Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Making your website and pages search engine friendly is important to attracting traffic to your website. The following is a simplified guide to optimizing a WordPress powered website.
We recommend using an SEO plugin like All-in-One-SEO-Pack to assist in optimizing your posts and pages. Instructions on how to use this plugin are included below.
Google is the dominant search engine with about 80% of the global search market. For that reason when we talk about things like “Google does this…” or “Google does that” we actually mean Yahoo, Ask and Bing too as all the major search engines tend to do things in similar ways. It’s just easier to write “Google” instead of writing “the search engines”.
- WordPress Permalink URLs
- Titles and Meta Tags
- Using the All-in-One-SEO-Pack Plugin
- Using Headings and Sub-Headings
- Keywords and Phrases
- Monitoring Traffic & Mining Keyword Logs
Your WordPress site should be set to use permalinks. These can be found in the Permalinks link under the Settings tab.
As a database driven site there is only one file for every page and post on the site, the index.php file. As the WP script calls individual pages or posts it pulls them from the database and displays them. With permalinks turned off you will see URLs that look like this;
where 123 is the post id in the database. With permalinks set your URL could instead look like this;
Here, /your-post/ would either be the title you set for the post or the page slug you used to simplify the file name.
The benefit of permalinks is that your URLs contain a description of the page making them easier for people to remember and link to. It also creates an opportunity to display your main keywords for the page, or post, within the URL as they are often descriptive of that individual web page. Keywords in your URL is one of many small factors that can help your pages rank better for their keywords.
Using Titles and Meta Tags
The Title Tag
Page titles are an important clue to Google of what your page, or post, is about. These page titles are the <title> tag that appears in the head of your HTML for that page, or post. They are not necessarily the same title you use when writing your post (the title box at the top of the write page). Your title tag is the title you will see at the top of the browser window while on your page. It is also the title Google will display as the clickable link to your site in its search results.
A well crafted title tag will include your main keywords or key phrases, helping Google, and could help entice more clicks by those that see your title in search result pages.
Making your <title> tag slightly different from your post titles allows you to cover a wider range of related keywords and phrases as well as include semantic variations of your keywords. For example if your main keyword was house you might also want to use the word home in your pages.
Keep your title tag brief and to the point. Google only recognizes the first 65 characters of the title tag. Longer title tags will get truncated.
The Meta Description Tag
The description tag is a brief description of your page or your post. Your description tag will often become the snippet of text that Google displays below your page title on its search result page. If no description is included Google will grab a snippet of your page text to use instead.
The description tag on its own will not improve your search rankings but it allows you to control what Google displays as the snippet. A well crafted description can entice more clicks by searches who read it.
The Meta Keyword Tag
The meta keyword tag is no longer used by Google to determine the keywords for your page. It had been over abused by many webmasters and spammers in an attempt to rank pages by stuffing it full of irrelevant keywords. But some of the other search engines may still use them, to some degree.
Using the keyword tag has become optional due to its limited value. You may add keywords in this meta tag or simply skip this step.
SEO Plugin for Title and Meta Tags
If you have an SEO plugin installed, like All-in-One-SEO-Pack, then you can write your tags while using the Post and Page editors in the WordPress admin panel. It will appear lower in the page below the text editor.
Write your Title. Here is where you can write a slightly different title variation than the original title you set when you started editing your post. Or you can leave this blank and by default it will use the original title.
Write a brief description of the content of the page. Try to include your important keywords/phrases if possible as they will get bolded inside the snippet Google displays. This can make your description be more visible and induce a higher click through rate.
You may elect to write Keywords in the Keyword box. Google no longer pays much attention to keyword meta tags. Yahoo and Bing may still give them some weight, but not much. It can be ignored if you wish.
Using Headings and Sub-Headings
Headings can categorize sections of your page/post content. They help break up the text and make it easier to read. Particularly for internet users who tend to have limited attention spans and often scan text before reading. Headings can help them scan to find what they are looking for.
Google also recognizes that a heading is an important clue to what the rest of the content is about. Therefore using keywords in headings can help your pages rank better for your target keywords. Headings are created in HTML with the <h#> tag. <h1> would be your top level heading, the title of your post or page content, <h2> would be a sub-heading, <h3> a sub-sub heading within a <h2> section of text, and so on through <h4>, <h5>, etc….
At a minimum your page should have one <h1> heading. Most WP themes will paste the post/page title inside <h1> tags. Your main keywords or phrases descriptive of your core page topic should be used there. Your sub-headings can use various related keywords and/or semantic variations to better target a wider set of the possible word combinations that searchers might use in a search engine to find something like what your page contains.
For more on using headings when writing for the web click here.
Keywords and Phrases
Take some time to consider your keywords. What kind of words and phrases might people use to find your site and pages?
Each page or post on your site should be geared towards specific sets of keywords and phrases. Your home page will likely cover your main keywords for the topic of the site. Your individual pages and posts would target specific sets of keywords related to that individual page or post.
Along with using you keywords in your page URL, your title tag, and in your headings they should also be sprinkled lightly throughout your content. Only lightly though. Over stuffing your pages with keywords can create text that is hard to read. Google also filters for pages with unnaturally high densities of keywords to combat keyword spam. Just write naturally and try to include your main keywords a couple times within your paragraphs.
Links make the web go round. Google sends out automated robots that follow hyperlinks to find new pages to add to its index. It also takes note of who is linking to who and uses those links as part of its ranking algorithm.
You website navigation will of course be linking to your main sections of your site. When writing new content you should reference other pages, where appropriate, and link to them from within the content of your text. Use keywords related to the page being linked to within the hyperlink anchor text.
Obtaining External Back-Links
People and businesses within your personal network are all potential link partners. If they have websites ask if they would like to exchange links. Suggest your preferred anchor text for them to use to link to you.
If your content it really good and informative others may freely link to your pages if they feel those pages would be useful information to their visitors. Produce top notch content and links to your site will magically appear.
Link Anchor Text
The colored, often underlined, clickable text that forms a text link is known as the link anchor text. Not only does Google take note of the links pointing to your pages it also takes note of the anchor text used to link to it. This text is often descriptive of the page it is linking to thus they are often keywords and can give Google extra clues as to what the page being linked to is about. When creating internal links to your own pages be sure to, where appropriate, use keyword rich descriptive anchor text. When obtaining links from others be sure to suggest your preferred anchor text.
Mix up your anchor text. Don’t use the same set of keywords in every internal link within your site and external link you obtain from other sites. Varying your anchor text lets you target a wider range of related search terms and keeps Google happy. Consistently using the exact same anchor text in all links pointing to a particular page may be the sign of a link spammer who is trying to hard to manipulate Google. This can trigger “over-optimization” penalties.
Monitoring Traffic & Mining Keyword Logs
Your web host will be storing server access logs. This records visits to your website and lots of useful data about those visits. Your hosting package will likely include a statistics package that lets you view this data. It will show things like number of visitors per day, which pages they are visiting, and how they found your site (links from other sites and from search engines). If they came from a search engine it records the keywords they used in their search. This data is golden.
Besides the stats package available on your server, Google has a great stats tool called Analytics. Its very powerful and allows you to drill down through the data in lots of useful ways. And it’s free. If your web designer did not install the Analytics code to your pages then you should ask them to do so. You will need to set-up a Gmail account to use Analytics.
When mining through the keyword data you can see the most common keywords people are using to find your pages. You can then check for yourself to see where you are ranking in Google for those keywords. It can help you spot variations of keywords you had not thought of and show keywords for which you’re not performing as well as you think you should. This can then form a strategy for improvements in your optimization strategies.