Here are the links to the other articles in the series:
Promote your site for free: off-site SEO
Promote your site for free: forum marketing
Promote your site for free: social media marketing
This, the first in the series, addresses on-site Search Engine Optimisation and it’s written for WordPress based websites.
On site SEO is about making it easy for the search engines to find your site, to find out what it’s about and to find their way around it.
One thing I should make clear before we start, though: do not over-optimise your sites or spend too much time fussing over supposedly important factors like keyword density.
Firstly, those factors are no longer important (if they ever were) and secondly you’re focusing on the wrong things.
All the search engines make hundreds of algorithm updates each year to improve the quality of the search results they return and to weed out low quality sites.
Google, alone, makes around 500 algorithm updates a year.
As they improve their algorithms, the search engines are getting ever better at being able to understand the content of a page and to link that with their assessment of the searcher’s intent, known as semantic search.
So while everything I’ve written below is good practice there are two points to keep in mind:
- Get the basics I’ve set out below in place and then focus on your content. You’ll never be able to keep up with all the algorithm updates if you focus too much attention on the search engines
- Write well researched, well written, well presented articles that people (humans!) will find useful (in that it answers a question or teaches them something new) or entertaining
Basic on-site Search Engine Optimisation
With those thoughts in mind, here are some SEO basics that you can put in place
Install a sitemap.
There are several Google Sitemap plugins for WordPress. The one I use on all my sites is Google XML Sitemaps and I described how to set it up back here.
Once you’ve set up the plugin you generally don’t need to do anything more unless you want to change the structure of your site in a way that would affect the sitemap itself.
For example, a while ago I decided I no longer wanted my tag pages to be indexed by the search engines so I made them all ‘noindex’ and changed the settings in the Google Sitemap Generator plugin to reflect that.
But if you don’t make those kinds of changes to your site the plugin will do its job by automatically re-building itself and notifying the search engines whenever you publish, edit or delete a post or page.
Follow the settings I set out in the article I linked to above and activate Google Sitemaps on your site.
Make your site visible to the search engines
When you install WordPress there’s a question during the set up process that asks whether you want your site to be visible to the search engines.
I usually un-check this initially because I don’t want the search engines indexing the site until I’m ready for them.
However, when you are ready you need to remember to go to your WordPress Settings > Privacy screen and check the radio button next to ‘Allow search engines to index this site’.
That will remove the
*disallow command from the virtual robots.txt file that WordPress creates and the search engines will then crawl your site when they visit.
Set up your site META title, description and keywords
If your theme doesn’t offer you SEO controls there are several good plugins that will. Here are some:
Installing any of those SEO plugins will give you the option of defining both the site-wide SEO settings and SEO settings post-by-post and page-by-page on your WordPress site.
Adding unique META titles, descriptions and keywords to each of your pages and posts will greatly improve their performance in the search results, so install one of those plugins to give your on-site SEO a boost.
To the uninitiated, some of the settings on these SEO plugins can be confusing, so here are the settings for the All-in-one SEO pack, that I wrote out some time ago – you can find them here.
Whichever of those plugins you use, setting up the Title, Description and Keywords tags will be a similar process. Be sure to read through the comments in that article because I go into deeper detail in one of my comment responses than I do in the article itself.
Register and verify your site on Google Webmaster Tools
If you have a Google account you can use their webmaster tools free of charge. If you don’t have a Google account you can get one for free and I highly recommend getting it and setting up Google Webmaster Tools.
GWT provides lots of excellent information for webmasters about their sites and, particularly, any problems that Google finds with them.
If you already have a Gmail account then you’re all set – all you need to do is go into your account settings and add Google Webmaster Tools.
Once you’ve set up GWT and verified your site, and assuming you’ve already set up your sitemap (that I referred to earlier), then you need to enter your sitemap URL and submit it. This will prompt the Google bot to visit your site earlier than it might otherwise do for a new site.
I check all my sites and my clients’ sites on Google Webmaster Tools each day for any problems – it’s a fantastic resource.
I made a 5-minute video tour of Google Webmaster Tools, which you can find here, and a video on how to verify a WordPress site in GWT, which you can find here.
Make correct use of your H tags
H tags are assigned to your headings and sub-headings, and they’re recognised by the search engines as indicators of important information on your page.
In Microsoft Word they’re the sub-headings that you create by clicking ‘Heading 1, Heading 2,’ etc., when you’re writing a document. It’s the same in WordPress’ Visual View when you’re writing or editing a post (or page).
Using headings and sub-headings is an important part of making your posts and pages more readable online. Used correctly, they create a framework for your article over which you hang your words.
Importantly, though, as I mentioned earlier, they’re also key indicators to the search engines and play an important part in your on-page SEO.
So be sure to break up your article with headings and sub-headings and, in WordPress, be sure you select a heading number from the options in the drop-down menu at the left end of the lower tool bar:
WordPress will assign the appropriate H tags for you, based on the Heading number you select.
Make sure all your images have ‘alt’ tags
The search engines cannot read images but you have two ways to tell them what the images are depicting.
But it’s not just the search engines: many people have display of images turned off in their browser and you need to find a way of telling them, too, what your images are showing.
There are two ways of doing this:
- Using ‘alt’ tags
- Giving your image a relevant filename
WordPress makes it easy to add an alt tag – in fact it’s a required field on the screen where you add images. All you need to do is type what your image is showing into the ‘Description’ field when you’re adding an image.
Here’s an article on how to add images in WordPress.
Depending on where you get your images from it’s quite likely they’ll have a filename that makes no sense to a human – it’s probably an alpha-numeric file reference!
So another way to let people (and the search engines) know what your image is about is to change its filename to something more descriptive.
A filename like
half-complete-link-address.jpg makes a lot more sense than something like
Getting those on-site SEO steps in place will establish the settings and tags you need.
As I said at the beginning: once those steps are in place, forget about the search engines and write well-researched, well-written and well-presented articles that provide useful information to your readers.
The search engines are getting better and getter all the time at understanding the actual content of a page, so that’s where you need to focus your attention.
The most recent developments are in the area of what’s called semantic search, which is where the search engines are developing the ability to understand the intent behind a searcher’s query. This makes it all the more important to write clearly and keep your content focused.
Above all, though, don’t write for the search engines. Ignore them and write for people.
It’s people who will buy from you, not the search engines, so it’s imperative that people like your site, share it with others and return for more information.