How to optimize WordPress for search engines, Pt. 1

Out-of-the-box setup

The latest version of WordPress has already been downloaded more than 11 million times — and it was just released late last year. In fact, it’s estimated that about 75 million websites across 40 languages now are running WordPress, with half of them running self-hosted outside of WordPress.com. One in every five new sites are launched on the WordPress Content Management System (CMS).

With that kind of demand, you can understand why GoDaddy offers a simple implementation wizard to host a new WordPress site or migrate an existing one! Over the years, one of the most compelling aspects of utilizing WordPress has been the friendliness of their platform to search engines. There are some key search engine features built directly into WordPress that are fantastic:

Canonical links

As with many content management systems, the identical content is often posted at more than one URL. Within WordPress, you can find content by date, by author, or by category to name a few. Search engines want to understand the source of those posts. That’s why there’s an HTML tag that’s invisible to the user. This “canonical tag” defines the exact URL at which the source article is located. This is advantageous because it means if your article is shared through different URLs, the authority is all weighted at the source — and you’ll rank better than having disparate pages all being linked to with identical content. Go here to learn more.

Permalinks

All content management systems are comprised of some sort of data layer where content is maintained and a presentation layer where it’s displayed. In less sophisticated or older content management systems, a querystring was used to query the database and present the right content. This was ugly and might look something like http://thewordpressgarage.com/?p=123.

WordPress offers the opportunity to customize your permalinks and make them friendly, to view, share, and even optimize with a keyword or two. We recommend the “Post Name” option to keep your URLs succinct and the relative hierarchy of your site simple. Permalink structures provide the search engine with a view of how your site is structured – with the most important content closest to your home page. A typical URL structure you see on WordPress sites utilizes the month and year in it: eg. http://domain.com/2015/01/post-slug. That method has 2 disadvantages:

  1. It dates your content. If you write a great post that is still relevant a year later, people may not read it because it’s a year old.
  2. It indicates to the search engines that the article is 3 folders from your home page, indicating it’s not an important page.

A better option is http://domain.com/post-slug, which indicates it’s a primary page on the site.

permalink settings in WordPress

Robots.txt

At the root of any site is the ability for a search engine to get permission to gain access to the content within the site. There’s a simple text file named robots.txt that provides those permissions and can be updated to provide additional information. WordPress allows you to discourage search engines from indexing your site with a setting in Settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility. If you’re preparing your site to go live, it’s a good idea to discourage the search engines from indexing it until you’re ready, especially if you’re going to update the domain or internal paths to content.

You don’t want to have pages showing up in Search Engine Results that no longer exist. Search engines don’t like sites with a lot of Page Not Found (HTML Code 404) errors and you don’t want visitors showing up and getting frustrated on pages that don’t exist.

robots.txt in wordpress

Ping

When you publish your content, WordPress will notify the search engines that you’ve published so the crawler can visit the site and index the new content. There’s a setting in Settings > Writing > Update Services where the destination service is listed.

blog1-ping-update-service

GoDaddy Managed WordPress SEO enhancements

It’s important to remember that the purpose of WordPress is to publish content easily, so the features above are all automated and critical but are by no means enough to optimize your site. Here are some additional features not built into the WordPress root CMS that can substantially improve your search engine visibility.

Caching

Every time someone opens a page on your site, it queries the database and publishes the appropriate content. That request requires additional time, so caching is imperative. Caching makes a temporary copy of the complete page to improve load time. As a result, when 10 people land on your site at the same time, it may only query your site once and then display the cache the rest of the time. Speed is an important component for search engine optimization. GoDaddy has its own caching integration by default on your WordPress install!

Webmaster submission

While your analytics provides you with reporting of who lands on your site, what about the visitors who saw you in search results but might or might not have clicked on the link in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP)? With Google’s and Bing’s Webmaster tools you can register your site with search engines and modify your settings. This could require an SEO consultant to assist, but we’ve got you covered with our Search Engine Visibility package.

Next up, we’ll describe how sitemaps, SEO plugins and having a mobile-friendly site will improve your traffic from search engines.

Image by: dullhunk via Compfight cc

Bryant Tutterow
Bryant brings over 18 years of business acumen to DK New Media focused on strategic marketing and e-commerce. He has more than a decade of P&L responsibility, leading in-house marketing organizations at Fortune 500 companies and building three separate marketing departments from the ground up into world-class teams of as many as 14 people. As the Chief Marketing Officer for DK New Media, he provides overall strategic direction for marketing and e-commerce while leading business development of all strategic advisory and measured marketing services.