WordPress is the most used CMS platform on the planet.  I use this CMS on all of my niche websites because I find it easy to use and to optimize based on the niches that I enter.
Whether you operate a blog or a business, the WordPress CMS provides an easy to use platform for anyone to get their ideas published on the web.
That being said, to really maximise the exposure of the site that you launch, you want to make sure that your website gets traffic from search engines. This means that your WordPress site needs to be SEO-friendly.
The biggest issue I find with WordPress SEO recommendations is that many people end up making recommendations without the required web development, content, or link acquisition insights that’s required to make the site’s SEO performance work.
Many will add an SEO-friendly label to things like plugins or themes, when it actually isn’t.
So in this guide, I will provide a one-stop solution and checklist for making sure that your WordPress site is SEO-friendly, so your site will have the best chance to rank for keywords that will drive organic search traffic to your site’s web content.
What is important with WordPress SEO?
The most important thing you need to achieve is optimizing the WordPress CMS so that the content can easily be accessed and delivered by search engine users and search engine robots.
The web content needs to render in easy to crawl and index HTML that will allow the search engine to find, understand, and index the content that is on the website.
The domain hosting that you use is important for connecting to your WordPress site. As soon as people click to access the content that is hosted on your domain, people should be able to access the content from your WordPress site quickly.
You should check to see if the web domain connectivity between your domain hosting provider and your website is less than 200ms.
You don’t want your site to take more than 2 seconds to load. If your domain host is taking over 200ms to connect to your web domain, there is a good chance that the remaining loading time on your site will be affected.
Where you host your WordPress site is very important. You want to partner with a web hosting provider that can load your site quickly for users.
From the moment the DNS connects your domain to the content on your website, your web host needs to be able to connect and send the information to the end-user quickly. As a rule of thumb, the web page content should load in less than 2 seconds.
Before building your WordPress site, select a reliable web host for your WordPress content (FTP) and database that will serve your site’s content quickly.
Resource: DNS speed for fast loading websites
This is critical to your site’s SEO success and it is one of the main areas where I see alot of issues occur. The SEO framework that should be built into a web theme generally isn’t. And unfortunately, many WordPress themes brand themselves as being SEO-friendly.
For those website owners that don’t have the technical experience, they are unable to look at the code and confirm if the site is actually SEO friendly.
There are a few common culprits that you need to look out for with WordPress themes.
Drag and drop builders
Drag and drop builders are often promoted as being search-engine friendly, however they can inject additional code and objects that affects the HTML of the web page.  This may make the web page more difficult to crawl and render. Even through it may appear friendly for people, there is a good chance that it won’t be friendly for search engines.
If you do like something with a theme, see how easy it is to customize it into a theme’s code without using a drag and drop editor. 
If you find that you do still want to proceed with a drag and drop builder, you can consider experimenting with the following themes.
- BeaverBuilder (stable and caters more to developers, not noobs)
- Site Origin (clean, clutter-free, very open-source vibe)
- Oxygen (clean, fast, stable, developer-mentality)
- Brizy (upcoming pagebuilder that looks promising)
- Page Builder Sandwich
You can also click here to see the results of a WordPress drag and drop builder test.
WordPress themes that rely on plugins
If you get a theme that uses alot of plugins, then you will be dependant on the plugins to make your site function. This will severely limit the technical SEO actions that you will be able to do on the website.
Prior to installing the theme, check the details of the theme to see how it is built and configured. Do your best to avoid using installing a theme where the design and functionality is heavily dependant on plugins.
WordPress themes that use heavy HTML objects
There are themes that look pretty, but actually use heavy HTML objects. Items such as image sliders, parallax effects, video effects, or embedding third-party objects can add to the size of the web pages on your site, which will affect the page loading time of the site.
Opt for themes where the HTML framework is simple and light in size.
The navigation menu should serve as the framework that will connect your site’s web pages, blog posts, and categories to one another. Setting up the menu in the right way will help search engines navigate through your website to find, crawl, and index your web content.
The internal links will also be boosted if you use a menu. This will help the search engine robot to understand which web pages are important on your website.
Setting up the navigation menu in WordPress is straightforward. However, you will need to check how the display settings work based on the WordPress theme that you install.
You want to make sure that the navigation menu uses HTML anchor text to interlink the pages to one another.
You also want to have the option of creating additional drop downs (expansion boxes or accordions) in the menu so that people can find and navigate through the content better.
Something that you need to consider with menus is what to include in the menu. When navigating in WordPress, it will give you the option to link web pages, custom links, tags, and categories in the menu.
It is easy to add in everything and then to clutter the menu for both the search engines and the web users.
Keep the menu simple.
URL naming (Permalinks)
When you setup WordPress by default, it isn’t going to share search-engine friendly URLs. You will need to go into the settings within the WordPress CMS and you will need to change the format of your URLs so that they display as keyword-rich URLs.
This will allow you to optimize your web page’s URLs with keywords that best describe what your web page is about.
This will help to increase the search engine ranking for keywords on search engines.
The favicon is used to display a symbol in your web browser. When installed through the WordPress CMS, the file is actually stored as a larger file on your site compared to hosting it through the server.
This can potentially affect the page loading time of the site.
There are a couple of options for optimizing favicons on WordPress.
Upload the Favicon directly via the FTP
You can create a .ico file and upload the file as a favicon on the server. This will bypass the favicon demand through WordPress.
Use a plugin to display the favicon
You can use the BlueT plugin which is lightweight and renders a small favicon file.
You can see more instructions on how to make an SEO-friendly favicon.
You will need to go into the settings in your WordPress site and change the site’s settings. You will see the tag line in the settings that will say “Just another WordPress site” if it is a newly installed WordPress site.
Change this text to something that is more keyword-friendly. This will help both search engines and web users to understand what your website is about.
You can also opt not to add anything in this text box and force the search engines to extract the keyword relevant data from other areas on the webpage;
WordPress plugins are great in the sense that they can help you customize the functionality of your website without having to do manual coding. For example, if you want to implement 301 redirects, you can install a WordPress plugin that will take care of the redirects for you through a user interface.
The issue with WordPress plugins is that they can cause some SEO issues on the site. They can slow down the loading time for a web page due to the extra weight being added to a web page, which can affect the site’s SEO performance.
Instead, it is ideal to code in configurations on the site without using a plugin.
The impact will vary based on the competitiveness in your SEO market.
Some of the types of plugins that can manually configured on your WordPress site include:
- SSL redirection
- Schema mark-up/Structured data
- Table of contents
- Security checker apps
If you do plan to use plugins on your WordPress site, keep the following things in mind.
Select only those plugins that are absolutely necessary for the functionality of your website.
- Install lightweight plugins
- Ensure that the plugins are maintained regularly by the developer.
WordPress works by using a database to store the data or content for your website. Something that many website owners don’t realize is the type of data that gets stored within the WordPress database.
What should really be stored in the WordPress database is information that should be retrieved for the live website.
Instead, information such as drafts, recovered files, or old versions of pages are saved within the database. 
These clutter and add more storage size to the database. This ends up slowing down the WordPress website performance.
Clean your database so get rid of clutter from drafts, comment data, backups, plugin data, and more so that your database doesn’t balloon in size.
Resource: If you would like more details for optimizing your site’s on-page SEO, you can see more details in our on-page SEO guide.
WordPress is a great platform for creating and publishing web content. If you don’t have any technical skills, you can easily use the WYSIWYG editor to create, format, and publish your web content.
However, you must remember that the content will render in HTML. This means that your site’s content needs to be formatted with HTML or structured data that will help the search engine robot understand what the site is about.
If you want your WordPress site to rank for keywords, you need to optimize the content on the web pages so that they will have the best chances to rank on search engines.
Optimize the web page URL
The first thing that the search engine crawlers will look at is the name of the URL of the web page. This is submitted via the XML sitemap and it is will also follow the web pages that link to this URL.
Make sure that the web page URL uses the keywords that you want to be found for. Make the URL succinct or have it match the keyword query that you want to be found for.
If you are launching or optimizing a web page in an existing market, check the top-performing SEO pages/sites on the search engine and replicate a similar URL structure to what they have.
Optimize the web page title.
The title of the web page is the second piece of content that the search engine should look at when it visits your web page. It wants to know what is the theme of your web page. So the keywords in the title of your web page need to contain the keyword or keywords that you want the web page to be found for.
If you are launching or optimizing a web page in an existing market, check the top-performing SEO pages/sites on the search engine and replicate a similar title structure to what they have.
Optimize the meta description of the web page.
The meta description should be the third piece of content that the search engine crawler will look at when crawling your site’s web page.
The meta description usually displays up to 160 characters, however there are some cases where it may display more characters.
If you are launching or optimizing a web page in an existing market, check the top-performing SEO pages/sites on the search engine and replicate a similar meta description structure to what they have.
Format the heading structure on the web page.
It’s important to remember that search engines follow the HTML coding mark-up on a web page. It is important that you implement the HTML coding mark-up for the type of content that you want highlighted on the web page.
Because WordPress offers a WYSIWYG editor, it is easy for people to copy and paste the content from the document that they are working on to the-
Lists are a great way to break-up the content into ‘easy-to-digest’ pieces. When creating lists, always make sure that they are formatted with the correct HTML setting <li> so that the search engine robots understand that the content within these tags are bullet or numbered points.
This formatting can also increase the web page’s chances of getting featured in the rich snippet results.
HTML formatted tables are a great way to structure your content and to get search engines to better understand the context of your web content.
If you have the latest version of WordPress, you can actually add a table of contents easily through the WYSWIG editor.
Alternatively, you can add a table with your content using the HTML formatting tags.
Sometimes, the search engines may show the content that appears within these tags as rich snippets in the organic search results.
Table of contents
Adding an HTML table of contents will help people and search engines to navigate through the web page content. If this is optimized correctly, it will create the “jump to links from Google”.
You can add this manually to your web pages or use a plugin like Easy Table of Contents, which is a free plugin from the WordPress repository.
Optimize the images
In WordPress, it is easy to optimize the images. However, there are some things that you can do on the site and then there are others that you will have to do prior to uploading the image.
Optimize the following before uploading your images to the WordPress CMS.
- Correct the image dimensions prior to uploading the image.
- Compress the image file size.
- Rename the image file with a descriptive keyword phrase.
Optimize the following once the image is uploaded onto the WordPress CMS.
- Add an image title
- Add an image alt text
- Add an image description
- Add an image caption
You can also click here see how to do image SEO.
One of the most important things when doing SEO is developing the correct site structure. It is important to understand how Categories work within the WordPress CMS and how the placement of your site’s content within these categories can impact the site’s SEO performance.
You will be able to categorize the placement of your site’s blog content so that they fall into a page feed. In a nutshell, you want to make sure that the correct content is placed within the right page feed.
You want to create a hub of content (information) and you don’t want to create categories with little to no information. Bloggers often make this mistake by creating several categories instead of top-level categories for their site.
Once the categories are created, you want to link to them strategically within your site to improve the internal linking and flow of Page Rank through to those category web pages, which will then feed into the web posts in those categories.
You can do this by linking to the categories internally within the content, or you can add them to the navigation menus on the site. The WordPress CMS will give you this option when you navigate to the menu settings within WordPress.
Tip: The default category setting will be Uncategorized. Delete this and ensure that the content appears in the correct category.
2nd tip: You’re able to add unique content and metadata to the category page. Optimize the category page in the same way that you would a web page or blog post to help improve the SEO performance of the category page.
There are mixed opinions when it comes to using tags in blog posts on WordPress. Search engines can find, crawl, and index URLs from tags. However, these tags can also create duplicate content issues which can impact a site’s SEO rankings. 
Additionally, people tend to add keyword tags solely to gain an SEO ranking instead of using the tags to group content.
I’d suggest the following approach.
- Focus on publishing content that contains the target keywords that you want the web page to rank for.
- Make sure your target keywords appear within the HTML semantic mark-up.
- Include target key phrases within the body of the web page.
- Add the site content to a relevant category before proceeding with the tagging. 
- Consider the size of your site and how tagging can impact duplication. If the site is larger than 2000 web pages, then duplicate content issues are likely to arise and tags should have the noindex tag applied. 
- Add relevant tags to cluster the content. Do this based on search terms.
- Test tags based on the SEO market that you are in. But be wary of duplication and how it may affect your site’s SEO performance. 
The text content that you publish on your WordPress web pages and posts that appear within the HTML body tags is what will provide the most value to search engines and users on your website.
The following factors will help the SEO of the pages or posts published in WordPress.
- The length of the content.
- The relevancy of the content.
- Formatting the headings.
- The use of HTML formatting (tables, lists, hyperlinks)
- Using structured data
- Supporting the text content with images or video
Pages vs Posts
WordPress provides the option to build the site with web pages or posts. In terms of the content that gets rendered, it is the same and a site can be built using both. However, the architecture from the publishing types differ and this is what you will need to consider for your site’s SEO strategy.
Pages are static content and won’t have a time stamp. They can be displayed on the site as you set. They aren’t automatically included in internal content syndication such as tags or categories.
Additionally, the web page should only be included in the XML feed for the site.
Posts act differently since they include a timestamp and display based on the time that the post is published. The content can be fed into categories and tags on the site. The XML (RSS) feed is also related to time the site’s content is published.
What should you know about a post in WordPress?
- A post is dated and “time-sensitive” and a page is not.
- A post can belong to categories, tags, dates and authors and a page can not.
- You can access a post from multiple pages – its category, tag, date or author.
- A post can appear in the blog or category feed.
- A page is only accessible from wherever you link to it.
Additional resource: Pages vs posts – WordPress
Link building is done offsite, however there are some things that you should consider with inbound links to WordPress websites.
Build links to web pages and web posts
If you want to increase the ranking of your site’s web pages, you need to get links from external web pages to link to your site’s pages. This means building links to the site’s web pages or posts so that it will rank in the search engine results.
Make sure the right URL is used
We’ve mentioned earlier in this post that it is important to get your WordPress permalink settings correct so that it displays the keyword phrase that you want to target. You want to make sure that you get as many direct links as possible by setting this up correctly from the outset.
Should you change the URL, there is a chance that the site’s SEO rankings may be affected. For example, if the site had links going to the URL permalink which contained the publishing date; and this has now changed to an absolute URL with the keyword, then only 75% of the Page Rank from the previous URL will be passed on through a 301 redirect.
If the redirect isn’t implemented correctly, then no Page Rank will be passed on and this can impact the SEO performance of the site.
Avoid links going to internal files like images
Contrary to popular belief, links to internal files won’t impact the web page’s search engine performance. So it is important to make sure that any links from external links are attributed to the correct web page.
Ideally, create a direct link from the external source. This may require you to reach out to the webmaster to amend the link.
Alternatively, you may need to create a 301 redirect to the correct web page.
Analyze the inbound links to see which links may need to be changed to improve the site’s SEO performance.
Build links to web page categories
You want the categories on your site to serve as a resource hub. You can build links to these category pages to pass Page Rank to the page. The Page Rank will then be passed onto those pages that are being linked from the category web page, which should help to improve the search engine rankings performance of those web pages.
Recommended link building resources
What are some things that you should consider when managing the SEO of a WordPress site?
I’ve mentioned it previously, but it is important to stay on top of any potential duplication issues that could occur from the categorization and tagging of your WordPress content. Plan how to categorize your site’s content to avoid the risk of duplication.
This is another important factor to manage, since it is likely that your site’s content will display in different areas and under different URLs. You will need to consider a canonicalization strategy or rel=follow/nofollow for paginated links.
Indexing or Noindexing content.
You want search engines to access the content that you want to promote. So you need to sculpt the visitor path for the search engine by optimizing the site’s architecture and also adding in index or noindex tags for content that you want the search engines to find and crawl.
There may be sections of the site where you can add this attribute in the robots.txt file.
WordPress security is related to the SEO performance of the website in the sense that if the site displays signs of malware or that it has been hacked, the site won’t be shown either by search engines or the web hosting provider.
Therefore, website security must be prioritized.
WordPress sites are unfortunately a major target for hackers that will find ways to access your WordPress site via backdoors or poor coding.  The cost to repair any affects caused by hackers or malware can be costly. And for a site’s SEO performance, it can quickly undo months or years of SEO work.
There are some things that you can do to minimize security risks that could affect your WordPress site.
Keep your website theme updated.
Check that the developers of your WordPress theme update the theme regularly. Additionally, always update your site’s theme to the latest version on your WordPress CMS.
Keep your WordPress plugins updated.
Before installing any plugins, check their security reputation and how regularly the plugins are updated. If there are updates for plugins, update them immediately.
Keep your WordPress platform updated.
Always make sure that your WordPress CMS is running on the most updated version of WordPress.
Keep track of your site’s users on WordPress.
Check the administration rights of users in your WordPress console. Remove users that shouldn’t have access to administrative changes on your site.
Use complex passwords
Don’t use “Easy to guess” passwords. Use complex passwords and even usernames to prevent bots and hackers from entering your site.
Check the FTP for any unusual file changes.
Regularly check the FTP of your CMS to see if there are any files being updated without your knowledge. If you see anything unusual, conduct a deeper check. Remove any files that shouldn’t be in there. Or conduct a clean-up to make sure that nothing malicious is in the site’s files.
I hope that you have found this guide useful. I plan to keep on updating this so that creating SEO-friendly WordPress sites becomes easier.
If you have any thoughts or comments that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments section below.
Thank you for reading.
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