There’s a nasty rumor going around that WordPress is beautifully set up for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) “out of the box.” In reality, if your idea of optimizing your WordPress stops at hitting Publish on your latest post, you’re missing out on a lot of potential.
Even those of you who feel that you are doing quite a lot in terms of onsite optimization are probably making at least one of the following mistakes (I know I certainly have done in the past).
So take a few moments to digest the following common SEO mistakes made by WordPress users - I’ll be offering straightforward solutions to each one!
1. Not providing an XML sitemap
Sitemaps are a way to tell Google about pages on your site we might not otherwise discover.
I have a simple rule of thumb when it comes to learning new SEO strategies - if I hear it on the grapevine I take it with a hefty pinch of salt, but if I hear it from Google I take it as gospel. That’s why my position regarding sitemaps is simple: if Google says it helps them to find pages on your site that they may not otherwise discover, I’m going to give them one.
But that’s not all there is to sitemaps. They can also be used to supply additional information about your website (such as how often you expect pages to be updated) and meta data relating to specific media types (such as the running time of a video). And if you are running a new site or one with only a handful backlinks pointing towards it, a sitemap can make a big difference in enabling Google to discover and index all of the relevant pages on your website.
In simple terms, a sitemap is simply a specifically formatted list of the pages on your site that you would like to be indexed by the search engines. You could create one manually if you like carrying out jobs that can be automated with ease. Otherwise I have a couple of suggestions:
Google XML Sitemaps: with over ten million downloads and an average rating of 4.7 out of 5, you can rest assured that this free plugin gets the job done.
WordPress SEO by Yoast: this free plugin has a number of SEO-related functions, one of which is an excellent XML sitemap generator.
The process of building an updating a sitemap is almost entirely automated. You set a few options as you see fit then let the plugin do the rest. Google says that “[most] webmasters will benefit from sitemap submission, and in no case will you be penalized for it.” With that in mind, why wouldn’t you create a sitemap for your WordPress website?
2. Poor categorization and tagging
Few things bug me more than sites that do not utilize categories and tags (sometimes referred to collectively as taxonomies) properly. The simple fact is that categories and tags offer opportunities for increased engagement and traffic, but the bigger issue at hand is that poor use of categories and tags can actually persuade a visitor to leave your site.
This is what you need to know about WordPress taxonomies: if categories are your table of contents, tags are your index When people try to tell me that tags are useless, I ask them of how many non-fiction books they have read that don’t have an index (I just checked five on my bookshelf and discovered that only one of them doesn’t).
Conscientious categorization and tagging of your posts will not only make it easier for visitors to find what they want (assuming of course you create an Archives page that makes accessing categories and tags simple) but it will also boost your onsite SEO. While Google may not rank category and tag pages high in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) (although it certainly does happen), it will be able to get a much better grasp on the keywords that are most relevant to your site by examining them.
Let me give you an example. Say for instance you run a site about zoo animals which has a particular focus on llamas. If you have a tag page for llamas that links to various pages and has various pages linking back to it, that is a strong indicator to Google that llamas are kind of a big deal on your site.
If you want to know more about how to categorize and tag effectively, click here
3. Not defining canonical URLs
If you have never heard about canonicalization before then brace yourself - it can be a slightly confusing concept. In order to define it effectively I will turn to Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Search:
Canonicalization is the process of picking the best URL when there are several choices, and it usually refers to home pages. For example, most people would consider these the same urls:
But technically all of these URLs are different. A web server could return completely different content for all them. When Google “canonicalizes” a URL, we try to pick the one that seems like the best representative from that set.
Put simply, if you don’t tell Google and friends which version of a page to index and rank, they’re going to try to figure it out themselves. The last thing you want is search engines having to pick from multiple instances what is essentially the exact same page. The solution is to provide them with a canonical URL.
This is essentially a three step process:
- Tell WordPress how to present your site (i.e. http://www.yoursite.com/ or http://yoursite.com/).
- Tell Google (using Search Console) which URL type you want them to use.
- Use a plugin (such as the aforementioned WordPress SEO by Yoast) to ensure that canonical URLs are defined on each page of your site.
That may sound complicated but in reality it’s a piece of cake. You can find a complete guide to canonicalization in WordPress here.
4. Not optimizing your site for Google+ authorship
Update: As of August 2014 Google no longer shows Google authorship results in its SERPs. So, while for now, using the rel=author markup will not improve your visibility in search results Google's John Muller states that they will continue to experiment with implementing structured markup. He goes on to state that:
"It’s also worth mentioning that Search users will still see Google+ posts from friends and pages when they’re relevant to the query — both in the main results, and on the right-hand side. Today’s authorship change doesn’t impact these social features."
Like it or not, Google+ is here to stay. You may be surprised to know that it is the second biggest social network behind Facebook, beating the likes of YouTube and Twitter.
But I’m not here to talk about social media strategization. Instead I want to focus on the concept of Google+ authorship and how it can be utilized to strengthen your position in the SERPs and boost click through rates.
If you’ve not heard of Google+ authorship before, you’ve almost certainly seen it. Every search result in Google that incorporates a profile photo of the author is an example. Astonishingly, that little photo has been proven to boost clickthrough rates in the SERPs by 150%. Further, an experiment by Cyrus Shepard from Moz resulted in an additional 56% increase in clickthroughs. In short, by incorporating Google+ authorship on your site, you can attract more search engine traffic with the same rankings.
Getting Google to verify your authorship is not an entirely straightforward process but it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes and will subsequently offer you ongoing benefits. In short, it’s well worth doing. My favorite tutorial is by WPBeginner.
5. Not optimizing how your posts look in the SERPs
This mistake is similar to the previous one regarding Google+ authorship, as it relates to your clickthrough rate in the SERPs.
It is borne out of an ignorance of the importance of what searchers see on Google as opposed to simply where they see it. Although the placement of a website on the SERPs (ie, 1 - 10) is a key factor, people can often be drawn to lower rankings if the titles and/or descriptions are compelling. That is why you should optimize each of your posts to give yourself the best possible chance of attracting a good clickthrough rate.
There are two things that you should concern yourself with:
The Meta Title: this is what will display on the SERPs in place of any headline you choose for the post onsite.
The Meta Description: Google may choose to use this in place of an excerpt from your post (which can often be nothing more than a confusing mass of words).
By default there is no way to define these in WordPress - you need a plugin to get the job done. You can either choose a standalone plugin (for which my recommendation would be Add Meta Tags) or a plugin that incorporates multiple SEO features (such as the aforementioned WordPress SEO by Yoast).
What mistakes have you made?
Let’s face it - we’re not perfect. If you haven’t made a few SEO blunders in your time then you’re simply not trying hard enough. In reality, this post could be called, “Top 4 SEO Mistakes I Have Made With WordPress.”
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