Search engine traffic (also primarily referred to as organic google traffic) is for most web sites and blogs the most important source. Over the last 30 days Google delivered 38% of the traffic to tripwire magazine. This may be a bit more or less on other sites but the size of this makes it a key focus are. If your site is not optimized to make it comfortable for Google the impact can be very high. On the other hand you can gain a lot by making sure SEO basics are implemented. Since you probably already picked WordPress you are using one a platform with very good SEO capabilities out of the box. However you can significantly improve it by doing a few simple steps. This article takes you through all the tasks you need to make your WordPress site climb the Google rankings.
Understanding basic SEO is critical to success online. If you’re serious about your online business you really need to take SEO serious. In fact SEO has become a profession for experts making a good living from optimizing other peoples websites. You may consider professional help, but really there is a lot you can do yourself. Also consider if professional plugins can be useful for you. We have reviewed two of the best tools for helping you doing on-page SEO within WordPress. You can find the links in the resource section below.
The top ranking factors in SEO is still thought to be external to your site. Links from others sites is the most important SEO factor and it is divided into multiple categories. You can find more on this in the resource section at the bottom of this article, but it is not related to WordPress and will not be covered further.
tripwire magazine traffic overview from Google Analytics.
OK lets look at what you can do yourself.
Improve your Titles
The title tag is generally considered the single most important “on page” ranking factor there is. It’s what’s shown as the “headline” in your search ranking results, and helps determine whether a viewer will click on your result or not.
Titles are one of the most important SEO factors that you can directly improve yourself. Go take a look here to learn more about the things you can optimize on the pages On-Site Related Topics. There are many good tips here on how to make the perfect title. The short version is:
- Search Engine Imposed Limits
Keep titles at less than 70 characters
- Optimal Format
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
Brand Name | Primary Keyword and Secondary Keyword
There are two important things to keep in mind:
- Search engines put more weight on the first words, so if your keywords are near the start of the page title you are more likely to rank well.
- People scanning search result pages expect titles to be meaningful and they also see the early words first. If your keywords are at the start of your listing your page is more likely to get clicked on.
By default, the title for your blog posts is “Blog title » Blog Archive » Keyword rich post title”. Comparing this to the SEO title tips we just went through, this should be the other way around.
There are several ways to get the title right.
- Themes that are SEO optimized link fx. Headway, Socrates or Thesis. These are not free but worth investing in. The links provided leads to reviews published on tripwire magazine.
- WordPress Plugins. Before moving tripwire magazine to the Headway theme I used HeadSpace2. I believe it is the best available and it makes it very easy.
Besides allowing you to setup rules for posts, pages, archives, front page, Headspace2 also allows you to specify a custom title for each post and use tags for as meta keywords. There’s a good getting started guide and some videos on urbangiraffe.com that will help you use some of the more advanced features in Headspace2. To change the title all you have to do is install the plugins and go to “Setting –> Headspace –> Page Setting and fill the Page Title field for following elements:
- Posts / Pages: %%title%% – Blog Title
- Categories: %%category%% Archives %%page%% – Blog Title
- Tags: %%tag%% Archives %%page%% – Blog Title
- Archives: Blog Archives %%page%% – Blog Title
You can add default description and tags, but remember to set this up for each individual page or post!
In the Headway theme you can do the same and can save yourself a plugin.
In the Thesis theme you will also find that it is easy to make the needed changes.
Description and Keywords
The description tag is what the visitor will read in the search results when deciding whether or not to click on your listing. While not necessarily a “ranking factor”, it should be unique for each page, and written as a “classified ad” of up to 160 characters to compel users to click that result. The description tag should be relevant to that specific page, which is why Google Webmaster Tools points it out when you have duplicates. Again remember that the description will be shown in the results – if it is not present google will try to grap relevant text and it may not give a click!
If you use Headspace2 the following Post Box will allow you to add a unique description to each post.
In the Headway theme it looks like this.
Thesis allows you to easily add and edit Meta Description tags within each post or page by simply adding your description to a custom field. All you have to do is add a custom field called “meta” to your post or page and insert your desired text
Keywords in the URL is important
One of the very first thing to change is your permalink structure. In WordPress 3.0 (and most previous versions), you’ll find this page under Settings -> Permalinks. The default permalink is ?p=<postid>. This is not good for SEO as keywords in the URL will help search engines to understand your content and it helps ranking if keywords here match the content and the title. It is really simple to change this in WordPress, however I often run into blogs who have not made this very basic SEO improvement. I recommend you use either “/%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%.html” or simply “/%postname%.html”. Using the %postname% will result in a sanitized version of the title of the post (also called post slug). So “This Is A Great Post!” becomes this-is-a-great-post in the URI.
Many SEO articles recommend using “%category%/%postname%”. I strongly disagree with this as it locks your articles to the first category they have been assigned to (or if you use more than one category it is the category that was created first in WordPress.). I have experienced serious headaches myself when I wanted to reorganize categories on tripwire magazine. The problem is that WordPress change the permalink if you change the categories and then it is not a permalink. This is very problematic in several ways even though there are solutions to get around it (trust me you don’t want to go there!).
If you have a %category% permalink structure and want to change it I can tell you that I have used Advanced Permalinks on tripwire magazine. This plugin makes it a no brainer to migrate the structure, but It is not maintained any more, and it is probably not the best option to go for long term. However there does not seam to be any good pure permalink migration plugins that have been upgraded formally to support WordPress 3.0.
I have used Redirection on tripwire magazine for other purposes for a long time and it seams to be the best option right now to go for (it is one of my favorite plugins!). Once installed go to Tools -> Redirection -> Options and make sure URL Monitoring is set to “Modified posts”.
Now you can change the permalinks to SEO optimized permalinks without having to do anything else, or worry about the search engine
Clean the slug for non-keywords
Another thing you can do to improve your permalinks SEO performance is to remove words that are not relevant for ranking. You can install the SEO Slugs plugin (not version 3.0 but should work). This plugin will automatically remove stop words from your slugs once you save a post, so you won’t get those ugly long URL’s when you do a sentence style post title. Careful if you apply this to existing posts if you have not Redirection in place as the permalink will change! Lets take an example:
SEO Slugs plugin strips common words like “what”, “you” or “can” out of your post slug to make it more search engine friendly. With SEO Slugs plugin activated, the slug for our example blog post would look like this:
Optimizing images is becoming more and more important in SEO. The ALT attribute is a critical step that is often overlooked. This can be a lost opportunity for better rankings. In Google’s webmaster guidelines, they advise the use of alternative text for the images on your web site: Use the alt attribute to provide descriptive text. In addition, we recommend using a human-readable caption and descriptive text around the image.
Search engines have the same problem as blind users. They cannot see the images and will rank your pages better if they know the images in the page are relevant to the content.
An often overlooked part of WordPress SEO is how you handle your images. By doing stuff like writing good alt tags for images and thinking of how you name the files, you can get yourself a bit of extra traffic from the different image search engines. Next to that, you’re helping out your lesser able readers who check out your site in a screen reader, to make sense of what’s otherwise hidden to them.
You should of course be writing good titles and alt tags for each and every image, however, if you don’t have the time for that, there is a plugin that can help you. SEO Friendly Images is a WordPress optimization plugin which automatically updates all images with proper ALT and TITLE attributes. If your images do not have ALT and TITLE already set, SEO Friendly Images will add them according the options you set. It is not updated for WordPress 3.0 yet but it works OK (I have just tested it myself).
The default settings are good if you remember to name your image files properly. If you files is called 02837y433.jpg it does not work well for SEO purposes!
In a post titled Car Pictures there is a picture named Ferrari.jpg
Setting alt attribute to “%name %title” will produce alt=”Ferrari Car Pictures”
Get rid of duplicate content
Archives, author pages, front page
Any SEO expert will recommend that you avoid having duplicate content on several pages. There are two types of duplicate content for a website:
- if your server headers are not properly configured so each page in your site is available from an http:// prefix and the http://www. prefix, which means that each page is a potential replica of the other. Solution for this was provided earlier in this article.
- duplicate content “exact match segments” of words spread across (a) your own pages or (b) multiple websites. We can influence (a) easily in WordPress while (b) requires a lot more (if you create popular content others may republish it. I recommend you use copyscape to find and deal with content theft).
WordPress sites have a lot of duplicate content per default. Post content will be on the post page itself, on the front page, on archive pages, author pages etc. To get rid of duplicate content in WordPress from an SEO perspective you can instruct the search engines to only index the main post page.
The robots meta plugin can do exactly this and it is easy to use.
In the Headway theme you will have an easy way to get rid of duplicate content. You simply set up on the options pages which areas not to be indexed.
WWW prefix or not
Another good thing to configure is to make sure you either have WWW or Strip WWW as prefix. This is important for SEO be course links to your posts will all be the same and not divided into to (those with WWW and those without). Go to the Modules tab, click on the WordPress module and make your choice under Canonical.
It is also easily done with the Headway theme.
XML Sitemaps may not be the most important SEO Factor but it helps search engines find all relevant pages in a snap. With WordPress it is simple to generate a sitemap for google. All you need to do is to install Google XML Sitemaps. You can also use it for Yahoo but Google is the main search engine traffic source.
Once the sitemap has been generated you log into Google Webmaster Tools and submit it. This is how it looks when it has been downloaded by google.
- Search Engine Optimization for WordPress @codex.wordpress.org
- Instant SEO Review @seoautomatic.com
You can only run one analysis per month as a free user but it is very good and comprehensive. It is recommended that you use your one shot on a post to see how it ranks and how you can improve it. Use the knowledge you get to improve other posts and the site in general.
- SMX London: Ranking Factors in 2010 @seomoz.org
- Search ranking factors @seomoz.org
- Review of Scribe: A Premium SEO Plugin for WordPress @tripwiremagazine.com
- Instant On-Page SEO with New SEOPressor Premium Plugin for WordPress @tripwiremagazine.com
Please share your opinion and experience with SEO and WordPress in a comment.