SEO for WordPress: Quick Start Guide
WordPress is one of the most widely used content management systems around the web. According to W3Techs surveys, as of February 01, 2016 over 25% of websites depend on WordPress as a content management or blogging platform.
What makes it so popular?
1) WordPress is easy to use even for non-techies,
2) It has rich functionality,
3) It’s flexible, and
4) It’s absolutely free.
However, here are a few things you need to understand before you start optimising your WordPress website.
- Keep in mind that a WordPress website does not differ from any website out there. You should apply the very same search engine optimization techniques to it as you would to any other website.
- WordPress is often referred to as an SEO friendly content management system (CMS). It is indeed true: WordPress lets you implement many on-page SEO techniques. However, a WordPress website doesn’t come optimized out of the box. In other words, if you simply switch to WordPress from Joomla or Drupal, the rankings are unlikely to grow without additional effort.
- Some crucial WordPress SEO changes require that you poke in PHP or HTML or install and tune up plugins. If any of these words sounds scary to you, be ready to spend extra time on reading additional tutorials.
- If you need answers to the questions like “What is a title tag? What are SEO friendly URLs?” please refer to our online SEO book first.
- For the purpose of this guide, I presume that you make a fresh installation of WordPress and are building your website from scratch.
Do not make any significant changes like installing or uninstalling the plugins or editing the theme on the production website without prior testing. Plugins may conflict with each other or the WordPress version of your website. This may cause malfunctions or undesired website behavior.
It’s safe to play around with WordPress on your local development server first.
Earlier WordPress versions shipped with “ugly” URLs. For example, a blog post used to have a URL like this http://mydomain.com/?p=1354.
The latest versions use “pretty” URLs by default in the “date+name” format, e.g.http://mydomain.com/2016/02/28/sample-post/.
While this is clearly an improvement, you might want to consider taking the date off your URLs. In this case, your older posts with great and still useful content don’t shout at users “hey, the information here is as old as your grandma”.
In order to adjust URL settings, go to Settings > Permalinks in your Admin panel.
If you need a comprehensive long-read guide on permalinks, have a look at this WordPress help article.
Note: In order to enable pretty URLs, WordPress should have write access to .htaccess file, if you run your WordPress website on an Apache web server (most likely this is the case).
WordPress does not create a physical, permanent robots.txt file on the server. The CMS generates it on the fly, when a client requests it via http://mydomain.com/robots.txt. However, if you manually create a robots.txt file in the WordPress root directory, it will override the default settings.
If you stick with a dynamically generated robots.txt file, you have two options to manage it:
- Use WordPress plugin like Multipart robots.txt editor The plugin lets you include the following records in robots.txt: WordPress core records (it will include the /wp-adminfolder), plugin and theme generated records, the list of ‘bad bots’ (maintained by the plugin developers), and your custom records.
WordPress doesn’t generate XML sitemaps out of the box. You may use one the plugins to add this functionality. Google XML Sitemaps is probably the most widely used and reliable solution. When choosing an XML generator plugin, make sure it lets you do the following things:
- Include/exclude user defined URLs
- Include/exclude WordPress taxonomies
- Set crawling priority
- Change crawling frequency.
Once installed and activated, Google XML Sitemaps automatically generates the sitemap and notifies the search engines about it. The default plugin settings will meet the requirements of most users. The plugin generates the sitemap on the fly, when a client requests it, so there is no physical XML file on the server.
Checking for broken links is boring; fixing them is even more boring! If you hate this task as much as I do, give the Broken Link Checker plugin a try. It automatically checks your website for broken links (the plugin checks not only posts or pages but comments as well). It then can send email notifications and log the results of the check. All the broken links are listed in the spreadsheet. You can then fix them or edit if necessary on one handy screen.
By design, comments enable visitors to contribute to your blog and communicate with you and each other. In reality, comments generate loads of spam.
Enable comments only if you feel you have enough resources to moderate them and follow up on them, otherwise the comments section will inevitably turn into a spam bin. The few steps below will make your life easier.
- 1. Automatically close comments after a certain period of time since the post was published. In the WordPress Admin Panel, go to Settings > Discussion. Check the Automatically close comments on articles older than box and enter the number of days you’d like comments to be open for.
- 2. Activate the Akismet plugin. Akismet is included in WordPress by default. You should visit the Akismet website and get the API key to use the plugin. Akismet is free (under 50,000 monthly checks) and fast. Keep in mind, it does make mistakes and you’d still need to review the comments.
Content of a WordPress site is normally available in RSS format. This makes your posts easy to scrape and re-publish for blogs and platforms that live off scraping content. Google’s pretty strict about content uniqueness and may not be able to tell between the original and the scraped version; so it’s in your best interest to make your website harder to scrape.
In the WordPress Admin Panel, go to Settings > Reading. Select For each article in a feed, show: Summary. You can also reduce the number of items shown in syndication feeds.
By default, WordPress generates a lot of duplicate content. It has Archive, Author, Category, andTag pages, and there may be hundreds of tags and categories. The same page may belong to all of these groups, and be listed dozens of times across the website. Here’s how to deal with the problem.
- 1. Use the minimal required number of categories and tags, and develop guidelines for the website contributors on how to use them.
- 2. Use a canonical tag. There are several plugins to help you fix this, e.g. Yoast SEO.
- 3. Implement rel=next/previous tags for paginated content.
- 4. Create an excerpt for each post you publish. It will appear both in RSS feeds and onCategory, Tag, Author, and Archive pages (depending on the theme settings). As a result, your original content will stay on the page where it belongs, and the excerpt will be duplicated on other pages.
If the excerpt doesn’t appear on Archive or Category pages in your theme by default, you’d have to create custom page templates. The detailed the_excerpt() function reference and the full guide on WordPress Templates will come in handy if you are going to cope with this task yourself.
- 5. Create meaningful descriptions for tags and categories. Thus, each category or tag page will have unique content above the list of posts or excerpts.
If you are serious about on-page optimization, you’ll need to consider up to 20 separate SEO factors to optimize on each landing page. Thus, optimizing larger websites without using professional tools gets a little daunting.
As you may guess, there are WordPress plugins to help you with on-page optimization. My tool of choice is the Yoast SEO plugin. It’s very versatile. Above all, I like its on-page optimization features.
For each page, you can set a focus keyword. The plugin performs brief content analysis based on this keyword and suggests the improvements to make (if necessary). It analyzes such basic factors as content length, keyword count in title, description and the <h> tags.
Head of SEO at SEO PowerSuite
Each page gets a color coded optimization score, so you can easily keep track of your on-page optimization activities.
Yoast SEO is helpful with basic tasks. However, if you want to get deeper into details and not to miss a single tweak that can improve your rankings, do use WebSite Auditor.
- 1. Determine the “as is state”.
Open your WebSite Auditor project and navigate to the Content Analysis module. Click on Add Page. The dialogue window will pop up. Select a page you want to analyze. Enter the target keywords and select a search engine where you aim to improve your rankings.
Along with your page, WebSite Auditor will scan the websites that rank in top 10 for the keywords you entered. The tool will then suggest how you can improve your pages based on the information collected from the best performing pages of your competitors.
- 2. Go through the list of suggested improvements.
In the left hand upper corner, there is a page optimization rate gauge. Whenever you make an improvement to your content, feel free to come back to WebSite Auditor’s Content Analysismodule and click the Update button to see how each change affects the overall optimization rate of a page.
- 3. Implement the changes, grab a coffee and watch your rankings improve over time.
This article first appeared on SEOPowerSuite’s Web site.
I strongly recommend this site to anyone wanting to better understand SEO.