What’s technical SEO? 8 technical aspects everyone should know

An SEO Basics post about technical SEO might seem like a contradiction in terms. Nevertheless, some basic knowledge about the more technical side of SEO can mean the difference between a high ranking site and a site that doesn’t rank at all. Technical SEO isn’t easy, but here we’ll explain – in layman’s language – which aspects you should (ask your developer to) pay attention to when working on the technical foundation of your website.

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO refers to improving the technical aspects of a website in order to increase the ranking of its pages in the search engines. Making a website faster, easier to crawl and understandable for search engines are the pillars of technical optimization. Technical SEO is part of on-page SEO, which focuses on improving elements on your website to get higher rankings. It’s the opposite of off-page SEO, which is about generating exposure for a website through other channels.

Why should you optimize your site technically?

Google and other search engines want to present their users with the best possible results for their query. Therefore, Google’s robots crawl and evaluate web pages on a multitude of factors. Some factors are based on the user’s experience, like how fast a page loads. Other factors help search engine robots grasp what your pages are about. This is what, amongst others, structured data does. So, by improving technical aspects you help search engines crawl and understand your site. If you do this well, you might be rewarded with higher rankings or even rich results.

It also works the other way around: if you make serious technical mistakes on your site, they can cost you. You wouldn’t be the first to block search engines entirely from crawling your site by accidentally adding a trailing slash in the wrong place in your robots.txt file.

But it’s a misconception you should focus on technical details of a website just to please search engines. A website should work well – be fast, clear and easy to use – for your users in the first place. Fortunately, creating a strong technical foundation often coincides with a better experience for both users and search engines.

What are the characteristics of a technically optimized website?

A technically sound website is fast for users and easy to crawl for search engine robots. A proper technical setup helps search engines to understand what a site is about and it prevents confusion caused by, for instance, duplicate content. Moreover, it doesn’t send visitors, nor search engines, into dead-end streets by non-working links. Here, we’ll shortly go into some important characteristics of a technically optimized website.

1. It’s fast

Nowadays, web pages need to load fast. People are impatient and don’t want to wait for a page to open. In 2016 already, research showed that 53% of mobile website visitors will leave if a webpage doesn’t open within three seconds. So if your website is slow, people get frustrated and move on to another website, and you’ll miss out on all that traffic.

Google knows slow web pages offer a less than optimal experience. Therefore they prefer web pages that load faster. So, a slow web page also ends up further down the search results than its faster equivalent, resulting in even less traffic.

Wondering if your website is fast enough? Read how to easily test your site speed. Most tests will also give you pointers on what to improve. We’ll guide you through common site speed optimization tips here.

2. It’s crawlable for search engines

Search engines use robots to crawl or spider your website. The robots follow links to discover content on your site. A great internal linking structure will make sure that they’ll understand what the most important content on your site is.

But there are more ways to guide robots. You can, for instance, block them from crawling certain content if you don’t want them to go there. You can also let them crawl a page, but tell them not to show this page in the search results or not to follow the links on that page.

Robots.txt file

You can give robots directions on your site by using the robots.txt file. It’s a powerful tool, which should be handled carefully. As we mentioned in the beginning, a small mistake might prevent robots from crawling (important parts of) your site. Sometimes, people unintentionally block their site’s CSS and JS files in the robot.txt file. These files contain code that tells browsers what your site should look like and how it works. If those files are blocked, search engines can’t find out if your site works properly.

All in all, we recommend to really dive into robots.txt if you want to learn how it works. Or, perhaps even better, let a developer handle it for you!

The meta robots tag

The robots meta tag is a piece of code that you won’t see on the page as a visitor. It’s in the source code in the so-called head section of a page. Robots read this section when finding a page. In it, they’ll find information about what they’ll find on the page or what they need to do with it.

If you want search engine robots to crawl a page, but to keep it out of the search results for some reason, you can tell them with the robots meta tag. With the robots meta tag, you can also instruct them to crawl a page, but not to follow the links on the page. With Yoast SEO it’s easy to noindex or nofollow a post or page. Learn for which pages you’d want to do that.

Read more: https://yoast.com/what-is-crawlability/

3. It doesn’t have (many) dead links

We’ve discussed that slow websites are frustrating. What might be even more annoying for visitors than a slow page, is landing on a page that doesn’t exist at all. If a link leads to a non-existing page on your site, people will encounter a 404 error page. There goes your carefully crafted user experience!

What’s more, search engines don’t like to find these error pages either. And, they tend to find even more dead links than visitors encounter because they follow every link they bump into, even if it’s hidden.

Unfortunately, most sites have (at least) some dead links, because a website is a continuous work in progress: people make things and break things. Fortunately, there are tools that can help you retrieve dead links on your site. Read about those tools and how to solve 404 errors.

To prevent unnecessary dead links, you should always redirect the URL of a page when you delete it or move it. Ideally, you’d redirect it to a page that replaces the old page. With Yoast SEO Premium, you can easily make redirects yourself. No need for a developer!

Read more: https://yoast.com/what-is-a-redirect/

4. It doesn’t confuse search engines with duplicate content

If you have the same content on multiple pages of your site – or even on other sites – search engines might get confused. Because, if these pages show the same content, which one should they rank highest? As a result, they might rank all pages with the same content lower.

Unfortunately, you might have a duplicate content issue without even knowing it. Because of technical reasons, different URLs can show the same content. For a visitor, this doesn’t make any difference, but for a search engine it does; it’ll see the same content on a different URL.

Luckily, there’s a technical solution to this issue. With the so-called, canonical link element you can indicate what the original page – or the page you’d like to rank in the search engines – is. In Yoast SEO you can easily set a canonical URL for a page. And, to make it easy for you, Yoast SEO adds self-referencing canonical links to all your pages. This will help prevent duplicate content issues that you’d might not even be aware of.

5. It’s secure

A technically optimized website is a secure website. Making your website safe for users to guarantee their privacy is a basic requirement nowadays. There are many things you can do to make your (WordPress) website secure, and one of the most crucial things is implementing HTTPS.

HTTPS makes sure that no-one can intercept the data that’s sent over between the browser and the site. So, for instance, if people log in to your site, their credentials are safe. You’ll need a so-called SSL certificate to implement HTTPS on your site. Google acknowledges the importance of security and therefore made HTTPS a ranking signal: secure websites rank higher than unsafe equivalents.

You can easily check if your website is HTTPS in most browsers. On the left hand side of the search bar of your browser, you’ll see a lock if it’s safe. If you see the words “not secure” you (or your developer) have some work to do!

Read more: SEO Basics: What is HTTPS?

6. Plus: it has structured data

Structured data helps search engines understand your website, content or even your business better. With structured data you can tell search engines, what kind of product you sell or which recipes you have on your site. Plus, it will give you the opportunity to provide all kinds of details about those products or recipes.

Because there’s a fixed format (described on Schema.org) in which you should provide this information, search engines can easily find and understand it. It helps them to place your content in a bigger picture. Here, you can read a story about how it works and how Yoast SEO helps you with that.

Implementing structured data can bring you more than just a better understanding by search engines. It also makes your content eligible for rich results; those shiny results with stars or details that stand out in the search results.

7. Plus: It has an XML sitemap

Simply put, an XML sitemap is a list of all pages of your site. It serves as a roadmap for search engines on your site. With it, you’ll make sure search engines won’t miss any important content on your site. The XML sitemap is often categorized in posts, pages, tags or other custom post types and includes the number of images and the last modified date for every page.

Ideally, a website doesn’t need an XML sitemap. If it has an internal linking structure which connects all content nicely, robots won’t need it. However, not all sites have a great structure, and having an XML sitemap won’t do any harm. So we’d always advise having an XML site map on your site.

8. Plus: International websites use hreflang

If your site targets more than one country or countries where the same language is spoken, search engines need a little help to understand which countries or language you’re trying to reach. If you help them, they can show people the right website for their area in the search results.

Hreflang tags help you do just that. You can define for a page which country and language it is meant for. This also solves a possible duplicate content problem: even if your US and UK site show the same content, Google will know it’s written for a different region.

Optimizing international websites is quite a specialism. If you’d like to learn how to make your international sites rank, we’d advise taking a look at our Multilingual SEO training.

Want to learn more about this?

So this is technical SEO in a nutshell. It’s quite a lot already, while we’ve only scratched the surface here. There’s so much more to tell about the technical side of SEO! If you want to take a deep-dive into technical SEO, we’d advise our Technical SEO training or Structured data training. With these courses, you’ll learn how to create a solid technical foundation for your own website.

PS You’re the ambitious type? Get both training courses together and save $59!

Read more: https://yoast.com/wordpress-seo/

The post What’s technical SEO? 8 technical aspects everyone should know appeared first on Yoast.

WordPress SEO

The definitive guide to higher rankings for WordPress sites

This is the original WordPress SEO article since 2008, fully updated for 2019!

WordPress is one of the best content management systems when it comes to SEO. But even though it gets a lot right “out of the box”, there’s much more that you can do to improve your performance.

Optimizing your site using the tactics and best practices outlined in this article will help you improve your rankings, gain more subscribers or sales, and have a better website in general.

Because good SEO should be ingrained in all aspects of your online marketing and PR, this guide covers quite a lot of ground! It’s a long read, so feel free to use the table of contents below to jump around. Or, just download the PDF and get comfy on the couch!

Before we start…

This article assumes that you’re using our Yoast SEO plugin, which adds significantly more features and SEO tools to WordPress. If you’re not already using it, you can set it up right away with our beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO.

If you’re using another SEO plugin, like All in One SEO or Ultimate SEO, most of the principles will still apply. Of course, we’d prefer you to switch over and make use of our extremely powerful WordPress SEO plugin, which is why we’ve written a migration guide for you. It’s a really easy process!

Table of Contents

1. Get your basic WordPress SEO right

Out of the box, WordPress is a pretty well-optimized content management system. A basic setup can provide a strong foundation — even without extensive customization, theme optimization, and plugins. That said, there are a few things you should do to increase your chances of ranking, refine your workflow, and make sure your website is perfectly optimized.

By putting the right basic settings in place, and applying a few simple techniques, you can ensure that you have a strong foundation to build upon!

1.1. Check your health

First things first. Before you make any changes to your site, it is a good idea to see where you are now. There’s a lot to gain from getting it right: running your site on a modern server with updated software, at a web host that offers great performance. So ask yourself: on what hardware and software is your site running? What is your hosting plan? Are you using a budget shared hosting provider or have you invested in a dedicated hosting plan at a well-known web host that fine-tuned its servers for use with WordPress?

To get a sense of what is going on behind the scenes of your site, you can install the Health Check plugin. This plugin gives you loads of technical insights and helps you get information that outside parties can use to help you improve your site.

Health Check is incredibly helpful — so much so, that the WordPress team is now going to include the plugin in the core WordPress environment.

Health Check recommends updating an outdated version of PHP

1.1.1 Check you’re using suitable hosting

According to WordPress’ technical requirements page, the recommended hosting plan to run WordPress should include a modern version of PHP, MySQL or MariaDB, and HTTPS support. It is possible to work with older server software, but that is not recommended. If you’ve installed the Health Check plugin, you can see the technical details of your installation. In addition, if you open the dashboard of your hosting provider, you should be able to see what type of plan you are on.

Remember, paying for good WordPress hosting pays dividends.

1.1.2. Upgrade to PHP 7.0 or higher

Many WordPress sites still run on outdated versions of PHP. One look at the WordPress stats reveals that almost half of the sites still run on a PHP version in the 5 series, while PHP 7.0 and up has been available for more than three years.

Backward compatibility is cool and all, but it’s holding back WordPress as a technology and site owners from getting the most out of their sites. These old versions of PHP don’t receive any more security fixes and are thus increasingly vulnerable to attacks.

Luckily, the WordPress team has dropped support for anything older than PHP 5.6. In December 2019, that minimum supported version of PHP will be upped to PHP 7.0. After that, it will follow the release schedule of PHP more closely.

So, one of the most important things you can do to improve the performance and security of your site is upgrading your hosting environment to a modern version of PHP. There are a lot of benefits to this:

  • PHP 7 offers an incredible speed boost.
  • It runs a lot more efficient, meaning less stress on your server.
  • Bring loads of modern development features.
  • It’s a much safer and more secure environment.
  • It’s future proof.

Now, this is something we all want, right? If you’ve checked your current hosting set-up in the previous section, you have an idea of what your site runs on now. If this shows outdated server software like PHP 5.5, it is a good idea to update this, if possible.

However, take special care before doing so. Ask for help if you’re not sure what you are doing.

Here are some steps to take:

  • (Always!) Backup your website.
  • Make a local staging environment based on a modern version of PHP.
  • Install the backup of your site on that server.
  • Test thoroughly to see if everything works properly.
  • Upgrade your live site — most of the times, your hosting provider can do this for you.

We have a post that shows you how to set up a test environment for your WordPress site. WordPress.org has a post on the advantages of updating your PHP version and what to take into consideration when doing that.

1.1.3. Make sure you’re using SSL and HTTPS

Historically, adopting SSL (getting an HTTPS URL, and a green padlock icon in the browser URL bar) was an optional tactic. Many sites, arguably, didn’t need the extra level of security which SSL provides.

Now, however, having a valid SSL certificate installed is mandatory — search engines may ‘penalize’ sites without valid SSL certificates and setups (and/or show warnings next to their search results). It’s also generally good practice for all websites to use SSL, to prevent hackers and third parties from intercepting requests and data.

Additionally, many modern site speed and performance techniques require a valid SSL/HTTPS setup. To take advantage of new, faster web technologies like HTTP/2, browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox require the website to have a valid SSL certificate.

If you want to move to SSL and ensure that your site is served correctly over HTTPS, we have a handy guide with tips & tricks for moving to HTTPS.

1.2. Check your site settings

It’s worth spending some time clicking through all of the sections in the WordPress Settings menu, as many of the options there can impact the SEO of your WordPress site.

In particular, it’s worth double checking your Privacy settings, to make sure that you’re not accidentally preventing search engines from indexing your website. That’d definitely hurt your visibility!

You should also make sure that your Writing and Reading settings are all set correctly, these control your default categories, and what should be displayed on your homepage. Don’t forget to give your site a strong tagline in Settings → General, too!

Your permalink settings define what format your page and post URLs will take, which can have a big impact on SEO. So if yo u’re creating a new site, one of the first things you should do is change your permalink settings, which you can find in Settings → Permalinks.

If you don’t change your settings from the default, all of your pages and posts will have URLs which look like example.com/?p=123. Whilst this is perfectly okay, it’s not particularly nice, and it might impact how users and search engines perceive the quality and relevance of your pages.

Changing the permalink structure alters the components, ordering, and structure of your website’s URLs. It’s important to select the right structure when initially setting up your website, as changing it later can cause SEO issues.

We usually recommend that people use a structure which creates URLs which look like example.com/post-name/, or example.com/category/post-name/, depending on how much importance they anticipate placing on the categorization of their content. For most WordPress sites, choosing either of these options will be perfectly suitable.

For the first option, you can just change the permalink setting to /%postname%/, like so:

Changing the permalink settings to ‘Post name’, in Settings → Permalinks

To include the category, you can select “Custom Structure” and change the value to /%category%/%postname%/.

If you previously had ?p=<postid> as your permalink, WordPress will take care of all the redirects for you. This is also true if you change from /%postname%/ to /%category%/%postname%/.

If you have an established site and change from any other permalink structure, you might want to consult our article on changing your WordPress permalink structure and the tool that you’ll find within it.

1.3.1. Choose WWW or non-WWW

You need to think about what you want your site to show up as www.example.com, or simply example.com. Make sure that in your general settings, in Settings → General, the version you want to show up is properly reflected:

Setting the site URL to include or omit ‘www’

From an SEO perspective, there’s little difference either way. Additionally, most hosting and server setups will automatically redirect requests for the ‘wrong’ version, to the version you’ve selected. That makes this primarily a branding consideration — which approach feels best for your site?

From a technical perspective, there’s not a huge amount of difference, either. Some setups might have some minor headaches if they omit the ‘www’ component, but these are increasingly rare.

2. Optimize your content

Your site should provide the best content on your chosen subject — period. People are looking for engaging, authoritative articles and trustworthy answers to their questions. Writing high-quality content for your WordPress site begins with your own unique ideas or distinctive take on a particular topic. But it also means presenting these ideas in a well-structured and accessible manner. Together, this will help you attract the audience you’re looking for and keep them engaged.

2.1. Research what your users want and need

Before writing your content, you should think about what search terms you want to be found for. Every page or post should be optimized for a specific keyphrase.

But how can you determine what keyphrase you want to be found for? To find out, you need to do keyword research. In this process, you should ask yourself questions such as: what terms do I want to rank for? How realistic is that I can rank for these terms?

Imagine you have a baking blog and you’re passionate about sharing your favorite recipes and baking techniques. Optimizing a post for a term such as [best cake recipe] isn’t such a realistic goal, because it’s a very general term. There’s a lot of competition for such general terms. Instead, you should think about finding your own niche. This niche could be [healthy, low-sugar cake recipes] or [French patisserie you can make at home].

Within a niche, you can become a true expert. Your expertise can enable you to create content that goes beyond that of your competitors. You can go deeper than others, or shed light on different angles of the same topic. For this, you’ll want to focus on long tail keyphrases. A long tail keyphrase might be [how to make a low-calorie vegan blueberry cheesecake]. A keyphrase like this is more specific, and therefore easier to rank for. Also, it’ll be more suitable for your specific niche topic.

It’s also important to think about what your audience actually wants to achieve by searching for a specific term. This is called search intent. For example, they could be looking for the answer to a specific question and you are able to provide the necessary information. Or they might want to buy a specific product that you can offer them. Think about the needs of your visitors and address them by creating content accordingly.

Need a hand doing keyword research properly? Our Keyword research training can help.

2.2. Write great content for your users

After you’ve done your keyword research and you know the topics you want to write about, you need to get to the actual writing. Most of the time that’s easier said than done. To get from an idea to a great piece of content, most likely you’ll have to follow a cycle of drafting, writing, editing, and rewriting.

Your first draft can just be an outline of your structure. You don’t have to write out everything in perfect prose at this point, but make sure that you follow a logical structure. For most pieces, that will include an introduction, your main points of argument, and a conclusion. Of course, this will vary per genre – a recipe will have a completely different structure.

You can flesh out the points further in the writing phase, where you try to come up with a first complete version of your text. Finally, in the editing phase, you should check whether your piece is engaging and easy to read. You might be an expert on your topic, but your audience probably isn’t (yet). So try to make your writing as accessible as possible. When in doubt, it’s always best to ask a friend or colleague for some feedback. Another good trick is to read your text out loud to yourself. You can even let your computer speak it. It will give you a better idea of whether everything flows nicely.

2.3. Optimize your individual posts & pages

When writing or editing your post, there are a number of elements you need to pay special attention to in order to make it SEO-friendly. These elements include your subheadings, your title, and your meta description. All of these need to reflect the topic of the specific post.

Don’t forget, SEO-friendly doesn’t just mean that it’s easy for a search engine to grasp the topic of a page. More importantly, it means that your visitors can get the gist of your page at a single glance.

Your meta description and your title might be a deciding factor for whether visitors click on your page in the search results in the first place. And once they’ve visited your site, elements like subheadings can be critical for visitors to decide whether they want to stay on your site.

2.3.1. Set your focus keyphrase(s)

One important rule is not to use a focus keyphrase on more than one page. Otherwise, you might end up cannibalizing yourself. Most of the time, you don’t want to rank for multiple pages on the same keyphrase, because it means that you’re setting yourself up as your own competition.

It’s also important to include the focus keyphrase in crucial elements of your post such as the title, the introduction, your subheadings, and your meta description.

All of these elements are crucial signals for what your post is about. Since your focus keyphrase is, in fact, the main topic of your page, it’s a logical consequence that you should make sure this topic is reflected in all of these elements.

The same logic holds true for your text overall: you need to make sure that you don’t stray off-topic; if you stay on-topic, it should follow naturally that you use your keyphrase multiple times throughout your text. But avoid stuffing your text with your keyphrase just for the sake of it. If you find it hard to include your keyphrase in your text a sufficient number of times, it might be a sign that you should take a different approach to the topic.

To avoid repetition, you can use synonyms. Synonyms are words that mean exactly the same or more or less the same as your keyphrase. An example of this are the words film and movie. Search engines will recognize that they have the same meaning, which you can also check by having a look at the search results: if you search for movie, film will also be highlighted in the results, and vice versa.

You can also make use of related keyphrases to optimize a single page for similar, related terms. You can use these to give context to your keyphrase. For example, if your keyphrase is [pumpkin soup] your related keyphrase might be [winter weeknight dinners]. This second, broader term gives additional information about your topic. It can also create coherence by establishing a link to similar pages on your post.

The Yoast SEO Premium analysis makes it easier to optimize your post thanks to word forms, synonyms, and related keyphrases.

2.3.2. Optimize your permalink

In most cases, your post’s URL should probably contain your focus keyphrase, so that it’s obvious what your page is about from the link. That said, you should always try and keep your permalinks short, descriptive, and clean — don’t put unnecessary words in for the sake of it!

Before you publish new posts or pages, you may also wish to consider removing ‘stopwords’ from your permalink. These are words like “a”, “and”, and “the”. When done carefully, this may make your permalinks more readable, and easier to use or link to. Posts with especially long titles may benefit from this approach.

For posts which have already been published, we’d recommend being careful when changing permalinks. If people have already linked to your pages, changing the URLs may make a mess. Even though WordPress will sometimes redirect users to the new location (the redirects manager in Yoast SEO Premium handles this automatically, and more reliably), changing URLs can impact performance.

2.3.3. Optimize your page title

Each page’s title — the contents of the HTML <title> tag — can be one of the most important factors for ranking well in search results. Not only is it the literal title of the tab or browser window, but it’s also the first line people see in the search results. It describes what your page is, or is about, and acts as an advert which encourages users to click.

On many websites, the default structure for posts and pages isn’t necessarily the most optimal approach for SEO. A title like “My blog » Cooking » Carbonara recipe” isn’t as compelling or effective as “My 20-minute delicious carbonara recipe | My Blog”.

It’s critical that you think about the structure of your titles, as well as the content of the title on each individual page. Typically, it’s worth considering that:

  • Search engines may put more weight on the early words — so trying to get your keywords near the start of the title might make you more likely to rank well.
  • People scanning result pages see the early words first. If your keywords are at the start of your listing your page is more likely to get clicked on.
The Snippet Preview in Yoast SEO gives you an idea of how your post will look in search engines. Use it to make your content stand out!
The Snippet Preview in Yoast SEO gives you an idea of how your post will look in search engines. Use it to make your content stand out!

For more info on how to create enticing titles for your posts, read our article on crafting good titles for SEO.

Did you know? You can use Yoast SEO to structure your titles!

You can control the default structure of your page titles and descriptions in your Yoast SEO plugin. There are two parts of the plugin that control these. First of all, as soon as you install and activate the plugin, you get an ‘SEO’ section in your WordPress admin.

Navigate to SEO → Search Appearance and you’ll see a bunch of tabs for different types of pages on your site.

For each post type and taxonomy, you can set a so-called Title Template — as well as meta description templates. For posts on our site this looks like this:

Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs
Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs

This allows you to use components and variables to control how your page titles should behave by default. Of course, these can be overridden on a page-by-page basis.

For example, in the image above, you can see how we’re automatically grabbing elements like the title of the page, to stop us from having to manually write titles from scratch for every page.

There are all sorts of variables you can use in the titles and meta description, and they’re all listed and explained in the help tab on the page.

For advanced users, there are some additional cool features. For instance, you can use cf_<custom field name> to drop in any custom field — either from a post meta value or a user meta value.

NOTE: When you use these templates, be sure to check that your title tags behave as expected when viewed on the site. If they don’t, you may have a problem with the way your theme is built, and you might need to check the “Force rewrite” checkbox in our options. You can also follow these instructions to modify your templates.

2.3.4. Use headings correctly

Headings are great for structuring your content and helping readers process information in bite-sized chunks. They can also be helpful in describing a page’s layout and focus to search engines.

WordPress transforms the headings you put in your content into their respective HTML tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3> and so on). That makes it important to think about which type of headings you use, and in which order. Getting that wrong can make your content harder to understand.

Although most themes for WordPress get the basics right, it’s worth making sure that your template sets your post title is an <h1> tag, and that you’re not using <h1> tags anywhere else in your page or your post content.

Your post content should then ‘flow’ naturally; for example, large, significant headings should use <h2> tags, subsections should use <h3> tags, and then subsequent new sections should use <h2>.

To learn more about why proper headings are important, please read this article on headings and SEO. In addition, you can read our article about the heading structure for your blog — from which a lot applies to non-blog WordPress sites too.

2.3.5. Optimize your meta description

A meta description is primarily used search engines to show a description of your page in the search engine results, usually below your page title.

Tailoring and writing a descriptive meta description can encourage users to click your results in the search engine, even if you’re not necessarily ranking in the top position. It’s an advert, and your opportunity to impress.

Writing compelling, informative descriptions of your page content for every page on your site is best practice and gives you the opportunity to attract more visits.

Whilst it might feel like a lot of work to craft descriptions for every single page and post, it’s worth the effort.

We don’t recommend automated descriptions

Some themes and plugins try to produce descriptions automatically, by taking the first sentence or so of a post. This is a clever shortcut, but it rarely produces good descriptions.

The first sentence of a post is often introductory information, which doesn’t provide a great summary or an enticing advert!
The only well-written description is a handwritten one, and if you’re thinking of auto-generating the meta description, you might as well not do anything, and let the search engine pick and control the snippet.

Auto-generating a snippet is a “shortcut”, and there are no real shortcuts in SEO!

If you don’t provide a meta description, the search engine will generally try to find the keyword which was searched for in your page, and automatically pick a string around that — and highlight the searched phrase in bold in the results page.

Automatically generated snippets (whether by plugins, or search engines) are rarely as descriptive or as compelling as hand-written ones. So, we recommend that you use the meta description field you find in the Yoast SEO plugin to write a meta description. Make sure it entices the reader to click through and make sure that it contains the focus keyword of your post or page at least once.

NOTE: Search engines may choose to ignore your meta description if they think that it’s unsuitable for the page, or they might choose to show a custom description from the page content if they think it’s a better fit. There’s no way of forcing them to use your specific snippet.

2.3.6. Optimize your images and media

An often overlooked part of WordPress SEO is how you handle your images, videos, and media content.

To make sure that search engines can understand your images, you need to think about how you name and format your files. Writing descriptive accessible text descriptions helps, too, and can improve your performance significantly. As an added benefit, you’re also helping out readers who rely on assistive technologies like screen readers.

Using the proper alt attributes for images, and transcripts of videos are also something that we check in the content analysis functionality of our Yoast SEO plugin.

We have a longer article on image SEO and one writing alt tags, which can give you more tips to fine-tune your image optimization!

2.4. Maintain your content quality

2.4.1 Keep your content fresh and up to date

As Google strives to show its users the best and up to date information, you should keep track of your content and revise it regularly. Even more so, because you don’t want to show the visitors of your website outdated, redundant or incorrect information.

If you publish regularly and have hundreds, or even thousands, of blog posts, this is easier said than done. That’s why we’d advise focusing on two specific areas when it comes to content maintenance: updating cornerstone content and preventing keyword cannibalization.

2.4.2. Update your cornerstone content

Some pages on your site are more important than others. The most valuable content of your site is called cornerstone content. We’ve written extensively about cornerstone articles and how they can improve your rankings.

In short, these posts or pages:

  • contain essential information for your audience;
  • are complete, up-to-date and well-written;
  • show authority;
  • get the most links from related posts within your own site;
  • rank higher than your other articles on the same topic;
  • get most organic traffic to your site.

When you’re in doubt where to start with updating your site’s content, always give priority to your cornerstone content. Your business relies on them, and they should never go stale!

2.4.3. No outdated cornerstones with Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO makes it a little easier to keep your cornerstones up to date at all times. If you use Yoast SEO on your site, you can mark a post as a cornerstone article. Doing so, these articles will undergo a more rigorous SEO analysis. In addition, they’ll appear in a separate list in your post overview, which makes it easy to browse through them and check if they’re still up to scratch.

If you’re on Yoast SEO premium, keeping track of them is even easier. The Stale cornerstone content filter only shows your cornerstone articles which haven’t been updated in the last 6 months. You’ll find this filter in your post overview. If it doesn’t show any posts you’re good, and if there are one or more posts in it, make sure you check and update them!

Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs
Here are yoast.com’s settings for the individual Post URLs

2.4.4. Keyword cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization means you’re eating away your own rankings by creating too many articles for the same or similar keywords. If you have a dozen articles on the same topic, search engines don’t know which one of those they should rank highest. As a result, you’ll be competing with your own articles for a high position in the search engines.

If you publish frequently, as we do at Yoast, you’re bound to run into keyword cannibalization issues someday. That’s why we’ve created a framework on how to deal with keyword cannibalism. In short, you’ll have to:

  • Find out for which keywords it’s happening;
  • Analyze which content performs best for those keywords;
  • Keep the best performing posts;
  • Decide if you should merge the other posts into the better performing one;
  • Or just delete and redirect them.

Check out this detailed guide on content maintenance by Joost de Valk to learn how to go about this.

2.5. Avoid accidental duplicate content

2.5.1. What is duplicate content?

Duplicate content issues arise when search engines encounter multiple URLs with the same or very similar content. As a result, search engines don’t know which of these URLs to rank higher, resulting in lower rankings for all of them.  

In the previous section, we’ve already addressed keyword cannibalization, which is caused by writing about the same topic too often. But most of the times, the root of duplicate content is technical and can happen without you even noticing.

For instance, some content management systems add session IDs or parameters for tracking to URLs. Or, you might have www and non-www versions of a certain page indexed. Accordingly, you’ll have multiple URLs showing the exact same content.

Besides the technical reasons, your articles can get scraped or copied by other parties. So, there are many different causes for duplicate content, as you can read in this extensive article on duplicate content.

If you want to find out if your site suffers from duplicate content, you can use these duplicate content tools to check your site for issues.

2.5.2. Solutions for duplicate content

How you should solve your duplicate content issue depends on the cause of the issue. In general, there are three ways to go about this — in order of preference:

  • Whenever possible, avoid creating duplicate content. If your system creates session IDs in the URL, try to turn that off, for instance.
  • Can’t avoid creating them? 301 redirect those URLs to the original version.
  • Really need to keep a duplicate article? Make sure to add a canonical link to the original version in the <head> section of the duplicate article. It will show search engines what the original version of the article is, so they can pass the link juice on to the original version. In the next section you’ll find out how easy this is with Yoast SEO.

If you want to learn how to solve specific duplicate content issues, check out Joost’s ultimate guide on causes and solutions for duplicate content.

2.5.3. Set a canonical link with Yoast SEO

With Yoast SEO, it’s very easy to add a canonical link to a post or page. No need for a developer! Just go to the Advanced tab in the Yoast SEO metabox below your post or page. There, you’ll find the Canonical URL field where you can enter the URL of the original article — the one you want to point search engines to:  

Fill in your canonical URL in the advanced section of the Yoast SEO metabox
Fill in your canonical URL in the advanced section of the Yoast SEO metabox

If you don’t set a canonical, Yoast SEO will set a self-referencing canonical for you. This means that the article will point to itself. Learn why self referencing canonicals are beneficial for SEO.

2.6. Support international audiences

To optimize your site for audiences in several countries or language regions, you’ll need to optimize both your content and your technical setup.

Let’s start with the content aspects of international SEO. Doing targeted keyword research and writing fresh content for each audience is crucial. Take items for clothing, for example. An American vest is a completely different garment from a British vest, or a Dutch vest, or a French vest, or a Spanish vest… you get the point. We don’t recommend using automated translations. Invest time and resources in proper research and translations with which to optimize your keywords and copy.

Another important aspect of international SEO is picking the right domain structure. Generally, a different ccTLD (e.g. www.yoast.de) for every variation is only a good option for very large companies with big budgets. In most cases, subdirectories (e.g. www.yoast.com/de) are the way to go.

Search engines want to display the right language version of your site to each visitor, whatever country they’re from. To help them, you need to implement hreflang. hreflang is code that tells the search engines what language variations of a page are available and helps prevent duplicate content problems. It’s quite a complex piece of code, but our hreflang guide helps you along the way — or, you can take our Multilingual SEO training.

3. Optimize your site structure

A solid site structure helps your users and the search engines navigate your site. On top of that, it will make clear what pages on your website are most important. There are two pillars to a good site structure: organizing your site and contextual internal linking.

3.1. Organize your site

Organizing your site will help you set up a navigation path from your homepage right to your individual posts and pages, and back. Adding categories and subcategories will bring order to chaos. Ideally, your site should be organized as such:

You should always make sure your homepage is clear and easy to navigate. Cluttering the homepage with too many options will make your site more difficult to understand. Adding a clear menu and breadcrumbs helps your user navigate your site wherever they are.

3.2. Connect your content with contextual internal linking

Besides organizing your site, you need to link up your content within your copy. We call this contextual internal linking because these links always appear within the context of a text.

Contextual internal links set up a network of pages, which points your users to related content. In a post on keyword research, for example, linking to an article on SEO copywriting makes a lot of sense. For search engines, these links provide insight into how pages are related to each other as well.

Always make sure that the number of links to a page reflects the importance of that page. Our ultimate guides get a lot of links from individual posts about related topics. This helps users and search engines understand that these guides are crucial pillars of our site.

When adding a contextual internal link, make sure the link makes sense within the context of the current page. Moreover, always use anchor texts which accurately describe the page you’re linking to. This provides users and search engines with the context they need to assess whether the link is useful.

3.3. Manage your categories and tags

WordPress has two default ways of structuring your content: categories and tags. Categories add hierarchy to your content and group topics broadly. On a website about cooking, pasta could be a category. Tags are non-hierarchical and can be used to describe your post in more detail. Dinner party themes, for example, could be a tag.

When setting up your site structure, pick a number of main categories. Adding them to your menu can be a good idea, especially if you only have a blog. If you have a blog and several products, a different setup might make more sense. Make sure your categories are roughly the same size. If your categories become too big, make subcategories. Your category pages can be great landing pages, especially for eCommerce sites

Tags are useful for users exploring topics, but they are often misapplied. It’s important not to use too many tags, and to use them more than once or twice. Remember, you want to group your content, not just give it a description.

If you want to structure your content differently, WordPress also allows you to create custom taxonomies. Always consider carefully whether your custom taxonomy groups content in a way that makes sense and helps your visitors.

3.4. Manage your archive pages

If you use categories and tags, you will automatically create archive pages. These pages contain a list of the posts and pages within a certain category or tag. Besides categories and tags, there are date-based archive pages and author archives. These archive pages need managing because they cause SEO problems if you don’t.

First of all, you want to prevent search engines from indexing archive pages that don’t make sense on your site. You can use the Yoast SEO plugin for this. You do this under SEO → Search Appearance, where you’ll find the following options on the “Archives” tab:

The settings above are the settings for our site. As you can see, we’ve completely disabled the date-based archives, as we don’t use those. Any date-based link will redirect to our homepage because of this setting. We’ve left the author archives untouched, but we have set the subpages of those archives to be noindex, follow by default. This way, you’ll never land on page two of an archive on our site from the search engines.

If your blog is a one-author blog, or you don’t think you need author archives, use Yoast SEO to disable the author archives. Also, if you don’t think you need a date-based archive: disable it as we have. Even if you’re not using these archives in your template, someone might link to them and thus break your WordPress SEO…

There is one type of archive that is noindex,follow by default in the Yoast SEO plugin: your own internal search function result pages. This is a best practice from Google.

3.4.1. Pagination

If you have lots of posts on your WordPress site, you might want to think about how your pagination looks and works. Otherwise, you might find that your best content is ‘buried’ deep in your site, and users and search engines may struggle to find it.

There are two things, in particular, you need to think about:

  • You should check that your theme supports rel=”next” and rel=”prev” for paginated archives. If that sounds a bit complex, don’t worry — the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin takes care of this for you automatically.
  • You should consider customizing how your pagination looks and works so that it’s a bit more helpful for users and search engines. We really recommend checking out the WP-PageNavi plugin!

You’ll probably want to add breadcrumbs to your posts and pages. Breadcrumbs are the links, usually above the title post, that looks like “Home > Articles > WordPress SEO“. They are good for two things:

  • They allow your users to easily navigate your site.
  • They allow search engines to determine the structure of your site more easily.

These breadcrumbs should link back to the homepage, and the category the post is in. If the post is in multiple categories it should pick one.

To get breadcrumb navigation to show you on your pages, you may need to adapt your single.php and page.php files in your theme, and include the code for breadcrumbs from the Yoast SEO plugin. You find the settings and instructions on how to do that in the SEO → Search Appearance section.

3.6. Manage your HTML & XML sitemaps

You can use XML sitemaps to tell Google and the other search engines that your site has been updated. Our WordPress SEO plugin automatically configures your XML sitemaps, so you don’t have to worry about anything. We generate sitemaps for your different post types, including your images, and make sure that it generates and loads really quickly.

We intelligently split your sitemaps up into smaller bits, so Google only has to fetch one new XML “sub”-sitemap when a post is published.

You can check and manage which types of your content, archives, and templates should be included in your XML sitemaps in your SEO → Search Appearance settings. Content types which are set to not show in search results will be automatically excluded from your XML sitemaps.

Lastly, our XML sitemaps support has a pretty complete API, allowing developers to add or change functionality through their plugins and themes. Our own Local SEO, News SEO and Video SEO extensions (which generate their own, specific sitemaps) are built on this API, and, other plugins frequently build their own solutions on top of our system.

For larger or more complex sites, it might make sense to provide an HTML sitemap, too. This is a normal page on your website, which helps users navigate to deeper or more specific content.

4. Speed up your WordPress website

If your website is slow, you risk frustrating your users. That makes them less likely to engage, browse, convert, or visit again. That, in turn, can make them less likely to share your content, link to your pages, or recommend your brand.

In short, speed is an important part of WordPress SEO, and a huge part of the overall user experience. That means that it’s critical to measure and manage your performance — especially for users on mobile or slower connections!

4.1. Measure your site speed

Measuring the speed of your site can be confusing. Different tools give different scores and results, and sometimes even give conflicting information.

That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide on how to measure your speed — it’ll walk you through the basics of picking the right metrics, to using the right tools for the job when it comes to monitoring and diagnosing issues.

4.2. Improve your site speed

Once you’ve identified what and where your bottlenecks are, the next challenge is to make hosting, theme, plugin and performance tweaks to speed things up.

Page speed optimization is a discipline in its own right and spans well-beyond WordPress SEO. That means that the biggest opportunities will vary from site to site, and situation to situation. For some sites, the easiest wins might come from changing hosting or utilizing a CDN; for others, it might mean re-assessing their use of plugins, or, altering how they load CSS and JavaScript.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t get started, though. We’ve put together a great guide on some page speed tools and easy wins which you can use to get the ball rolling.

5. Secure your WordPress website

WordPress is the most-used platform for website management in the world. It powers 33% of the web (March 2019). While that is awesome, it also means that WordPress is the most targeted platform for hackers. When running a WordPress website, basic security is dealt with by the platform, but there are things you can do yourselves to make your website more secure.

That starts with your own login. The default username in WordPress is admin, so change that first. Otherwise, a hacker’s first guess for your username is just too easy. The same goes for your password. Passwords like ‘123456’ and ‘welcome01’ are just not enough. Use a password manager like 1Password or LastPass and pick a 20+ character password instead. WordPress also has a number of plugins for two-factor verification, so adding that to your website is easy as pie as well. Do it.

There is more you can do, of course, please read our article detailing WordPress security in a few easy steps. We’ll highlight some of the recommendations below.

5.1. Make regular backups

The next thing we’d like you to do is create regular backups. In case your site gets hacked, or something else goes wrong — for instance, when updating a plugin or theme —, it’s important that you revert that change in a heartbeat. Regular backups make sure that this can be done.

In WordPress, there is a wide range of backup options to choose from. Several plugin developers have created nice software solutions for you, so you don’t have the technical hassle of that backup. At Yoast, we recommend and have good experiences with the Blogvault backup solution. That service has additional benefits like creating staging sites and easy migration options.

5.2. Harden your setup

Hardening your setup starts with picking the right hosting company for your WordPress website. That’s just the start, as every host will do its best to help you out, but it’ll still be your responsibility to harden your setup. Also, tools like Cloudflare are good friends for any company/website in this.

An easy first step is to limit login attempts. By limiting the amount people can try to login to your website — close your login form after five false logins, for example — you are hardening your install against brute force attacks and other malicious acts targeting that form.

The next thing you need to do is to make sure that your WordPress install, including plugins and themes, is always up-to-date. Updates might fix security issues as well. Make sure to check regularly for updates, and keep your WordPress install up-to-date.

Another important thing to realize is that you are dealing with security every time you add a new user or writer to your WordPress install. There’s an article in the WordPress Codex regarding Roles and Capabilities you should read. It comes down to giving permissions only to those that need it when they need it and only for the time they need it. No need to give a guest blogger administrative rights to your website, right?

Authentication Keys and Salts work in conjunction with each other to protect your cookies and passwords in transit between the browser and web server. Make sure to change these keys when installing a new WordPress instance.

Another easy fix that we’d like to mention is to make sure your template files can’t be edited from the WordPress backend. You can do this in AppearanceEditor. When a hacker managed to get passed your login form, this is really the easiest way to add evil code to your website. Hardening this involves changing your wp-config file.

5.3. Use monitoring and logging

Security is an ongoing process. You need to keep a keen eye on any breaches and keep your website as secure as possible. You could put part of your WordPress security in the hands of, for instance, a company like Sucuri. In case of a hack, they fix this asap. For your own monitoring, you could check your site on a regular basis with their Sitecheck tool. There are a couple of plugins that can help you secure your WordPress site by, for instance, monitor files on your server, like WordFence, iThemes or Sucuri. Pick your plugin of choice, as long as you make sure that security is monitored.

It can also be useful to just keep track of everything that’s happening on your website like file changes and logged in users. There are several plugins and tools for that as well, like WP Security Audit Log. Keeping track of these things makes sure that you can find irregularities in your install and act on these, or find what happened when in case of a security issue.

6. Cater to your mobile visitors

People are always on the move these days. From city to city or conference room to conference room. People are waiting in lines, at cinemas, at the bakery, at lunch. And what do we do when we are on the move or waiting? Indeed, we check the weather, read the news, check social media or order clothes in that new online designer shop our friend texted us via Whatsapp, iMessage or Signal. What’s more, our mobile devices are becoming the de facto way of browsing the web, even when we’re at home, lying on our couch. We visit mobile websites. You, as a website owner, need to cater to your mobile visitors.

According to Statcounter, mobile market share surpassed desktop market share almost all of 2018. This means that if you are only optimizing for desktop visitors, you are not optimizing for the majority of your visitors. Of course, it depends on your specific niche, since those numbers could be different. Google Analytics can give you the exact numbers for your site.

With a mobile market share like this, there is no way you can consider your mobile website an ‘extra’. Maybe it’s time to make mobile the default. It’s time for mobile SEO.

6.1. Make sure your theme is mobile-friendly

After making sure that your site is fast, make sure your website, or rather your theme, is mobile-friendly. Making your website mobile-friendly starts with making sure the links are not too close together, and buttons are easily clickable. Your font should be consistent and shouldn’t be too small and your images not too big, both in file size and dimensions.

We’d like to highlight two specific mobile theme optimizations below.

6.1.1. Use responsive design techniques

Responsive design means that the design of your website adapts to the screen size your visitor is using. You can do this by using specific CSS media queries. We wrote about responsive design way back when, but in the basis, things are still the same. You have to address certain ranges of screen widths and design for those. Most WordPress themes should be responsive by now.

Depending on the part of the world you are targeting, no, depending on how fast their mobile internet is (2G? Already at 5G?), you might want to change a couple of things. Think about how you use images on your site. Are you using any text enhancements or font variations that might hinder a good performance of the mobile website? Responsive design helps you build a more focused website. That brings us to the second optimization:

6.1.2. Prioritize what’s important to mobile users

Take a step back and look at your website: what do your users want to do here? Define the four to six main tasks your user performs on your website and focus on these. Maybe even give the most important task a big fat call-to-action button.

Here’s an example: If you have a local business, the two main tasks might be calling you or finding the directions to your business. That means you could add these as a special mobile menu, for instance, — some kind of bar that is visible all the time. Focus on your visitor’s main tasks and make their life as easy as possible. How to find these top tasks? Ask your visitors! Also, check Google Analytics for the most visited pages on your mobile website. More about Analytics further down this article.

6.2. Consider using AMP

If you are using WordPress, you could serve Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) as well. AMP is a 2015 initiative by Google and some major publishers. It allows for fast mobile pages and does so by stripping some of the design. AMP these days is used for both static content and dynamic content like news articles. AMP has pretty strict code requirements, so be sure to validate your AMP pages frequently.

One of the challenges you as a website owner might have is to make sure the AMP version of your website aligns with your branding. Make sure your visitor — used to visiting your desktop/responsive website — still clearly understands that he or she is visiting your pages. Luckily, the difference between design on all these platforms can be minimalized.

If you are looking to kick-start the AMP version of your WordPress website, be sure to check the official AMP plugin. This will add an AMP version of your website after installing the plugin.

7. Analyze and improve your performance

A good SEO campaign relies not only on implementing changes but also measuring the impact of those changes, seeing what works and doing more of that. Google has developed two amazing tools to analyze the results of your website and to identify new opportunities where you could focus on in the future.

The first one, for analyzing results, is Google Analytics. By adding Google Analytics to your website, you make sure all user data will be stored in your own account. You can, for instance, check how many visits your pages get, how many of your visitors convert, how many visitors immediately leave your website after landing on a certain page and much more. Within Google Analytics, you can see how visitors behave on your website. Here’s how to track your SEO with Google Analytics.

The second tool is meant to analyze how your website performs and to see how visitors find you in the search engine. That tool is Google Search Console. By exporting and sorting through your search queries and impression data, it’s easy to identify opportunities where you could focus on improving clickthrough rates, content, and/or rankings.

7.1. Set up and integrate Google Analytics

To start with Google Analytics, you need to create an account. Click the ‘Start for free’ button to start. To set up your account, you need to add an Account Name first. This could be your company name. However, when you’re about to add other websites to your account, we recommend choosing a more generic Account Name. Also, you can always change your Account Name later when you want to.

After setting up your account, it’s time to add a property: the website you want to add. Insert the Website Name and the Website URL. Make sure you add the precise URL: http:// or https:// and with or without www for collecting the right data.

Create a new account in Google Analytics

After setting up your property you can choose for yourself if you want to enable, some of the data sharing settings. Each data sharing option gives you a clear explanation of what you will be sharing enabling it.

Now you’re almost ready to go! The last step to connect your website to your new Google Analytics account is adding the tracking code to your website. After successfully creating your account and adding a new property you’ll see this screen with your Google Analytics tracking code on top:

Copy the tag to your site

This tag needs to be added to your website. The easiest way to do this within WordPress is by installing a Google Analytics plugin such as the MonsterInsights Plugin for WordPress. Installing this plugin, you don’t need to touch the actual code of your website to connect with Google Analytics. You just simply install and activate the plugin, insert your tracking ID and you’re set!

For more technical readers, it’s also possible to add the tag manually to the head of every webpage or to add the tag to Google Tag Manager.

Now your website is connected to Google Analytics, it will start collecting data of your users. Start clicking around to see what all can be found within the data or start reading one of our blog posts about Google Analytics for helpful tips.

7.2. Set up your Google Search Console account

The second tool we think is important to set up is Google Search Console. We’ve already created this step by step guide on ‘How to add your website to Google Search Console. We recommend going through all steps and you will be all set! In brief, these are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  • Create or sign in to your Google Search Console account.
  • Click ‘Add a property’ under the search drop-down.
  • Enter your website URL in the box and click ‘Continue’.
  • Verify your website — within the Yoast SEO plugin, you can easily copy and paste the meta tag to make it work.

After connecting your website to Google Search Console, it will start collecting data about the performance of your website. Connecting through Yoast SEO, you can also immediately find errors within the WordPress backend and easily create redirects to reduce the number of errors when you have an Yoast SEO Premium subscription.

7.3. Other useful tools

Of course, there are plenty of other useful tools out there to get valuable insights into your website and to find SEO opportunities. Everyone has their own favorite tools, so it’s important to just start playing with different tools to find out what tool brings you what you need most.

There are all-in-one SEO tools which give you a complete overview of your performance and there are more in-depth tools which give you more specific data. Think about site speed tools, duplicate content tools, site analysis tools, keyword research tools and much more.

Some tools we use besides Google Analytics and Google Search Console:

Bing Webmaster Tools

Within the Source/Medium section of Google Analytics, you can see what percentage of your traffic is coming from Bing. When this is a sufficient amount of traffic, you might want to create a Bing Webmaster Tools account as well. Bing Webmaster Tools is the Google Search Console variant for Bing. It shows you your site’s health and performance in the Bing search results.

Ryte

Ryte is one of the all-in-one SEO suites you could use to analyze on-page SEO. The tool crawls your website to give you a bunch of data on indexation, errors, links, speed and much more. You can try Ryte for free to see what it has in it for you. Ryte even integrates with Yoast SEO.

Google Lighthouse

Google Lighthouse is a Chrome extension which you can download for free. With the Lighthouse tool, you can easily generate a report with scores for Performance, Progressive Web App, Accessibility, Best Practices, and SEO. This report will give you a quick overview of how your site is doing and you can immediately start working on the areas that need the most attention. You can also use the web-based version on web.dev/measure.

Hotjar

To get insights on how your visitors actually move, scroll and click on your webpages, you could use a tool like Hotjar. This user research tool also has options to add polls or surveys to your site to start doing research. You can try it for free, and the paid packages have competitive prices.

Interested in more valuable tools? Check our list of favorite SEO tools here!

8. Promote your site

You put a lot of time and effort into the content of your site and making sure that readers can find that content via search engines thanks to SEO, but there are other ways to get people to visit your WordPress site and read your posts. But how do you get and grow such an audience? Simply writing posts and putting these out there won’t do the trick: you need to promote your site!

8.1. Encourage engagement

It’s always fun to interact with your readers, but how do you get them to engage? With engagement, we mean all the different ways people can interact with your post. It could be leaving a comment, sharing it on social media or taking action on the topic in general.

But how do you get people to engage? You can always ask them! Write in an engaging way, and then ask your readers for their opinion. Then respond to these comments in order to keep the conversation going and build a relationship with your readers.

Engagement also benefits SEO, as it shows that your site is alive and active. If you want to dive deeper into blog engagement, you can read our post on how you can increase blog engagement.

8.2. Grow your reach

Using social media is the best way to reach and grow the audience of your blog. You should be active on the social media channels where your (potential) audience is present. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter are examples of popular social media. It might be a lot to decide on, so you can find out more in our blog post on social media strategy: where to begin?

8.3. Build a mailing list

In addition to using social media to promote your blog, it is often a good idea to invest in a digital newsletter. Let people sign up for it and send out emails with your latest blog posts and some other fun facts.

Make sure that you offer a subscribe field beneath your posts and on other visible places on your website. Make sure that your newsletter is mobile-friendly. But, most of all, make sure your newsletter is truly something special! We use MailChimp for our newsletter, which is free up until 2,000 subscribers.

8.4. Amplify your content

The number of blog posts published every day is enormous, which is why it’s becoming much harder to stand out. Your articles have a big chance of getting lost in the vast sea of content. To help your content reach its full potential you need to amplify it.

If your content is original and well-structured, you’re probably able to reach new audiences. Take a look at how you can reach new audiences, beyond your organic reach.

Maybe advertising on Facebook or Instagram might be a good way to reach new audiences for your content? Analyze what channels you already use and decide where you can do more in order to broaden your audience.

9. Conclusions

This guide gives you a lot of stuff you can do on your WordPress site. It goes from technical SEO tips to conversion tips, to content tips, to conversation tips, and a whole lot in between. There’s a catch though: if you want to rank for highly competitive terms, you’ll have to actually do most of it and create great and compelling content in the process.

You’re competing with every other website and business on the planet for attention, visitors, and outcomes. That means you have to put in a lot of hard work!

But don’t worry — we’re here to help.

So if you want to keep updated on the latest news about WordPress, SEO, and our plugins, then you can subscribe to our newsletter and stay one step ahead of the competition!

In the meantime, want to reread this ultimate WordPress SEO guide?

Download the PDF now!

The post WordPress SEO appeared first on Yoast.

How to check site speed

Learning how to check your site speed doesn’t need to be daunting. This short guide will give you the basics, and point you in the right direction.

There’s no single metric

The first thing to understand is that there is no single metric or measurement for ‘speed’. There’s no simple number which you can use to measure how quickly your pages load.

Think about what happens when you load a website. There are lots of different stages and many different parts which can be measured. If the network connection is slow, but the images load quickly, how ‘fast’ is the site? What about the other way around?

Even if you try to simplify all of this to something like “the time it takes until it’s completely loaded“, it’s still tricky to give that a useful number.

For example, a page which takes longer to ‘finish loading’ may provide a functional ‘lightweight’ version while the full page is still downloading in the background. Is that ‘faster’ or ‘slower’ than a website which loads faster, but which I can’t use until it’s finished loading?

The answer is, “it depends”, and there are many different ways in which we can think about or measure ‘site speed’.

Understanding the loading process

From the moment when you click on a link (or hit ‘enter’ in your URL bar), a process begins to load the page you requested.

That process contains many steps, but they can be grouped into broad stages which looks something like this:

The “one second timeline” from Google’s site speed documentation

While Google’s documentation might be a bit ambitious about the timings of these stages, the model is helpful. Essentially, the process can be described as three stages of loading.

1. Network stuff

First up, the physical hardware of your device needs to connect to the Internet. Usually, that involves moving data through transatlantic fibre cables. That means that you’re limited by the speed of light, and how quickly your device can process information.

It’s hard to measure or impact this part of the process!

2. Server stuff

Here, your device asks your server for a page, and the server prepares and returns the response.

This section can get a bit technical, as it’s focused on the performance of server hardware, databases and scripts. You may need to ask for help from your hosting provider or tech team.

We can measure the performance of the server with tools like NewRelic or DataDog, which monitors how your site behaves and responds from the ‘inside’.

They’ll provide charts and metrics around things like slow database queries and slow scripts. Armed with this information, you can get a better understanding if your hosting is up to scratch and if you need to make code changes to your theme/plugins/scripts.

The Query Monitor plugin for WordPress

WordPress has some great plugins for doing this kind of analysis, too – I’m a big fan of Query Monitor. This provides some great insight into which bits of WordPress might be slowing you down – whether it’s your themes, plugins, or environments.

3. Browser stuff

This stage is where the page needs to be constructed, laid out, colored in, and displayed. The way in which images load, in which JavaScript and CSS are processed, and every individual HTML tag on your page affects how quickly things load.

We can monitor some of this from the ‘outside-in’ with tools which scan the website and measure how it loads. We recommend using multiple tools, as they measure things differently, and are useful for different assessments. For example:

  • WebPageTest is great for providing a ‘waterfall’ view of the website, and how all of the assets load.
  • Google PageSpeed Insights is a bit simplistic, but it provides ‘real user metrics’ of your website, straight from Google.
  • Lighthouse for Chrome provides an incredibly sophisticated analysis of the performance and behaviour of the site, but it can be hard to digest!
  • Chrome Developer Console shows you exactly what’s happening as your site loads, on your computer, in your browser.

WebPageTest results for yoast.com

These kinds of tools are great for spotting things like images which need to be optimized, where your CSS or JavaScript is slow, or where you’re waiting for assets to load from other domains.

Universal metrics

Despite all of these moving parts, there are a few universal metrics which make sense for all sites to measure, and optimize for. These are:

  • Time until first byte, which is how long it takes until the server responds with some information. Even if your front-end is blazing fast, this will hold you up. Measure with Query Monitor or NewRelic.
  • Time until first contentful (and meaningful) paint, which is how long it takes for key visual content (e.g., a hero image or a page heading) to appear on the screen. Measure with Lighthouse for Chrome.
  • Time until interactive, which is how long it takes for the experience to be visible, and react to my input. Measure with Lighthouse for Chrome.

These are much more sophisticated metrics than “how long did it take to load”, and, perhaps more importantly, have a user-centric focus. Improving these metrics should correlate directly with user satisfaction, which is super-important for SEO.

A Lighthouse report for yoast.com showing key metrics

You can read more about these metrics in Google’s documentation.

Wrapping this into a process

  1. Use an ‘outside-in’ tool, like WebPageTest to generate a waterfall diagram of how the website loads.
  2. Identify bottlenecks with servers and the back end. Look for slow connection times, slow SSL handshakes, and slow DNS lookups. Use a plugin like Query Monitor, or a service like NewRelic to diagnose what’s holding things up. Make server, hardware, software and script changes.
  3. Identify bottlenecks with the front end. Look for slow loading and processing times on images, scripts and stylesheets. Use a tool like Google PageSpeed Insights or Lighthouse for Chrome for suggestions on how to streamline how the page loads.
  4. Use Lighthouse for Chrome to measure your key metrics, like time until first meaningful paint and time until interactive.

Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments!

Read more: Improving site speed: Tools and suggestions »

The post How to check site speed appeared first on Yoast.

Ask Yoast Case study: SEO for architects

In our Ask Yoast case studies we give SEO advice for websites in a specific market or industry. This time: the website of Slemish Design Studio Architects, the business site of an architect duo. The architects told us that they get great responses from their clients, but is their website optimized for search engines as well? We’ll dive into this architectural website to see what improvements can be made to enhance their site’s SEO.

First impression

The first page we land on is the homepage. We see lots of full screen images of the great work these architects deliver on top of the homepage. Though impressive, the images are shown in a slider. Loyal readers of our blog know that we’re not a big fan of sliders. Many experiments show why you shouldn’t use a slider on your website. Only 1% of your visitors will actually click on a slider, they slow down your website and lots of visitors ignore sliders because of banner blindness. Just to name a few.

Looking at this specific website, the slider images are very big as well. The textual content of the homepage is pushed down. We recommend showing some smaller images on top of the site, instead of the slider, and adding some clear introductory content just below these images. Try adding your USPs to the introductory content: Why should visitors choose you as their architect?

Lastly, by adding a clear call-to-action just below the introductory content you’ll make sure visitors can easily navigate to your most important pages. For example, you could think of a button which says ‘Get inspired by our projects’ or ‘Our services’: decide what the main goal of your homepage is. Just to show you the difference, we’ve created a mock-up of how the homepage could look like after following our advice:

Homepage example of Slemish Design Studio Architects

Beautiful images, too little text

On the ‘The Studio’ page, we notice a tab ‘What we do’. This tabbed content tells visitors what kind of work you do and what type of services you offer. Because of the relevancy of this content, we think these services deserve their own menu item. Visitors who want to know more about your team and your company may click on ‘The Studio’. However, they might not expect to find the services you offer there.

In addition to that, your services are great subjects to write about. Writing nice informational copy about your services will increase your chance of ranking for keywords related to these services. When you add sufficient relevant content, Google will understand that your website has content for people looking for services like yours. This means those people will easily find you. The more your content seems to fit to the needs of people who search for these keywords, the higher you’ll rank in the future.

Make sure you optimize one specific page or post for one subject/keyword. When you optimize one page for more keywords that are too different, it’s unclear for Google what the main subject of the page is. Pages that contain a lot of information about the keywords you really want to rank for, should become your cornerstone content pages. This blog post about cornerstone content explains in detail what cornerstone content means and this blogpost shows you how to incorporate cornerstone content into your website.

Lastly, we think you can improve your content as well by adding more copy to your project pages. Consider writing a nice text about the planning stage of the project, the building stage and the delivery stage of the project, for instance. In this copy you can add relevant keywords for your business. In addition to that, this allows you to internally link to your cornerstone content pages from your project pages. 

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Structure your text

When you decide to write more copy for your website in the future, make sure the pages and posts have a great heading structure. On your current pages and posts, we noticed that your logo is an H1 heading. However, the H1 heading should describe the main subject of a particular page on your site to help Google understand what the subject of that specific page or post is.

For example, checking ‘The studio’ page, we see the following headings on top of the page:

Headings Slemish Design Studio Architects

Your company name/logo has an H1 tag now, which means that your company name would be the main subject of this page. While in fact, ‘The studio’ is the main subject of the page. So you should change the H2 heading of ‘The studio’ into an H1 heading. Just remove the H1 heading from the logo on every page of the website. We’d advise to check all of your pages and posts and only add one H1 heading, that describes what can be found on there, on each page.

Read more: ‘SEO basics: how to use headings on your site’ »

The right metadata

You’ll need to add relevant keywords to your page titles to help Google understand what your pages are about. Since page titles are still one of the most important ranking factors it’s important to optimize those to the fullest.

Looking at the page title of your homepage, we think you’ve added too many different keywords to show what your website is about:

Adding all different locations to your page title makes it unclear what your website is about. Moreover, the snippet doesn’t look very enticing to click on in the search results. This might cause a low CTR, or click-through rate. If you want to rank for all the different locations, adding separate pages with unique page titles and content for every location would be a better idea.

We’d advise to create appealing page titles and make sure they describe what can be found on that specific URL. For the homepage, use your USP and add a call-to-action such as ‘See our projects here’ to make people click on your page in the search results. Don’t you think a snippet like this will be more appealing to potential visitors?

On top of that, it’s important to be consistent in your branding. Add your company name to every page title. If you do that, people will recognize your page in the search results more easily, because of the brand name in every page title.

Add more relevant content to your blog

Having a blog can be very beneficial for SEO. Adding posts regularly makes it easy to add content about relevant keywords to your website. It helps you to start ranking for new keywords and to keep ranking for the keywords you already rank for.

Slemish Design Studio Architects have a blog and they add new posts regularly, which is great. However, it seems that lots of posts have little textual content. For example, this post only has two sentences:

Blog post of Slemish Design Studio Architects

Google could consider this post as a thin content page, which could hurt your website’s rankings. Since pages like these don’t add much value to your website, you’d better add more content or remove them from your website.

Keep reading: ‘Blogging: the ultimate guide’ »

Create strong cornerstone content

Besides the benefits of adding more content about relevant keywords to a blog, a blog also gives you an opportunity to add more internal links to your most important pages and posts. For example, when you’ve created a separate page for the service ‘Sun Rooms’ you could write a blog post about new innovations for sun rooms. From that post you can add an internal link to the page about the ‘Sun Rooms’ service. Doing this consistently, that service page – which could be a great cornerstone content page if you add sufficient content – will become a better search result, according to Google.

In addition to internal links within a text, you can add a popular, recent or related posts section to the blog. The sidebar is often used to add sections like these. These links in the sidebar will give the posts they link to some extra link value.

Lastly, adding your blog’s categories to the sidebar will give your category pages some more link value too. Consider doing this if you want to rank with your category pages.

A fast loading website

The longer visitors have to wait for your website to load completely, the more likely it gets that some of them will ‘bounce’ back to the search results. A long loading time frustrates visitors, so they might leave your website before seeing any relevant content. Google uses bounce rate, among other things, to determine if a website provides visitors with a good result. When lots of visitors bounce back to Google’s search results quickly, that isn’t a good sign. You might understand that this can harm your rankings.

On top of that, page speed is an actual ranking factor. Google understands that a website with bad loading times probably isn’t the best result. Similar websites that load faster are likely to end up higher in the search results.

We’ve tested the website of Slemish Design Studio Architects and we found a score of 24/100. The score is in red and this means that there’s work to do! Just follow the advice Google gives in the page speed tool as this leads to both a better user experience, as well as better rankings. 

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To sum it up

It was a pleasure analyzing the website of this architect duo. You show some amazing work in the images on the website! Adding a cleaner homepage with a clear call-to-action could result in more conversions, so more actual clients. Also, specific pages for all your services could be valuable for both Google and visitors.

Basically, our most important SEO advice is: make sure Google understands what your website is about. This means you’ll need to write relevant content about keywords you’d like to rank for. Furthermore, optimizing your site’s metadata – like titles and meta descriptions – and headings would be beneficial. With internal links you can connect your content and give your most important pages extra value.

And last, but definitely not least, making your website load faster will really improve your site’s SEO and user experience!

Read on: ‘How to optimize your real estate site’ »

Page speed as a ranking factor: what you need to know

It’s official: Google announced that page speed will be a ranking factor in its mobile-first index. But what does that mean? There’s no beating around the bush anymore: you should work on making your site as fast and accessible as possible. Don’t wait, do it now. I mean it.

For years, we’ve been bombarded by one message: mobile is going to take over the world. We needed to adapt ourselves to this new reality where everyone does everything on their mobile devices. While we still spend loads of time in front of our desktop and laptop machines, we can’t deny mobile is crucial. Just look at the upcoming markets, where people use their mobile for all possible tasks.

We also know that if you want to compete with the big boys, get a solid ranking for your mobile site and make some money from it, you need to take care of a few things. One of the most important ones is page speed. 

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The verdict is in

Let’s look at some recent research: according to Google the average time it takes for a mobile landing page to load is now 22 seconds. Compare that with the three seconds visitors need to decide if they want to stay for your page to load and you will see a huge discrepancy. People are impatient. They want something, and they want it now. While page speed is important for your SEO, it is even more important for your UX, conversion and general customer happiness.

Yes, page speed will be a ranking factor

At the moment, page speed is more of an indicator than a ranking factor. Unless your mobile site is extremely slow, you can still get decent rankings with average page speeds. But it’s been proven time and time again that the speedier your site, the better your results will be.

Google’s latest research shows that the chance of a bounce increases 32% when the page load time goes from 1s to 3s. 1s to 5s increases the chance to 90% and if your site takes up to 10s to load, the chance of a bounce increases to 123%. That’s incredible. For search engines, better results and performance is a sign of a healthy site that pleases customers and therefore should be rewarded with a higher ranking.

Also, Google has recently gone on record saying that page speed will be a ranking factor in its upcoming mobile-first index. Details on how they will evaluate page speed for mobile and calculate rankings are still unknown. But, what we do know doesn’t change much from what we at Yoast have been saying for some time: make sure your site is responsive, as fast as possible, solidly structured, and full of excellent content.

5 ways to speed up your site

Do everything in your power to increase the loading speed of your mobile site. Everyone loves a fast site: we SEOs and search engines, but most importantly, our customers. Firstly, check Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to see what they advise you to do. Secondly, take a look at the size of your page, as many sites are bloated nowadays. Try to shave off as much as you can by optimizing images, compressing code and loading fewer external scripts and ads. In addition to that, here are five things you can work on:

Activate AMP on your pages

Google’s AMP project is meant to give the web a necessary speed boost. It’s not too hard to implement, and it will give your mobile site a life in the fast-lane. According to Google, AMP is not a ranking factor, but it’s not hard to predict it has a decent chance to become one. Read Google’s documentation on how to implement AMP.

Use HTTP2

That series of tubes we call the internet is at the dawn of a new age. Several new technologies will bring much-needed upgrades to the way the underlying infrastructure has been built. One of these is called HTTP2, and you can already use to speed up your site, barring it uses HTTPS. Find out more on performance optimization in an HTTP2 world.

Switch to PHP7

As we mainly use WordPress in these parts, getting everyone to use PHP7 is a big deal. To get everyone to move from unsupported and unsafe versions, like PHP5.2 and PHP5.3, we at Yoast created Project WHIP. Moving to PHP7 will give your WordPress site a speed boost, keep it secure and make it future proof.

General optimizations

You should already know these tactics. Please use a CDN to make sure that your content is delivered from a location close to the visitor. Use a caching plugin like WP Rocket to keep static parts of your site in the browser cache. Last but not least, please optimize images. That’s low-hanging fruit.

Critical rendering path

Running a PageSpeed Insights test will show you which elements block a page from rendering quickly. The critical rendering path is formed by the object – like CSS and JavaScript – that have to load before the content can show up on screen. If this content is blocked, your page will render slowly or not at all. Pay attention to this and keep the path free of obstacles. At modpagespeed.com you’ll find several open source tools to help you with these issues.

Always work on your page speed

Keep in mind that your work is never done. Your mobile site is never too fast, and your customers will never come flocking to you when you shave off just a little of your loading time. Keep working on it. Now, tomorrow and next month. If possible, try to automate your PageSpeed Insights testing, so you get regular updates. Follow the news to see if there are new ways to speed up your site.

Read more: ‘How to improve your mobile site’ »

Metadata and SEO part 2: link rel metadata

In the first post of our metadata series, I discussed the meta tags in the <head> of your site. But there’s more metadata in the <head> that can influence the SEO of your site. In this second post, we’ll dive into link rel metadata. You can use link rel metadata to instruct browsers and Google, for example to point them to the AMP version of a page or to prevent duplicate content issues. The link rel tags come in a lot of flavors. I’d like to address the most important ones here.

Use rel=canonical to prevent duplicate content

Every website should use rel=canonical to prevent duplicate content and point Google to the original source of that content. rel=canonical is one of those metadata elements that has an immediate influence on your site’s SEO. If done wrong, it might ruin it. An example: we have seen sites that had the canonical of all pages pointed to the homepage. That is basically telling Google that for all the content on your website, you just want the homepage to rank.
If done right, you could give props to another website for writing an article that you republished.

If you want to read up on rel=canonical, please read this article: Rel=canonical: the ultimate guide.

Add rel=amphtml to point search engines to your AMP pages

In order to link a page to its AMP variant, use the rel=amphtml. AMP is a variation of your desktop page, designed for faster loading and better user experience on a mobile device. It was introduced by Google, and to be honest, we like it. It seriously improves the mobile user experience.

So be sure to set up an AMP site and link the AMP pages in your head section. If you have a WordPress site, adding AMP pages is a piece of cake. You can simply install the AMP plugin by Automattic and you’ll have AMP pages and the rel=amphtml links right after that.

If you’d like to read up about AMP, be sure to check our AMP archive.

dns-prefetch for faster loading

By telling the browser in advance about a number of locations where it can find certain files it needs to render a page, you simply make it easier and faster for the browser to load your page, or (elements from) a page you link to. If implemented right, DNS prefetching will make sure a browser knows the IP address of the site linked and is ready to show the requested page.

An example:
<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="https://cdn.yoast.com/">

Please note that if the website you are prefetching has performance issues, the speed gains might be little, or none. This could even depend on the time of day. Monitor your prefetch URLs from time to time.

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What about rel=author?

Rel=author has no effect whatsoever at the moment. It hasn’t had any effect we know of for quite a while actually, as Joost already mentioned this in October of 2015. You never know what use Google might come up with for it, but for now, we’re not pushing it in our plugin. It was used to point to the author of the post, giving the article more or less authority depending on how well-known an author was. At the time, this was reflected in the search results pages as well (it’s not anymore). No need to include it in your template anymore.

Other rel elements include your stylesheets (make sure Google can use these) and you can set icons for a variety of devices. SEO impact of these is rather low or simply not existing.

Is there more?

So we discussed meta tags and link rel metadata in the <head> . Is there even more metadata that affects SEO? Yes there is! In our next metadata post, I’ll explore social metadata, like OpenGraph and Twitter Cards. In addition to that, we’ll go intohreflang, an essential asset for site owners that serve more than one country or language with their website. Stand by for more!

Read more: ‘Metadata and SEO part 1: the head section’ »

Performance optimization in an HTTP/2 world

A revolution is currently going on in the underpinnings of the web. HTTP, the protocol your browser uses to connect to your site, has a new version: HTTP/2. This is not something that should concern the average user, but for web developers, it changes how we do performance optimization entirely. In this short article, I want to explain what performance optimization best practices you can do away with, and why.

What changed?

The most important thing you should know about the new HTTP/2 is that it no longer requires a new request for each file. This is the modification that makes our performance optimization guidelines change so drastically. In the HTTP1 / HTTP/1.1 world, it’d be faster to combine JS & CSS files and even images, so there would be fewer requests between browser and server. In the HTTP/2 world, this type of optimization is no longer needed and can even become counterproductive.

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Can I use this already?

The answer is, fairly simply: yes. If your site is running on HTTPS, then all major current browsers support HTTP/2. You or your hosting company might have to change your server configuration to make sure it supports HTTP/2, but that’s it. Some older browsers might not be able to use it, but your site would still work for them.

So I can use HTTP/2, but should I?

Yes, you should use HTTP/2! It’s a lot faster than old fashioned HTTP1, and when you set it up well, most of your visitors will benefit hugely.

Does HTTP/2 mean I don’t need a CDN?

Even with HTTP/2 you still need a CDN. A CDN delivers content a lot faster than your average server ever will, so your site would still benefit enormously from having one. Every proper CDN will already support HTTP/2.

Performance best practices that changed

The following performance best practices are no longer needed with HTTP/2 and should be done away with:

  • Concatenating CSS and JS files
    As reducing the number of requests is no longer an issue, there’s no reason to do this anymore.
  • Image spriting
    Image spriting is the practice of combining several small images into a larger image so as to reduce the number of requests. This is a cumbersome process with quite a bit of overhead, and HTTP/2 entirely removes the need for it.
  • Domain sharding
    Though this was slightly less common, some heavy sites used multiple CDN domains to serve their files. This because a browser could only open eight parallel connections to a server in the world of HTTP/1 and they’d want to serve more files in parallel. Because HTTP/2 removes the need for parallel connections as there can be parallel downloads within one connection, this best practice becomes counterproductive. The use of multiple CDN domains actually means multiple DNS requests, which slows the site down instead of speeding it up. (Steve Souders, the godfather of web performance, already predicted in 2013 that when HTTP/2 becomes ubiquitous, domain sharding will go away.)
  • Inlining CSS and JS
    Inlining small bits of CSS and JS is a practice that was aggressively pushed by Google. Because the CSS and JS are inline, it cannot be cached properly. As a request for a small file now has no extra overhead, we can do away with this best practice.

Google PageSpeed and HTTP/2

Unfortunately, Google’s PageSpeed tool and many other web performance testing tools are rather slow in their adoption of HTTP/2. They should be changing their guidelines. If a simple HTTP/2 test shows you that a site is capable of using HTTP/2, quite a few of the site speed suggestions are moot. Their documentation speaks of “networking round trips” that simply, in an HTTP/2 environment, don’t happen.

There are people at Google that understand this, of course. This presentation by Ilya Gregorik in 2015 already shows all of that.

Read more: ‘Site speed: tools and suggestions’ »

Ask Yoast: why and how to minify your JS and CSS

If you check your site speed with Google PageSpeed Insights you might get the advice to minify your Javascript (JS) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) files. Your JS files contain the code for the interactive elements of your website. And in your CSS files you specify the design of your pages. Minifying those files will decrease your page load time, thereby providing a better user experience.

We received a question about minification of JS and CSS files at Ask Yoast. Besides that, we also get the following question quite often when performing one of our SEO reviews:

“Why and how should I minify my JS and CSS files?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

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Minify your JS and CSS files

“JavaScript (JS) is the stuff that makes your web page interactive and CSS is the stuff that makes your web page look good. Basically, these two things are code that you send to the browser, and that the browser needs to render.

A browser, like any other computer program, doesn’t care what the language that it receives, looks like. It doesn’t need the spacing and the comments and all other stuff, that your developer needs to make sense of it all. He needs the structure to get through the code, however the browser has no benefit from that.

Stripping all of that down, actually makes the file that you send to the user a lot smaller. Because when you minify it, you remove all the extra spaces, all the line breaks and all the comments. Stripping all that, can save up to 30-40%, or even 50% of file size in some cases. There really is no benefit of sending that stuff to the end-users, so minifying saves time and money for everyone. 

That’s why you should do it. Good luck!”

If you’re on WordPress, there’s a vast amount of plugins that can help you minify your HTML, CSS and JS files. We generally recommend WPRocket for this and some further improvements to speed up your site.

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we do our best to answer your SEO question! Need some help with your site’s SEO? Send your question to ask@yoast.com. You might get a personal answer on video!

Read more: ‘DIY: optimize your browser cache’ »

How to reduce HTTP requests to speed up your WordPress site

Having a website, online shop or blog that’s fast is a must nowadays. A fast website doesn’t only give your visitors a much better experience, but it also helps your website to rank. Sending fewer HTTP requests to the server can improve the loading times of your website. But why is that?

What are HTTP requests?

HTTP requests are requests that get sent to the server whenever someone visits your website. These requests can contain a variety of information for the server to process and act upon. The most important part of such a request is the URL. Based on this information, the server will try to return a valid response, such as a file. The first stable implementation of HTTP, HTTP/1.0, does these requests in series. This means that a group of requests needs to be finished before the next group is sent. Obviously, this means that pages with a lot of external files will suffer from longer loading times, making your website slow.

Speeding up initial loading times

As described in the previous section, loading a lot of files one after another will result in longer loading times. Now you might be wondering “How do I speed this process up?”. Luckily, there are a few techniques and advancements in browser technology that can help you with this.

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Browser pipelining

Since the introduction of HTTP/1.1, it has been possible to use a feature called “browser pipelining”. This feature allows the browser to fetch multiple files in rapid succession, without waiting for a previous request to finish. This means that the browser doesn’t have to wait as long to send off the next request.

In theory, this would be a very handy feature to have enabled by default. Sadly, in practice, this system still has some flaws. Due to its asynchronous nature, it’s possible that files load in the wrong order.

Let’s take a custom jQuery plugin as an example of how browser pipelining could do more harm than good. As your custom plugin depends on jQuery, the jQuery library needs to be fully loaded before your plugin can properly run. You might already see where this could go wrong; because browser pipelining doesn’t wait for previous requests, your plugin could load before jQuery. The result? JavaScript errors.

This problem with load order can also easily occur with something like images. In the case of images, it’s possible that the order in which the images get displayed differs from the actual order in your HTML.

HOL blocking

Another phenomenon that sometimes occurs when using browser pipelining is Head-of-line blocking (HOL blocking). What this means is that a particular packet (a part of a file) is keeping another packet of the same file from successfully completing. Other packets can only continue on their way once the delivery of the first package to the browser ends.

Due to the issues mentioned, most browsers disable HTTP pipelining by default. In the latest version of HTTP, aptly named HTTP/2, the issues with pipelining are addressed by using a technique called multiplexing which sends multiple HTTP requests over a single TCP connection. If you want to use this technique, make sure your server and your audience’s browsers, properly support HTTP/2.

Move JavaScript files out of the head section

There’s another way to make your website to load faster without much extra hassle. But first a brief history lesson!

Placing all the required CSS and JavaScript in your <head> section used to be considered common practice. However, the problem with this technique is that the rest of your HTML won’t display because these files block its rendering. This results in your visitors looking at a blank page for a couple of seconds.

As early as 2007, a new best practice surfaced. This best practice recommends moving all the JavaScript from your <head> section to the bottom of your page, just before the </body> tag. Why? Because JavaScript blocks any further rendering of a page until it has loaded all its files. By moving the JavaScript, the page’s HTML renders first instead of last. Sometimes it’s possible that you want the rendering of the page to wait until a particular JavaScript file loads. This would be the only exception when it comes to moving files out of the <head> section of your HTML.

Moving CSS to the bottom of the page is not recommended, as it stops the browser from correctly displaying and formatting your content. This impacts the overall user experience. Nobody wants to visit a website where text jumps around the screen because a stylesheet doesn’t load until the very end. Although moving your JavaScript to the bottom of your page doesn’t reduce the number of HTTP requests, it does help improve the overall experience.

Reduce the number of files

Another option to speed up your website is by limiting the number of files that load. This is because for every file you try to load, your browser sends a separate HTTP request to the server. Fewer files means fewer requests and therefore a faster website.

Most commonly, JavaScript, CSS, and images are the main culprits when it comes to slow loading pages. To combat this, you can use a few techniques, namely:

Minifying and concatenating your JavaScript and CSS files.

By minifying and concatenating assets such as CSS and JavaScript, you not only reduce the overall file size, but you also minimize the amount of files that need to load. A good rule-of-thumb is to group files based on their respective functions; if you have multiple files that do something with image manipulation, it might be a good idea to concatenate those.

Additionally, by limiting the amount of CSS files that load initially, you reduce the overall loading time. In that case, minification and concatenation can help as well. After the initial loading of CSS files, your browser caches it so subsequent requests shouldn’t take up as much time. You can imagine that having a single file with all the relevant CSS, plus the caching, can significantly improve the overall experience.

If you have CSS that is very specific for a particular page, you’re better off loading that file separately. As a result, you won’t unnecessarily ship specific CSS rules that aren’t used elsewhere in your HTML.

There are plenty of online tools to help you with minification and concatenation during development. You can also use a plugin, such as WP Rocket, to help you out with this.

Optimizing images

Some themes are heavily dependent on pictures. Because images are also separate files themselves, they too fall victim to the limitations of HTTP. To get around this, it is possible to make use of a technique called CSS spriting. This technique allows you to take multiple images (usually of a similar size) and reduce them into a single image. Then with some smart CSS techniques, you manipulate the sprite and only display a specific part of it. There are a couple of online tools that can help with this, such as SpriteMe. It’s unnecessary to create sprites for _all_ your images, but it’s worth putting in the extra effort for things like backgrounds and social media icons.

Lazy loading

Another way to ensure images won’t make your pages slow, is using a “lazy loading” plugin. Lazy loading is a technique where some JavaScript looks at the current viewport of the visitor and only loads images that are (almost) within view. A good plugin for this is the Lazy Load plugin which delays loading of images until the user starts scrolling down the page.

Bonus tip: use a CDN

Finally, here’s an extra tip. Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs, are a network of optimized servers across the globe that guarantee fast delivery of static content such as images, CSS and JavaScript. The main advantage of using a CDN is that you’re retrieving content from a separate server. This overcomes one of the HTTP restrictions which limits sending a large amount of requests to a single server in one go. By overcoming this restriction, you can achieve shorter loading times! Another advantage of these CDN’s is that the data comes from a server closest to your visitor’s physical location. Shorter distances to the server means faster data retrieval. It’s possible to use more than one CDN, which means your browser can deal with even more HTTP requests at the same time.

Here at Yoast, we use MaxCDN (affiliate link), but with the rising popularity of CDN’s, there are plenty others to choose from. Once you’ve found a CDN provider of your liking, using a caching plugin like WP Rocket can help you to configure your CDN for your website.

Conclusion: Reduce those HTTP requests

As you can see, plenty techniques are available to decrease the loading time of your website. By far, the biggest improvement you can make is reducing the amount HTTP requests you send to the server. Additionally, making the files smaller through minification can also help speed things up.

So, go forth and optimize your CSS and JavaScript! Lower those HTTP requests! Your visitors and servers will thank you for it.

Read more: ‘Site speed: tools and suggestions’ »

How to get Google to crawl your site faster

A question that often pops up for sites that are chasing “hot topics” is: how to get Google to crawl our site faster? This could be either because you have a big site and want to see changes faster or because you’re optimizing a news site. There are a few things you can do to improve your crawl speed. We’ll cover them in this post.

There are a couple of possible reasons why Google is slow when spidering your site. The first might seem obvious: if Google doesn’t find enough (quality) links pointing to your site, it doesn’t think your site is very important. The other reasons are technical: it has too much to crawl on your site, your site is too slow, or it’s encountering too many errors.

Your site doesn’t have enough authority

When your site doesn’t have enough quality inbound links, Google will not crawl your site very quickly. You can imagine it doesn’t necessarily want to spend much time on a site that it doesn’t deem important. When your site is brand new, this will be the case.

So, when you need more crawl action on your site, start doing some link building. We’ve written about that topic before, I’d suggest reading these three posts as I won’t go into it any further here:

  1. Link building from a holistic SEO perspective
  2. Link building, what not to do
  3. 6 steps to a successful link building strategy

If the above three posts are not enough for you, there’s more in our link building archive.

Technical reasons for slow crawling

The technical reasons for Google to crawl your site slowly can be divided into three groups: your site is too slow, you have too many errors, or you have too many URLs.

Your server is slow

The main reason why we see Google crawling sites slowly, is when the site itself is actually slow. Google actually indicates this to you when this is the case, on the “crawl rate” page of Google Search Console. If this is the case, Google might show you a “faster” option:

Crawl faster

Our advice: set it to “Faster”, but don’t stop with that: make your server respond faster, either by upgrading your hosting, or improving your site’s caching. Chances are that when Google is suffering long load times, your users are as well.

Optimize your site for Google News! Create XML News Sitemaps, editors’ picks RSS feeds and more with Yoast News SEO! »

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Too many errors on your site

If you have a lot of errors on your site for Google, Google will start crawling slowly too. To speed up the crawl process, fix those errors. Simply 301 redirect those erroring pages to proper URLs on your site.

If you don’t know where to find those errors: use the Google Search Console integration in Yoast SEO. Or log into Google Search Console. If you have access to your site’s access logs, you can also look at those, preferably with a tool like Screaming Frog’s Log file analyzer.

To prevent your site from being crawled slowly, it’s important that you regularly look at your site’s errors and fix them. We have a more extensive article on fixing 404 errors.

When your site is down too much, Google will slow down incredibly hard. If this happens because of your hosting, switch hosting. Make sure to check on your site’s uptime with a tool like Pingdom.

Too many URLs

If you simply have too many URLs on your site, Google might crawl a lot but it will never be enough. This can happen because of faceted search navigation for instance, or another system on your site that simply generates too many URLs. To figure out whether this is the case for you, it’s always wise to regularly crawl your own site. You can either do that manually with Screaming Frog’s SEO spider, or with a tool like OnPage.org.

Tips to increase your crawl speed

A couple of simple tips to increase your site’s crawl speed:

  • Using the methods above, find and fix all the errors.
  • Make sure your site is fast.
  • Add an XML sitemap to your site and submit it to the search engines.
  • If all of that fails to improve your crawl speed, start link building!

Specifically for news sites, if you want to be indexed faster, you should also look at our News SEO plugin. When you’re in (or want to be in) Google News, it can help make sure you meet all the technical requirements.

Read more: ‘Site speed: tools and suggestions’ »