Basic WordPress SEO with Yoast

WordPress is developed using search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. A default installation includes features that help search engines gather information about your site’s posts, pages, and categories and include it in their databases. However, there are a few simple things you can do to make your WordPress site even more search engine friendly.

Optimizing URLs

Optimized URLs are made primarily of words that describe the pages’ content. They are human-readable and let readers know what the page is about. For example, http://www.mysite.com/how-to-grow-roses-indoors/ is an optimized URL. The reader, and search engines, knows what the content of the page is based on the URL. http://www.mysite.com/?p=10691 is not an optimized URL. There is no way to guess what this page is about.

Permalinks

The first step in optimizing URLs is to check your permalink format. The default WordPress permalink format is ?p=<postid>, which is not search engine friendly. A better format is either /post-name/ or /category/post-name/.
To change permalinks, go to your WordPress dashboard > Settings > Permalinks. To use the /post-name/ format, select Post name.

To include the category, select Custom Structure and change the value to /%category%/%postname%/.

With WWW or without?

Decide whether you want your site to show up as, www.mysite.com or mysite.com. There is no advantage to using one or the other, but you should be consistent. Go to Settings > General, and make sure that the version you want to show up is displayed in WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL).

For best results, ensure that you set up your site with Google Search Console using the same version of the URL. Log in to Search Console and go to Configure > Site Settings.

Select your preferred domain and click Save.

Stop words

Stop words are short, common words like a, the, and and. Search engines ignore stop words and the Yoast SEO plugin automatically removes them from URLs.

SSL

SSL (secure sockets layer) is an additional layer of security that encrypts data that passes between a web browser and web server. Google ranks HTTPS / SSL sites slightly higher than HTTP / non-SSL sites, so it may be an advantage to use SSL throughout your site. If you’re interested in making this change, see HostPapa Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates Support and Yoast’s tips & tricks for moving to HTTPS for more information.

Optimizing titles

Not only is your page title important for search engine ranking, it is prominently displayed to users in their search results and may be the key factor in determining whether users visit your site. For best results, your page title should contain your keywords near the beginning (search engines put more weight on words that appear early) and be less than 70 characters. A concise, descriptive title is SEO-friendly and will drive traffic to your site.

Using title templates

Yoast SEO plugin helps you generate titles by using title templates, which are found in SEO > Titles & Metas. Default title templates, which you can edit, are included for the homepage, post types, taxonomies (categories, tags, and formats), and archives. For example, the default title template for posts looks like this:

The variables in this template are:

  • %title% – The post title
  • %page% – The current page number
  • %sep% – The title separator character
  • %sitename% – The name of your site

To see the title generated by this template, open a post in the WordPress dashboard and locate the Yoast SEO section below the post content. The Snippet Preview displays what the post will look like in search results. This is the snippet preview for a post called How to create screencasts on your Mac. You can see how the variables in the title template are converted to text. In this example, the page number is not displayed because the post contains only one page.

For more information about variables, click Help center in SEO > Titles & Meta.

Optimizing post and page titles

You can use the Yoast snippet preview to edit titles generated by a template. In the Yoast SEO section below a post or page content, click Edit snippet. The title template is shown in SEO title. You can delete all or part of the template and can add other variables or text.

In this example, we’ve removed the %page% variable and added %sep% Updated!

For search-friendly titles, use the following guidelines:

  • Titles can be any length, but a maximum of 70 characters will be displayed in search results.
  • Include the focus keyword close to the beginning of the title.
  • The title should be engaging and describe the contents of the page.
  • Your brand should be included in the title.

Optimizing descriptions

Meta descriptions are displayed in search results when they contain a keyword entered in the search. Creating an engaging and accurate meta description is one of the most effective things you can do for SEO.

Just as with titles, Yoast SEO plugin allows you to generate meta descriptions by using templates. In SEO > Titles & Metas you can define a meta description template for each type of page and taxonomy on your site. Unlike title templates, default meta description templates are not included in Yoast SEO. While you can use variables and templates for page and post meta descriptions, for best search results, we recommend adding a hand-written, optimized meta description for each page and post.

You can use the Yoast snippet preview to add or edit meta descriptions. In the Yoast SEO section below a post or page content, click Edit snippet.

For search-friendly meta descriptions, use the following guidelines:

  • Include the focus keyword for the post or page.
  • Meta descriptions are ideally 135 – 160 characters.
  • It is an accurate description of the content.

Optimizing images

In addition to the text and meta details on your site, your site’s images can also affect search engine ranking. Use captions, alt tags, and file names that reflect the content of the image and, if possible, contain the focus keyword for the post or page. Consider image file sizes and how they affect site loading times and use responsive images to improve the user experience for visitors on mobile devices.

Using XML sitemaps

You can use XML sitemaps to let search engines know that your site has been updated. The XML sitemap is automatically updated and submitted to Google and Bing whenever you publish new content. To enable the Yoast SEO XML sitemap module and create an XML sitemap for all your posts, pages, and taxonomies, go to SEO > XML Sitemaps. Select Enabled and click Save changes.

Benefits of the Yoast SEO XML sitemaps module include:

  • Instead of generating a large static sitemap file, it generates sitemaps using WordPress rewrites, allowing caching plugins to cache the output.
  • Smaller sitemap pieces allow search engines to retrieve only the updated parts of the sitemap, instead of the entire sitemap when new content is published.
  • Unlike many sitemap plugins, it includes images which improves Google image search ranking.

More information

For more information about Yoast SEO, see:

If you have any questions about installing or setting up Yoast SEO, check these resources for more information:

  • The Help center link on each page in Yoast SEO includes context-sensitive help, tutorial videos, and a link to the Yoast knowledge base.
  • The Yoast SEO plugin website

And you can always contact HostPapa Support with your questions. Details about how to open a support ticket are here.

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