Most people who have WordPress blogs offer very little, if any, thought to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) other than probably setting the title, meta keywords, and meta-description attributes on their post pages. But there are a lot of things you can do with a WordPress blog to customize it for search engines. Note, many of the tips below refer to any blogging platform, not just WordPress.
The two major issues with blogs in general from a search engine optimization perspective are:
- Most template designers know very little about SEO and thus design SEO-unfriendly sites or themes.
- Adopting a poor strategy to handle duplicate content and canonical tags.
If you are able to handle these two problems, then surely you are on your way to great rankings with WordPress. Most of the tips that I provide below will be related to dealing with the above two issues in general.
Tip 1: Select an SEO-Friendly WordPress Theme
The best and most obvious way to give your WordPress blog an advantage in the search engine results pages (SERPs) is to select a blog theme that is SEO-friendly. Unfortunately, these are few and far between… not only amongst free themes, but even amongst the premium themes available on the market. WordPress theme designers (like most web designers) generally give very little thought to SEO.
When evaluating WordPress themes, look for the following SEO-friendly features:
- The theme should provide the ability to set custom title, meta description, and meta keywords elements for every page and post on the site. The title element should not be hard coded to be the post name.
- Every post page should render the post name as an H1 element.
- The theme should support custom excerpts on the home page, category pages, archive pages, and tag pages where multiple posts are listed. These multi-post pages should never display the entire post. Nor should it simply display the first XXX characters/words of the post as an excerpt.
- The home page, category pages, archive pages, and tag pages where multiple posts are listed should render each post name as an H2 (or possibly an H3) element.
- The theme should provide the ability to control the meta robots element for each page type: home page, post page, static page, category page, archive page, tags page.
- The theme should use SEO-friendly page names and not query string riddled, dynamic URLs like example.com?id=182. The SEO-friendly page names typically default to the post name but allow the author to change it to a custom page name.
Tip 2: How to deal with SEO-Unfriendly WordPress Themes
If you can not find or afford to purchase an SEO-friendly WordPress theme like Divi, then the next best choice is to make the most of the theme that you have. The All-In-One SEO Pack plugin is probably the most used WordPress plugin for optimizing sites based on SEO-unfriendly themes.
Tip 3: Fixing URL Canonicalization for WordPress
The very first thing I do when I set up a new WordPress blog (or optimize someone else’s blog or site) is to fix URL canonicalization issues. This should be every blog owner’s first order of business.
Each page on your WordPress blog should have one and only one URL that can be used to render its content, called the canonical (or “preferred”) URL. All other non-canonical URLs that can be used to render that same page should be 301 redirected to the canonical form of the URL.
If your site is hosted on an Apache web server, you should have access to a URL rewriting utility called Mod_Rewrite. You can easily fix the www vs. non-www URL canonicalization issues by adding a couple of lines to the.htaccess file located at the root of your website.
If you’d like the www version of your site’s URLs to be the canonical form, then add the following lines to the.htaccess file at the root of your website:
RewriteCond %HTTP_HOST example.com$[NC] RewriteRule (.*) http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301, L]
and replace example.com with your domain name.
If you’d like the non-www version of your site’s URLs to be the canonical form, then add the following lines to the.htaccess file at the root of your website:
RewriteCond %HTTP_HOST www.example.com$[NC] RewriteRule (.*) http://example.com/$1 [R=301, L]
Tip 4: Do Not Use Free Web Hosting
While free web hosting at places like wordpress.com and blogger.com might be okay for someone simply wanting to experiment with blogging, if you are building any type of business site or even a personal site that you feel might possibly one day grow into something special, then don’t bother with free hosting. You can get excellent hosting services, often with a dedicated IP address, at places like GoDaddy, BlueHost, and HostGator for around $10/month.
Free web hosts usually have limits on what you can and can’t do with your blog. For example, some won’t let you have adsense on your website. Most people use free hosting to build a blog and spend a lot of time/effort driving traffic and setting up organic rankings only to find they can’t advertise on the website to monetize traffic.
But most importantly, if your blog ever becomes popular and you need to move it to a paid web host that can handle lots of traffic, you will likely be screwed. Most free web hosts do not provide you with a method to 301 redirect web pages. You will be unable to redirect requests from browsers (and crawlers) for old URLs on the free hosting site to the corresponding new URLs on your new paid hosting site. So at this point, you basically have to start over trying to get your new paid hosting site to rank because you will be unable to transfer credit for links from the old free site over to the new site using 301 redirects.
Tip 5: Host Your Blog on Apache web server
Unless there is some overwhelming reason not to do so, I would highly recommend hosting your blog on an Apache/Linux platform. WordPress, for instance, runs on Apache. “Why does it matter?” you might ask. Well, Apache comes with Mod_Rewrite which was mentioned back in Tip 3. This utility is VERY powerful and extremely handy for fixing all sorts of webmaster problems by utilizing URL rewrites and redirects.
Tip 6: Understanding Custom Excerpts
Having a WordPress blog theme that supports the use of custom excerpts is crucial to SEO, IMO. Most free blog themes will simply display the entire post on the home page, category page (s), archive page, and tag pages. This creates many copies of your post throughout your site. This is not optimal.
Even if your WordPress theme doesn’t display the entire post but instead displays the first XXX characters/words of the post on the home page, category page (s), archive page, and tag page (s), it is still not a best case scenario. This still creates “partial” duplicate content where parts of your post appear on multiple pages of the site. Again, this is not optimal.
Using a WordPress theme that supports custom excerpts is the most desirable. Custom excerpts, when used together with a meta robots element to NOINDEX the archive and tag pages (see Tip 9 below), can prevent ANY of the content of your post from being duplicated. It also allows you to add a custom link to the post at the end of the excerpt which contains a variation of the post’s targeted keyword phrase as the link text rather than simply having the usual “read more” type link.
Check out the custom excerpts for my posts on my home and category pages to see what I mean.
Tip 7: Custom Title for Optimization
Most free and premium WordPress themes use the title HTML element as the page name or post name. This is less than appropriate, as you should optimize the title item for a very specific keyword phrase (possibly two or three phrases if they are very similar). And this may not read the page name or post name well.
The post title should generally be more marketing-oriented to entice visitors to read it. The title HTML element needs to be very focused on the keyword phrase being targeted and not contain a bunch of “fluff words” for marketing like those typically used in page names and post names.
Make sure you have a way to provide every page on your WordPress blog with a custom title HTML element that can have a totally different value than that of the page name or post name.
Tip 8: Custom Meta Descriptions for Optimization
While optimizing the meta description does not help you rank on most search engines (including Google), it is VERY important for other reasons. It’s important for Google because a well optimized meta description will appear more often in the Google search snippet. If Google displays your meta description as a snippet and it is well written with a clear call to action, it can drastically increase your click-thru-rate on the search engine result pages (SERPs).
So it’s very important that you are able to provide a custom meta description element for each page and post on your site.
Tip 9: One Category Per Post
While most bloggers will place a post in multiple categories, each post on my blog is placed in one and only one category by design. This is a function of the WordPress blogging software and not the theme itself. I do this because I do not want the same excerpt of a post to be indexed under multiple category URLs. Doing so eliminates duplicate copies of my excerpt across multiple category pages on the site.
Tip 10: Noindex WordPress Archives and Tags Pages
A good theme will allow you to control the meta robots element of every page and post on your site. This feature is very important for eliminating duplicate content.
I always set my meta robot elements on my archive and tag pages to NOINDEX. Even though I use custom excerpts on the home page, category page (s), archive page, and tag page, I want to make absolutely sure that the duplicated excerpt is not indexed under multiple URLs.
The only pages where I allow duplicated excerpts to be indexed are the home page (because it would be stupid to NOINDEX the home page) and the category page for the post. This duplicate excerpt condition only exists until the post rolls off of the home page. Once enough posts have been added to the blog to force a post off of the home page, the excerpt will ONLY appear and be indexed on the category page for that post. And the post itself will ONLY be indexed on the post page.
If you think about it, having your category pages contain one copy of your excerpts for that category makes total sense. Everything in that category should be about the same topic (which should be the keyword phrase targeted by that category page). Because I use custom excerpts, all of the content on the category page is totally unique.
I use the category page to target a broader keyword phrase than the posts it contains. And that category page links to a bunch of posts that all fall under that general topic but target more specific, long-tail keyword phrases. So I essentially built an SEO-friendly theme pyramid site architecture using categories and posts.
Archive pages provide very little, if any, SEO value to a blog because they typically contain simply all of the posts during that month. Each post “could” be about a topic totally unrelated to all other posts during that month. So having these pages indexed is essentially worthless. They are not focused enough to rank well.
Tag pages are provided for usability. They provide very little additional SEO benefit because they are made up of duplicated content from the category pages. Any SEO benefit they may provide via their groupings will likely be more than offset by the duplicate content issues they create, especially since a single post can appear under many tags.
For these reasons, the archive and tag pages on my sites are always flagged NOINDEX using a meta robots element.
Applying These WordPress SEO Tips
Of course, it goes without saying that the most important thing you should do on your blog is provide unique and compelling content that site visitors will want to read and discuss with their friends, family, and/or coworkers. While SEO may bring visitors to your site, it is always the content you provide that will determine if the visitor will spend time there and come back in the future. Great content will often lead to inbound links from other sites, which will also help your WordPress blog from an SEO perspective.
I hope these 10 WordPress SEO blogging tips at least get your “wheels turning” and get you excited about setting up your next blog. While you may not be able to implement all of these guidelines, you should get a good idea of many of the things you should consider when choosing a theme and optimizing your next blog for better SEO.