Unfortunately (or fortunately) most Blog, CMS, shopping cart and similar software is not built with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind (a notable exception being various excellent software from Interspire) There are however several things you can do to fix this, and the fact that not everyone knows how or can be bothered can give you a small competitive advantage when you get it right.
While most systems aren’t built with SEO in mind, most that support plugins, add-ons, or modifications (mods) of some type can be extended and adapted in ways that will help you get more of that “Google love”. And because there is usually someone very clever who has wanted to do this before you, most of the time these mods are available pre-built, and often at little or no cost. (On a side note – this isn’t true for all systems, so make sure you take this into consideration when choosing website software).
Today we are going to focus on WordPress, and some of the basics you need to get your site more search engine friendly. Remember though – installing a plugin or two is a start, but it isn’t the entire answer! If you need some professional assistance in getting this right please feel free to contact me via my Marketing Web site.
For this post, I’m using the example of the WordPress site located at www.resourcingchange.com.au , which is operated by my younger brother. It’s a site which provides change management resources for those in Social Work and related professions. While quite new, it promises to be a valuable site within the industry, but it does need some SEO help which I’m doing as I write this article.
Don’t block search spiders
First thing I notice when I log in is that WordPress itself needs updating, as do many of the plugins. After backing up the site and all plugins, I notice an interesting message at the top which simply states “Search Engines Blocked”
This is a default option on some installations, so if it isn’t noticed and changed you have zero chance of search rankings. So, if it exists, click it, and change your settings to “I would like my site to be visible to everyone, including search engines….”
Setting up Permalinks
Permalinks is a term that refers to the “permanent link” address of each post on your site – the link people can go to if they want to visit or link to a particular post, instead of the home page. The standard naming structure for these is absolute rubbish for SEO, however it’s something that can be easily changed to create search engine friendly URL’s.
To change these, click Settings on the left hand menu, and then select Permalinks
The default value is basically /postnumber so it generates addresses like /?p=123 at the end of your URL, which is useless for SEO. Instead, we want something with text in it and no variables. To change it, simply pick “Month and name” for a much improved structure. “Day and name” is also acceptable, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend the other standard options (Default or Numeric), but you can alternatively enter your own custom structure, for example just %postname% if you just want the post name with no date.
All in One SEO Pack
There are a number of different SEO plugins for WordPress, with the most popular known as the “All-in-One SEO Pack”. There is some debate as to if this is the “best” option or not, but for me I’ve found it quite good, and it allows you to control most of the important aspects of SEO for WordPress. For the adventurous, you could also try the HeadSpace2 SEO plugin which I believe is technically better, but more difficult to set up. You could also try SEO Ultimate which also looks good (although I haven’t tried it).
For simplicity though we are going to focus here on the All-in-One SEO Pack, which for brevity I’ll refer to from here as AIO SEO.
To Install AIO SEO, simply select “Plugins” on the left in WordPress, then pick “add New”. Simply search for “SEO”, and the AIO option will be in the top two or three in the list. Simply click “install now” to install it.
Next, it needs to be Activated
You will then likely get a message on your screen as follows. Don’t let the bit about unexpected output worry you, it’s normal – the output it mentions is actually just the message in red above. From there, go to the admin page as it advises.
All-in-One SEO – First Section.
In the first section, make sure the plugin is set to Enabled. This is important to check as the pack will re-set itself to Disabled when updates – so make sure you check this.
Next fill in your Home Page Title, Home Description as well as Keywords (although these are far less important than the other two). Advice on how to write good descriptions and titles is available in my previous blog post “SEO Basics – The Title & Meta Description Tags”. Please note that the info in this first series of boxes is only related to the home page, not internal pages, which are either controlled by a series of rules described below, or edited on a per page basis.
You will also want to definitely leave Canonical URL’s ticked. What this means is beyond this blog post, but basically it sets a single “standard” address for each file/post/piece of content even if it can technically be found at different addresses. This avoids any dilution of “link juice”. If this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry – just leave it ticked.
Your top section should now look something like this:
All-in-One SEO – Second Section.
From the second tick-box down mostly relates to creating standards for title and other tags for the individual posts and pages of your WordPress site/blog. This is important as it’s bad SEO practice to have every page the same.
With this section, I tend to leave most of the options as standard in most cases, however you can change them as you wish. While it may look scary at first something like %post_title% | %blog_title% isn’t as confusing as it looks. So if your blog was called “Widgets World” and your post title was “Selecting the Best Widgets”, the title would simply show up as “Selecting the Best Widgets | Widgets World”
All-in-One SEO – Third Section.
In the third section, I change a couple boxes from default.
1) Tick the “Autogenerate Descriptions”. This is useful inc ase you forget to add an excerpt to a post.
2) Tick “Use noindex for tag archives” – there is no need for these to be indexed in my opinion. Overall these noindex options are designed to avoid duplicate content, which is important.
The boxes below this can be left blank. From here, just click “Update Options” and this part of the job is complete. (Make sure you don’t click “Restore Settings to Defaults” by mistake!)
Getting WordPress SEO right for each Post
On each additional post/page you can also add in some extra info to help with SEO. Generally this isn’t that difficult, and it’s probably more important to note what to keep blank than what to fill in!
Firstly, be sure to create an except of each post. This is a short summary of your content. Make sure you make it under 160 characters including spaces.
Generally, that is all I recommend for SEO for each individual post. You may however note within each individual post there is a section down the bottom of the page marked as “All in One SEO Pack”. Here for example, you can put in a title, description and keywords. However if you leave it blank, the title will be in the default format we specified earlier (ie “Post Name | Site Name”) which is fine in the majority of cases. Description will by default match the except we filled in above – or the first 150-160 characters of the post if you forget to do an excerpt. If you want to have the description or title as something different, go for it, but it’s not a requirement.
More things to consider
Getting the above right will be a good start towards effective Search Engine Optimisation of your WordPress based site. For some more things to explore, the following additional plugins are suggested.
For assistance with WordPress SEO, or any other aspect of optimising your website and building links for improved search engine ranking, please do not hesitate to contact me via my main website, Marketing Web.