Despite the exponential growth of social media in the past few years, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is still an integral part of web publishing. Not properly optimizing your website for the search engines can result in lackluster rankings and by extension, less traffic than you might otherwise expect.
With that in mind, last week we covered a number of common onsite SEO mistakes that many WordPress users make on a per-page/post basis. This week I want to focus on errors that can have ramifications across an entire website — the kind of issues that can have a major impact on your site’s ability to rank for relevant keywords.
If you find that your site is victim to some of these errors, rectifying them may make a dramatic difference to the flow of search engine traffic to your WordPress site.
Important: If you missed Part 1, be sure to check out The Most Common WordPress Onsite SEO Mistakes Part 1.
Poorly Structured Headers
HTML headers (e.g. the <h1> tag) provide Google with a lot of context pertaining to the relevancy of your site. Words placed within header tags are weighted more heavily than those contained within the main content on your site.
As such, it is vitally important that you include relevant keywords within these headers whenever possible, but it is also important that your header tags are structured appropriately. Some WordPress themes do not follow best practice in this regard, so you may want to check your header tags now. In brief:
- On your home page, the <h1> tag should be the name of your site
- On all other pages, the <h1> tag should be the headline (i.e. of the post/page)
That way, your homepage has the best chance of ranking for your site’s name, and other pages have the best chance of ranking for whatever specific topic they are covering. Furthermore, <h2> and <h3> tags should be free for use as contextually relevant sub-headers. What your theme shouldn’t be doing is using those tags for wasteful purposes (e.g. for the headline “recommended posts” in a sidebar widget — that does not help the search engines at all).
For further information on how to correctly structure header tags, check out this in-depth post by Joost de Valk.
This is a mistake that I have been guilty of in the past. In fact, I used to completely ignore both categories and tags on my own blog. But recently I have come to understand how both of these taxonomies can be extremely valuable both in terms of (a) the user experience and (b) search engine referrals.
In a nutshell, you should categorize and tag selectively and specifically. You should have a very limited number of categories (generally less than 10, with certain exceptions), and a limited number of tags (perhaps no more than 50). If a category of tag has only been used a handful of times, it probably isn’t worthy of existence.
Well constructed category and tag pages provide search engines with a great deal of context with which they can build up an idea of your site’s relevancy as a whole to a given topic, and they can also rank on an individual basis. If you do decide to put together quality category and tag pages, remember to make sure that they are set to be indexed.
To learn more about best practice when it comes to categorizing and tagging, check out my post here.
Instructing Search Engines to Index Too Much
A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that Google will crawl and index their entire site. Whilst Google may crawl your entire site, it often will not index all of the posts and pages. And in reality, you don’t actually want Google to crawl all of the content on your site — only the stuff that is actually worth ranking. Anything else is superfluous and does you no benefit being in Google’s index.
Specifically, such pages include:
- Unused taxonomy/archive pages (e.g. tags, author archives, date-based archives, etc.)
- Legal disclaimers
You get the idea. The “cleaner” a site you can present to Google, the better. Anything that is irrelevant or useless to searchers only serves to dilute your site’s relevancy. As such, you should ensure that all such pages are set to “noindex” — i.e. tell search engines not to index it.
This is easily done with a plugin such as SEO by Yoast, which allows you noindex entire taxonomies/archive types…
…as well as individual posts and pages:
Not Providing an XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap is by no means necessary, but not providing one for the search engines is akin to giving someone complicated directions to your house verbally, rather than on paper. It’s a lot easier for the search engines if you tell them what should be indexed, and what out of the indexed pages is most important.
The greatest sin of not providing an XML sitemap is the fact that it is so damn easy to do. If you already have the aforementioned SEO by Yoast plugin installed, just go to SEO > XML Sitemaps in the sidebar and check the box to enable XML sitemap functionality:
That’s all there is to it. The plugin will now keep a dynamically updated XML sitemap on your server for the search engines to use when crawling your site.
Focusing on Meta Keywords
This is less a mistake and more a complete waste of time, because Google does not even consider meta keywords when ranking sites:
Meta keywords have been historically used by spammers to such an extent that Google now apportions no value to them. So if you are still using meta keywords, now is the time to stop.
Not Defining Canonical URLs
A lot of people will tell you that duplicate content is your worst enemy — if Google sees you publishing content that is available elsewhere it will unleash holy hell on your site until there is nothing left but some garbled HTML.
In reality this is not true. Google does not penalize sites for using duplicate content. Instead, when it sees two webpages with largely the same content, it will try to figure out which one was the original publisher and prioritize that page over the other.
On the other hand, we have duplicate content native to the same site. Again, this isn’t a world-ending issue, but having multiple instances of the same content present on multiple pages is just plain messy — and perhaps far more prevalent than you might think. For instance, your site’s homepage may exist in both www. and non-www. (i.e. http://yoursite.com/) versions, which are in fact two separate pages.
The solution is to define what is known as canonical URLs for each of your site’s web pages. This is far easier than it sounds — just check out my guide to canonicalization for WordPress users.
Not Optimizing for Speed
Your site’s load speed is of vital importance. People hate sites that are slow to load, and by extension, so does Google (and probably other search engines). Put simply, the speed at which your site loads can actually have an impact on your rankings.
As such, you should ensure that your site loads in double quick time. WordPress users can benefit from various plugins that optimize an element of their site, such as:
Not Optimizing for Google+
Whether you like Google+ or not, you should make sure that your author account is correctly set up with WordPress so that your posts display in Google as follows:
It may seem like a relatively minor thing but that little image will boost click through rates nicely. People like to see faces — if they can associate a human being with a post, they will be more likely to engage with it.
Gain the Advantage
SEO can be rather intimidating — there is a lot to get wrong. But the flip side of this is that if you can get most things right, you’ll have a big advantage over the competition.
Most of what you see above isn’t rocket science, and once you understand the basic principles of SEO, you will be able to intuitively spot when something is good for your site’s rankings, and vice versa.
Do you have any onsite SEO tips for WordPress users that I have not covered either in this post or the other? If so, please share with us in the comments section!