WordPress continues to build on its already impressive title of being the most popular CMS (Content Management System) on the Internet. With nearly a quarter of all websites using the WordPress platform, here are some tips on how to properly optimize a WordPress site.
First, we will start with the general settings that you should be aware of in the WordPress interface. Then, we’ll highlight our favorite WordPress plugins and exactly how we use them here at Accelerate. We will review some basic tracking methods, so that you can immediately begin to measure the effectiveness of your WordPress optimization.
There are plenty of sources out there to help you find the best WordPress SEO plugins. Likewise, sites that want to cram WordPress optimization tips and tricks down your throat are in limitless abundance. These sources are great utilities for quickly referencing information that fills a specific need, but they don’t provide a basic blueprint for someone looking to launch a new, or optimize an existing, WordPress site and have it be competitive in the search engines.
The biggest advantage WordPress offers to novice users is its ease of use. Making changes that would potentially take a computer science degree in other platforms can easily be performed by checking a tick box or following a prompt in the WordPress interface. This is both the greatest strength of WordPress as well as its Achilles’ heel. Making a change that improves the performance of your site can only take a simple click. However, a single click can also lead to the catastrophic failure of your website’s SEO. Below are the basic settings we run through when getting a website prepared for launch.
Turn Off Privacy Setting
This is a common mistake that can have a debilitating impact on your website’s SEO. This is also a mistake that we see industry experts make, so it does need to be mentioned. When a site is in the development environment it is best practice to have privacy settings enabled. With your privacy settings enabled, Google and the other search engines will NOT index your site. When your site launches you want to remove this setting immediately. To change your privacy settings click on “privacy,” which is found under “settings” on the left side of WordPress’ interface. Check “Allow search engines to index this site” if it isn’t already. This will remove the noindex/nofollow meta tag from your site.
“Pretty URLs” | Permalink Structure
Including your target keywords in your website’s URLs can give you an added benefit when trying to rank for those keywords. WordPress’ default permalink structure will render your URLs to look like the following: “http://www.domain.com/?p=123.” Obviously “?p=123” gives little value concerning SEO. To change this setting click on “Permalinks” also found under “Settings” on the left side of WordPress’ interface. We recommend checking “Post name.” If you haven’t updated WordPress, you will need to check “Custom Structure” and insert “/%postname%/.” If you’re hosting on an IIS server and haven’t set up a redirect for the “index.php” directory, you will need to check “Custom Structure” and insert “/index.php/%postname%/.”
A quick Google search will reveal that there is no shortage of WordPress SEO plugins. Some aren’t worth the click to activate, while others can accomplish hours of SEO work in a single click. At Accelerate, we have tried just about every SEO WordPress plugin in existence. Three plugins below are highlighted below because they fit perfectly into a blueprint that is applicable to every WordPress site on the Web. No, this list is not comprehensive, but these plugins will give your WordPress site a solid foundation.
All In One SEO isn’t as good as its name suggests, but it is an effective plugin we recommend including in your arsenal. This plugin will allow you to add custom titles and meta descriptions as well a canonical URL to each page on your site. After installing this plugin, click on “All in One SEO” found under “settings.” Enable this plugin. Also, make sure that “Canonical URLs” and “Rewrite Titles” are checked. Add your homepage’s title and meta description in the designated areas. We recommend removing “%blog_title%” from the “Page Title Format” line. This will ensure that your brand is not repeated in every pages’ title tag.
This plugin is pretty self explanatory. Yes, there are comparable XML sitemap plugins that serve the exact same function; we just happen to prefer this one. Make sure that you have “Write a gzipped file” selected in the settings area. If you have a site search feature, you may find it more beneficial to create an enhanced sitemap and load it to your root directory opposed to using this, or any XML sitemap, plugin.
Yes, we hate spam too. If you allow comments on your site and don’t want to bother digging through all the dirt to find a diamond, we highly recommend installing Akismet. This is a one click solution to Web comment spam; no need to understand what’s under the hood.
This is a beautifully simple plugin that lets you easily create 301 redirects without editing your .htaccess file or having to include PHP redirects. This plugin is ideal if you are redesigning your site and changing the URL structure.
Ideally you’ll have all the time in the world to write unique, keyword-rich alt tags for every image on your site. For those of us in the real world, install the SEO Friendly Images plugin. We also recommend using the default settings for this plugin.
Admittedly, installing this plugin will not help your rankings. However, we do think that this plugin should be a part of this blueprint because it can help track the effectiveness of your online campaigns if properly implemented. After installing this plugin walk through the directions for creating your first contact form in the plugin settings menu. We recommend having a “thank you” page any time you wish to include a contact form. This is both to enhance the user experience as well as allow us to easily track this engagement as a goal in Analytics. In the plugin settings menu under “Additional Settings” paste the following code: on_sent_ok: “location = ‘http://www.domainname.com/thank-you.html’;”. You will then need to create the page “/thank-you.html.”
After you have the submission redirect set to take the user to the “thank you” page, engagement needs to be tracked. Use a simple “destination URL” goal in Analytics. In Analytics click on “Admin” and then the “Goals” tab. Click “+ goal.” Name your goal something memorable and select “Active” and “URL Destination.” Paste “/thank-you.html” next to Goal URL. Select “Head Match” under the “Match Type” drop down box. Give the goal a value and save. Voila. You now have a contact form with a “thank you” page that you can track as goals in Analytics under “Conversions.”
It’s no wonder that WordPress has gained such popularity with its ease of use and actively contributing online community. We have a love/hate relationship with the WordPress CMS, but it certainly speaks volumes that we use this platform to write this post.