WordPress is easily one of the top content management systems out there when it comes to search engine optimization. That said, there’s this awful rumor that it’s perfectly ready to go out of the box; as great as the platform is, it needs a little push to take full advantage of WordPress SEO options.
If your idea of getting relevant traffic only extends to writing an article and clicking “Publish,” there’s a lot more you’re missing.
1. URL Structure
WordPress is pretty well optimized from the get-go, and it’s superior at indexing individual pages compared to other content management systems. Still, it’s not perfect, and URLs are a big part of that.
First and foremost, you’ll certainly want to change the structure of your permalinks. You can find this in the Settings of your administration panel. By default, individual WordPress pages show your domain followed by ?p=<numericalid>. That’s neither appealing nor memorable, so swap it out for either /category/post-name or /post-name/ instead.
You can also decide between adding www to your URL and leaving it blank. In other words, you can use www.domain.com or domain.com. These can be found under Settings > General. Whatever you decide, make sure you also configure this within Google Webmaster Tools, which can be found in Settings > Preferred Domain.
2. Optimizing Article Titles
The title of a website is among the most important factors in search engine results page rankings. Not only does it show in the title of your browser tab, but it’s the first thing that people will see when they come across your search result, along with a snippet of your article and the URL.
Most blogs follow a title structure of “blog title > blog archive > title stuffed with keywords” or “blog title > title stuffed with keywords.” In order for your blog to get proper traffic, the structure should be swapped. For one, search engines consider the earlier words more strongly; if the keywords you want out there are at the beginning of the title, you’re more likely to rank well.
Not only that, but people who skim through results pages tend to only see the first few words. If the appropriate keywords are near the beginning, it’s more likely someone will click through. In other words, it’s ideal that your title structure is similar to “keyword title > keyword category > blog title” instead of what it defaults to.
3. Optimizing Descriptions
Search engines use meta descriptions to show a snippet of your page on a results page. This is usually only used if it has the keyword that the searcher used. Some plugins are available to use automated descriptions, automatically filling in the initial post sentence to work as a description; this doesn’t work, though, since it could be a sentence that isn’t actually specific to the subject.
As such, the best description you can have is one you’ve written yourself. If you want to automatically generate them, you might as well not use them; if you’re not using descriptions, then the search engine will automatically make one for you as well. This is one of those shortcuts not worth taking.
Be sure to write something that really interests the reader and makes them want to click through to your website. Make sure it has the keyword that is the primary focal point of your post at least one time to ensure it reaches the relevant readers.
4. Use Categories and Tags
There’s nothing more frustrating than a website that doesn’t properly archive its own pages using WordPress taxonomies. Categories and tags, simply put, are golden opportunities for additional traffic — but besides that, failing to use them correctly leaves a visitor unable to navigate your site and encourages them to leave.
Consider this: Categories are basically the table of contents, and tags are the index. The index is incredibly useful for finding articles related to that specific subject, and the table of contents gives you a better idea of what the website has to offer.
Conscientious categorization makes it easier to navigate your website and also boosts your WordPress SEO. Google doesn’t specifically rank tag pages high, but it gets a better sense of what your website is about and what keywords are relevant.
5. XML Sitemap
A sitemap is a file that helps Google figure out information about your website that it might not otherwise determine on its own. This is something that Google itself has said over and over again through time; while most SEO advice from the grapevine might not necessarily be worth much, you should treat all Google suggestions like Holy Scripture. If Google tells you that it needs sitemaps to find all your website pages, then you know it’s something that’ll help your rankings, so get to it.
That’s not the only thing that sitemaps have to offer, though. They can offer additional information that your website has to offer, such as when you expect to update certain pages that are regularly changed, as well as meta data specific to various types of media, such as the resolution of an image or the length of an embedded video. If you have a new website or one that does not yet have too many people linking back to it, developing a sitemap can be the single most important thing you do to help Google discover who you are, indexing pages of your website to relevant keywords.
To put it simply, a sitemap is a list that is formatted in a particular way; it shows off every page on your website that you want indexed by Google and other search engines. If your website is small enough, it’s possible to manually create an XML sitemap, although it’s not strictly necessary; this is one of those tasks that is often best left to automation. Several plugins allow such a service.
Developing a sitemap is a largely automated procedure; depending on the plugin you select, you’ll have some options to enable and can set the pages you don’t want indexed — such as a sponsor page or anything else that isn’t specifically important to traffic — and the plugin will finish the rest for you.
According to Google, the majority of website owners can benefit from submitting a sitemap, and nobody will be penalized for one. In that case, why wouldn’t you have one?