WordPress SEO in 2021: a dummy guide

Do you have a WordPress website?

If so, you’ve probably heard that WordPress is the most SEO-friendly CMS (Content Manage System). This is partly true because WordPress is SEO-friendly if and only if you configure the settings correctly and use the right SEO plugins.

If you have little to no experience with WordPress SEO, this article is for you. I’ll show you how to set up a WordPress site highly optimized for SEO, how to configure SEO plugins and other important things you can do to improve your website’s SEO.

There are many SEO plugins for WordPress. I use Yoast SEO plugin throughout this article. This is the most popular SEO plugin with more than 5+ million active installations. Best of all, the free version has all the features we need.

1. The basic setup for WordPress SEO

wordpress seo guide

1.1. Set URL structure for permalinks

By default, WordPress will use URL path like http://yourdomain.com/?p=123. This path is not SEO-friendly because It does not contain the keywords of the article or page. Furthermore, it creates an impression of unprofessionalism to visitors.

If each of your blog posts belongs to only one category, you can go to Settings -> Permalink -> Custom Structure and copy the text below:


With the above permalink structure, your article’s URL will be structured as http://yourdomain.com/category/postname

This may not be the best solution if one blog post can belong to more than one category.

Alternatively, you can just use this simple structure:


and your article’s URL will be


No matter which structure you choose, stick to it permanently because if you change later, the links will become broken and all posts will get 404 error. It can be the worst crisis you never want to happen!

1.2. Use a domain with WWW or without WWW

This is also very important. You should decide whether the domain structure has www or no www. The one with WWW is widely adopted while the one without www looks cleaner and use less space.

To set up, go to Settings -> General and enter the domain as you want.

Here, if you deliberately type www.yourdomain.com, it will automatically switch to the form without www. If you have configured DNS setting for the www domain, it will automatically redirect to the non-www domain name you have set up.

Again no matter which domain structure you prefer, choose one and stick with it.

1.3. Optimize SEO for home page

It is no doubt that your homepage is the most important page of your website. Title and description of the home page will determine if your website’s homepage is considered SEO-friendly by Google search engine.

Optimized meta title and meta description will not only help you rank higher on Google but also help you attract many clicks if you write it meaning, easy to read.

If you already have Yoast SEO installed, go to -> Titles & Metas -> Home. Write the title and description in the corresponding field.

2. Build a website with SEO in mind

2.1. Select an SEO-friendly theme

Although it is not a must to have an SEO-friendly theme to get high ranking, choosing an SEO-friend theme will definitely help when you start.

An SEO-friendly theme is good because its code structures are already optimized for web crawlers or spiderbots to easily identify the content in the website. Clean codes, optimize speed, rich content, optimize heading tags, and standard Schema.org interface, so you can have the most out of SEO.

In general, An SEO-friendly theme usually has little visual effects and has b blog-focused structure to speed up the index time of new content on the website.

Here are some SEO-friendly themes I know:

  • Astra theme
  • Ocean WP
  • GeneratePress
  • Genesis Framework
  • Hybrid Core Theme Framework

Some of them are free. But you’d better go with the paid versions that are so much better with more features and customer support.

2.2. Create an XML Sitemap and submit to Google Search Console

XML Sitemap is usually a .xml file to help bots easily get new content and index it faster.

Once created, you also need to submit it to Google through the Google Webmaster service (now named Google Search Console) so that its bots start to crawl and index the map the site.

2.3. Create a robots.txt file

The robots.txt will direct search engines’s bot. You can “tell” it which directory is not to be indexed. Google is currently the largest search engine, so we just need to create robots.txt file for Google bots.

If you use the SEO plugin by Yoast, this file is automatically created for you. It is located at the root of the WordPress site (peer to wp-config.php) If you open the file, it will have the content like below.

User-agent: *

Disallow: /wp-admin/

Disallow: /wp-includes/’

These weird texts mean that you specify the crawling bots to not crawl the /wp-admin/ and /wp-includes/ directories.

Alternatively, you can manually create the file, named robots.txt and upload it to the server.

2.4. Add related articles to every blog post

At the bottom of the article, you should utilize to display relevant posts to the article users are reading. WordPress can identify related posts through keywords in contents, titles, tags, and categories.

In terms of meaning, the related articles will not only help you strengthen the power of deep links but also encourage users to see more pages when they are on your site.

2.5. Accelerate the website’s performance

If your website is fast, it will definitely benefit SEO considering many of your visitors will access your site via their mobile phones. Google officially confirmed that the speed of the website does affect its ranking on the search results. Furthermore, a high-speed website will help bot index more pages at a faster rate.

The speed of a WordPress website depends on a lot of factors that are out of the scope of this guide.

However, there is one crucial factor that massively influences the speed of the website: the hosting. Pick out the best speed hosting that you can afford. You will never regret.

2.6. Connect your website to social networks

Social network influences SEO too. Even though social links don’t have the same weight as website links, this has been changing. Moreover, social networks can drive many visitors to your website. Unless you have more than two hands (or you hire a professional like me to manage your social media!), pick the social networks that are most relevant to your business.

Connecting a website to a social network means:

  • Insert shortcuts to your social accounts into the website.
  • Insert Social Sharing buttons on your posts to make it easy for readers to share your amazing content with their networks
  • Insert link to your website on your fan page/ group.
  • Use Open Graph and Facebook Insight to optimize your content for social sharing.

How to do all of the above in WordPress? The simplest way is to use plugins! While Yoast SEO makes up most of features, you will need another plugin to insert Social Sharing buttons.

2.7. Create Archive Pages

An Archive page is like a sitemap for the readers. It helps them get an overview of your site at a glance. Additionally, it also helps the bots find and identify the content more easily in an organized structure.

On this page, you can list all available categories, tags, articles/ posts by category, and so on. Depends on how your website is built, you may use a plugin to create archive page, or resort to the website developers.

2.8. Use the right heading tags

The heading tags (from H1 to H6) help bots identify important components on the website. The lower the number, the higher the importance: H1 is the highest and H6 the lowest.

Normally an SEO-friendly theme will have heading tags as follows:

  • H1: For the logo, the website name on the header. On the Single blog post, H1 tag is for the article title.
  • H2: For subheadings.
  • H3: For widget titles.
  • H4: For important links on widgets such as category, menu.

To edit the theme’s heading tags, you need to have knowledge of editing WordPress theme and understand the structure of each theme. You can look at the WordPress theme structure for reference, or ask your developers!

3. Write SEO-friendly content

Content is king. SEO-friendly content is content that bots can easily analyze, “understand” and associate relevant keywords. Great content is the best, if not the only, way to achieve a high ranking on SERP (Google Search Result Page).

An SEO-friendly content will include elements such as:

  • SEO-optimized article title with a focus keyword
  • Proper use of heading tags
  • Engaging, readable, natural Contents
  • A good mixture of long-tailed and LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords
  • Optimization of meta title and meta description tags for each article.
  • Internal links to other posts and pages.
  • External links to other relevant websites and articles

4. Improve rankings with backlinks

Backlink refers to links pointing to your website from another website. These links will improve your site ranking. Backlinks play an important in Google’s ranking algorithm. It increases the authority of a website, and thus improve its Pagerank.

This means that the more quality backlinks your website has, the more likely it is to get high rankings on Google.

4.1. Comment on other blogs/ websites to get backlinks

A website that uses WordPress will give you backlinks when you comment on it. This explains why your website receives a ton of spammy comments about all kinds of things you have no idea what they’re talking about.

Let’s take a look at how you improve your website’s ranking by communicating and strengthening relationships with other web owners rather than just building backlinks with trashy, spammy, valueless comments.

4.2. Guest blogging

This form of backlink building means that you will post your content on another blog and have the right to insert backlinks to the article. Be a guest blogger and write content for other, similar blogs in your industry. In exchange, you will receive links to your own websites and an opportunity to promote your own names and blogs in your chosen industries.

Where should you point backlinks to?

you can:

  1. Point backlink to Home page if you want to enhance Domain Authority, Pagerank.
  2. Point backlink to Archive/ Category page if you want visitors to have an overview of your contents. They can then choose which content they’re most interested in.
  3. Point backlink to a specific article if you want to boost that article to the top of the search result for some particular keywords.

5. Advanced On-page SEO on WordPress

If you need even more SEO for your website, here are some advanced On-page optimization tips

5.1. Add “noindex” tags to unnecessary pages

If you have post/page that you want to hide from the search results, give it a “noindex” tag so that search bots will ignore them. This trick will also make bot index more important pages faster because bot’s crawling process only works on certain time.

You can use the Yoast SEO plugin, select the Advanced section, choosing Meta Robots Follow as “nofollow” and Meta Robots Index as “noindex”.

Yoast SEO supports the option to set the “noindex” tag for the tag and category.

Or you can just go to Posts -> Categories and Posts -> Tag, set “noindex” and “nofollow” for the unwanted category/tag by

5.2. Use 301 Redirect messages instead of delete

301 redirect is a technique to redirect visitors from the old URL to the new address if they visit the old URL. When an article is deleted, the user will receive a 404 error when they try to access the post. This error is most commonly encountered when you delete an article that is already indexed and shown in the search results.

To use 301 redirects for post/ page, you can use the 301 Redirect feature found in the Advanced section of the Yoast SEO.

5.3. Set “nofollow” for outbound links

The default outbound links will have the “dofollow” attribute. Here is an example link that has a “nofollow” attribute:

<a rel="nofollow" href="http://google.com"> Google </a>

The bots will understand to not crawl the link to collect data, and do not share the ranking factors from your website to the websites the outbound links point to.

You may want to consider setting the “nofollow” property for all the outbound links. You can use the WP External Links plugin to automatically add rel = “nofollow externl” to all the outbound links.

6. Conclusion

Here you go – my dummy guide to WordPress SEO. By following all of the steps laid down on this article, you can rest assured that your WordPress website is super SEO-friendly.

The whole SEO process will not only include the work mentioned above but also many other techniques.

However, that will be the topic of another day.

I hope after going through this guide, you have a clear understanding of WordPress SEO and can apply that for your own website.


Did you get a better understanding of WordPress SEO? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email or social media if you have any questions!

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