SEO is one of the best ways to get a constant stream of traffic to your website. See, viral content can get a blast of visitors to your website, but that traffic will decline quickly. What is truly important is the traffic that you generate after the viral peak.
That’s where SEO comes in. The thing is, it only works if you are doing SEO the right way on your blog…including getting all of the essential WordPress settings correct.
Download this printable cheat sheet for optimizing your WordPress blog for search engines.
This handy guide will walk you through what settings you need to pay attention to and what you need to do on your WordPress blog to get more search engine traffic.
Setting the site title and meta description
Everything starts with a keyword-rich title and meta description for your blog.
A good formula for creating a title tag is picking something short, keyword rich and catchy. For example, a blog targeting stock market investors might use the title tag “The Million Dollar Portfolio – Daily Stock Picks.”
In the example above, you’ll notice that the first part is very enticing, the second part is more keyword rich than the first half, and the overall title tag is short.
The same is true for the description. It should be catchy, keyword rich and short…but not as short as the title tag. A good rule of thumb is that if your meta description has 20 words or so, you’re fine.
The Motley Fool site’s description promises to give you the latest investing information that is easy to find:
The only issue with their description is that it doesn’t contain enough keywords and is too short.
Now that you understand titles and descriptions, let’s get into how you can set them up. Because you are running a WordPress blog, the easiest approach is for you to install the SEO for WordPress plugin by Yoast.
With this plugin, you can easily set up a title tag and meta description on your blog. As for your blog posts pages, the title and description will automatically be set based on the title of your blog post and the content within the first paragraph. You can manually edit these settings, but there really isn’t much need.
If your title tag isn’t showing up correctly, it’s probably because it is conflicting with your blog theme. If this is the case, EvolvingSEO provides a good tutorial on how to fix some common problems between a blog theme and the SEO WordPress plugin.
Creating the best permalink structure
Next, let’s decide how your links are going to look. The permalink describes the structure of your URL. While there are tons of variations from which you can choose, it really comes down to just three choices:
Some people argue that the first example is the best choice. The reasons for this are:
- Words are separated by a hyphen and not underscore.
- It allows you to tweak the “post-name” to include keywords for SEO purposes, which is actually true for all of them.
- Removing the date allows you to present your content as if it were fresh. In other words, if you wrote a post a year ago and somebody landed on it today, they would get the sense that it was new and relevant.
- Turns long post titles into easily memorized and shared links. That’s important from a social share standpoint.
Some choose a variation on the above theme but include the PostID and the entire post title. This is what Search Engine Land does. For example:
Why do they do it this way? Two reasons. The first is that the longer URL allows for more keyword opportunities. There is no penalty for your URL being long as long as it is separated by hyphens.
The other reason is that one of the technical requirements to have a multi-author blog indexed in Google News is for it to have a unique number. You can use Google News site map to get around this, however.
This is why if you searched for that particular Search Engine Land article, you would see this in your search:
The long URL with the number is rendered as a link. Plus, it’s showing up in the “News” section versus regular search listings.
Now, if you are looking for sheer performance, then in my experience /%post_id% is the permalink to go with. But as you can see, that’s not the least bit SEO friendly.
If you want to change your permalink structure, it’s easy to do. Just go to “Tools > Permalinks”:
The “Custom Structure” will have to be used to get the post name and ID structure you wish.
By the way, WordPress will do the work of redirecting via 301 from the old to new URLs. Warning: this may mess up your search engine traffic for a bit.
Eliminating duplicate URLs
The Panda update woke a lot of people up in some pretty obvious ways. All that shallow content was suddenly not as good at getting top rankings as it used to be.
Naturally, the advice was to write high-quality content. If you were already doing that, then Panda probably didn’t spank you too harshly. However, some people were slapped hard and had a tough time figuring out why.
In some cases, it came down to dropdown menus in the navigation links. Google was indexing these dropdown menus and assigning menu parameters in the URLs, which lead to duplicate content. In fact, almost every page could be duplicated, so a site with 300 pages could now have 600.
If that has happened to you, here is how to fix it in two steps:
- Replace all the dropdown menus with links. It’s a quick and easy fix.
- Add canonical tags – Your canonical pages are those pages that you want to appear at the top of the searches above necessary duplicate pages (like category or date archive). The canonical tag tells Google which ones you want to appear. You might use canonical tags for other reasons:
- When you create printer-friendly pages. These will have a different URL.
- When you have employed dynamic pages or query strings in the URL to establish which one is the original one.
- Someone steals your content.
- Products are displayed on one page in alphabetical order while on another page they are listed by price.
You can use the following free tools to check for duplicate content:
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Screaming Frog
- Google Queries
Here are the Google queries you’ll want to use (as suggested by EvolvingSEO):
- site:mydomain.com/blog – check for blog indexation
- site:mydomain.com/category – check for category indexation (unless you’ve stripped from folder structure)
- site:mydomain.com/tag – check to see what tags are indexed
- site:mydomain.com/author – check to see if author archives are indexed
- site:mydomain.com/2012 – check to see what dated achieves from 2012 are indexed
- site:mydomain.com/ inrul:page – check for subpages being indexed
No-indexing duplicate pages
For the most part, if you have duplicate pages in your blog because of author, date-driven, category, tag or monthly archived pages, Google’s guidelines say not to worry about it. They’ll be able to tell when duplicate pages are the best ones to show in the search engines.
However, I recommend no-indexing them anyway. You are better off being safe than sorry when it comes to serving up the correct page for a search results page.
- Use the Meta Robots plugin from Yoast – You can no-index duplicates pretty quickly and have them out of the index in about three weeks.
- Use Webmaster Tools to speed up the process of getting the pages stuck in the index out. In Webmaster Tools, click on “Optimization > Remove URLs” and just enter the URLs you want removed.
- Fetch URLs that aren’t shifting with “fetch as Google.” Once they are found, submit them to index, so Google can crawl them again and erase them from the index.
What, why and how to use the nofollow attribute
If you are new to the world of SEO, the nofollow attribute is a command that tells search engines not to crawl particular pages. It originally blocked bots from crawling links going away from a particular page and looked like this:
<meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow” />
In other words, it was a page-level attribute.
To give webmasters more control over specific links that use the nofollow attribute, the rel attribute was created. Here’s an example:
<a href=”Subscribe.php” rel=”nofollow”>Subscribe</a>
Google drops these links from its web maps even though those pages will still appear in its indexes (given the fact that other external sites are linking to that page). They can also show up in the index if they are on your sitemap.
- How to use nofollow – Use nofollow on content you don’t trust, e.g., user comments or paid inks. Also use it when prioritizing which links should be crawled. Since search bots can’t subscribe to your email newsletter or RSS feed, you would nofollow these links.
- Pay attention to site’s architecture – It’s important to remember that creating SEO-friendly URLs and easy navigation to begin with will be far more effective than going on a nofollow witch hunt.
Speeding up your blog
There is an inverse correlation between how fast your blog loads and how much traffic you are going to get. The faster your blog loads, the more search engine traffic you will get. The slower it loads, the less search engine traffic you will get.
There are two main ways to speed up your blog:
- The first is to get a good host. The better your web host, the more likely things will load fast.
- The second way to speed up your blog is through the W3 Total Cache plugin. Once you install it, it will automatically fine-tune your blog code so that your blog loads faster.
If you want your blog to load faster, you shouldn’t just pick one of the options above. You should do both of them.
SEO for WordPress Plugin
As I mentioned above, the SEO for WordPress plugin will help solve your meta and title tag needs. But what I didn’t talk about is all of the other things it does.
From cleaning up your messy code to creating XML sitemaps for search engines, it takes care of all the house keeping you normally would have to do manually.
Here is a quick run down of the features in the plugin:
- Post titles and meta descriptions
- Robots Meta configuration
- Permalink clean up
- XML Sitemaps
- RSS enhancements
- Edit your robots.txt and .htaccess
- Clean up head section code
WordPress is a great tool for bloggers and website managers. While there are some great alternatives to WordPress, it is still the most common and reliable one out there. So, it’s important that you get the SEO settings right.
Take some time to evaluate your settings to make sure you are maximizing their potential for both you and your clients. If you’re not, then you are leaving some traffic, and money, on the table.
How else could you optimize your WordPress blog?