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The Most Common WordPress Onsite SEO Mistakes (Part I)

August 16, 2017
  1. 1. Currently Reading: The Most Common WordPress Onsite SEO Mistakes (Part I)
  2. 2. The Most Common WordPress Onsite SEO Mistakes (Part II)

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:

  1. Additional functionality in the form of an advanced SEO plugin such as SEO by Yoast
  2. The effective application of onsite SEO measures

Ultimately,Β 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:

  1. Giving visitors to your site an indication of what a page is about
  2. Indicating relevancy to search engines

As such, you should ensure that your permalink structure is defined correctly in Settings > Permalinks on your backend:

Permalink Settings
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:

Post Permalink

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 YoastΒ 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.

Poor Interlinking

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 SearchΒ (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:

  1. The relevancy factor as discussed in the interlinking section above
  2. 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!

Article by Tom Ewer WPExplorer Author
Published on: November 28, 2012
Last updated on: August 16, 2017
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  1. AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

    This is a great post Tom. A lot of people just starting out with their sites will greatly benefit from it. The very first thing I do when I start a new WP site is install WordPress SEO by Yoast πŸ˜‰

    • Tom Ewer says:

      Yep — I think if I was stuck on a desert island and could only have one plugin, that would be it πŸ˜‰

      • Ryan Cowles says:

        Ha! You better hope you can pick up some WiFi, too. In all seriousness, Yoast’s WordPress SEO blows any other SEO plugin out of the water. Great article! Looking forward to the next installment in the series.

  2. Remi says:

    As always a great post by Tom! I would just add a comment: write for humans and not for robots. Too many people think that optimizing content for robots (Google!) will improve their SEO, but that’s false. Never think you are more intelligent than Google, that’s a huge mistake. Even if some techniques works for some weeks or some months, one day the wheel turns…

    • Tom Ewer says:

      Absolutely Remi. I preach a concept that I call “incidental SEO” — the idea being that you write for humans, but by extension what you are doing is beneficial for search engines too.



  3. Eko Dost says:

    I think we can mention site speed also. Because it is related to SEO and it is onsite. For WordPress there are methods for speed. One is cache and the other is gzip. I am not very experienced in cache but I highly recommend gzip. It is easy and very efficient.

  4. Lisa says:

    Love the info here especially on images, confirms I was doing it right, but wasn’t sure if both should be the same. I’ll have to bookmark this one to remember in the future. Thanks Tom.

  5. Robert says:

    I have seen several websites with not so friendly URLs like

    The worst thing is that they use WORDPRESS. Hope they can read this post and change their link structure. It’s not all about SEO, it’s about user experience and MUCH MORE.

  6. Akash says:

    You make this topic very clear to me! Waiting to hear more on this topic from you.

  7. Lateef Adewale says:

    Thanks Tom for the great post,when i starated my first website, i was using all in one seo but since using seo by yoast my site now does great on search engine. Is it ok to use the seo friendly images plugin to add the alt tag or better to be add manually?

  8. karen says:

    the new media uploader that WP put in effect this past week seems to have taken away the title and alt text boxes. Maybe I’m doing something incorrectly since they changed it, but I can’t figure out how to title the images to optimize them like I did a week ago.
    Any ideas?

  9. Mike Keating says:

    Hi Tom,

    Great post and accompanying images πŸ™‚ Everyone gets so hyped up about SEO and what works, they tend to overlook the more simple aspects that can make a difference. I just wanted to point something out/ask you a question. You mentioned the following:

    “On my own blog I link each post to just one category and a handful of highly relevant tags.”

    So that means the same post content is available by following multiple urls paths (i.e. the category and each individual tag). Wouldn’t this mean you are producing duplicate content on your website? You may cover this in the second post but I was curious to hear your thoughts!

    Thanks and kudos for a job well done πŸ™‚

    • Tom Ewer says:

      Hi Mike,

      First of all, I would always recommend that blog posts are only shown in full on the actual single post page — this circumvents the duplicate content issue altogether and I think it’s better for the user experience.

      But in fact it’s not actually an issue anyway — Google officially stated years ago that they do not penalize duplicate content — they prioritize it. It’s not anything to worry about.



  10. Mark Harkin | Digital M Media says:

    Hi Tom, Another great post, I also liked the part about the images confirmed what I though. And the inter linking is something I fail to do a lot, from now on it will be at the top of my list. Thanks πŸ™‚

  11. newyorkwebdesigner says:

    Isn’t it best that permalink should point to a specific page, e.g. /sample-post.html? And, most importantly should categories and tags have “no follow” attribute so that Search Engines don’t index the crawled content which would result in duplication? Thanks for your feedback!

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

      Correct, that is the “post name” permalink structure Tom recommends…However, adding the .html isn’t going to do anything really to help SEO (that’s really old school). I would keep the .html out.

      Regarding no-index for categories and tags it all depends on your website and also on the way your site is coded. For example I have some categories on this site such as the “Business WordPress Themes” category which I would definitely want people to be able to find via Google πŸ˜‰

      Now if your site is a very simple blog and updated only every once in a while then it might be best to no-index those. It depends mostly on how unique the content is on these pages.

  12. newyorkwebdesigner says:

    If the existing permalink structure is *.html is there any benefit to changing to */?

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:

      Depends…if your site is already indexed with the .html then best to leave it (so you don’t have to redirect and potentially lose rankings) if the site is new, I would change it just because its easier and might be better for future compatibility. It should only have the .html in my opinion if it’s in fact a .html page, WordPress is PHP πŸ˜‰

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