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WordPress SEO: Is Your Site Properly Optimized?

wordpress-logo-1With over 100 million websites using this platform, WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system (CMS). It offers the unique combination of simplicity and full customization. Users with little-to-no previous web design experience can have a fully functional website up and running in a matter of minutes. And while most people use it strictly for blogging, WordPress is equally as powerful for producing traditional websites.

Unfortunately, out-of-the-box WordPress isn’t properly optimized for search engines. One of the biggest mistakes first time users make is leaving the default settings on their site. While Google may still index your WordPress site, chances are it won’t receive a good ranking for its target keywords without some minor tweaks. Performing a few basic modifications to your site will improve both its function and SEO value.

Change Permalinks

One of the first changes you should make after setting up a WordPress blog or website is changing the permalinks (URL structure of new pages). By default, WordPres creates new pages with a generic alphabetical and numerical extension, such as http://www.mywebsite.com/?p=123.

What’s wrong with this structure? Visitors and search engines view it as less relevant that a URL which matches the page’s content. If you own an Atlanta-based heating and air company and want to publish a new page about the importance of winter HVAC tuneups, then a URL structure like http://www.mywebsite.com/importance-of-hvac-tuneups would look better to both visitors and search engines.

To change the permalinks on your WordPress site, log in as the admin (or user with admin privileges) and click on ‘Settings’ followed by ‘Permalinks.’ Next, click the button next to ‘Post Name.’ This tells WordPress to create new URLs based on the name of the post or page.

Customize Tagline

The default tagline for new WordPress websites is “Just another WordPress site.” This means that every new post or page you publish will say “Just another WordPress site” in the title. As you can expect, this generic tagline is bound to have a negative effect on your search engine rankings, which is why you should immediately change it after setting up your website.

To customize your website’s tagline, select ‘Settings’ followed by ‘General.’ You can choose to either delete the current tagline or replace it with a few relevant keywords related to your site. Just remember to stick with short taglines since they are amended to your post/page title.

Install and Activate an SEO Plugin

SEO plugins are designed to optimize WordPress websites for better search engine rankings. By installing and activating one, you can tackle some of WordPress’ out-of-the-box problems, such as duplicate content, page title adjustments, XML sitemaps, etc.

There are well over a dozen different SEO plugins, some of which are free and others are paid. However, most experienced WordPress webmasters will agree that Yoast SEO Plugin is one of the best. It has over 7 million downloads with a 4.7/5-star rating. Oh yeah, did I mention it’s free? Check below for some of the features offered by Yoast SEO Plugin:

  • Automatically generates a search engine readable XML sitemap of your site.
  • Configure page titles and description.
  • Breadcrumbs setup.
  • Robots.txt and .htaccess configuration.
  • Removes some of the unnecessary code from the header section of your website.
  • Noindex and/or nofollow category, archive and author pages (extremely helpful for preventing duplicate content penalties).
  • Google Authorship integration (displays your Google+ profile pic next to listings in Google SERPS).
  • RSS optimization.
  • Social media sharing buttons.
  • Define ‘target keywords’ in posts and pages.

Choose a ‘Premium’ Theme

It’s tempting to use of the thousands of free WordPress themes floating around out there. After all, who doesn’t love free? But there’s a dark side to using free WordPress themes: the potential for malicious code buried deep within. While a theme may look just fine on the outside, it could contain code that redirects users to other websites, or it may infect visitors with a virus, adware or spyware. The folks at Wpmudev.org performed a test on some of the leading free WordPress themes.

When choosing theme for your WordPress website, look for one with clean code, helpful and responsive support, easy integration, and positive feedback from past and current users. StudioPress offers some excellent premium themes at decent prices, and Thesis is another highly popular WordPress theme. Investing in a premium theme will prove well worth it in the long run. However, you should pay close attention to the number of sites allowed in a theme’s ‘license.’ The basic $87 plan for Thesis only allows it to be used on a single domain.

Don’t Be Lazy With Your Images

WordPress comes with a convenient image uploader that makes adding new pictures to your posts and pages a breeze. Before using this uploader, though, you should first resize your images in a photo editing program. Doing so reduces the bandwidth necessary for visitors to load your site. Rather than loading the original, oversized image, visitors will load a slimmed down version.

You can read more tips about how to optimize your images here, but the key points to remember are renaming your images, resizing them, and adding relevant alt text.