SEO tips for Drupal & WordPress websites

How to optimise your Drupal or WordPress site for improved page ranking

John Newton's picture
John Newton

Your search engine strategy (SEO) - the steps you take to make sure your website performs at its best on Google and other search engines - is a key element of your digital strategy. In this article, I want to run through some simple steps you can take to help your site’s SEO. This article is aimed at owners of websites built in either Drupal or WordPress, although some more general points can be applied to sites using other technologies. This is an extensive subject but in this short space I’m just going to try and cover the key points.

Content Strategy

Keep your content relevant and clear

It’s essential that your site content is thought-through, well-written and organised. You’ll need to keep your content up-to-date, post regularly and take care to link helpfully to related content both within your site and also externally. You’ll want to flag up your most important content and keep your key messaging short and targeted. This doesn’t mean you need to always compress or simplify your content. If you have a long page of content, that’s fine. Technical articles require technical language. Use proper headings to structure your content. Write as well as you can for your audience and update any content that becomes outdated or stale. Be brave and archive content that's no longer relevant.

What are keywords?

You’ve probably heard about the importance of keywords. You need to determine which keywords your users use in their search queries to find information. You’ll then need to adjust your content’s use of these terms accordingly so search engines can index your content in a way that is relevant. Use Google Adwords or one or more of the (often free) keyword tools out there to find out what your keywords are but also use your knowledge of your audience and gain even more valuable insights by talking directly to your users. Incorporate these keywords into your site content, especially into page titles and calls to action.

Modules, plugins & technology

While we’ll look in this section at some recommended add-on software to help boost your Drupal or WordPress SEO, one thing we also need to emphasise is the more general technical requirement for site speed. Google will judge your site’s performance and penalise you for slow loading pages. That means you should ensure your site is properly hosted on a fast server at a reputable host. There are many cheap hosting solutions out there but these are usually false economy. You do not want to be jostling for processor or data transfer with thousands of other sites on your shared space. So consider paying a bit extra for your hosting.

Your digital agency should make sure the site is cached correctly and primed for optimum performance. Caching essentially means your website has page elements ready to display immediately so it’s not having to build them in real time by making calls back to the database or file system to fetch them. The better the caching system, the faster the site. With a properly cached site, your users get their content more quickly (especially important on mobile) and Google won’t penalise you. Implementing a sound caching policy can be carried out easily in both Drupal and WordPress. Drupal has built in configuration for basic aggregation of css files and javascript. It also has excellent built in control so you can cache different page elements for greater efficiency. With WordPress, you’ll want to achieve caching improvements by installing third party modules and there are a range of highly effective plugins like W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache or WP Rocket.

Further performance improvements can be achieved by using a caching server (if your site is large and dynamic) or perhaps simply by using a third party caching service like Cloudflare.

Let’s now look at the main modules and plugins you’ll almost certainly want installed on your site. There’s no space here to go into configuration options in detail but this is intended to be a useful checklist and you may want to explore any modules or plugins that your site is lacking.

Drupal modules

Pathauto - this will take care of friendly (readable) url aliases for your content for you. Your partner agency should have set up patterns so your content appears within parent paths on your site, for example within sections or menus.

Redirect - you may sometimes want to move content within your site and this module ensures search engines understand changes to your site structure so your content and ranking is not adversely effected.

Metatag - behind the scenes structured data to help Google (and other services like Twitter and Facebook) properly understand your site’s content. Your agency should configure this for you, although you may wish to make your own changes to meta data in some circumstances.

Site Verification, Google Analytics, Matomo Analytics - depending on your version of Drupal and your approach to analytics one or more of these modules should be on your site.

Simple XML Sitemap - Google will use your site map to understand your site structure and your priority pages.

WordPress plugins

Like Drupal, WordPress has plenty of intrinsic functionality to help your SEO. It’s good prectice to check your Settings area and make sure ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’ is switched off (sometimes this gets left on during development) and that your permalinks is set to handle friendly urls.

Yoast SEO - the number 1 SEO plugin for WordPress. If your site isn’t using this plugin, it probably should be. This plugin does a lot work and may be almost all you need once you’ve configured it correctly to your needs.

Borken Link Checker - while broken links should be checked for on any site as Google will penalise you for them, this is a handy little plugin that’s WordPress specific and can be kept running so a site editor can check the site at any time. Drupal users - or WordPress users who need to check more than one site - might prefer an external link checker tool, like the very popular Screaming Frog. Tools like Screaming Frog can also help you audit other aspects of your site such as images. Image presentation and SEO requires a separate article but look out for images that are too big (they should not be over 100KB), or are missing the alt tag - that is, the vital description of your image that helps both assistive technology users and Google understand your site’s image content

Rank Math is a richly featured plugin that like Yoast does a lot. It has integration with Google Analytics and some site owners may choose it as a free alternative to Yoast which has a premium pay version.

Reviewing, Maintenance & Reports

SEO isn’t a one-off task. Depending on the size of your site and your resources, you should be checking your performance weekly. Use Google Analytics or the open source Matomo (for greater privacy) to review user journeys and trends. Google webmaster tools should also be set up so you (or more likely your digital partner) can keep an eye on reports from Google and rectify any site issues as soon as they arise.