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WordPress SEO Checklist

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Building on all of the great info on WordPress SEO that’s available, I’ve written a checklist you can use to make sure your WordPress sites are good to go on SEO. This is not meant to be an exhaustive guide, but rather a quick reference that you can quickly scan before you release a new site.

1. Change your permalink structure

Search engines can’t display your content on the right Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) if they can’t determine what your posts and pages are about. One thing that can hinder search engine crawlers from understanding the subject of your content is badly formatted post/page slugs. The default WordPress permalink structure (the format used for post and page URLs), which looks something like yourdomain.com/?p=17, is not always optimal for SEO.

Changing your permalinks to include keywords about your post helps Google, Bing, and Yahoo to better determine what your posts and pages are about, which means that you can compete for rankings for the relevant keywords. The most common permalink structure is /%year%/%month%/%day%/%postname%/. Yoast has a great guide on changing WordPress permalinks that I’d recommend reading.

2. Use keyword-rich post slugs

Semi-related to permalink structure, keyword-rich post slugs (or URLS) are another key to getting ranked. Don’t be afraid to use moderately long post slugs. Using slugs that contain your post’s title include more keywords, thus improving crawlers’ ability to comprehend the subject of your content. That said, don’t go overboard. Here are three examples of post slugs: one too short, one too long, and one that’s just right.

  • Too short: birdbaths.com/make-bird-bath.
  • Too long: birdbaths.com/build-bird-bath-yard-ornament-diy-weekend-warriors.
  • Just right: birdbaths.com/build-a-heated-bird-bath.

Here’s a good article by Dig WP on Optimizing WordPress Permalinks.

3. Optimize your title tags

Everyone hates the guy who forgets to change his page title from “Untitled Document” to something more relevant. With WordPress, you probably won’t end up with something that ghastly – you’ll likely end up with the defaults for the theme you’re using. While this is not always a bad thing, it’s better to have a little more control over how your titles display.

This is important because title tags, rather than simply filling up space at the top of the browser window, are the first thing that search engine users will see. Joost de Valk, WordPress SEO expert, says that page titles are “one of the single most important factors for ranking in the search results.” Here’s the rest of Joost’s article about SEO titles.

Good title tags spring from good post titles. An example of a good title tag would be: Top 10 Ways to Become Better at Tennis | Tennis for Beginners

4. Configure meta descriptions for posts and pages

Don’t neglect your meta descriptions. A custom-written description is much more appealing than the first sentence of your post. It doesn’t take that much more time to write a nice description for each post. Sometimes less is more when it comes to descriptions, so you can be concise while including your keywords. Make it interesting. Ask yourself, “would I click on this?”

WordPress doesn’t allow you to edit meta descriptions out of the box, so you’ll need an SEO plugin (as discussed below).

5. Use an XML sitemap plugin

Submitting an XML sitemap to search engines is a great way to ensure that your entire site gets indexed. Unless you enjoy writing XML from scratch, the easiest way to submit a sitemap is to use an XML sitemap plugin like Google SEO Sitemap. Very easy to use, this plugin automatically updates the sitemap each time you create a new page or post and re-submits it to the major search engines.

6. Use an SEO plugin like All in One SEO Pack

All in One SEO is, by far, the most widely used SEO plugin for WordPress. Install it. It will save you tons of time throughout the SEO process. It allows you to set your page title format, adds a meta description to your post editor, and lots of other great features.

7. Set up Google Authorship so that your G+ profile picture shows next to your posts

Linking your Google+ account to your blog is a great way to make your articles stand out against other results. There’s no reason not to set this up. Brian Gardner has an article you can use for setting up Google authorship with WordPress.

8. Noindex irrelevant archive pages

There are a number of reasons why you should do this. For one, you can get penalized by Google because their crawlers think you have duplicate content. Second, since the title of date-based article has nothing to do with the posts they’re linking to, it can actually hurt your rankings for keywords. Rae Hoffman-Dolan has an article titled How to Optimize Your WordPress Archves for SEO, which explains in detail why this is a good idea. The article is written for the Thesis theme, but 99% of the info is relevant for all themes. She also suggests choosing either category-based or tag-based archives, and noindexing the one you’re not using.

Micah Cooksey is a 19 year-old designer and entrepreneur living and working in greater Portland, Oregon.  He currently works for Treehouse, a startup dedicated to providing quality, affordable tech. education to anyone who wants it.  Micah started using WordPress when he was 14, and still thinks it’s one of the best ways to power a website.  When he’s not working, he enjoys running, writing, and woodworking, among other things.

Image credit: “Barcelona, Gaudi, Sagrada Familia, Door, Typography” by Melissa Delzio, CC-BY-2.0

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