WordPress SEO without a plugin is possible, but is it a good idea? My view is that you can and should learn to manually complete SEO tasks for your website. Once you know how to manually do SEO tasks, you can then consider automating some tasks with an SEO plugin.
I will explain why SEO is crucial for driving organic search traffic to your website. Then how to manually accomplish SEO tasks in WordPress.
You can then decide if you want to add an SEO plugin to help you out with some tasks.
Table of Contents
- The importance of SEO for WordPress websites
- Reasons to not use an SEO plugin with WordPress
- SEO in WordPress without a plugin
- Submit your articles to Google
- Final Thoughts
The importance of SEO for WordPress websites
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a set of techniques you practise that helps your content rank well in search engines.
Your content needs to be people-first with the aim of providing valuable, relevant, high-quality content for your readers. You should, as a secondary consideration, optimize content in a way that is friendly to search engines.
I’ll explain how to do that shortly, but first let’s give a quick review of the benefits of SEO for your website.
how SEO benefits your website
increased visibility and traffic
- By improving the website’s ranking in search results
- By making the website more likely to be found by users searching for relevant keywords
- By increasing the click-through rate (CTR) on the website’s search engine listing
- By optimizing the website’s meta tags, such as title tags and meta descriptions, which can make the website more attractive and relevant to users searching for related keywords.
better user experience
- By making website mobile friendly
- By ensuring website loads quickly (3 seconds or less)
- By improving readability with sub-headings
- By adding internal and external links
- By adding a table of contents
- By including images to break up the text and be more visually appealing
Better Return on investment (ROI)
- Keywords drive more targeted traffic to your website
- Carefully crafted title and meta description increases Click Through Rate (CTR)
stay ahead of the competition
- your keyword optimized content ranks higher than your competitors content
- your content is more readable, mobile friendly and better structured (sub-headings/images)
Optimize your content for search engines after writing it for people
Reasons to not use an SEO plugin with WordPress
Not every problem needs to be fixed with a plugin. The temptation to give over control of SEO to a plugin and then forget about it is strong. After all, if you are paying for an SEO plugin shouldn’t it do all the work for you?
The reality is, even with an SEO plugin, you are still responsible for manually performing most of the SEO work.
The plugin only checks you did it correctly. Think of it as a glorified checklist…
Here are some of the issues you get when using an SEO plugin:
Yet another plugin…
Accumulating a large number of plugins, some of which are likely not well maintained. These plugins will likely slow down your website and leaves you open to security threats.
An SEO plugin wants to make your content visible as much as possible – to everyone.
A security plugin will want to lock down your content as much as possible.
These two considerations directly contradict each other.
For search engines, having all your content easily available is great. It’s also great for hackers.
Manually deciding what content should be exposed is safer and makes it harder for hackers to attack your website.
Outsourcing your SEO efforts
By manually optimizing your website, you have full control over the SEO of your website. This allows you to make changes and adjustments as needed, instead of waiting for a plugin developer to release an update.
What happens if the plugin is not compatible with the latest version of WordPress?
If you depend on your SEO plugin, you may no longer be able to perform SEO, or you may be forced to use an outdated version of WordPress.
Most benefits of an SEO plugin need to be paid for
Most plugins, especially SEO plugins, come with a monthly/yearly subscription, this can be costly especially if you have many websites.
However, it is worth noting that you can still utilize the free features provided by an SEO plugin. While these free features offer some benefits, the most valuable SEO features are typically reserved for paying customers.
SEO in WordPress without a plugin
Okay, time for practical advice on how to do SEO for your WordPress website using only the WordPress editor and free tools.
Document outliner in the WordPress editor
You can check for problems in your heading and subheadings by using the WordPress editor. Clicking on the i icon at the top of the page will show you your document outline.
Notice how the heading levels are shown (Title, H2, H3). You can use the outline to check your headings and subheadings are correct. For instance H3’s should be directly underneath a H2. If you have a mistake the document outliner will mark it for you. You can change the header level easily from the WordPress editor.
Tip: Click a heading in the outliner to jump to that heading in your editor
How to add keywords in WordPress
You may be wondering how to add keywords in WordPress. There is no box or control to add them anywhere in WordPress.
WHAT IS A KEYWORD?
A keyword is a word or phrase that describes the main topic or subject of a piece of content, such as a web page, blog post, or article. Keywords are used by search engines to understand the content of a webpage and to match it with the search queries of users. When a user types a query into a search engine, the search engine uses the keywords on a webpage to determine whether or not the webpage is relevant to the user’s query.
Where do you add keywords? The answer is everywhere. More specifically:
- Subheadings (H2, H3, H4, H5, H6)
- image alt tags
- meta description
As you can see from the above list. You need to add keywords throughout your article.
If you’re seeking guidance on the optimal number of keywords to use for each blog article, I recommend referring to this article: For SEO how many keywords should I use?
Keywords are just words, the only difference is you are trying to rank for them in search engines.
If you don’t know how to find keywords you can use a keyword research tool to help you.
I personally use the SE Ranking keyword tool for conducting keyword research. It offers some free functionality, allowing you to test it out for yourself. Feel free to give it a try below.
A keyword research tool is essential if you want to rank your content highly on search engines. Here is my review of SE Ranking keyword research and SEO tool: SE Rankings Review – Affordable SEO tool that’s surprising good
Adding images to your content
Images help your content in two ways:
- Giving the reader a pause by breaking up the text with an image
- Providing information in a visual way – images are processed much faster than text
For SEO purposes there a few issues you need to be aware of:
- large images can slow down your website
- images that are very wide can cause horizontal scrolling on mobile devices
- you need to provide a text description for each image (using “alt text”)
Don’t worry, I’ll explain these issues and how to fix them below.
A slow loading website will frustrate visitors and cause them to leave your website. Google will also notice your website is slow causing your ranking positions to drop!
Large images may be one of the reasons your site is slow so it’s something you need to fix.
The solution is:
- Scale, crop and compress images: do this manually or via a WordPress plugin
I use the SiteGround optimizer plugin (this plugin works on all hosting providers not just SiteGround). You can use a third-party image plugin to help you optimize your images.
For more on setting the correct images sizes on WordPress websites you can read this article: Properly size images for WordPress blogs and websites
Wide images can cause horizontal scrolling
Horizontal scrolling on mobile devices is to be avoided. It’s annoying to readers and it is not mobile friendly. This will result in Google lowering your ranking position as Google uses your mobile version of your website for indexing purposes.
To fix this issue ensure your images are not excessively wide and ensure when you add them to content you don’t use a fixed width.
From the WordPress editor you use an image block to add images. On the right hand sidebar select the Block tab and you will see the image settings (if you don’t click on the image in your editor). See screenshot below:
Below the ALT TEXT block (this is where you add a text description of the image) you can select the image size.
You can also specify the image as a percentage of its width. For images it’s a good idea to always check these settings for each image to ensure you don’t cause horizontal scrolling.
Adding an ALT TEXT description for each image
It’s easy to forget to add an alt text description for each image. I forget to do this sometimes, this is why learning how to do a Web Audit can help you find and fix SEO issues after you have published content.
As shown in the screenshot above just type in a textual description of the image in the image block editor.
Word count for your articles
To provide useful content for your readers in most cases you will need to write hundreds of words of text, if not thousands.
Number of words for a well written, high quality article that can rank on the first page of Google. (For smaller articles try for 400+ words)
Google considers thin content to be low value.
Again, the most important point is to write high quality content for your readers.
Tip: The WordPress document outliner shows the number of words in your content
Proofreading your content
It’s important to find and fix any spelling or grammar mistakes in your content before publishing. Mistakes stand out and will lower your credibility with your audience.
Use a free grammar checker such as Hemingway app.
You can also use ChatGPT (which is free to use) for all your common editing needs such as :
- find and fixing spelling mistakes
- simplifying a block of text
and much more. See my article on using ChatGPT for copywriters.
Let’s give ChatGPT a simple sentence to proofread:
Notice how ChatGPT found and fixed not only the spelling mistake but removed the unnecessary comma in the sentence.
ChatGPT is not limited to a single sentence, you can give a large block of text to proofread.
Submit your articles to Google
Once you have published your article you may think you are finished. Nope, you need to submit the URL of your blog post to Google. This will ensure Google will crawl and index your newly published article.
Google Search Console: https://search.google.com/search-console/about
You will need to log into to your Google account and link your website to the Google Search Console first.
Then, submit your blog article URL. You can click in the search widget at the top of the page and paste in your URL.
Google will test the URL to see if it’s indexed (it won’t be), then you can request indexing of the page.
Simple. By the way, you can submit your URL to Bing as well.
Bing Webmaster Tools: https://www.bing.com/webmasters/about
My take is you should use an SEO plugin – I use one for this website (All in One SEO – you can read my review here: All in One SEO Plugin will make you better at SEO ).
For those starting out blogging you may decide to manually handle the SEO tasks for now, you can always add an SEO plugin later. After all you will have many other tasks you need to do such as:
- keyword research
- finding high quality images
- generate blogging ideas
- measure your website metrics (Google Search Console and Google Analytics)
- finding a high quality, fast theme
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