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Essential SEO Settings for Every New WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

Some bloggers, designers, and WordPress developers have a kind of love-hate relationship with SEO. I know—some people tend to be overly focused on everything SEO-related, and they just keep blasting us with the next “crucial” SEO advice every day.

On the other hand, some people tend to completely overlook it, and act like there’s no such thing as SEO. The truth is that neither of these approaches is the right one.

Many SEO-centered people don’t put a strong focus on the content quality they’re creating. It’s an easy trap to fall into. There are only so many hours in a day, and if you spend most of them on, for example, link building then there’s not much time left to do some honest writing.

If you’re in the other camp then I’m sorry, but this isn’t good either. No matter if you’re a blogger managing your own site, or a developer creating sites for others, SEO is always an important element, though it may not be the most important one.

Let me agree with the SEO guys for a minute, and admit that SEO is the best way of getting a constant stream of new visitors every day. Of course, there are other methods too, but nothing is as predictable as SEO.

When you do some kind of promotion on social media, for example, and get 1,000 visitors in a day, then that’s great, but the next day you’re likely to see no one. If you work on your SEO, however, and get 1,000 visitors one day, 1,000 the next day, and 1,000 the next day, then there are good chances the fourth day will bring similar results.

Furthermore, everybody is affected by SEO. If you’re a blogger, then getting new visitors is in your best interests, obviously. But if you’re a developer and a scenario occurs in which your client is not able to attract any new visitors to their site on a consistent basis, then it’s probably your last gig with that client.

Now, there are only so many things we can do in terms of SEO when getting a WordPress blog ready to be launched. Of course, the most important factors are what gets done after the launch—the various SEO activities the webmaster takes—and Sophie Lee explained a number of them recently. But in order to provide you with some solid groundwork, the blog needs to be made SEO-friendly from day one. Here’s how.

Setting the site title and tagline

Where I usually start is by deciding on a good site title and tagline. And I’m talking only in terms of SEO.

A good title and tagline contain the main keywords for the site. Some proper research needs to be done first, and I’m not going to cover this here, but after that’s been done, one of the most important things you can do is include your keywords of choice in the title and the tagline of the site.

This is the first point at which the theme you’re using (or designing) might interfere with these settings. Different themes do different things with the site’s title and its tagline. Some simply display it in a visible place; others ignore it entirely.

A completely different approach is to choose not to use the site title or the tagline anywhere on the blog. I don’t see it as a wise choice, though. You can choose not to use the tagline—not every blog needs a tagline. But the title is a crucial element for many more reasons than just SEO. Make sure you choose one and use it.

Creating permalinks

In plan English, permalinks represent the structure of every URL on a blog. A single blog post can have one of many URL structures. Some of the more popular ones are:

  • domain.com/?p=POSTID
  • domain.com/2011/12/03/post-name/
  • domain.com/category/post-name/
  • domain.com/post-name/

These are not the only possibilities. WordPress provides you with a lot of tags, so you’re able to create literally tens of different URL structures. Only few, however, have any point to them.

Let me just quickly summarize the whole issue here (for more info feel free to visit my other post, Getting the Permalink Settings for WordPress Just Right). My favorite permalink structure is the last one presented on the list above, which is: domain.com/post-name/.

Why? It provides the webmaster with a possibility to include keywords into each post’s or page’s URL, which is one of the main on-page SEO factors for Google. Due to the limited space in a URL, Google knows that the most descriptive keywords are most likely to appear there.

I’m not saying that you have to use this exact structure, but if you set the permalinks to a setting that doesn’t enable including keywords then you’re shutting the door for whoever is going to be managing the site later on.

Building a sitemap

The definition I’m using for sitemap is: a file that provides a map of all the URLs that are a part of a website.

Search engines always look for such a file because it’s the easiest way for them to index all pages that need to be indexed. As a blogger, you have to make it possible for such sitemaps to be created automatically whenever a new page or post gets created.

Luckily, there are many plugins that can make it happen. Two of the more popular ones, which I’ve been using successfully(of course, don’t use both of them at the same time) are:

The plugin by Yoast actually offers a lot more than just sitemaps, and it’s the one I’m using right now on my blog.

These sitemap plugins can be a little tough to deal with at some times. I mean, they work just fine, but the amount of possible settings can be frightening. Thankfully, the default settings seem to be optimal.

Using an SEO-friendly theme

This is a big deal—the most important thing, in my opinion. No matter what settings you choose for your blog, your theme needs to support them.

First things first. Free themes are evil.

Theme frameworks or custom-made themes are great. The only problem is that you need to spend a lot of time working on tweaking the theme to fit your requirements perfectly. But the work often pays off, especially for those somewhat WordPress-savvy people who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. What I actually advise is to invest in a premium theme.

Now, let’s talk some SEO characteristics of a good theme. First of all, and this goes for everyone, no matter if you’re shopping for a theme or creating one from the ground up: a good theme needs to provide the possibility for assigning custom SEO titles and descriptions to individual posts, pages, categories, and tags.

By default, WordPress creates those automatically. What happens is the post’s or page’s title becomes the SEO title as well, and the excerpt becomes the SEO description.

This isn’t a perfect solution. Some post titles will inevitably be longer than SEO tells you is optimal (which is about 65 characters). Another thing is that post titles are always more conversational in nature and less SEO-optimized. A proper SEO title should therefore be a kind of a summary of the post title.

Anyway, I’m sure you see the value. Being able to set SEO titles and descriptions is a must. Period.

The HTML structure of a theme has much SEO weight to it too. For instance, HTML errors (you can discover them by installing a plugin for your browser; many of those are available for Firefox, for example). If your blog has a lot of HTML errors, then you’re making it significantly more difficult for a search engine to visit it and read the content.

HTML is not a complicated language, but truly mastering it to the point where you’re not making any structural errors takes a while. This is a skill developers learn over time.

Proper <H> heading usage is another point. Search engines look at every page in a search for fragments of text that have any kind of emphasis placed on them. For example, if you decide to bold something within a sentence, then it’s probably something important—something you want to attract additional attention to.

Google and other search engines see those phrases, too. For this matter, headings are some of the most important elements. A good theme needs to use them for post titles, page titles, and also provide a well formatted style for different headings when used within the content of the post or page itself.

We’re not done with the structure yet. Google doesn’t see every page the same way. For example, you can go to seo-browser.com and do a quick test on whatever site you want. What you’ll notice is that no matter what address you input, the site looks nothing like you’re used to seeing it. Put in a few page URLs and get a feel for how differently Google sees them.

Now, some hints! A well designed theme rearranges the HTML structure of the site. It does it in a way so the main content of the site is always close to the top of the HTML structure. This is a challenge that requires some CSS knowledge to implement, and can be difficult is some cases.

For example, if a site is using one sidebar on the left, one on the right, and the main content block is in the center, then the easiest way of creating such a structure is to first create the code for the left sidebar, then the content block, and then the right sidebar. Unfortunately, this is not the optimal solution. The main content block always needs to appear first in the HTML structure. This is something beginner CSS enthusiasts often find difficult to implement.

And that’s why you need a premium theme: to ensure that the structure of your site is as seo-friendly as possible.

Understanding indexation

No matter what site you’re working on, not every page deserves to be indexed by search engines.

WordPress as a platform creates a lot of duplicate content—category pages, tag pages, date archives, author archives—and for the most part they are all duplicates.

A blog that’s SEO-friendly should define what gets indexed and what doesn’t. One solution of doing this is to use the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast mentioned earlier.

Some areas you might consider not indexing:

  • category archives or tag archives
  • date-based archives
  • author archives.

Choosing what to index, and what not to index, is a way of speaking to the search engines. What you’re doing is simply helping them to identify what the most important areas of your blog are, by excluding some of the less-important ones.

Now, the first area on the list is “category or tag archives.” It’s for you to decide upon the best approach for your blog. The general rule, as Sophie explained the other day, is not to let duplicate content pages get indexed. If you’re using the same categories or tags for many posts then your category or tag archives are becoming just that: duplicate content. Setting everything up to prevent this from the get-go is a good practice.

Since we’re talking indexation it’s worth to mention nofollow settings. As many of you know, nofollow is an attribute you can give to a link so it remains unfollowed by the search engines. Some of the links that are good to be no-followed are comment links (whatever people commenting on the blog link to).

Your first steps

The topic of SEO for WordPress blogs is a really big one, and it always takes some time before one can get a good grasp on the whole issue. This post presents only the essential, initial steps you’ll want to take care of, and some of the most basic facts.

When you’re searching for additional information keep in mind to read only the latest posts and tutorials. The rules have a tendency to change quite often in the SEO world! For now, feel free to comment and tell me what your initial SEO settings for your new blog are. I’m curious to know.

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Currently, he’s working on a new e-book titled “WordPress Startup Guide – little known things worth doing when creating a WordPress site.” The e-book launches soon, and now the best part … it’s free. Also, don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some premium WordPress themes.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for all the great info Karol – I am trying to become more SEO savy {I must admit – it’s not my main focus but I am trying to be better about giving it its fair due}. I completely overlooked the sitemap so thanks so much for the reminder :~) Up to the top of my “to do” list!

    • Karol says:

      Sitemaps are very important, Giving them the top spot on your to-do list is a good idea. :)

  2. Linda Caroll says:

    Had to laugh at the “free themes are evil” sentence. It’s true that a lot of free themes have sloppy code and aren’t exactly SEO friendly. But I’d caution people against falling into the “free is bad, paid is good” way of thinking… I’ve seen paid themes that are poorly coded and free ones that are awesome.

    As with most things, the key is to learn enough to know what’s good vs what’s bad.

    You made some really good points — especially about the reliability of SEO. A well ranked site can bring traffic day after day.

  3. Subodh Gupta says:

    Hey Karol, it’s a very well written post – especially for new bloggers.
    I completely agree that the WordPress theme plays a vital role. For some of my blogs, I earlier used few very pretty looking themes but they were not properly coded. (I use gtmetrix to test the score and details). I then installed thesis & genesis themes and bingo! the rank improved automatically. (Obviously, I had to do a lot more stuff other than changing the theme)

    • Karol says:

      That’s essentially the story. The best stores realize that their products should be of top quality, and in some cases you can see results pretty quickly after you switch to a new theme.

  4. Terence says:

    There sure is a lot to learn, you got that right. I think you covered SEO for WordPress well. Thanks for the post.

  5. Most posts in my website have the same tag and category. Are you suggesting that we use robots.txt to disallow Google from indexing the tag or category archive? Let’s say that most of my posts are under the category ‘XYZ’, then would normally be available under mysitename.com/category/xyz using WordPress. Should we block access to the directory /category/xyz – given the vast number of WordPress sites out there, I expected Google to be clever enough to figure this out and not “penalize” the duplicate content.

    • Karol says:

      After doing some research I’ve found that there are two main approaches here. (1) You can block your tag and category archives, so Google doesn’t see them. (2) More and more people believe that Google can indeed figure this out for a WordPress blog. The platform has been around for long enough so the search engines are used to it. Plus, WordPress is an insanely popular platform, which only makes it more obvious.

      In the end, if you’ve been running your blog for a longer while then you can skip the changes and leave everything like it is right now.

  6. Some great points here, especially since on the official Google Webmaster blog yesterday they said a certain degree of SEO is good if it helps good content get noticed by search engines.

    Some posts I optimize, and some I don’t even bother plugging KWs into my Yoast plugin. At the bare minimum you should be doing keyword research to find certain topics that can drive your traffic.

    • Karol says:

      Sounds just like what I’m doing on my blogs. For some posts it’s simply impossible to find any keywords that would make sense.

  7. Steve Hippel says:

    A very interesting post and I do agree with you overal. I guess I lean a little more toward the type who places quite a bit of importance on SEO but at the same time I don’t optimise every page.

    I think that most bloggers would agree that blogging builds credibility, trust authority and those all important ties. Social can achieve the same, can reinforce your blog/website and bring a boat load of traffic very quickly.

    I think that most bloggers would also agree that these methods are time consuming ongoing and bring a very high percentage of non buying traffic. Spending a lot of time optimising a page and getting links is time consuming but it brings visitors that are actively looking for your business, product or service. More importantly, those visitors will keep coming when you stop.

    I totally agree that all of these things are important but I would rather have 10 laser focused visitors that are actively looking for my product than 10 000 tyre kickers who are looking for links to their website.

    Having said that, this is a really detailed, balanced and informative post with excellent advice. thank’s for sharing.

    • Karol says:

      I agree with you. It’s nothing new that StumbleUpon traffic, for example, isn’t really valuable. It creates a big spike but nothing happens later on. I would much rather have 10 targeted visitors than 10k random visitors too.

  8. Brief yet simple explanation. Thanks Karol, not yet know that Yoast SEO also include a sitemap functionality juat like google xml sitemap does. I use both now :lol: Time to make good move ;-)

  9. Joseph Shaw says:

    I agree with all of these points, and do this regularly. I was just checking a few things last week and found that I have 20 or more keyword searches that have page 1 rankings in Google. This is great info and I know by experience it works!

    Joe

  10. michael says:

    What is the difference between Genisis framework and something like woothemes or ithemes? Also which would be easier to use?

    I am not interested in being a coder or guru of web design any more than I am at this point or in that manor. What I would like to do is provide web and mobile web sites to my many clients very quickly with the least work on my end, the best graphics possible, including hosting and maintainace and having pretty much everything set to do business in a turn key fashion.

    My clients, that are in business and want and need to utilize the internet and this new social media style of advertising are also not interested in knowing nor learning any of this yet.

    In a perfect world I would have each and every client maintain at least the social media aspect of it which I believe is essential. They know their clients much better and would be able to engage or strategize with a bit of my help, much differently than myself. Even know I get the best feel possible by asking them many questions to try and fully understand their business and clients. It is just not the same as the actual business owner themseves doing this part of their own web presence and or maintaining of web and social platforms.

    Thank you. I have many questions in this area of web design and business that are still unanswered. I think a blog dedicated to this is definitely a need for small and big businesses in order for them to easily transition to the new ways of the web. – All the Best -mj

  11. michael says:

    One more thing.

    It would be great if a blog such as yours here had a step by step on building such a web site and blog including what theme, whate”framework” plugins used and possible extras that may be added.

    Everthing from the ground up simply explained, as there are many beginner web enthusiests that have been in business a long time although do not understand web business and or how to construct such a site but, they have expertise in their specific area of business and would be of great value to the web community if there were able to construct such a site in an “easy to use all around” fashion.

    They opportunity and tools available today are awesome but just do not cut it as a simple or turn key way to start doing business on the web. Let alone blogging and posting and maintaining their own even after constructed by a service such as mine.

    This needs to be simplified for these type of business people who believe in the keep it simple jeep it stupid way of doing things if you will. Thanks -mj

  12. michael says:

    Excellent blog ProBlogger is. A great starting point in your online search for beginning your web site and online business strategy. Still a touch complicated for the beiner though. I have been on this blog for about an hour and I am afraid to say that NO beginner weather mobile such as myself now, or on a desktop would spend this amount of time in their search for a strait forward answer.

    It would be hard enough to get people to pay attention to one post including information and step by step on beiginning their web site and business online. This site does work very well as far as tweets and “like”s and the speed in which they do so. It is definietely one of the fastest I have used and works better with better navigation than even mashable.com. I would love to see a mobile version with big and easy to see and use links buttons and readabilty. As many web surfers”" do not enjoy the multitude of reading involved in such a task. Great Job. Keep up the development -mj

  13. Bill says:

    As a newbie, SEO is something I’m struggling with everyday. I use a free WordPress template currently and its sad to see that my template may be holding me back. Do you have any suggestions for those of us that use free templates?

  14. Great overview to build a solid foundation to start with. Many people think, “oh, I’ll get the site up and running and then deal with optimization” when the truth is few people ever go back and spend time on it. Doing it when setting up the blog is a must!

    I was recently interviewed on the Masonworld Late Night Internet Marketing podcast where I gave “23 WordPress SEO Tips”, some of which you mentioned already but here’s a link to the “show notes” from those episodes (links are on the page for anyone wanting to listen to the podcast as well).

    http://www.genuineinternetmarketing.com/internet-marketing/23-genuine-wordpress-seo-tips/

    And, yes, using an SEO-friendly theme/framework such as Genesis can help a TON “out-of-the-box”.

  15. Great insights here!

  16. Joe Boyle says:

    I think people who are die-hard SEO fanatics are only setting themselves up for disappointment. The algorithms that Google uses to rank your page in search results are always changing. What works this year probably won’t work next year. The constants remain the same – keywords, titles, descriptions, etc. – but their importance changes. In the original days of SEO, writing keyword-packed articles with no real content would do it for you. Now-a-days, that’ll easily ruin your rankings.

    Until the spammers of the web leave the internet (by spammers, I mean those who just create websites with thousands of posts full of disgusting-keyword-spamming and the horrid spam-commenters), SEO will never be a sound practice. It’ll always be a risk to adjust to.

    • Gjivan says:

      Completely agree in this comment @ Joe. Algo of google changes according to time, and this is the normal process which is must too. The main objective behind this is only to deliver the relevant and high quality results to the one who is searching through them. We have seen a lot of MFA or spammy micro niche sites are being indexed in top 3 position for a particular keyword, not because of high quality contents but by some unethical seo practices and many unique and relevant contents are being kicked to some 10th page which, an user can never see. So, to maintain the balance and to give priority to the quality, updating and changing of algorithm is the must.

  17. Conran says:

    Having been in the blogging world on and off for a couple of years now, and tried various tips regarding blogging and SEO, this is by far one of the best articles I have read on the subject.

    When I say I’ve tried everything, I really have. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of it might contain one or two good pieces of advice, but this article covers everything I now do when starting up a new blog. And I’ve learned this through trial and error.

    I now have three income streams, but blogging is the primary one. So, from one blogger to potentially a lot of others who might read this, take this article as an accurate source of what you really SHOULD be doing.

    Finally, I think I would stress that original content is key. With the changes Google is continuously making, you absolutely have to write your own content. No copy/paste unless you are quoting a source.

    I just wish I could establish the same concrete principles for my shop, as I use a different out-of-the-box platform for that and the SEO is terrible.

    Anyway, great article!

  18. Gjivan says:

    Firstly i would like to thank you for this beautiful post. The points you have mentioned regarding SEO are quite interesting and informative too. Its not good to be highly concentrative on SEO engineering of a blog or site which may reduce the quality of content we are publishing or delivering, and its also not worthwhile not to focus on SEO by only thinking of unique content production. So, the balance between these two parts must be equal as both are the inevitable factors determining the success or failure of a blog or site.

  19. Hi

    I think SEO, is thought to be the best thing since sliced bread but too many people over analyse it or over do it, causing their site to get sand boxed, then they say seo is too hard and move on. Truth is though like other methods if you have a plan of action, you are more likely to succeed.

    I totally agree though it’s about finding a happy medium.

    Thanks
    Dave

  20. Akash says:

    Thanks for this very useful Post for all bloggers. Well I have one Question – My blog Permalink structure is – /%postname%/%post_id%/ So tell me – Is it Good to use this type of structure on my blog or I need to change this.

  21. Mike says:

    Nice overview of the basic setting of Search Engine Optimization.

    It should be very clear to everybody that search engine algorithms are evolving continuously and it is becoming difficult to rank your sites with outdated and manipulative SEO Tactics . It is importnat that you follow reliable SEO practices that would stay for the years to come .

  22. rakesh kumar says:

    A great tutorial for the beginners who have not have any idea how to fine tune wordpress for better results. if you could add some pictures related to your topic, then that might be a great help for all of us.

  23. netxsol says:

    Nowadays, you can find miscellaneous models of portable garment racks in fashion boutiques, clothing shops, gift stores, warehouses, hotels, laundries, markets and even at homes. portable clothing racks is the best solution for you to demonstrate or store any kind of clothes. Without them, you could not conveniently move clothing from one area to another.

  24. sasa says:

    I have many questions in this area of web design and business that are still unanswered. I think a blog dedicated to this is definitely a need for small and big businesses in order for them to easily transition to the new ways of the web

  25. Hi Karol.

    Thanks for the tips. However, you’ve left me wondering one thing about permalinks – is it better to have catelogued permalinks i.e “/2012/blog-post-title/” or “/blog-post-title/”? If one is better than the other, what benefits and disadvantages does it bring?

  26. Wonderful blog & good post. Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

  27. One thing I suggest relating to getting a theme with good SEO is to have it checked by an SEO expert instead of just taking the designer/sellers word, I see so many themes that claim they are SEO optimized and really aren’t.

  28. Gayle says:

    Awesome article,I am new to WordPress and I never realized the point about duplicate content,I have some work to do today fixing some settings.
    Great write up, thank you for the tips

  29. James says:

    I have seen similar content about SEO elsewhere, but this article was verry down to earth about it. Even if we produce amazing content we still need to have a split focus on SEO. I would like to know what Problogger thinks about having a two person team for blogging. One person focuses on content creation and the other person focuses on backlink building. We just started http://www.howtostartblogs.info and trying to compile a list of “blogger status quos” from the blogger in the know.

    Thanks,
    James

  30. Good post, great blog. I think it would enhance the small and big businesses.

  31. Heidi says:

    Does any site-map function the same? For example I am using the site map template from the suffusion theme. Does this site-map work just as well as one that is created from a plugin? Thank you for your help!

  32. Vivek Kumar says:

    This is the complete insight of seo. Any new blogger will surely benefit from these tips, also see this blog’s post : http://blogvkp.com/google-seo-tricks-for-2012/