Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is arguably one of the most crucial aspects of your site. Both web design and functionality are also important, however, if people can’t even find the site through consistent SEO, then all that hard paid work and slaved hours, days, or weeks spent over site-building, goes to waste.
Good SEO practices aren’t hard to learn, but they also aren’t easy to master either. My aim with this article is to help any WordPress user succeed with these great SEO practices that’ll help in developing your site and skills.
Note: This guide works great for Flywheel customers as well, however some of the specifics in this won’t apply to other hosting providers.
SEO best practices:
Use Force HTTPS and a good search and replace plugin
Your site security should always be top of mind. Sites showing full HTTPs not only provide trust from consumers that their data is safe, but it also encrypts traffic and can partially assist with a better ranking on Google.
Google has hinted at a “fully secure web” coming in the future, and eventually sites not running full HTTPS for prolonged periods will suffer in rankings —so it’s good to get on top of this while there are no major penalties for lack of security!
In WordPress, you can use a plugin like Better Search Replace, which allows you to run a full HTTP to HTTPS replacement on your database. You can also use a super handy tool like Why No Padlock to scan your site to see what isn’t loading over HTTPS.
On Flywheel, we offer a force HTTPS toggle option under the advanced tab, providing you have a valid and active SSL certificate. Once toggled and given a few minutes, this should resolve your site over HTTPS.
Keep your site up to date
This year alone, there have been some major plugins (both paid and free) that have presented some nasty vulnerabilities, and as such, either deface sites, allow for remote code injection, run malicious ads, or redirect your site to a malicious domain. There is a myriad of other styles of attacks that these vulnerabilities can present as well.
These styles of attacks can be mitigated by simply keeping your content up to date. I wrote in a previous article on SEO, that malware can affect your ranking on Google. This is universally applicable to any platform, regardless of what security plugins you are running. If you are using Cloudflare or a similar service, understand there are ways for attackers to get into your site, and eventually you may get hacked if you stay long enough in the webspace. So, keeping all your themes and plugins up to date is a key factor in overall site security.
If you are a larger company and want to streamline your plugin updates, Flywheel does offer services for performance insights and managed plugin updates in order to give you this assistance in keeping your site secure and up to date.
Use a good CDN
A Content Delivery Network (or CDN) speeds up page loads for your site’s visitors, ensuring that your visitors have the quickest experience.
Using a good CDN and image optimization plugins help keep your media responsive and served as quickly as possible. Cloudflare is a great starting point for a CDN, and they also offer a host of other neat offerings, like DDOS protection and DNS masking.
If you’re a new Flywheel customer, you’ll automatically get Fastly as our CDN offering for our WordPress sites, for free! FlyCache is Flywheel’s proprietary caching engine and it’s especially powerful because it works side-by-side with our CDN to serve up cached content from global points of presence (POP). When your users hit your site, they receive those files from the server that is geographically closest to them, which decreases load time, improves performance, and ensures all users have the same high-quality digital experience (no matter where they’re located)!
Find a reliable image optimization plugin
In the WordPress plugin directory, you can search for optimization plugins to help optimize image sizes. WP Rocket is a great tool to help with overall site performance, but it does cost money. From my experience in Flywheel support, Smush and Autoptimize are great starter offerings to optimize sites, minimize your stylesheets, and help improve site performance. These are not 100% foolproof solutions, but they will keep your site optimized if used right, and don’t forget—Google loves fast sites!
Note: Learn more about image optimization in the full guide!
Know where your robots.txt file is and how to edit it
Your robots.txt file is the core of your site’s ability to be readable by search engines. It’s the text file that tells web crawlers and robots what pages they can and cannot crawl.
The ability for Google to read this file and understand what permissions it has as it sends requests to the web server for your site data is pivotal to your site’s ability to be index through Google. Having a basic or non-existent robots.txt can often mean lower rankings, as Google will try to index pages it shouldn’t (if you don’t want it to), or may struggle with permissions to index pages it should. You can find your robots.txt file in the root directory of your website (often under the /www directory).
I recommend this great guide on a visual overview of robots.txt here at Varvy. It’s an excellent resource for an overview on the different types of commands you can alter in your robots.txt file!
Follow content guidelines
This (arguably) may be the core SEO tenant, and it all relates to content. Write and post the highest quality content you can possibly create. Why? Google favors articles that link back to other pieces of content you have written (a process known as internal linking), where images have the right information and tags associated with them (so Google can index their content better and faster), so the highest quality content is served on their search engine.
However, remember you are creating content for your client or customer and not for Google—a by-product of great content is an SEO boost, but it is always nice to know that the better your content, the higher potential you have for better ranking. Click here to learn how to strike the perfect balance of structuring blog posts for SEO and people.
Another great content guideline would be to name all images you upload to the site and add a description. This primarily helps with content indexing for Google and is great for search SEO with Google images. Yoast SEO has a great guide on image SEO and how it works from optimization, to correct alt & title naming, and even site maps. It’s a great contextual read for those who want to start doing some more advanced steps to better understand the finer minutia of SEO for their site
The last content guidelines is to make sure you watch your sentence length. The hardest thing to do if you’re on a roll, is to edit and condense what you are saying in a blog post or a recipe or any kind of long form content on a site. However, poor sentence structure is the bane of the user’s existence and remember—good SEO considers good user experience which relates back to how your user experiences the site. Keep your sentences concise, to the point, and avoid waffling.
Watch the URL length
Another great tip for your site’s ranking health (as well as a good quality of life tip!), is to watch the length of your page URLs. Users do not like long page names, and even sharing links around having a super long URLs doesn’t have a huge impact on Google’s ability to crawl and index the URL, but remember you are making content for your user, and long domains can be cumbersome for users & harder to read; especially for subpages with longer titles. I would recommend reading this great article from Neil Patel on URL optimization.
Using some of these skills combined with any good practices you have already developed, should hopefully set you up for some better site optimization in the months ahead! Remember that Flywheel has 24/7 support and our friendly agents are available for our customers to help walk you through things like HTTPS, mixed content issues, and malware cleanup if you need a hand with those!
It’s not incredibly difficult to perform an audit on your website, but it can be very time-consuming and cost a ton. So for those who want to learn, we encourage them to audit their site themselves. Learning how to audit your website in-house gives you the ability to make it part of your ongoing site maintenance.