One of the questions that I get the most often when it comes to SEO — and honestly one of the myths that I have to debunk the most — is whether or not your website has to be on WordPress for Google to want to share it.
It makes sense that people think that WordPress is the best option, because 35% of the internet is built on WordPress. So you’re probably going to Google a lot and visiting sites that are built on WordPress, and because it’s so popular, it seems like WordPress is the best choice for SEO. But.
Correlation ≠ causation. WordPress doesn’t automatically make a website best for SEO.
I recently sat on a panel of SEO specialists, and one of the questions that was asked was “What’s the best website platform for SEO?” and one of my esteemed colleagues answered in one word: “Wordpress.”
I added: “I agree, WordPress is the best … with one caveat: WordPress done right is the best option for your website. But WordPress can be done poorly, and it can actually perform worse than many options that traditionally rank lower in SEO performance audits.”
You see, I work with a lot of not-tech-savvy (and maybe even tech-fearful!) small business owners. My clients often don’t have the budget for a full time developer or the technical expertise about plug-in incompatibility & pageload speeds & image compressions … and they don’t want to learn either!
Although WordPress is the best option for a fast-loading, secure, mobile-friendly website … if you don’t understand the things that Google cares about, you could end up with a WordPress site that looks terrible on a cell phone, is prone to being hacked, and has so many unnecessary plug-ins that it takes 20 seconds to load.
So instead of telling all my clients that WordPress is the only option for a website Google loves, I want to shoot straight with you:
Google doesn’t care where you log-in to update your website.
Google doesn’t care if you’re on WordPress, or Squarespace or Karcher or kajabi, or Wix, or Weebly or something that your nephew built in his basement.
Here’s what Google does care about:
- The clarity of your copywriting: have you optimized all your pages & posts with content tags?
- The mobile-friendliness of your site: does it look good on a cell phone or tablet?
- The website security: are you easy to hack?
Even if you have a platform that supposedly does all the SEO things for you, there are still some things that you’re going to want to consider to make sure that you’re optimizing your site to the best of your ability. Let’s go through these step-by-step:
1. Is your website mobile-friendly?
Your website has to be mobile responsible: it has to look good on a cell phone and on a tablet.
Starting in July 2019, Google started mobile-first indexing, meaning it looks at the mobile version of your website first, before it takes any looks at the desktop version.
If your website is hard to navigate when you open it on a mobile phone — if the text is too small, it’s hard to scroll around, it only has PDFs not HTML pages — Google won’t share it anymore.
Two ways to test your website’s mobile-friendliness
1. You can use the Google mobile-friendly test: Just pop in your URL and Google will let you know if there are any issues you need to fix in order to make it easier for your users.
2. Install Google Search Console and use their Mobile Usability report to get a page-by-page overview of any changes you can make to your site to improve mobile-responsiveness.
2. What’s your page load time?
If your website takes a long time to load, you’re losing traffic from Google.
Think about it from Google’s perspective: They’re trying to give their searchers the best experience, and if they send people to your website and it takes 10 seconds to load, those people will just go back to Google and choose the next results.
(Fun fact: when a person visits multiple websites from one search result to find the best answer, this is called pogo-sticking. How fun is that term?)
How to find your website page load time
There’s a Google tool for this (of course!) called PageSpeed Insights … but unfortunately it’s really built for developers, not laypersons, so it can be a little bit complicated & confusing in its explanations of what to fix.
I prefer more user-friendly sites like Pingdom Website Speed Test or GTMetrix Website Performance Test, which will scan your website to let you know how long it takes to slow down your site, and if there’s anything you can do to make it run faster.
3 ways to speed up your website load time
If you’re on WordPress, there are plug-ins you can use to help you speed things up.
You may also consider changing your hosting platform; I find lots of people start on BlueHost or GoDaddy because they’re cheap and have Google Ads that list them at the top of the page, but their shared hosting options can sometimes load slowly. My favorite hosting providers are:
- GreenGeeks for brand new starter sites
- FlyWheel for great simplified user experience & client handoff — I love that I never have to log into a cPanel account!
- Siteground for a good balance of speed & price — this is what I use for the Love At First Search website
- WP Engine for websites that get a ton of traffic and neede faster, more thorough service
If you’re NOT on WordPress — if you’re on a platform like Squarespace, Kajabi, Wix, etc — these changes might not be in your control. These website software have a lot of functionality built into them, whether or not you’re using all that they provide, which can definitely slow things down a bit. But the ease of not needing to worry about all this other stuff might be worth it for ya!
3. Site security: is your website gonna get hacked?
Google cares a LOT about your site security, or what’s called your SSL certificate.
How do you know if your website has an SSL certificate?
The easiest way is to go look at the top of your browser. And when you see the domain listed in your browser window, check and see if it has a little padlock that’s closed next to your domain. If it has a closed padlock, and if it starts with HTTPS, not HTTP, then you’re probably in good shape, there’s a really good chance that you have an SSL on your site. And Google will appreciate that and be much more likely to send people to your site because it’s less likely to be hacked.
If you don’t have an SSL certificate. If you just have the open padlock and the HTTP without the s, then reach out to your hosting provider (whether that’s BlueHost, Siteground, Weebly, etc) and see if you can get that security installed.
4. Broken links
Google cares about whether you’ll have a ton of broken links on your website. Now this may be because you’ve moved things around on your own website and haven’t updated those links with 301 redirects, or it could be that you’ve linked out to other people’s websites, and they have moved things on their websites without 301 redirects.
If you have a bunch of broken links on your site, it makes it look like you haven’t looked at things in a while, and you haven’t been maintaining things on your website. So with that in mind to go to a website, like a DeadLinkChecker.com, and you can look and see exactly how many broken links or 404 errors are on your website, and then go through and update those manually.
5. Content tags & on-page optimization
If you don’t tell Google what the most important information is on your site, or where to find that information, then it won’t do a very good job of sharing what it is that you are trying to talk about, which in SEO speak is called on-page optimization, to find out you can put keywords and how you can make it clear to Google exactly what your website is trying to be found for.
Research has not shown conclusively that WordPress is the best solution for SEO
So whether your website is on WordPress or not, doesn’t matter. There’s plenty of research out there trying to figure out if WordPress is the best option for SEO. And when the researchers go and look at the data, what they discover is that people who are on WordPress are more likely to do the things that are required for SEO, they’re more likely to go in and add their content tags to check their broken links, to take care of those things that are important to Google..So it’s not necessarily that WordPress is the solution.
It’s more about taking care of what you have, and really maintaining your website wherever it lives and getting all of the information into the right places. That might be slightly easier on WordPress, because there are specific plugins you can use, whereas on other platforms, you have to seek out the places to put that information.
So what platform SHOULD you choose for your website?
If you’re tech-savvy and willing to learn WordPress, or hire somebody to do website maintenance for you, as a general rule: WordPress is the best solution for SEO. If you’re running an e-commerce site, I also highly recommend Shopify; I don’t have a Shopfiy store myself but have worked on it with many of my e-commerce SEO clients with excellent outcomes.
If you don’t want to deal with the learning curve & maintenance of a WordPress site and don’t need Shopify, I suggest Squarespace as the next best SEO alternative to WordPress. It automatically includes site security, all its themes are mobile-responsive, and it doesn’t require any plug-ins, but you’ll still need to regularly update your on-site optimization and check for broken links manually.
Even if your website platform SAYS it has “SEO Functionality built in,” you still need to input & maintain it! No matter how much it promises, it can’t write really great SEO titles for you, add your alt text automatically, or double check your broken links.