How to properly SEO your WordPress site

SEO has evolved quite a bit from the olden times when you could keyword stuff your content / title and rank for any desired keyword. That combined with the fact that the market was no where near as saturated as it is today, people were able to rank and rake in quite a bit of profit from their internet marketing (SEO) projects. Since the latest Google updates however, no one is certain what factors actually contribute to website rankings as there are far too many anomalies in ranking data for many profitable keywords.

WordPress SEO

Most people believe that it is easier to manage on-page SEO factors with a HTML website than WordPress — this is a misconception as it is just as easy (if not easier) to automatically SEO your entire WordPress installation with the use of a few innovative and easy to use plugins. Since WordPress is very user friendly, it is a very popular CMS amongst novice and professional bloggers — in fact, WordPress powers approximately 50% of websites on the web.

If you’re a blogger or taking part in any form of internet marketing, chances are you’ve heard of or even personally used WordPress to build websites. I’ve personally used WordPress to build all of my blogs and set them all up in the same manner SEO wise — not one has ever failed me. The reason people believe that WordPress is not sufficient for SEO purposes is because some individuals are still in the mindset of ancient SEO. Nowadays, search engine optimization has evolved drastically and having keywords in your content (or following a specific set of “rules”) will not ensure high rankings; in reality, over optimization actually incurs penalties from Google and other search engines.

In my blogging career, I have built several websites with WordPress and set all of them up in the exact same manner SEO wise — it has never failed. The trick here is to cater your content / titles to people rather than search engines; this is what marketing is all about, but we’ll get more into that topic in a later post. Now, without getting too far off topic (I can ramble on at times), let’s get down to business.

Before you install any plugins or themes, the first change you want to make is to your native permalink structure. WordPress uses an extremely ugly default permalink structure which is not only not good for SEO but also doesn’t appear too attractive to your visitors.

WordPress Permalinks Set your permalink structure to either custom: %category%/%postname% or keep it set to the “Post Name” setting — either is perfectly fine.

Tags vs. Categories

WordPress offers users two ways to organize their posts — through tags or categories. It is recommended that you use either one or the other for your website. If your categories are descriptive, there is no need for tags (and vice versa). Since tag clouds are now depreciated for SEO, my personal recommendation is to just use categories and not put too much focus on adding post tags as they are not essential nor important.

The only time I use tags is when the category keyword is not enough to describe the post (usually when the post has several sub-topics).

WordPress SEO Themes

Most WordPress themes now a days are designed with on-page SEO in mind, including the basic themes that come native with WordPress. When choosing a theme for your website, there a few things you need to look out for:

  • Is the theme attractive and suited to your website’s niche? (this is not for SEO necessarily but important nonetheless)
  • Is the post title in H1 tags? Is the website title in H1 tags (on home page)

People go into far too much detail in an attempt to SEO their WP theme when in reality, all you need to make sure is that the post title is wrapped in H1 tags. Since the post title describes what your article will be about and in most cases contains the keyword you are trying to target, the H1 tag helps ensure the search engines know what your post / article is about.

Again, as I’ve mentioned before, do not write your title with search engines in mind but rather your audience — you want to make the title attractive yet descriptive with the keywords you are trying to target. As an example, let’s take this post into account; the article is trying to target the keywords “WordPress SEO” but as you can see, the title doesn’t necessarily focus on that keyword. “SEO” and “WordPress” are mentioned separately and the use of the word “properly” intriguse users to click through to read the article. Old minded SEO’s may argue that the title needs to contain “WordPress SEO” in that exact order to achieve desired results — but a simple search on Google will reveal that is not the case.

When trying to find a theme for your website, don’t worry too much about the SEO aspect of it. Instead, as stated above, focus on finding a theme that will attract viewers and prosper conversions (which is the ultimate goal).

WordPress SEO Plugins

There are plenty of free and premium SEO plugins available on the market for WordPress — but there is one that stands out above the rest (and it’s free). The WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin is the best (in my opinion) and I’m sure many other users will agree.

The plugin is quite self-explanatory with an extremely detailed guide to help users properly SEO their WordPress sites. The plugin can be easily setup with the detailed explanations available under each individual setting — but I will still go over some of the more important settings that need to be configured.

Yoast SEO Titles The main settings allow you to set the titles for each individual post type as well as the homepage. Go to Help tab to view available variables. Make sure setting in picture to left is set (click to enlarge).
Yoast SEO Social Adding OpenGraph meta data to your site will ensure that socially sharing your website pulls the right content. Make sure to set your homepage logo as well as a default image in case there is none for your post(s). Set your site’s Twitter username (optional).
SEO XML Sitemap The sitemap helps Google easily see the structure of your website (for better rankings according to them). Make sure to create an XML sitemap and submit it to your Google Webmaster Tools account.
WordPress SEO Permalinks Use the settings outlined in the picture. The first option will merely strip the word “category” from your category archives. The second checked option will make sure all the link juice flows to your posts instead of attachment URL’s.
Internal Links Breadcrumbs are not a necessity but make it easier for your visitors to understand the structure of your website (and easily navigate back and forth between internal pages). If your theme does not come with breadcrumbs, you can enable them here and embed them manually into your theme files.

Once you’ve setup the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast, you’re ready to move onto configuring the other plugins to make your website completely search engine optimized. Fortunately, the next few plugins won’t require much configuration — they just need to be installed and activated.

  • Broken Link Checker
  • Broken link checker will scan all the links on your website and alert you via email (as well as on the main dashboard) if any broken links are found. You can then easily go to the post / page where the link is located and either replace it or remove it.

  • Related Posts
  • The reason I did not link this is because there are quite a few related posts plugin to choose from. Personally, I prefer the Efficient Related Posts plugin as it is lightweight and easy to configure, but you can pick whichever one you would like (just make sure it doesn’t slow down your website). Showing related posts will not only foster further visitor interaction but it will also create internal links that will pass link juice to other relevant content on your website.

  • WP Super Cache
  • WP Super Cache will store static content in cache so that it can load faster for your site visitors. This will drastically improve load time and help improve your rankings as Google has clearly stated that page speed is a factor in search engine rankings. You can always check your page speed here: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/.

  • WP No External Links
  • This plugin is optional but still helpful. When you write a post and link out to another website, you are passing link juice to that URL. This plugin will let you mark external URL’s as internal URL’s or automatically add a rel="nofollow tag to your outgoing links. Personally, I prefer the second option as masking your external links can hurt your rankings.

Besides the plugins stated above, the only other plugin you should consider installing is the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin to help track your website with Analytics. Tracking is extremely important to understand how to optimize your traffic for higher conversion rates (but more on that later).

Before I close, here are just a few more WordPress SEO tips:

  • Use the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin to write individual meta titles and descriptions for each of your posts (the description should summarize the post)
  • Write engaging content aimed at users and not search engines. This will nurture natural link building to your website
  • Set a featured image for each of your posts. This image will be the one used every time your article or post is shared socially
  • Organize your website structure properly. Group posts into appropriate categories so visitors have an easy time navigating your site.

That’s about it guys and gals, I hope you found this post helpful! Look forward to more SEO and marketing related posts in the near future.

Comments, questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below.

Google Introduces Link Disavow Tool to Combat Negative SEO

We’ve been hearing rumors for quite some time about Google working on a project to help combat negative SEO — and now, they’ve finally released the disavow tool to allow webmasters to take control of their backlink profiles. Since the most recent algorithmic updates by the search engine giant, a lot of webmasters and SEO specialists have been struggling to rank their websites in organic search results. Google’s Panda and Penguin update revolutionized search engine results by targeting and removing low quality websites from their index (or at the very least demoting SE rankings); these updates were made possible by the knowledge graph.

Although Google succeeded at removing low quality websites from search engine rankings, not everyone saw the Panda or Penguin update as a step in the right direction. Many marketers and SEO specialists criticized Google for these updates mainly due to the fact that their websites were affected — however, Google’s mission is to provide the most relevant search results to their users; they don’t cater to webmasters using spammy link building techniques to artificially rank their websites. Google believed (and does to this day) that their Panda and Penguin updates ultimately enhanced their search results and continued updates will only help to provide a better user experience.

Unfortunately, with these Google updates also came the idea of negative SEO — a tactic used by people to manipulate and lower the search engine rankings of their competitors. Anyone could point thousands of spammy links to a website and drastically drop their rankings and in some cases even get them de-indexed from the search engine altogether. The internet community was convinced that Google did not take into account negative SEO when developing their algorithm, especially for non-authority websites as many authentic webmasters fell prey to negative SEO.

SEO Disavow Links

With the announcement of the new disavow tool, SEO specialists are rejoicing at the fact that they can “disavow” their spammy backlinks — while others are claiming that the tool is useless and that Google should automatically disavow any links they believe to be spammy. In either case, webmasters now have complete control over their backlink profiles from within Webmaster Tools — making negative SEO harder but not impossible.

So, what does the disavow tool do actually? Well, it doesn’t actually “delete” the links that you submit but it does set them to nofollow so they have no direct impact on your SE rankings. In fact, Matt Cutts of Google recommends that you should try and manually remove as many links as possible before submitting any of your low quality links to the disavow tool. The tool was officially made available in WMT on October 16, so there are no reports yet as to how it performs (or if it even works). We will be doing a follow-up post in a few weeks regarding the effectiveness of the tool.

To learn more about the disavow tool, check out Official Google Webmaster Central Blog or watch the video by Google engineer Matt Cutts below. Comment below to share your opinion on the disavow tool.