Whether you’ve been managing an existing website on the WordPress platform for years or are preparing to launch a brand new site, you must be aware that one of the most critical components affecting the long-term success of your website is its search engine rankings. Particularly when running a business website, targeted search engine traffic is extremely valuable.
There’s been a great amount of debate about whether WordPress is optimized for search engines right out of the box. Most experts say the answer is yes, and no. Yes, it is designed in a way to make it search engine friendly, but no, you cannot leave your search engine rankings solely in the hands of a pure, unadulterated WordPress site. There are many things you can do enhance the SEO of your WordPress site beyond its original build. Let’s take a look at a few ideas.
A Continuous Process
One of the key things to understand about SEO is that it is a continuous process. You can’t flip a switch or tweak a setting and SEO is then forever woven into your marketing efforts. If your budget allows for it, you may want to consider working with a specialist who understands organic search. If you can bring in an expert to look at your site, even just once a month, the increased traffic may offset the costs. However, if you are unable to afford retaining the services of a pro, there are still many things you can do on your own to optimize your site.
Choosing Good Quality SEO Plugins
Plugins are software that contain a group of functions designed to add functionality and new features. At WordPress.org, you will find tens of thousands of useful plugins offering a myriad of useful functions, including many designed to make your site more search engine friendly. Two of the most useful SEO plugins available are All in One SEO Pack, and WordPress SEO by Yoast. The All in One SEO pack is the more popular of the two, but Yoast SEO tends to be more highly rated by industry experts.
When selecting an SEO plugin, there are four key considerations, the first of which is compatibility. You’ll need to determine if a plugin is compatible with the other technology and functionality on your site and whether it will remain compliant with your site in the future.
The second consideration is support. You need to determine whether the plugin is well supported by the developers or the WordPress community. You can determine this with a quick review of support forums, and reviews and feedback from other users.
The third consideration is how popular the plugin is. If a plugin has been downloaded more than a million times, for example, this is a solid indication it’s being used heavily. When a plugin is widely used, you’re likely to find good, solid community support with experienced users who can offer ideas and troubleshooting tips.
The fourth consideration is future development. Does the developer of the plugin have a solid history of providing updates and revisions to stay current with the latest trends and changes? Google, in particular, makes frequent changes to the algorithms that determine search engine rankings; therefore, you want a plugin that will stay current with those changes.
Good Hosting improves SEO
There are many things to consider when it comes to hosting, such as cost, web server management and ease of installation. You can self-host, if you have the time, resources and capacity. Otherwise, you may want to get a managed hosting solution. These are available for as little as $10 a year. A popular service like GoDaddy.com may cost you as little as $40 per year. What do you get for your money? A service that handles the technical, administration, security and performance issues, while leaving you free to focus on things like content creation and growing your business.
The decision on a hosting domain can impact SEO because choosing a good host won’t provide a noticeable boost, but choosing a poor host can result in a significant decline in rankings. Pay attention to the host’s uptime/downtime and speed and go with the best you can get for your money. Bear in mind that not all hosting solutions permit all plugins. Confirm you can use your chosen plugins before choosing a host.
Themes affect SEO
WordPress has a huge number of themes available, and most are harmless, but some can effect SEO. Avoid themes that are part of a link network as this can harm your organic search viability. Do not use any theme that doesn’t allow you to remove links. Look for themes that will be updated and supported against security vulnerabilities, such as the WordPress themes from Web-Dorado. The WordPress community is a great place to look for tips on this. Stick with themes that are produced by trusted developers and have good user reviews and feedback.
Look for themes that are mobile friendly and properly coded according industry standards and best practices – otherwise you run the risk of being dropped from search engine results pages. You can run a quality check on the demo site to determine if a theme meets Google guidelines, loads quickly, and is mobile friendly. This is your best hedge to ensure a theme is SEO friendly.
With WordPress, you can assign pages and posts to one or multiple categories. When you choose to assign pages and/or posts to multiple categories, meaning it will appear on multiple URLs, this sometimes reads as duplicate content, which can hurt your SEO ranking. You need to either avoid assigning to multiple categories, or inform Google which version should be indexed as the original. You can do this with meta directives, which provide indexing instructions to obeying search engines. If content is assigned to only one category, it will only appear on one URL, making it organically more search engine friendly.
H1 tags, or header tags, if used extensively, can negatively influence SEO. Multiple H1 tags can be viewed as spammy. An H1 tag should be used only for the first heading. This high-level tag is valued above all others by search engines. There’s an old saying, “if everything is important, then nothing is.” H1 tags should be used on only the highest priority heading.
WordPress offers a wide selection of widgets that can tailor the content to be unique to what a visitor sees on your page, making your site more user-friendly and enhancing the user experience. To add a layer of social engagement, consider BuddyPress. You can add widgets to allow users to upload images and videos, feature new forum members and their posts and videos, and make new content more easily discoverable within forums and groups.
Widgets can allow you to target sub-niche visitors within your niche site. Suppose you have a site about automobiles, and want to target content to those who are interested in classic cars. You can target content specifically to them by using widgets. This improves visitor loyalty and ups the odds of search engines understanding what your site is about. Happy visitors increase your chances or getting more inbound links, Facebook likes and Google +1s.
More easily discoverable content is favored by search engines and site visitors. SEO isn’t about adding a broad range of content necessarily, but narrowing down to a specific topic on a URL. Less is more.
Native Language and Translation Plugins
Your WordPress site should always be set up to speak your visitor’s language, allowing for a more engaged user experience, thereby enhancing your SEO. Many WordPress tools are already translated into multiple languages that you can easily configure through the administrator panel. Translation ready plugins can be translated with a plugin like Poeditor, ensuring you can read it in your native language as well.
While native language support is more critical for a global site, even a US site should consider offering support for common languages such as English, Spanish, French and German. Some site use localization by IP, which automatically markets content to visitors in their language, currency and geographical locations. However, this can give the appearance you are in another location or country, which can negatively impact SEO and create confusion for your site visitors.
Major search engine such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have search results that show web pages and other content based on rankings. Those rankings are determined by what the search engine considers most relevant to users. Ultimately, content is king in determining SEO, and producing high quality content that brings in new users and draws familiar faces back for repeat visits should always be your number one focus. However, you can also use the techniques described above to give yourself a slight edge in setting yourself apart from the competition with SEO.