Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a cornerstone of most successful websites. Great SEO can help you leverage search engines like Google to get hundreds or thousands of users to visit your website. All you need are the right tools.
Fortunately, WordPress.com sites come with many built-in features that help to optimize your site, such as automatic sitemaps and on-page SEO tools. These will be sufficient for some users. At the same time, using a WordPress SEO plugin can also help you identify which aspects of your website you need to improve (and take steps to do so).
In this article, we’ll talk about the basics of SEO, and what tools WordPress.com offers to help you optimize your content. Then we’ll show you how SEO plugins work, and explore their pros and cons. Let’s get to it!
The Basics of SEO
SEO is all about making sure search engines can “understand” your website’s content. That way, they’ll know what search results to show your content in (and at what positions).
In theory, if you have the most in-depth and useful article on a specific topic, users should see it as the first result when they search for related keywords:
In practice, your content might not make the top results for any given search, even if you have the most well-researched and written articles. That can happen due to poor optimization.
Great SEO involves a lot of work. First of all, you’ll need to have a website that search engines can “crawl” or navigate. Second, your website needs to offer a strong User Experience (UX) and basic security, such as by having a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate installed that enables HTTPS browsing.
SEO also involves a lot of on-page work. If you want your articles to rank in a top spot for any given search, you’ll need to:
- Write great titles and meta descriptions. This is what users will see on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). If they’re not convincing, few people will click on your content.
- Use tags properly. That includes headers and alt attributes (aka alt text). Headers will help you break content into digestible sections, while alt attributes describe your media files for search engines.
- Add links (both internal and external). Links to internal pages can help increase time on-site. Links to external sites can help lead users to other content they’d like to see.
- Use supporting media. Images, videos, and other types of media can help you create more engaging content, which may determine your site’s success.
Of course, these are just a few basic SEO considerations you’ll need to keep in mind. In practice, proper SEO involves a lot of editing and formatting, as well as keyword research and optimization, which is where a lot of people choose to spend most of their efforts.
However, the truth is that even if you find the best possible keywords for your content, you might not rank well for them unless you’re willing to get your hands dirty with on-page SEO. Even then, if your website doesn’t offer a great user experience, you might not get the results you want.
The good news is that using the right platform for your website can make your work a lot easier. WordPress.com, for example, offers a lot of built-in features and tools that help you tackle SEO more efficiently. Let’s take a closer look at these tools now.
How WordPress.com Helps You Tackle SEO (4 Key Features)
WordPress.com is an SEO-friendly Content Management System (CMS). From the start, WordPress was designed primarily as a blogging platform, which means that SEO was always a key consideration.
Throughout the years, WordPress.com has grown to become more than just a blogging CMS. These days, you can use our platform to build basically any type of website you want.
However, SEO remains one of our top priorities. Here are the features WordPress.com offers to help you tackle this key aspect of your site’s design.
1. Automatic XML Sitemaps
Search engines use bots called “crawlers” to navigate websites and map them. When you launch a new website, it usually takes a bit of time for search engines to crawl its content and index it. Once they do, your content and pages will be ready to appear in search results (if they’re relevant!).
By default, WordPress.com configures new websites as ‘public’. That means that search engines can freely crawl and index them:
Bots aren’t perfect, however, and in some cases they might miss parts of your website. That’s why WordPress.com goes a step further and automatically generates an XML sitemap of your website.
That sitemap includes all of the URLs search engines should index. Whenever you update your website, WordPress.com updates that sitemap accordingly. This is a feature that a lot of SEO plugins offer as an extra, but it’s baked into WordPress.com out of the box.
2. Free SSL Certificates
Search engines use a lot of “signals” to decide how to rank your website in results pages. On-page optimization plays a huge role in how well your website ranks, but so do basic security settings.
Google, for example, considers HTTPS as a ranking factor when determining its results. That means if you have a website with an SSL certificate that supports HTTPS, you increase your chances of getting more traffic from search engines.
Generating an SSL certificate is easier and cheaper than ever these days. In fact, you can even generate SSL certificates for free. However, you still need to set them up manually and enable HTTPS for your website.
If you use WordPress.com, the platform takes care of all that for you. New websites automatically get free SSL certificates (from Let’s Encrypt), so your website’s data will be delivered over a secure HTTPS connection. That means you get an automatic boost to your SEO, and your visitors’ data will be safer.
3. On-Page SEO Tools
On-page SEO often requires a lot of work. Having access to built-in tools can make that task much easier. For example, all WordPress.com plans enable you to modify your page slugs and their excerpts:
On top of that, you get access to powerful formatting functionality. You can add subheadings and media anywhere you want within your posts. Moreover, you can set alt text for your images with ease:
All of that is possible thanks to WordPress.com’s powerful editor. Depending on which plan you use, you may get access to additional features.
If you use the WordPress.com Business or eCommerce plans, you’ll also be able to set custom title formats for your posts and pages. Moreover, you’ll get to see how your content will look in search engines and social media platforms right within the editor.
4. Google Analytics Integration
Analytics are a key component of any successful SEO strategy. Without access to this data, you won’t be able to monitor website traffic, or figure out what searches are leading users to your site.
Out of the box, WordPress.com offers you access to some analytics data, including the number of visitors you’ve received and information about each post’s popularity. However, if you want access to more in-depth data, the platform also offers integration with Google Analytics.
All you have to do is sign up for a Google Analytics account (which is free), and we’ll help you connect it to WordPress.com. Once you do, you’ll gain access to a wealth of information about your site.
That data will help you figure out if your SEO strategy is working, or whether you need to fine-tune it. Without access to analytics, you’re basically flying blind as far as SEO is concerned.
Keep in mind that Google Analytics integration is available only with the WordPress.com Premium, Business, and eCommerce plans. However, if you’re using the free or Personal plan, you’ll still be able to see how many visitors you’re getting.
Do You Need to Use SEO Plugins With WordPress.com?
The short answer to this question is no. You already get access to a lot of powerful built-in tools and functionality that will help you optimize your pages and their content for search engines. Therefore, you don’t really need to use SEO plugins with WordPress.com.
However, SEO plugins can be particularly useful in some scenarios, such as with keyword optimization. A lot of popular SEO plugins include tools that give you an overview of changes you can make to each page, in order to increase the chances that it will appear in search engine results:
Having access to a tool that gives you tips on how to improve your content can be a huge help when it comes to SEO. However, it’s important to understand that following the recommendations you get from SEO plugins doesn’t necessarily mean your content will rank well for any specific search term.
In a way, SEO plugins give you access to a cheat sheet that you can use to check your content. However, your results will still largely depend on what search terms you’re building content around, how competitive they are, and how good that content is.
If you’re confident in your knowledge of SEO basics, you may find that you don’t get a lot out of using additional tools. On the other hand, if you want a little extra help optimizing your site and its content, it can benefit you to use WordPress SEO plugins.
If you are in the market for an SEO plugin, we’d recommend checking out Yoast SEO:
This handy solution will analyze each page and post on your site, and provide recommendations for how to better optimize it. Plus, it can tell you how readable your content is and make suggestions for improvement (benefiting both human users and search engine bots).
Keep in mind that if you want to use third-party plugins, you’ll need to opt for the WordPress.com Business or eCommerce plans. With either plan, you’ll be able to install almost any plugin you want, including all of the popular SEO tools.
SEO plugins can be incredibly useful if you’re not sure how to encourage search engines to rank your content highly. These tools can tell you what formatting changes you need to make, and how to optimize your posts and pages for search engines. However, if you don’t need that extra help, you might not get a lot out of SEO plugins.
Overall, using an SEO-friendly CMS such as WordPress.com can have a much bigger impact on your site’s success. Here’s what WordPress.com offers to help you rank higher in search results:
- Automatic XML sitemaps
- Free SSL certificates
- On-page SEO tools
- Google Analytics integration
Do you have any questions about how to master SEO for your WordPress.com site? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!
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