General SEO

WordPress SEO Essentials: The Complete Guide

by Tom Buckland Updated On May 16, 2019

What do you want your website to do for your business?

Whatever it is, chances are you need as much site traffic as possible to achieve that goal.

And one of the best ways to drive traffic to your site? Great SEO.

SEO has been shown to be central to online business success. By using effective SEO techniques you can boost the number of visitors to your site, increasing contacts, leads and sales, all of which means more growth for your business, especially when combined with other effective digital marketing techniques.

If you are using WordPress for your site, there are lots of ways to improve your site’s rankings, many of them quick and easy to do.

WordPress SEO Guide

In this guide to WordPress SEO, we look at what you can do to optimise your site through WordPress, including which plugins you should be using to take your onsite SEO through the roof. If you implement even just a few of these techniques you should see better search engine performance. Apply a few more and you are sure to notice a dramatic increase in traffic to your site, expansion of your customer base and great results for your business.

How To Improve WordPress for SEO: Technical WordPress SEO

Site Speed And SEO

Site speed is an important factor for SEO. Google and other search engines take speed into consideration when ranking websites, and a slower site speed can push your site down on SERPs (search engine results pages).

Slow speeds also affect users’ experiences on your site when they get there. Whether your goal is for users to buy a product, sign up for a service, contact you or something else, offering them a seamless user experience is critical in encouraging them to do that, and slow speeds can put a serious dent in their experience.

WordPress SEO optimizationAn important factor for site speed is your host. Having the right host can increase your site speed, and thus drive up your SEO, improve user experience and ultimately see better results for your business. If you are looking at setting up a new website (or considering switching providers), make sure you thoroughly research hosting options. Look for hosts with strong reputations for reliable, fast performance and good technical track record.

Other factors influencing site speed include high volumes of content (particularly videos and animations), complex redirects and browser caching.

Map Your Site To Improve SEO

Sitemaps have been a feature of websites pretty much since the beginning. Their purpose has long moved from helping users navigate around your site, to making it easier for search engine bots to “crawl” your site.

Although sitemaps may not directly improve search engine rankings, they make things easier for search engine bots, by letting them quickly see all your pages and how they are linked to each other.

Wordpress SEO sitemap
Image source:

You want to make it as easy as possible for search engines to crawl your site, as the more of it they check the more likely they are to find things which will put you higher on their results pages. You can add a sitemap in WordPress for better SEO by using plugins such as Google XML Sitemaps or Yoast SEO. See more on WordPress SEO plugins later in this article.

Best WordPress Themes For SEO

The theme you choose in WordPress not only affects the appearance and functionality of your site, it can also impact on SEO. Themes can affect your site’s search engine rankings in different ways, by affecting the site speed, and “clean” code which is more SEO friendly.

WordPress themes can also contain features which you can use to boost your SEO, such as heading tag options. Some WordPress themes have been designed with SEO in mind, so these are good ones to look for.

Http vs Https

Although not the biggest SEO factor, Google slightly favours sites with the secure https (rather than http). This is something you need to set up with your provider – in some cases, the https option is included in hosting plans, but in others, you will need to pay extra for this. This is something we include in our technical SEO audit at the beginning of our SEO campaigns.

Permalink StructureWordPress SEO optimization

When it comes to SEO, the permalink (or page URL) is one of the three biggest factors which affect site rankings, along with SEO title and H1 title.

What you write in your permalinks is important for SEO (more on this in the on-page optimisation section below), however, the structure itself can also have an effect.

In WordPress, you can set up your permalink structure for your whole site in Settings > Permalinks. Here, you can select for a range of automatic permalink formats.

For example, a “Day and name” structure permalink would look like this:

Wordpress SEO Optimization

There is also a “Month and name” version which is similar, without the day:

Wordpress SEO Optimization

A “Plain” format permalink, however, doesn’t have the post title at all:

Wordpress SEO Optimization

The Plain format may look familiar as how we were used to seeing URLs years ago but is probably something you haven’t seen for a while.

It is rarely used by sites these days and it is terrible for SEO, as it contains no information on what your post is about, meaning that search engines cannot use this to rank your site.

The first two are better, but a little cluttered and overwhelming for users. The best option for SEO and users alike is the “Post name” structure:

WordPress SEO Optimization

This is clean, descriptive and contains keywords that Google and other search engines will use to rank your site.

Through our experience working to optimise our clients’ online presence, we have learnt the importance of both “back end” and on-page factors when it comes to SEO. A great SEO strategy should address both categories.

Is WordPress SEO Friendly? On-Page Optimisation

The general consensus is wordpress is the best platform for beginners. Once you have the technical, or “back-end” side of your site optimised for search engines, it is time to think about your content. On-page optimisation is one of our specialities at HQ SEO.

For SEO, it is critical that content contains keywords which search engines can use to determine whether or not your pages are relevant to search terms.

WordPress SEO OptimizationWhen it comes to posting content it is not enough to simply include the keywords somewhere in the article. As search engines have gotten smarter, they know which parts of your post are the most important and will put particular emphasis on keywords in these places.

Therefore it is critical that you include primary keywords in specific elements of your post, most notably the SEO title, H1 title and the permalink/URL. When creating articles and posts in WordPress, here is how to perform on-page optimisation to put your pages at the top of SERPs and bring more traffic to your site.

SEO title

The SEO Title is one of the top three on-page optimisation factors search engines look for when ranking sites, along with the H1 title and URL.

The SEO title, as distinct to the H1 title which we will discuss next, is the title of your article as it appears on search engine results pages. It is also what will appear on the tab at the top of your page on a web browser.

WordPress will automatically create an SEO title based on your H1 title. However in some cases, you may want to improve your SEO title, either with extra keywords or to make it particularly attractive to search engine users and therefore more likely for them to click through to your site. You can do this through WordPress plugins like Yoast SEO (see more on Yoast below).

It is crucial to include one or more primary keywords in the SEO title so that search engine bots know what you post is about and can, therefore, decide if it is relevant to user searches. Of course, in all of these elements, you want to make sure your keywords are relevant to as many user searches as possible to improve search engine rankings and bring the maximum amount of visitors to your site.

WordPress Header Tags: H1 title

The H1, or “Heading 1”, title is the title as it looks at the top of the actual webpage.

SEO optimized WordPress

In WordPress, it is the field at the top of your post:

SEO optimized WordPress

The H1 title should be keyword rich for on page optimisation purposes but beware of over-stuffing your titles with keywords. It is important that the title remains well written, tells the reader what the article is about, and encourages them to read your article when browsing your site or in case they see the article shared on Social Media.

Update Permalink

The permalink or page URL will be automatically be created by WordPress based on your H1 title.

As discussed above, both the content and structure of this title is critical for SEO. It is a good idea to edit the permalink to make it clear, clean and descriptive, as well as making sure it contains primary keywords for SEO purposes.

You can edit the permalink in WordPress as follows:

SEO optimized WordPress

Are WordPress Tags Important For SEO?

When search engines view (or crawl) your site, they have to take in a huge amount of information, depending on how much content you have.

As already mentioned, the search engines already know that the SEO title, H1 title and URL/permalink are important, so they will check these first to see what information they contain. But when they are looking at your article posts, how do they know which are the critical bits out of the 1000, 2000, or more words they are seeing?

To make it easier for search engine bots, and to optimise your site, you want to direct them to the most important information in your articles. You can do this by creating headings throughout the document and formatting them in WordPress. Dividing your content into sub-headings also makes your article easier to read, and presents the information more clearly to the reader.

Generally, an article should be structured like this:

SEO optimized WordPress Tags

Once you have structured the document, use WordPress formatting to tag them as Heading 2, Heading 3, etc, so that search engine bots know they are headings. You can select this in WordPress visual editor using the formatting options:

SEO optimized WordPress

Once you have the search engine’s attention with your H2-H4 headings, optimise what the headings are labelled as by integrating primary and secondary keywords to give your site the best results in the search engines.

Images And Image Tags

Images are also important for SEO, as they are another factor which search engines use to determine whether or not a page or site is relevant to a search. In particular, search engines will check image alt-tags (the alternative descriptive text attached to each image) to determine relevance.

So it is important to make sure your alt-text contains keywords to improve your site’s SEO.

You can enter alt-text when you upload an image in WordPress:

SEO optimized WordPress

Alternatively, you can edit the image once it is already in your article,

SEO optimized WordPress

and add the alt-tag text:

SEO optimized WordPress

Plugins which help improve SEO

WordPress has a range of handy plug-ins: add-on software which you can install to perform a specific function and help you build or manage your site. Within this, there are several WordPress SEO plugins which can be extremely useful in getting your site to the top of SERPs! These plugins range from helping you with a single aspect which can contribute to SEO, to a comprehensive range of SEO-focused features, such as Yoast.

If you want to get really serious about your SEO, there are a range of great technical SEO tools available. However, just within WordPress itself, you can find some handy plugins to help you start your SEO journey.


Yoast is by far the most well-known WordPress SEO plugin and is one of the most popular of all WordPress plugins – for good reason.

Yoast SEO

Yoast delivers comprehensive SEO solutions to help you improve SEO on your posts, without having to dig into any code. The plugin covers a range of elements which impact SEO including SEO titles and title tags and walks you through the process to let you optimize them.

Added bonus: Yoast also has an analysis function which gathers and delivers you data about your site.

Google XML Sitemaps

Best SEO WordPress Plugins

This plugin is specifically targeted at creating a sitemap, which is important for SEO because a good sitemap makes it easier for search engine bots to crawl your site, and thus making it more likely for your pages to be indexed, explored and ranked higher on SERPs.

Google Analytics by MonsterInsights

Setting your site up for success is important, but like any other project it doesn’t end there – you should track, monitor and analyse performance in order to identify opportunities for improvement.

This WordPress plugin allows you to do just that. It will analyse your site around factors relating to SEO and report back to you so that you can make any necessary improvements or adjustments.

W3 Total Cache

Best SEO WordPress Plugins

As discussed above, site speed is critical in SEO, as well as providing a great user experience and ultimately converting site visitors into sales. This WordPress plugin lets you test site speed, and (even better) gives you suggestions on what you can improve to boost it.

Conclusion: Better SEO For WordPress

SEO has been recognised as one of the key elements in a successful digital marketing strategy.

If you are building and managing your site through WordPress, there are a variety of tools, techniques and plugins which you need to be aware of if you are going to truly optimise your site, drive traffic and make your online presence work for your business.

At HQ SEO, we use SEO combined with broader digital marketing strategies to exponentially grow our clients’ organic marketing results and to not only meet but exceed their business goals.

Get in touch for a proposal to see how we can help you to scale your business the way you want.


About Tom

Hi, I'm Tom, Founder & Director of HQ SEO. I live and breathe SEO. I hope you enjoy my findings. Interested in SEO?
Let's Connect.

Get More Clicks & Higher Rankings

Get in touch to see how we've helped rank over 100+ clients worldwide, generating tens of thousands of leads and millions in additional revenue using smart inbound marketing strategies.

Get my free proposal

We Help Our Clients Make More Money

Get my free proposal