Setting up WordPress sites is easy, properly optimizing them for SEO isn’t. WordPress is decent for SEO out of the box, especially the new versions. But there are still scopes to transform that ‘decent’ bit into ‘excellent’. SEO is not limited to low quality link building and blatant keyword stuffing any more. It has literally gone through an evolution in the past decade, and will never stop evolving. In this article I’ll randomly present 31 easy to implement, effective ways to boost the SEO of your WordPress blog.
In addition to the 7 modern SEO tactics which are applicable for every website, if you want your WordPress blog to rank higher in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), here are a few things that you should consider doing:
1. Pick a good web host
The first step is to ensure your site loads fast, because speed is a very important ranking factor for Google. If your site is presently not loading very fast (even heavy pages should load in under 1.5 seconds), you can contact your host and ask them why your website is performing slowly on their server, but if they fail to provide you a specific reason (such as your website hitting your allocated resource limits), you can be sure that their servers are slow in the first place.
While choosing a new web host, make sure you don’t make the same common mistakes that most beginners do. Especially, don’t choose a host based on the recommendations of shady ‘top 10 web hosting’ sites. What they actually do is list the hosts who pay them the most referral commissions. Plus, a huge web hosting conglomerate called Endurance International Group (EIG) owns at least 40-50 different popular hosting brands like BlueHost, HostGator, iPage, and lots of others, which are all terrible. So, if you go with the most popular ones, and become disappointed, chances are that you’ll end up with another EIG-owned host, and as a result they never lose you as their customer.
I host TechTage on MDDHosting. They’re a much smaller independent company, operating since 2007. If you’re curious as to why I never had to switch to another host since 2011, give my MDDHosting review a read.
These days, I’m more of a fan of ExonHost (read my detailed review) and host most of my sites there, as the price/performance ratio of ExonHost just blows everyone else out of the water.
If you’re looking for a more prominent name in the web hosting space, you can give SiteGround a try (read my review here).
A great place to look for a new web host is WebHostingTalk. Their members are very helpful and new members get proper guidance on choosing a web host.
2. Starting with your WordPress Blog
When you set up a new blog, you can use the ‘discourage search engines from indexing this site‘ feature of WordPress until you’re done with working on the structure of the blog and ready to launch it. When you have that option enabled, it disallows search engines (bots) to crawl your pages (handled from robots.txt).
WordPress also includes rel=”noindex” and rel=”nofollow” tags in the pages of your blog, so that they don’t get indexed by search engines until you want them to. This is useful because most bloggers tend to delete the default ‘Hello World’ WordPress post and tweak permalink structures and all, which would otherwise result in lots of 404 not found errors to show up in Google Webmaster Tools.
3. Alter the default permalinks structure
By default, WordPress uses ‘?p=[id]‘ permalinks for posts. This is not search engine friendly and you’ll lose the opportunity to put a few important keywords in post permalinks if you don’t switch to a text-based permalink structure. I prefer the ‘yourdomain.com/year/month/post-name/‘ format, but you may choose any other similar structure.
4. Install an .xml sitemap plugin
Installing an .xml sitemap plugin is vital for WordPress blogs. Providing search engines like Google links to all the pages on your site in a sitemap, preferably in the .xml format, helps them index your site content faster, in an easier way.
A good plugin for WordPress to automatically create and update sitemaps is Google XML Sitemaps by Arne Brachhold.
5. Install an SEO plugin and start using rel=”canonical”
Installing a good SEO plugin is a must because it can take good care of numerous SEO aspects of your blog automatically. As soon as you install one, you should enable the rel=”canonical” tag for pages on your blog. It helps search engines to determine the original source URLs of content on your blog. That way, it helps eliminate duplicate content issues from WordPress sites.
I personally prefer using All in One SEO Pack by Michael Torbert. It provides users a broad range of options regarding link canonicalization, page titles, meta description, keywords optimization, noindexing categories, tags and archives, Google Plus authorship, Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools verification. So many options under the hood make me love the plugin so much.
Another popular SEO plugin for WordPress is WordPress SEO by Joost de Valk.
If you can afford a paid plugin, I’d suggest Squirrly. In addition to SEO, it helps you out with keyword selection (by analysing keyword competition and search trends) and a various other elements of SEO. When you’re writing a new article, Squirrly’s live assistant tells you about how optimized that article is, SEO-wise. It also includes all-in-one SEO Analytics that shows information about Google indexation, social metrics, inbound links and a variety of other things.
6. Nofollow untrusted and useless links
Basically, a hyperlink with a rel=”nofollow” attribute on a webpage means that the webpage tells the search engine spiders not to ‘follow’ the link and that it doesn’t guaranty the reliability of the linked page. Additionally, adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to a link ensures that it gets no PageRank points from the page the link was posted on.
Google advises that webmasters set unrelated links as nofollow. This includes paid advertisements on websites with links to the advertisers’ websites. Generally, you should nofollow links (such as a link to the RSS feed) that are either unrelated to the website that they’re posted on, or are not useful to search engines. You can check out what Google has to say about it.
7. Noindex duplicate page types
If your blog already has a category called ‘Pussy Cats’ and you still tag a post ‘Pussy Cats’ then that might create duplicate content and duplicate titles issue if you don’t use different title structure for tag and category pages. A quick solution would be to noindex (that’s telling search engines not to index a page using <meta name=’robots’ content=’noindex’ />) the less important page. A very easy way to do so is to use the All in One SEO Pack plugin that I’ve already mentioned before.
The title of the ‘Web Hosting’ category of this website looks like: “Web Hosting | TechTage”. If I tag one post “Web Hosting” then that tag page also would feature the title: “Web Hosting | TechTage”, making search engines think that I’m duplicating my content across multiple pages. So, as a solution, I’ve made the tag pages noindexed to avoid problems.
8. Use a caching plugin to speed up your blog
A caching plugin is a must for any WordPress site. Caching plugins do two useful things. Firstly, they make your website faster. Secondly, they reduce the load on your web server. Most caching plugins cache static and dynamic content to decrease the page loading times. One such awesome plugin for WordPress is W3 Total Cache which I use on TechTage and various other WordPress sites. It’s feature-rich with page caching, browser caching, object caching, database caching and minification options. A good alternative to it would be WP Super Cache, which generates and serves static .html pages to speed up WordPress sites. The goal behind decreasing webpage load times is to improve user experience. Search engines also give fast sites more edge in SERPs. So, if you make your website faster, naturally it’ll be good from an SEO viewpoint.
9. Use a CDN to boost your site’s performance
I use MaxCDN on TechTage and a few other websites, and all I can say is that I’m a big fan of it. Because of MaxCDN’s awesome CDN servers, even the most resource heavy pages of our website load under 2 seconds. I’ve also reviewed it, so you can take a look at the MaxCDN review if you’re interested.
If you can’t afford a paid CDN service, there are a few free alternatives. CloudFlare is a very popular CDN service provider offering a free plan, though they provide a somewhat technically different service than what MaxCDN does, by caching entire webpages on their servers and serving them directly from their servers. You should start using a CDN no matter whichever CDN you go with, if your WordPress site has seen some decent growth and is asking for more.
10. Block spam comments
New versions of WordPress do a very good job in nofollowing links posted by users in comments. You can prevent spam comments from getting posted in the first place implementing these 3 simple methods.
So, why are spam comments bad for your blog? First of all, they don’t contribute anything to the topic and annoy legit users. Secondly, if a post on cars get a comment saying things about ‘cheap viagra’, search engines don’t like that.
In that case, there’s a chance that the page will be flagged as spam by search engines and your site will get penalized. Preventing spammers is the only effective way in this case.
11. Don’t go the PageRank sculpting route
With a new algorithm update in 2009, Google targeted PageRank sculptors who controlled the PageRank flow between their sites using rel=”nofollow” tags excessively. Google advised webmasters to give more importance to proper site structure and crawlability than PageRank sculpting and other similar ways used to game the system.
Here’s what Google’s Matt Cutts thinks about PageRank sculpting:
12. While writing new ones, link to your old posts
Internal linking has been and still is a very important way to feed search engines more relevant content on your website. It works as a virtual map of related posts on your site and makes navigation within your site easier for both users and bots. Linking to your old but related posts manually using manually chosen anchor text performs better than linking to old posts using a ‘related posts’ plugin which displays full titles of your old posts while linking to them. In addition to SEO, it also helps your old posts get more traffic.
13. Link to the special content more within your site
Do you wish to give a post on your site special importance? Is a post on your blog a result of unique research and provides great value to the readers? You may link to it more often than you do in case of other posts in new posts and/or on the sidebar to let search engines know that it’s special and deserves more user attention.
For example, I link to some of my best posts, like the guide on increasing Domain Authority, the Bing SEO guide and the guide to speeding up WordPress, from the sidebar of the homepage and almost every relevant post of TechTage.
14. Disable author archives in single-author blogs
It is best to disable author archives in single-author blogs because author archive pages will be the same as your homepage, listing all the latest posts by the same author. You can remove links to author pages in your blog by modifying your theme, or you can use the WordPress SEO plugin and check ‘disable author archives’ within the plugin interface to 301 redirect archive pages to your homepage.
15. Optimize the images on your site
Optimizing your images by compressing and resizing them may reduce the sizes of the images by a great extent, decreasing the page sizes and thus improving page loading performance on your blog. You may use online image resizing and compressing tools as well as their offline counterparts.
Make sure the images that you upload in WordPress are already optimized, but even if you don’t have already optimized images to upload, you can use a plugin like Smush.it to optimize and reduce the sizes of uploaded images automatically.
You can also add proper image tags to images in your posts to help them rank better in image searches. You can also include additional keywords through alt tags in your posts.
16. Don’t link to unimportant pages from every other page
Due to changes in Google’s algorithm about nofollow links, it’s advisable that you don’t include links to your contact page, RSS feed and other unimportant pages from every single page of your site. If you do that, and even use rel=”nofollow” attribute for those links, you’re still wasting some PageRank juice as not only the nofollowed links don’t get the PR juice, that amount of PR juice actually gets wasted. So, don’t link to everything from your menus and footer.
17. Tweak the post titles
Post titles still have significant impact on SERPs, so a nice informative title containing all the necessary keywords is an advantage when your target is to make that page rank higher in search results. Place low-competition keywords in your title efficiently to get more chance to rank high in SERPs. But you need to make sure that people actually search for them. You can use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner to check global and local search stats and competition levels of keywords and phrases.
Google knows the synonyms of popular English words, but as of now, it doesn’t know that the meaning of strategies is somewhat similar to the meaning of tactic. So, if you write a post with the title – “Best Strategies To Root Your Android Device”, it probably won’t show up in SERPs if the user types “best tactics to root android”. So, there has to be a proper balance of low-competitiveness and global or local monthly search volumes in the keywords that you choose for your post titles.
18. Use some of the traditional On-page SEO best practices
Some traditional SEO practices can still be implemented even today. I’m mainly talking about on-page SEO here. If you’re using an SEO plugin like All in One SEO Pack like I do, you can set custom titles and meta descriptions for your posts for search engines. Manually written keyword-rich descriptions still hold some value in search engine ranking factors. However, modern search engines like Google now automatically generate descriptions depending on the search keywords, in most cases. You might still do that as it doesn’t harm anything.
19. Integrate Social Media sharing buttons in your posts
Most search engines including Google take help of social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. to determine what reactions a webpage is getting from real users. When you like a link on Facebook, or retweet your favourite blog post on Twitter, or give a post you liked a +1 that means you liked the post, right? Search engines these days give posts with good social reactions more priority in SERPs. A bonus would be an increased traffic from those social networking sites for your content. You can implement social sharing buttons on your website and get those advantages.
20. Review and optimize your theme
This is more important for you if you’re using a not-so-popular free theme. But even paid ones costing more than a hundred bucks can have complicated code, which is bad for site performance and SEO. There’s not much you can do if you’re not a techie guy, but if you are, you can tell if your theme is performance oriented or not by just taking a look at its code. A highly feature rich theme that makes more queries to the server while loading a page isn’t suited for a site that doesn’t need that level of functionality. If you love your theme and it’s fairly good except in a few areas, you can patch it up according to your requirements or have a developer do it for you.
21. Switch to a responsive design
According to an article from backlinko, Google gives an edge to responsive sites in searches from mobile devices (the 74th point). Responsive themes result in an overall better user experience. I prefer responsive themes because I get pretty much the same layout and site experience across all my devices. You might want to switch to a responsive theme to improve user experience as well as SEO on your WordPress blog. Default WordPress themes like Twenty Eleven, Twenty Twelve and the upcoming Twenty Thirteen are all responsive designs that provide great foundations to custom themes.
22. Customize your robots.txt
If you don’t want Googlebot to crawl and index specific directories or pages of your site, you can block them straight from your robots.txt. Now with WP Robots Txt plugin for WordPress you don’t even have to have an actual robots.txt file present inside your WordPress installation directory, it will automatically create a virtual robots.txt for your site that works just as well as a real one. You can edit it anytime from “Settings -> Reading”. You can use this to block specific bots to crawl specific parts of your site, thus improving the SEO of it.
23. Add fresh new posts frequently
Google gives priority in its SERPs to blogs that feature frequently published posts. After the Caffeine update, Google started preferring recently updated content, especially for time-conscious searches.
If you post five times in a week, and don’t post anything at all the next week, it’s even worse than posting two posts a week consistently. Search engines love newly updated content relevant content. So if you blog on global cars and say you post about all new car launches happening around the world and the respective events, and it’s not directly copied from somewhere else, Google will love that, and you’ll probably get an edge in SERPs. This is applicable for websites belonging to any niche.
“If you need to take three weeks to do some research, and that research results in a really good blog post , those pieces of content often attract a lot more attention than follow on blog posts.”
Matt Cutts, Search Quality Specialist and Head of Webspam Team, Google
24. Put the most important keywords in the first-100 keywords zone
Google gives the first few paragraphs of text the most importance when it indexes a page, according to that same article from Backlinko. You can take advantage of this in two ways:
- Describe what the post is going to be all about in the first few paragraphs, write them as an introduction to the post. Include the keywords that you’ve decided to use throughout the article as per point #17.
- Link to the other important internal posts within the first few paragraphs.
25. Fix broken links on your blog
If too many broken links are found on your site, search engines will think that the site isn’t properly maintained. It might be penalized by search engines who may think it’s an abandoned site. You can use the Broken Link Checker WordPress plugin to handle broken internal and external links on your blog. This plugin can (optionally) mark broken links as ‘nofollow’ automatically so that search engines don’t get a negative impression about your site. What’s more is you can receive an email notification whenever new broken links are detected on your site and fix them up, unlink the broken links, or simply ignore them from within the plugin interface.
26. Limit URL lengths of your posts
Long post titles shouldn’t be avoided, long URLs for your posts should. You can use a shortened version of your post title (if it’s too long) for the post permalink. I don’t consider inclusion of up to 10-15 words in post permalinks a problem but if you include more words, it’s bad for a few reasons. First of all, very long URLs are harder for people to memorize, so that can affect the no. of direct visitors. Long URLs look bad and create a poor ‘first-impression’ among your potential readers. There have been talks on the topic that Google and other search engines don’t like too long URLs. They prefer short to medium-sized descriptive URLs instead. Plus, very long URLs don’t completely appear in SERPs. Lastly, as search engines are focusing on user-experience on websites more than anything else these days and are using more user-based data than ever while ranking webpages, it’s probably better to limit the URL lengths of your blog, as preferred by your readers.
27. Improve your content to improve user experience
Google has been deeply focusing on content quality for the last few years. Algorithm updates such as Google Panda and Google Penguin have hit low-quality content farms hard. People cannot use the “post crap, build links” strategy that they successfully used in back in 2004. The best way to impress Google is to produce unique, well thought out content that your readers will love. Think about search engine traffic only when you actually have great content on your site.
Google now uses a variety of techniques to determine if the users are loving the content on your site or not. These include social signals, on-site user-activity, bounce rate of a page etc. So even if you manage to rank a not-so-useful page of your site high for a set of keywords, be certain that it won’t take search engines long time to know that people aren’t loving that content on your site and your rankings will get a blow as a result of negative user metrics.
28. Implement the rel=”author” tag on your blog
Statistics show that you can get as much as an 150% increase in organic traffic if you implement the rel=”author” markup in your blog. The article that I’ve linked to will also help you set up Google+ authorship on your own blog. There are two basic advantages of using Google Authorship Markup on your blog:
- Nice Google+ photos make your website entries in the SERPs more interesting and promising than the rest and improve user click-through-rate (CTR).
- The authorship markup helps search engines to understand that a post is written by you. In SERPs, it includes a link to your Google+ profile. Now, if you consistently write awesome content that users love to read, you’ll slowly gain reputation in the eyes of Google as a reputable and authoritative writer. This is often called Google AuthorRank. Now once you’ve gained your reputation writing quality content, it won’t matter in which site you post, your content will automatically get an edge in SERPs as long as the Google Authorship Markup is working fine.
29. Try to create viral content to get a sudden boost in traffic
The problem with some bloggers is that they are often too conservative to produce excellent, unique, compelling and engaging content. At times, no matter how hard you work on your blog, your visitors count just won’t increase. You need to reach out to more people with fabulous content at that point of time. You can blog about what’s hot within your niche, present interesting data from a never-seen-before perspective, reach out to other bloggers and engage with your reader base if you really want to create superb content based on awesome ideas. You can take help of Google Trends to know what’s currently hot or what’s consistently rising up the hotness charts lately.
Once you’re done with the content creation part, you need to make sure you give it the promotion that it deserves. Depending on the nature of your post, you can try submitting it to social bookmarking sites like Reddit, StumbleUpon and Digg. Referring visitors from Reddit’s front page can crash even a well optimized and powerful dedicated server in active hours. You can check this guide to gain massive traffic from Reddit. Once you start getting a lot of referral traffic, naturally your organic traffic will increase too, a lot, as search engines now use visitors signals to rank webpages which I’ve already discussed about.
30. Focus more on your blog’s Social Media profiles
Social media accounts are great for increasing your blog’s reach. However, you should be careful about maintaining the social media profiles that you create. Always fill them up with as much details as possible and enrich them with graphics. User engagement in social media platforms is a huge bonus for every blogger. Blogs with strong Facebook and Twitter user bases get thousands of targeted traffic as soon as they publish new content.
It’s good to have active accounts on 3 platforms than having a dozen of inactive accounts on various platforms. If your social media signs indicate that you’re doing good, search engines will surely give your site the organic visitors boom that it deserves.
31. Try to write detailed, high-quality, lengthy posts
Long posts are actually good for SEO, as shown by an analysis performed by serpIQ.
As you can see in the presentation above, the average content length of any page that ranks in the top 10 in Google for any keyword is at least 2,000 words. The further you navigate to pages 2 and up, the less content the pages listed on those SERPs will have. This explains that Google prefers content rich sites, not because they think lengthy posts are more valuable, but because the actual readers love detailed content.
This doesn’t essentially mean you should extend non-extendable posts. When you’re reviewing a whiteboard on your blog, for example, don’t try to expand the post by writing something obvious and laughable like “the colour of the whiteboard I got is white”. 😀
Instead, do some research online on the topic that you’re writing a blog post on, support it with stats and data. Link out to other blogs that support what you’re saying. I personally consider productive posts with at least 1,000 words decent to be ranked high in SERPs. There are posts that don’t need to be that lengthy, but write in a detailed way about things that your readers want them to learn about in details. For your clue, this post is more than 4,500 words in length, and my guide to increase Domain Authority is over 11,000 words in length!
Bonus Advice: be smart yourself, don’t insensibly trust others
This one is a bit different from the rest of the suggestions but it’s applicable for many new bloggers and site owners. I’ve seen them starting out on knowledge sucking sprees. They try to stuff their brains with as much as random blogging and web development knowledge as possible in as less time as possible. This results in them not sticking to a particular strategy and implementing hundreds and thousands of unimportant and useless things on their sites which not only do no good to them, but occasionally also hurt their sites.
Like everything else, growing a site requires patience and a working brain.. Just use your brain and think whether a particular SEO strategy is right for your blog and implement or don’t implement it based on that.
Take some time, re-evaluate your WordPress site after you’ve implemented a few of these techniques. Check if things are better for your site or not. Ideally, you should see a significant rise in the organic traffic level of your site.
If you’re having difficulties understanding or implementing any of the above points, you can drop a comment below. After all, if you’re not optimizing your WordPress blog to its full potential, you’re leaving some valuable organic traffic (and money) on the table.
What other SEO tips do you recommend to WordPress users?