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You can optimize your WordPress blog, it's easy!

How to optimize your WordPress blog, a simple step-by-step guide.

There are over 53 million WordPress blogs out there and that doesn't even include those not hosted on WordPress.com. So how do you make yours stand out from the rest and attract a greater share of the traffic? One way to do that is to optimize your blog. And even if you're not a coder, you can do this. Read on to find out how ...

How to optimize your WordPress blog

NB: This blog post focuses a lot on the options given to you when you use WordPress on a hosting site other than wordpress.com - if you use WordPress as your host you'll have fewer options in the lefthand column, but many of the principles outlined below will be relevant to you as well.

According to Google's Matt Cutts back in 2009 WordPress is already an SEO-friendly CMS (a content management system that, well, manages your web content) but here are some tips on how to implement your own SEO campaigns using this open source (free) system.

URLs

Client Attractors book cover

Getting the basic structure of your site right - preferably from the start, it's much more work to fix it later on - is imperative to get you noticed by the search engines and by web visitors. Creating a clear URL (uniform resource locator eg, http://www.wordtracker.com) structure is one of the most important things to get started on.

Permalink settings

Have two or three keywords in your URL that relate to the content on your page. The search engines love relevancy, and doing this shows them that your content is relevant.

As a default, the permalinks that your new post will be given aren't pretty - they will contain numbers and odd characters, like this: http://travellersblog.com//?p=123

This isn't the type of URL that the search engines can glean any information about your site from, nor your potential visitors when they see it appear in the SERPs (search engine results pages) results:

WordPress URL structure in a SERPs result

Change the structure in WordPress by going to 'Settings' on the lefthand side of your screen when you log in and click on 'Permalinks'.

Here you'll get a choice of structure types for your URLs, but which is the best?

Here's the choice you're given on WordPress. You'll see that the default includes numbers, but you'll want to change that by completing 'Custom Structure' at the bottom:

Permalinks settings on Wordpress

Some people argue that including a category name - in the example below, Paris will give you an extra keyword in your URL and therefore is best:

/%category%/%postname%/ (ie, http://www.exampletravelsite.com/paris/eiffel-tower)

Others prefer just the post name:

/%postname%/ (ie, www.exampletravelsite.com/eiffel-tower)

Whichever you use, don't have any more than five keywords in your URL - Matt Cutts of Google has confirmed that Google gives less weight to any more than this.

And make the URL sound natural and be memorable for your human visitor.

By the way, Matt uses /%postname%/ on his own site. Here are his thoughts on URLs

Whichever custom structure you use, WordPress automatically 301 redirects from the old one to the new. That means, if you've already had posts published using a structure something like this ...

http://travellersblog/?p=123

... and you change it to this ...

http://travellersblog/olympics-london ...

... when someone clicks on the original URL, they'll be redirected to the new one.

More complicated sites may well use URL parameters which we'll not go into in this article, but even then, Google advises eliminating unnecessary parameters as it makes it more difficult for Google to crawl the site.

More handy tips on URLs

  • Always use lowercase as URLs are case sensitive.
  • Use dashes or hyphens to separate words in your URLs - not underscores.
  • Short is good because it makes it easier for people to copy and paste.

Domains and avoiding duplicate content

Google's Panda update caused a bit of an uproar when it was introduced. What it did was focus everyone's attention on the need for quality, original content. You may already have that on your site, but duplicate versions of that content could cause you problems ...

A common problem for website owners is the existence of duplicate content that they had no idea existed! As Google issues penalties for it you'll need to know what to do to avoid this.

One of the first things to do when setting up a WordPress site is to make sure you've specified whether or not you want to use the following as your domain structure:

http://exampletravelsite.com

or

http://www.exampletravelsite.com

Otherwise you may end up with two different URLs pointing to one piece of content, resulting in those duplicate pages.

Eg, both http://www.exampletravelsite.com/backpacking-south-korea and http://exampletravelsite.com/backpacking-south-korea point to the same blog post about a backpacking trip around South Korea.

To specify, click on Settings, then General in the lefthand corner of your WordPress dashboard:

General settings on WordPress

And specify the format you want to use:

Domain settings on WordPress

If you find you do have some duplicate content, 301 redirect them: there are various plugins available to help with this where all you do is add the link you want to redirect from, and the one you want to redirect to.

How do I find and install a WordPress plugin?

To find and install one is simple:

Screenshot of WordPress - how to find a plugin

  • Click on Plugins on the left hand side of your WordPress dashboard, then Add New.
  • Enter your search term, in this case "301" in the search box and enter.
  • You'll be presented with a list of suitable plugins with some information on the number of times each has been downloaded, user ratings etc.
  • To download your chosen plugin select 'Install Now', 'Ok' to confirm and then you'll be asked to activate it once WordPress has done its business of downloading.

Rel=canonical

Another method for getting rid of duplicate content is to tell your unwanted page to point to the original content using the rel=canonical tag A bit of coding is needed with this one but not too much.

Here's what to do.

Say you have a page called ...

http://www.exampletravelsite.com/paris

... and you'd rather use ...

http://exampletravelsite.com/paris

... add the following link to the header section of your page http://www.exampletravelsite.com/paris:

<link rel="canonical" href="http://exampletravelsite.com/paris"/>

There's more information further down on how to add links to the header section.

No-indexing

Another way to avoid the search engines looking at your duplicate content is to 'no-index' the pages you don't want them to see. Another plugin can help with this: the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin

Or, you can ask Google to remove the culprit pages from their index: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/url-removal - this of course only works for Google. Pages can be blocked in Bing but only for 90 days.

Nofollow

Why use nofollow?

'Link equity' 'link power' or 'link juice' is gained by other sites linking to you. This helps increase your PageRank which is great for pushing you up the SERPs. In the same vein, if you link out to other sites, or other pages on your own site, you're passing on link power to them. You may not want to do that for the following reasons:

  • You have links you don't quite trust (eg, in your comments section).
  • You have paid (or affiliate) links that you'd rather the search engines didn't follow.
  • You have an internal page that you don't want to waste 'link juice' on.

Your link will look like this:

<a href=”http://www.slightlydoubtfullink.com” rel=”nofollow”>Doubtful</a>

To add this go to Posts > All Posts - select your chosen post and click Edit.

Now you'll need to click on the HTML tab and copy the code directly in there rather than using the 'Link' button ...

Link button on WordPress

... as that will only let you enter the URL itself - http://www.slightlydoubtfullink.com.

Here's what you should do ...

WordPress html tab

which will give you the nofollow link:

Doubtful link

How to add code to header/footer sections

For good SEO, you'll want to track how your site's doing on the web, and for this you'll need to use Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics (and don't forget about Bing Webmaster Tools). To activate these you're asked to add verification code to your site. The code will look something like this: <meta name=”google-site-verification” content=”m8heo8674sgfotUqZHqmC-3rcuMuiwil0hFvyi0u0A0″ />

But where do you put it?

The code needs to be inserted into the header section of your pages, and you can certainly go into your template files to add it, but there's a simpler route: install the Header and Footer plugin which allows you to insert content into the headers/footers of all your pages, just on your posts or just your pages and it even gives you somewhere to add snippets code (very handy for increasing traffic and clickthrough rates (ie the number of times your links are clicked)).

Header and footer plugin for WordPress

How to SEO your title and description tags

To increase search engine traffic you should really have a page title and description on each of your web pages - you'll often see the terms referred to as 'meta data'. The text in blue in the picture below is the title, and the description is the black text below that.

Title and description

Title

Your page title is extremely important as far as the search engines are concerned. According to SEOMoz's 2011 search rankings factor table, 94.4 out of 100 "influence value" is given to having a keyword in the page title (or 'meta title'). So you should really be thinking carefully about the words you use in that title, and where to to put them.

Description

Although the description tag is no longer important for ranking purposes (see The description tag debate) it is still an excellent opportunity to let people know what you're all about when they come across your site in the search engine ranking pages (SERPs). (The image above is from Google's SERPs).

How do you add your page title and description?

Use a plugin such as All In One SEO to add them. You'll see from the image below that I've also added a few keywords (or 'meta keywords') - it's not thought that these will do you much good as far as getting a good ranking these days, but I fill a few in just for luck anyway.

All In One SEO showing 50 Olympic events

How to SEO your footer

As well as having privacy and copyright details in the footer, it's possible to have other information contained within it. Do consider the following points if you are going to have content in there, however.

  • You could have links to categories and some relevant content in the footer.
  • Make the footer big and bold to make it attractive to your human visitors.
  • Organize it well so that it's not an annoyance to your visitors.
  • Don't overstuff with a long list of links or keywords - it looks spammy to the search engines and to your readers. For more information on general overstuffing of keywords read all about the Penguin update
  • Beware that it may take you over your recommended number of links - try to keep to a maximum of 100 (with no more than 20 follow links)

Here's a great example at Mecannical

Mecannical footer

How to SEO your posts

There's a lot of information on the Wordtracker Academy on how to SEO your web pages. Here are the basics:

  • Research the keywords for your particular market using Wordtracker's Keywords tool Here's an article on starting off your keyword research
  • Use one <h1> heading tag on a page. In WordPress this is the title of your post - include at the very least your primary keyword in it. Google places more weight on this than on subheadings (<h2>, <h3> down to <h6>).
  • Include secondary keywords in your subheadings.

Here's what to do ...

Headings

... which gives you this in the 'visual' view (how it will appear on the web) ...

Headings in visual view

  • Use your keywords in your body text as well, but don't overstuff it with them (Penguin doesn't like keyword-stuffing) and make your text read naturally and beautifully if you can manage it. Ignore any advice you've read on optimum keyword density.

How to SEO your images

The search engines need a bit of help to read images, and SEO'ing them will help Google etc see that there's lots of relevant content on your page. It will also make them readable by software packages used by those with sight problems.

When uploading images to WordPress you'll be presented with a form to fill in:

Detail for inserting images into WordPress

Here are the parts that you should really be filling out:

  • 'Title' just needs a short description. That's the text that will appear when a mouse hovers over your image.
  • 'Alternative text' (alt text) is the code that the search engines use to find out what your image is all about - therefore it's important to have something that describes what it's about. Eg, a picture of the Golden Gate bridge might say "Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco picture". Making it descriptive will also help those with sight problems.
  • 'Caption' is very useful for giving your visitors information about your image and your site: it therefore helps increase the time they spend on your site and improves the 'bounce rate' (the percentage of people who leave your site after viewing no other pages than the one they landed on). The search engines love these improvements.

Speed up your site

An important way to get more clickthroughs and people returning to your site is to make sure it loads quickly. You've seen the sites that take half an hour to show up fully. It doesn't really inspire you to visit them again. There are lots of different ways to increase the speed, and we'll be posting an article about the issue shortly. In the meantime, though, here are a few to get you started.

  • Get a decent hosting company. I know through personal experience that your host will make a very important difference to how quickly your website loads. Don't just go for the cheapest - there are a "host" of comparison websites out there looking at the benefits of each.
  • Images #1 They can slow your pages down dramatically. So consider using a smaller sized image.
  • Images #2 Save them 'for the web' using Photoshop or an equivalent. This means that the pictures will be saved in a format that provides a smaller file size.
  • Images #3 If you're choosing a 'save as' option yourself, go for the JPEG (.jpg) format for photos and images with lots of colors and .png and .gif for line art and images with not very many colors.
  • Images #4 Don't scale your images. Cut your pictures to size before you upload them rather than scaling them down.

Build links to your WordPress blog

Link building is one of the most important steps to getting a great PageRank. As a blogger here are some things that can be done to attract those all-important links.

  • Install the CommentLuv plugin This provides a follow link for whoever posts a comment, and it will retrieve a post from their site to encourage others to click. This will help make you more popular as it shows you're an active member of the blogging community. NB, also install a good spam-fighting plugin like Akismet as there's software out there that can spot a free follow link a mile off.
  • Comment on other blogs - especially the ones that have CommentLuv installed!
  • Find potential sites that you can guest blog on - a great way of getting links, traffic and getting your name out there.
  • Have lots of internal links, all using keyword rich linking text This way, 'link power' gets transferred between your pages. There are plugins available for WordPress such as SEO Smart Links and YARPP that will add links to related posts for you, automatically.

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