For serious WordPress publishers with specific online business objectives, there is no more critical component to your website’s long-term value than its search engine rankings. Brian Clark reiterated this just a few days ago when announced the launch of Scribe 4.0:
“… we consider targeted search engine traffic the most valuable site visitors you can get when it comes to meeting business objectives.”
We host some of the most serious WordPress users on the web over at Synthesis, and we’ve helped a lot of people ensure that the proper SEO fundamentals are in place from the get-go. And it’s surprisingly easy. Let me show you how to get this done for yourself, right now.
Contrary to popular belief, good SEO has nothing to do with magic, fairy dust, or portly laptop sorcerers in black hats casting mysterious spells over domains and their ranking factors. Good SEO is all about creating useful content for real people that’s convenient to read and share, while adhering to certain time-honored, algorithm-appreciated principles of structure and style.
You may not be able to write a great piece of content in 15 minutes. But you canget your site’s fundamentals into place in about that time. Just follow along with the simple tips below …
Choose the right domain name
The choice of a relevant domain name boasts the dichotomy of being the most overrated and underrated component of an SEO-friendly site. Some people completely ignore all branding concerns and go overboard in their attempts to attain a keyword-rich domain name. This often results in domains that are too long or too hyphenated to be effective. And with the recent Penguin/Panda updates by Google as well as a recent update affecting exact-match domains, the benefits of such keyword over-stuffing have diminished. Still, other people disregard it completely, opting instead for a domain name that offers no keyword value whatsoever. That can be the right decision, as in cases where a non-keyword relevant word represents the brand. But you may be able to do better.
Take Scribe, for example. The term “scribe” has minimal keyword value, though it’s powerful from a brand perspective. The domain name ScribeContent.com provides the best of both worlds. The “scribe” branding is present, as is the keyword relevancy of “Content.” When you choose your domain name, ask yourself: “Can I fit a keyword or two in here?” If you can — gracefully — then do it. It can only help.
This is going to come across as mega-obvious, but don’t laugh: A major aspect of an SEO-friendly website is … its ability to be indexed by search engines!
You might be surprised by how many people inadvertently fumble this. WordPress has a dashboard setting page called “Privacy” that allows you to block search engines from your site. Some folks like to use this option while developing the site, so incomplete pages do not get indexed and associated with the domain. However, if you forget to unblock the search engines upon launch, your pages will not be indexed. That’s not very SEO-friendly.
Permalinks and URLs
WordPress’ default permalink structures offers no SEO value. However, it is quite simple to change your permalink structure to one that is SEO-friendly. Simply navigate to the “Permalinks” link under Settings in your dashboard, and you’ll be presented with a number of options to choose from. If you have time-sensitive content, then including the year and month in your permalink structure is beneficial. This is what I do at MSF. However, if your content is mostly evergreen — meaning it’s relevant for any anyone at any time — all you need is the ability to use keywords in the URL. The default option WordPress presents is %title%, which will simply take your post title, hyphenate it, and then append your domain with it. At the Edit Post level, you can then edit the link to display however you want. Here at Copyblogger, and on other SEO-friendly websites, that typically means two to three relevant keywords in the URL. If you have an indexable, keyword-rich domain that uses post-relevant keywords in the URL, you are well on your way to organically building a powerful, SEO-friendly site.
Titles and descriptions
The most important piece of SEO real estate on any individual page is the title, which tells both readers and search engines what to expect from the rest of the content on the page. And getting relevant keywords into your titles consistently is imperative for SEO-friendliness.
Descriptions are also important. Remember that the description is what search engine users will see when your result pops up. Crafting compelling copy is the key here. You’ll want to include keywords as well, primarily because those are (by definition) the words your users have in mind when they’re looking for what you offer.
It’s great to rank high, but if your title and description don’t inspire the searcher to click, what good is the ranking?
The standard post edit screen in WordPress obviously provides space for a title, but there are times when you may want to use a different title for readers than for search engines. To do this, you need to have a theme framework or plugin installed that provides a place for a specific SEO title.
For example, The Genesis framework comes out-of-the-box with all of the SEO options you need to craft SEO-friendly content at the post level.
One way to ensure that search engines index your content properly is with a well-structured XML sitemap. There are a number of plugins that will do this for you, updating automatically whenever you publish a new post, but not all are created equal. Some can misconfigure the sitemap structure while others can chew up large amounts of resources. A strong sitemap option that we recommend at Synthesis is Yoast’s, which is built into his SEO plugin. And sitemaps are not just for posts. If your site hosts videos, there are major SEO benefits to a properly configured video sitemap. Yoast has a solution for that as well.
Here is a basic SEO fundamental that you shouldn’t have to worry about, but it’s worth mentioning. The on-page post title should be wrapped in an <h1> tag. This alerts the search engine robots to its importance on the page. But don’t try to get cute and have multiple sets of <h1> tags. Use just one. All subsequent headings should then be in <h2> and <h3> tags. Any WordPress theme worth installing will have the post title wrapped in <h1> tags. If for some reason you are running a theme that does not, it’s highly advisable that you make a switch or, at a minimum, edit the title’s heading tag.
Enable and encourage discussion
Comments add SEO value. Not only will the discussion typically center around the main topic of the post, which will add additional keyword frequency to the page, a constant flow of comments will keep the page appearing fresh to search engines. Remember that the goal of search engines is to deliver the most relevant and timely content to users. A post with an active discussion appears to be both, not to mention people are more likely to share a piece of content if they were compelled to comment on it. Some people choose to disable comments on posts, which is understandable in certain cases. Just make sure that you have a legitimate reason for disabling comments if you do. Otherwise, keep them active and encourage people to participate, even if only for SEO.
The negative effects of deploying shoddy code would warrant their own post. Suffice it to say, search engines are going to have a hard time finding your content relevant for specific keywords if it has to waste time wading through ugly code to find your content. Bad code can also negatively impact other oft-overlooked elements of SEO like page load time. Which reminds me …
Site speed, security, and uptime
You cannot really ensure fast site speeds, security, and uptime in 15 minutes. All three of these essential components of a good website require perpetual vigilance. However, you certainly can get yourself on the right track in less than 15 minutes simply by getting started with the right WordPress host. Search engines seem to be placing more importance on page load times with every update. And there is no better way to turn potential visitors away than with a malware warning. So make sure your hosting is buttoned up on both the performance and security side to ensure that these ranking factors come out in your favor.