Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has become a fundamental aspect of building and managing a successful online presence. As the industry has grown, the strategies and tools have become more complicated. These days, if you are a beginner, understanding SEO and implementing it effectively can seem daunting. However, it is important to remember that as the industry has grown, so have the tools and there are now better chances for someone just starting out to rank on top of search results than before. With the right guidance and tools, you can quickly learn the basics and start reaping the benefits of SEO for your business.
In this beginner’s guide to SEO for WordPress, we will cover the following topics so you can ease into the process without feeling out of depth:
- History of SEO
- The growth of SEO
- Google’s best practices and guidelines for websites
- Important elements to consider for your website
- Free tools to use for SEO
- WordPress SEO plugins
Let’s dive in!
Section 1: History of SEO
SEO first emerged in the mid-1990s when the Internet started to gain traction as a platform for information sharing and communication. In those early days, search engines were rudimentary, primarily relying on basic algorithms to index and rank web pages. In contrast to today’s sophisticated search algorithms, early search engines like Yahoo, Altavista and Excite used simple keyword-based matching to rank web pages.
Traditional marketing techniques like print and broadcast advertising were still dominant during this time. However, businesses soon began to realise the potential of having a strong online presence. As search engines became increasingly important for driving traffic to websites, businesses started to experiment with ways to improve their visibility and rankings in search results. This marked the beginning of SEO as a discipline.
The first instances of SEO were quite different from the strategies and SEO best practices followed today. In the early days, the focus was primarily on keyword stuffing, a technique involving the repeated use of targeted keywords on a web page to manipulate search engine rankings. This approach capitalised on the basic algorithms that search engines used at the time, which prioritised pages containing a high density of relevant keywords.
Businesses that operated websites in the early years and became big players in the online world often employed aggressive SEO tactics like keyword stuffing and other manipulative techniques. These early adopters recognised the importance of search optimisation and used it to their advantage, often at the expense of delivering valuable content to users. This led to a proliferation of low-quality websites ranking highly in search results, undermining the user experience and the overall value of search engines.
Another common SEO tactic in the early days was the use of inbound links, also known as backlinks. Inbound links are hyperlinks from one website to another, which search engines used to determine the popularity and relevance of a web page. The logic was simple: the more inbound links a page had, the more valuable and relevant it was deemed to be. Early SEO practitioners exploited this by building vast networks of low-quality websites linking to their main site, artificially inflating their perceived importance and boosting their search rankings.
Over time, search engines like Google began to recognise the detrimental effects of these manipulative SEO practices and worked to develop more sophisticated algorithms. This marked a turning point in the history of SEO, as search engines started to prioritise quality content, user experience, and genuine relevance over simple keyword density and link volume.
Section 2: The Growth of SEO
The growth of SEO over the past few decades has been nothing short of remarkable. As search engines have evolved to become an essential component of the Internet experience, businesses have increasingly turned to SEO to improve their online visibility and attract potential customers. The rise of Internet marketing companies and the expansion of Internet marketing services are a testament to the growing importance of SEO in the digital landscape.
In the early days of SEO, search optimisation was a relatively niche discipline, practised by a small number of tech-savvy individuals and businesses. However, as the Internet became more mainstream, the demand for effective SEO strategies grew exponentially. This growth was fuelled, in part, by the increasing reliance on organic search as a primary means of discovering information, products, and services online. Today, organic search accounts for a significant portion of web traffic, with some studies suggesting that it drives over 50% of all website traffic.
As the importance of organic search has grown, so too has the SEO industry. According to a report by Borrell Associates, businesses in the United States alone were expected to spend over $80 billion on SEO services by 2020. This represents a massive increase from the early 2000s when the industry was worth just a few billion dollars. This growth is not limited to the United States, with businesses around the world increasingly recognising the value of search optimisation and investing in professional Internet marketing services.
The growth of SEO has also been accompanied by significant changes in the strategies and techniques employed by practitioners. In the early days, the focus was primarily on on-page SEO, which involved optimising elements such as keywords, meta tags, and content to improve search engine rankings. However, as search engines became more sophisticated, the importance of off-page SEO began to grow. Off-page SEO encompasses activities that take place outside of a website, such as link building, social media marketing, and online reputation management. Today, a comprehensive SEO strategy will typically involve a combination of both on-page and off-page techniques.
The rise of the Internet marketing agency has been another significant development in the growth of SEO. In the early years, businesses often attempted to manage their SEO in-house, with varying degrees of success. However, as the discipline has become more complex and time-consuming, many businesses have turned to professional Internet marketing agencies for assistance. These agencies provide a range of services, from SEO audits and keyword research to content creation and link building, helping businesses to navigate the ever-changing landscape of search optimisation.
The competition has also led to massive growth in the industry, leading to the inevitable rise of what is called Black Hat SEO. These are techniques that are meant to fool search algorithms and help a site rank higher on search results. This is similar to the early days of SEO when low-quality websites held sway over the Internet. To prevent such manipulations, search engine companies continually update their algorithms to provide better search results. Google, in particular, has released several major updates like Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, each designed to improve the quality of search results and penalise websites using spammy or manipulative SEO techniques.
Section 3: Google’s Best Practices and Guidelines for Websites
Google has long been the dominant search engine, and as a result, its best practices and guidelines for websites have shaped the world of SEO. One of the earliest and most significant changes to the industry was the introduction of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines in 2001. These guidelines were designed to help webmasters create websites that were easily discoverable by Google’s search algorithms and provided users with high-quality, relevant content. The guidelines emphasised the importance of on-page optimisation, such as using descriptive and informative titles and meta descriptions, and creating content that was useful and informative to users.
Over the years, these guidelines have evolved significantly, reflecting Google’s efforts to improve the quality of its search results and provide users with the most relevant and useful information. One of the key developments was the increasing importance of off-page optimisation, particularly the use of inbound links to boost a website’s visibility in search results. Google recognised the value of these links as an indicator of a website’s authority and relevance and incorporated them into its search algorithms.
However, the increased focus on inbound links led to a proliferation of link-building schemes and other manipulative practices that aimed to artificially boost a website’s ranking. In response, Google introduced a series of updates to its algorithms designed to penalise websites that engaged in these practices. One of the most significant of these updates was the Penguin update, launched in 2012, which targeted websites with low-quality or spammy inbound links.
Another major development in Google’s guidelines was the increased emphasis on local SEO. As more and more businesses began to recognise the value of appearing in search results for local queries, Google introduced a range of features designed to help users find local businesses more easily. These included the Local Pack, which displays a list of nearby businesses and their contact information directly in search results, and the development of Google My Business, a platform that allows businesses to manage their online presence across Google’s services.
Over the years, Google has continued to refine its guidelines and best practices to ensure that its search results remain relevant and useful to users. Some of the most important guidelines you need to remember are as below:
- Focus on creating high-quality, unique, and engaging content that provides value to users.
- Ensure your website is accessible and easy to navigate, with a clear hierarchy and text links.
- Make your site mobile-friendly, as a significant portion of search traffic comes from mobile devices. (Note: Google moved to mobile-first indexing in 2018)
- Use descriptive and concise title tags and meta descriptions to help search engines understand the content on your pages.
- Implement structured data (schema) to help search engines better interpret and display your content in search results.
- Avoid manipulative SEO practices like keyword stuffing, hidden text, and unnatural link schemes.
Section 4: Important Elements to Consider for Your Website
There are several key elements to consider for your website that can significantly impact your search engine rankings and visibility in search results. In this section, we will look at some of these essential elements, understand why they are important, and provide examples to help you get started.
Keywords are the terms and phrases that users type into search engines when looking for information or services. By targeting the right keywords on your website, you can improve your search engine rankings and attract more relevant traffic. To identify the most effective keywords for your site, conduct keyword research using tools such as Google Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest and its Answer the Public website or Moz’s Keyword Explorer. You can also use tools like Ahrefs and Semrush as they help you deep dive into what is needed, but their free versions offer limited features and the prices for the premium versions are a bit on the higher side if you are just starting out. In such cases, Google Keyword Planner is a free option you can try. We talk a bit about these tools in the next section.
Your website’s title is an important on-page SEO factor that provides both users and search engines with a summary of your content. A well-crafted title should be engaging, descriptive, and contain your target keyword. Keep your title under 60 characters to ensure it displays correctly in search results.
#3: Meta Description
The meta description is a summary of your webpage’s content that appears below the title in search results. While it does not directly impact search engine rankings, a compelling meta description can improve click-through rates by enticing users to visit your site. Aim for a concise and informative description, and include your target keyword.
The robots.txt file is a simple text file that provides instructions to search engine crawlers on how to navigate and index your website. To check if your site has a robots.txt file, append “/robots.txt” to your domain (e.g., “https://www.example.com/robots.txt”).
If your site does not have a robots.txt file, then don’t worry too much about it. The plugins we cover in section 6 will do that for you in a few clicks.
A sitemap is a file that lists all the pages on your website, making it easier for search engines to discover and index your content. To check if your site has a sitemap, append “/sitemap.xml” or “/sitemap_index.xml” to your domain name (e.g., “https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml”).
If these sitemaps do not exist then you should create XML and HTML sitemaps to help search engines crawl and index your website more efficiently. These can be easily done using the plugins we mention in section 6.
#6: Canonical URL
A canonical URL is the preferred version of a webpage when multiple URLs have similar or duplicate content. By specifying a canonical URL, you can prevent duplicate content issues and ensure that search engines index the correct version of your page.
Schema markup is a form of structured data that provides additional context about your content. It helps search engines better understand your content and present it more effectively in search results in the form of rich snippets. Implementing schema markup can improve your search visibility and increase the likelihood of appearing in rich snippets or other enhanced search result features.
Section 5: Free Tools to Use for SEO
There are several free tools online that can help you optimise your WordPress website for search engines. Some of the most popular include:
#1: Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a must-have tool for any website owner or SEO professional. It provides valuable insights into your site’s performance, such as indexing status, crawl errors, and search queries that drive traffic to your site. By monitoring and optimising your site’s performance with Google Search Console, you can improve your site’s visibility in Google search results.
#2: Google Analytics
Another indispensable tool by Google, Google Analytics, allows you to track your website’s traffic, user behaviour, and conversions. With the wealth of data available through Google Analytics, you can make data-driven decisions to optimise your website’s user experience and SEO.
#3: Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is a powerful keyword research tool that helps you discover relevant keywords and their search volume for your SEO campaigns. By targeting the right keywords, you can drive more targeted traffic to your website and improve your search engine rankings.
Ubersuggest is a free SEO tool by Neil Patel that provides comprehensive keyword suggestions, keyword difficulty scores, and search volume data. Additionally, Ubersuggest offers insights into your competitors’ SEO strategies, helping you identify opportunities for improvement.
Now a part of Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest, AnswerThePublic is an excellent tool for discovering questions and phrases related to your target keywords. By creating content that addresses these queries, you can enhance your site’s visibility in search results and provide valuable information to your users.
#6: Ahrefs Keyword Generator (Free version)
Ahrefs Keyword Generator is a powerful keyword research tool that offers limited free access to its database. With the free version, you can generate up to 100 keyword suggestions, including keyword difficulty scores and search volume data.
#7: Semrush Keyword Magic Tool (Free version)
Semrush Keyword Magic Tool is another top-tier keyword research tool that offers limited free access. With the free version, you can explore keyword suggestions, search volume data, and keyword difficulty scores for your target keywords.
#8: Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is a popular website crawler that helps you identify technical SEO issues on your site, such as broken links, duplicate content, and missing meta tags. The free version of Screaming Frog allows you to crawl up to 500 URLs, making it a valuable tool for small businesses and individual website owners.
Section 6: WordPress SEO Plugins
When it comes to optimising your WordPress website for search engines, using the right plugins can make a significant difference in your search engine rankings and Google search results. In this final section on the beginner’s guide to WordPress SEO, we will discuss three of the most popular and effective WordPress SEO plugins: Yoast, AISEO, and Rank Math. Each of these plugins offers unique features and benefits that can help you improve your website’s SEO performance.
#1: Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is one of the most widely used and well-known WordPress SEO plugins. With millions of installations and a strong reputation for reliability and effectiveness, Yoast is an excellent choice for anyone looking to improve their website’s search engine rankings.
Some of the key features of Yoast SEO include:
- Title and Meta Description Template: You can easily create custom title and meta description templates for different types of content, ensuring that your pages are optimised for relevant keywords.
- XML Sitemap Generation: Yoast SEO automatically generates an XML sitemap for your website, making it easier for search engines to crawl and index your content.
- Content Analysis and Readability Check: Yoast SEO’s content analysis tool helps you optimise your content for your target keywords, while its readability check provides suggestions for making your content more engaging and user-friendly.
- Breadcrumbs Support: Breadcrumbs are an important navigational element that can improve your website’s user experience and SEO. Yoast SEO allows you to easily add breadcrumbs to your WordPress site.
#2: All in One SEO (AISEO)
All in One SEO (AISEO) is another popular WordPress SEO plugin, offering a comprehensive suite of tools and features to help you improve your search engine rankings.
Some of the standout features of AISEO include:
- Customisable XML Sitemaps: Like Yoast, AISEO generates XML sitemaps for your website. However, AISEO offers more customisation options, allowing you to fine-tune your sitemap to better suit your website’s structure and content.
- Advanced Canonical URLs: AISEO helps you avoid duplicate content issues by automatically generating canonical URLs for your website’s pages and posts.
- Meta Tag Generation: The tool automatically generates meta tags for your content, ensuring that your pages are optimised for search engines. You can also choose to add your own titles and meta descriptions if you prefer.
- Social Media Integration: AISEO supports the integration of social media metadata, helping your content look great when shared on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
#3: Rank Math
Rank Math is a relatively newer addition to the WordPress SEO plugin landscape but has quickly gained popularity due to its powerful features and user-friendly interface.
Some of the main features of Rank Math include:
- Keyword Rank Tracking: Rank Math allows you to track your website’s keyword rankings in Google, helping you monitor your SEO performance and make informed decisions for optimising your content.
- Schema Markup Support: Rank Math includes built-in support for various schema types, making it easy for you to add structured data to your website and improve your search engine visibility.
- Advanced SEO Analysis: Rank Math’s SEO analysis tool offers a detailed breakdown of your website’s SEO performance, with actionable recommendations for improvement.
- WooCommerce Integration: If you’re running an online store, Rank Math offers dedicated WooCommerce support, helping you optimise your product listings for search engines.
Each of these three is good by itself for your site. You will see and read a lot of opinions online on which one is the best but all of them are quite capable of getting the job done. Each one will help you address Google’s and other search engines’ best practices and guidelines. Look up a few videos and guides online and you will be able to figure out the one you like.
To Sum Up
Understanding and implementing SEO for your WordPress website can significantly boost your visibility and rankings in search engine results. By following best practices, utilising essential tools, and employing helpful plugins, you can create a well-optimised website that drives traffic and helps grow your business.
If as a business owner or charity founder or management, you have some more questions on SEO, you can visit this link to get your answers: More SEO Questions. If you want to know why content is the primary tool for your SEO, you can read our post on SEO Content.