WordPress SEO: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners (2019)

If you have a website that uses WordPress (like 32% of the top 10 Million sites in the world), then I am sure that you’ve heard of WordPress SEO.

Some of you may know what WordPress SEO is.

However, you feel that it’s too technical for you and you hand it off to somebody else.

On the other hand, you might not bother to optimize your site at all.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to optimize your website without needing to know anything to do with WordPress SEO.

Disclaimer: This is an in-depth guide that’s around 5,700 words. If you know you can’t read everything now, I would advise that you download this article as a PDF so that you can read it at a later time.

The Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO (For Beginners)

WordPress SEO

The best way to learn is by taking action.

So, in the spirit of that, my WordPress SEO guide will have a bunch of actionable tips that you can use right now.

I want you to take a look at the table of contents below to navigate throughout the page.

Trust me; you’ll thank me later for adding it in.

What is WordPress SEO?

What is WordPress SEO?

Sadly, as good as WordPress is for managing your website, it can’t do everything.

WordPress doesn’t do a good job with SEO at the very start, which is why you need to optimize your website manually.

Luckily, optimizing your site for SEO isn’t difficult at all.

WordPress SEO is the process of optimizing your WordPress website for SEO. 

That can include optimizing your On-Page SEO, adding an XML sitemap, and connecting your site to Google Search Console.

When people search for a term (known as keywords), ten results are shown by the search engines (with some extra features such as snippets).

What is WordPress SEO

If you have optimized your content around a chosen topic properly, you will likely be one of the results that appear the first page.

How can SEO Help Your Business?

The way that I see it, SEO is the foundation of ANY digital marketing campaign.

It’s still criticized by many people. However, WordPress SEO is a big deal.

I recently talked about whether or not SEO companies are worth the money and one of the things that I said was:

"As long as you have an incredible SEO company/team backing you, you have an equal chance in the search engines.

Not only do you have a fair chance, but you WILL save a shitload of money.

Just from SEO, Neil Patel saves $2 Million on traffic every single month according to SEMrush."

With other forms of marketing, you will only see results as long as you have money to put into those campaigns.

As soon as you hit the exit button on an ad, you can say bye-bye to your incoming traffic.

Facebook Ads

Click Image to See in Full

With WordPress SEO, you can build an asset - that being your content - and then as time goes on, your content will only grow.

Sadly, there are only two ways to invest in something.

The first is by investing money, and the second is by spending your time.

SEO will need the latter more than the former.

However, even 3 years after you’ve published your article it continues to grow and bring in new (and returning) visitors every month.

As I mentioned in my article about SEO agencies, there are people saving millions of dollars each month because they’re ranking organically instead of paying to be at the top.

Neil Patel's SEMrush Data

Click Image to See in Full

Not only are they saving money, but all of their leads are automatically better in quality.

Think about it.

If you’re running an ad on Facebook, anybody could click on that ad (even if he or she's not interested in your offer).

With SEO, only people who are interested in that topic will visit your page, leading to higher quality leads and customers.

So, now that I have convinced you to take WordPress SEO seriously, let’s get into the guide.

WordPress SEO (The Technical Side)

WordPress SEO (The Technical Side)

There are a lot of different things that you can do to make your website unique, and a bunch of these things is technical.

Sadly, that makes many people think that WordPress SEO is a super technical skill to learn.

In reality, it doesn’t have to be technical at all.

With just a few steps, you can have a well-optimzed website that will make search engines, and your future visitors happy.

First off, we need to make sure that search engines can even see your website.

Google's Logo

Making Your Website Visible to Search Engines

Luckily for you, WordPress is quite intelligent.

Even if you have a blank website, it will already be visible to search engines.

So there isn’t a need to change anything to your website.

However, if you need to hide your website from search engines, then you will need to make a change.

There are many different reasons why you might need to hide your website from search engines - with the most common one being that it’s a test website.

So to hide your website, you need to head over to your admin area and go through this breadcrumb (Settings >> Reading).

Once there you should see a checkbox at the very bottom that says “Search Engine Visibility.”

Making Your Website Visible to Search Engines

Click that box to discourage search engines from indexing your website.

Disclaimer: Now I have two disclaimers for you.

The first one is that search engines DO NOT have to listen to your request but for 99.99% of the time, they will.

The second one is that you can hide your website on a page-to-page level.

However, I will only be teaching you how to do that later on in the post.

So click here to go to that section automatically.

Using WWW. vs Non-WWW.

If you have a new WordPress website, then it’s likely that your URL will look like (http://example.com/).

Now you need to be super careful with what version of your site you want to show.

Google treats each version as a completely different website.

Which means that (http://example.com/) & (http://www.example.com/) are completly different.

As you can see, OutRankn uses (https://www.outrankn.com/).

However, I have a niche website that looks like (https://groomingwarriors.com/).

There isn’t any SEO value to which version you use.

Choosing one over the other will not boost your rankings, but it’s still important to choose wisely.

You can change the URL of your site by going to the admin area and going to the settings page.

Using WWW. vs Non-WWW.

Click Image to See Full

If you want to learn a little more on the subject, I will be creating an article soon covering it; however, for now, you can read WPBeginner’s excellent article on it.

Permalinks 101

For brand new sites, your permalinks are going to be one of the first things that you need to change.

What your permalinks are is the default structure for your post and page’s URL.

An example of this would be my permalink structure use to be (https://www.outrankn.com/blog/post-name/).

I will get into this little more in a minute, but I have recently taken out the /blog in for my permalinks (which is something that you should never do if you don’t understand how to redirect everything correctly).

Permalinks 101

As you can see from the image above, the default structure for WordPress sites is something similar to this (https://www.outrankn.com/?p=123).

You might have even noticed URLs that look like this (https://www.outrankn.com/2018/11/22/sample-post/) which is how Forbes have their URLs.

Again, like the www Vs. non-www, this is something that is up to you to decide, however, I would recommend using the post name structure.

Which looks like this (https://www.outrankn.com/sample-post/).

For those who’d like to have a custom structure, there is a Custom Structure section where you can add different tags.

If you want to know more information, you can read WordPress’s guide on using permalinks.

How to Set Canonical Tags

Almost 10 years ago, the canonical tag was introduced.

The canonical tag is used to tell search engines which URL you want them to index and rank.

For example, when looking at your website, search engines will see every single URL.

If you have a post that has this URL (http://example.com/wordpress-seo/) with 56 comments, there will be a different URL for every comment (http://example.com/wordpress-seo/#comment25).

Search engines view each one of those URLs as separate pages (I’m always talking about how smart Google is, but clearly I am wrong…).

To avoid confusion, you can set a rel=”canonical” tag that will specify which URL is the one you want to rank.

Here’s what the canonical tag looks like for this guide.

<link rel="canonical" href="https://www.outrankn.com/wordpress-seo/" />

To set a canonical tag for your page, you need to use a WordPress SEO plugins (like Yoast or All in One SEO).

Once you have downloaded any of those plugins, you need to go to whatever page you’d like to set that tag.

For this example, I am going to use Yoast.

How to Set Canonical Tags

To get there, you can this breadcrumb (Post/Page >> Yoast SEO Section >> Advanced).

Using SSL (Also Known as https://)

Secure Sockets Layer helps encrypt the connection between your browser and the website’s server.

With that type of technology, it helps you stay safe online because your information is encrypted and only you and the owner of the site you’re visiting can see your personal info.

Google’s browser (Google Chrome) and other browsers have taken significant measures to show you which sites are secure.

You can easily tell which site’s will keep your information safe by the green (or grey in recent Google Chrome updates) icon.

If you’re using WPX Hosting you get free SSL with every website.

Using SSL

You can either install it yourself (with a one-click system) or get their support to help you.

Even if you don’t take personal information from people who use your website, it’s super important to switch from http:// to https://.

The reason for that is because the search engines have publicly stated that HTTPS is now a ranking factor.

Quick Note: Once you have installed SSL on your website, you still need to switch your website’s address.

If you remember earlier on in this guide, I talked about using www Vs. non-www.

Using WWW. vs Non-WWW.

Once you’ve added SSL to your site, you need to go back there and change the http:// to https://.

Once you’ve done that, your website will be fully secure.

In addition to that, if you notice that you’re site has https://, however, you don’t see the padlock, that means that you’re website has mixed content.

Mixed content is where you have content that is served over http:// while your site is served over https://.

A great way to fix that issue is to use the SSL Insecure Content Fixer plugin.

Does Using Stop Words Hurt Your SEO?

Some of you may have heard of stop words and how you shouldn’t use them in your URLs.

Is that the case though?

First off, stop words are words that commonly used in the English language.

So, if you’re URL looks something like this (http://example.com/how-to-bake-a-cake), the words “How,” “To,” and “A” would all be considered as stop words.

Having shorter URLs can help people who want to manually type it in, or for people who want to link to it.

However, most importantly, it can quickly describe the contents of your page.

So is adding stop words to your URLs hurting your SEO?

Not really.

Sure it’s always nice to have a shorter/cleaner looking URLs, however, if your URL doesn’t make any sense because you’ve taken out some of the stop words, then that will hurt you in the long run.

How to Install Yoast SEO

How to Install Yoast SEO

Before I get into this quick tutorial, I want to mention that this process is similar for every WordPress SEO plugin.

If you don’t have an SEO plugin already running on your site, then you can use WPLearningLab's video tutorial to install Yoast and set it up.

Adding an XML Sitemap

Having an XML sitemap is crucial because it’s how search engines will crawl your website.

Search engines do not list every single website in the world.

So to make sure that your website is entirely index, you’ll have to submit a sitemap.

There are a few different ways to do that; however, since you’re using Yoast (I’m assuming), you can use the sitemap that Yoast has integrated into their plugin

You can use these breadcrumbs to find the sitemap.

WP Admin Area >> Yoast SEO >> General >> Features.

Adding an XML Sitemap

Once there, you’ll have to click the little question mark icon next to the sitemap section.

A drop-down menu will appear allowing you to view your sitemap.

Now that you have your sitemap, it’s time to connect Google Analytics & Search Console.

Connecting Your Website to Google Analytics & Search Console

In this section, I am going to be focusing a lot more on setting up Google analytics.

If you need more information about how to set up Google Search Console, you can read my full tutorial on it.

First Step:

The first thing you need to do is head over to Google Analytics.

If you don’t have an account, then you’ll need to make one which you can use your Google account for - of course.

Second Step:

​Next, after you’ve signed up for Gmail (if you haven’t already), you should get this screen.

Connecting Your Website to Google Analytics & Search Console

Click Image to See in Full

This screen is where you’ll sign up for Google analytics.​​​

Third Step:

Setting Up Google Analytics

Once you have signed up, you’ll need to enter in various bits of information such as (Your account name, website name, domain name, topic your website’s about, and what time zone you’re in).

Then once you’ve filled that information, you can click the “Get Tracking ID” button (you must agree to their terms of service as well).

Fourth Step:

Now you have your tracking code.

Google Analytics Code

This is the code that you’ll be adding to your website so that you can see how many people have been on your site, what pages they have visited and more.

Since you’re using WordPress, you don’t need to worry about the snippet of code below.

Analytic Snippet

You only need to worry about this code.

UA-xxxxxxxx-x

Now you have everything you need; we can connect your analytics account to your WordPress site.

Fifth Step:

In this step, I will be teaching you two ways to add your tracking code to your WordPress website.

The first one will be through two different plugins and the second one will be using the full snippet of code above.

GA Google Analytics

The first way is by using the same plugin that I use, GA Google Analytics.

First, you need to download the plugin by going to the “Add New” section of your plugins page.

Then once you have activated it, you need to go to Settings >> Google Analytics.

GA Google Analytics

Above is the tutorial laid out by the developer of the plugin.

MonsterInsights

MonsterInsights is another plugin that’s similar to GA Google Analytics in the sense that you only need the tracking ID.

In fact, their software allows you to connect your site to your analytics without your tracking code.

Here’s how it works.

Once you’ve downloaded the plugin, you’ll see the MonsterInsights section appear in your admin’s area.

Go to the settings page and click the “Authenticate with your Google account” button.

MonsterInsights Tutorial

From here, the process is the same as when you signed up to make your analytics account.

Next, you’ll be redirected to MonsterInsights software (which to clarify, is still within your website).

MonsterInsights Tutorial

There you can select which analytics code you want to connect to that site.

The main benefit of using MonsterInsights over anything else is that you can view your analytics from within your admin area.

Insert Headers and Footers

This method of connecting your analytics is the most time-consuming (which to be honest doesn’t take up much time anyway).

However, since you’ll be dealing with the entire snippet of code for your analytics, some people may be uncomfortable with this method.

Like before, you download the Insert Headers and Footers plugin onto your site.

Then, you go to Settings >> Insert Headers and Footers and paste the entire script into your header.

Insert Headers and Footers

There you have it!

Now you have successfully installed Google Analytics to your WordPress website.

Optimizing Articles & Pages With Yoast

Once you have set up Yoast for your website, you’ll have to learn how to optimize each page for SEO.

Luckily, they have a pretty good checklist that you can use to optimize your pages.

Yoast Checklist

When optimizing your pages and posts with Yoast, you want to make sure that each page has as many green lights as possible.

However, you don’t want to over optimize your pages, so make sure that your content still feels natural to read once you’re done.

Next, you may notice a readability score that’s above the focus keyword section.

Here you can find out how readable your content is based on the Flesch–Kincaid readability tests.

Flesch–Kincaid readability test

When looking at the Yoast suggestions, you want to go all out with this one.

No matter what type of content that you write, you want to make sure that a 7th grader can read, and fully understand it at the very least.

The reason for that is because most beginners won’t understand specific terms and phrases that are common within your niche.

Some of Yoast’s Other Page-Level Options

When optimizing your site on a page-level, you will have quite a few options other than the basic stuff.

For example, you can fully customize how your articles will look at different social media sites.

Usually, I will use the same meta title and description for the social media section as my search engine section.

Social Media Section in Yoast

In addition to that, you can do some advanced level changes to each page.

Remember how I talked about no-indexing your site on a page-level earlier?

Advanced Section in Yoast

There is where you can choose whether or not you want that particular page to be indexed on not.

You can also customize the breadcrumb title and the canonical URL here as well (as I mentioned earlier on).

Yoast Helper's Guide

If you need any extra help with these settings, Yoast includes a helper’s guide for every setting change you can make on your site.

Best On-Page Practises

Best On-Page Practises

I have already made a checklist full of things to check when looking at your On-Page SEO, so if you need more information, you can go there to learn more.

I will be updating it very soon, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, I do want to cover somethings here that will be super important for you to know now.

Titles & Meta Titles

For those of you who are a little confused, your title tag and meta title tag are two different things.

Your title tag is the thing that everybody who lands on your page will see.

You can use this guide as an example.

The first thing you saw is what I put into my title tag.

Even though most of the time you will have the same title tag as your meta title, however, there are times where they will be different (for example if somebody is split-testing their headlines).

Your meta title is what users who find you on Google will see.

Here’s the meta title for the WordPress SEO guide (before I updated it).

Titles & Meta Titles

An actionable tip you can use is to monitor your Search Console.

As your content starts to rank for different keywords, you can use that information to further optimize for click-through rate (CTR).

For example, this article on my niche site was ranking for its target keyword and many LSI keywords.

Google Search Console Data

However, I noticed that my article was ranking for a particular variation on of that keyword, but it was only on the second page.

It was getting more impressions than some of the others.

So, I optimized my content around it and in just a week, I was on the first page for that keyword.

Optimizing Articles for New Keywords

That is one technique you can use to help push your content onto the first page if you’re ranking on the second page.

Meta Description Tags

Your meta descriptions are just as important as your meta titles.

The meta description is the of lines underneath your title that further explains the main benefit of reading your article.

It's usually recommended to only use about 135 - 160 words within your descriptions for the best results.

However, that depends on the keyword that you’re ranking for so it’s up to you how short or long it is as long as you try to stick within that range.

Another actionable tip to look paid ads.

Google Ads

Their ads have been tested and optimized for CTR, which means that their descriptions work.

Keyword Placement 101

It’s not a good thing to slap your keywords all over your content, especially if it doesn’t make any sense to have it there.

That is called keyword stuffing.

Keyword stuffing has to be the worse thing you can do when it comes to your on-page SEO and Google will penalize your site for it.

So to avoid that, I want to show you where I tend to place my keywords within my articles.

First Placement

The first and most important place, in my opinion, is within your URL.

Keyword Placement

The link for your page is the best way to describe what your page is about to people and search engines alike.

Also, you’re killing two birds with one stone because your URL is now optimized for your keyword and it’s a short and clean URL (which helps as I mentioned before).

Second Placement

After that, you’re going to want to place your keyword within your headline.

As I mentioned before, when somebody lands onto your page, it’s the first thing they will see, so it’s good practice to place your keyword in your headline.

Also, you don’t want your title only to be your keyword.

Nobody is going to click on that otherwise.

Your goal is to make the best possible experience for your users, and the best way to do that is in this situation is by writing a catchy headline around your target keyword.

Third Placement

For the next placement, I have chosen the first 100 words of your content.

Keyword Placement

Ideally within the first line of your content.

The reason for that is to give the search engines a better understanding of what your content covers.

For humans, it’s not necessary.

However, people tend to relate to a piece of content if you can add keywords related to their interest at the very beginning.

Fourth Placement

Next, you’ll want to place your keyword in the first image of your article.

Keyword Placement

You’re doing that for the same reason as the first placement.

However, the reason why it’s important only to add your keyword to the first image is to avoid over optimizing.

In addition to that, you can also target LSI keywords from your other images making your content a lot more through (in the eyes of search engines).

Fifth Placement

This next placement is important because you can optimize your content for quite a few different keywords.

You will want to make sure that you try to add your target keyword in the first header after your article starts.

However, instead of just adding your target keyword, it’s best to add a longtail variation of your main keyword.

For example, my target keyword in for this guide is WordPress SEO, and if you look at my first header, it’s a longtail variation of my main keyword.

One thing I would like to say is that if you can’t naturally fit your keyword somewhere, don’t add place it there.

It will hurt you in the long run.

Using Internal & External Links

Internal links and external links are important aspects to your content for both search engines and users alike.

I am going to talk about external links first since many people who are inexperienced in SEO can get confused.

External links are when you send a person away from your website through a link.

Now I know that you must be thinking “why would I send somebody away from my site?”

The main reason you should always use external links is to give your users the best experience possible.

When you’re discussing a topic, and you mention a fact or an opinion, it’s good to link to some resource that supports your claim.

For example, the very first line in this guide mentions how many people use WordPress to manage their site.

So I linked to a piece of content that supports that bold claim.

In addition to that, Reboot Online did a study in 2016 which showed that results that have external links in them would outperform results without external links.

Why You Should be Careful of How You External Links

Right, so external links are great, but you still need to be careful when using external links.

The reason for that is your site’s authority.

As your site grows, users and search engines will start to see your website as an authority in your space.

Meaning that websites that are associated with yours will receive a little boost as well.

There are two types of links.

DoFollow and NoFollow.

Each link tag will tell Google whether to follow that link or not and by having too many DoFollow links on your site, your website could start losing PageRank (which is the score given to individual pages on your site).

Internal Links

Linking from one page on your site to another is what we call internal linking.

Not only does it help search engines crawl your site, but it helps users navigate your site more smoothly.

For example, if you’re running a website about clothes, it’s better to have a link to your product page than to expect users to find it themselves.

The Value of Internal Links

Having internal links will help search engines understand more about your website.

If you like from a page about clothes to a product page that features a hoodie, then they can better understand the relationship between those pages.

Earlier, I mentioned PageRank.

The authority given to an individual page can also be affected by how much you link to it.

For example, here's what Tim Soulo (CMO of ahrefs) had to say about how to preserve your PageRank.

Before I start with this section, I want to stress an important point:

This is not about optimizing for PageRank or URL Rating (UR). That way of thinking often leads to poor decision making. The real task is to make sure that you’re not losing or wasting PageRank on your site.

For that, there are three areas to focus on:

  1. Internal links: How you link the pages together on your website affect the flow of “authority” or “link juice” around your site.
  2. External links: Both URL Rating (UR) and PageRank effectively share authority between all outbound links on a page. But this doesn’t mean you should delete or “nofollow” external links. (Keep reading.)
  3. Backlinks: Backlinks bring so‐called “link juice” into your site, which you should carefully preserve.

Let’s look at each of these individually.

Here’s an actionable tip.

Start looking at all of your existing content and think about how you can link it to other pieces of content.

That helps you in two ways.

First, you will start building a solid site structure, and secondly, you will come up with some future content ideas in which you can link back to your existing content.

If you want a more natural way for people and search engines to navigate your site and understand it better, you can use breadcrumbs.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs is a list of steps that you need to take to reach any particular page.

Breadcrumbs SEO

Google also uses your breadcrumbs in their search results.

For example, if you wanted to get to this page from the homepage, you’d have to go through my site like this “Home >> WordPress SEO.” 

Another example would be if you wanted to get from this page to any of my blog posts.

You’d have to go through this process “WordPress SEO >> Blog >> Article.”

If you want to know more about breadcrumbs, I would suggest reading Yoast’s article about them.

How to Use Posts and Pages

WordPress allows you to publish two default formats.

The first of the two are pages and the second are posts.

Even though there might not seem like there’s a difference, trust me, there are differences.

The first big difference between the two is the type of content intended for each format.

Posts are seen as blogs that can be updated and is based on time (older blog posts will get achieved based on the month and year that it was published).

Whereas, pages are meant to be used as static pieces of content (like my homepage or contact page for example).

There are times where using a page format for an article can be useful.

For example, let’s say you want to create a welcome post but you need this particular post to have a design that you can’t create in a post format.

That’s when you would use a page format to post a blog.

Some people tend to publish their blog posts in a page format to stop comments from messing up their keyword density.

I usually don’t do that because unless it harms the experience of that post, Google doesn’t really care.

It’s up to you which format you prefer.

However, I would recommend only using posts if you’re content is dynamic (meaning that you plan to change the contents of the post and the time the post was published/modified) regular and using pages for static content.

What is Google RankBrain?

Google Rankbrain is one of the few updates (like Panda for example) that shows how advanced Google are getting regarding ranking websites.

Quoting from Backlinko

“RankBrain is an AI algorithm that is used for sorting the search results. It also gives data to Google to help them understand user intent behind search results.”

Google RankBrain

As you can see above, I asked Google “What was the Italian game made by Nintendo?” and it shows me results based on the Mario games.

If you want to learn more information about RankBrain, click here to go to a detailed guide by Brian Dean.

WordPress SEO Performance

WordPress SEO Performance

Above all else, the performance of your site important, because if your site isn’t working, then all of your other work is meaningless.

However, unlike the other sections, I’ve discussed here, I want to help you find the best resources about each section.

So here it is.

Improving Your Site Speed

Google has mentioned on multiple occasions that they take your site’s loading time into account when ranking it.

Though some people are mistaken in what they mean by that, they don’t give you a rankings boost for having a fast loading time.

If they did, I’d rank number one for practically everything for the UK search.

how to speed up wordpress site

What they actually do is they penalize websites with super slow loading times.

For increasing your site’s overall loading time, you can check out my resource on that below.

21 Ways to Speed Up Your WordPress Site by 80%

how to speed up wordpress site

Securing Your Website

Getting hacked sucks.

Getting DDoS is even worse.

So setting up your website’s security is essential if you’re looking to build a long-term business.

There are a few basic tips that I am sure you already know (like making a strong password), but if you want a more in-depth guide, then look no further than WPBegginer’s guide to security.

The Ultimate WordPress Security Guide – Step by Step (2018)

Guide to Security

Advanced Technical SEO

I talked a lot about technical SEO in this guide.

However, that was just some of the basics.

If you need to know a lot more or you’re curious as to what other technical advantages you can have, then check out SEMrush’s free advanced technical SEO course.

Technical SEO course with Bastian Grimm

Technical SEO course with Bastian Grimm

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why WordPress is the most popular CMS in the world.

Not only is it easy to learn and can tailor to most of your needs, but it also has a solid foundation for WordPress SEO.

What I mean is that many experts have created a lot of great solutions for the already fantastic platform.

So make sure you follow everything that I have talked about in this guide, and you will have a massive advantage of most of the websites in the world.

If you learned from this guide, feel free to comment and let me know.

You can also share it on social media so that others can learn from it as well.