Layers and SEO

FAQ  How To  Last Updated: Time to Read: 10 minutes

SEO is probably the most confusing aspect of managing any website. No one knows exactly how Google ranks sites because that information is largely a trade secret, but they do publicize a standard and advice for how to best optimize your site in their Search Engine Optimization Guide. Thankfully, WordPress is already designed to give your content the best chance at search engine optimization, so the rest is largely up to you in how your content is written, designed and worded.  However, before you dive into SEO with Layers, it is important to understand the difference between ranking and results.

All major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have primary search results, where web pages and other content such as videos or local listings are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users. Payment isn’t involved, as it is with paid search ads. The rank determines which results get featured inside the highlighted box at the top of results, in the sidebar, and first, for example.

Results and how they look are determined by factors in your content, or can be manually tailored using Google Webmaster Tools or WordPress SEO plugins.

Google ranks content, not your markup

The biggest misconception WordPress users have is that their theme can somehow control or make better their SEO ranking. While efficiently coded templates will obviously perform better in categories like accessibility and mobile-compatibility, those factors alone do not affect whether your link shows up on page one when someone enters a search query.

Headings

The heading tags used in the markup do not affect ranking, only the content found in the headings.  In basic HTML layouts, headings used to help determine structure. With HTML5, this structure is now largely determined by the markup order, with headings only organizing content inside each section.

On static pages, the page or post title will be assigned an H1. All headings inside your content should use an H2 or lower.

Layers Pro allows you to choose headings in your widgets in version 1.6. Widget titles will default to an H2 and column/post titles to an H3.

Google gives priority to sites with the following setup, according to RankRanger, which analyzes changes in the Google algorithm:

SSL

Google announced that they’re now indexing HTTPS pages by default as user security is top priority. Sites using HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) are being rewarded with improved Google rank.

Mobile-Friendliness

Mobile is changing the world. Today, everyone has smartphones with them, constantly communicating and looking for information. In many countries, the number of smartphones has surpassed the number of personal computers; having a mobile-friendly website has become a critical part of having an online presence.

To determine if you site is mobile friendly, Google looks at more than just responsiveness. It considers how fast your site loads, whether its navigation and funcitonality supports touch, and whether fonts and buttons are large enough for a fingertip. Both WordPress and Layers give you a solid mobile foundation for your site that will pass this test with flying colors, but it is important to understand that additional elements introduced though child themes or plugins may not be mobile friendly.

Check your site using Google’s Mobile Friendly tool, and run our URL http://docs.layerswp.com/ as an example if you like.

Speed

Google will penalize extremely slow sites, a factor that starts with your hosting choices and flows outward to simpler elements such as image size. See How to Speed Up Your Website for advice on how to optimize WordPress sites and to understand how your plugins affect speed vs your host and internet connection.

Lets take a look at some of the things Google looks for when ranking content in 2015. Note that due to how rapidly Google changes its algorithm, these could change any day.

1 – Keyword at Beginning of Title Tag

Google gives more weight to keywords found in the beginning of a title tag, which is typically your Page or Post Title followed by your Site Name. For example, let’s say you wanted to rank for the keyword “new york travel guide” and you were deciding between two headlines:

New York Travel Guide: 10 Things to Do In Brooklyn

vs

Have a Blast in Brooklyn With This New York Travel Guide

Google would see the headline #1 as more to the point than the second one. So you’d want to go with headline #1.

The Yoast SEO plugin provides two controls for this. The first is the Titles & Metas option which allows you to place the post or page title first or customize the title tag to format a specific way. The second is the SEO Title in the SEO options on every page and post on your site. This title can be different than your actual post or page title, and is helpful when you need the visual title to be shorter or sweeter, but the SEO title to be keyword weighted as demonstrated above.

2 – Content Length

Landing pages and home pages without a lot of text simply won’t rank as high as long-tail post content or other word-rich content. This is because search engine robots use words more than any other element to understand your content and how to compare it to other content to give users the best results.  This means the pages of your site containing the beef of your content 0 typically the pages you link to from landing pages –  are the keystone content, not your homepage.

If you take a typical website landing page or home page, you can usually get a decently high score, but may get a warning about there not being more than 300 words. Depending on your design, you may simply not want to cram that much text onto the home page, so this is not a goal to go after. In some cases, such as dynamically generates archives such as a Shop page or category, you can’t control content length at all and must focus on the strength of the product posts. Part of optimization is understanding your users and tailoring content for them first and foremost.

To counter-balance weaker pages focused on visual design or navigation (such as the shop), ensure your site has a good piece of keystone content – or a long page or article – that is helpful to your visitors and drives traffic to other places on your site.

3 – Keywords

Google doesn’t care so much about keyword density – which is to help combat blackhat tactics like keyword loading – but keywords are still a crucial part of how the search and result process works. Each page and post on your site needs a target keyword. The Yoast SEO plugin provides a field for setting this, and a series of checklist points for how to best position it. In short, the focus keyword (which can also be a short phrase) should be in the SEO title, SEO slug, (or set as an H2 heading within the first half of the post content if putting it in the title is not possible), and within the first paragraph of your content.

4 – Page Authority

This is determined by how many other sites link to yours and how highly ranked those sites are.  Keep in mind we are talking about ranking here and not searchability – your site may still come up on page one for search results when those searches are specific enough (for example, people looking for Layers help can easily find our articles) but when attempting to rank for “top”keywords such as fast weight loss, a lot more must be done in terms of optimization to squeeze as many ranking points as possible to get ahead of your competition.

Google removed PageRank scores and weighting from search results in early 2016, so while guest posting and getting your site listed in valid and relevant directories will still help drive valuable traffic to your site, it is no longer as important.  Generate backlinks through channels such as Social Media for a bigger punch.

5 – Domain Authority

There used to be a myth that the older your domain, the higher it would rank, but this assumed that older sites become more prominent with age. While it is true that it takes some time for a new site to rocket to the top in its niche, the more visitors it attracts, the faster it gains authority. By authority, Google simply means fame. Amazon, IMDB and USAToday are examples of sites with massive authority, which is why they rank highest in their categories.

So how do you gain authority? Your site simply needs to have awesome content that is well marketed and promoted. Ad campaigns, social media and the same techniques used to build Page Authority are your best tools here.

6 – Time Spent

Sites that are able to engage visitors and keep them on the site longest will rank higher than those that grab a click but then cause the visitor to turn away for whatever reason. Ensure any links on your site that point to a different site are used sparingly or in a clear context – never link to another site from landing pages and try to keep offsite links in your content to a minimum – add them at the end of the article if necessary. Your site design, wording and navigation are also critical factors in keeping people engaged, so consider the investment of a professional designer when ranking is important to you.

7 – Duplicate Content

Google wants to rank sites that have robust, original content. It is important you do not copy essential text across multiple pages, and ensure any articles on your site that exist elsewhere on the web contain 20% original content, including your own articles! Using Yoast SEO, you can set specific types of dynamic content that duplicate, such as blog pages or archives, to noindex. This is explained more in the Yoast SEO guide linked above.

8 – Keyword As First Word in Domain

A domain that starts with your target keyword has an edge over sites that either don’t have the keyword in their domain or have the keyword in the middle or end of their domain. Using our example here, if your site is centered around New York Travel, then a domain like newyorktravelguide.com is going to perform better than joeandcindydonewyork.com

Yoast SEO

Start with the Yoast SEO plugin. This plugin allows you to add important info to pages (including Layers pages) such as SEO optimized titles, meta descriptions and keywords, then provides some feedback to help you optimize the content further.

To install the plugin, go to Plugins → Add New and search for Yoast SEO, then read the definitive guide to SEO on your site.

To ensure your Layers page content is being captured as content properly, ensure you are on version 1.2.13 or higher, then review the following for important notes on tailoring your content to get the best score possible.

Schema Creator

This plugin provides an easy to use form to embed properly constructed schema.org microdata into a WordPress post or page.

Semantic Tags

Semantic Tags enables Google and other search engines to understand what your content relates to, even giving you the ability to link out to authority resources from the tag itself.

Layers Pro

If being able to select the heading tag of widgets in the Layers pages is still important to you, this is available in 1.6 due at the end of April 2016.

As you can see, SEO optimization is a major task that starts with how you plan and design your content, deliver it and maintain it. For most sites, WordPress+Yoast SEO will give you enough of a boost to ensure results show up. To edge your way into a top-ranked position takes time, tailoring and excellent content.

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