Boosting Your WordPress SEO

Boosting your WordPress SEO

SEO has become a vital part of any digital strategy used by marketers to increase organic traffic to websites. With the growing popularity of content management systems (CMS), efforts have been made to adapt these tools so they can provide easier management of all the technical aspects surrounding optimization.

If you have a WordPress website, you know how important it is to optimize it for search engines. Regardless of how beautiful your website is, or how fast it loads, it becomes inconsequential if it fails to attract potential customers. Leveraging WordPress and its multiple features and plugins will help boost your website so it has a better chance of appearing on the first page of search results, generating constant traffic to your website, and making this is one of the best long-term investments in terms of marketing.

Here are some tips that can help your website obtain better organic search engine rankings.

1. Check your URLs

Google prefers URLs that are easy to read and user friendly.

For example, an address that follows the more common “/friendly-url/” format is much more attractive than a more complex alternative such as "/999/15/1/id123?var", so be aware of the permalinks for your pages and try to keep them self-explanatory.

To change this parameter, go to Settings → Permalinks and select Post name:

2. WWW or non-WWW

This is a very common question for both new sites and site redesigns and the basic answer is quite simple: though the decision will have an impact on technical issues such as how cookies are managed, there is no SEO benefit to using one version or another.

In general terms, www was more common in the past, so many sites continue to use it due to its familiarity. Therefore, unless there is a technical reason to use the naked version of the domain, it is recommended that you use the www version to avoid any future problems with cookies.

Either way, be sure to standardize access using one of the versions through redirection. To do so, go to Settings → General, and enter the URL of your site the way you want it to load:

3. Install a SEO plugin

Although WordPress already benefits from an efficient native structure for SEO, a specific plugin for this very purpose will make everything much easier. While there are many plugins that can potentially help with SEO, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on Yoast SEO, which is one of the most popular and effective SEO tools for WordPress, and is essentially a de facto standard.

Yoast SEO has several features that will help your pages rank, ranging from content readability to a handy “stop light” indicator for confirming keyword use. The Yoast plugin will auto-generate XML sitemaps (very helpful guidance for Google and other index crawlers), add social and schema markup that helps clarify the purpose of your content, enable breadcrumbs and even give you real-time feedback on how to further optimize the post for search engines.

The steps below demonstrate how to quickly install Yoast SEO:

Step 1:

Navigate to Dashboard → Plugins → Add new.

Step 2:

Write “Yoast” in the search box and click the Install Now button.

The plugin will automatically be downloaded and installed within a few seconds. All you have to do is click on Activate.

4. Build out a list of target keywords

If SEO is a priority, you want to elaborate a list of keywords and phrases that describe your products and services. These are the phrases users are most likely to search for, so ranking for them will increase the likelihood that they will be attracted to your website.

These terms should be relevant and as specific as you can make them, rather than broad terms that would be nearly impossible to rank for. Three- and four-word phrases (often referred to as “long-tail” keywords) will be more focused and likely more representative of search intent.  Increasingly, these may take the form of questions. You can use free tools like UberSuggest as well as paid tools like SEMrush, Moz or Ahrefs to research keyword candidates and get ideas for variations, along with search volume and ranking difficulty, both of which should be considerations. Ideally, your search terms should have a reasonable monthly search volume and low-to-moderate competition.

Google Trends can be a very valuable tool at this point. It can provide you with an overall idea of the search volume for  certain terms, assuming they have sufficient search volume (it’s less helpful for niche keywords and phrases). It can show you at a glance which searches are trending higher or lower, and which search variations or more popular. Search for issues your audience possibly has, and use the insights  to inform your keyword strategy and build out your list.

As a reality check, run searches in Google and Bing for your target keywords and see what comes up on the first three pages of results. Does your site? Competitors? Big media or government sites that will likely be hard to outrank? Do the results look on-topic for your content?

This keyword list is not one-and-done, but rather a starting point. As you continue to develop content, you will research new keywords and add them to the list. Why go through this exercise? So when you are writing content, you are clear on which keywords represent the best opportunity.

5. Focus on what really matters

Keep your master keyword list close at hand as you develop pages and posts for your site. Think of the most important keyword/phrase in your post, the one that is both most relevant and represents your best opportunity for traffic. You will add it as your Yoast focus keyphrase. The plugin will automatically evaluate all the content of the post and provide you with a feedback of its quality based on the main keyword (Focus keyphrase).

6. Add Tags to your Posts

WordPress is ready – straight out of the box – to welcome search engines. The tags' features are one of those easy-to-use SEO features that you should take advantage of.

Tags are basically keywords used for smoother navigation, listing identifying characteristics or topics for every page. These sort of labels are meant to be short words or expressions. Search engines pay attention to them, which in turn has an impact on the overall rank for the pages.

7. Title Tags

The title tag is the first information a user will see in the search results before accessing your page. For this reason, it is one of the most influential SEO ranking factors. When choosing the ideal title tag, you must keep in mind that both Google and users will be reading that sentence, so even if there is a good ranking, a poorly written title can lead to a low click-through rate (CTR).

It is recommended that you add your focus keyword at the beginning of the title tag whenever possible, as this plays a role in the assessment search engines carry out to determine rank.

The title tag can be easily configured using Yoast SEO. Keep in mind that there is a character display limit on 65-character Google searches, so try adapting your title within this range. It’s worth mentioning that this limitation is currently done per pixel, but the measurement per character continues being very close to the real limit.

8. Meta Description

The meta description displays below the title in organic results. It should succinctly and accurately describe the content that will be found on the page, and pique the interest of users, inviting more click-throughs. By incorporating the focus keyphrase, it reinforces to the searcher that your page is indeed on target for the search intent, which in turn can positively impact click through rate (CTR). And since a higher CTR does contribute to your page’s ranking, you could say that the meta description indirectly contributes to that.

The available size of visibility for the meta description is based on pixels, which works out to just under 160 characters for desktop. But since the mobile limit is 130 characters, it’s best to focus as much content as possible to attract users within this limitation, as anything beyond that is likely to be truncated. Also remember to add the focus keyword in the meta description.

It’s worth noting that, depending on the search, Google may or may not use the provided meta description, instead constructing a description from relevant copy found in the page. But nonetheless, it makes sense to provide a well-crafted meta description for each page.

9. Header Tags

Header tags are also prime resources for improving the SEO of your site. The H1 header tag visibly represents the main topic of your page, while H2-H6 are used for sub-headers.

Almost all updated and properly coded themes automatically identify the title of the post as H1, so you only need to create section headings. Google and other search engines assign more weight to the header tags (H1 in particular) than they do to routine body copy, so whenever possible, incorporate focus keywords into the H1 and/or other header tags.

10. The First Paragraph

The structure of your first paragraph should contain everything that your post is about. This introduction is where the reader will make the decision to continue reading or search for the information elsewhere. As for search engines, they do process the information differently, evaluating words that are relevant to certain searches. So, make sure to place that focus keyword in there. And because the search engines crawl through the page like humans do, from top to bottom, search  algorithms will give priority to content closer to the top.

11. Long Posts at Longer Intervals, or Short Posts Frequently?

Research by SEO expert Brian Dean of Backlinko determined that the average first page result contains just under 2,000 words.  This notwithstanding, the most important aspect will always be the quality of the content, because that’s what gets clicks and backlinks.

Source: Backlinko


Your overall content strategy plays an important role in this decision. Your choice of how often you wish to publish content, and the size for that piece of content, will no doubt depend on the topics you cover and your audience’s interest level. A blog offering that quick takes on news and politics, might prefer short, frequent posts; one that discusses wine tasting and features in-depth reviews might choose longer, detailed posts, spread out over time.

In terms of SEO, the impact will come based on how astutely the keywords are used, and how effective the strategy is at attracting and keeping user interest. But based on the research in general, longer, meatier posts will tend to rank better than shorter, more superficial posts.

12. Use ALT Text for Images

For each image you use in your post, you must add the alt tag to better rank them for searches. This is a great place to post relevant keywords.

Google has a search function for images that works in much the same way as searching for web pages with keywords and relevance. When you add alt tags, Google can search and record your images when someone searches for images.

13. Image File Names

Even the smallest details matter. The name of the image files are important to Google, who will always read them and make ranking decisions based on this factor. So, instead of uploading an image with the name 1815200.png to the server, rename it to image-file-names.png (always using hyphens as a space for better understanding by Google). Try also to use the focus keyword in one of the post images, if possible.

14. Use of SSL

Google views SSL as a security priority and therefore has begun to point out that https is a ranking factor. Because many websites do not yet use this, you can take advantage of that and migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS.

For this we recommend using the Really Simple SSL plugin, which will force the use of HTTPS and correct mixed content.

Step 1:

Navigate to Dashboard → Plugins → Add new.

Step 2:

Write “really simple ssl” in the search box and click the Install Now button.

Step 3:

The plugin will automatically be downloaded and installed within a few seconds. All you have to do is click on Activate.

15. Block Spam Reactions

When people leave comments on your blog, this counts as content for Google. Keeping a close watch on the quality of discussions and the type is crucial. Spam – especially the kind unrelated to the subject matter in the page – will impact SEO. Blocking spam on your blog will indeed improve your SEO - and make your readers happier.

16. Internal Linking

An easy way to get more traffic is to add internal links to your blog posts.

For example, if you have an article about overcoming your resistance to writing blogs, you can post links to "Other related articles you can use" at the bottom of this article: 4 Content marketing trends for owners company in 2019 and other related items.

17. Sitemaps

Sitemaps are used by search engines like Google, Bing, and Yandex to identify the hierarchy and structure of your WordPress site while ensuring better exploration. The Yoast SEO plugin has the ability to generate your sitemap file for you automatically. To do so, follow the steps below:

Step 1:

Go to Yoast SEO → General → Features.

Step 2:

Click the question mark for the XML Sitemap. After that, just click in the See the XML sitemap to view how it is structured.

Conclusion

WordPress SEO might seem like an instructional procedure, it is very important to implement it. If you want to cut ahead of the competition, you need to get it right.

As long as you follow the above recommendations, you are well on your way to having a blog that search engines like to pay attention to.

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Drupal vs Wordpress: Unbiased Review of The Best CMS in 2019

Drupal 8 vs WordPress

We love both Drupal and WordPress here at O8 – we work with them about half-and-half on a daily basis across many industries, which gives us tons of great insight into the advantages and pitfalls of both platforms.

We often help people choose between the two platforms, because there really is a right tool for the right job in many instances. We've done everything from big projects for The Juilliard School, Estée Lauder, Cornell University, and many others, to small projects for local startups and nonprofits. So, let's go through some of the instances where each platform excels, based on our deep knowledge and experience.

 

When Drupal Makes Sense: Complex Work Environments or Project Needs

Often for higher education, government, or the enterprise

Both higher ed and government tend to have a bias towards Drupal, as does the enterprise. Drupal historically wins out in government, hands down -- see this huge list of sites and countries across the world using Drupal. Drupal tends to be great for more complex projects. What's a complex project? Here are some examples:

  • You have a large authenticated user base that needs to log into the site and perform complex tasks, such as creating user generated content in forums or user communities.
  • You have complex content needs, i.e. content beyond your garden variety of blog posts, news articles, standard site pages, landing pages, a staff directory, etc. For example, a course catalog, content that comes from microservices or REST,  multiple levels of permission on content for different user roles,
  • Complex integrations are a must, such as integrating with other web services, microservices, an iPhone app, or other complexities. Drupal is generally better-suited and easier for developers. 
  • Configuration management. This is important and doesn't receive as much attention from non-developers as it deserves. If you want to be able to reliably make changes to your live website using version control, Drupal 8's configuration management system is a huge time saver and reduces errors by developers. If you can't have errors popping up on your site after you push a new feature or bug fix, or are generally averse to downtime, Drupal offers a much more professional, enterprise-ready way to push configuration changes. As your site grows more complex, this becomes more and more of a big deal.
  • You have strict security requirements. Drupal is generally better at security, but WordPress can come up to its level with the proper steps and time investment: 
    • Drupal can handle PCI compliance requirements such as database encryption or other complex security situations a bit better.
    • WordPress is so popular now, since it tends to dominate in the personal and small business arena, that the Microsoft vs Apple security phenomenon has emerged: WordPress tends to get hacked more because there are more WordPress sites on the internet, just like Microsoft PCs tend to get hacked more because there are still more PCs than Macs. Also, there are simply more plugins for the WordPress security team to keep up with, which may make it more difficult to identify vulnerabilities.
    • Often, however, WordPress can just as secure as Drupal if you take the appropriate steps and measures, including plugins and practices for prevention, detection, auditing, and security insights. It may take a bit more work, but security can be achieved. Work with a knowledgeable vendor to ensure these measures are taken. The Drupal and WordPress security teams have actually worked together on some vulnerabilities that affect both platforms.
  • You are building a web application. Drupal is better suited for web applications, as opposed to web sites, that need to do complex things, handle complex logic and integrations, sometimes involving a decoupled user interface.

Since it is generally more complex, Drupal is easier to screw up if the programmer or agency you hire doesn't know what they're doing. Larger projects and thus larger budgets tend to benefit Drupal sometimes gets knocked for "usability issues", but they are often easily solved by implementing the website in a way that addresses those issues – Drupal is more of a blank slate, but it's easy to paint well on that slate if you know what you're doing.

However, in higher ed and the enterprise, WordPress can actually be preferable for less-complex needs. WordPress may suffer from a "perception problem" in some of these industries, because it can work for relatively simple needs such as The White House (whitehouse.gov), which has been greatly simplified since the last administration and now serves as more of a (fake) news and propaganda site than a repository of complex content. There are a few examples of other countries and municipalities using WordPress for the more story-, informational-, and news- based content types that it excels at. In higher ed, we have seen a university use Drupal for its main web presence, but WordPress for student orgs and other smaller initiatives, due to its ease of use, simplicity, and possibly less time to train. We've also seen community colleges and smaller institutions use WordPress entirely, often in combination with other systems.

[Web development can be tricky, but not if you understand the basics of building a website. Check out our overview here.]

When WordPress Makes Sense: Everything Else

Often for small-to-medium businesses, publications, eCommerce stores, startups, or nonprofits

WordPress tends to fit these categories quite well. People love its ease of use, it generally has a great reputation among marketers and less-technical developers, and more people tend to have experience with it than Drupal. Here are some examples of situations where WordPress excels:

  • eCommerce. It integrates extremely well with the beautiful, simple-yet-powerful ecommerce solution WooCommerce. Drupal has a decent integration with Shopify, which is a pretty great platform, too, but we think Woo is the way to go if you are a SMB and the rest of your website doesn't necessitate Drupal for any of the reasons described above.
  • Usability and flexibility. It can empower site owners to Just Get Things Done without contacting their web team, if their web team allows proper permissions to do so. Initially this can translate to Just Break Things, but if you have the right agency partner to support you, this hurdle can be worth it, and you'll be Just Getting Things Done in no time. 
  • Lower cost due to starter themes (with caveats). WordPress has a much larger base of starter themes, which give you a visual and functional outline of a website without having to hire a team to design and build your website from scratch.
    • Just like anything that sounds this good to be true, there are caveats and frequent issues with starting from something that someone else built for somebody who is not you.
    • Pushing a theme beyond its intended use can happen often, and you often don't find out its limits until you are well into the project.
    • We have found severe security vulnerabilities in a plugin that a theme used just before launch, making the entire site unlaunchable, because the theme was written with that plugin. We've seen themes that have had to be endlessly tweaked by us and client stakeholders in order to make it fit their vision.
    • Instead of doing a proper wireframing, user experience, and design process, we are left tweaking and tweaking in a very inefficient, iterative manner. That can be "good enough" if your budget is low, but sometimes the temptation to use a lower-cost starter theme rather than doing a custom website design and build can actually cost more and do more harm than good for your website in the long run. 
  • Plugins for everything. Both Drupal and WordPress have a great many community-supported plugins (Drupal calls them "modules"), but WordPress really wins in terms of availability and variety of plugins for the current version of WordPress. 

 

Making a Choice

What it comes down to is this: Drupal is a truer "framework" in that it is a highly extensible, very powerful blank slate. WordPress makes more assumptions, gives you more niceties out of the box, but those niceties can come at a cost of extensibility, or the ability of the website to handle more complex business cases. In the end, though, pick the one you like best, and find an experienced, technical partner who can make the website work hard for your objectives, be it leads, eCommerce transactions, higher ed enrollments, market exposure, or what have you –– a beautiful website that doesn't do anything is just a lifeless brochure in digital space.

We can't overestimate the importance of technical expertise and experience in implementing anything but the most simple website. This quote came to us a few days ago from a prospective client at the University of Minnesota, who has worked in web development environments for a good part of her life:

“If you start out on the wrong foot, you can be in for years and years of pain.”

This quote applies equally to digital marketing acumen -- a new site redesign can tank your SEO, or, without the proper digital marketing strategy, do long-term damage to your business. These issues are all greater and more important than the actual platform that you choose.

 

Contact Us to Help You Make The Right Choice: WordPress or Drupal

 

Similarities | Where Both Platforms Excel

Both platforms contend well with other "as a service" platforms when running on hosted environments such as Pantheon. A major asset of both is that they have vibrant and enthusiastic open source communities, although Drupal’s is arguably more organized worldwide. One thing that is certain though is that both of these CMS platforms have had dramatic growth, and they each improve with every new version. WordPress is making strides in its "block" layout configuration abilities with the new Gutenberg project, which Drupal has had for years, and Drupal has made significant strides in 2018 in its usability for content editors, which WordPress has had for years. 


(Source: DrupalCon 2018 keynote)

WordPress Gutenberg "block" layout

wordpress-gutenberg-blocks.png(Source: Wordpress.org)

There are a lot of similarities, where both platforms excel. You can unquestionably create amazing sites on both platforms. Here are some things that both platforms have in common and do well:

  • Supports high traffic; speedy websites. Can support very high volumes of traffic, and run websites with vast amounts of content. 
  • Security. Can be just as secure or more so than other proprietary platforms.
  • No vendor lock-in. Both Drupal and WordPress have a huge community of developers and companies worldwide who can help if your current vendor is not satisfying your needs.
  • SEO. Very SEO (Search Engine Optimization) friendly from its core installation. With the right modules and configuration it can dramatically simplify SEO tasks for an organization.
  • Lower cost of implementation. A multitude of out-of-the-box plugins or modules to add instant features and functionality. This is reassuring and speeds up development of your site and lowers costs, since functionality does not need to be "custom coded" or re-built. 
  • Community. A diverse and invested community that is global with a growing number of conferences, camps and local user groups. 
  • Self-managing website. Both platforms are meant to be managed by you. You create the compelling content, follow an SEO strategy, tack on a CRM, and your business, organization, or institution will flourish.
  • Mobile-friendly. Editing and publishing content is easy on your mobile phone, and the platforms are built out of the box to be ready for mobile devices.
  • Much much more! Contact us to walk you through the advantages.

Both CMS platforms are highly evolved and are good bets if you want to future-proof your decision from a technology standpoint.

Future-proofing your investment: 2019 and Beyond

Both platforms offer relatively smooth upgrade paths between major versions. 

Drupal 9 will be released in 2020, and it will be an easy, seamless, fairly insignificant upgrade from Drupal 8. So, if you are on Drupal 8, you don't need to worry about any investments to get you on the next version. 

Drupal 7 will be officially supported until November 2021, but there will be plenty of long-term support partners to help you out if you choose to stay on this platform, even more than Drupal 6

At the time of this writing, WordPress' roadmap includes: 

  • Strongly focused on the second phase of Gutenberg, which involves some restructuring of things like menus and widgets into blocks.
  • Merge the site health check plugin into Core.
  • Provide a way for people to opt-in to automatic plugin and theme updates, as well as automatic updates of major Core releases.
  • Create a WordPress.org directory for discovering blocks, and a way to easily install them.

In 2019, both CMS platforms are a good choice, but the best choice comes down to choosing the right tool for the job at hand.

To make an informed choice you have to do a lot of work in the planning and discovery stages where you lay out what your website needs to do, who will be running it, how complex it will be, who your best vendor is and what platform they are most skilled at, and anticipate what your future needs will be. We often help clients with this tricky requirements-gathering and planning stage.

Still not sure which one's right for you?

Contact us to discuss options! No sales reps here – just technical experts who can help you decide and evaluate your business KPIs and criteria.

 

 

 

 

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Seth

In no particular order... Seth has built websites for famous artists like Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey, led a team as CTO at a social network startup company, presented at Stanford and the International Society for Neuronal Regulation Conference on an EEG study in consciousness, travelled to Tokyo for data center network security assessments, worked on world-class e-commerce software as a software engineer, and provided Drupal expertise for Estee Lauder and their many international brands.

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