WordPress is pretty well optimized for search engines out of the box, but it isn’t perfect. More specifically, it needs a helping hand in two areas:
- Additional functionality in the form of an advanced SEO plugin such as SEO by Yoast
- The effective application of onsite SEO measures
Ultimately, you are responsible for how well-optimized your site is for search engine results pages (SERPs). If you’re not following basic SEO fundamentals, any plugins or widgets you have installed will be of little use.
With that in mind, I have written two posts that list the most common WordPress onsite SEO mistakes, along with guidelines on how to avoid them. Today we are going to be focusing on mistakes specific to individual posts and pages. In the next and final installment we will be focusing on the big picture changes you can make to your whole site. Enjoy!
Not Optimizing Your Permalink
Your permalink is good for two things:
- Giving visitors to your site an indication of what a page is about
- Indicating relevancy to search engines
As such, you should ensure that your permalink structure is defined correctly in Settings > Permalinks on your backend:
As you can see, permalinks on my blog are set to the post (or page) name only, and this is the format I would recommend. You may wish to add the date to your permalink if content on your site is in some way date-relevant (such as a news articles).
Once you have set your permalink structure correctly, you will want to make sure that each of your posts’ permalinks are are well-optimized for the specific keywords you are targeting. For instance, here’s the permalink for this post:
As you can see, it does not simply reflect the whole title (which is what a permalink does by default in WordPress). I have amended it to focus on just the most important keywords in the headline, which will be useful for Google when it comes to interpreting relevancy.
Not Optimizing Your Post’s SERPs Presentation
One of the many reasons I consider the SEO by Yoast plugin (mentioned at the beginning of this post) so invaluable is its per-post/page optimization options. Here’s a screenshot from this post:
If you’re not optimizing your posts and pages by filling in the fields above, you’re missing out on a trick:
- The Focus Keyword allows you to assess how well optimized your post/page as a whole is for the primary keyword you are targeting.
- The SEO Title allows you to adjust your title tag (as opposed to the headline within the content itself) to be more search engine friendly.
- The Meta Description allows you to create a manual description for your page/post that will display in SERPs as well as in other places (such as social media sites). Writing manual descriptions can have a dramatically positive effect on click through rates.
Make sure that each page and post on your site is edited optimally for display in SERPs.
There are a number of benefits to linking between blog posts on your site (such as lower bounce rates and increased user engagement), but for SEO purposes we are concerned with relevance.
Put simply, if Google sees that you are linking to contextually relevant pages within your site, they are going to better understand your site’s relevancy to a particular topic as a whole. Not only can effective interlinking demonstrate the relevancy of a particular page to a topic, but it can also result in an overall increase in rankings across an entire topic (as your site is recognized as an authority).
The key is to interlink often (but only when relevant) and to use keyword-rich anchor texts. Instead of “to learn more, click here“, write “learn more about dog training“. A plugin that I have found extremely useful in making interlinking quicker and easier is Better Internal Link Search (here’s why). Check it out.
Poor External Linking
Although it may seem counterintuitive, you can positively affect your search engine rankings by regularly linking out to relevant and authoritative external sites. This is for two reasons:
- The relevancy factor as discussed in the interlinking section above
- Google likes to see sites refer to others — in the same way that a medical journal cites other studies
Put simply, if your site doesn’t link to external sites, Google will take that as a sign that your content is not particularly valuable. So make sure that you are regularly linking out to relevant and authoritative websites and blogs in your niche.
Poor Image Optimization
Search engines cannot see text in image form, so you need to hold their hand a little when it comes to media. That’s where the alt and title tags come in, as shown here in the WordPress media uploader:
There is endless debate in the SEO world as to how important alt and title tags are respectively, but rather than waste my time on that, I simply add text to both. When it comes to these tags you should focus both on SEO and usability. For many people (such as the visually impaired or mobile users), images may not be viewable, in which case they will see the alt text. Therefore, it should be descriptive of the image, whilst also focusing on keywords relevant to the content. Don’t forget to include alt and title text on logos, taglines, and any navigational images. They’re all useful for providing search engines with greater context as to the subject of your site.
Poor Categorization/Tagging Practice
This is a real pet hate of mine — pages that are associated with a huge number of categories and tags. How is a search engine supposed to make sense of a post that is associated with a wide range of keywords?
I keep things real simple when it comes to WordPress posts and taxonomies — less is more. On my own blog I link each post to just one category and a handful of highly relevant tags. This way, I produce contextually relevant taxonomy pages that Google sees fit to rank.
There’s More to Come…
If you follow the above recommendations, your WordPress site’s posts and pages will be in much better shape before long. However, there are even more mistakes that many webmasters make that have ramifications for entire websites — the kind of issues that can have a pretty severe impact on rankings. Join me in the second and final part of this series to discover how these common mistakes can be rectified!