WordPress SEO – 10 Essential Actions

The best SEO is quality content, there’s no argument about that. However, if you’re blogging with WordPress, there are some SEO tweaks that will give your pages more consideration by the search engines. It’s always better to apply best practices – and I’ve listed 10 “must-do” WordPress SEO essentials for every blogger out there.

seo wordpress

1. Put Keywords in Your Blog Title

You’ve identified some keywords that you want to perform well for. Put these keywords in the titles of your pages as much as you can without making it look unnatural. If your keyword is “web designer” then go to Settings > General and put those keywords in the title of your blog.

And, by installing and setting-up Yoast’s WordPress SEO plug-in or some other SEO plug-in (see next point), you can get the blog title in the all the pages’ titles.

2. Install an SEO Plug-in

My choice would be to install Yoast’s WordPress SEO plug-in but it’s important to understand what these SEO plug-ins do. The most important SEO factor on a page is the page’s title, so you should make sure that the heading of your page or post is at the beginning of the title then, if you wish, followed by the blog title. This can be set globally with an SEO plug-in.

However, some themes will enable you to do this without the aid of a plug-in. If you use a theme coded with SEO in mind, like Genesis for example, you can specify your page titles individually and globally. The Genesis theme also works with SEO plug-ins as well.

3. Put Keywords in Headings

Words placed towards the beginning of the headings of the blog posts will be given more importance by Google than those towards the end. So make sure you create headings with keywords at the beginning. As explained above, the headings of your blog posts should be first in your post’s title.

There is further explanation of the relationship between headings and titles in my post about on-page optimization.

Use this rule when creating subheadings in your blog posts. If your blog post heading is <h1> then break each post up with subheadings of <h2>s. If your blog post heading is <h2> then break each post up with subheadings of <h3>s. Either way, it’s important to divide up your articles with subheads. It helps the visitor, looks better and further informs Google as to what your article is about. So, the more keywords you put into your subheads the better.

4. Get Keywords in your Permalinks or URLs

Straight “out of the box”, WordPress uses web addresses for blog posts that have a question mark and numbers (for example: http://www.yoursite.com/?p=456). To change this, in the WordPress admin panel go Settings > Permalinks and choose a custom permalink setting.

You could go for /%postname%/. This converts your URLs to keyword rich page titles separated by hyphens (for example: http://www.your-site.com/keyword-rich-post/). There are other options you can choose like /%category%/%postname%/ or /%post_id%/%postname%/, all are fine. Just don’t leave it on the default.

5. Create Categories with Keywords and Write Descriptions For Them

Every WordPress blog must have a few categories. Use them to broadly define the subjects you write about in your blog. Put keywords in here as well.

Always write a decent description about the categories as this will appear as your meta description on the category pages.

6. Sitemaps, Google Webmaster Tools and Robots.txt

You can use Yoast’s WordPress SEO plug-in or a Google sitemap generator plug-in to create your XML sitemap. Either way this is something you have to do.

Once the XML sitemap is created you should go to Google Webmaster Tools and register your sitemap there by specifying it’s address. It’ll be yoursite.com/sitemap_index.xml if you used Yoast’s WordPress SEO plug-in to generate the sitemap; it’ll be yoursite.com/sitemap.xml if you used a sitemap generator plug-in to create it. Google Webmaster Tools is a very helpful resource for checking your site for dead links and many other important things.

Also, create a “robots.txt” file to identify your sitemap to other search engines such as Yahoo! or Bing. Create a raw text file with this in it:

User-agent: * Sitemap: http://yoursite.com/sitemap.xml

Save the raw text file as “robots.txt” and upload it to the root of your server.

7. Make Sure non-www Redirects to www or Vice Versa

Check in a browser to see if your site has just one version. Try http://yoursite.com/ and http://www.yoursite.com/ and if the non-www redirects to www, or the www redirects to a non-www then that’s fine you can skip this step.

If not then Google can see these two different addresses as two different sites, diluting your site’s authority. You can contact your host to rectify this problem – there may be a setting to change in your hosts control panel. Or, if you want the www, put the following in your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.yoursite\.com$
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.yoursite.com/$1 [R=301,L]

And, alternatively, if you don’t want the www, put the following in your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^yoursite\.com$
RewriteRule (.*) http://yoursite.com/$1 [R=301,L]

The .htaccess file, similar to the robots.txt file, is a raw text file that sits on the root of your server.

8. Insert Images Properly

Every time you add an image to your blog – and you should add at least one per post – there are several things you need to do SEO-wise.

First of all make sure the image is as small as possible in terms of file size. Secondly, it should have a proper file name. So, call the image “green-flowers.jpg” if it’s an image of green flowers.

Thirdly, make sure you fill out the Alt section in the WordPress image uploader dialog box. An alt text should be a short description of the image, so, for example, “a bunch of green flowers in a vase on a table”.

So the HTML should look something like this:

<img src="http://yoursite.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/green-flower.jpg" alt="a bunch of green flowers in a vase on a table" title="" width="" height="" class="" />

I’m not a big fan of adding a title to images that aren’t links. Nor do I like to have small images linking to a larger version within WordPress posts unless there’s some specific reason for doing this.

9. Write Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions and meta keywords actually don’t make any difference to where your page is placed within the search engine results. But the meta description can make a difference to how many times it’s clicked by the users. Write appealing descriptions of the page’s contents with keywords in there this will mean more people clicking through from the SERPs.

10. Follow Standards

Make sure, wherever possible that your page’s HTML validates. If you have a good WordPress Theme that is well-structured for SEO then this won’t be a problem. But if you have a free theme that you have messed around with it’s a good idea to run it through the validator and see if you can minimize the errors.

To sum up…

Of course there is a lot more you can do to your site to make sure it’s search engine friendly. Speed is a huge issue and there may be some plug-ins you can get rid of, JavaScript and PHP calls you can do without as well as optimizing images correctly. Use Google’s Page Speed to help you identify the parts of your pages that are slowing you down.

Concentrate on content but, the next time you write a blog post headline, make sure you think about SEO. Run your headline ideas through Google’s Keyword Research Tool before committing. Make sure every headline is leveraging the power of popular keywords.

Is there anything I’ve forgotten? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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Readers Comments

  1. Excellent article, loads of great advice even for folks used to optimising WordPress

  2. Hi Rob
    As always your articles are excellent.
    Added thoughts (you knew there would be)

    Category names should be Keyword phrases relevant to the blog and can be brand names for example if posting about coffee machines. Ifit s about coffee well coffe grinder, coffee makers ect. Thes come fromthe longtail keywords found during research as well.
    Like wise where possible the image name should be a keyword phrase so rathe rthan Coffee-Machine.jpg if that post is about a Brunn Coffee Maker then the file should be Brunn-Coffee-Maker given thats a keyword phrase with traffic and applicable to the post.


    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Great points about naming the categories, Steve, so great, in fact I’m going to put that in the article. Good point about brand names as well. Thanks.

  3. Good list there Rob. Its always good to recap in case I miss anything. I was wondering, though, what do you personally do with the image “alt” tag? I always try and put something that describes the image, but how essential are keywords in the Alt tag, or should it just be for usability only?

    • Rob Cubbon says:

      Ahh, good question, Mr K. Essentially, I think the alt tag should be a fair description of the image, but if you can put your keywords in there then you will start to get traffic from image searches which can be handy.

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