How to market yourself #5: How to optimize your WordPress site for search engines

web page with cursor

This is the fifth in the series where I explain how an individual or small or medium sized organization can get themselves noticed in the big bad world.

Other installments explained how to set up a web site from scratch, how to install WordPress and what to write on your site.

Before we commence a couple of definitions – SEO or Search Engine Optimization: is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via organic search results. Keywords: (1) descriptors that capture the essence of a topic or (2) the words you type into a search engine in order to find stuff.

WordPress is pretty well structured for SEO anyway but there are a number of things you can do to improve it’s performance thus winning you more visitors, collaborators and clients.

Get the right URLs

By default WordPress uses web URLs which have question marks and lots of numbers in them (for example: http://www.your-site.com/?p=N). It’s not good and it’s not pretty. In the WordPress admin panel go Settings > Permalinks. What format is the best to choose? I would go for /%postname%/. This is best because the URLs to articles should never change and it gets keyword rich page titles in there separated by hyphens (for example: http://www.your-site.com/keyword-rich-post/). But, remember, don’t stuff any area with your keywords. Just use them naturally.

Title tags

The most important part of a web page in terms of SEO is the title. Optimize what goes in between and on the top of your browser window. So the name of your WordPress blog to include the keywords that you want people to find you with when they enter them into a search engine. Do this in Settings > General > Blog Title in WordPress’s administration panel. My title is Freelance Graphic Designer London. That’s sort of what I am and I want to attract people who type those words into a search engine to me.

Search engines put more weight on the early words so it is better to have your page title (and then category) to come before your site title. There are many ways of doing this. I would recommend that you use the HeadSpace plugin to do this. Mac users beware that HeadSpace does not work correctly with Firefox, so try Safari.

Categories

WordPress offers excellent categorization of your content. Make sure the category titles are keyword-rich. Write enticing descriptions of your categories in Posts > Categories. Use HeadSpace to add that description to the meta description, by adding %%category_description%% in the Description field.

Heading tags

Generally keywords are better off appearing within <h1>, <h2> and <h3> tags than within <p> tags. The <h2> tags are the title of your post or page so put keywords in there. Within your posts and pages you can add subheadings (<h3> tags) which can also contain keywords.

Images

When including an image in the content of your website be sure to name it correctly. So make it “computer-screen.jpg” rather than “image01.jpg”. Also always put an <alt> tag description of about four words explaining what the image looks like. By all means put keywords in there if they are relevant but (as always with keywords) don’t force it. I get about as much traffic from Google image search as I do from ordinary organic Google search just from doing this.

Sitemap and robots.txt

Creating an XML sitemap is often considered a boost to your SEO. It is a widely adopted search engine standard that helps search engine robots crawl your site. It was created by Google and adopted by Yahoo!, Microsoft and others in the search engine industry. You can do this very easily with the Google sitemap generator plugin for WordPress.

So you’ve created an XML sitemap so now what do you do? If you haven’t already, log on to Google Webmaster Tools add your site and submit your sitemap.

You need to add a reference to it in your robots.txt so robots other than Googlebot will know of its presence.

Search engines will look in your root domain for a special file named “robots.txt” (http://www.mydomain.com/robots.txt). The file tells the robot (spider) which files it may spider and where your sitemap is. Here is mine:

User-agent: * Sitemap: http://robcubbon.com/sitemap.xml
Disallow: /wp-

I have disallowed the robots from directories that have either no relevant content or duplicate content.

Embolden words

Words within <strong> tags carry more weight in SEO terms (as well as visually) than words within <p> tags.

Meta tags

The meta tags provide structured metadata about a web page and exist in the <head> section. They are generally considered to be obsolete but the description tag does appear on the SERPS and therefore should be generated separately for each page. Keyword tags maybe totally ignored but HeadSpace makes creating them very easy so you may as well.

Write your .htaccess

You can choose whether your site should be a www or non-www site. Your site with and without a www could appear to be two sites with the exact same content. Search engines don’t like seeing content copied. You can divert your www url to your non-www url or vice versa by entering a small bit of code into the .htaccess document on the root of your server.

Follow standards

Make sure HTML and CSS code is standards compliant.

Further reading

Here are a couple of pages I have found to be very useful for SEO and WordPress:

These are only a few things I can think of in order to make a WordPress site optimized for search engines. If anyone knows anymore white hat techniques for SEO – let me know.

Apologies to my English brethren, forefathers and Shakespeare, I’m using American spellings from now on. Most of my visitors are American and with the pound down so low I’d be especially pleased to attract American clients! (As I am pleased to attract a client from anywhere!)

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for a another great resource Rob. I knew the majority of it, but I have learned a couple of things, too.

    I always used the exact same Alt text for my images as the image name. For example, if my image name was:

    graphic-designer-logo.png

    …I would used the Alt text:

    Graphic Designer Logo Image

    Is this the correct way, or “pushing it”?

    PS, good to see you’ve decided to use USA spelling like myself.

  2. says

    Hi Andrew, it’s a good question and one that I’m not sure I know the answer.

    What I would say is that the Alt tag is meant to be for people who don’t view the images, because they have them turned off or because they are visually impaired. So for that reason you should maybe put a bit more information in the Alt tag than in the image name but maybe someone else knows more about this and can comment.

    I don’t know if I’d put the word “image” in the alt text, isn’t that superfluous?

    Anyway, yes, I do wonder when to use British spellings and when to use American spellings these days, but I’ve gone over to American on this site from now on! Cheers!

  3. says

    Whoa! I learned a lot from this blog. Reading it made me realized that I know very little. Thank you for sharing these useful info.

  4. Ami says

    Thanks for the heads up
    Two questions
    1. are you palnning a series on optimizing blogger blogs for the search engines. I ask this because all the guides tend to be focused on WordPress which, is cool but some of us are into Blogger

    2. Does the name of the page actually carry any weight. I.e the subdomain name. Do keywords in this have any value

  5. says

    Hello Ami, I’m sorry all my experience is with WordPress rather than any of the other blogging platforms. However a lot of this article will be relevant to Blogger, for example the use of keywords and where to put them. You could always transfer from Blogger to WordPress, of course.

    As for your second question, I’m not sure if I exactly understand what you mean by “name of the page”. Do you mean the “page-name.html” in the URL? If so, yes, it does carry weight that’s why it’s important to get your page title into the URL separated by hyphens. I think that all words in the URL carry weight, therefore subdomains, categories and web site names are all important. I hope this helps.

  6. says

    Hi Rob, this is a great post. Of all the things you have mentioned, the one which took me the longest to implement was robots.txt – because I didn’t really appreciate its importance at first.

    BTW, I like your site redesign! The double meaning in the globe image is a nice touch.

  7. says

    I am so glad you linked to the google sitemap generator plug-in, I have installed on two blogs that are kicking butt search engine wise, but couldn’t find it again to download and put on a few others I have.

    There is a no-www plug-in available for people like me who read the words “edit htaccess” and panic. You can get it here: http://ma.tt/2006/06/wordpress-no-www/

    Hopefully askimet won’t eat my comment for sharing that one with you :)

  8. says

    Tracey, Hi! They tell us robots.txt is important so I guess it is. Thanks for your kind words about the site re-design. I’m not quite there at the moment but I’ll get there soon.

    David, you’re probably right. I’m trying to do American spellings to my American clients in emails and I must admit I don’t know whether I’m coming or going at the moment.

    Chelle, that’s a good plugin, thanks. Akismet did hold you back but I’ve let you through!

    Thanks for the plugins, Online Printing, I used to use All in One SEO Pack now I use Headspace. You can’t use both at the same time though!

    Ami, no problem!

  9. amilee says

    But why wordpress ? Why everyone wants to use wordpress ? Why not making an original site and backend for your clients ?

  10. says

    Hi Anika this is my own WordPress theme. Everybody uses WordPress or other blogging CMSs because making you’re own CMS to drive a blog would take up so much time and be so pointless as it already exists it would be like trying to re-invent the wheel. There aren’t many areas of WordPress that aren’t customizable including the backend.

    Thanks, everybody.

  11. says

    Thanks so much Rob. I still have LOTS of work, but you make it easier. Clear, concise and straight forward to apply. You’re always a great learning source.
    Nadia

  12. Gabbay says

    I really like the colors here on your blog. did you design this yourself or did you outsource it to a professional?

  13. says

    @amilee,

    A lot of bloggers use WordPress blogs because it is really easy to use. You can see a lot of tutorials online so it is really manageable to set up and maintain one. There are a lot of content management solutions that can help you start a blog right away, but nothing beats WordPress in terms of development and updates.

    Hi Rob,

    Great tips on how to optimize a WordPress site. I agree with what you mentioned about the meta tags as this is still done by a lot because these appears on the SERPs still but generally is not really going to help with the rankings. It is through a solid SEO campaign that you can get more visitors to see your site aside from following these tips that you shared here.

    Have a great day!

    Cheers,
    Dave

  14. says

    Hello David, yes and thank you for your comment. These are just little tweaks you can make on site but up against with killer content and, as you say, a solid link building campaign, don’t make much difference.

    I’m listening to some of the great videos on your website. I’m really interested in NLP and you are a great proponent of it. All the best and I hope we meet again online!

  15. says

    Hey Rob,

    Great info on here, thanks. I have done some of the simple things here although have been manually changing the page/post names so the %postname% will be very handy. In regards to the robot file and where you exclude certain pages what does /wp- mean?

    Thanks

    • says

      Hi Greg, I’m not sure if this is so important nowadays. It was said that if you disallow /wp- from robots.txt it would stop Google from indexing any of the core WordPress files, like “wp-content” and “wp-admin” for example. There is no good reason for a search engine to index these files and it is rare that it should happen – even rarer now that WordPress is such a common publishing platform and everyone knows how it works. If in doubt you can check out the robots.txt file of famous bloggers and see what they put in!