It’s something you hear time and time again in the web development and SEO community, “search engines love WordPress”. Many who are new to web design or are administering a WordPress site for the first time may automatically assume that WordPress comes SEO-optimized out of the box. Well, it doesn’t. There are several tweaks and plugins you must deal with first in order to make your WordPress installation SEO-friendly. Before you install any plugins, be sure to adjust your permalink settings. To do this go to Settings->Permalinks. Change these settings to anything but default. Because WordPress posts and pages are generated dynamically using a combination of PHP and MySQL the default URL string can be quite messy. I prefer to use “post name” settings, where the title of your post is what appears in the URL. Unless you’re running news site with high levels of traffic I would stay away from using the category structure. It creates canonicalization issues which causes certain content to get indexed multiple times.
After you’ve adjusted your permalink settings then it’s time to add a few essential WordPress plugins for SEO.
1) Yoast SEO
Simply put this is the most comprehensive plugin for technical, on-site SEO. It directly accesses your .htaccess and robots.txt files to perform a number of rewrite and redirect functions. Among its capabilities:
- Titles and Meta – This section allows you to force rewrite titles (individually adjust title and meta descr. at the page level) and allows you to noindex subpages, the meta keywords tag, and keep search engines from using DMOZ and Yahoo directory listings to automatically populate meta information in search results. You can also set defaults for post and page titles, categories, and author archives.
- Social Settings – This section makes it easy to administer the FaceBook open graph on your website. This is a nice feature for adding social interaction to your website. You can also access Google Plus and Twitter analytics. The most valuable thing from this section may be the ability to see FaceBook insights from within your WordPress dashboard.
- Sitemaps – While some debate the importance/overall effect of manually adding site maps yo your website the Yoast plugin makes it easy to administer. Hide/disallow directories at your convenience.
- Internal Links – Here you can adjust breadcrumb settings and taxonomies for different posts and categories.
I used to use Platinum SEO but I’ve found Yoast’s plugin to be more comprehensive. If you plan on utilizing self-hosted video you may want to check out the Yoast Video plugin. It automatically creates video site maps on your website, which (in theory) utilize metadata to produce rich-snippets in search results.
2) W3 Total Cache
Page caching is a popular way to enhance the speed of your website. W3 Total Cache aims to improve user experience by reducing the time it takes to download a web page by storing elements on the users browser so when they go from page to page they don’t have to “re-download” things. Some notable features:
- Page Cache – This increases the scale of your web server by reducing response times.
- Minify – When you’re adding multiple plugins and/or working with a premium theme you run into the problem of their bring too many style sheets. Minify combines the style rules onto fewer sheets.
- DataBase Cache – Since page and post content is stored in MySQL databases it’s smart to optimize the performance of them.
- CDN – Integrates with whatever Content Delivery Network you use. If you have an media-heavy website I highly suggest using a 3rd party to host the files.
Browser caching is by no means a new concept. This plugin makes it easy to administer caching from within the backend of WordPress.
3) Quick Page Post Redirects
Rather than go in and make manual edits to your website’s .htaccess file (which requires FTP access and a certain level of coding knowledge) Quick Page Post Redirects allows you to add redirects from within the WordPress backend. This plugin is very comprehensive and has steadily added features since I’ve been using it. Notable features include:
- Master Override Options – Allows you to set master options for that turn off all redirects, make all redirects “nofollow”, open in new windows and much more.
- Plugin Clean Up – This option will clean up (erase) all of the redirects you’ve perviously set with the plugin.
- Quick Redirects – The performs basic manual redirect options. Sometimes when we have broken links or canonical issues we want to “clean things up a little”. We can manually redirect specific URLs in this section.
- Redirect Summary – Gives an overview of all the URLs you’re redirecting using this plugin.
Performing redirects can be a tricky enterprise. Webmasters sometimes go crazy with redirects and can seriously mess up their indexation with search engines. Use this plugin carefully.
There are literally hundreds of SEO-related plugins that aim to boost your organic traffic and overall visibility in search engines. You can SEO-optimize your website until you’re blue in the face but if the content that you’re pushing out there sucks all of your efforts will be in vain. Making your WordPress site search engine “friendly” doesn’t guarantee you high placements in search results. If you’re looking for a quick fix to bring traffic to your website then you may want to consider PPC/Display advertising. It’s pricey but often times effective in understanding what visitors do when they get to your website. With keyword reports disappearing in Google analytics (thanks to encrypted search) PPC can offer insight into how well your site scores when people have specific, keyword-driven queries. SEO should be considered a long-term strategy. Covering your bases in regards to the technical SEO aspects is only the first step.