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5 Basic Tips to Improve WordPress for SEO and the User Experience

Alex Moss
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WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems available today. In September 2012, it was reported that WordPress powers 1 in 6 websites.

As someone who codes within WordPress on a daily basis, it's easy for me to sell WordPress to clients. They are assured that the CMS platform is future proof – at least for the foreseeable future.

However, downloading and installing WordPress isn't enough to make the site successful for SEO, security, and performance. But the following basic tips will improve your WordPress site for SEO and the user experience.

Although most of you reading this post already have a live WordPress site, this post will begin at the point just after a self-hosted five-minute install.

Remove Some WordPress Defaults

The top item to remove from WordPress sites: the “Hello World” post and “Sample Page”. If the site is still in development, then these elements are OK to have for testing layout and typography. Once the site is live to the public, however, make sure you remove them – you could even delete them from the trash to keep your database a little less cluttered.

Tip: You should rely on better content than the default post and page. If you want to have better sample content you can download the WP Example Content plugin by Josh Ferrara and Jonathan Simmons.

In addition, remember to remove (or change) the default “Uncategorized” category. If you want to keep it, at least create a new category that you know will become the most popular category for you and set it as default. You can do this within the admin area by navigating to Posts -> Categories.

Why this is good for SEO: The sample page and post “Hello World” is less problematic for SEO, but more important to remove for user experience. However, the default category should be a top focus for SEO. Your post is generally not uncategorized, so ensure that you create relevant categories for all your posts.

Set Your Permalinks

The default setting for Permalinks isn't an efficient URL structure for SEO. Changing the setting to Post Name (/%postname%/) is usually best practice. Some like to use /%category%/%postname%/ as their setting but can cause a few issues when content for categories aren't optimized (more on that later).

Why this is good for SEO: WordPress’ default setting sets all pages to run via URL parameters, which Google advises against.

Add Some Update Services

When new pages and posts are created it may take some time for that new URL to be indexed by search engines (depending on the site’s crawl rate). To speed this up, WordPress offer the chance for you to add update services within the General Settings page. Ensure these four are in the list:

  • http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2 
  • http://rpc.pingomatic.com/
  • http://rpc.technorati.com/rpc/ping 
  • http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/pingSubmit?bloglink=http%3A%2F%2www.domain.com/

You can see a few more within WordPress.org, and allstuffweb also offer a much longer list.

Why this is good for SEO: Having your site indexed is fundamentally the most important thing for you. If a URL isn't indexed it will never be shown in any SERP. Not indexing quickly or often enough means your site could miss some big organic search opportunities, especially if your site relies on current affairs or breaking news.

WordPress Homepage: Blog Posts or a Static Page?

Originally, WordPress was a blogging platform. Although still essentially true, now it's more of a content management system (CMS).

Because its conception was for bloggers, the default setting sets the homepage to output your latest posts. If you want to change this to a static page:

  • Create a blank page for your latest blog posts.
  • Go to Settings -> Reading settings.
  • Choose whether you want latest posts or a static page for Front Page Displays. 
  • For each article in a feed, show the excerpt.
  • Ensure “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is unticked.

Note: some themes actually use a different method by letting you choose a page template to output blog posts rather than use the default settings. I’m not a fan of this but is something you should be aware of.

Why this is good for SEO: Solving the issues above will help with potential duplicate content and indexation issues.

Customize Media Settings

By default, WordPress provides settings on how to deal with image thumbnails. I’m not a fan of the default settings – I like to set my own dimensions for all three available image sizes (thumbnail, medium and large) per WordPress install; and more importantly I like my thumbnails not to be cropped exactly to the dimensions. I don’t like this as, more often that not, I want to upload images that maintain their proportion when resized.

To change these settings, simply navigate to Settings -> Media and change the settings to how you like to see your site deal with thumbnails.

Tip: Already have a site set up and you're only now realizing you can do this? Want to automatically change all previous thumbnails? There is a solution. Once you’ve changed the settings as above, you can download the plugin Regenerate Thumbnails by Viper007Bond that can do this for you.

One more thing I like to do is untick the month/year hierarchy setting. Some larger sites do have a need for this for better organization, but it’s an unessential setting the majority of the time.

Why this is good for SEO: Thumbnails are useful to display an image smaller than full size, which helps bandwidth and performance. As an example you may want to upload an image that is 2,000 x 2,000 px – this size will only be needed for people who want to download the full size version. Here it would be better to set a large size to say 940 px to ensure that it fits on most screens – then simply call that image in the source rather than the larger version. Note that this is different than adding the full size image and then resizing to 70 percent in image settings (as the original 2,000 px image is still called and loaded).

Use Google Analytics

You should never manage a site without some form of tracking. Google Analytics is free and so easy to implement that there’s no excuse not to use it.

Create a new analytics profile, and then install Google Analytics for WordPress by Joost de Valk. This plugin makes it easy for you to connect your profile to WordPress without the need to use copy and paste (and you can also enter the tracking code manually). Once connected, there are numerous settings that you should tweak at your discretion.

Additionally, you should ensure that you enable site search in your analytics profile.

Why this is good for SEO: Having analytics on your site can provide so much useful data and help you complete a number of different tasks such as locating 404 pages, studying how long a visitor browses your site for, and how much traffic you receive from search engines. Incorrect implementation of analytics can cause incorrect data to display. The Google Analytics for WordPress plugin makes it easier for you and adds functionality such as tracking users by username, which is useful for ecommerce sites and ignoring administrators who spend a lot of time in the site and cause anomalous data such as extremely high page views.

Summary

By tweaking some default settings, setting permalinks, adding update services, and customizing media settings – plus installing Google Analytics – you will greatly improve your WordPress site for SEO and the user experience.


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