Sparring Mind

Behavioral Psychology Blog

WordPress SEO

As many of you may know, I run all of my blogs and authority sites on the WordPress platform.

It’s free, it’s doesn’t take a lot of technical skill to understand and use, it’s fun to master, and all in all it is one of the easiest platforms in which to learn and perform proper on-site SEO.

However, that’s not to say that WordPress is without it’s faults.

Out of the box, WordPress is terrible for SEO. However, this guide aims to take everything you need to know about on-site WordPress SEO, and condense it into one essential post, so that you can tweak your WordPress site to have effective SEO.

WordPress SEO

Just a little guideline on what will probably end up being a very long post (we’ll see!), I just wanted to say that I will be separating this guide into 3 actionable steps, ranging from ‘beginner’ to ‘advanced’ tweaks that you can make to your site.

Also a little disclaimer: SEO is a very tricky and complex subject, and I don’t claim to be the world’s foremost expert on it, but what I talk about below has helped be rank my sites very effectively when used in cohesion with well thought out backlinking campaigns and general smart marketing.

Beginner SEO Tweaks

This will be the obvious stuff to most people experienced in WordPress SEO, and new to people who haven’t yet dived into the subject.

While they may be “basic”, these changes can have a dramatic effect on your site’s search engine optimization.

Permalink Structure

Permalinks (accessible via the “Settings” tab in WordPess) are simply how the URLs of pages and posts on your site will appear.

The basic permalink structure for an “out of the box” WordPress site is going to be something like website.com/?p=49 or alternatively you might see something like website.com/category/2011/10/16/post-title-that-is-way-too-long-like-seriously-make-it-shorter.

You’ll see on my site I prefer to use simply sparringmind.com/post-title/ for all of my posts and pages located on my site.

Pages do this by default, but to make posts do this you will access the Permalinks setting and change it to custom structure and input /%postname%/.

Permalink Structure

I also like to keep permalinks short, generally no more than 3 “words” in the link, and I prefer this format and this minimal structure for two reasons.

First is that it immediately identifies to people what the post is about, should it ever be linked to from another site, when people hover over the link their browser will nowadays show them the link’s URL.

In this post, for example, if someone were to link here, a reader would see sparringmind.com/wordpress-seo/, which would make it pretty obvious what this post was about. This will drive more people who are actually interested (and therefore more likely to link to) said post.

In addition to this, it helps search engines understand what your post is about, and keeps your site structure from looking too ugly (keeping categories, dates, and other things in the permalink structure is just unnecessary in my opinion).

Secondly, it helps guide people on how to link to you.

What I mean is, if someone saw that the post title for this post was /wordpress-seo/, they would be more inclined to link back using the anchor text “WordPress SEO” somewhere in their link.

It also makes SEO copywritingand interlinking on your site really easy. For instance, I can link to my article on blog typography, and if you hover over the link, you’ll see the permalink matches the keyword & link text I’m using, keeping things orderly for readers and easy for search engines.

Also make sure to avoid stopwords (a, the, for, etc) in your permalinks, or use the SEO Slugs plugin to automatically take them out.

H1 Tags

H1-H6 tags are debated in the SEO community, but generally speaking people agree that H1 Tags carry some weight.

Therefore, early in your post, make sure you use an H1 tag with your keyword, and try to avoid using H1 tags constantly throughout your post afterwards (use H2 instead).

Title Tags

Title tags are without a doubt the easiest and most important change that you can make to your on-page settings in WordPress that will improve your SEO, and they are often thought as the most important on-page setting in general.

Again, by default, WordPress is not optimally set up for good title tags, but that can quickly be changed with the awesome All-In-One SEO plugin or with Yoast’s SEO plugin (more for advanced users).

The general settings that I use for this plugin will look as follows:

  • Home Title: Targeted Keyword | Site Name (Put your targeted keyword first, and if your site name contains the keyword, that’s even better).
  • Post Title: %post_title%
  • Page Title: %page_title% | %blog_title%

Some people like to take out the %blog_title% in that last setting, it seems to be personal preference.

The reason I do the things above are because losing the blog name in Post Titles is better for search engine optimization AND clicks: people click because of the article title, not because of your blog’s name.

Search engines also put more emphasis on the beginning words, so for instance a post targeting “wordpress rules” should have those words right in the beginning of the post title, a la ‘WordPress Rules: Why WordPress Is The Best Blog Platform”.

Putting the keyword first in your Home Titles follows these same guidelines: people searching for your brand will still find you and you are better formatted to get people clicking who are looking for your brand’s target keyphrase.

Speaking of which…

Keyword Focus

While it is equally important to build a strong brand (niche sites tend to have most search traffic come from keywords, “premium brands” tend to have most search traffic come from their names), it would be unwise for most sites to not pick a central keyword and stick to it.

Pick something that has a decent search volume (go to the Google Keyword Tool and try some terms, remember to select [exact] searches) and is very related to your site’s content: if you are ranking for “pizza recipes” and your site is all about selling umbrellas, well… you are going to make some people pretty unhappy, and greatly increase your bounce rate.

Once you have a keyword selected, be sure to include it in the following locations on your site:

  1. The title tag for your homepage
  2. The heading of your site
  3. Your logo
  4. As anchor text in links from other websites

For the images, just name your logo the keyword you are targeting before you place it on your site.

Meta Tags

The small description that you find under a Google search is controlled by what is inputted in “meta description tag”, to give you an idea of what meta tags are, if you are unfamiliar.

Adding keywords to this and other tags can help Google decipher your content and help improve your SEO as it will guide search engines on what your site is about.

Meta Description

I like to hand-write my meta description tag for every post using either the feature from the All-In-One SEO plugin or using the Headspace plugin (both free on WordPress.org).

Linking Out / Pingbacks

This kind of stretches the line of “on-site” SEO, but I guess it technically fits in.

Personally, I disable trackbacks and pingback on my posts, as I believe they don’t do anything but make my site load slower, and I haven’t seen a great evidence that they help with SEO.

However, enabling pingbacks to other blogs (and linking out in general) could be a good strategy that you can do on your own site to improve SEO: if people see you are linking to them, it could encourage them to check your blog out and link back.

Alt-Attributes On Images

Google still seems to place emphasis on the alt attributes of images on your page, so accurately labeling them with search terms in mind can be a great boost to your blog’s rankings.

You can use a tool called SEO Friendly Images to help you do this properly.

SEO Friendly Images

Simply put, label your post’s image the same as your keyword, for instance, “WordPress SEO” would be a good alt-attribute for the featured image on a post about WordPress SEO… hint hint.

Interlink Your Posts

Interlinking is simply linking to your other posts from posts on your blog. Interlinking is an essential ingrediant of good SEO copywriting, and is legitimatley helpful to readers browsing your site.

For instance, if a reader is reading a post of yours about guitars, and you happened to have written a post called “The 10 Best Acoustic Guitars”, linking to that post often would not only be good for SEO, it would help readers find a really useful list you compiled for them, essentially a win-win.

Choose WWW. Or Not

Most sites are accessible in two ways, such as http://sparringmind.com and http://www.sparringmind.com, you’ll notice both go to the same site.

However, WordPress handles the re-direct for this using a 302 redirect, when really, you want a 301 redirect (a permanent redirect, where as the 302 is a temporary, using a 301 is better for SEO).

Which one you choose doesn’t make a difference (I would go with the WWW. though), but you’ll have to open up your .htaccess file (via FTP) and make sure that this code is in place:

# Begin 301
RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.sparringmind\.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.sparringmind.com/$1 [L,R=301]

# BEGIN WordPress

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

# END WordPress

Remember to replace sparringmind.com with your website’s address.

Advanced SEO Tweaks

Following all of the above information should set you off to a great start with your site’s SEO. Next though, I’d like to cover the more advanced SEO tweaks you can make to your site if you want to dig even deeper into WordPress SEO.

Use Pages Instead Of Posts (For Important Content)

Using pages instead of a posts for important content that you want to rank can be really beneficial for SEO.

Why?

Well, firstly, your homepage will typically be the most powerful place to link from, so a page that stays linked off of your main page will get more “juice” and traffic from visitors.

Secondly, without comments, you have perfect control of keyword density. Comments ruin keyword density because they can be about anything, so if you have a huge topic you want to rank for, use a content page (which Copyblogger also does with their Premise plugin) and make sure there are no comments and you’ll be ranking better than a normal post.

NoIndex Your Archive Pages, Categories, Pagination and Tag Pages

While all of the above might be good for usability (they often aren’t), they are a real complex mess of links and pages for search engines, and it is better overall to just NoIndex them.

You can do this via the All-In-One plugin or you can use one of Yoast’s many great WordPress tools called the Robots Meta Plugin which will allow you do all of this really quickly.

NoFollow Some Pages

This tactic is sometimes frowned upon by certain folk, but my take on things is this: I’m not going to use some arbitrary search engine guidelines to dictate what I should be considering “good morals” to follow for building my website (don’t worry, this isn’t spammy or BlackHat, but people complain about it anyway).

The idea here is to NoFollow some of the pages on your site that you link to, but that don’t need to rank.

An example would be a contact form: link to it once to get it indexed, but use a NoFollow link to that page any other time you use it in a post so that none of the “link juice” (oh how I love SEO terms) goes away from the page you’re linking from.

Here’s a standard link: <a href=”http://www.sparringmind.com”>Sparring Mind</a>

And here’s a NoFollow link: <a href=”http://www.sparringmind.com” rel=”nofollow”>Sparring Mind</a>

See the difference? Use it sparingly, and it will work effectively.

NoFollow ‘Read More’ Link

If you show a content sample (don’t show the full post) on the homepage, you should definitely change this.

Your post title is already linking to your page with the anchor text you want (for a post about “WordPress SEO” the term WordPress SEO had better be in the post title, or else!) so there is no reason to link to the post again with the ‘read more…’ text.

To do this, go to the Theme Editor (Appearance >> Editor) and open the relevant file (usually index.php), find the following text:

<a href=”<?php the_permalink() ?>”

Then simply add

<a href=”<?php the_permalink() ?>” rel=”nofollow”

Done!

Make sure you are changing the read more permalink and not the permalink for your post title. Contact your theme’s author if you have questions and aren’t sure.

Turn Off Comment Pages

Unless you are for some reason getting hundreds upon hundreds of comments per post, there isn’t too big of a reason to keep paginated comments on your WordPress site.

Make sure that they are turned off by going into Settings –> Discussion and looking for the appropriate check box.

Google Webmaster / Site Analytics

If you care about your search engine traffic (or your site in general to be honest!) you should be using both Google Webmaster Tools and some sort of analytics service.

Both are critical to understanding who is linking to you, where traffic is coming from, and other essential data that you can use to adjust and refine your on-site SEO and SEO copywriting strategies.

For a look at some good services check out my post on the best web analytics and see which one works for you.

Site Speed

I’ll keep this section short because I’ve already addressed all that you need to know in my post on how to speed up WordPress, so stop by there first and then check out all of the essential blogging tools needed to make it happen!

What’s Next?

While this site covers all of the “settings” aspects of WordPress SEO, I will also be going over the HUGELY important aspects of SEO copywriting and backlink building in further articles.

I hope you enjoyed the read, please feel free to share this article if you found it useful!