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.
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:
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.
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.