SEO Tips for Self Managed WordPress Sites

Search Engine Optimization, Wordpress | |

About Sam Hanhan

Sam Hanhan began his career working with a web analytics software firm in 1999. He started designing, developing and optimizing websites in 2001 leveraging his passion for creative and his statistical knowledge in online behavior. Sam has actively participated in internet discussion panels, featured as a keynote speaker, and was a college instructor for online retail. Today, Sam is an expert in online strategy, UX design and SEO.

You’ve managed to get a WordPress site developed for your business that you are satisfied with. Now it needs to be found. Maybe you shopped SEO agencies and decided to save some money by using someone in-house, or yourself, to maintain your website and give a hand at SEO. But chances are, you are murdering your website’s SEO and I can’t stand to think of that happening.

Until you are ready to have your WordPress website’s SEO professionally strategized and managed, here are some tips to avert SEO self-destruction. And don’t worry, most of these tips don’t require any HTML know-how. But, some assume you know how to install a plugin through WordPress.

Before we get started, let’s first make sure your site is being properly crawled by search engines

It may sound obvious, but I’ve seen some WordPress sites launched with a feature still activated that prevents search engines from crawling and indexing your website. Typically, when a web developer works on your WordPress site, they want to make sure, while the site is in progress, it does not get picked up by Search Engines. This can be done a few ways:

  1. In your WordPress Settings, under Reading, there is a checkbox available to “Discourage search engines from indexing the site”. You’ll want to make sure that is not checked.
  2. If your WordPress site has an SEO plugin, such as WordPress SEO by Yoast, you’ll want to make sure there is nothing activated that will prohibit your pages from being indexed (also known as a “noindex”).
  3. Sometimes a “noindex” can be added manually to your site and the only way to remove it is through direct server access (outside of WordPress).
  4. A robots.txt file may have been added to the server that is disallowing Search Engines from crawling your website. I don’t recommend someone without experience to edit a robots.txt file. If you suspect an issue, contact a professional to help investigate.

A easy way to see if your site pages are being correctly crawled and indexed by Search Engines, you can submit a simple search to Google. In Google’s search bar, search:

site:www.yoursitename.com
or
site:yoursitename.com

Take note that there is no space after the colon. That is important.

The results returned in Google are every page of your website that is currently indexed. If there are pages missing, or no pages at all, then your site has an indexing issue somewhere.

Don’t skimp on hosting

Sure, $4 per month hosting sounds awesome. But the reality is cheap hosting will likely affect the speed and reliability of your websites. And in the SEO world, a slow website (whether constant or intermittently) or a website periodically offline is a shot in the foot.

Do yourself some good and get faster, more reliable hosting for $20 or $50 per month. If it helps your SEO just a little, the investment will pay back generously.

Talk to your web hosting provider for a recommendation. Transferring your site from one host to another can be a complicated process. Perhaps a plan upgrade at your existing hosting provider will do the trick.

Optimize Image Sizes and Weights

The heavier the images on your web page, the longer it takes for your page to fully load. Pages that load slowly produce a poor user experience and this is something that not only turns visitors away from using your site, but also hurts your SEO efforts. Google “punishes” sites that load slowly, giving favor to faster loading websites.

Most likely, you don’t need the original image size that is produced by a camera or downloaded from a stock photo service. Resizing your images, or downloading the appropriate image size from stock photos services, is the first step to optimizing image weights on your website.

As you probably came across, when inserting an image in a WordPress Page or Post, there are image size selections you can use. If you have a photo editing software, like PhotoShop or something similar, it’s better to save your images to the exact size you need.

As far as optimizing image weights, I recommend using the WP Smush.it plugin that automatically reduces image weights when uploading an image in WordPress.

There are certainly other techniques and services you can use, but let’s keep it simple.

Add Image Alt Tags

One commonly missed SEO practice is adding Alt tags (or Alt Text as it’s referred to in WordPress) to your images inserted in Posts and Pages. For EVERY photo you insert, add a short description of the photo in the Alt Text field. If appropriate, include a keyword you are optimizing for. But don’t make it a stretch and over do it with keywords. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to dealing with Google. The true purpose of Alt Text is usability. If an image is broken or if someone is using accessibility software to read your site, there is a readable description of the image. If Google is suspecting you are abusing Alt Tags for SEO, it can hurt your rankings and not help.

Naming Your Images

Here is a great opportunity to add more SEO value to your pages. Name your images something meaningful (but not too long). For instance, if your photo is representative of a San Diego Chargers Hoodie, name the photo “san-diego-chargers-hoodie.jpg”. Notice how I used hyphens and not underscores to separate words in the file name. I’ll make another mention of using hyphens below. Again, honesty is the best policy so be cautious not to try to trick Google by misrepresenting image names for SEO purposes.

Do not link images to their own Attachment Pages

A common mistake I see often in WordPress sites is linking images inserted on pages/posts to open the image file when clicked. The attachment page is a dead end for Search Engine crawlers and the page itself has no value. If you are not linking an image to another unique page or file, then choose “None” in the “Link To” field of your image properties.

Always use hyphens in file names, never underscores

Make it a habit to always use hyphens to separate words in a file name (whether an image or page URL). Google prefers hyphens.

Title Tags, Meta Description Tags and Canonical Tags

Every page on your website needs both a unique Title Tag and a unique Meta Description Tag. This is SEO 101. I’m one of those SEOs that firmly believes the Meta Keyword Tag is a waste of time. I haven’t bothered with Keyword Tags for roughly 10 years and have not had any issues optimizing websites.

In order to add these HTML tags into the code of your WordPress pages, you’ll need an SEO plugin. My preferred SEO plugin is WordPress SEO by Yoast. When adding this plugin, each page and post you add or edit will have a new editable section to add Title and Meta Description Tags.

And then there are Canonical Tags used by search engines. Basically, a single page on your website may technically have more than one URL in which it can be accessed. For instance:

WWW vs Non WWW (if your site can be accessed by both):

http://www.mysite.com
or
http://mysite.com

HTTP vs HTTPS (if certain pages run as both):

http://www.mysite.com
or
https://www.mysite.com

Having a single page accessible or indexable by more than 1 version of a URL can work against your SEO efforts. You are cluttering your index with low-quality, duplicate pages. Canonical Tags tell Search Engines which URL to index for that page so you only have one.

An SEO plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast helps you configure how to handle link canonicalization and inserts canonical tags throughout your WordPress pages and posts.

Enable XML Sitemap

In your SEO plugin, enable XML sitemaps. In WordPress SEO by Yoast this is done in the XML Sitemaps section.

HTML Sitemap (if appropriate)

Personally, I feel smaller websites with good linking structure don’t need a sitemap page. If a visitor can find all the pages easily via user flow, and there is nothing too deep (in regards to click count from the homepage) or tucked away for a search engine to crawl, then the sitemap page is probably not necessary.

But for larger sites with a lot pages that may be hard to quickly find, a sitemap is certainly useful in aiding visitors to find information. And in the case of Search Engines, the sitemap will make it easier for crawlers to access your content. A link that may normally be accessible 3 or more clicks from the homepage is now available in just two clicks. And pages within one or two clicks from the homepage tend to rank more easily.

There are sitemap plugins for WordPress. If you use one, be careful to exclude pages you do not want listed on the sitemap.

Redirect Old/Changed/Broken Links (Plugin)

This is a very important one. A little more on the technical side of the conversation, but too important to not mention. Any page, post or file (such as a PDF) that you delete or change the file name/URL of, needs to have a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect not only redirects a person trying to find that old page to a new page, but also tells Search Engines that the page has been permanently moved and prevents an Error Page (404 Error) from occurring. A site with many error pages is a poor user experience and therefore a negative factor for SEO.

If you are not sure what you are doing, I do not recommend managing redirects on your website. There are a handful of 301 redirect plugins available for WordPress, but from my experience not all work on every website. Have a professional, install and test a plugin on your site and then properly train you how to use it. A professional can also help you identify existing 404 errors and clean them up.

I have seen websites significantly jump in rankings after cleaning 404 errors.

WP-Optimize (optimize your database)

After months or years of managing a WordPress site, your database is likely cluttered with old, unneeded page and post revisions, drafts, spam comments, and more. All this extra clutter can slow down your database performance and therefore slow down your page load times.

WP-Optimize is a plugin that allows you to easily delete database clutter directly from your WordPress admin.

URL permalink structure and url naming tips

If you see question marks in your URLs (example: http:www.mysite.com/?p=1), there’s a pretty big fish that needs to be fried. URLs containing question marks are known as “Dynamic URLs” and Google frowns upon the use of Dynamic URLs. The optimal permalink setting in WordPress for SEO is “Post Name”. Here’s the catch. If you change your permalink setting, then every page has to have a 301 redirect to the new permalink URL.

URLs should also include your keywords when appropriate. It is also best practice to keep your URLs to less than 5 hyphens (don’t use underscores), and do not include stop words such as “a”, “the”, etc.

I don’t recommend changing URLs unless if it’s absolutely needed. URL changes, depending on the situation, can result in a lengthy ranking setback.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are those little link trails showing where you are on a website.

Ex: Home > Mens > Hoodies > San Diego Chargers Hoodie

Breadcrumbs are an excellent tool for usability. They also help strengthen your site’s interlinking which is great for SEO. For some small websites, breadcrumbs may not be necessary but certainly can’t hurt.

WordPress has a Breadcrumb Plugin. But it will require some direct HTML editing in a WordPress server file. So unless your are comfortable editing server files, you’ll need to reach out for some help on this one.

Be Careful With Allowing Comments

Comments are a great way to add fresh, active content to your website. But in some cases, comments can work against SEO on a page by diluting your keyword density. Keyword Density is a measure of how prominent a keyword or keyword phrase is on a page, by taking its percentage.

A simple example: You have a single word keyword, like “hoodie”, and it is mentioned once on a page. Overall, your page has 100 words. The keyword density of “hoodie” is 1%.

You can image what a long running list of comments without adequate mentions of “hoodie” will do to keyword density.

Heading Types

When adding or editing content on WordPress Pages and Posts, you have Rich Text editor that enables you to easily bold text, create links, format bulleted lists, etc. Along with those formatting tools, there is a drop down option for formatting the text as a Paragraph, Heading 1, Heading 2, and more.

For this topic, we are interested in the Heading Types; Heading 1 – Heading 6.

Heading 1 represents a heading on your page that is most important. Headings 2-6 are then considered sub headings, with 6 being the lowest in order of hierarchy. In the language of HTML, a Heading 1 is a H1 tag. Heading 2 is a H2 tag, and so on.

You should only have one Heading 1 on any given page. Heading 2s are then used in titles of sub sections or sub content. Heading 3s… I think you get the picture. Usually site pages rarely see a heading 5 or 6, but they’re there if ever needed.

For usability, every page should have a clear introductory headline that indicates the significance of the page. That headline should also be written with a keyword focus, if appropriate, and formatted as a Heading 1 (H1).

Check to make sure your WordPress template doesn’t format your logo or some other element as a Heading 1 tag. That can spoil this SEO best-practice for you. Remember, only one Heading 1 (H1) per page.

Interlinking

Interlinking is a factor in SEO. A page that is repeatedly linked to from other pages on your website tells Google that page is important.  Make sure you adequately link to important pages on your website. To start, this is done through properly planned navigation links; main navigation, sub-navigation, footer links. But also pepper links inside page content; cross referencing pages.

One of the more common WordPress plugins used is the Related Posts plugin. It pretty much does what it sounds like it does. It adds a list of related post links to a post (creating a system of blogs post interlinking). The most common related posts plugin is Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

Turn off Pingbacks and Trackbacks

Pingbacks and Trackbacks are way to notify other blogs that you have linked to them. For most sites, this is not necessary and only adds more complexity to your site which slows down page load times. To ensure optimal site speed, make sure Pingbacks and Trackbacks are turned off of your Discussion Settings.

Use Categories and Tags Wisely

Categories and Tags, in essence, are a way to organize your site content for visitors. Make sure your categories and tags are carefully planned to aid someone using your site. And of course, use keywords to name categories and tags when appropriate.

Try not to get keyword greedy. No one wants to look through 100 categories, and depending on your site’s size, you probably don’t have 100 main keyword targets you can effectively optimize for. It’s a better strategy to keep your site content focused to a limited number of truly relevant categories and tags. It’s easier for you, your readers, and better for your SEO. By focusing your categories and tags to what is most important to your site, you are reinforcing to Search Engines what topics/keywords are most relevant.

If using a Mobile Site

Hopefully, you have a mobile solution for your website. Most sites are choosing responsive layouts over standalone mobile sites. The great thing about responsive sites are they deliver 100% of your site’s content to people on a mobile device. An SEO pitfall for many standalone Mobile websites is they limit the content to what is thought to be most pertinent to mobile users. You’ll often see a “Full Website” link that directs the user to the desktop site that contains more information. This is seen as a poor user experience by Google. If you have a standalone mobile site, make sure you have all of your site content available and that desktop pages redirect to their respective mobile pages ( don’t redirect all desktop pages to the mobile home page).

And there you have it. A limited list of WordPress SEO basics that you can hopefully start implementing while managing your own site. And when you are ready to hand over SEO management to a pro, they hopefully don’t have to start from scratch and can simply build on the foundation you hand over.

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