An SEO Guide for WordPress: Updated Nov 2010

by Ben Cook on November 18, 2010

an SEO Guide for WordPress

The single universal truth about every website owner is this:

We all need more traffic.

And, since Google and the other search engines have essentially become the gateway to the internet for most web users, site owners are increasingly seeking to optimize their sites for search engines.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a simple concept; structure your site to provide search engines the information they want, and in return they’ll deliver hoards of visitors straight to your virtual door step.

While WordPress is fairly SEO friendly “out of the box”, there are several settings and options that need to be tweaked in order to achieve higher rankings and receive more search engine traffic to your site.

Permalinks

A default installation of WordPress doesn’t create the most search engine friendly URLs. Instead of having nice targeted keywords in the URL it puts a post number along the lines of “/?p=5″.

Thankfully, WordPress also makes it easy to change that with their Permalink structure. There are countless combinations and custom settings you could come up for your link structure but I stick with the simple route.

My preferred Permalink structure is:

/%postname%.php

Using this structure will swap out those ugly looking ?p= for some keyword rich urls such as /good-keyword-here.php

Note: Using post names will result in long URLs. Keep your URLs as short as possible (preferably 2-5 words) by removing extraneous words such as “a, an, and, the, in, to” etc. Also use your targeted keywords or phrases in your URLs when possible.

You may be tempted to use a category name in the url, but in my experience it’s more trouble than it’s worth. If you ever decide to tweak a category name, you’ll have to implement a 301 redirect to avoid losing any links pointing to articles within that category.

Titles

First and foremost, go install and activate the All in One SEO plugin (unless you’re using the Thesis theme which has most of the same functionality built in).

In the All in One SEO settings, there’s a whole host of options you’ll need to customize. First on the list are the title, description, and keyword tags for your home page.

Your home page title tag should include the main keyword or phrase that you’d like your site to rank for in the search engines. Keep your title tag under 65 characters (including spaces & punctuation) or Google and the other search engines will truncate it for you.

For example, the title I use for the home page of this site is:

WordPress Themes, Plugins & Tutorials | WPblogger

The description of your home page should also include one or two of your targeted keywords and should summarize your site in a way that makes it enticing for searchers to click on your listing.

The description I used is:

WPblogger covers a wide range of WordPress related topics. From theme and plugin reviews, to tutorials, or WordPress news, we've got it all!

The keywords tag has been rendered obsolete for all practical purposes. Some people like to use the keywords tag to insert common misspellings or typos, but I prefer to spend my time and effort elsewhere.

After the home page meta data options, you’re presented with several options controlling title tags for every other page type.  I’ve included a screen shot of my preferred settings below, but All in One SEO’s default settings are actually quite good.

all-in-one-seo-title-settings

Categories, Tags & Archives

Categories, tags and archives all present the same danger in terms of search engine optimization: duplicate content.

As the phrase suggests, duplicate content is when multiple pages have largely the same content.

Duplicate content within your own site is not something you will usually be penalized for, it can cause some confusion for search engines and as such should be avoided if at all possible.

NoIndex

thesis-noindex-optionsThere are actually several ways to combat duplicate content within your categories, tags, and archive pages. One option that many SEOs recommend is to simply keep those pages from being indexed using the noindex tag.

I use that method to keep all of the date based archive pages from being indexed by search engines.

However, when it comes to category and tag pages, I prefer to prevent them from being duplicate content in the first place.

Excerpts

thesis-archive-optionsInstead of allowing your category or tag pages to display full posts and risk being seen as duplicate content, you can force them to display only the titles or excerpts of each post.

This allows you to still target new terms to rank while reducing the amount of content that is carried over from each post, thus reducing the risk of it being seen as duplicate content. For example, if I decide to use theme names as tags, my tag pages could then rank for searches related to those names. Had I decided to noindex tag pages, this wouldn’t have been a possibility.

As is often the case, the Thesis theme makes this as simple as selecting a few options (as seen in the image to the right). If you’re not using Thesis, you’ll probably need to edit a few files as described in the WordPress Codex. Trust me, a little bit of preventative efforts spent here could pay off big time in search traffic to your site in the future.

Note: You can also reduce duplicate content problems by reducing the number of categories you place each post in. Instead of dropping a post into 6 categories it only loosely relates to, place in the single category it fits in best.

Pagination

As Jim Westergren points out, WordPress introduce comment pagination in version 2.7. The setting, which is on be default, breaks comments into pages of 50 comments each. Unfortunately, as with tags or archive pages, the bulk of the content on those pages will not be unique.

Turn off the comment pagination option.

Turning this option off, especially if you don’t often get more hundreds of comments per post, will prevent WordPress from creating multiple versions of each post.

Another unfortunate result of WordPress pagination is that as your posts age, they are pushed further and further away from your home page. While this makes perfect sense for readers, it isn’t great for SEO.

The easiest way to combat this issue is to install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin which creates a map of all the pages on your site so search engines can easily find them.

Also, regularly linking to previous posts and category or tag pages will help emphasize to search engine spiders that those pages are still important. The SEO Smart Link plugin is great for automating this process. And last but not least placing links to your categories or using a tag cloud on your home page will be a big boost to your SEO efforts.

Other Resources

If you’d like to know more about optimizing your WordPress site to grab as much traffic from search engines as possible, there’s plenty of information out there.

For example, Google Engineer Matt Cutts recently gave a presentation at WordCamp San Francisco which he’s made available for download. The slides cover a lot more ground than just SEO for your WordPress site but it’s valuable none-the-less.

Over the last year, I’ve also been privileged enough to give several presentations on the topic of SEO for WordPress. While there’s some overlap in the presentations (hint: that’s the really important stuff!), I think they all provide valuable content.

Market STL:

BlogWorld:

PubCon:

Recommended SEO Plugins

There are several plugins that will help in your SEO efforts. Here’s a list of the ones mentioned in the post as well as a few others we highly recommend

Once you’ve digested this vast assortment of material, if you still have any questions or are ready to share tips and tricks of your own, please do so in the comments below.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Demian Farnworth July 17, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Ben, this was extremely helpful. In fact, your entire blog is helpful. I’ve been clued into several features of WP I’m just plain to lazy to find out or simply ignorant of…like the Google XML map and the fact that WP 2.7 allows you to install plugins automatically. I DIDN’T KNOW THAT. Glad I do now. Appreciate the work. This is valuable.

Chris July 31, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Thanks for the useful info. I’m going to bookmark this. I’ve used HeadSpace and All-in-One — has anyone found one to be better than the other?

Pitchers Hit Eighth August 19, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Re: permalinks, I’m using a great plugin that removes all extraneous words for you, giving a strong content-rich slug for all of your post links:

SEO Slugs

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the plugin, just has worked great for me!

Ben Cook August 20, 2009 at 10:25 am

@Pitchers thanks for the link! It certainly looks promising, I’ll give it a field test & let you know how it goes.

Chris August 20, 2009 at 10:28 am

@Pitchers As is the frustrating thing with most WP plugins — it says only compatible up to 2.1. Of course, this may not be the case but man — that’s a long time not to update something.

Is it working for you on 2.8.x?

Pitchers Hit Eighth August 20, 2009 at 10:32 am

@Chris – yep, I’m running 2.8.4 and it is working for me without a hiccup.

Chris August 20, 2009 at 10:36 am

Thanks! I will try it. Looks great.

Affan November 29, 2010 at 9:32 am

I have an issue with the tag.
As you wrote above, we have to prevent duplicate content.
So, is it better to use noindex for tag?
So then, what’s the purpose of tag if we use noinex on them?

Ben Cook November 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Affan, not to be rude, but did you read the post? No you don’t want to noindex tag pages! That was the whole point. You prevent duplicate content by not having tags that are too similar to each other and/or adding unique content to tag pages.

Affan November 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm

yeah, of course i read about using noindex for tag.
i just want to know then, what’s the purpose of using it?
I knew Categories is used to group article of similar niche.

Ben Cook November 29, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Affan, the purpose of using tags is essentially the same as using Categories. The way I use tags, they’re more specific in nature and I use many more of them. Categories are broader topics and I use fewer of them.

For example, I’d use Toronto Maple Leafs as a category, but Giguere as a tag.

Does that help?

Dan December 18, 2010 at 12:20 pm

On my sites I found that the tag pages are the pages that work the best on the search engines and bring the most traffic..

Affan December 31, 2010 at 2:13 am

@Ben Cook: Yeah, definitely it’s very helpful.
Thanks

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