Whether you’re brand new to WordPress or you’ve been using it for years, following a few simple but important best practices will ensure that you get the most out of your website.
From attracting more visitors through search engine optimization (SEO) to using analytics to track user activity once you’ve got them on your site (and everything in between), we’re here to share the practical tips our expert WordPress developer team uses to build “beautiful sites that work.”
Vital has been building websites and crafting winning digital marketing strategies for over 20 years. We’ve worked with hundreds of brands in diverse industries including manufacturing, technology, higher education, and more to build online presences that help them meet their business goals. We love sharing our knowledge about how to leverage WordPress to build sites that do more than just look good—they act as the foundation for digital marketing with dramatic return on investment (ROI).
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for WordPress Sites
Showing up in searches for high-value keywords is one of the most important goals for our clients. SEO is a complex and ever-changing field, and there are a ton of both on- and off-page factors that go into determining your website’s search rankings. One of the reasons we love WordPress is that it makes SEO easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatic. Here are some of the most important fundamentals of SEO optimization for your WordPress website:
- Optimize site speed and performance.
- Make sure your site is mobile-friendly.
At Vital, we use the WordPress Block Editor to custom-build mobile-friendly sites for our clients. If you want to use a WordPress theme, make sure it’s responsive.
- Install a WordPress SEO plugin.
There are several options for free SEO plugins on WordPress. Installing an SEO plugin doesn’t automatically optimize your site, but it gives you all the tools you need to do so.
- Use keywords in your page headings and title tag.
Optimizing your page content is one of the basics of good SEO site-building. WordPress makes this really easy.
- Add alt text to images.
Not only does alt text make your site more accessible to all, it also gives Google more context about the content of your page, which helps you rank.
- Set SEO-friendly permalinks and URLs
The default permalinks and URLs are not necessarily the best for SEO. Make sure you use custom URLs that use your main keywords.
- Submit your XML sitemap to Google
This is another basic step, but it’s easy to overlook. If you’re working with a professional web developer, make sure they check this box.
“WordPress is great for SEO because once you build a template that supports these best practices, your content team can easily and quickly generate pages that automatically populate with the most important metrics for SEO.”Dave Currier, SEO Manager & Senior Developer at Vital
Use Google Analytics to Improve SEO and Conversions
Building a search-optimized website using WordPress is step one. To make sure you’re actually attracting the visitors you want and getting them to take the actions you want them to take—and making necessary adjustments if that’s not the case—you need data-driven insights. Google Analytics to the rescue. You can integrate Google Analytics with your WordPress site in order to:
- Get a ton of information about visits to your site.
- Discover the paths users take when navigating your site.
- Measure conversions.
- Run tests to determine the impact of content and functionality on visits and conversions.
Handle WordPress Core Updates and Plugin Updates with Care
WordPress plugins are great. They also come with periodic updates, and that can cause problems if you don’t take a few simple steps to make sure your site is up to date and playing nicely with your plugins. Here’s how:
- Stay on top of updates.
Build periodic audits into your site to make sure your plugins are up to date and you’re running the most recent version of WordPress. Sticking with outdated versions can cause functionality and security issues.
- Make updates in a test environment before going live.
Sometimes the changes made with a plugin update will cause site bugs or even full-on crashes. To avoid site downtime, make sure you test updates using a dev or staging environment first.
- Choose a managed hosting provider that makes updates easy.
One of the reasons we like WP Engine is its proactive management of WordPress core updates and security patching. And their Smart Plugin Manager helps make sure plugin updates don’t break your site.
Keep Your Site Optimized for Search with Categories and Tags
You’ll need to assign posts and pages to categories, and you can also tag them by topic. Done well, categories and tags enable easy search and sort functionality so users can find the content they’re looking for, and let you populate areas of your site dynamically. This can also have a huge impact on SEO. Here are a few tips for using categories and tags:
- Make a plan. Spend some time thinking about the types of content you’ll be publishing and plan out your categories ahead of time.
- Avoid duplicates. You don’t want to end up with multiple categories for the same thing. (Think: Blogs, blog post, blog posts.)
- Use categories that make sense. Yes, you can and should put your keyword research to work here. But you also want to make sure that your categories make intuitive sense to your users.
- Don’t overdo it. Limit your categories to 5-10 unless you’re publishing hundreds or thousands of pages of content. You can use more tags, but stick to those that have the most relevance to your users.
Make Sure Your Site Is Secure
Used properly, sites built with WordPress are very secure. The biggest things to look out for here are out-of-date plugins, and third-party plugins and themes. While tools and themes created by third parties are often perfectly reputable and trustworthy, some are not, and using them can cause security concerns for your site. Be sure you do your research and read plenty of user reviews before deciding to go with third-party tools.
Your hosting provider also makes a huge difference when it comes to security. We choose WP Engine because it’s the most secure, professionally managed WordPress hosting provider out there. In addition to making sure you’re on top of WordPress updates and security patches, they utilize enterprise-grade firewalls and take tons of other measures to make sure their hosted sites stay secure. (And if you still get hacked, they’ll fix it for free.)
One of the most common challenges clients come to us to solve is an outdated website with an impossible-to-update back-end. Home energy specialists EnergyPro were no different. Their content and design wasn’t clicking with their young, eco-conscious audience, and their digital marketing efforts were stalling out because their platform didn’t allow their site to easily scale. We transitioned them to WordPress and built a new site with an intuitive user interface, rock-solid SEO, and tons of conversion-friendly features. (It’s easy on the eyes, too.)
We hosted the site with WP Engine to make sure it would be fast and secure and continue to perform for years to come.