Ever wondered what that padlock in the top left of the website url is for? It shows that the site has a valid SSL Certificate. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and in a nutshell, it encrypts data whilst it’s in transit to keep the data of users safe. Therefore if you’re filling out a contact form or creating a login for a website the SSL Certificate is securing your information from hackers.
Search Engines have been penalising websites who don’t have an SSL Certificate since 2017. However some people still don’t know about them.
The easiest place to get an SSL Certificate is via your website host. The cost of these varies, some providers will offer them for free using open source software Let’s Encrypt. Others will install a certificate directly on the domain and charge for it. Expect to pay between £30 and £50 per year for an SSL Certificate.
Make sure your server is running the highest php version
PHP is a script running on the server your website is being hosted on. It’s used to load the script of the databases which power your website. From time to time the php version gets updated. The main thing this means for you is the higher the php version you’re running, the faster your website will load. You can check the php version via your hosting cpanel or if this feels overwhelming open a support ticket and ask your hosts to do it for you.
While you’re at it, check your load times
As well as the php version of your server there will be limits on php execution times. These equate to how long it takes for the server to load pages of your site. If the execution time is quite low and/or your website has a lot of script to load you could find yourself getting a 500 error.
You can check whether your server is running the correct load times by going to your Dashboard > Theme > System Status. If there are any of the statuses in red, copy and paste the information and ask your host to set the server settings to the recommended values.
Make sure your website is mobile responsive
Over 60% of all website content is consumed via smartphones. Therefore it’s imperative your website displays brilliantly on mobiles and tablets. This is known as being ‘responsive’ as in, the design responds accordingly to the device accessing it.
The first thing is to ensure your website theme is a mobile responsive one and if it isn’t, change it. It’s possible to change themes in WordPress without losing your content.
For this purpose let’s assume your website does have a mobile responsive theme. You should be able to set the responsive settings in the theme options. Often you’ll see the words ‘breakpoint’ used. This refers to where, in pixels or percentages you would like the content to break into a separate column/row.
Sometimes the page design of the site means it doesn’t translate well to using the global options for responsiveness and you have to handle it yourself.
This isn’t as overwhelming as it may feel – all content in WordPress is built in containers. Simply create a separate container for each section of the page. Duplicate the container(s) that’s not working well with your design. Mark the one you want to keep the settings for, for desktop and in the container settings set it to only be viewed on large and medium screens.
Now go to the duplicated container, change the settings to display only on small screens then rework the content so it works well on a smartphone and once you’re happy with it, hit save.
Turn off any features you’re not using on your theme
One of the biggest contributors to scoring highly on search engines is your page load times. Getting the balance of having a dynamic website which also loads quickly can be a challenge. Choosing a theme for your website which offers a lot of features and therefore design options, can also mean choosing a theme which is loading a lot of code every time the page loads. One of the ways to quicken the load time is to go to your theme features and turn off anything you’re not currently using so the site doesn’t waste time loading the code for scripts which aren’t used. For example, I very rarely use sliders on my websites. A popular opinion amongst designers is that sliders have bloated code and don’t offer a good user experience. As I don’t tend to use sliders, I go to the theme options and turn off the function on the site so it’s not loading code when the site loads on browsers.
You may have heard the term ‘cache’ but never really understood what it means. Creating a cached page on your site means using a plugin which stores the site code and scripts on the server memory so when browsers go to access the website all the information is there to be displayed quickly, as opposed to having to load all the scripts individually.
In layman’s terms it’s the equivalent of the website server showing the browser a snapshot of the site from when the cache was created, rather than having to create it each time someone accesses the website.
There are many cacheing plugins available across WordPress. Free ones do a great job and for a small website may offer all you need. For free versions check out WP Fastest Cache and W3 Total Cache. For slightly more complex sites or to nail more technical aspects of cacheing you’ll want a paid-for version. My go-to cacheing plugin is WP Rocket. (Clicking this link will give you between 10% and 20% off the plugin).
SEO plugins can take a lot of the work out of optimising your website. You can configure a tonne of settings all in one place and they have a guide as to which settings do what and quick wins for generating good search results. Popular SEO plugins include Yoast, which has a traffic light system to follow and is great for beginners, and All in One SEO Pack.
A site index allows search engines to find the URLs of your website when crawling the net for search results. Having a sitemap autogenerated does the work for you. Often the option for setting up sitemaps is included in SEO plugins. If it’s not included in the plugin you’ve chosen you can either find a plugin specifically for this purpose or follow the steps on this website.
Create a Google Search Console account
Setting up a Google Search Console account should go hand in hand with creating your website as it allows Google to know your website exists. You can handle lots of the technical settings in the console and it allows you access to the analytics data to track the traffic on your website. You can set up a Google Search Console account by following these instructions.
Stay on top of your updates
As with all software, website technology is always evolving and that means updates to WordPress, Themes and plugins. It’s important you run these updates regularly (I suggest monthly) so your website is always in tip-top health as sites which are running old code and old versions of scripts and plugins can become vulnerable to hackers and malware.
Another good reason for updating your site regularly is that search engines take note of sites which are being updated regularly and give them preference when crawling for results. This is because a site which is regularly maintained is likely to have up to date content and therefore Google bots feel confident that they’re delivering relevant results to the visitor.
Employ a link structure on your website
There are 3 different types of links to consider on your website:
This is where you embed a link to another website. These work well when you’re linking to high-value sites which are considered an authority by a search engine. For example, a site which is updated super regularly (think a news website), and has a lot of user interaction. Search Engines will see your link and it will help prioritise your page/post in search results as you’re essentially trading off the value of the other site.
*NB – only do this when the content of the link is relevant to the content of your post.
These link content across your website. A lot of this will have already been done when you set up your site – for example your menu navigation, buttons linking to contact pages and services and related posts on blogs. You can maximise this by linking within your page/post to other pages or posts on your website which are relevant to the copy you’re writing for the page.
This is where your url is linked on other websites. There are a couple of ways of achieving this:
- Create engaging content people want to share and link to on their own websites.
- Visit other, relevant sites and leave (productive, meaningful) comments below posts. Usually when leaving a comment it will ask you to input your website address and your name will link to it when the comment is published.
Don’t go overboard on point 2. Only comment where it is a meaningful interaction. Remember the website owner will have full authority over whether they publish your comment and they won’t publish it if it doesn’t add any value to their post.