How to Optimize WordPress Site SEO For Better Performance

Last updated on Feb 15th, 2024 | 6 min

TL;DR: Effective WordPress SEO optimization focuses on creating content that prioritizes users, simplifying navigation, and organizing content with tags and categories. Additional performance optimization techniques include choosing a reliable hosting provider, optimizing images, and using a fast WordPress theme.

You have just spent the past few weeks building a WordPress website.

You have poured your heart and soul into the design and content, and it's finally time to hit that Publish button.

The Office Excited Meme

But wait.

Are you 100% sure people can find your new site and that it's ready to deliver the best possible user experience?

This is where SEO and performance optimization comes in.

SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is the process of making your website and every individual page as attractive to search engines as possible.

Performance optimization, on the other hand, ensures all your pages load quickly and efficiently for an optimal user experience visitors will remember.

Both play a pivotal role in the success of every WordPress website out there so it’s important to understand the what, why, and how of SEO and performance optimization.


The importance of search for websites

SEO is vital for the positioning and exposure of your online business.

Without visibility and visitors, your website is just one of a billion other sites that never see page one in Google Search.

To attract more traffic, you need to make sure your website wins as many "front-page" positions as possible.

Why? Think about what you do when searching on Google. How many results do you scroll through before landing on your answer? Or better yet, how often do you work your way to page 2?

If you can't remember the last time you did that, you're not alone.

In fact, just 9.47% of people click results on the 2nd page of Google. This means the top 3 search results get a whopping 52.75% of ALL clicks

Still, having doubts about SEO's role in your online business success? 


Why you need to optimize for performance

Performance optimization is all about streamlining the user experience.

It is said search engines take website speed into account, and the numbers show a clear preference for fast-loading pages:

  • 42% of consumers want pages to load in 2 seconds or less.
  • 40% of visitors abandon a website that takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
  • 79% of shoppers dissatisfied with website performance won’t visit again.

In fact, Google has officially confirmed that websites that meet certain speed requirements will benefit from a ranking boost in the search results.

And even though search and performance optimization share similar goals, they go about it in slightly different ways.

Let's start with making your WordPress site attractive to search engines.

Optimize your WordPress site's performance and speed with a single plugin. Get started with NitroPack →

12 actionable WordPress SEO tips for beginners

If you’re just getting started, the sheer volume of content on SEO out there can easily overwhelm you.

That's why we hand-picked the most effective techniques you can apply yourself and scale up from there.


1. Create people-first content

Great content is the cornerstone of a successful website.

It gives your visitors something to do and a reason to visit. It also gives search engines something to crawl, index, and rank.

The emphasis here is on great though, not just content. And more specifically, content designed for people first and search engines second, as Google has pointed out in an official note.

Right now, the best approach to any piece of information you can add to your WordPress site is to show Google you are the best at what you do. Also known by the term "topical authority", establishing yourself as the best source of specific information people might be searching for, is crucial.

Answer questions, write original content, do your own research, and share the results – this is what makes your content attractive to both search engines and your site visitors. A great indicator you're posting relevant content is the ‘time on page’ – a metric you can find in your Google Analytics reports that measures how long visitors stay on a particular page. The more they stick, the more likely it is you will manage to convert them.


2. Use simple navigation

Simple navigation is another of those SEO tweaks that benefits both users and search engines.

Keep navigation logical and users will be able to quickly identify what they want and where to go. This improves usability and encourages visitors to stay on your site.

Search engines will be able to quickly crawl and index your site, which helps them rank your pages much more accurately.

Manage menus in Appearance > Menus

WordPress Admin Dashboard Appearance Menu Management


3. Organize content with categories and tags

Categories and tags help keep navigation straightforward. It’s much easier to locate a blog post when there are simple categories that make everything easy to find.

Create relevant categories that accurately describe broad post topics so users can discover content quickly.

Keeping them broad helps organization but also ensures you can write on a wide range of topics while keeping categories relevant even if your future content strategy pivots.

Tags act like keywords you can use to aid search or in tag clouds. They aren’t so commonly used anymore though so they are purely optional.

Manage categories from Pages > Categories and tags from Pages > Tags.


4. Check WordPress visibility settings

When you first set up WordPress, you’ll be asked whether you want search engines to index the site.

You may have set it to ‘No’ if you were developing the site directly on your hosting or building it as a staging site first.

If you think that might be the case, double-check Settings > Reading. Make sure the box next to ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’ is unchecked.


5. Use an SEO-friendly URL structure

An SEO-friendly URL structure uses descriptive words to help humans and search engines understand what’s on the page.

It looks like this:

URL Structure Breakdown

Image source: Semrush


As you can see in the example, it’s clear what to expect on each page. This is good for visitors and search engines and can positively impact your SEO.

Change to an SEO-friendly URL structure in Settings > Permalinks. Use Post name or Custom with ‘/%category%/%postname%/’ for best effect.

Permalink Settings WordPress Admin Dashboard


6. Use an SEO-friendly WordPress theme

We cannot overstate the importance of using SEO-friendly and performance-optimized WordPress themes. While it won’t magically change your position in SERPs, it can influence it significantly.

An SEO-friendly theme will be:

  • Fully responsive and work seamlessly on any screen
  • Well-built with clean code and few dependencies
  • Fast to load, preferably <2s
  • Compatible with caching or optimization plugins

WordPress themes like Astra or Spectra One have been designed to be SEO-friendly and easy to use from the get-go.


Astra WordPress Theme Homepage


7. Add an XML sitemap

An XML sitemap is a machine-readable file that lists every page on your website with its URL. It’s an essential part of getting your website crawled, indexed, and ranked by search engines.

It doesn’t really benefit SEO but it does make it easier for search engines to begin ranking it. That’s why we recommend having one.

WordPress creates an XML sitemap as part of the setup process so you probably won't need to do anything here. But we do, however, recommend you familiarize yourself with XML sitemaps if you don’t know them already.


8. Add schema markup

Schema doesn’t impact website SEO directly, but it has a beneficial effect on site visibility.

If you search for a recipe or movie and notice those extra pieces of information like the cooking time or review stars in search results, that’s a rich snippet.

Rich snippet result example for best soup recipes search on Google

They are created by schema markup. Good reads the schema to understand the page better. It may translate that schema into a rich snippet and feature it in SERPs.

Visitors are much more likely to click on an entry with this extra information, which draws more traffic.

Use a schema plugin like Schema Pro to help add schema to WordPress.



Security is another ranking signal for Google that can benefit SEO.

In fact, SSL and HTTPS are now pretty much mandatory unless you want to see one of those worrisome website warnings every time you open a web page!

Most web hosts offer free SSL and will install and set it up for you. 

If not, get your own SSL certificate and use the Really Simple SSL plugin to get it working.


10. Use Google Search Console to check links and indexing

Google Search Console can provide insight into how your website is performing in terms of keywords and link quality. It also has a free version so it's ideal for those just starting out.

It can generate reports on how many impressions you had, what keywords you're ranking for, the average CTR (click-through rate), and a whole lot more.

More importantly, it can tell you whether all your links are accessible, whether pages and posts can be crawled, and whether you have any broken links. Make sure to check your inbox for the handy monthly summaries the console will send you.

Get started with Google Search Console


11. Learn keyword mapping

Keyword mapping is the process of assigning a keyword or phrase to a particular page or post. It takes keyword ranking opportunities to the next level and optimizes every page for search.

It is incredibly useful for SEO and for creating quality content as it provides a series of relevant phrases you can use for each individual page. Mapping enables you to target obvious keywords alongside less obvious ones and keep everything organized.

This helps content creators optimize for a series of phrases on each page or post. It also helps search engines better understand the page and rank it for these relevant keywords.

Use Ahrefs or SEMrush to help identify keywords to map by using their "parent topic" filters.

Keyword research by parent topic in Ahrefs

If you're new to search engine optimization (SEO) and don't want to start from scratch, consider exploring some proven ChatGPT SEO strategies to hit the ground running.


12. Use internal links

Internal linking benefits you in two ways. One, it increases your website’s authority and two, it helps keep visitors on your site for longer. It is also strongly believed to help with page authority.

Internal linking graph

As links are fundamental for search and how the web works, it makes sense to link to your own posts and pages as well as external ones.

Aim for 3-5 relevant internal links depending on the length of the content.

Pro tip: create a Google Sheets document to map the internal links for all your pages and blog articles. This way, you won't miss out on opportunities to build a better linking structure that Google rewards.


Bonus: Add Alt text to images

Alt text includes an alternative title and description to help search engines understand what the image is about. Alt text also helps screen readers, which adds to your website’s accessibility.

A great checklist you can follow here is:

  • Keep it short and descriptive (example: "WordPress admin panel for editing menu navigation")
  • Don't start with “image of” or “photo of”
  • Leave alt text blank if the image is purely decorative and doesn't provide additional information


6 beginner website performance optimization tips for WordPress

According to Google, a page should ideally load in less than 2.5 seconds. The faster the better!

Keep them waiting any longer and they are likely to go elsewhere.

Let's explore how you can optimize a WordPress site for speed.


1. Pick a quality web hosting service

Although it's not a dedicated speed and performance optimization technique, a reliable hosting provider is crucial. It's the backbone of your WordPress site from which you can build up.

With a quality web hosting service under your belt, you can rest assured that your website will function properly thanks to:

  • A solid basis for excellent site performance
  • Timely downtime alerts
  • Dedicated servers
  • Frequent back-ups
  • Guaranteed security
  • and much more.

Popular web hosting providers for WordPress you can research further are IONOS, Bluehost, and GoDaddy.


2. Optimize images

Optimizing images for speed is fairly easy in terms of the technical knowledge required.

5 image optimization tips include:

  1. Use next-gen image formats (like WebP)
  2. Shrink image file sizes using a compression
  3. Balance quality with file size
  4. Resize images for better responsiveness
  5. Use a high-quality CDN

WordPress now natively responsive images and by following this image optimization guide you can ensure you're serving all your images as fast as possible.

Serve fully-optimized images on autopilot. Get started with NitroPack →

3. Use a fast WordPress theme

The WordPress theme you choose is about much more than how pages look. 

It can influence how quickly pages load and how quickly or well readers engage with them.

The ideal WordPress theme should include the aesthetics you’re looking for along with minimal design. While graphical effects and animations may look good, they take longer to load, which is not what we’re looking for.

Check the GTMetrix or Pagespeed Insights scores for themes or explore the fastest (and tested) WordPress themes out there.


4. Keep WordPress and plugins updated

Keeping WordPress and your plugins updated has several advantages. Speed is high among them but far from the only reason to stay updated.

Keep your website up to date and your website will:

  • Always be using the latest, most secure version
  • Benefit from any new features or upgrades
  • Maintain compatibility and functionality between plugins and services
  • Improve stability with bug fixes and code improvements
  • Use the latest features such as full site editing

WordPress will often update automatically so keep an eye out for any errors across your pages.

Pro tip: Don't forget to regularly clean up your WordPress database and uninstall inactive WordPress plugins.


5. Use a CDN

A CDN, Content Delivery Network, is a very effective way to improve website performance.

Rather than hosting your site at a single location and making everyone come to you, a CDN has copies of your site all over the world. It uses intelligent networking to identify the visitor’s location and then uses the copy closest to them for faster delivery and better performance.

CDNs can also provide protection against DDoS, hacks, and other attacks and can keep your site accessible under almost any circumstance.

Get the fast WordPress site you always wanted. NitroPack comes with 35+ advanced features and a Cloudflare built-in CDN →

Ranking your website higher on Google: Summary

Before you hit "Publish" on your WordPress website, remember the importance of SEO and performance optimization.

To improve SEO, focus on creating people-first content, using simple navigation, organizing content with categories and tags, optimizing URL structure, and utilizing an SEO-friendly theme. Enhance visibility with an XML sitemap, schema markup, SSL/HTTPS, and by utilizing tools like Google Search Console for link and indexing checks.

For performance optimization, choose a quality web hosting service, optimize images, use a fast WordPress theme, keep everything updated, and consider a content delivery network (CDN).

By implementing these techniques, your WordPress site will be primed for success, with improved visibility, faster loading times, and an exceptional user experience.

Lora Raykova
Web Performance Buff

Lora has 7+ years of experience developing in-depth, specialized content for SaaS companies in the CEE region. She has sourced and collaborated with subject-matter experts on site speed optimization for WordPress, Core Web Vitals, and the future of web performance. "If you can't explain it to a 7-year-old, you've not researched it well enough" is Lora's guiding principle when publishing professional insight for complex technical topics.