WordPress is a polarizing tool in the SEO agency world, while it’s used by 41.1% of the websites on the internet and I’d be hard pressed to find a developer or an SEO who’s never worked with WordPress – some hate it ( and refuse to touch it ) while others swear by it!
So after years of building and ranking WordPress websites we’d like break down some of common misconceptions about WordPress SEO – both good and bad. Follow along to learn our best practices for auditing a WordPress site for SEO.
What is an SEO Audit?
SEO audit is the process of evaluating a website for its ability to appear in SERPs (search engine results pages). A step-by-step audit identifies various issues affecting your organic search and rectifies them to improve your web page’s search performance.
At AUQ we separate SEO into 3 factors
- Technical SEO:
- How easy is it for Google to crawl AND understand your domain?
- How fast does your site load?
- Content SEO:
- Are you targeting the keywords for your market?
- Does google value your content?
- Does your design provide an easy user experience?
- Off page SEO:
- Do you have more backlinks than your competitors?
- Are your backlinks relevant to your niche?
But in this article we will mainly focus on Technical SEO, specifically for WordPress websites, to help you answer the question if WordPress the right tool for the job?
Is WordPress Good or Bad for SEO?
Short answer is: Yes, WordPress is great for SEO. But the long, nuanced answer is: WordPress is a tool, and if you don’t know how to use it, you might break something.
In 2021, SEO strategy is built around the idea that “Content is King”, and WordPress was designed with blogging in mind. It offers a fully developed CMS ( content management system ) for publishing articles, complete with:
Other CMSs like Shopify, Wix, Ghost, Squarespace also come with “blogging” solutions, but they are not as complete as WordPress’s, forcing you to hire a developer to custom code category or author pages into a platform not necessary meant for it ( Wix & Shopify I’m looking at you! )
Due to it’s open source nature, there are millions of ways a non-specialized developer can ruin your site. The majority of issues step from the thousands of plugins, which may seem great at first, but are poorly coded and can slow down your website ( we’ll get into the good plugins later ).
The biggest downside to WordPress is overcomplexity and code bloat, caused by using too many plugins.
We highly recommend using developers who can create custom themes, and will work to minimize the number of plugins on your site by custom coding features.
An easy way to test a developer is ask them how they would implement a header slider? If they say “I’ll use a plugin like Slider Revolution” – run, and find someone who will custom code it ( with Bootstrap for example ).
Here are a few positive and negative factors that will impact your WordPress website SEO:
Plugins are both good and bad for your WordPress site. They can make web page customization easy, but can also slow down the site if used improperly.
Here are a few plugins which we use, and are happy to recommend to others due to their security, efficient coding, and great support.:
- Yoast: Simple & lightweight, helps you set up meta tags & descriptions, but should not be used for content recommendations.
- WP Rocket: Simple plugin to optimize a site for speed. It’s not a cure-all for a poorly coded site, but can help you jump a few points in the Google pagespeed score.
- Imagify: Good plugin for image optimization.
- Link Whisper: Great plugin for optimizing for links.
- WooCommerce: Any plugins that are bought on the official WooCommerce marketplace ( look out for copy cats ), all come with great support and well maintained code.
- Gravity Forms, Ninja Forms, Contact Form 7: Great, well maintained options to set up forms on your site.
- Advanced Custom Fields: A framework for building custom designs.
Generally for evolving, corporate websites, we recommend staying away from page builders. To get their drag & drop functionality most pagebuilders have to load extra scripts that will then slow down your site.
Page builders might seem like an easy & inexpensive way to build a site, and lets you save money by hiring a designer instead of a developer, but in our experience this leads to a couple outcomes:
- Designer is forced to use the prebuilt elements in the pagebuilder, and isn’t able to fully realize the design in their head.
- As your site grows and you’d like to add new features, they may not be available in the pagebuilder.
Our recommendation is to spend a little extra money and hire a designer to create mockups, ( preferably in Sketch or Figma) then hire a developer to realize those mockups using Advanced Custom Fields.
However – for smaller, static sites we would recommend using Elementor.
WordPress offers many free and paid themes and templates. Although, premade themes can result in SEO issues if they’re bloated or poorly coded. To make the best out of a WordPress theme, find a developer who can build custom themes to optimize loading times.
Why is WordPress a popular choice for blogging? Because it offers an amazing blogging and SEO toolset. Including:
- Article posts
- Category pages
- Tag pages
- Author pages
- Author bios
All these interconnected structures are easy to manage, and help Google index and comprehend your content. And in the hands of a WordPress developer these structures can be manipulated to create intricate content libraries – like this knowledge base we’ve built for Armormax.
SEO Audit Tools
Doing an SEO audit for your WordPress site is not very different from custom sites. You can use the same Webmaster tools to analyze both sites.
Here are a few top SEO audit tools that should be a critical part of your SEO audit toolkit:
- Google Search Console: Google will tell you if it’s having a hard time crawling your site.
- Google Analytics: Classic & free analytics tool from Google. Use the landing page reports to understand what content is driving traffic.
- Google Lighthouse: Use this tool for technical reports, including page speed, accessibility and SEO basics.
- Ahrefs.com: Primarily a link analysis tool, but extremely useful for understanding how your competitors draw organic traffic.
- Screaming Frog: Every SEO’s staple. Use it to see how Google may see your site, especially useful for large audits, as it crawls every single page of your domain.
- Usetopic.com: Amazing tool for SEO content writing, use it to understand what keywords and topics to include in your articles.
- GTmetrix & Google Pagespeed Insights: Get a grade on loading speed.
WordPress SEO in 6 Steps
Step 1: Website Indexing
The first step in the SEO audit is indexing – how your website is stored and retrieved by a search engine. Start by checking your website’s search engine visibility in the settings tab. The next step is to submit the sitemap to Google. If you’re using Yoast for SEO and enabled the XML sitemap functionality, then you can find your sitemap at www.domain.com/sitemap_index.xml.
Now, head over to Google Search Console to check if the correct sitemap is submitted. If it is then check the number of indexed pages and percentage of indexed pages that are receiving organic traffic. That will tell you whether the website’s content is working for you.
Step 2: Optimize Your Website for Mobile
In 2015, Google announced some changes in their search algorithm that boosts mobile-friendly pages on mobile devices. The mobile-friendly update only affects search results on mobile devices.
So, if you’re wondering whether your website should be optimized for mobiles, remember that mobile traffic contributes to about 54% of the overall web traffic. By sticking to the desktop versions and not making your website mobile-friendly, you will miss a major chunk of your daily traffic.
Most WordPress themes are mobile optimized out of the box, but for custom themes we recommend using starter themes like Understrap, built using Bootstrap’s grid which is mobile responsive as well.
Step 3: Choose Between www and non-www URLs
You must have noticed that some websites use www.domain.com (www) and some reside at domain.com (non-www). The www and non-www versions of the website addresses are not the same, but Google often considers them as separate pages. Choose one version of the website address and set it up in two places i.e. WordPress Address URL and Site Address URL in WP backend.
In WordPress you can set this by going to your general settings menu, and selecting the Site Address & URL Address ( make sure they are the same ).
Step 4: Run Performance and Speed Tests
Time is money! And Google values your time, because if you’re waiting for sites to load, you’re having a bad time ( and probably not clicking on ads ).
When someone visits a site, it takes them less than a minute to decide whether they will stay or not. The first few seconds are critical, but if your website takes too long to load, the visitor will probably move on. Your page loading time is directly linked to bounce rates. If it takes longer to load, the bounce rates increase, and if users are bouncing from your website, Google doesn’t want to show it.
Website loading speed has a direct impact on your SEO rankings. Search engines like Google rank faster websites higher than those that take longer to load. This is especially crucial due to the Page Experience update in June 2021.
To test your website’s speed and performance, use speed checkers like GTmetrix and Google Insights.
If you’re wondering what score you should aim for – compare your score to your competitors’. You don’t need a 90 / 100 if all your competitors are in the 40 / 100 range.
Beside using a custom theme, there are two ways you can improve loading times on WordPress:
Pagespeed Plugins – our favorite is WP Rocket, it’s easy to use and does all the basics including:
– Browser Cache
– Combine & minify JS
– Combine & minify CSS
– Lazy loading
Image Compression – we like to compress our images manually by using Google’s Sqoosh App, however if you have too many images to do it one at a time, you can use Imagify.
Step 5: Optimize UX (User Experience) of Your WordPress Site
Google also cares about your experience, if users can’t find the answers they’re looking for and bounce back to the SERPS, it will penalize your website. Which makes UX extremely important.
UX (User Experience) is how people interact with your WordPress site. If the user is confused by the website structure and cannot navigate properly, good content and a great SEO strategy can go in vain. We recommend using custom designs + custom coding with tools like Advanced Custom Fields for your WordPress site instead of page builders. That way, your designer can have full creative freedom to make the page as interactive as possible.
Good, SEO focused user experience also applies to the structure of your articles. In many cases users coming from search engines will land on your posts and not your homepage.
Make sure to utilize the following in your article design:
– Use a table of contents with jump links to help users navigate your article.
– Add an FAQ section with schema markup, this helps your articles appear with an FAQ popup in the search results.
– Use illustrations, gifs and custom graphics to help explain your point.
– Answer the question in the first paragraph, don’t make users scroll to the bottom.
– Make sure your author is clearly visible, this helps lend validity to your article.
Step 6: On-page SEO
The last step in your WordPress SEO audit is on-page SEO. If you’re using Yoast, then on-page SEO should be a breeze. Just head over to the posts section and review the SEO state of every post on your website.
Alternatively, if you want to manually run the on-page SEO audit, here’s what your lookout for:
- HTML markup is vital for SEO because it contains a lot of important information. To avoid HTML issues in WordPress, find a quality theme and keep it up-to-date.
- The title of your web page titles should be precise, relevant, and unique with adequate keyword placements.
- Headings like h1 tags and h2 tags must be used to structure content into various sections for readability. There can be only one h1 tag in your web page and multiple h2, h3, and more.
- Meta description must be relevant, include keywords, and under 172 characters. They don’t have a direct impact on SEO but optimize your search appearance.
- Precise content that adds value to the user should be the goal instead of fluff pieces. Don’t add filler content to your blog just to fulfill a word count can do more damage than good!
- Duplicate content is a big NO. You can use tools like Yoast and Copyscape to check for duplicate content issues.
- URLs must include a keyword and be short and precise. WordPress automatically enables permalinks for each post, but be sure to double-check.
- Images must be compressed and have alt tags (descriptive with keyword), SEO markers, and file titles.
- Links play a key role in SEO. over time, the probability of broken links increases including internal, external, and backlinks. Use link checkers to identify and replace such links.
- Keywords optimization is very easy in WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin. Good content starts from keyword research. There can only be one focus keyword per page, so Yoast will point out if there is any repetition.
- Errors like 404 – page not found can be found through Google Search Console and rectified by redirecting them to the right location.
How Frequently Should I Run An SEO Audit?
Every website is using content to attract visitors. If your content is better than your competitor’s, then it will rank higher in SERP. However, SEO is a very competitive market. Analyzing your site’s SEO and keeping up with the trends is the only way to stay on top!
There’s not the right time to conduct an SEO audit on your website. For higher search rankings and to stay ahead of your competitors, run an audit every quarter. Rectify any issues before your website rankings affect your business!