The beginner’s guide to basic SEO and content writing on WordPress
WordPress is a wonderful tool, but it can’t do everything.
For web designers, WordPress really is a godsend. It gives you the power to leave a great deal of development work right where it belongs, in the hands of the developers.
By choosing the right theme, a good combination of plugins, and maybe even a page builder, web designers can often avoid the development side of things entirely, instead focusing on what they do best: designing.
The same is not exactly true for content.
And when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization), it gets even worse. While a list of basic content writing tips might not take you very far (just like designing, content writing is much more art than science), there are a few basic SEO practices that can help you get your website and your content on the right SEO track.
Like many things, SEO is a game of diminishing returns. The work required to get your SEO game from 90% awesome to 100% awesome can be excessive, to say the least.
However, the work required to get from 0% to 50% is much lower, relatively speaking. By following a few simple practices, you can get the majority of your content (or your client’s content) into decent shape, giving the SEO expert who eventually works on the site the groundwork needed to take things to a higher level.
Fair warning – SEO changes rapidly
SEO has changed so much, even in the last five years, that an SEO expert from the late 90s would find themselves quickly befuddled in today’s modern SEO landscape.
These tips are fairly generic, and they’ll take you a fair way, but don’t take them for granted – assume that, every year, something I’ve written here has changed slightly (or drastically), and that you need to do continual research to make sure you’re on top of the SEO curve.
One last thing: Search engines today are increasingly more sophisticated and increasingly more human-oriented. This means two things:
- Any attempts to game the system are probably going to fail, and fail quickly.
- When in doubt, your best bet is to make your content read naturally (like a human wrote it for a human to read it).
It’s better to just create content that does a few basic things:
- Reads well
- Makes sense
- Is broken up into chunks
- Contains plenty of headings, subheadings, and lists
- Is generally just useful and informative
It’s infinitely better to do all that than to worry about the precise placement of a keyword. SEO particulars like that help, but the human-focus of today’s search engines simply matters more (and will continue to matter more as time passes).
Now, let’s dive into some content writing SEO tips.
Make sure you have the right architecture in place
Ok, so this goes a little beyond content-writing SEO, but it’s important enough to mention. For your keyword optimization to matter, you have to make sure your website (and the supporting structures outside of your website) is set up properly.
I’m going to describe a few things and point you in the right direction, but it’s up to you to apply these appropriately.
Here are a few very basic pieces of architecture that you need in place to make sure your efforts on your content actually mean something:
- Apply schema to the correct areas of your website.
- Add an awesome SEO plugin (like Yoast) to your website.
- Claim your business listing in Google, Bing, and yes, even Yahoo (and anywhere else you can, really, that’s relevant to your audience).
- Claim all social media profiles relevant to your audience, fill out “About” sections as accurately and comprehensively as possible, and add social sharing buttons and social media profile buttons to your website.
This is not by any means comprehensive and there are many, many articles that dive into incredible detail on just one of the things I’ve listed above, but it will get you started.
Something important I hope you noted just now: I mentioned your audience several times. You need to make sure, throughout all of this, that you’re creating content that is specifically created for the audience you want to target.
If you haven’t thought much about your audience, creating a customer persona can help you align your thoughts and start to consider what your customer wants and needs (and not just what you feel like writing).
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Once you have some of the architecture in place, it’s time to think about keywords.
Do some basic keyword research before you start writing
Once upon a time, Google provided a phenomenal Keyword Planner Tool for anyone to use that had useful, specific data. Though you can still access the tool, it now only provides accurate data if you regularly spend money on AdWords.
Supposedly, there is a workaround, but I personally have not tried it (I got so annoyed with Google that I just went out and got a paid solution).
That being said, there are plenty of paid and free tools out there, so find one that you feel comfortable with and do some basic keyword research before you start creating your content.
Personally, KWFinder is one of my favorite keyword tools out there, but believe me when I say that this can become a black hole for your time quickly.
This article can lead you comprehensively through one keyword-research process, if you’re interested in digging into this a little deeper, but I just have to say this about keyword research: a little bit can go a long way.
By not just making things up off the top of your head, you’re already leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in many cases.
Once you’ve identified a keyword or keyword phrase and some long-tail variants, you’re ready to actually start writing some content.
Include your keyword phrase in the right places (but not too often)
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Keyword density is really a thing of the past (I hope, though some will disagree with me).
Just so we’re on the same page, keyword density is how often the keyword or keyword phrase appears on a page/article compared to the total number of words in the article. If I have a keyword that appears 10 times in a 1,000-word article, I’ve got a density of about 1%.
I mention keyword density for a reason – you very, very much do not want to go over (here’s where the disagreement comes in) 1%, possibly even less than that. The second a search engine starts to feel like you’ve stuffed an article full of keywords, your page/article’s ability to rank is going to plummet.
Include keywords in a few key places
See what I did there? Ok, knee-slapper aside, the amount of keywords in your content isn’t as important as the location of those keywords. A light sprinkling of your keyword phrase can work wonders if appropriately placed.
Include your keyword phrase in these places:
- In your title, preferably in the front of the title
- In one or two subheadings (preferably at least one H2)
- In the first and last sentence of the page/article (if possible)
- In the meta description
- In the URL
In a 500-word article, we’re already bumping up against (or passing) that 1% limit I mentioned above, so even here you have to be careful.
Additionally, this all assumes that you’re using the keyword phrase as naturally as possible. If you stuff it in there, it sticks out like a sore thumb and the search engines will notice.
Finally, keep in mind that modern search engines are sophisticated – they understand synonyms, they can tell when you mean a particular phrase even if you mix up the words slightly, and they’re ok with adding some punctuation, or even an article (a/an/the) or preposition into the phrase.
In other words, don’t feel locked into the phrase as it’s written.
Let’s talk about that meta description a bit
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Your meta description is your first chance to draw your prospect in. Don’t waste it! Don’t even assume that your prospect is able to see the entire description: different search engines cut the meta description at different points.
Do not ignore the meta description! If someone finds your article/page through a search engine, they are (most likely) only going to see two pieces of content: your title and your meta description.
If your meta description is 50% of your chance at convincing someone to click, shouldn’t it get a little bit more love than a cursory glance?
This is why I love Yoast so much—you can easily edit your meta description directly. Get your meta description on point to set your page/article up for success from the moment it appears in a SERP (search engine results page).
All headings inside your page/article should be H2 or lower
Remember, in WordPress (for the vast majority of themes), your title is your H1 (top-level heading), and it tells search engines what the article/page is primarily about.
If you have multiple H1s in your article/page, it’s no longer clear what the page is about.
Basically, multiple H1s make it look like your page has many different primary topics, and so you’re less likely to rank for a single one. A simple rule that search engines seem to follow is this: one main topic, with supporting subtopics, per page. You can have all the H2s your little heart desires, but keep it at a single H1.
Finally, let’s have a quick word about images (they’re content too, ya know).
Include relevant images and optimize them appropriately
Images are content, and they need to be optimized, just like the text of your page/article, to help humans and search engines alike understand what they are, what they mean, and why they matter.
Here’s how to get them looking nice and spiffy for search engines and humans alike:
- Include your keyword phrase in the title of the image.
- Include your keyword phrase in the file name of the image.
- Reduce the size of the image as much as possible without sacrificing quality. (Basically, get the size of the image down to the actual size it will be displayed at.)
- Include your keyword phrase and a solid description of the image in the alt text. (This is what people see if the image won’t display, and more importantly, what is read by a screen reader for people who have vision issues.)
- Include your keyword phrase in the caption (if applicable).
Again, this is something you can really dig into deeply, and Yoast does a pretty fantastic job of doing just that in this article on image optimization, but again, a little bit can go a long way. By merely filling out your alt text and putting your keyword phrase into the file name, you’ve already done more than 90% of websites out there.
Remember, your goal with basic-level SEO is not to trick anyone – it’s to help search engines figure out what your content is about.
A parting word: These tips will only take you so far, but there’s a basic principle underlying it all: clear, compelling content, optimized for a human being, matters much more than any of these little tips I’ve suggested.
If you don’t have the time or the patience to follow this guide, but you follow this principle, you can’t help but succeed.
However, if you need a little help, Blue Steele Solutions’ new online marketing course can do just that.
Over an 8-week period, we’ll walk you through the entire process of analyzing your current marketing, setting achievable goals, developing a marketing strategy, and choosing the specific marketing tactics you’ll need to make your goals a reality.
It’s called Level Up to Awesome, and you can check it out here.
Good luck designer!
Great tip about making sure to only have one H1 tag per page. Also, great article overall and thanks for writing it!
Thanks for your comment and for reading Jon, I appreciate it!