10 Steps To Making Your WordPress Blog Search Engine Optimized

Many years ago I began development of my own content management system (CMS) that I programmed with search engine optimization (SEO) as the main focus. There just wasn’t a CMS available at the time that worked well with the search engines, so I had to make my own. I’ve developed many, many sites using that CMS, however, over the past couple of years I’ve become more and more of a fan of WordPress. The feature set is remarkable and the flexibility of use is outstanding. With a little customization, WordPress can also be made to be optimized for search engines. Here are ten steps to making your WordPress blog search engine optimized.

  1. Update your WordPress “Permalink Settings” to use “Day and name”, “Month and name” or the “Name” with the “post ID” using a custom structure
      By default, WordPress uses a very simple variable-based permalink structure. This is great for simplicity, however, it does nothing to help with search engine rankings. You will want to update these settings immediately after installing your blog. Keep in mind that using this feature requires a .htaccess file at the root of your site to configure the mod_rewrite rules. If there isn’t a .htaccess file already, create an empty one. If your host doesn’t allow you to use .htaccess, get a new host.

      DO NOT change your permalink structure once you have decided how you want it configured. That is, of course, unless you are familiar with creating permanent 301 redirects from all of the old URLs to the new URLs.

  2. Enable threaded (nested) comments in the WordPress “Discussion Settings”
      In SEO, content is king. The more valuable content you provide and the more links to your site, the better your rankings, traffic and discussion for your site. Allowing your visitors to interact with you and your other site visitors allows for great discussion and an increased amount of content for each of your posts. The advantage is you don’t have to write all of your content yourself, but allow others to contribute to your success.
  3. Make sure your “Privacy Settings” allow your blog to be visible to search engines
      This is the most basic of settings that may get overlooked while installing WordPress.
  4. Install the All in One SEO Pack plugin
      On-site optimization is very important in gaining high rankings in the search engines. This plugin facilitates the need for unique titles, META descriptions and META keywords for each page on your site. Be sure to complete this plugin’s options settings to make sure the home page has it’s own unique values and that the category and tag pages use “noindex” to avoid duplicate content problems. This plugin is also valuable for adding additional headers, such as, JavaScripts, CSS, META tags, etc.
  5. Install and activate the Google XML Sitemaps plugin
      This plugin is very valuable in automatically creating and updating XML sitemaps that many search engines use now for crawling your site. It adds the Sitemap URL to your robots.txt file and even pings the search engines when you update your site.
  6. Install and activate the Dagon Design Sitemap Generator plugin
      This is often overlooked by many bloggers and webmasters. This plugin allows you to add a Sitemap to your WordPress blog that lists all of the public pages of your site in a highly configurable format. You can also add a link to your XML sitemap you generated with the previously talked about plugin. Use the installation instructions provided at the authors site. Here is my Sitemap using this plugin.
  7. Install and activate the Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
      External links to your blog posts are very important, but internal links are also important. As you write your content for your posts, you should be linking to related topics and posts to create a web of links within your website. These links tell the search engines that those pages are related or are of value on your site. This plugin automatically creates a list of related posts to provide your readers with more valuable content to read and also links to your other posts for the search engines to follow and take note of.
  8. Update your chosen theme’s CSS and PHP files as needed
      This, I believe, is the most overlooked optimization technique on WordPress blogs and is the very reason that I am writing this post. One of the benefits of using WordPress is the enormous community of programmers and designers who develop free plugins and free themes. Although these free themes are easy to install and we graciously use them, most of them are not created with SEO in mind.

      At the writing of this post I am using the theme pixeled by Sam Karathanos. This theme is really cool, but I had to alter a few things in the templates to make it optimized for search engines. This is true of every other theme that I have ever installed on any of my other WordPress sites, it is not unique to this theme only.

      Since all themes have different CSS class names and are structured differently, I’ll just give a list of what to look for, so you know what to change to make the site more optimized.

      • The headline of your posts and pages should use the H1 tag to distinguish it as the most important headline of the page. Many templates, including the pixeled theme that I am using uses the H1 tag for the “logo” at the top of the page. I updated the theme to use H5 for the logo class instead and updated the title to use H1. The title links on the home page, archives, tag and category pages can still use H2 tags.

        Sample of logo class:

        #header #logo { float: left; width: 350px; margin: 25px 0 0 0; padding: 0; }
        #header h5 { padding: 0; margin: 0; }
        #header h5 a { color: #fff; font-size: 17pt; text-decoration: none; }
        #header h5 a:hover { color: #eee; text-decoration: none; }

        Used in template:

        <div id="logo">
        <h5><a href="<?php echo get_option('home'); ?>" title="<?php bloginfo('name'); ?> - <?php bloginfo('description'); ?>"><?php bloginfo('name'); ?></a></h5>
        <span><?php bloginfo('description'); ?></span>

        Sample of post using H1:

        <div class="topPost">
          <h1 class="topTitle"><?php the_title(); ?></h1>
          <p class="topMeta">by <?php the_author_posts_link(); ?> on <?php the_time('F j, Y') ?>, under <?php the_category(', '); ?><?php edit_post_link('Edit', ' | ', ''); ?></p>
          <div class="topContent"><?php the_content('(continue reading...)'); ?></div>
          <span class="topTags"><?php the_tags('<em>:</em>', ', ', ''); ?></span>
        <div class="cleared"></div>
      • All links on all pages should use title=”” attributes in the anchors for accessibility and search engine purposes. Some functions and plugins you will not be able to update, but do your best to update those that you can change. See sample above.
      • Make sure the text color and background color are never the same color. This, I believe, requires no explanation. Don’t SPAM the search engines.
      • Make sure all image tags use appropriate alternate text and title attributes. This also is for accessibility and search engine purposes.
      • Post and Page headlines should not be a link to itself. It is redundant to link to a page if you are already on it. Search engines will attempt to crawl the link and begin an infinite loop. If you must have the link there, use the rel=”nofollow” so the bot doesn’t follow the link. See sample H1 above.


  9. Sign up for and use Google Webmaster Tools, Live Webmaster Tools and Yahoo Site Explorer
      These tools will provide you with valuable information about your websites that only the search engines will be able to give you. Problems with crawlability, duplicate content, etc., etc. It is a simple process to verify your ownership of your site, so it’s worth the time to get that information about your sites.
  10. Add/Edit 404.php theme file to include Google’s Enhanced 404 Pages widget
      This is not necessarily an important requirement for search engine optimization, but is helpful to provide links to alternate, related pages of your site to search engines and visitors who may find the occasional broken link to your site.

This list is meant to be a starting point to optimize your WordPress blog for the search engines. The real optimization comes through great, valuable, keyword-rich content and one-way links coming in to your site. So, good luck and happy blogging!

2 thoughts on “10 Steps To Making Your WordPress Blog Search Engine Optimized

  1. Hi Scott,

    All links on all pages should use title=”…” attributes in the anchors for accessibility and search engine purposes

    I don’t think so, Scott. If we have clear statement–descriptive anchor text, we don’t need to put too much accessibility on title tags. And Internet search engines don’t read title description in the links.

    Try to search word jump (“jump” is one of your link’s title): jump site:scottdimmick dot com/2009/01/08/10-steps-to-making-your-wordpress-blog-search-engine-optimized/

    Make sure all image tags use appropriate alternate text and title attributes. This also is for accessibility and search engine …

    Again, AFAIK, not for all image tags. Decorative images don’t need alt attributes.

  2. Thanks, Dani, for your input. I still believe it is important to use title tags for all links, if possible. Yes, the anchor text should be descriptive enough, but many times, that isn’t the case.

    You’re correct about “decorative” images not needing the alt attribute. But I believe images that could show up in an image search should use them.

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