Self-Hosted WordPress Websites: Some SEO Do’s and Don’ts

23 September 2013

Berlin: You could disagree that an out-of-the-box, uncustomized WordPress installation is the most search engine-friendly CMS out there– but it is also the scarcest variety, rarely seen in the wild. And as soon as you set up a theme or plugins that produce HTML code, your new hybrid may not play nice with search engines.

Luckily, with WordPress it’s pretty easy to do the right thing. Here are 5 do’s and don’ts that should assist set up your website for long-term success.

1. SEO Functionality

DO: Use a plugin to handle your website’s SEO

When in need of some SEO tips, would you contact someone who specializes in SEO? Or someone who claims to be expert in PHP + CSS+ WordPress + PPC + logo design + SEO? Consider a WordPress SEO plugin as a specialist. There are several great and free SEO plugins available (WordPress SEO or All in One SEO Pack, to name a few).

DON’T: Let a “everything but the kitchen sink” WordPress theme handle SEO

SEO fundamental staples like titles and meta tags are basics you want to maintain when it’s time to move to a new theme. But if your SEO functionality is built into your theme, move those elements will likely be not possible. So don’t do it (and the same goes for your Google Analytics tracking code too).

2. Taxonomies

DO: Use taxonomy term descriptions

It is up to you to settle on if you want to noindex taxonomy archives or not, but if you do make them obtainable to search engines, do all you can to improve them.

Adding up important descriptions to every term and then setting your SEO plugin to use that text as meta description tag in archives pages is all you want to do. Bonus points if theme you’re using, displays term descriptions in archives as well.

DON’T: Go category and tag crazy

It’s simple to get carried away building content and one day recognize you have thousands of categories or tags, each allotted to no more than one post. Presuming you’re allowing indexing of taxonomy archives, you’ll have thousands of archives pages that are exact duplicates of posts to which you assigned those terms.

A general rule to follow is five to seven top-level categories per site, one (sometimes two) category and up to three tags for each post.

That’s generally based on common sense — too many categories means your blog tries to cover too many diverse topics, too many tags in each post means your posts are not centered.

3. Permalinks

DO: Set a proper permalink structure

Does this URL – http://www.searchenginejournal.com/?p=53068/ by itself give you a thought of what that page is about? Certainly it doesn’t.

But when you see http://www.searchenginejournal.com/select-the-right-wordpress-theme/53068/ the URL itself tells you (and the search engines) what is vital about that page.

Changing your permalink structure is easier, just go to Settings > Permalinks screen in your WordPress dashboard and pick the one that’s best suited for your website.

DON’T: Ignore the slugs

When setting permalink structure, post (or page) slug is the /%postname%/ part of your URL. It’s auto-generated from the post title by changing all letters lowercase, substituting spaces with dashes, and eliminating any special characters. If your title is too long, so will be the slug.

There are a lot of plugins that can clean up slugs for you (WordPress SEO included), but that’s like blindly relying on Google Translate. Don’t be lazy and do it manually.

4. Content Structures

DO: Know the difference between posts, pages and custom post types

Post vs. page is simple – if it’s something that must appear in archives and your website’s RSS feed, it’s a post.

Pages should be employed for static content that doesn’t need “published on” information shown to visitors. Examples: About page, Contact Us, Location, etc.

Custom post types must be used for anything that’s neither a page nor post. Say you want to insert a portfolio section to your website. You could have a top-level page called Portfolio and child pages for every project, but why keep your “Super Awesome Project” in the same drawer with your Contact page? Put in custom post types.

Building custom post types without even touching the code is very simple. Some of my clients are very contented with Custom Post Type UI plugin. Using CPTs is the same as using usual posts and pages, just remember that if you’re letting a theme handle creating of custom post types neither you nor search engines will be able to access them once you switch to a new theme. 404 paradise.

DON’T: Be lazy when adding images to posts

The media uploader got a huge update in WordPress 3.4. It’s so simple to use that it’s possible to forget adding image meta information before adding one to post. Ensuring your image files have proper, meaningful names before uploading helps, too.

5. SERP snippets

DO: Claim Google authorship for your content

There’s many ways to do this, but the one used here at SEJ takes benefit of the Fanciest Author Box plugin, which offers your authors the entire spotlight they want by displaying their bios and social profiles. Make certain authors have added your site to “Contributor to” section of their Google+ profiles; otherwise their pretty faces will not emerge in search results.

DON’T: Autopilot your posts’ meta descriptions

Descriptions do not play a key role in search rankings but they can still noticeably affect click through rates in SERPs. Don’t let the same description be employed in all your pages and ensure your descriptions are good representation of what posts are about.

If you do not set the meta description yourself, search engines will show first 156 characters from your post.

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