The most common way for people to find what they want online is through search engines, but although searches return thousands, even millions, of pages of results, few people go past even the second or third page. It’s no surprise, then, that so much attention is paid to achieving high search-engine rankings.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex and constantly changing topic, well beyond the scope of this book, but in this and the following lesson, you see some things you can do in WordPress to better your chances of good rankings.
The healthiest way to think about SEO is to first think about your visitors’ needs. Remember, the goal of search engines is to deliver the most useful, reliable, best-quality web pages that meet the search parameters. If you work hard to make your site useful to visitors, you have a better chance of ranking well. Having said that, you also have to take into account the ways search engines read and interpret that content.
With default Block Editor
With Classic Editor
1. Writing Search-Friendly Titles
This section covers the importance of relevant titles for Posts and Pages. There are other kinds of titles used in HTML coding for images and links, which are discussed in their respective sections later in this lesson.
Having good titles for Posts is crucial because of the number of ways WordPress uses them, all of which relate to search-engine ranking:
- In many themes, the <title> tag of the post’s HTML page is created simply by combining the title of the Post with the title of your website (set under Settings ➪ General).
- When the title of a Post is linked to its full-text version, WordPress themes typically create a title attribute for the link tag, which says something like, Permanent Link to [the title itself goes here].
- As the H1 element in the content section of the HTML, a Post’s title sits high in the semantic (meaning) hierarchy of the web page.
- Also, if you have custom permalinks turned on, and depending on the setting, the title is likely used to create the ending portion of the web page’s URL: yourdomain.com/aruba-beach- famous-for-sunsets by replacing spaces with hyphens and making everything lowercase.
These are all elements that search engines use in various ways when calculating the relevance of a web page—it’s up to you to make sure the title itself is relevant.
By relevant, I don’t just mean relevant to the content of the Post. A title also needs to match the wording visitors are likely to use when searching. You need to think of not only what information your audience wants, but also the wording that best conveys that information. Very likely, those same words are ones they’ll use when searching.
Take the title of one of the Posts I’ve been working with on the Island Travel site: 7 Day Capital City Package. Looking at this from both a visitor and a search engine standpoint, it’s not a good title. Notice it doesn’t mention the word Kingston, when that’s the name of the city the Post is about and likely a keyword people would enter in a search.
It would also be good to say a bit more about the package. Is it an escorted tour? Is it focused on nightlife? Is it a family package? Is the hotel on the ocean? Not only will this be more informative, it will also help distinguish the package from other Kingston vacations undoubtedly offered by Island Travel.
Though the details of what makes a relevant or useful title will always depend on the particular Post, a few guidelines can be helpful from a search standpoint:
- Be succinct. If you look at the titles of results in search engines, you’ll notice that they’re truncated if they’re too long. (Approximately 60 characters is the typical stopping point). It would be nice for your entire title to show in the search results, but at the least, have the most important words first.
- Use key search terms. Look at some search results and you’ll see that search terms are highlighted everywhere, including in the search results title, which is taken from your Title tag. If your Title tag has that search term, you’ll benefit from the highlighting.
- Be upfront. Put the key search terms as near the beginning of the title as you can. Search engines interpret what comes first as more important.
- Don’t try to be fancy. If you can work a good turn of phrase into a title while keeping it clear and succinct, more power to you, but don’t worry about being clever (unless that’s important to your visitors).
Keep in mind that while the title of a Post may be used in custom permalinks and the Title tag, you can still control the wording of both.
For custom permalinks, if you have them turned on, that’s done on the Post edit screen, as shown in Figure 30-1.
For title tags, it will depend on your SEO plugin, but usually there will be a box on the Post edit screen. The plugin will typically add more to the title tag, such as your Site Title, but the wording for the Post title portion can be edited. If you have trouble boiling down the content into a succinct title, it may be that you’re covering too much information in a single Post. Would the material be better handled as several Posts?
Looking at it from a search engine’s point of view, if too much of the content is not directly related to the title, it seems to the search engine that relevance is lost and the ranking could go down. Your visitors may see the relevance, but search-engine algorithms aren’t as sophisticated.
However, you need to balance breaking up content with not having so many extra web pages so that visitors have to do a lot of clicking to get all the content.
Also, search-engine experts disagree about the maximum length of a single web page of content, so you should focus more on the needs of your visitors and the context. An academic paper is different from a product description—they each have a different criterion for length.
2. Writing Search-Friendly Content
The content you offer on your web page is the key to visitor satisfaction and therefore to search-engine ranking. If you have high-quality, relevant content, visitors will be happy and so will the search engines. But as previously mentioned, search engines aren’t as sophisticated as visitors, so you need to structure your content in certain ways to ensure that they get the relevance.
For search engines, the primary factor for the relevance of content is keywords. They scan web page content to see how well it relates to the words entered by the searcher.
The details of how search engines scan content for relevance vary between search engines and over time as well—their algorithms are constantly being tweaked to achieve better results. However, here are some basic tips concerning keywords, which, even if they somehow stopped being helpful with rankings, are still helpful to visitors:
- Be consistent. If your title says the Post is about all-inclusive resorts, don’t use only the term “full-service resorts” in your content. Your visitor might understand that they’re the same, but you can’t take the chance that search engines will understand. It is true they’ve become increasingly sophisticated at recognizing synonyms. For example, if you enter “all-inclusive resorts,” you will get results with the terms “all-inclusive packages” or “all-inclusive vacations” highlighted. Even so, it’s better to make sure your keyword is dominant among any synonyms.
- Use keywords early. If the term “all-inclusive resorts” is in your title and yet doesn’t appear until your second or third paragraph, your visitors and the search engines may be excused for wondering if they’re reading the right page. Visitors may well continue on, but search engines are less forgiving.
- Don’t repeat a term too much. Visitors know from the title that the Post is about all-inclusive resorts; it is annoying to see the term in every single sentence. The search-engine equivalent is to assume that the repetition is meant to trick it into seeing the web page as relevant. And apart from lowering your ranking, such behavior, taken to an extreme, could get your web page (or even your site) marked as spam.
As the last point suggests, relevant content is not simply about having a lot of keywords. Search-engine algorithms have become increasingly sophisticated over the years, and keyword density, as it’s called, is only one of several factors for which content is analyzed.
Assuming all the content in a long Post is focused and relevant, it’s still helpful to visually and semantically group that content. To do this in a search engine–friendly way, you need to use HTML heading tags, which is easily done using WordPress’s Text Editor in Visual mode (the Format drop-down on the second row of the button bars). Headings within content should take the next heading after the title. In other words, if your Post title is an H1, all first-level headings should be H2, headings grouped under an H2 should be H3, and so on.
Write your headings with the same criteria you would for writing titles: succinct, and keywords at the front, without repetition.
3. Creating Search-Friendly Links
Search engines also determine the relevance of your site to someone’s search by looking at links from two perspectives: inbound and outbound.
Inbound links are ones on other sites that point to your site, and although these are important to search-engine rankings, getting other sites to link to you is far beyond the scope of this discussion. Be concerned here with links in your Posts that point to other sites.
Search engines look at two aspects of outbound links in particular:
- Relevance to the content of the Post
- The popularity of the site to which you’re linking
When you create links to other sites, always think of your visitors’ needs and you’re more likely to meet the standards of relevance.
If the link promises to send you to a site with more information about great resorts in Jamaica and that site turns out to be a sales pitch for a time-share the writer is affiliated with, you will not be a happy visitor. What you read is what you want to get. (If the link said you were going to find a great deal on a time-share, it would have been a relevant link.)
Even when they’re relevant, you can help improve the value of your outbound links—both to visitors and to search engines—by doing a bit of research. If there are two good sites and one ranks higher in search results than the other, go with the higher-ranked site. Either site would be useful to your visitor, but the higher-ranked one may be given more weight by search engines. Of course, you would put both sites in a links list, but I’m talking here about making choices within the content of a post—you don’t want to crowd the body with too many links or it gets a bit overwhelming.
And don’t forget about linking to related material on your own site. This internal linking helps visitors and search engines find you material and the Link to Existing Content feature of the Insert/ Edit Link window makes it easy to do. Lesson 36 also talks about plugins that can automate the process of finding related content on your own site and linking to it.
4. Making Images Search-Friendly
Although search engines are getting more sophisticated at analyzing the content of images, they still rely on two attributes of the HTML image tag to tell them details about the image, as shown in this sample code:
<img src=”http://yourdomain.com/images/image.jpg” title=”My New Car” alt=”Photo of my new Toyota Prius sitting in the driveway”>
It’s important that all your images have this descriptive text and in Lesson 13, “Working with Images in the Content Editor,” you can see the screens in WordPress where you can enter information for these attributes. Now, look at these attributes with search engines in mind:
- Title—Titles should be simple, leaving the details to the ALT attribute and giving the two or three keywords that describe the content of the image. Don’t load up the title with keywords that aren’t relevant to the immediate If the image is of a beach in Aruba, use Beach in Aruba, not Caribbean Travel Deals on Beaches in Aruba. Your Post may be about travel deals in the Caribbean, but that’s not what the image is about. Stick to the facts. Also, keep in mind that WordPress automatically uses your image’s filename for the Title attribute. Sometimes, people think you’re stuck with that, but you can change it to a proper title. WordPress just tries to make sure there’s something for the Title attribute.
- Alternative Text—This is the name that WordPress gives to the content that’s put in the ALT attribute. The architects of HTML wanted an alternative for visually impaired visitors, and this attribute was intended as a written description that could be read aloud by special browsers. Search engines realized they could make use of the attribute to understand the images on a web page, so the ALT attribute has taken on a fairly important SEO role. Although you can have a lot of detail in here, again, you need to stick to the facts. Avoid using nonrelevant material, and don’t try to stuff the alternative text with keywords. For example, don’t say, “Picture of a beach in Aruba. Beaches in Aruba tend to be less crowded especially this one located in Northern Aruba.” Not only is it annoying to visitors, but you could get penalized by the search engines. However, do make sure you say, “Aruba,” if that’s a keyword for your post.