Successful WordPress SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is never as simple as pressing publish on a post, walking away, and waiting for it to rank. In today’s world, your SEO has to be natural and holistic. And it takes an SEO checklist and specific efforts if you hope to find true SEO success with your content.
It’s been this way for a while, and it’s only going to become more important as we move into 2022 and beyond. In this article, we will share the 12 things you need for your SEO content success in 2022.
Is WordPress SEO easy to master? Or does it take years of experience, trial, and error?
For many website owners, getting their site links on the first page of Google search results sounds like an unattainable dream. Others say that there’s no way that it can be done.
But the truth is actually quite different.
It is possible to make your WordPress site stand out from the search engine competition, and we’re here to get you started on what you need to do.
What is WordPress SEO?
SEO is what makes your WordPress site more visible in user search results on Google and other search engines. Doing SEO the right way means that you’ll be able to increase the quality and quantity of your site’s organic traffic. Knowing what is Google analytics can help you make a plan to review your SEO practices.
In order to gain a full understanding of SEO, it’s important to know exactly how SEO for WordPress works.
Google has a process of listing or indexing, the websites that it will show in user search results. But because the list is constantly changing in real-time, it would be impossible for a team of people to maintain the index of websites manually.
As such, Google uses proprietary algorithms and programs called web crawlers to systematically crawl the Internet and run updates on website indexes.
Not only do Google’s crawlers gather information about what information is contained on each website, but they also organize the information accordingly. Because of this, when you conduct a Google search on just about anything, you’ll immediately be presented with millions of possible results.
Google states that their crawlers pay close attention to new websites, dead links, and changes to existing websites. As such, it’s not necessarily required for you to tell Google that your website exists in order for it to show up in user search results.
In fact, the vast majority of websites that you see listed in search results weren’t manually submitted to Google for inclusion. Rather, the sites are found automatically by the crawlers that are always searching for new web content.
But why does this matter to you?
When you understand how the major search engines collect your site data, you can use that information to help your site rank higher in search results.
When you rank higher in user searches, you’ll start seeing an increase in organic traffic from qualified users that are looking for your exact content.
At the same time, if you’re doing SEO the wrong way, the search engines may demerit your site and bury it deep-down in user search results.
Is WordPress Good for SEO?
Now that you have a high-level understanding of SEO, your next question is probably how SEO on WordPress differs from SEO on other platforms.
First of all, SEO on WordPress is very simple to manage.
You’ll want to inspect the current performance and settings of your WordPress site and resolve as many SEO-related issues as possible before you do anything else.
Fortunately, the WordPress platform makes this quite simple if you know what to look for.
An SEO Checklist To Improve How Your Content Performs
2022 will be a year where it’s important to revisit the way we approach SEO. With the number of new optimization points to now consider, it’s no longer effective to keep doing things the way you have in the past.
Because of this, it’s critical that you organize a solid plan for your site SEO that leaves no stone unturned. And this SEO checklist will get you going.
After going through the checklist, you’ll have a powerful plan for your SEO strategy, and will rank much higher in the SERPs moving forward.
1. Check Your Meta Tags
Two of the most basic steps for on-page SEO are checking and optimizing the meta tags you use. This is because it contains one of the most vital ranking factors, which is the title tag.
When you optimize your title tags, ensure that the keyword you’re targeting is present, while also strategically placing it within the engaging copy.
This will help you drive more clicks.
When you optimize your meta tags, you’ll also want to optimize the meta descriptions. Even though these aren’t considered in your overall ranking factor, they’re very important for click-through rates.
Unfortunately, many site owners forget to check the meta robots tag attribute. This can often lead to unwanted critical errors. For example, a “noindex” tag will ruin a page rank because it tells the search engines to avoid showing the page in search results.
To resolve this, use a robots exclusion checker extension that will efficiently check a page’s meta robots attribute without you needing to dig into source code.
2. Resolve Issues With Duplicate Content
Having duplicate content on your website will cause two problems.
First, search engines like Google could flag your duplicate content as spam.
Second, duplicate content can dilute the keywords you use throughout your site.
Keep in mind that duplicate content isn’t specific to the body of an article or other pieces of the published content. In fact, duplicate subheadings or meta tags can also impact your rankings in a bad way.
If it’s not possible to avoid duplicate content in certain situations, such as two different product pages for identical items but they are different sizes, use the canonical tag to help avoid a drop in your rankings.
3. Consider Intent
Search engine intent is the next big thing for 2022. This is why it’s so important to optimize both your new pages as well as existing pages.
Check the list of keywords you’re targeting. Look for ones that aren’t yet on the initial page of search results in spite of your best efforts.
Then, search those keywords on Google. Take a look at who Google is rewarding for using those keywords. This is one of the best ways to help identify what the intent of the keyword is that you’re trying to target.
Once you’re confident that you understand the correct intent of your chosen keyword, go back to the page you’re trying to improve and adjust the content.
Do the top results on Google show images of products? Then you should probably be showing products on your pages, too.
Of course, keywords in your post (and the overall word count) are incredibly important. But if the content you produce doesn’t satisfy a user’s search intent for the keyword, you’ll be consistently outranked by the sites that do.
4. Optimize For Page Experience and Core Web Vitals
Page Experience and Core Web Vitals were SEO factors that were integrated into the 2021 Google algorithm. Because of this, it needs to be on your SEO checklist for 2022 and beyond.
Several metrics make up the Core Web Vitals. They are:
- First input delay
- Cumulative layout shift
- Largest contentful paint
On the other hand, Page Experience consists of the most widely-used SEO factors. Google has grouped them all together under the Page Experience umbrella to help them better understand UX (user experience) on websites.
- Safe browsing
- No interstitials
Core Web Vitals are included in Page Experience and are a huge topic that requires its own guide.
To assess how your WordPress site performs on these SEO factors, there are several different tools that Google provides. A few of these include Google Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights, and the Core Web Vitals extension on Chrome, to name just a few.
5. Update Old Posts and Pages
Augmenting old posts and pages that you published over a year ago is a powerful part of your SEO checklist that will quickly begin boosting traffic. The way to do this is by looking for your posts and pages that were performing well in the past, but have now dropped off.
In most cases, you’ll find that the posts lost their high SERP rankings because they now contain outdated info. And the new posts on other sites that use the same keywords have now outranked you.
This is something that a lot of WordPress site owners overlook because they’re so focused on publishing new content. But using these existing assets can save a lot of time and improve your site SEO.
The process of augmenting your old posts will vary. For example, there will be posts that will need complete overhauls and those that only require a few minor updates. But no matter the case, it’s a great strategy that will bring in more traffic if you take the time to do it.
6. Schema Markups
While structure data still isn’t a SERP ranking factor, don’t underestimate the overall value that it brings to your WordPress site. In fact, when you properly apply schema markups on your site pages, you make them eligible for Rich Results from Google.
And this will definitely boost your click-through rates on Google search results.
Many site owners overlook structure data. This is because it’s not a direct ranking factor. And it does take some time, and often a lot of effort, to apply schema markups. Fortunately, there are several tools that will help you automate the otherwise manual process.
For WordPress users, there are a wealth of different plugins for this purpose. Or, you can use schema generators that are free to use.
Doing this will make creating your schema markups much easier. Even better, you won’t need to have any development knowledge.
7. Use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
When you use AMP on your site, it automatically strips down a page to the bare minimum. Only the header, content, and post images remain.
This process provides your mobile users with the best possible UX because it makes your load times extremely fast.
Many site owners still don’t understand how AMP contributes to SERPs. While Google confirms that using AMP is not an overall SEO ranking factor, they also say that site speed is a factor. And AMP does make your site load much faster.
Installing AMP on your site isn’t too difficult, and won’t require any type of knowledge in web development for WordPress users. All you need to do is install and run the official WordPress AMP plugin, then select the areas of your site that the plugin will create the AMP versions of.
It’s important to know that using AMP doesn’t make sense for every site owner. AMP strips down the design of a page to its bare bones. And the visuals and images you’ve used to help convert users into customers might not show up on an AMP page.
You should also avoid using AMP on product and product category pages if you run an eCommerce site. Instead, put your focus on ensuring that your site is as mobile-friendly as possible without employing AMP
8. Double Check All Internal Links
Internal links are extremely important for your site structure and search rankings. The most important posts and pages on your site should definitely have plenty of internal links that drive to it.
Internal links also help your users properly navigate your site and can help in the process of converting them from users into paying customers.
You’ll also help Google to understand the context of your pages by using anchor text that you use for internal links, much like the process of using anchor text in backlinks.
Another reason to check all of your internal links is that you might be wasting “link juice” by directly linking to the old pages of your site that no longer exist. Or, you may be linking to individual URLs that have redirects.
When you link to URLs with 404 errors, it stops the flow of link juice, and wastes opportunities.
And redirects work to reduce the authority that gets passed on by your links. You’re much better off directly linking to the page where a link currently redirects.
9. Google Search Console Verification
If you’ve yet to verify your site on Google Search Console, this should be near the top of your 2022 SEO checklist.
In fact, getting your site verified on Google Search Console should be one of the first steps you take if you want to appear on Google. And of course, you know you need to.
The process of Google Search Console verification is quite simple. All you need to do is go to the Google Search Console and use your existing Google account to get logged in. Then, follow the steps it provides to verify your site.
And that’s it.
When you’re done, Google will begin crawling your site and indexing it.
10. Submit a Sitemap
After you’ve been set up by Google Search Console, you’ll need to submit XML sitemaps to assist Google in crawling your site. Google prioritizes crawling URLs included in the sitemap, and will more frequently crawl them.
URLs that aren’t in the sitemap will still be crawled, but not with as much priority.
For large sites, it’s best to build several sitemaps to organize URLs more effectively. You should also build an image sitemap to improve your SEO for images.
11. Check for Indexing and Crawling Errors
Gaining access to Google’s Coverage Report is one of the biggest benefits of verifying your WordPress site.
In the Coverage Report, you’ll be alerted to crawling errors that could prevent your pages from getting indexed. You’ll also see the list of URLs that are currently being indexed, URLs that are excluded from SERPs, and URLs with various warnings.
12. Upgrade To GA4
GA4, or Google Analytics 4, is a highly improved version of Analytics. It has more advanced AI tech that will give you smarter (and more) insights into your marketing efforts.
It also gives you the ability to better integrate with Google Ads, while helping you better understand your users’ life cycles.
As we move forward, all new Google Analytics accounts are now automatically GA4. If you’re still using the prior version, you can make the upgrade in your property settings.
It’s highly recommended that you move all analytics accounts to GA4 so you can take advantage of the benefits it provides. While it may take a bit of time to adjust to how the new platform works, there’s no better time than now to adapt to the change and start improving your SEO.
How Do I SEO My WordPress Site?
Your SEO journey starts in the settings of your website. A website launch checklist is a perfect place to start for defining your SEO practices, but be sure to keep coming back and reviewing as the SEO algorithms and focuses may change.
The most important areas to focus on right now are:
If your site is hidden from search engines, you’ll never show up in anyone’s search results.
Within your WordPress dashboard, head to Settings > Reading.
Then, scroll to the bottom of the page to where it says “Search Engine Visibility.” You’ll see a box that says “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.”
Make sure this box is unchecked.
The term “permalink,” as you can probably tell, is derived from “permanent link.” As the name suggests, you should definitely avoid changing your permalink settings on a live website.
The setting should be permanent.
This makes it important to choose the right permalink structure for your site before sending it live.
Within your WordPress dashboard, head to Settings > Permalinks to choose the structure you want to use on your website.
There really isn’t a single “best” permalink structure to choose here when it comes to your site’s SEO. But you’ll want to choose a setting that’s logical for you and your visitors.
Most importantly, the structure you choose should be easy to understand. They should also match the titles of your content.
A popular structure choice for WordPress users interested in SEO is “Post name and structure.”
After you decide on your basic permalink structure, you’ll be able to set custom structures for the category and tag URLs by going into the “Optional” heading.
Performance of Your Website
To improve performance, your first instinct might be to jump into deleting unneeded content or optimizing your site assets.
But before doing that, take a minute to understand how your site is currently performing. By doing this, you’ll have a reference point to check on progress as you go through the process of improving site performance for better SEO.
Before you make any changes to your site, you’ll first want to create a site backup using a WordPress backup plugin. The BackupBuddy plugin is a powerful solution for backing up your website.
The most reliable, easiest way to check the performance of a live website is by using PageSpeed Insights by Google.
If you’ve never used it, it’s time to start.
If your site is currently live, it’s always best to make site changes on a local host server or a staging site. Unfortunately, PageSpeed Insights may not work properly in your staging environment or localhost. To check your speed in a staging area, you can use Lighthouse.
Lighthouse uses the same technology as Google to audit site speed but allows you to do it while your site is offline.
You can also find a ton of information and tools about site-speed optimization in Google’s developer site. We’ll walk through some of their recommendations within the speed optimization section of this guide.
The success of your SEO campaign depends on how well your website works on mobile devices. In today’s world, well over half of all Internet traffic is now initiated from mobile.
When you look for a WordPress theme to use on your site, no doubt you’ll notice that almost every one of them claims to be mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive.
However, theme developer claims don’t always reflect reality.
To make sure the theme you’re using works well on all mobile devices, you can use this simple tool from Google.
Accelerated Mobile Page
Accelerated Mobile Page, or AMP, is an open-source system that Google developed to allow users to have a faster and better experience while using a mobile browser.
With so many millions of users on mobile devices, it’s never been more important to optimize your mobile site speed.
Setting up AMP for your WordPress site will help you:
- Increase user engagement and conversions
- Increase organic website traffic
- Reduce server load
After setting up AMP, your site’s content will be featured in Google mobile search results within the AMP carousel.
Customize Search Appearance (Let Search Engines Know Your Site Exists)
The first thing to do here is to establish if your site is already indexed by Google, Yahoo!, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines.
To find this out, all you need to do is type your exact domain name into a search bar (not the URL bar). If the search results show listings for your site, you’re already indexed and on their list.
If nothing shows up when you perform this search, you’ll need to submit your WordPress site to the search engine for indexing. To find the right area to submit your site, search for “Google webmaster tools” or “Bing webmaster tools” and you’ll be directed to where you need to go.
For most WordPress site owners, there are certain pages that they don’t want to be indexed on the search engines. That’s where the noindex function comes into play.
Using noindex, you can instruct search engines to leave out specific pages or posts from search results. This is best done in HTML or in an HTTP header by using noindex in a robot’s meta tag.
Some WordPress developers mistakenly use a Robots.txt file to accomplish this goal. However, that isn’t necessarily the best approach.
When you use a Robots.txt file, you’re attempting to tell search engines whether they’ll be able to access certain areas of your site. So why wouldn’t you use this to keep posts and pages out of search results?
Without a noindex directive, a page could still be indexed without search engine crawlers ever visiting it. Typically, this happens when other pages point to that specific page with descriptive text.
Because of this, you’re much better off using a Robots.txt file for what it was intended for; limiting and managing search engine crawler requests to your WordPress site.
Unless you’re a coding expert, it’s highly recommended that you use a quality plugin for noindex and Robots.txt functions.
Remove Low-Quality Content
Take some time to remove all low-quality content from your WordPress site.
Low-quality content is any post or page on your site that doesn’t add value to the user. It can be broken pages, empty pages, or pages that are no longer contextually relevant.
Duplicate pages are also low-quality content and do a lot of damage to your SEO efforts.
In general, low-quality content will only harm your site SEO. Make sure to remove it all and stay on top of it as you move forward.
Optimize Your WordPress Site for Better SEO
By improving your site content, images, hierarchy, and speed, you’ll give a much better user experience (UX). When UX improves, site traffic will improve along with it.
And when your site traffic goes up, search engines take notice and boost you in their search results.
Content is king, as the old adage goes. After all, even if your site loads in less than a second, if it’s loading poor or incomplete content, you won’t keep users around for long.
Because of this, the most important aspect of your site to optimize is the content itself.
The best way to do this is to put yourself inside the head of your target reader. With each piece of content that you create, consider what your users expect or want to hear from you.
Then deliver on it.
For example, if your site already features a dozen articles about your vacation in Spain, are your readers going to be interested in even more content on that subject?
For the best SEO, make sure every content piece on your site is unique, easy for users to read, and comprehensive enough to exceed your audience’s expectations.
Search engines will favor content that:
- Uses unique and distinctive titles
- Uses short paragraphs and titles, making it simple to read
- Has more than 300 words
- Links to other pieces of valuable content
Remember to take all of these factors into consideration when optimizing your content for SEO.
How To Optimize a Blog Post
Blog posts are some of the most important pieces of content that get traffic to your WordPress site.
To optimize blog posts, it’s important to understand how to focus keywords work.
A keyphrase, or focus keyword, is a search term that you want a specific post or page to rank for. Your focus keyword usage allows search engines to evaluate the content it chooses to display in search results.
Before beginning a new blog post, choose a focus keyword that users routinely search for, such as “WordPress installation.” Then, use that exact term in your blog posts:
- First paragraph
- One or two headers
- A few more times naturally in the flow of the post
Be careful not to over-use the focus keyword. Google and other search engines will penalize your site in search engine results if you over-stuff your content with focus keywords.
When it’s time to add new content, it’s a good idea to know what people are searching for in the search engines.
Researching and understanding these keywords is a powerful way to improve SEO.
Through user data that gets collected by the search engines, you can find out which keywords to focus on when writing articles, building product pages or writing about your services.
SEMRush is a powerful tool for WordPress that can help you find the best keywords to use.
Length of Blog Posts
There aren’t any specific rules for how long a blog post should be for SEO. But the latest trends show that the best word count is at least 1,760 words.
If you want to be safe, shoot for at least 2,000-word blog posts.
You also want to be careful about how many words you use on your homepage. Typically you don’t want more than 900 words there.
Search engines give major priority to sites that use a secure protocol. Because of this, you’ll want to have your site secured with HTTPS using a free or paid SSL certificate.
Insecure HTTP sites are quickly becoming a dying breed and for good reason.
To www or Not To www?
For the purposes of ranking your site, search engine crawlers don’t take into account whether the URL uses www. However, like most things in the world of WordPress SEO, you want to stay consistent.
This is especially true for the issue of using www in your URL because Google actually would consider www.yourcoolsite.com and yourcoolsite.com to be completely different websites.
As such, once you choose the format you’re using, you’ll need to stick with it.
Remember that using non-www links from your website will make the links shorter and better for user sharing on social media.
What About Breadcrumbs?
Adding breadcrumbs to your WordPress site is one of the easiest things you can do to improve SEO.
If you’re not familiar with breadcrumbs, they’re a secondary navigation system that shows a user their current location on your site, relative to the homepage.
Search engines highly recommend using breadcrumb navigation trains wherever possible. It allows their crawlers to get a better understanding of the role each piece of content plays within the scheme of your site.
But aside from being crawler-friendly, breadcrumbs help your users quickly find the exact content they’re looking for.
The proper use of breadcrumbs on your WordPress site is a classic win-win.
Standard image optimization is all about compression, resizing and lazy loading. However, when talking about SEO, optimizing images also involves providing in-context information about each image.
This helps search engines understand what your images are all about.
Optimizing images for SEO includes improving:
- Image file names
- Alt text
You’ll probably need to spend some time improving these factors on each individual image on your site.
When optimizing images for SEO, use the same focus keywords that you used when writing the content.
The idea of trying to improve your site speed may intimidate you. But there are a few simple actions you can take that can massively boost your site speed within a few minutes.
First, choose a fast WordPress theme that uses best coding practices. Although nearly every theme will claim to run lightning-fast, don’t take their word for it.
Before settling on the theme you’re going to use, test out several others to see which ones run the fastest.
You’ll also want to stay on top of all updates for:
- WordPress core
Additionally, make sure to delete any themes or plugins that aren’t in use.
Because WordPress runs on PHP, it’s important to ensure that you carefully select the PHP version you’re using with WordPress.
You can also help improve site speed by carrying out WordPress database optimization to delete orphaned data.
These are the very basics of improving site speed. But they are proven best practices that will make a major difference in how fast your site runs.
And sites that run fast will rank better on Google while providing a much better user experience.
More goes into successful SEO content than keywords. The right keywords presented in the right way are essential components for SEO success. It’s why you need and SEO checklist to help you stay on track.
WordPress Comments Sections
Your site’s comments section helps show you how much engagement is happening with your content. However, often these user comments are from spam sources.
Akismet, which is one of the two pre-installed plugins in WordPress core, helps you monitor and get rid of the spam in your comments.
If your articles have a lot of comments, congratulations! You’re definitely doing something right. On the downside, however, a lot of comments can be bad for SEO.
Often, an article with hundreds of comments will take much longer to load. This negatively impacts the SEO of your site.
To resolve this problem, simply split your comments sections into pages to avoid excess site load times.
Copied, or duplicate, content is an exact copy of content that’s already posted on a different site.
Posting duplicate content will severely hurt your SEO score in calculations done by search engines. Always make sure to run your content through a service like Copyscape to ensure there are no issues with duplicate content.
Focus On Mobile-Friendly Site Designs
The first thing we’d normally do in this section starts flooding it with statistics about mobile use, the percentage of mobile searches, or how the world has gone increasingly mobile.
And while those are definitely valid points, the fact is that mobile is growing so fast that the statistics would be out-of-date in a week.
But here’s one important statistic that can’t be ignored:
A whopping 75% of mobile searches happen in a user’s home or office, where desktop computers are often also available to use.
Suffice it to say, people prefer mobile. So of course they’re going to pull up quick search results by reaching for their mobile device.
This is exactly why SEO needs to begin by being friendly to mobile devices.
SEO Mistakes and Best Practices
It would require a long WordPress training course to walk through all of the dos and don’ts of SEO best practices. But there are some relatively simple and beneficial ways to stay on the good side of the web crawlers that may be crawling your site right now.
1. Stay on top of your current SEO score. An abrupt hit in your score could indicate that a penalty is coming soon. And it’s probably something you can quickly correct.
2. Use Schema markup for rich results.
3. Use image sitemaps.
SEO mistakes to avoid:
1. Avoid paying for site traffic. You’ll see a lot of different services that claim to send genuine traffic to your site. Many of these services send bots that will adversely impact your SEO.
2. Try not to link to, or be linked from, sites with poor SEO. Beware of services that claim to give you a boost in “SEO juice” through backlinks from high domain authority (DA) sites. For the most part, these should always be avoided because the actual links will be coming from low DA sites, thus having a negative impact on your SEO.
3. Make sure you don’t have any 404 errors on your site. If you do, get them redirected using simple 301 redirects. As with almost anything else on WordPress, there’s a plugin for that.
SEO Plugins For WordPress
For your WordPress site to communicate best with search engines, a good amount of code is needed. For this, you can either hire a professional to create the code for you or use a WordPress plugin for SEO.
As with other types of plugins, you’ll see a lot of different options for SEO plugins. The most popular plugin to start with is called Yoast.
This is the preferred WordPress plugin for most developers who manage multiple WordPress sites and want an SEO solution that is easy and effective.
The plugin is very simple to use and has all the tools you’ll need to bring your site’s content to the highest possible SEO score while improving overall readability.
Rankmath is another plugin that focuses on-site SEO. One of the main highlights of using Rankmath is that you’ll be able to identify poor keyword use that crawlers are using to rank your page.
Once you identify what specific keywords are ranking for your content, you’ll be able to make quick improvements.
Rankmath is a 100% free plugin that has all the features you’ll need for SEO optimization.
For Yoast SEO, you’ll need to pay for a premium version to unlock certain key features. But it could well be worth the small investment.
Additional Plugins for Improved SEO
Some additional plugins you’ll want to look into for better SEO include:
Running a WordPress security plugin like iThemes Security will ensure that your site is free from any malicious attacks or security threats that could damage SEO.
The plugin will also scan your site and identify any issues that require your attention. It’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to fix the problem.
Image compression is a process of saving images in the smallest possible file size, without degrading the quality of the image.
EWWW Image Optimizer works to ensure that images you upload to your site won’t impact or slow down your overall site speed.
Wrapping Up – Perfecting SEO for WordPress Will Take Time
You aren’t going to perfect your SEO practices overnight. But like anything else that’s difficult, mastering SEO comes with major rewards.
Imagine having your content land on the first page of Google search results! That reward alone will continue to reward you for every single passing minute.
Remember that they didn’t build Rome in one day. For now, focus on avoiding bad SEO practices, while learning and perfecting the best practices that we’ve uncovered throughout this guide.
Each week, the team at iThemes team publishes new WordPress tutorials and resources, including the Weekly WordPress Vulnerability Report. Since 2008, iThemes has been dedicated to helping you build, maintain, and secure WordPress sites for yourself or for clients. Our mission? Make People’s Lives Awesome.