Fine-Tuning WordPress for SEO

Apr 15 2011 by Adam Heitzman | 48 Comments

Fine-Tuning WordPress for SEO

Just a few short years ago, building static websites by hand with HTML/CSS was the norm. Nowadays, WordPress powers almost 14% of all websites[1].

Originally developed as a blogging platform, WordPress has since morphed into a powerful content management system for all types of websites.

But, as with most things that evolve from what they were originally meant to do, there’s some fine-tuning that will be required to make them as functional as possible.

While WordPress has top-notch SEO features out of the box, there a handful of things you can enhance to achieve even better SEO.  The following are some basic tips on how to fine-tune your WordPress site to attain improved search engine results ranking.

Permalink Structure for URLs

You can find the permalink settings under Setting > Permalinks. The permalinks feature allows you to create custom URL structures for your WordPress content.

By default, WordPress sets your post URLs like so:

http://example.com/?p=32

From an SEO perspective, this is not ideal because you aren’t getting any benefit from having keywords in the URL, a known ranking factor for search engine results.

Some SEO professionals believe that the most effective structure is to have a single-level URL structure for your blog posts. For example, the first URL structure below is better than the second URL structure after it.

http://example.com/the-post-name/

versus:

http://example.com/post-category/the-post-name/

To have a single-level URL structure for your blog posts, first, in the Permalinks WordPress panel, choose custom the Custom Structure option. Then in the input field beside it, use the following URL structure:

/%postname%/

Once this option is set up properly, your URLs will appear like so:

http://example.com/the-post-name/

Title Tags

The <title> tag of your web pages is an important factor in SEO; all web pages should have a unique <title> tag.

In search engine results, the value of the <title> tag is often displayed after a user performs a search. For example, let’s say a user searched "improve seo website" on Google. The results page would look like this:

Notice that the first result is a blog post on Six Revisions called 9 Ways To Improve the SEO of Every Website You Design. The reason it appears like this on Google is because the <title> tag of the web page is:

<head>
<title>9 Ways To Improve the SEO of Every Website You Design</title>
</head>

By default, however, the <title> for your blog posts in WordPress is "Blog name » Post title," and search engine users probably wouldn’t find that very compelling to click on.

For your WordPress site to get the most benefit out of its <title> tags, it should be altered by fronting-load keywords so that it can match with search terms that people use. This means having the post title come before the blog’s name.

To change your <title> tags, I recommend installing the All in One SEO Pack plugin. This WordPress plugin will automatically set up your <title> tags, making them more SEO-friendly. You also have the ability to manually specify the title of each post.

The All in One SEO Pack WordPress plugin is one out of the six WordPress plugins that this site uses.

Meta Tags

Meta description tags provide short explanations of what a web page is about. In search engine results pages, these descriptions appear as excerpts of the web page. It’s ideal to incorporate keywords you would like to rank on in your meta description tags. However, do so in a human-friendly, non-spammy way. The description should optimally be between 150-160 characters, the limit of many search engines before the description is trimmed at the end.

In WordPress, there’s no ideal way to automate the process of creating meta description tags. The best descriptions should be handwritten, and the previously mentioned All in One SEO pack will allow you to configure them for each post.

You can also add meta keyword tags on your posts for relevant keywords and key phrases, but it should be mentioned that Google no longer takes meta keyword tags into account when determining search engine rankings.

With that being said, they won’t hurt, and there are other search engines out there besides Google that might use meta keyword tags as a signal for ranking, so I still recommended adding keywords as a best practice.

You can also add meta keyword tags in your blog posts via the SEO All in One Pack.

Use noindex Meta Tag for Duplicate Pages

By default, WordPress has a few different ways to navigate to your content pages. Depending on the WordPress theme you’re using, you might end up with duplicate content, which is bad for SEO.

For example, let’s say you have a WordPress category with the following URL:

http://example.com/category/my-category/

This same category page can be viewed through:

http://example.com/my-category/

Not good. So how do you fix this?

By using the noindex HTML meta tag, you can inform search engines not to index certain URLs, which then reduces the chances of your site being penalized in search engine rankings for duplicate content.

The easiest way to do this is by using the All in One SEO pack plugin. In the plugin, you have the option to assign noindex for category, archive, and tag URLs.

Use HTML Headings Properly

Using HTML heading tags (i.e. <h1>, <h2>, …, <h6>) to break up sections of lengthy blog posts and other content pages is a good way to make your content easier to read. It’s also regarded as a way to point out important keywords for web spiders as they may value these tags higher than other HTML text tags (such as <p> or <blockquote>).

What’s somewhat surprising is that, to this day, many WordPress themes still don’t pay particular attention to the content structure of a WordPress site’s content pages.

From an SEO perspective, <h1> is the most essential heading and should only be used once on a web page.

The <h2> tags are next in the hierarchy, and you can have several of them on the page. Below each <h2> you can have several <h3> tags, and below each <h3> tag, you can have  several <h4> tags, and so on. This is a semantic way of structuring your content, kind of like a book outline.

If you’re using a WordPress theme that you didn’t build yourself, look into the theme’s template files (such as header.php, single.php, post.php, home.php, and page.php) to ensure that built-in HTML markup follows good content structuring. If you did build the theme, double-check to make sure that you’re using good content structures.

Use an XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a standard protocol used to create an index of a website’s pages to help search engines find pages to crawl and to give them a better understanding of the website’s structure.

XML sitemaps are easy to create manually, but if you update your site with new content often, it might not be a good idea because you’ll have to constantly update your XML sitemap.

Using the Google XML Sitemaps WordPress plugin will automatically generate an XML sitemap of your WordPress website for you. It will even notify Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines that your XML sitemap has been updated.

What are your own WordPress tips and tricks for SEO?

References

  1. Stats (en.wordpress.com)

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About the Author

Adam Heitzman is a web designer/developer with a strong background in SEO. He’s a Managing Partner at HigherVisbility, a Memphis-based internet marketing agency that offers a full range of marketing services ranging from SEO, Pay Per Click Marketing, Web Design and Development, and Social Media Marketing. Connect with HigherVisibility on Facebook and Twitter.

48 Comments

Essex

April 15th, 2011

Every time I consider wordpress their seems to be hacking issues.

I still prefer to build a website and incorporate what I consider to be a proper blog.

Jon Cave

April 15th, 2011

That’s not the WordPress logo you’re using in the header image. See http://wordpress.org/about/logos/.

Vladislavs Judins

April 15th, 2011

Do you know any good sitemap generator not for wordpress? Just to crawl the site and render xml sitemap?

Hasitha

April 15th, 2011

Complete wp seo article. Thaks. :-)

Tim

April 15th, 2011

Is there any reason you prefer using All-in-one SEO and the Google XML Sitemaps plugin rather than Yoast’s SEO plugin?

I know some people prefer one over the other – but would love to hear your reasoning.

Martin Wyatt

April 15th, 2011

Great post, learnt something, thanks!

Algirdas

April 15th, 2011

Nice article, i will try to use some tips to my site :) one question off topic maybe you can answer, why google do not index some of WP forum plugins for example “WP Forum Server” even if you use seo friendly urls? thanks

Usman

April 15th, 2011

I agree the permalink structure is very important and having the appropriate keyword in the title tag also helps for ranking higher in search results

one web studio

April 15th, 2011

yes, i got first :)

does the SEO is real?

moabi

April 15th, 2011

Except for the sitemap, you can do it all by yourself with some bits of php and apache…i think it’s faster, and you know what you put in your meal :)

Grün Weiss

April 15th, 2011

thats the right way to seo with wordpress

Chris

April 15th, 2011

Careful recommending that users use /the-post-name or /post-category/the-post-name as a permalink structure. If they have a significant number of posts this can be very bad for performance. From the Codex:

“For performance reasons, it is not a good idea to start your permalink structure with the category, tag, author, or postname fields. ”

See http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks#Structure_Tags

and

http://ottopress.com/2010/category-in-permalinks-considered-harmful/

(I’ve been using the same structure as you’ve suggested for a while and only recently became aware of the performance issues, so I thought I’d point it out).

Otherwise, thanks for the tips :)

Jim Gaudet

April 15th, 2011

I was reading somewhere that putting the post_title directly after the domain has performance issues and it’s better to have a number there;

something like /%year%/%postname%

I haven’t tested though :)

Vanessa

April 15th, 2011

I use wordpress to power 4 different sites. I love it. Customizable, user friendly, what’s not to love. Great article, good tips on SEO. They will come in handy on all 4 and soon to be 5.

Wonderful

kiran

April 15th, 2011

Great points for wordpress.SEO Plugin – Yoast is the best option for Title and meta tags.

Asmita

April 15th, 2011

can you give me tips how to stop crawler indexing my outgoing links ? and it is good practice for SEO ?

Lee Fuller

April 15th, 2011

Some brilliant SEO tips here, forgot to install the All in One SEO Pack for my latest site, all installed now though..! Thanks for the reminder..

Bryan Coe

April 15th, 2011

Great post! All in one SEO is one of the best WP plugins. I run a lot of WP sites and I use it on every one. Also, good advice for the noindex Meta Tag for duplicate pages.

Adam Heitzman

April 15th, 2011

@Vladislavs Judins – yes you can always visit http://www.xml-sitemaps.com to generate your own XML sitemap.

Adam Heitzman

April 15th, 2011

@Asmita – yes you can definitely add a plugin to Nofollow any outbound links. See: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/search.php?q=nofollow&sort=

Mordecai P. Cockburn

April 15th, 2011

Thank you for this info! I will try the plugins. SEO is a strange strange world indeed.

Adrian

April 15th, 2011

Great post!!! Thanks

Jatin

April 16th, 2011

Great article! BTW, do cover Yoast SEO Plugin in future articles. It’s awesome.

@Tim: Yoast SEO plugin is not so good at generating sitemaps. I prefer to use Google XML Sitemaps for generating sitemaps. For everything else related to SEO, it’s Yoast SEO plugin all the way.

alimunandar

April 16th, 2011

thanks for seo tips, this very helpfull

Cory

April 16th, 2011

Chris is right, I’d avoid using postname as the first level in your url structure. You’re probably right that it’s best for SEO purposes, but there is a fine balance between SEO and performance. Without performance, SEO is negligible IMHO.

Neil Sayers

April 17th, 2011

Great article. I use All in one SEO for most sites I build. Unfortunately, getting clients to keep their titles/descriptions in good shape once I am finished building the site is not so easy!

Alobar

April 17th, 2011

A great article mentioning all needed wp sep interventions together. Thank you.

But I would have to disagree with the idea that “WordPress has since morphed into a powerful content management system for all types of websites”.
Wordpress is a great blog platform.
But I wouldn’t consider wordpress the right software “for all types of websites”. There are content management systems out there (many open source), that have beed created just for that and they are much better.

Joshua

April 17th, 2011

Good article for basics. I would really love to see an article where someone compares the benefits of all of the WordPress SEO plugins and which one really is the best.

Eduardo

April 17th, 2011

Very nice work!, thanks for the post it helps a lot.

Paul

April 17th, 2011

http://ottopress.com/2010/category-in-permalinks-considered-harmful/

I’m one of the person who used only-post-name for the permalink structure and found out later ( when it’s pretty much too late because the site is too big to fix ) that wordpress’s rewrite rules system is causing the performance issue.

IMHO wordpress should state this explicitly in it’s README file and also tell us if there would be a plan to fix the rewrite system.

Diagonismos

April 17th, 2011

Hey Adam, your article if very readable but I think here in sixrevisions.com we want some more advanced SEO Tips, these you mentioned are clearly for beginners :-)

We ‘re looking forward for a new post from you :-)

Koewn

April 19th, 2011

Thanks for the tips on SEO in WordPress. Really a must for every website.

I got a question on the “Use HTML Headings Properly” section:
Can I use as many h2, h3 etc as I want? Or is there a limit. And do I have to order them in that way aswell? Sometimes my website becomes cluttered a little bit and h3 stands before h2 in the code.

Misty James

April 19th, 2011

Wow! Awesome post. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your site. Really great and very informative information.

What about bold/<strong> your keywords of focus. And isn’t it true that you should only choose a couple of words to focus on for each page or post?

Jenn

April 19th, 2011

Yeah, first thing that stood out to me is WordPress does not recommend starting the permalink structure with the category, tag, author or postname fields. Like Chris said, read up on it in the Codex: http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

Gabriel K

April 19th, 2011

If your blog is full of news content and you want to show up on Google News, then your post title should have 3 or more numbers in it — and years don’t count (example.com/2011/my-post is bad; example.com/123-my-post or example.com/2011/04/my-post are good).

Getting into Google News is a whole topic unto itself, but I just wanted to note that if you do have a news-focused blog there are other steps you will need to take to start showing up in Google News results.

lawmacs

April 20th, 2011

I relly do believe that the all in one seo plugin does a really good job in helping to get better search results thanks for the detailed explanation

Hafiz Zainudin

April 23rd, 2011

I will most likely to suggest Yoast’s SEO plugin as it provides both SEO and XML sitemap together. And a great plus for those on WP Multisite because sitemap works!

jessi

April 27th, 2011

What you think as wordpress codex says, For performance reasons, it is not a good idea to start your permalink structure with the category, tag, author, or postname fields. …will it affect seo..?

RAFIUL

May 13th, 2011

I got may help from your blog. Thanks for nice posting…

Navin

May 30th, 2011

Thanks, This is a wonderful and informative tutorial. Its easy to tweak wordpress comparing to static html website. Hoping to get more tutorials like this.

rakesh kumar

June 27th, 2011

Good Work and great Tutorial, I am little bit doubtful for SEO plugins, As i am using Yoast for SEO plugins and it is very good but still i am not getting my desired result. Do You think all in one SEO is a better bet then yoast

aWebby

June 27th, 2011

Great article – these should be the first things doen by anyone installing WP.
regarding the post above – my vote goes to all-in-one-SEO, I install it on all my WP sites

robotspider

July 1st, 2011

I seem to get a 500 Internal Server Error for every page when I set custom permalink settings. Any advice?

Casey Strouse

July 5th, 2011

I’ve read a lot about the All-In-One SEO Pack being very resource-intensive and thus not well suited for shared hosting environments. Is there any truth to this?

Gustavsson Mark

September 16th, 2011

Good stuff, thanks!
I was indeed surprised of the absence of the tag in my evolve advance theme I use on my website.

I was even more surprised articles that acknowledge the issue -such as this one- are not so easy to find.

Hugh Caraway

October 26th, 2011

Rewrite is something that has caused me a few problems in the past. If your WordPress install lives on a Windows server you need to be aware of the rewrite challenge you will be facing. This in and of itself would make for a good article.

Vladislavs Judins

October 28th, 2011

@Adam Heitzman, thanks a lot for that! But I meant something more powerful like robot, which would be able to log in to site and browse internal pages.

Tony

November 14th, 2011

Excellent post, bro. Thanks

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