Advanced SEO Tweaks

There are many ways to SEO your WordPress website. There are hundreds of techniques and plugins to raise your search engine rankings. The aim, however, is to strike the right balance when writing for your two audiences:

  1. Bots, robots, crawlers, spiders, whatever you want to call them – these are what determine where your site appears in the search rankings;
  2. People – we want to make people happy. If people are happy then they link to us and if people link to us we can get higher rankings and then more people can find us who will link to us which will raise our rankings and more people can find us and on and on.

While WordPress comes pretty well SEOed out of the box the balance is still not the easiest one to achieve – with so many people using WordPress you can’t just throw together a website, stick some content on it and expect yourself to rank high. There are millions of people out there just as desperate as you to get on to the first page of Google. And remember, if you don’t rank, you don’t exist.

If you’ve got an hour you could spend some time watching Joost de Valk from Yoast, who’s immensely qualified to teach you all about WordPress SEO.

WordPress SEO Presentation at A4UExpo London from Joost de Valk on Vimeo.

My plan was to put together one post. But like all great plans it fell apart. Too much information! So, before we look at content, we’ll start at the beginning.

Tweak your WordPress Installation

1. Choose your domain

You’d probably be surprised by just how many people use both the www and the non-www version of their website. This tends not to be an active choice but something that they’re just unaware of doing. There are actually two ways of viewing a website – one is with www and one is without www.

Why does this cause a problem? Because search engines will index both versions meaning that you have duplicate content. And spiders really, really hate to munch on the same piece of data twice. While many search engines now have the ability to combine the results and pass them on to one domain, this doesn’t always happen. All of the SEO benefits that you’ve worked so hard to achieve will be split between two addresses, thus diluting your rankings. Plus, you should decide whether you want a www or non-www site to be ranked. Don’t let a spider decide for you!

By logging in to your WordPress administration and going to General Settings you can determine which address your site should use.

You can read more about www/non-www problems, including how to fix the problem by editing the .htaccess file to create a 301 redirect, here.

2. Solve your canonicalization problems

If you want to read all of the definitions you can see them here

Anyway, back from the English lesson: there are four versions of any web address:

  • www.mywebsite.com
  • mywebsite.com/
  • www.mywebsite.com/index.html
  • mywebsite.com/home.asp

Like I said above, what the Googlebot does is picks the URL that it thinks is best. We don’t want that. Even if you’ve specified that you want to use either www or non-www, there are still two options left for Google to choose from.

This tells search engines that the preferred link is example.com rather than www.example.com. You can read more about the changes on Matt Cutts’ blog .

To implement this you can install the Canonical URLs for WordPress Plugin by Yoast.

3. Avoid duplicate content

Even when you’ve solved your canonicalization problems you will still have issues with duplicate content. This is because a spider will crawl your archive pages, search results pages and pretty much everything you’ve got. The WordPress codex does have a page about optimizing your robots.txt file.

Or you can install another Plugin from Yoast called the WordPress Robots Meta Plugin.

Here’s a video from Yoast showing you how to set up the robots meta plugin:

How to use the Robots Meta Plugin from Joost de Valk on Vimeo.

4. Speed matters

Early in 2010, Google announced on its webmaster blog that it was incorporating site speed as one of its 200 signals used in search rankings. Actually, it had been doing this for a while but that was the big announcement. This means that the speed of you website is important. There are a number of ways to do this – you can optimize your WordPress template or you can install the WP Super Cache Plugin. Even better – do both.

The WP Super Cache Plugin is not the easiest to set up so here’s a video from Website Marketing Guru to help you out:

5. Keep your code clean

Another issue that’s kind’ve related to speed is code. Remember that a spider doesn’t care what your website looks like, it crawls the code. And it doesn’t crawl all of the code. It only crawls about the top third of it. Confusing code can get the spider all messed up. By keeping the functions, CSS and all the different template elements in different files, a WordPress site is already making it easy for the spider. It also makes sure that the important content comes at the top with things like the sidebar and footer coming later.

But it is always worth running your website through the W3C Markup validation tool.

6. Sitemap

Once you’ve got your website up and running and your code validated, you should submit your website’s sitemap to the various search engines. Your sitemap helps a spider crawl your website more easily. I admit to being guilty of only submitting my own website to Google but if you are being thorough you would submit to other search engines as well.

Here are some tips from the WordPress codex:

  • submit your sitemap no more than once a month
  • make sure you have content that can be scanned – around 10 posts/pages should be enough
  • have a site description ready to submit to the search engine
  • keep track of when you have submitted your site. It won’t do you any good to submit more than once in a month.

You can easily generate a sitemap and submit it to Google by using the Google XML Sitemap Generator plugin.

If you are using a WordPress Multisite Installation then you could try out WPMU Dev’s SiteMaps and SEO – WordPress MU Style. This will submit a sitemap to Google for all of the sites on your network.

7. Breadcrumbs

Like your sitemap, breadcrumbs are a great way to help users and spiders to navigate your website. Here are mine:

screenshot of WordPress breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are easy to implement and are great for navigation. Here’s another plugin from you-know-who to get your breadcrumbs up and running.

8. Pages and Posts

So you’ve got some blah posts which you don’t really care about, rants and ramblings, etc. Others are more important, you’ve spent ages crafting them, they’re great linkbait and you’ll be sad to see them scroll off your blog’s front page. Make your best posts into pages, that way they’ll always be there for spiders to crawl.

It is also important to keep sending crawlers back to your older posts. To do this make sure that you link back to older posts that are relevant. This gives the spider a helping hand through your site.

Here are all the Plugins we’ve used so far: