Currently holding strong at just under a 65% market share, WordPress has been the world’s top CMS platform for many years.
From novice and experienced bloggers and small businesses to the largest ecommerce and news websites, WordPress has been a popular choice because of its simplicity in set-up, endless customization, and large actively supported community.
The great thing about WordPress is it does a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
It’s SEO-friendly out of the box, and comes with clean code, semantic markup, and a structure that search engines can easily crawl and understand. This makes it easier for your content to be indexed and ranked in search engine results pages (SERPs).
That being said, every WordPress blog has its shortcomings.
As a site auditor focusing exclusively on WordPress blogs, I can confidently say that focusing on specific technical aspects is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve SEO, build traffic, and increase bottom-line RPMs.
Here are some top priorities to help make your WordPress site as technically sound as possible.
1. Setting up Google Analytics 4 before the July deadline
Google has warned us for over two years that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) would replace Universal Analytics on July 1. Yet, many site owners still haven’t moved to the new system.
But they also warn that since the setup of GA4 is slightly different, you’re better off doing it yourself to ensure you’re happy with the choices.
Google provides an interactive Quickstart tutorial that will effortlessly allow someone to set up the new GA4 account to run parallel to their existing GA3 Universal setup.
Here’s a detailed tutorial on how to add GA4 with the Google Site Kit plugin.
And here’s a walkthrough on how to add GA4 with the Code Snippets plugin.
2. Passing Core Web Vitals on WordPress
Let’s focus on bottom-line recommendations that will result in 99 out of 100 WordPress blogs passing CWVs.
Compressing all images
I recommend you use Imagify or Shortpixel. Compressing images down to 200KB max or less should be the focus.
Don’t use cheap hosting
Hosts with “Blue” or “Gator” in their names should be avoided like the plague.
I recommend Big Scoots or Agathon. Invest in managed WordPress hosting.
Use a CDN
A CDN (content delivery network) stores your files on numerous servers worldwide, delivering them from the location closest to a user. Cloudflare is a good choice.
Invest in a quality caching plugin
Set your site up with a quality theme
Genesis, Feast, Kadence, and Astra are all good choices.
If it’s a “free theme,” it’s probably not a great option.
Optimize your fonts
Custom fonts may be flashy, but “system fonts” load faster.
If you must use custom fonts, limit their number, and load them asynchronously.
Paginating comments reduces DOM nodes and page size, increasing bottom-line speed.
Go with 20 comments maximum, and show newer comments first.
Passing Core Web Vitals is all about reducing page size and optimizing the delivery of on-page elements. Focusing on the above strategies solves both of these priorities in WordPress.
3. Removing internal permalink redirects
An internal permalink redirect is a way to redirect an old permalink to a new permalink within your website.
It helps maintain the SEO value of your website by avoiding broken links, 404 errors, and other issues that can harm your website’s search engine rankings.
You can do this by creating a redirect rule in your website’s .htaccess file or using a plugin such as Redirection or Yoast SEO.
For example, links to https://sample.com/2022/02/sample-url.htm can be redirected to https://sample.com/sample-url/ and links from https://sample.com/sample-url can be redirected to https://sample.com/sample-url/.
The problem with the above is that most site owners fail to do a “find and replace” and remove all the old internal links (with the previous URL permutation) to the new URL internal links (without the previous URL permutation).
Per Google, unnecessary server hops and HTML redirects should be avoided as they dilute the flow of PageRank and authority to your site.
“Additional HTTP redirects can add one or two extra network roundtrips (two if an extra DNS lookup is required), incurring hundreds of milliseconds of extra latency on 4G networks. For this reason, we strongly encourage webmasters to minimize the number, and ideally eliminate redirects entirely – this is especially important for the HTML document (avoid “m dot” redirects when possible).”
To fix this, reach out to your host and have it scan your site to fix this at scale. Or, install a plugin like Search and Replace and do this yourself.
Always edit internal links within content to reflect the new URL, especially after instituting redirects. Internal redirects slow down the server, add complexity, and annoy users.
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4. Fixing link targets
Have you ever navigated through a site and had every hyperlink you clicked on open in a new tab? Pretty annoying, right!?
Unfortunately, understanding the correct behavior for link targets still confuses most users. To simplify it as much as possible, the best practice is as follows:
Internal links open in the same tab.
External links open in new tabs.
It’s actually common sense.
Nothing annoys users more than the needless generation of new tabs/windows on a mobile device as you navigate through the same site.
This problem is called “tab fatigue” and should be actively combatted.
In contrast, having all internal hyperlinks open in the same tab as a user navigates the average website increases the chance the user stays on the domain longer.
You can also correctly track the user’s path through the entire journey. This is just simple SEO 101 and a sound UX practice.
Finally, understand that link behavior has an accessibility component.
By forcing all links on a page to open in new tabs, you have removed the choice from the user.
Always inform the user if you force links to open in new tabs. I recommend the WP External Links plugin as a simple way to mark for the user when a link opens in a new tab.
5. Fixing broken links
Broken links are a tremendous frustration to users. When someone navigates through your site and hits a 404, they aren’t coming back.
404s and 503s, per Google, are not a sign of low quality. But they impact crawl quality by interrupting the flow of link equity between pages, which can affect the rankings of internal pages.
Every broken link should be fixed quickly and efficiently.
Fortunately, you don’t have to manually check all your links, as the good folks at WPMU DEV have developed a convenient, open-source plugin called Broken Link Checker.
Recently completely relaunched and rebuilt, I still find the “Classic Version” works the best. I recommend running this plugin at least once a month to find and fix issues at scale.
Other options for WordPress users include external SEO tools like Semrush, Sitebulb, or Screaming Frog. All do well in surfacing internal and external 404s and 503s.
6. Improving internal anchor text
Appropriate anchor text helps inform users about what is expected if they click on a link. It also helps the search engines establish a contextual relevance between source and destination pages.
Anchor text like “Read more” or “Here” are essentially useless from an SEO standpoint.
They provide no contextual information to users and are a lost opportunity to connect two logically and semantically relevant pages.
Related to this, using the same anchor text on links to similar internal pages creates a content cannibalization and topical dilution issue that must also be discussed.
For example, if I have four “banana bread recipes” and use the identical anchor text “banana bread” on all of these, I will cannibalize my ability to rank these recipes independently of each other. It’s a topically confusing signal to Google.
As such, selecting detailed anchor text is one of the easiest ways to increase your SEO rankings. It makes it easier for Google to find and rank your best content.
Maybe I use instead “instant pot banana bread” and “gluten-free banana bread” to intentionally differentiate my various recipes? Doing so will significantly prevent possible topical dilution and improve my ranking prospects.
For WordPress users, there exists no greater ability to harness the power of internal linking than through the Link Whisper plugin.
Whether you’re using the free version (available from the WordPress repository) or a premium version with additional features, this plugin takes all the strain out of finding effective anchor text and identifying internal pages with few or no internal links.
Internal linking is one of the most under-appreciated SEO ways to build massive traffic. This plugin helps automate the process considerably.
7. Optimizing sidebars
Sidebars are often visible on every webpage – so it’s ironic that many webmasters pay the least attention to this significant real estate.
WordPress blogs historically used sidebars for things like blogrolls and email embeds.
Now, in a mobile-first world where users don’t even see the average sidebar on their phone or tablet, the value of the sidebar has been forgotten.
This has resulted in a recent trend to “remove sidebars altogether.” But definitely do not do this!
Sidebars are incredibly important for internal linking and content discovery.
The average site should use a fully optimized sidebar to showcase popular content and seasonal content. You should also be rotating that content as seasons and holidays change.
You may not notice the sidebar on mobile, but the links are there, and they still count… a lot!
8. Reinforcing E-E-A-T in 2023
WordPress blogs provide multiple methods to reinforce individual authors and teams.
Search Engine Land has a great overview article on E-E-A-T, covering each individual component in more detail.
But for our purposes, the average WordPress blogger can greatly influence their personal E-E-A-T by focusing on the below:
Consider showing a clear photo of the author or team on the sidebar.
Ensure all content is linked to custom author pages or an About page at the top of all posts.
Show Published and Last modified dates on all content.
Link out regularly to reputable sources to support claims, facts, and statistics, as needed.
Don’t use stock photography if you can avoid it. Generate your own AI images with Midjourney or Dall-E 2.
The above list is not absolute, but it provides a quick and easy list of ways WordPress users can build and influence E-E-A-T for the long term.
9. Addressing accessibility concerns
If you’re unaware of your legal responsibilities to make your WordPress blog accessible, you’re due for a wake-up call. Accessibility lawsuits are on the rise, and entire websites exist to track them monthly.
Here are some of the most important aspects of accessibility you should focus on immediately:
Provide informative alt text on images for those using screen readers
Alt text is not a place to stuff keywords. It should be short (12-16 words or less) and descriptive of the image.
Always end it with a period so the screen reader recognizes the end of the description.
Design with adequate color contrast ratios in mind
The most common reason behind ADA harassment lawsuits against bloggers is inadequate color contrasting.
Ensure hyperlinks and all colors on your site pass accessibility standards – a 4.5:1 contrast ratio or higher, for links, for example.
Add an accessibility policy to your website
Even if everything isn’t yet up to standards, this will at least communicate to your visitors that “hey, we’re working on it.”
You can get a free policy from the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative to link to in your footer.
Understand how to use headings
Headings are the main mechanism by which impaired users can navigate a website. They must follow a hierarchy.
For instance, never use an H3 unless preceded by an H2. And don’t use a heading simply because you like the size or font involved.
Here’s a great guide on headings: Modern Guidelines for Page Headings.
Finally, there has been a considerable rise in the use of automated overlays to “solve accessibility” via a plugin.
Even the Yoast SEO plugin founders have announced a recent equity investment in the Equalize Digital Accessibility Plugin for WordPress.
This seems promising. However, most overlays and automated accessibility fixes are hated by the very audience they are trying to help, and it’s too soon to see if this plugin will be embraced. Stay tuned.
A technical SEO path to success exists for all WordPress users
It has never been more competitive to be a WordPress blogger.
Although WordPress does a lot of the heavy lifting for you, there is much that it does not do. This list is but a small concentration of popular priority action items of which to be aware.
Technical SEO is one of the most underrated areas of digital marketing, especially considering the ROI that even small technical changes can mean for the average blog.
Get a handle on the issues covered here, and I guarantee you and your users will have a much more successful year overall. Good luck out there.