WordPress SEO – the good, the bad and the downright ugly!

This is a subject that has caused great confusion, argument and late night debate amongst SEOs, bloggers and internet marketers. Having witnessed at first hand how a big SEO agency rips off clients by insisting on pointless on-site changes, here is my take on SEO best practices with WordPress.

seo-wordpress-myths

SEO, like football, is quite a beautifully simple game.

  1. Create quality content
  2. Engage in communication and relationships with others in your niche both directly and through social media
  3. Reach out to other sites with guest posts and ideas of collaborations with a view to securing incoming links
  4. Promote your site and articles with social media, and maybe a tiny bit of web 2.0 and directories, etc., (don’t spend too much time on this)
  5. Go back to creating quality content

It really is as simple as that. Read this quote from Google’s Matt Cutts:

“Even if you do brain-dead stupid things and shoot yourself in the foot, but have good content, we still want to return it.”

Google is going to try to return the relevant content so that you don’t even have to think about SEO. Bare that in mind when talking to SEO companies.

Basic WordPress SEO best practices

Straight out of the box, here’s are a few “must do’s”

  • Put keywords in your permalinks or enable “pretty permalinks” in Settings > Permalinks select Custom Structure and type: /%postname%
  • Choose a quality theme. Or rather don’t choose an old, crap theme. The default Twenty Ten or Twenty Eleven are just fine. I use Genesis (affiliate link), generally speaking premium themes are slightly better but they are by no means essential.
  • Create Categories to group your blog posts and write meaningful descriptions of them in Posts > Categories
  • Choose whether your site’s address will have a www or non-www. Why can’t Google work this one out themselves? Matt Cutts still says this is necessary. It’s 99% not likely to matter but if both www and non-www work in the address bar of the browser you’ll need to force one on to the other with .htaccess.
  • Use an SEO plugin or your theme’s SEO controls to sort out your titles. The best SEO plugin is Yoast’s WordPress SEO. Page titles can be %%title%% – %%sitename%% and post titles are usually %%title%%. Although it really doesn’t matter that much. You can also set titles and meta descriptions individually with this plugin – more on that later.
  • Create a Google XML Sitemap. This won’t help with rankings but it might help with getting indexed quickly
  • Create a robots.txt. It should say “User-agent: * Sitemap: http://your-site.com/sitemap.xml” if you created your sitemap with the above plugin.
  • Register your site with Google Webmaster Tools (register sitemap), Yahoo! Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Tools (if you can’t be bothered, just do Google Webmaster Tools).

So, if you’re just setting up a self-hosted WordPress.org blog I strongly suggest you do the above.

On-page WordPress SEO best practices

Going forward, while you’re regularly writing awesome content, you’re going to have to employ some on-page SEO best practices.

  • Put keywords in your blog post titles. So, “Electric Guitar Playing Styles”: good; “Tra-la-la-la-la, look how I handle my axe!”: bad.
  • Add subheadings. Words in between <h2> and <h3> tags carry more importance than <p> tags, so split your post up with subheadings. It also looks better and helps the reader scan the article. Make sure the subheads are natural!
  • Add images. Makes sure images have good filenames (eg. banana.jpg) and descriptive alt text (eg. alt="partially pealed banana on table").
  • Word count/Density/Stuffing. Write at least 600 words on each blog post and include your keywords in the text naturally – don’t stuff them in. Write for humans, not for search engines.
  • Link internally to your own pages when relevant.
  • Don’t forget to link out to authority sites as well.

If you do the above, regularly write great content and engage in social media, link and relationship building, that is all you need to know about WordPress SEO.

The bad and the ugly

OK, back to my experiences this week with the “SEO professionals” – you are not going to believe some of the things I heard them say. (Disclaimer: not all SEO professionals are bad but there are many that will waste your money with the following).

Here are some pieces of SEO advice that I have heard that are either complete rubbish or a waste of time. Remember, people get paid for trotting out this garbage…

  • Adding meta keywords. This is a waste of time. They are not used as a ranking factor by Google.
  • Avoid duplicate meta descriptions and titles. Certainly, don’t have the same meta descriptions on two different blog posts but for many blogs titles and descriptions are identical on category archive pages, and Google knows this. It’s OK.
  • Google doesn’t like content below the fold. What?? I have heard it said, trust me. Google doesn’t like too many ads above the fold but long articles are fine. Sure it’s maybe better to split a 3,000-word article into three different 1,000-word articles, if that can be logically done.
  • There should be an <h1> on every page. Wrong, I’ve tested this. I had my single blog posts as <h2>‘s and changed them all to <h1>‘s, re-indexed and zip, nothing, nada, no change!
  • A site should be in validated HTML and CSS. Yes, but it’s not an SEO concern, it’s a usability one.

I could go on but you get the point. WordPress is the most ubiquitous CMS on the internet, it pays Google to understand its workings. Do the basic SEO best practices outlined above (the good, not the bad or the ugly) and you’ll be fine.

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Readers Comments

  1. Great list!
    I would add using a cache plugin like S3 Total Cache. Website speed is a ranking factor and helps keep users on your site as well.

    • That’s a good point, Amit, apart from a caching plugin there are other things I could have included about site loading speed (minimizing, hosting setups, optimizing, etc.) – I’ll have to do that in another blog post. :)

  2. Hi Rob, Kevin Stacey here..
    First off, this post is extremely thorough! I don’t see too many bloggers going into detail like you have…that’s the mark of a blogger who knows their WordPress SEO. In regards to optimization, many of these points can be confusing (and even time-consuming), so free plugins like WordPress SEO by Yoast, XML Sitemaps and even All in One SEO are really great as they lay down the basic SEO foundation for a WordPress site, but every blog is different and nothing works best for everyone.

    I always suggest looking at a side-by-side comparison of the best seo plugins for WordPress in order to make an informed decision of what the best plugin is for that blogger and their website’s specific needs.

    Here’s my most recent write-up on the subject:

    SEO Pressor vs Easy WP SEO vs Scribe SEO
    http://www.bestseopluginforwordpress.com/wordpress-seo/the-best-seo-plugin-for-wordpress/

    Check it out and let me know what you think.

    Great article btw…I’ll be referencing this post on my main blog.

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