loads in the visitor’s web browser. A careful observation of a full page load time report will reveal that more the number of images in a webpage, higher is the page loading time. Google and other search engines do not like pages which takes a long time to load ( FYI, anything over 5 seconds is considered a long time, so you have to make your website blazing fast).

There are lots of image optimization techniques which you can apply in WordPress but by far the easiest one is to use the WP Smush it WordPress plugin which compresses image file sizes in bulk and optimizes images for faster loading. Note that for complete image optimization in WordPress, you have to re-work your theme, scale images, use CSS image property carefully and host images in a content delivery network for best results.

Install a Cache Plugin

A Cache plugin helps speed up your website because if creates a cached copy of a webpage and serves the webpage directly from the stored cache, without having to build the page in the server when it is being requested by a user. Although, there are some downsides of using cache plugins as well (e.g configuration issues, increasing the page loading time if not used correctly), if you are able to configure the plugin and set up the right environment and parameters for the plugin, the cache plugin can dramatically improve the page loading time of your WordPress website. I highly recommend W3 Total cache, Wp Fastest Cache, and WP Super Cache but by far the most advanced and widely adopted is W3 Total Cache

Interlink Content: Make Life Easy for Search Bots and Users to Discover Useful content

Whenever you create a new page on your website or publish a new blog post, try to interlink old content from the main body of the new post as much as possible. Google and other search engines love to navigate to different pages through links and more interconnected your pages are, the better. Users also find it useful when they can find relevant, meaningful and related content by reading a post or page and it creates the best experience for both search engines and users.

This phenomenon is also referred as “Deep linking”. Linking to deep sections of your website from existing content helps in improving the SEO by a great deal.

Make Your Website Mobile Friendly

Mobile friendliness is a strong ranking signal in Google search and websites which are not optimized for mobile search are not going to make it to the top of search results since Google and other search engines do not want to promote websites which are not optimized for mobile. Hence, it is now a mandate for website owners to ensure that their websites load faster in a mobile device and the mobile theme of the website is user-friendly, easy to read and shows the content as quickly as possible, preferably within 2 seconds of making the request.

These days, most of the WordPress themes are mobile friendly in nature but it helps to check the mobile rendering of a theme before deciding to purchase it or installing it on your website. You should install a theme on your website and then load your website in an actual mobile device to see how it looks and how the user experience is.

If you are using a traditional WordPress theme which is not optimized for mobile, you can use the very useful Wp-Touch Plugin to install a mobile-friendly website theme for better SEO.

Have an Easy to Use Navigation On the Website

It is very important to have easy to use the navigation on the website so that users can quickly navigate from one section to another without having to go through a series of pages to find the target page they are looking for. Yes, it helps to have an HTML Sitemap in your website which lists all the content of your website in one page but apart from the HTML sitemap, a well defines navigation is very very important to ensure a positive user experience.

Newbie website owners often neglect this fact and they add fancy navigation menus which require the user to click multiple times to reveal the menu. That is not good and certainly not recommended. You should have a navigation menu which clearly highlights important sections of your website and which allows the user to go to all different corners of your website in as few clicks as possible.

Google and search engines also put a lot of emphasis on website navigation and usability so ignoring this is not a good idea.

Write Long Form of Content which Links to Important Pages of your Website

Google and other search engines simply love content to “chew” upon. The more content it can “chew upon”, the hungrier it gets. It is a beast, you keep feeding it and it will still want more and more of it.

For better SEO of your WordPress website, write long form of content and link to important pages of your website. Just like I have mentioned “Deep linking”, it is also important to write content which spans thousands of words and links to at least 5- 10 internal pages of your website. The more original text a search engine finds on a given page, the happier it gets.

Write long form of content often and link to important pages of your website, this is one of the most effective ways to improve SEO of your WordPress website. Initially, you may not note any difference but it really helps in building the foundation strong. Once the foundation is strong and you have a base of content with lots of links coming to it, it becomes easier for you to rank in search results for desired keywords.

Write Hand Crafted and Unique Title tags, Meta Description for Each Blog Post

Every page or post on your website should have a handcrafted title and a meta description tag. Most newbie bloggers and website owners ignore this fact and they rely on the automatic titles and meta description generated by WordPress. This is a not so good idea and handcrafted titles and meta description are better.

Take out the time to write original and well-thought titles and meta description for your blog posts, pages and every single page on your website. It helps in the long run and search engines also love Titles and meta descriptions which are handcrafted and manually reviewed by a human eye.

Stay Away from Black Hat SEO Techniques and Spam

It is tempting to fall for Blackhat SEO techniques to achieve results quickly but remember that, shortcuts often lead to the valley of death and once you are there, there is no return.

Black Hat SEO Spammer

Don’t fall for shortcuts and try to get successful quickly. Instead, focus on doing the right things and stay legitimate. You cannot trick the system and win by not working hard. It is impossible and already proven – you cannot win by tricks and shortcuts so stop wasting time, money and energy on shortcuts and stay miles away from any black hat techniques.

Remember, at the end of the day, you are no smarter than a search algorithm which evaluated millions and billions of websites every day. The algorithm is smarter than you and if you do not follow what the algorithm recommends, you are simply out of the game because the algorithm decides the rules of the game, not you.

Routinely Monitor Broken Links on Your Website and Fix Them

Google and search engines do not want to promote websites which have lots of broken links in it. It creates a bad user experience and it also confuses the search bots because when the search bot finds a dead link, it becomes sad as it is not able to discover more content.

Hence, it is extremely important to routinely monitor your website for broken links and fix those broken links as soon as possible. Google search console logs and your website logs should give you a fair idea where the broken links are but the awesome Broken link checker WordPress plugin shows all the broken links within your WordPress administration area and allows you to fix all of them in one go.

Not just links but also missing images, missing YouTube videos or content which was earlier accessible via a link but no longer available should be checked and fixed. Basically, you don’t want any page on your website which links to something that does not exist (both internal and external sources included).

Check for Duplicate Content Issues

Duplicate Content is a serious SEO blunder and one has to look out for these issues every now and then. You never know that a small change in your website’s theme configuration can give rise to duplicate content issues and then Google and other search engines will decrease the rankings of your website because of the presence of duplicate content on multiple pages of the site.

Whenever you make a major change to your website’s configuration, theme, backend or any infrastructural change, the first thing to check is whether it has given birth to duplicate content issues or not. If Yes, you must undo the change and revert to the previous state and not allow search bots to crawl duplicate content. The questions you need to ask yourself are as follows

  • Is the content on my website accessible through one unique page per content or is the same content accessible on multiple pages?
  • The change I made, did it cause major changes to the URL structure of my website? Is the old content still accessible from the old links or are they not accessible from the old links?
  • Can I check all the old links and ensure that nothing has changed to the URL of the old pages and that the same content on the old pages are not accessible from a totally different URL on my website (which could be dynamically generated by your WordPress theme in some cases)

If you are syndicating the same content to multiple websites, make sure you have told Google which one is the main website and which one is the syndicate website (through Google search console). If you don’t want to tell Google, use the rel=”follow, noindex” meta tag on the syndicated website to not let the duplicate content get indexeded by Google and other search engines.

Use Canonical URLs

If you have the same content on your website accessible from multiple URL’s, Canonical URL’s are the best way to tell Google the “preferred” version of a page which should be considered as the original source.The rel=canonical element, often called the “canonical link”, is an HTML element that helps webmasters prevent duplicate content issues. It does this by specifying the “canonical URL”, the “preferred” version of a web page.

Rel canonical WordPress SEO

If you are using the Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin, this is taken care of by default. If you are not using the Yoast Plugin for WordPress, you need to figure out an alternate mechanism to show canonical URL’s in your WordPress theme.

Minify the HTML Code of your Website

It helps to minify the HTML source code of your website at run time to ensure that the web page is minified during page loading. It helps to load the page faster and due to the absence of white spaces in the source code, it makes life easy for search engines. It is a really small detail but it really helps to ensure the source code of your website’s pages is minified before being served to the visitor.

If all other conditions are same and two web pages are of equal quality and authority, Google might sometimes prefer to show that webpage which offers a minified version over the one which does not.

You can minify the output source code yourself by removing Whitespace from your WordPress theme or use HTML Minify WordPress plugin to achieve minification without having to code anything or edit your website’s WordPress theme.

No Self Pings

Pingbacks and Trackbacks are no longer considered useful from SEO perspectives and there is no reason why you should still show Pingbacks and Trackbacks on your website. It doesn’t help and it makes your webpage look cluttered with too many pingbacks and trackbacks. It used to be useful in the primitive days of the web but not anymore, since it is now considered a distraction given the point that it does not add any content or SEO value to the page which shows the pingbacks or trackbacks.
( Tip: see the SEO glossary for definitions of common SEO terms)

Hence, it makes perfect sense to clean up pingbacks and trackbacks from your WordPress database and disable showing pingbacks and trackbacks in your WordPress theme. You should also install the No Self Pings WordPress Plugin to ensure you are not sending Pingbacks to your own pages, when you create internal links within your own website.

Nofollow Affiliate and Sponsored Links

We have earlier covered in detail how to use nofollow links for Search engine optimization (read the Nofollow links FAQ here). Sponsored links and Affiliate links are okay and they are a necessary evil because at the end of the day, you do want to make money out of your website and pay the bills. However, remember to nofollow all Affiliate links and sponsored links on your website to ensure you are not passing SEO juice or “endorsements” to these sites as a result of using that affiliate link.

Google and other search engines very well know which link is an affiliate link and which link is not an affiliate link. If it finds that you are not using Nofollow attribute on the affiliate links and sponsored links (it finds through pattern recognition and various other advanced algorithms), then your website will be in serious trouble. Be on the safe side and always remember to Nofollow sponsored links and affiliate links. If this means reviewing old content on your site and updating the links manually, you should go ahead and do it right now.

Use Minimum Plugins and Scripts

Don’t use unnecessary plugins and scripts on your website without any concrete and compelling reason.

There is no point in adding fancy widgets, scripts and other functionalities on your website which does not improve your website content and usability wise. Yes, you can experiment with tons of social media sharing buttons, widgets, search bars, top bars, newsletter signup forms and lots of things but at the end of the day, if your content is not compelling enough, all these efforts will fail.

What will eventually happen is that your website will not be as user-friendly and people will slow start to move away from your website because of too many things interfering with their intent of reading content. Too many ads, too many pop-ups, too many interstitials, call to actions or just too many distractions on a webpage is not good for SEO.

Keep things limited and under control and always make content the main focus of your website. If the content is good, you will be able to attract customers in the most natural way.


Be sure to read our SEO Guide which contains useful information about SEO and we have discussed in detail key SEO Concepts with examples.

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