WordPress is the content management system of choice for website builders everywhere, for many reasons. One of them is that WordPress has excellent support for search engine optimization–SEO–which is top-of-mind for hoteliers and innkeepers everywhere.
Of all the website topics innkeepers ask me about, SEO is number one. They are deeply concerned with the amount of power search engines like Google have to make or break a business–to keep a hotel business utterly invisible, or to shower it with guests upon guests. SEO is seen as the great genie of web design. If mastered, it can grant you prosperity.
Well, that’s not quite accurate, but it’s true that having a firm SEO foundation for your website can only help things. But it’s important to set correct expectations. Checking every box in the SEO checklist will not grant you the number one result on Google for your desired keywords. However, getting the technical things done right helps Google discover and understand your content. And if your content is good enough, you’ll rank.
So let’s take a look at how to optimize a hotel WordPress website for search engines. WordPress does not com with good SEO out-of-the-box, so we’ll need to install a plugin to get the functionality we need. There are two SEO plugins I recommend:
- Yoast WordPress SEO – This is the world’s favorite SEO plugin, and has the most features.
- All-in-One SEO – This plugin has many of the same features, and may be more compatible with your WordPress Theme or hosting provider.
For this guide, we will be using Yoast WordPress SEO. If you are new to WordPress plugins, please read my other guide, 23 Essential WordPress Plugins for Hotel Websites. Then come back and finish this one.
How to Set-up Yoast WordPress SEO for Hotel Websites
Once you install Yoast WordPress SEO, you will find a new menu item in your WordPress dashboard labeled “SEO”. Hover over it and go to the General page.
[creativ_alertbox icon=”” colour=”yellow” custom_colour=””]Note: Yoast may have a first-time tutorial for you to go through. Feel free to finish the tutorial to learn more about the plugin, or end the tutorial and skip straight to my recommendations in this guide.[/creativ_alertbox]
Click on the Company Info tab and complete the fields here. This gives Google the information it needs to create a profile for your business. Google sometimes shows this information as a highlight box that appears in the right-hand side of branded search results. Complete this page like I did in the sample below. Be sure to upload a company logo image, which Google may use in search results. Square images work best.
Google has a free tool called Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools). It gives you lots of great information about how Google sees your property on search engines. I encourage you to create an account and track your website’s search performance.
On this tab, you can sync your WordPress website with Google Webmaster Tools. Click the “Google Search Console” link, which will open up a new tab. Follow the instructions to sync your website with Google Search Console.
Titles & Meta
Once you save, click the Titles & Meta section in the left-hand navigation. This section helps you format the “meta titles” and other meta information that is invisible to users, but which Google users to understand your website information. Getting this set-up correctly will help keep your website metas topical, branded, and filled with appropriate keywords.
On this tab, keep whichever setting Yoast has chosen for you in the “Force Rewrite Titles” section. Then, choose a title separator. This will be used to dynamically separate the title of each of your posts as you create them with your hotel brand name. I always go with a hyphen.
This tab may or may not have content on it, depending on how your WordPress website theme is set up. If you have created a static page for both your homepage and your blog post page, then you will need to edit both of those pages manually to change their meta settings. (I will show you how to do that soon). If your theme does not use static homepages, you can edit homepage metas here.
This section has, arguably, the greatest consequences for your website’s SEO. Here, you are building formulas that will dynamically build meta titles for existing and all future content you publish. These formulas will help you keep your content branded, and help you insert keywords where appropriate.
On this tab, you will see at least two content sections–Posts and Pages. (You may see more depending on your theme). Each section has identical fields.
- Title template: This section is where you create a formula to dynamically generate meta titles. Here are the options I recommend:
This blurb will automatically insert the title of the content you created into the meta title. So, for example, let’s say you wrote a blog post titled “Best pubs in Boston”. That title, “Best Pubs in Boston”, will appear wherever you place the %%title%% blurb in any of these fields. I suggest you use it only once, at the very beginning of the title. I suggest you do the same for both Post and Page sections.
This blurb is a separator that divides your content title from any branded terms you use in the title. This separator pulls from the option you chose on the general tab (remember I suggested you use a hyphen as a separator).
This blurb dynamically inserts the name of your website into the meta title. This pulls your website name from the “website name” field in the Company Info tab of the General section, which we completed in an earlier step.
You don’t have to use a blurb here. You can just write “My Hotel Name” here (whatever your property’s name is), and it will save to all pages.
- Meta Description Template: Leave this blank. This will save you much work, and it will not harm your SEO.
There are three other options under each section, which I suggest you leave alone. Here is what they do:
- Meta Robots: noindex, follow – This tells Google to not index any content of this type. Leave this turned off, for obvious reasons.
- Date in Snippet Preview – This just takes up more space–leave it off.
- Yoast SEO Meta Box – This turns off SEO editing on a page-by-page basis. Leave this off for most cases.
Depending on your theme, you may see other content sections here. In most cases you will want to mimic the settings of your Post and Page sections. There are some special exceptions:
- Media – WordPress, inexplicably, creates a new landing page for every piece of media (images and video) you upload to your website. If all of these pages are indexed, it can lead to website bloat and, potentially, a low-quality website score from Google. I suggest you set all media pages to “Meta robots: noindex, follow”. Note that media will still be indexable. Only dynamically created pages for media will be set to noindex.
- Tags (under the Taxonomies tab) – Unless you use tags regularly when creating blog posts, and as a primary navigation method for browsing blog posts, set this to noindex.
- Check the “noindex, follow” button to the author archives.
- Check the “noindex, follow” button to the date-based archives.
- Leave all other fields in this section at their default settings.
If Google knows what they are, it will sometimes share your other social media accounts in search results. Here, you can tell Google which ones they are. Simply fill out this field with links to your business accounts:
Google usually finds all of the content on your website pretty well. Sometimes, however, they need help understanding what is good content and what is not. To do this, use sitemaps. Yoast helps you generate updated sitemaps as you publish new content. To take advantage of this feature, simply check the box at the top of this section.
You can exclude certain content types from appearing in your sitemaps using the other tabs on this page. I suggest you check the following boxes:
- Disable author/user sitemap
In this section, click on the Permalinks tab (leave default settings in Breadcrumbs and RSS). This section dictates the structure of your URLs. It is important that URLs are readable. URLs with keywords in them have a higher chance at ranking well on Google. It’s also important to keep URLs short.
Check the following boxes, and leave the rest unchecked:
- Strip the category base from the category URL – Check this option ONLY if you are crafting a brand new website. If you are optimizing an existing website with a lot of content, then this will change the URL structure for your categories, which may cause them to lose rankings.
- Redirect attachment URLs to parent posts – This helps remove bloat from your website.
- Remove stop words from slugs – This helps keep your URLs short
- Remove the ?replytocom variables – This is an artifact of the way WordPress handles comments. Select this box to keep Google from indexing comments as unique pages of content (which can help prevent duplicate content penalties).
- Enforce trailing slash on all category and tag URLs – Only choose this option if you are setting up a NEW website. This changes your URL structure. The benefit to this is neater URLs–it is not super important.
Leave the rest unchecked.
After this is done, it’s time to clean up a default setting for WordPress. Using the left-hand navigation, find your way to Settings > Permalinks. This section dictates how your URLs look. The default settings is to use an ugly random string of numbers. I suggest you chose the “Post Name” option. This keeps your URLs short, and places the actual titles of your content into the URLs.
[creativ_alertbox icon=”” colour=”yellow” custom_colour=””]Note: ONLY make this change if you are setting up a new website. If you have an old website with years of content, this could harm your existing search engine rankings because it changes the URLs for all content on your website.[/creativ_alertbox]
Now that we are done setting up the defaults for our website, let’s take a look at SEO on a page-by-page basis. This plugin adds a new SEO box to the editor of every post and page. This box allows you to fine-tune SEO settings for posts and pages as needed.
For this example, I will share with you the settings I used for this blog post.
- Snippet Preview: See the image above. The snippet preview gives you a preview of how this page may appear on Google. This preview is not perfect. It does not take into consideration other plugins you may have installed that alter titles or other information, so take what you see here with a grain of salt. However it is useful for seeing if your title is too long or short. If the title gets cut off in the snippet preview, shorten it.
- Focus keyword: This field allows you to rank the article for keyword focus. Many writers find this useful. However, I don’t like it because I think it encourages authors to write in a more robotic way. For example, in this image I chose “wordpress seo” as my keyword focus. In the results, it says that the page title has no keyword focus, but you can clearly see that the words “seo” and “wordpress” appear in the title. Google is smart enough to connect the two, but this plugin is not. So I usually ignore this section, and I do not add a keyword focus. This does not affect the way your article ranks–it is just a helpful guide.
- SEO Title: Here is where I can manually rewrite my article’s meta title. See how the field already has a grayed-out title? This is the title automatically generated by the formula I created using the plugin earlier. You see it has my title (%%title%%), separator (%%sep%%), and company name (%%sitename%%). These three combined generated a nice meta title for my piece. However, I can overwrite this if I want and manually type in a new meta title using this field.
- Meta Description: Use this field to write a custom 156 character description for your content, which may appear in search engine results. Since this setting has no impact on my page rankings, I tend to leave it blank to save time.
This tab judges your article based on the keyword you placed in the keyword focus field earlier. I don’t think it is very accurate and therefore not helpful, but it is a good starting guide for writing optimized content. Use it if you wish.
You can ignore most items in the advanced tab. Only use this field if you ever want to take this page out of the search engine rankings. If so, choose “noindex” from the “Meta robots index” drop-down box.
This tab lets you specify different titles, descriptions, and images you want social networks to use when sharing your content. This can be useful if you take the time to craft unique descriptions to fit specific audiences, or to create thumbnail images that better fit specific social networks. This is, however, a lot of extra work, with very little added benefit. This is especially true considering all social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, do a pretty good job of finding the right images and text to better share your content.
Feel free to fill this out for each article, or only special pieces as needed. I generally keep these blank.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into SEO for WordPress. Thankfully, once you set it up, you can more or less forget it. Once your SEO is done, you can focus on writing amazing content to promote your property instead of fiddling with metas and other tweaks. And that, I think, is a healthy way to approach SEO.