WordPress has become the number one blogging platform. It also makes an excellent content management system for standard web sites. If WordPress is set up properly, there isn’t very much SEO work that needs to be done, because the features you need for effective search engine optimization are already built in, or are available through the proper plugins. You just need to know how to use them.
We stress this with our web site evaluations and when training people how to properly implement SEO techniques. Search engine spiders love a properly configured WordPress site. All that you need to do is to understand and follow some simple SEO guidelines and the rank positions for your web site should improve.
The first thing to do is to install and activate the all-in-one-seo pack plugin. This is the most popular SEO tool for WordPress. If you have other plugins that write custom HTML title tags or meta tags, disable them so that you do not create a conflict. all-in-one-seo-pack handles all of the basic WordPress search engine optimization requirements, including some of the newer issues like creating the canonical meta tag that helps prevent duplicate content issues.
The second issue is to make sure that you are using the current version of WordPress and current versions of all plugins. Newer versions of WordPress and some of the plugins have added some valuable features that make search engine issues easier to manage. In addition, many new security updates have been added that will help keep your site safe from WordPress hacker attacks.
The following tips for WordPress search engine optimization are not in any particular order.
A permalink is the standard format used for URLs in a WordPress site. The Permalink page can be found at Settings > Permalinks. None of the Common Settings offered for permalink formats is optimal for search engines. It can be a good idea to give the search engine spiders a hint regarding what a post is about, and this can be accomplished through the keywords found in a page URL.
The most common format for permalinks is a Custom Structure like the following:
This will use the title for the post name and will reformat it properly for a URL. Some users like to use the category name in the URL and use a format like this:
Keep in mind that there is no benefit when the category name is added and it can sometimes be detrimental to your search engine rankings. The problem arises when you select multiple categories for a post. You will then end up with multiple (different) URLs representing the same page, which can result in duplicate content issues. Our recommendation is to simply use the postname as the permalink.
It can be a good idea to customize the permalink as a post is created. This can be done just below the title on the Edit Post page in WordPress. Just click the edit button and the permalink representing that post will be displayed for editing. The ideal permalink is short and simply contains the major keywords that represent the post. For example, if the title for an article is, “How to Teach a Dog New Tricks”, the default permalink will be, “how-to-teach-a-dog-new-tricks”. This can be shortened to “teach-a-dog-new-tricks” or “teach-dog-new-tricks”. The idea is to remove all of the useless words that are not keywords.
It is generally not be a good idea to change the format for the permalinks after a site has been indexed by the search engines. In the past, this has sometimes resulted in a loss of traffic until the search engines re-index the site. However, current versions of WordPress do allow you to modify the permalinks for posts and will rewrite (change) an old URL to a new URL when the old URLs are found in a search engine. Once again, this is generally not a good idea for a mature site or a site that is already ranking well. Keywords in a URL have a minimal effect on SEO, so changing the permalinks will not likely result in a noticeable affect on rankings.
2. HTML Title Tag.
The HTML title tag is the number one most important spot to place your keywords. This is the first place a search engine spider looks to determine the “keyword theme” for a page. The keyword theme is the combinations of search phrases that represent a web page.
WordPress normally uses a post or page title as the HTML title tag, but all-in-one-seo-pack allows you to customize this tag. The important parts to understand about the HTML title tag are that you only have 60 to 64 characters to work with, the words on the left side of the HTML title tag are weighted more heavily than words on the right, and the HTML tag you designate will show up as the title for the page on search results pages. If your company offers dog training classes in your local area, a good home page title tag might be “Dog Training Classes in Phoenix Arizona”. The name of your company is not important unless you thing someone will be searching for your company name. Think about the keywords you want to represent a page in search results. Most people search for local services using the name of the local geographic area. If you offer local products or services, use a localized HTML title tag that includes your city and state.
The home page title tag can be customized on Settings > All In One SEO. The home page and the home page title tag should represent what you do. The HTML title tag for articles and posts should reflect the keyword themes for individual pages. Selecting the best HTML title tag is a very important aspect of WordPress SEO.
3. Post Title Tag.
To customize the HTML title tag for individual pages and posts, scroll down to the bottom of the editing page. You will see a section where the HTML title tag and meta tags can be customized.
Remember to keep the HTML title tag focused on the keyword themes for which you wish to see the page rank well. Each HTML title tag in a web site should be unique. Think about what the title for your web page will look like in search results. It can be similar to the title for the post, but more closely focused on the page’s keyword theme.
4. Write Good Content.
This is the part that many site owners miss. It is important to write unique, informational content. Search engines do not care who you are or what you position is in an industry. They prefer web pages that contain good, informational content. Do not copy content or information from other web sites. There is an advantage with unique content that focuses on a keyword theme that people use in searches. There is no hard rule for the amount of content on a page. As a general rule, 250 to 500 words of content is good. Google prefers slightly more.
When you write content, think in terms of solving a problem or providing useful information. Think about the potential visitors first, biut do not forget about the search engines. Make sure that you mention the keyword phrases in your theme a few times on the page. Do not stuff the page full of keywords. Too many keywords on a page can be detrimental to a page’s rankings.
5. Focus on Topics that Interest People.
If you select the wrong keyword theme, or focus on a topic that people rarely search for, your efforts will be wasted. You cannot drive traffic to your site if no one searches for what you offer. The important part is to focus on topics that are in demand in your industry. Select your keywords and keyword themes wisely.
Google offers a useful tool that displays the number of times people have searched for a keyword phrase during the prevous month, along with a list of related search phrases. The tool is called the AdWords Keyword Planner Tool. Enter a general search phrase and Google will display a long list of related search phrases that may help you to generate ideas for articles. Focus on the search phrases that are searched for most often, but avoid search phrases that are too generic or can easily cross over to multiple industries. Focus on search phrases that describe what you offer, or perhaps lead to solutions to problems, such as with how-to articles.
6. Use Excerpts
Excerpts are introductory paragraphs to articles. If you allow full versions of your posts to display on the home page or on category pages, you are asking for trouble with duplicate content. It is better to display a short description of an article or perhaps just the first few sentences. These are excerpts.
With WordPress, there are two types of excerpts that you can easily control. The first is through the use of the more tag. To place the More tag in a post, simply place the mouse cursor where you want the More tag to be placed in the content of a post and click the More button on the editor’s tool bar.
This creates an excerpt and any posts displayed on the home page or category page will only display the text up to the position of the More tag in the post.
The second method of displaying an excerpt is by using the Excerpt text box on an Edit Post page. To display this type of excerpt will likely require programming changes to your theme, so it is easier to simply use the More tag.
7. Use “noindex, follow” on Category and Archive Pages.
To avoid duplicate content issues, even if it is only with excerpts, a “robots” meta tag needs to be placed on the Category and Archive pages. The “noindex, follow” meta tag tells spiders to NOT index that page, but DO follow the links leading to other pages. all-in-one-seo-pack will do this for you. Migrate to the all-in-one-seo-pack settings page at Settings > All In One SEO and make sure that the checkboxes are checked for “Use noindex for Categories” and “Use noindex for Archives”.
8. Use Canonical URLs
Canonical URLs are standardized formats for URLs. A canonical URL includes the permalink. Whenever multiple versions of a URL are possible, the canonical link tag tells search engines which version to use.
Canonical URLs are turned on by default in all-in-one-seo-pack. To verify that this feature is turned on, got to Settings > All In One SEO and make sure that the Canonical URLs box is checked.
9. The Description Meta Tag
The description meta tag can be set in the All In One SEO section of the Edit Post page. The description meta tag will not help improve your search engine rankings, but it is nonetheless plays an important role in driving traffic to a web site. The description meta tag contains the text that frequently shows up as the description for a web page on search results pages. It can therefore be a great marketing tool. The description meta tag should be worded in a compelling manner that lets a user know that they will likely find the answer to their search on your web page. This can make the difference between whether a user clicks on the link to your page or one of none other links found on a search results page. it is a good idea to mention the keyword theme in the first sentence in the description meta tag. Most search results pages highlight the words used in a search, which will help to make your listing stand out.
10. The Keywords Meta Tag
At one time the keywords meta tag told search engine spiders what the keyword theme was for a web page. Due to widespread abuse, it has not been used by any major search engine since about the year 2000. The keywords meta tag will not help a web page to rank better in any major search search engine, but it may still be used by some smaller search engines. Its use is completely optional.
11. You Need Inbound Links to the Site
Everything that we have covered thus far deals with the internal aspects of WordPress search engine optimization. There are also external aspects that need to be addresses. Links to a web site are a critical aspect of SEO. A link to a web page is a popularity vote for that page and can be a powerful tool to improve search engine rankings. Web sites with no links pointing to them rarely rank well. This topic is covered in more depth in our inbound linking strategies article.
12. Be Patient
It can sometimes take months before the ranking results from changes to a web site are evident. Do not give up or get discouraged if you do not see changes within the first few days or weeks. If a site has not been properly configured or penalties have been applied, it may take 3 or 4 months before the site settles in after making changes.
The best type of links to obtain are what Google refers to as natural links. A natural link is a hyperlink leading to a web page from within the content of the page. The text in the hyperlink typically refers to the content on the page and therefore reinforces the keyword theme for the receiving page. The links that you find in the content on this page are natural links. The most powerful natural links are those from web pages from sites within the same industry and from pages that focus on similar keyword themes. It can also be a good idea to use natural links to pages within a web site to refer to more information about a specific topic.