Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is smoke and mirrors to some and a logical, systemized process to others. ManageWP’s Business Package offers keyword rank tracking and white-label client SEO reports because SEO is a critical part of promoting a business online, not just because it’s another thing that can be done.
There are dozens and dozens of “SEO for WordPress” articles, and I’d be a fool to think I could write a single blog post like “The Comprehensive Guide to WordPress SEO”, for several reasons:
- SEO strategies and tactics change over time as search engines evolve. Additionally, WordPress changes over time (e.g. post formats), and I’d have to keep this post constantly updated.
- I don’t know every possible scenario and best practices for every industry (no one knows everything) and some actions may work well only in specific situations.
- SEO is a touchy subject for many. Some think this way is the best, and another person might say the opposite way is the best. “The Best SEO Tips” or “The Only SEO Post You’ll Ever Need” are lofty titles that I just don’t want to try to live up to.
- Yoast pretty much already wrote one: The Definitive Guide to Higher Rankings for WordPress Sites
So there you have it. You won’t learn every nook and cranny of WordPress SEO (from me) today. Instead, I’d like to point out a few simple-to-implement but somewhat less common SEO tips that might help along the road toward SEO perfection.
5 Less Common SEO Tips for WordPress
To get started, install and activate WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. That’s a no-brainer. If you need help setting it up, check out one of these video tutorials or read Tom’s two-part series about it. Now for the less common tips…
1. Use a Customized robots.txt File
A physical robots.txt file is not auto-created by the WordPress Installer. Instead, a virtual robots.txt file is created. It’s bare bones:
Yeah, that’s it.
If you want to customize it, you’ll have to create an actual robots.txt file manually via FTP/SFTP at the root of your WordPress installation.
Creating a custom robots.txt file can help your website in several ways:
- Makes search engines aware of your XML sitemap so they can discover the rest of your site’s content
- Suggests search engines not crawl areas of your site and therefore reduces server load by avoiding unnecessary and unproductive crawling
- Increases the visibility of your actual site content in search results by having them not cluttered by content found in plugins and themes (disallowed locations), especially for a domain-specific search
When customizing your own robots.txt file, make sure to change the example.com references to match your website address, and if you have additional directories like demo, testing, or downloads, consider including those in the file as well, either as allow or disallow.
2. Add Customized Content to Your Archive Pages
Customizing your category archive pages (and optionally your tag archives too) is great for 2 reasons:
- It’s more user-friendly for humans, and
- You can tell search engines what this specific list of posts is all about
Derek Halpern, a website conversions specialist, wrote a great post about this strategy at DIYThemes (home to the Thesis theme). Several themes allow you to accomplish this natively.
In addition to adding front-end user-friendly content on custom category archives, Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin allows you to customize the search engine settings (like title and meta description) per taxonomy.
Bonus: The same principle applies to author archive pages. Include an author bio or something more than just a list of posts if the author archive pages are accessible on your site.
Microdata include a variety of HTML markup to help search engines interpret and categorize a page’s content. In other words, it provides search engines with context. For example, microdata can be used to organize a movie review by indicating it’s a movie, what the title is, and what the review rating is (i.e. how many stars). Another example is organizing the items for a recipe.
You may wonder what microdata can do for you besides organize movie reviews and recipes. Well, they are used for general blog posts, events, local business information, and more.
The popular Google+ Google Authorship microdata is another example you might be familiar with.
Once your page has microdata, you can see what Google sees via Google’s Rich Snippet Tester.
4. Optimize Images
Optimizing images is both a simple concept and fairly easy to accomplish; however, I see too many blogs not doing it so I’ll consider it a less common WordPress SEO tip. Here’s a collection of SEO image optimization tips:
- Before uploading to WordPress, minimize the file’s disk size. Dimension size doesn’t “hurt” but large dimensions typically are accompanied by large disk size. It’s strongly recommended to optimize pre-upload, but the WP Smush.it plugin is available to optimize mid-upload (although it’s API is not fast or reliable). Keeping your images lean helps with page loading time, which is an important metric to search engines and human visitors. (Also keep retina displays in mind if you want your images to look really, really, really good.)
- Before uploading to WordPress, rename your image filenames with keywords or descriptive text. For example, instead of uploading IMG_1702.jpg, rename the file to funny-cat-fell-down-and-cant-get-up.jpg. Make sure to use spaces or hyphens (not funnycatfelldownandcantgetup.jpg) or underscores (like cat_fell_down_and_cant_get_up.jpg).
- For images already uploaded to your site, the Media File Renamer plugin works quite well to rename the filenames and update the posts that reference the old filenames so your visitors don’t get “image not found” errors.
- All images should have alt text that describe the image. Think, “How would I describe this image to a blind person?” because search engines are blind — they can read, but they can’t see. Also, blind people do read websites via screen reader technology.
- Images should also have a title tag if you want to optimize them for search engines. The title tag is where you can have your way with the wording (remember, alt text has a bigger usability purpose). The title text is what is shown when a visitor hovers over the image, plus, search engines read title text for context.
- Image captions can also be a great optimization technique. Search engines don’t necessarily read image captions (depends how they’re coded), but humans see captions on images and captions can provide both context and content. People’s eyes gravitate toward images more than text. If you have an image(s) in your page or post, the eyeballs will go there and try to understand it, and if they don’t, they might bounce out right away and not read your site’s text. High bounce rate isn’t good for your site so give visitors one or more relevant images per page, and give them a useful caption too. Derek Halpern goes so far as to call it The Biggest Mistake Every Blogger Makes.
- Give each post a Featured Image. WordPress automatically serves up the Featured Image when people share your link online (e.g. Facebook URL Previews). Even without optimizing your Open Graph tags, your website can look good while being shared on the social web. Assigning a Featured Image to each post requires you to actually have an image for each post, which is also a good practice because both people and bots like images.
Here’s an example of a well-optimized funny cat image:
- image has large enough dimensions to display well but doesn’t have a large filesize
- filename is something like “funny-cat-fell-down-and-cant-get-up.jpg”
- alt text is something like “calico cat laying on ground looking hopeless with tongue sticking out”
- title text is something like “funny picture of a cat that fell down and cannot get up”
- caption text is something like “This cat did it again. He got stuck in a can <link to last week’s post> last week and now look at him!”
Image optimization isn’t quick, but it’s not too time-consuming. If you don’t want to spend all day optimizing images, here’s a time-sensitive workflow:
- Include at least one image per post
- Optimize the heck out of at least one image, including a caption if appropriate
- Set it as the Featured Image
- Install the SEO Friendly Images plugin and let it auto-generate the alt and title tag text for all other images.
If you’re looking for good images to use on your site, check out WPMU.org’s lists for free and paid images for your website. Also check out Wikipedia’s list of Public Domain Image Resources and Google’s Advanced Image Search (see the “usage rights” option).
5. Fat Pings (PubSubHubbub)
Fat pings, accomplished via the PubSubHubbub protocol, help you beat content scrapers in the race to inform search engines of new content and where it originated from (so that you’re the first to notify).
Content scrapers are very active and if you don’t have a very popular blog (like a big newspaper or corporation) that gets indexed consistently, your site might get indexed after a content scraper’s site with your content on it.
If you’re familiar with FeedBurner’s PingShot option, you’ve got the idea.
The PubSubHubbub plugin for WordPress.org is as easy as installing and activating. (There are alternative plugins if you’re interested.) ManageWP makes it easy to bulk install and activate WordPress plugins.
The True Purpose of SEO
Let’s keep in mind that the true purpose of Search Engine Optimization is conversions — getting them to do what you want them to do on your site. Whether you buy visitors (e.g. AdWords), get visitors from social networks, or have a high SERP (search engine ranking position), once that unique visitor lands on your site, wherever they may land, you want to get them to convert.
A successful conversion can be a variety of things: download your PDF, make a comment, sign up for your newsletter, buy your product, click a social share button, like your Facebook Page, call your telephone number, submit a contact form, etc.
SEO, like any marketing or communication effort, cannot be effective if you don’t have a defined message to communicate and goals to accomplish.
Hopefully one or more of these tips help you accomplish your goals, and I thank you in advance for your comments and social shares.