Optimizing WordPress for Search Engines
So, you have this amazing WordPress site, but for some reason the search engines just don’t show you much love. You post killer content, make it easy for users to share via their social networks, and people are subscribing to your RSS feed, indicating that they’re like what they’re reading. If you’ve tried everything to drive traffic to your website, and search engines still ignore your site, maybe you need to evaluate how search engine friendly your website is.
In this article, I will go over a few steps you should take to optimize your WordPress installation for search engines. While WordPress has good SEO features out of the box, these tips will help you maximize your search engine results while also making sure your site is the best it can be.
1. Optimize your titles
By default, WordPress usually puts the title of your blog before the actual post title. Since most search engines only display the first 50-64 characters of your
<title> tag, you want the actual blog post title to come first.
Tips for Making WordPress Friendly to Search Engines - YourSiteName.com
is better than:
YourSiteName.com - Tips for Making WordPress Friendly to Search Engines
Always be sure that the title of your post comes before anything else. Two main reasons are:
1. Search engines will like you more if the title of the post comes first. This helps them put more importance to the keywords in the title.
2. A descriptive and optimized title is one of the most important aspects of your page SEO. The title lets the search engine and users know exactly what this page is about before they visit it.
2. Use good meta descriptions
Most bloggers who use WordPress never do much on the SEO side for meta descriptions because they believe that the auto generated descriptions that comes standard with WordPress is good enough; but that’s not truly the case if you’re concerned about effective keyword indexing on search engines.
Your best chance of getting a high ranking on a per-post basis is by manually typing in a good description for every article you write. Again, I would suggest using the All In One SEO plugin as it allows you to do this very easily. By combining a keyword-rich title with a matching description, you are bound to see an increase in search traffic.
As you can see in the two screenshots above, by optimizing meta descriptions, one of our pages is able ranked highly (withing the first 5-10 results in Google) for a particular search term. Now that you know the importance of a detailed and keyword-rich description, I hope you see some great results.
3. Rewrite your URLs with permalinks
Permalinks are enhancements to your existing URLs that can improve search engine optimization by presenting your post, page, and archive URLs as something like:
Changing the default web addresses/URLs that WordPress generates to something more readable is effective to search engine optimization because it is presumed that URLs are taken into consideration when indexing and prioritizing search results. Often, these URLs are called "pretty URLs" because they’re much more readable and gives the users a clue as to what the web page will be about (as in the above comparison of URLs).
Making your permalinks friendlier and readable requires little more than a short trip to your WordPress admin panel. Once you are there, go to Settings > Permalinks and edit the settings as shown in this image below:
I prefer to include the category in my title and write the URLs like this:
This would result in a format that looks like:
if you want it even shorter you can exclude the category and just use the following value for the Custom Structure setting:
If you are now just setting up a new WordPress site, then you are set to go. If your site has been up for a while, than I suggest using the redirection plugin so that your visitors will not get the 404 page after you rewrite your URLs to pretty URLs.
4. Use breadcrumbs
Using breadcrumbs on a WordPress site is often overlooked but can be a huge benefit for your readers and for SEO. Links with good key words that relate to the post topic and links to internal web pages is one of the ways search engines determine the relevance of a web page to search terms.
By using breadcrumbs, you make it easier for the readers to navigate and help the search engines to discover the structure of your website. On WPSwitch, we use the Breadcrumbs Plugin written by Joost De Valk. It only takes about five minutes to set up. (Find more helpful WordPress plugins).
5. Generate an XML Sitemap for search engines
An XML Sitemap is a listing of all the pages and posts on your website. This helps the search engine crawlers get a machine-readable structure of your websites. Having a properly structured sitemap has great benefits in the search engines.
Thanks to the massive amount of plugins, generating a sitemap with WordPress is super easy. I suggest using the XML Sitemaps.
This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap that will assist search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com in more extensively and accurately indexing your posts and pages. The plugin supports various WordPress generated pages as well as custom URLs. Additionally, it notifies all major search engines every time you create a post about the new content by pinging them.
6. Describe your post images meaningfully
Another often-neglected item in WordPress SEO is using proper and keyword-accurate
title attributes with images in a post or page. Adding a short description of your image using proper keywords can boost your search engine hits through image searches like the one from Google Images. Since you are using WordPress, adding
title attribute values to images is easy.
While saving your image, be sure to give a short and simple name with a dash between each keyword. For example, if you have a picture of a California Redwood tree, name it appropriately, such as
california_redwood_tree.jpg instead of something vague and non-descriptive like
(read about tools for optimizing your images).
Once you place your image in a WordPress post or page, it will automatically use the title given as the proper
If it does not fill it in automatically, you can type a description in the title input field. By implementing these image attributes, it will also make it easier for people who use a screen reader to browse your site.
In summary: don’t neglect your images, name them properly, and assign meaningful
alt attributes to them.
7. Link to related posts
One favorable method for helping search engines find content that is relevant to a given web page is adding a "related posts" section that links to other posts that have a connected subject.
By doing so, you also have the primary benefit of showing your readers other posts that they may want to read as well.
Many WordPress plugins will automatically generate a list of related posts for each of your posts. There are way to many too mention here, but you can find a list in the WordPress plugins section at WordPress.org just by searching "related posts".
WPSwitch currently usees the Yet Another Related Posts Plugin and it works very well. This is our favorite because it gives you a templating system that allows control over how the related posts are displayed.
8. Use good keywords in post headings
Search engines give more weight to keyword items depending on what type of heading that is being used. To get the most juice out of your titles, make sure the post title is an
The name of your blog should only be an
<h1> on your front page. On single, post, and category pages, it should be no more than an
<h3>, some even choose to use other HTML elements such as a
<p> element to keep the markup semantic. The title of your site does not need to carry as much weight as the topic you are writing about.
To make sure your site name is only an
<h1> on the home page, you can use the code below and modify it to work with your theme in the header.php file. This checks to see if you are on the home page or other pages and decides what heading tag to use. Most people use this link for the logo of the site linking back to the index.
<div id="logo"> <?php if(is_home()) : ?> <h1> <a href="<?php echo get_option('home'); ?>"><?php bloginfo('name'); ?></a> </h1> <?php else : ?> <a href="<?php echo get_option('home'); ?>"><?php bloginfo('name'); ?></a> <?php endif; ?> </div>
When fixing your headings on posts or pages find the code that looks like this:
<h1><a href="<?php the_permalink(); ?>"><?php the_title(); ?></a></h1>
Headings are super easy to edit and are found in the single.php and page.php and various archive pages of your WordPress theme. If your current theme does not use headings in this manner, I suggest you take a few minutes to make this easy change.
9. Avoiding duplicate content with robots.txt
With WordPress showing the same posts on multiple pages like the index, tag pages, archives, author pages, and category pages, it is very easy to have duplicate content. Duplicate content, in the eyes of search engines, is frowned upon. By creating a robots.txt file, you can completely avoid this issue.
If you want to create your own robots.txt file, you can use the following:
User-agent: * Allow: / Disallow: /wp-content/ Disallow: /trackback/ Disallow: /wp-admin/ Disallow: /archives/ Disallow: /*? Disallow: /*.js$ Disallow: /*.inc$ Disallow: /*.css$ Disallow: */trackback/ Disallow: /c/ Disallow: /author/ Disallow: /tag/ User-agent: Mediapartners-Google Allow: / User-agent: Adsbot-Google Allow: / User-agent: Googlebot-Image Allow: / User-agent: Googlebot-Mobile Allow: / #User-agent: ia_archiver-web.archive.org #Disallow: / Sitemap: http://wpswitch.com/robots.txt
This is directly from the current Robots.txt we’re using over at WPSwitch. If you use this, be sure to change the
Disallow: /c/ to whatever category structure you are using like
/category/, for example.
We also disabled indexing of all .js, css, and .inc files that shouldn’t be search-engine crawlable.
A much easier way if you are not code-savvy is to use the Robots Meta plugin. This modifies the default one made by WordPress from your original install.
I covered just a few easy ways to create WordPress sites that search engines will love. I know this seems like a lot of busy work, but if you sit down for a few hours, the return of your time investment will be worth your time. If you feel overwhelmed by the many things listed here, you don’t have to do them all at once. Take a few minutes out of every day and do them one at a time. By the end of the week, you will have an SEO optimized blog that you and the search engines will be proud of showing in their search results.
Need help? Got questions?
If you still need some help or simply don’t have the time to make these changes, just give me a shout in the comments here or on WPSwitch and I will see what I can do to help you.
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About the Author
This was published on Dec 14, 2009