SEO for WordPress – Top 10 Search Engine Optimization Tips

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One of the reasons [your-domain] has become so popular is the availability of beautifully designed free and premium themes that work out of the box for just about anything you have in mind. Combine that with the huge number of extremely useful plugins [NC] available for [your-domain], and you have a powerful [NC] that can create wonders for your online endeavours.

But then, you have heard your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman say that with great power comes great responsibly. You may have the best looking WordPress based website but what good is it if people don’t get to see it? I am talking of Search Engine Optimization here. Now, don’t get me wrong- WordPress, by default, does a great job of optimizing your website for search engines– well, almost. It comes very well optimized out of the box, but there is always that little extra you can do to optimize your sites even better. And with every other website around you running on WordPress, that extra something you do can always make a big difference in the long run.

So, without much ado, here’s a list of the top 10 WordPress SEO tips that I feel every webmaster should implement on their site for a better shot at the search engine rankings.

1. Modify your Permalinks for a better URL structure

This is the first thing that you should do right after installing any WordPress website- modify the permalinks to create better, user-friendly (and by extension, search engine friendly ) URLs. The default URL structure that WordPress provides is plain evil. Thankfully, WordPress also provides a number of different options for setting up your URLs via permalinks.

This is how the some of the default URLs in WordPress might look like before modifying the permalinks:

URLs for posts: yourdomain.com/?p=125
URLs for pages: yourdomain.com/?page_id=312
URLs for categories: yourdomain.com/?cat=653

Obviously, this is not how you want these URLs to look like. They don’t make any sense to humans and if they had to pass around these URLs to someone, there is always that possibility of getting it wrong.

Permalinks to the rescue then. There are a number of different options that you can choose to make your URLs look pretty (readable).

WordPress Permalinks Settings

The best of the lot, however, is the “Post name” structure, which is what I recommend using for the best Search Engine friendly URLs. This setting generates URLs that look like this:

yourdomain.com/post-title-separated-by-hyphens

This is the setting that Market Tantra, and for that matter most other top blogs out there, prefer. If you are looking for more control and organization for your posts/pages, you can opt for a custom structure and use something like this:

WordPress Permalinks Custom Settings

The above setting will append  the category name to the URLs- useful if you have a lot of content that you would like to organize better within their own categories. The URL might look something like this:

yourdomain.com/category-name/post-title-separated-by-hyphens

Personally, most of my posts end up being a part of more than one category and hence I prefer the /%postname%/ (the Post name setting) as opposed to having categories included in the URLs.

Note: If you have been using WordPress for some length of time with the default URL structure and the site’s pages are already indexed in this format with the Search Engines, all is not lost yet. I still recommend turning on the permalinks settings. This WILL change the URL structure but then you can use a 301 redirection to redirect the previous URLs with bad formatting to those newly formatted.

2. Pick a Preferred Domain

Most websites can be accessed via two URLs. One with the “www” in it, and one without. So for example, Market Tantra can potentially be accessedd via:

http://www.markettrantra.com
or
http://markettantra.com

However, if you type in the latter (the one without “www” in it) you will notice it gets redirected to the former URL (with the “www” in it). In this case, the first URL is my preferred domain.

From an SEO point of view, it’s advisable to pick any one of the two possible domain formats and stick with it. This is what I have done for this site, by opting to have the “www” version as my choice of preferred domain. Anywhere that I need to promote my website, I use this domain format. You can also set a preferred domain in your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard (recommended).

Now, if you have been working with WordPress websites you have probably noticed that WordPress automatically redirects your website visitors to your preferred domain. Or so it seems!

Htaccess 301 RedirectYou see, there’s a catch- WordPress has an in-built setting for redirecting site traffic to the preferred version but it uses a 302-redirect. A 302-redirect is a temporary redirect which essentially tells Search Engines that both versions of the domain are available and should be indexed. This causes the Search Engine crawlers/bots to index two versions of the same site resulting in duplicate content issues as well as unpredictable behaviour when it comes to serving these pages in response to search queries. By ensuring you present Search Engines with only one of the domains you also ensure linking consistency and get full link-juice To illustrate this with an example:

Let us assume you have a website with both the www and non-www version indexed. If 10 external websites link to the www version while another 10 of them link to the non-www version you end up with two different pages that are getting link juice from just 10 sites each. On the other hand, if the redirect is in place, you end up with the link-juice from all 20 websites flowing into just one page which means a more optimized page.

It is therefore recommended that you use a 301-redirect which is a permanent redirect, something that Search Engines recommend. One way this can be achieved is by editing the “.htaccess” file on your server by including the following lines of code. You can access this file by connecting to your server via an FTP client. The file is usually located at the root of your server.

# Begin 301
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www.[your-domain].com [NC] RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.[your-domain].com/$1 [L,R=301]

Note: Make sure to replace the “your-domain” with the actual domain name. What the above line of code will do is redirect “your-domain.com” to “www.your-domain.com”.

Note 2: Also remember that above lines of code for the .htaccess redirect will work only on Linux based servers with the Apache Mod-Rewrite module enabled. For more information on your setup, please contact your web host.

Note 3 and a Warning: Messing up with the .htaccess could have potentially serious consequences for your website. Please be careful while making any changes to this file. If you are doing it for the first time, read up adequately on the matter, or better, have someone guide you through it.

Some themes and plugins allow you to edit the .htaccess files directly from within the WordPress dashboard. Read the theme/plugin documentation carefully to see if this is the case for your website.

3. Google Authorship Implementation

Google Authorship is a way for you to link your Google+ profile to the content that you put down on your website pages. One big advantage of implementing authorship, up until now, was that Google displayed a photo of the author next to the result on SERPs:

Google Plus Authorship- Author Photos

Although the photo feature has now been taken away (read more about it here: Google+ authorship update), it still makes a lot of sense to set up Google authorship for your website/blog. Here’s why:

  • It helps make your content stand out: Although not as much as before, since the author photos were taken out, it still shows the author name in search results. It remains to be seen how this change has affected the overall CTRs for search results.
  • It creates an emotional connect with the searcher: This also gets impacted since the searcher does not see the author photos anymore, but having your name display in SERPs does give you an edge.
  • It helps establish credibility: This is a reason alone to setup authorship since it works as sort of a proof that Google considers you a reputable author. It also helps protect your content from scrapers and other copy-cats.
  • It helps increase the number of followers you have in Google Plus: The name that appears in search results links directly to your Google Plus profile, which searchers can click on to visit your page and connect with you.

There are two ways you can set up a Google Plus authorship for your WordPress website, the manual way and plugin way. Read about these methods here- How To Set Up Google Plus Authorship.

4. SEO-Friendly WordPress Themes And Plugins

As mentioned before, WordPress comes with several built-in features that make it optimized for search engines. However, you need to reassess if the themes or plugins that you use affect your website’s SEO in a favourable or an adverse manner.

Some things to consider (specific to SEO) before picking a specific theme or plugin for your WordPress based site:

  • Responsive Layout: mobile-first is the mantra that you should live by, as far as your website is concerned. One of the most important things that you can do to improve your websites performance is making it mobile-friendly. There’s nothing better than having a website that performs well across the spectrum of mobile devices and screen sizes, ranging from smartphones to tablets.
    This warrants a careful approach while picking a custom theme for you WordPress site. A lot of old (and even some new) themes are non-responsive which can negatively impact your SEO. Also watch out for any plugins that may create compatibility issues for your site or even break it. Google has openly stated that mobile-unfriendly sites stand the risk of dropping down in search rankings.
  • Support for micro-data: Using Schema friendly themes and plugins is always a big plus. Most search engines use Schema markup to better assess the contents of a website and webmasters can leverage it to support their SEO efforts( read more about Schema markup here). Search engines are actively using this markup to further refine SERPs and provide a more targeted and relevant search experience to the end users. Several WordPress themes and plugins support Schema markups and can help ease the process of implementing it on your sites.
  • Plugin Compatibility: I briefly spoke about it in the first point above. There are some themes which don’t support certain plugins. So check out your theme documentation or user reviews if such is the case for a plugin that you absolutely need to be using. For example there are some eCommerce plugins that won’t play well with certain themes. Using such plugins on your site could break it and in some cases you might not even notice it until some serious damage has been done. In some cases, some plugins could also cause a conflict with other plugins. Be careful when implementing any plugins on your site, it’s always good to research any compatibility issues with your themes/plugins ahead of using them. Whenever possible, test them out on a local deployment before going live with them.

5. Use a Robots.txt file

Robots.txt files

WordPress generates a lot of pages, some of which you might not want to expose to the search engines. Some of these files could include admin pages on the back-end of your site, or content that might appear to be duplicated, like your site archives and tags. In simple words, any content that does not cater to the needs of the site’s users or creates duplicate content issues should be kept away from indexing by search engines.

Here’s an example- you can create different tags and categories on a WordPress sites. In some cases, you can end up creating a tag which is named similar to a category. This means you now have a tag archive and a category archive that have essentially similar content. Now you have run yourself into a duplicate content issue.

This is where the robots.txt file comes to your rescue. You can keep any URL from being indexed by Google by blocking it in this file. The robots.txt file is especially helpful when working with a CMS like WordPress where redundant pages are easily created. The robots.txt is a simple text file that usually resides on the root of your server and has instructions for search engine and other bots. Here is how to use them:

If you need to block all search engine bots from crawling a certain page, add the following lines to robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /relative-path-to-page-url

You can choose to block specific crawlers as well. So if, for some reason, you need to block only the Google crawler from accessing a URL on your site, you can add the following to robots.txt:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /relative-path-to-page-url

6. The WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast

WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast

This is a must have for anyone looking to optimize his site for SEO in the best way possible. While using this plugin alone will not cause your site to rank differently in search results, using it effectively will help establish better SEO for your website and better rankings in the long run. And the best part is, this plugin is completely free to use.

In fact some of the settings that I mentioned above, for optimizing your WordPress site, are found directly within this plugin. This plugin allows you to automatically create xml sitemaps, analyse your posts and pages and gives them a rating for for SEO effectiveness, edit meta data, clean up permalinks and create and modify a robots.txt file.

If, for some reasons, you are not keen on the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast, there are several others that you may look at. Another good option is the All In One SEO plugin that has both a free and paid version. However, before you pick a plugin, make sure to read about the plugin reviews and check out the number of people using it- the more the merrier.

Note: These plugins are not meant as a substitute for your website’s SEO, But using them to augment your overall SEO strategies can work wonders for your WordPress site.

7. Supercharge Your Category And Archive Page SEO With Custom Content

Are you using your WordPress categories effectively? If not you need to read this article here: Working with WordPress Categories Effectively.

Got it? Great! Now that you know how to make the best use of your WordPress categories it’s time to get them to rank well on Search Engines too. I have seen even seasoned WordPress users make the mistake of leaving their categories untouched, in their default state – not good! I don’t blame WordPress users though, since, as you will see shortly, it’s WordPress that actually makes this difficult.

Since WordPress category pages are indexed by search engines, the first thing that you absolutely need to do for all your category pages, is add a unique title along with some unique content.

That sounds simple, right? Only, it isn’t… the reason being that WordPress, by default, doesn’t provide you with options for adding custom content. If you head over to the WordPress Admin Dashboard and then over to Posts à Categories and pick any category, you will notice the only option available to make the contents unique, is a “Description” field. There is yet another problem, the description may or may not show up, depending on the kind of theme you happen to use.

WordPress default category options

So how do we fix this? Well, if you happen to use a theme or a framework (like the thesis framework) that provides custom category fields, you are in luck. This site uses the Thesis framework and I have full customization controls over the site’s categories pages. Here is how my custom category pages look like on the back-end:

WordPress Custom Categories

On the other hand, if your theme does not support custom categories, you will need to get your hands dirty with some code. Creating custom category pages in WordPress is relatively straightforward with some custom getting. If you are not comfortable with coding yourself, I recommend hiring an experienced coder to set it up for you. It shouldn’t take more than an hour, depending on your theme’s complexity.

8. Rename Your Images

Naming and tagging your images is very important for any website. For WordPress based websites you need to get into the habit of tagging your images right when you upload them. When you insert images in your posts, WordPress presents you with the following dialog box:

WordPress Image Upload

By default, WordPress will fill in the “Title” field based on the image name. This is not ideal, especially if the images are named randomly and do not make any sense in the context of your article. A better idea is to take control over the image attributes and fill them in yourself.

Ensuring that all of your images are optimized for search engines plays an important role in SEO. Search Engines can’t really “look” at images and identify them. They need to be told what the images are and this is done via the title and the alt tag text that you supply for these images.

The Title

Image title is an HTML attribute that is used to provide information about the image. Most modern browsers now use the text in the title field to display when user’s mouse over the image. This doesn’t really seem to have much impact on SEO, but as a best practice I still recommend using it in your images.

The Alt Text

If you don’t know what an alt text (commonly referred to as the alt tag) is, let me explain it to you first. Like the title tag, the alt tag is also a part of an image’s HTML attribute. Here’s how the HTML code for an image looks like (or should look like):

<img alt=“seo for wordpress” src=“http://markettantra.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/seo-for-wordpress.jpg” >

The alt tag provides a description of the image to display if the image fails to load. Often people browsing the web on mobile devices with limited data speeds have image loading turned off. This is where the alt tags will show up as an alternative description of the image. It also comes in handy when a screen reader is used to navigate a website (like for people with visual imparity).

Another important benefit of using an alt tag is SEO, of course. Search engines rely on alt text to figure out what an image I about and whether it relates to the article in question. Alt tags are used to provide keyword relevance to a search, and also help your images rank on images results.

Guidelines for using alt tags:

  • Limit the text to 150 characters or less (the rest might not be read by the search engines)
  • Put keywords more towards the beginning
  • Try to write a relevant description which is also related to the page (if possible)
  • Always use the alt attribute for images you want indexed in search engines (ie. images used in your sites background/construction etc. can be ignored)

Alt tags are so important that you even have several WordPress plugins that will check your webpages to ensure your images have them. One I recommend using is the Feedbot Alt tag Checker. http://www.feedthebot.com/tools/alt/

Here’s an interesting discussion regarding the use of “Alt tags” by none other than Matt Cutts himself:

The Description

The description doesn’t really do much for SEO other than for your own organizational purposes. You can safely ignore them if you like.

Caption

A caption can be used if you like to have a title display under your images in your articles. Doesn’t do anything for your SEO so use it if you think it adds to the design value of your posts/articles.

Other factors to Consider- Page Load Speed

Page load times are now a part of Google’s search ranking algorithm and you should always try to strike a balance between the image file-size and quality. Avoid uploading images with high file-sizes, especially if you are going to use a number of them in your article. Use an image editing software like Photoshop (paid tool) or Gimp (free tool) to optimize all your images for web before posting them. Every single byte counts and before long you may find your image sizes add up to very high numbers resulting in painfully slow page load speeds.

You can also use a plugin like the WordPress Smush.it  to optimize your images right within WordPress. Smush.it is an open source image optimization project offered by Yahoo as part of its YSlow analysis program for high performance websites and developed according to their recommendations for speeding up your website.

9. Use Breadcrumbs Navigation

What is a breadcrumb navigation? According to Wikipedia:

It is a navigation aid used in user interfaces. It allows users to keep track of their locations within programs or documents. The term comes from the trail of breadcrumbs left by Hansel and Gretel in the popular fairytale.

So for example when you are on a page, you might see a navigation structure at the top of the page that looks like: Home > Category-Name > Sub-Category-Name > Post-Title. This is a breadcrumbs navigation.

There are a lot of conflicting arguments regarding whether or not to use breadcrumbs. However, when I look at the fact that Google has started auto-generating breadcrumb navigation for a lot of websites in its SERPs, I tend to feel it is needed.

The breadcrumbs tend to be usually seen on popular websites with large hierarchical link structures, usually e-commerce sites with hundreds of product pages spanning dozens of different categories. But this does reveal an important thing- that Google looks at breadcrumbs as a useful aid for website visitors.  And if google likes something, you try your best and implement it on your website.

Some advantages of having a breadcrumb navigation on your site:

Breadcrumbs do have several SEO and site user specific benefits, including:

For Search Engines:

  • They serve as another method of highlighting your keywords for the search engines.
  • They add relevancy to your content pages by as they tend to be keyword-intensive.
  • They provide added on-page SEO advantages by having specific anchor text rich linking to internal pages.

For Site Visitors:

  • Breadcrumbs provide a visual navigation guide to site visitors.
  • They provide an easy, keyword-rich method of navigating a site internally.
  • When they appear in search result pages, they attract better CTRs.

Most WordPress theme support breadcrumbs navigation by default with an option to turn them on or off. Refer your theme documentation for more information. If your theme does not provide this feature there are several plugins that will do the job, my recommendation being the Yoast Breadcrumbs plugin.

10. Add a Related Posts Widget or Plugin

A related posts plugin not only improves the link structure of your websites, but more importantly, helps reduce the bounce rate of a site by capturing more visitor clicks. The logic is that if someone found your post interesting, they might be inclined to read another related post once they see it exists.

Once again, this can be easily achieved via plugins, that is, if your theme doesn’t already support it. If you are looking to go the plugin route, I recommend the LinkWithin and nRelate plugins.

Final Thoughts

So that concludes this really comprehensive guide on the top 10 things you should do for your WordPress site for better rankings. Let me know if you have something to add or have a question.

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