When it comes to content management systems (CMS) that are easy to use and well optimized for SEO, WordPress undoubtedly wins the battle hands-down. WordPress is built with SEO in mind and with every release, new SEO-friendly features are added. As a result, search engines love the CMS, crawl and index new content fast. Most of the time, content from WordPress is ranked higher on search results pages than content from other types of CMS.
You however have to tweak the basic settings of WordPress to get high rankings on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. If your website ranks well, you will get more traffic and subscribers, whom you can capture and convert to buying customers.
If you have been following SEO in the past few years, you are probably aware of Google Panda and Penguin and how every SEOer dreads the next presentation by Matt Cutts. The thing is the SEO changes done by Google are mainly about off page optimization.
In this guide, we will mainly deal with on-page optimization and touch a little on off-page optimization. You will learn the best practices for optimizing your WordPress site to rank high on Google and other search engines.
In-built WordPress SEO
While WordPress is built with SEO in mind, you need to tweak some of the basic settings to make it even more SEO-friendly. Some of the things you need to check include the following:
a) Permalink structure
By default, the WordPress permalink structure is not user friendly. If you do not make any changes to your permalink structure and make your first post, you will see a very robotic URL that is in the format http://domain.com/?p25.
The permalink structure is not user friendly and does little to help your post rank well on search engines. You need to change the permalink structure to make your posts easier to be found and indexed by search engines. The permalink settings are found under Settings → Permalinks, which then lists options that the URL of your posts can appear as on your WordPress blog.
To change the permalinks settings, select the radio button of the settings you want. The permalink settings you can choose are:
Default: By choosing this, the URL of your posts/pages will not be SEO friendly. They will appear in the form of http://domain.com/?p25.
Day and name: The URL of your posts will appear starting with the date they were published and then followed by title of the post. (e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/2012/10/08/your-sample-post/
TIP: If you are running a news blog where you update your content regularly and the information is not evergreen, this category is usually a good option. Your visitors can know the day that a post was published. However, if your blog covers evergreen topics, you should avoid using the permalink structure.
Month and name: The URL of your posts will appear in a category of the month that the post was published, followed by the title of the post. This is a good setting for news and current events websites.
Numeric: Your posts will be put in archives and given a numerical value. This structure is has extremely poor SEO benefits and we do not recommend you to use it.
Post name: This will set the URL of your post to reflect the title. (e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/your-sample-post/
)This structure has great SEO benefits as search engines can easily rank your post for the keywords that are in the title slug.
TIP: For even greater benefits, make sure your post title has your target keyword. Search engine bots read the URL of a post and rank it higher if it has the keyword that a user is searching for.
If you have already written an article but wish to change the title to contain your keyword, go to WordPress Dashboard→Posts and select the post you want to edit. Change the title as required and click the Edit button just below the title, and edit the slug title as required.
Custom structure: With this setting, you can specify any type of custom structure that is not provided in the above four options. If you select any of the four options, you will see it updated on the Custom Structure as the active permalink structure.
If your website covers a number of evergreen topics on different categories, we suggest you enter this at the custom structure:
This setting simply tells WordPress to indicate the URL of your posts based on their category and their title (e.g. http://www.yourdomainname.com/category/your-sample-post/
The structure is good for both users and SEO. Users can know which category your post falls into and search engine bots can rank the article based on the keyword in the title slug.
For the best SEO value, we suggest you use either Post Name /%postname%/ or Custom Structure /%category%/%postname%/
TIP: If your blog already has many posts and you would like to change the permalink to be more SEO friendly, you may be wondering what will happen to people who have linked to the old posts. Will they receive a 404 error page if you change the permalink structure?
The answer is yes, your posts will no longer be available through their old URL. To avoid 404 error pages after changing the permalink setting, use the Redirection Plugin to take care of this. The plugin will set a 301 redirect to redirect users and search engines to the URL of the new post.
Install the plugin and go to Manage→ Redirection→Options and check both URL Monitoring select boxes to “Modified Posts”. This will ensure users get your new post, will strengthen your blog’s page rank and ensure your SEO is maintained.
b) www vs. non-www
You should decide whether your site should be accessible with or without the “www”. If you do not define this URL structure, search engines may have a problem indexing your site and the site may be penalized for duplicate content. Go to Settings →General to define the URL structure you want to use.
After changing the URL structure, go to the Google Webmaster Tools and set the correct domain. You can set the domain under Settings → Preferred Domain in Google Webmaster Tools.
Defining the URL is important especially when it comes to building links from outside websites to your blog. If you have defined your website to start with “www” but build links to the URL without “www”, the links will not help with SEO. Search engines will be getting the links and when they navigate to the defined URL, they do not find any website and thus will ignore the links when ranking your blog.
c) Stop words
Remove stop words such as “a”, “and” and “the” in the permalinks to improve your WordPress SEO. There are a number of free plugins that will automatically remove stop words from the slug URL. An example of the plugin is Remove Stop Words.
Stop words are not beneficial to SEO because Google, Yahoo and Bing do not consider them when providing results for search queries. When you write a post, your title can contain stop words but the optimized slug title should not. For example, if you write a post entitled “Review of the Buffer App Extension for Firefox”, the optimized slug will be “review-buffer-app-extension-firefox’’.
Removing stop words also makes your slugs shorter and cleaner. If you already have posts that have gone live, you should not remove their stop words in their URL. Otherwise, if other websites had shared or linked to the posts, a 404 error page will be displayed when someone visits the original link.
In some case, WordPress will automatically redirect your old posts to the new slug. However, sometimes it does not and you will have to contact the webmasters who have linked to the posts to inform them of your slug update.
Make Your Titles SEO-Friendly
One of the most important SEO elements on a website is the page
<title> tag. This is the title that displays on a web browser when someone opens a page and is also displayed on search results.
By default, WordPress makes the title to appear in the following manner: Blog Title » Archive » Keyword Rich Title of Your Post. However, this is not good for SEO since the keyword rich post slug is placed far into the hierarchy.
Here are two things to note about the title:
a) Your keywords should come near the start of the page title for search engines to rank the page well.
b) You will have a higher click through rate when you use the keywords near the beginning
Since WordPress is not a static site, it is not easy to change the title hierarchical structure to make it SEO-friendly. Luckily, you can make the changes automatically with a plugin like All in One SEO.
With the above settings, the blog name will be removed from the post or page of your blog. The logic behind this is that users who are searching online may not know the name of your blog and will simply search for a keyword. Moreover, the other settings give your blog name enough clout and thus there is no need for you to repeat it in the post and pages titles.
Optimizing your WordPress Posts
Having done the basic SEO on your site, you can now start optimizing individual posts and pages. You can install a number of plugins to help you with WordPress post and page optimization. All in One SEO and Yoast are two popular SEO plugins you can use.
When optimizing your posts title, keep the following in mind:
- Your title should contain the main keyword that your article is addressing. The keyword should preferably be used at the beginning of the title.
- The title should encourage people to click and go to the whole post
- The title should contain your brand, ideally at the end so that users will easily recognize you when searching.
Optimize the Post Descriptions
Meta descriptions are the snippets that are shown on search engine results when your page or post is listed on search results. The meta description is only shown when it contains the keyword that a user is searching for.
If you are using a plugin like All in One SEO, it is best not to let the plugin auto generate the descriptions. Most of the time, the plugins will lift up the first sentences of your post to use as the description. This may not be good for SEO as it may not contain your targeted keyword.
The best meta description is one that is written by hand and words chosen carefully to entice the searcher to click the link to read your website. While search engines do not rank a website using meta description, the descriptions help in improve your website’s click through rate (CTR), and this will mean increased traffic.
Using All in One SEO Plugin
The All in One SEO plugin is one of the best free plugins you can use to optimize your WordPress blog to rank high on search engines by controlling the post titles, keywords, indexing and other things.
After installing the plugin, go to Settings-> All in One SEO and enable the plugin. On the plugin Dashboard, you can set the SEO options for your blog’s title, description, keywords, posts, pages and so on.
Below is a quick overview of the standard best SEO settings of the plugin.
Home Title: Write the title of your homepage. The title should ideally have your target keyword. For example, if you are doing web design in Texas, your home title could be “Welcome to Texas Web Design Company’
Home Description: This is the snippet that appears on search engine results pages when your post is ranked. The description should have your keyword and should make your users want to click on the link to get to your page.
Home Keywords: Here, indicate the general keywords that your blog is about. These are not keywords for specific posts but for the general theme of your website. Indicating the keywords helps search engines to properly categorize your blog and hence send you targeted traffic.
The other options are pretty self –explanatory. You can check or uncheck them based on what you are looking to achieve.
Google Plus Profile Sitewide: Enter your blog’s Google Plus profile here. This will link your site’s pages to Google +
Google Analytics ID: You can track your site with Google Analytics. Enter your Analytics ID here to start tracking.
Use Categories for META keywords: In addition to any keywords and tags you specify on the post edit page , you can have your categories used as keywords in your article. Check this option if you would like this.
Use Tags for META keywords: In addition to any keywords and tags you specify on the post edit page, you can have your tags used as keywords in your article. Check this option if you would like this.
Dynamically Generate Keywords for Posts Page: By checking this option, All in One SEO will automatically generate keywords for your post based on the content you have written. Ideally, you should control the keywords that you want a post to rank for. Therefore, leave this option unchecked.
Auto Generate Descriptions: By checking this select box, you are basically making the plugin to generate post descriptions based on the posts that you make. It is not recommended to set the option to checked. The descriptions generated are usually not optimized to rank well. Leave this option unchecked.
Some of the important settings you will need to change are the no indexing settings. Due to the interlinking nature of WordPress, your blog many have many instances of duplicate posts.
You will want to check the boxes for no index for Categories, Archives, and Tag Archives. This will make search engines to crawl the pages but not index them, thus reducing instances of duplicate content on your site.
XML sitemaps are used to inform search engines that your website has new content or has been updated. There are many free WordPress XML generators that you can use. One of the good ones is Google XML Sitemap Generator.
Depending on the plugin that you are using, the XML settings may be added under your WordPress Settings or a new plugin tab. To enable XML, simply go to Settings → XML Sitemaps or Your Plugin Tab→Settings → XML Sitemaps and choose the settings. Most of the time, you do not have to make any changes to the XML options but simply enable it.
When you publish a new page or post or make any change on your WordPress site, the XML sitemap will be automatically submitted to search engines making it easier for your new content to be found.
Interlinking your WordPress Blog
You should customize your WordPress site to make it SEO and user friendly. Below are some steps you should take:
- 1. Breadcrumbs
Add breadcrumbs to single pages and posts. Breadcrumbs are the type of links you might have seen on websites that look like “Home>Article>Sub Article”. Using breadcrumbs is good for two reasons:
a) They interlink your pages allowing search engines to easily determine the structure of your website
b) They make it easy for users to navigate your website and hence improve user experience.
The breadcrumbs should link back to your WordPress homepage and the category of the post that they are referring to.
Your post title should be in <h1> tags only. The name of your blog should be enclosed in <h1> tags on the front page, on single posts and on category pages. The blog name should not be in more than <h3> tags.
If your WordPress theme has the blog name in tags higher than <h3>,edit the page.php and post.php templates to make the name SEO friendly. Check that your sidebar is not crammed with a lot of <h2>,<h3>,etc. tags.
Headings are among the things that search engines consider when ranking blogs and should contain your general target keyword. To edit the headings in posts or pages, simply go to the code in the page.php and post.php templates.
To get to the templates, go to Appearance→ Editor and choose the theme that you want to edit. After selecting the theme, you will have to select page.php and post.php from the list of pages and edit them as required.
Clean up your Code
How To Speed up WordPress
One of the things that determines how many pages of your blog search engines can spider every day is its load time. The slower your site loads, the fewer the number of pages that search engines can crawl. Below are some ways you can optimize the page speed of your site:
- Install a cache plugin like W3 Total Cache
- Optimize your template to make as few as possible database calls by cleaning up your theme of unnecessary codes
- Use a content delivery network (CDN)to increase your site’s load times . MaxCDN and netDNA are two great CDNs you can consider.
Where you host your website may determine how fast your site is. Beware of paying too low for hosting. If you have a high traffic site, you might want to have VPS hosting instead of a shared one. Some companies offer specialized WordPress hosting that is optimized for the performance of websites running on the CMS.
Some of the things you should consider when choosing a web hosting partner or package include the disk space allocated, monthly bandwidth, uptime, whether the website will be on a shared or dedicated server, among others.
Consider Your Use of Sidebar Options
Sidebars may be good for highlighting items or posts in your blog. However, they have little to no SEO value and in fact, increase your blog’s load time. With the recent Google Panda and Penguin updates, link blogrolls were made valueless. Therefore, their SEO value is no longer there. Matt Cutts has been the face of Google in its efforts to combat web spam and he gives good guidelines on what makes a website rank high at his blog.
You can however use sidebar to provide quick links to other parts of your website. For example, if you are running a multisite that has a jobs portal, classifieds, and coupons, you might want to link to these sub sites on your blog’s sidebar.
Another use of sidebar is for advertisements. You can place ads , for example Google Adsense, on the sidebar. However, you have to think carefully of the value that the sidebar is providing to your blog before you use it.
Optimize Your Images
Make sure you optimize your images to load faster. The goal of having a blog is to provide information to visitors and a good user experience. Avoid using a lot of images on your posts as they can slow down your website.
The best image format to use is either JPEG or PNG. You might want to reduce the sizes of the images before you upload them. Before you publish your post, preview it to see how the images will appear and how long they take to load. A slow loading blog may have good information but a higher bounce rate because of heavy images.
You can get an extra fair of search traffic if you optimize your WordPress images for SEO. Each image should have a good title and tag. The way you also name your files can improve your SEO. Ideally, your image file should contain your target keyword , which should be separated with a hyphen and not an underscore.
If you are targeting the keyword phrase “blue widgets”, you should ideally name your image “blue-widgets” but not “blue_widgets”. Google treats hyphens as word separators but does not treat underscores the same. Check this article at SEOmoz article on the use of hyphens vs. underscores.
There are a number of plugins that can help you make the most of image SEO. One of them is the SEO Friendly Images, which can automatically add the image name or title of the posts to the image’s alt and title tag.
If your site is a small blog, you may not find an HTML sitemap useful. However, for more corporate blogs with several levels of pages, an HTML sitemap can be helpful in making search engines know the structure of the website and help users in navigation.
Google made a change in the way it lists search results by enabling picture of blog authors to be connected to their Google+ profiles. The SEO benefit of having your author picture highlighted is that you can connect with other bloggers in your niche and this will help you when you will be looking for guest blogging opportunities.
To enable your Google+ profile to be connected to your WordPress posts on search engine results, you need to add the code rel=”author” markup in the head of a blog through a <link> element. The links should look like <link rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/1153690623156738532712/posts”/>.
Some plugins like SEO Yoast have the functionality enabled. To manually add author profiles to your post, follow the steps below:
- Copy and paste the link above to the <head> of the post or page URLs that you would like your photo to be shown with them on search results..
- Place a link on your Google+ profile back to the site where you want your author picture to appear on search results.
- Check your Google+ profile’s settings and ensure +1′s are set to public.
WordPress is notorious for having duplicate content if it is not set up well. The CMS comes with different types of taxonomy: data bases, category based and tags based. Moreover, there are also author pages under
/author/<author-name>/ which lead to a whole lot of duplicate content on a site.
This means that a single post may be available up to five different pages outside the page where it was written. This duplicate content can harm your SEO efforts and thus you should get rid of it. This can be done in a way that the content can still be crawled by not indexed. You should also fix the pagination issues that come with the duplicate content.
a) No index archive pages and disable some archives
Using Yoast WordPress SEO or All in One SEO plugin, you can prevent indexing of archive pages that you do not want. Check the settings of the plugins and choose the pages that you want to make no follow. The means the pages will be crawled but will not be indexed by search engines, hence reducing the instances of duplicate content.
Typically , the pages that you should disabling indexing are the author index, tag index and category index. The search results pages is set to no index by WordPress by default. This is a best practice of Google and should be left that way.
b) Disable Unnecessary Archives
If you are the sole author of your blog, you may not need the author archives. Therefore, you should set them to no index. On the same note, if you do not need a date based archive, you should disable it. Disabling indexing of unnecessary archives help you keep your WordPress blog SEO in top form just in case another webmaster decide to link back to the archives.
Make it easy for search engine bots to find all your post in a category when they reach one of the main pages. This is particular important if you have a well established site that has many posts. Pagination helps the bots to easily reach the underlying pages instead of them having to go 10 pages back.
There are a number of plugins that can automatically help you with paginations. One of the recommended plugins is WP-Page Navi .
d) Set “No Follow” to Unnecessary Links
Links are good but only when they are going to relevant pages. One easy way to improve your SEO is to stop linking to your registration and login pages on every page of your blog. The same also applies to your subscribe link, TSS feed , etc.
Search engines use a
rel="canonical" element to fight duplicate content. WordPress supports canonical elements on pages and single posts. However, the canonical links are not output to other pages because of a bug. With All in One SEO plugin, you can get canonical links for every types of page on your WordPress blog.
An easy way of avoiding duplicate content would be to set “no follow” in the robots.txt file. The robots file directs search engine bots on which pages to index or crawl on your site and what to ignore. Below is a sample code that will work for most WordPress sites.
You can also disallow indexing of archives, categories and tags on the robots.txt file or using a plugin like All in One SEO. You also do not want search engines to index your blog plugins and contents in the wp-admin folder and thus you should disallow them.
From the code above, you can see the link Disallow:/*?. This is meant to block search engines from indexing any search results done on your website. Therefore, if someone searches for permalinks on your website, they will not be indexed by Google.
You can also use a plugin like Meta Robots to disallow indexing of search results on your website.
How To Make Your Blog Rank High
Search engines love WordPress because of the way it is structured. The categories and tags link up the articles in a nice way, creating a powerful interlinking structure that allows the bots to easily find all post and pages. However, all this good SEO is diluted when people comment on your pages. Below are some tips to help you maintain your WordPress SEO.
a) Use Pages Instead of Posts
Since comments destroy the SEO value of an article, you should avoid them at all costs. A good way of doing this is to use pages instead f post. Users cannot comment on WordPress pages and unlike posts, pages do not move down the hierarchy when you add new pages. This means that a page will always be where you put it in the pages. You can update your page to by adding content and still enjoy the same high SEO like before.
How to Change a Post into a Page.
If one of your posts has become extremely popular and is ranking for some keywords that you are targeting, you can change it into a page. The process is simple:
- Simply create a new page and copy/paste the post content on the new page
Change the slug of the old post to
- Redirect the URL of the old post to the new URL
- Send an email to webmasters who had linked to your post informing them that you have an updated and improved post
With that, you can continue having higher ranking and not lose the links that may have been made by webmaster. A page is good for SEO and you can always update it with new information any time you want.
b) Linking to Related Posts
To make search engines get to the posts you made earlier easily, you can use a related posts plugin. The plugin will search your WordPress database and add links of related posts in your posts. One of the best plugins is Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
c) Use Tags Sparingly
Tags help search engines and users to find related content easily. However, they do not improve SEO. You might want to check the amount of tags you use per post.
Optimizing Your Conversions
Getting readers to come back to your blog is not easy. When you are starting out, you want to get as many subscribers as possible. At least, this will help you know that you are writing for someone and that your posts are being read. To get people to subscribe, you have to optimize your blog and enable subscription by email or RSS.
Your subscription options should be conspicuous to reader. After every post, encourage readers to subscribe to your blog. You can bribe them ethically by providing a free report on some valuable information on your industry. At the same time, make your content easy to share. Use plugins like Sexy Bookmarks to put the social media sharing buttons on your posts.
a) Optimizing your comments
While comments may be sucking the SEO juice from your blog, you do not want to avoid them entirely. A good practice is to allow comments for a particular amount of time and then close them. Comments show other readers that your blog is trusted and give them a chance to contribute their thoughts on your posts. Moreover, you can get great ideas on your next posts from the comments that readers leave. Below are some tips to keep in mind about comments on your blog.
i) Get people to comment on your blogs.
Getting comments is not as difficult as many bloggers think. The easiest way to get comments is to ask a question or ask readers to comment about the post. People like to give opinions and will not hesitate to leave constructive comments on your article.
Customize the comment head to encourage people to leave comments. The default comment header in WordPress is “No Comments”. You can change this to “Leave Your Comment” by changing the text within the
comments_popup_link () which is found within the
ii) Moderate your comments
When users comment on your blog, make sure you comment back. This is a good way of bonding with the readers. People like being appreciated and having their questions answered when they comment.
If possible, make a comment immediately someone leaves a comment. You can set WordPress to send you an email immediately a comment is made at your blog. To make comments even more personal, use a plugin like Comment Redirect which will direct users who have commented for the first time to a special page, thanking them for making a comment. This is a good way to get loyal readers.
iii) Keep the conversation going
With people already commenting on your blog, make sure they stay in the conversation. A plugin line Subscribe to Comment allows users to subscribe to comments on a post and follow the conversation. This increase engagement and the users are informed via email every time a new comment is added to the comment that they are following.
Off Site SEO
Apart from on-page SEO, you need to do off-page SEO for your website to rank high. Off-page SEO is mainly about getting other websites to link back to you blog. Below are some ways of getting high quality links to your website:
1. Social Media Signals
Social media is increasingly being used by Google to determine how websites should be ranked. The logic begin it is that the more your content is shared or tweeted, the more it is assumed to be useful to the audience. You want to post useful articles, not only from your blog, but also from other sites that are relevant in your industry to your followers. You also have to get a sizable amount of followers to make your social media efforts worth it.
a) Facebook and LinkedIn
Facebook is also a great place to get traffic to your website. If you are a B2B blog, LinkedIn is better for you. Most people spend time on social networks and you should follow them with your content. Post frequently on the pages and engage with the users.
If you have many blogs and are finding it difficult to update your social media channels, there are a couple of apps that can make your work much easier. Try Buffer App or TweetDeck for managing Facebook and Twitter pages.
Use Twitter to chat and connect with your readers. Some people are on Twitter everyday and if you follow them , they are likely to see your tweets. This can get your blog new traffic and conversions. You can use tools such as Twitter Tools and Word Twit to announce new posts on Twitter.
You should know the best practices of using Twitter to get targeted followers to your blog. You might want to start following respected personalities in your industry and connecting with them. After making a connection, you can explore guest blogging opportunities with them. Some industry leaders will check your blog content and a retweet from them can send you huge traffic and new Twitter followers.
Find related blogs and work with them. Getting traffic is not about the quantity but quality that you get. Use Google Blog Search to get blogs in your niche and explore guest blogging opportunity. This can get new traffic and links to your website.
Before you ask for guest blogging opportunities, check the types of articles that the blogs accept and their guideline for blogging. Most blogs will not allow you to write a post promoting your product or service entirely. However, they will allow you to link back to your website at the author bio line.
Writing a well thought-out article can garner you new fans who can visit your website to check more of your content. You therefore want to create excellent articles to be used as guest blogs. Guest blogging on a regular basis will also help you stamp your name in the industry make users trust you.
You need to measure your SEO efforts to gauge how your blog is fairing for the keywords that you are targeting. There are a number of free and commercial tools you can use to track SEO. Google Analytics is a good free tool for checking rankings, sources of traffic, and other SEO metrics.
Checking Google Webmaster updates is also a great way to track your rankings. To set up your WordPress blog be tracked , simply go to Google Webmaster, click add site and wait for Google to populate your site’s data. Check the data regularly to see how search engines are seeing your blog.
Check your rankings consistently to see how you are fairing for the keywords you are targeting. You may have to optimize the posts or pages of particular keywords for them to rank well.
WordPress SEO can be greatly optimized by changing with the default settings that the CMS is built with. Both on-page and off-page optimization should be done for your blog to rank high on search engines. You need to keep doing off-site optimization for long-term SEO benefits.
The above is a complete guide that will get your site on top of search engines for various keywords you are targeting.