WordPress SEO for Dummies

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Published March 1, 2013 by Brad Knutson
WordPress SEO

It’s no secret that WordPress is a popular blogging CMS, but it’s also the framework that many non-blogger websites are built on. For the unfamiliar, WordPress is fundamentally flawed in terms of SEO best practices. Even seasoned WordPress developers will often overlook the obvious. Let’s tweak WordPress a little in an effort to please Google.

WordPress SEO by Yoast

Yoast SEO

First things first, I strongly suggest you install one SEO plugin, and only one. That plugin should be WordPress SEO by Yoast.

Documentation can be found on the plugin support page, and I’ll go over a few key options below. Yoast SEO allows you full control over everything SEO on your site or blog. It allows you to dynamic or manually set the title and meta description for each page, choose what page types to index and follow, and analyzes your keyword focus on the fly. It’s a great tool and every WordPress developer should have it in their back pocket.

Site Speed Optimization

Google has made it clear that page load time is considered in its page rank algorithm. If you have a slow performing site that is otherwise flawless in SEO terms, decreasing your page load time could improve your page rank by leaps and bounds.

The biggest factor for page load time is the server you are on. If you use a cheap hosting company, or use shared hosting, you might have higher page load times than you would expect. Upgrading to a better hosting company with better servers could cut your page load time in half or more.

If you are on a budget, and you aren’t able to upgrade your hosting, then please consider the WP Super Cache plugin. This plugin generates static HTML files and gives you the option to cut out all the PHP and database queries, and just spit out a static page. It’s very impressive how much this plugin can decrease page load time, without even getting into the advanced settings.

For more information on the WP Super Cache settings, see the plugin page.

Permalink Best Practices

As Nick Herinckx wrote about in his SEOmoz blog post about Advanced WordPress SEO, older versions of WordPress (prior to 3.3) can have significant speed issues if your permalinks do not begin with a number. This means adding /%postid%/ or /%year%/ at the beginning of your permalink was extremely important. If you started your permalink with /%postname%/ then you severely handcuffed WordPress as it queries the database attempting to find the post.

WordPress 3.3 and newer have fixed this speed issue, and you can have whatever permalink structure you want. Still though, some are better than others, and I strongly suggest you choose either of the below:


Note that on Windows servers, your permalinks won’t be as pretty as they will be on Linux servers. While on Linux servers, your URLs will look like http://example.com/post-name/, they will appear as http://example.com/index.php/post-name/ on Windows servers running IIS.

How to Change the Permalink Structure

You’ve probably hear the term Permalink, but for those who haven’t, it’s essentially WordPress jargon for “URL structure.” Out of the box, WordPress uses very unappealing permalink structures. Permalinks will appear as example.com/?p=123. This is an SEO nightmare!

Search engines, and users, would be much more pleased with keywords in the URL structure, like example.com/blog/wordpress-seo. How do we do this in WordPress?

Log into your WordPress admin interface, and go to Settings > Permalinks. You are presented with a few built-in options, but the best option is Post Name.

WordPress Permalink Options

WordPress will generate a slug version of your post title and use that as the URL string. If your post title is “Web Developers in Minneapolis, MN” the slug will be “web-developers-in-minneapolis-mn”. Because keywords in the URL are a factor in SEO, the slug version is much better than a query string.

301 Redirects

If you have an established website and you are using an improper permalink structure, it’s not too late to change it. Unfortunately, if all you do is change the permalink structure, you will have many broken inbound links and a PR nightmare. You will lose page rank because your SEO profile that you’ve spent painstaking hours building up will now be linking to 404 error pages, and not your actual posts or articles.

Say hello to 301 redirects. 301 is the servers way of telling search engines that a page has permanently moved. Search engines pass link credit through 301 redirects. The alternative is the dreaded 302 redirect, which means the page has “temporarily” moved. There are a few easy ways to set up 301 redirects to ensure that your inbound links end up in the correct place, your users don’t get frustrated, and you don’t leak any of your hard-earned SEO gains to 404 pages.

Preferred solution – .htaccess

Working in your .htaccess file directly is definitely the preferred solution here, as you don’t bloat your WordPress installation with another plugin, and you don’t run unnecessary queries on pages that don’t require them.

Thankfully, our friends at Yoast have given us a great tool to generate 301 redirects for our changed permalink structure. This tool only works if you’ve chosen your new redirect to be /%postname%/. Make your way to this page, scroll down and click on the orange button that says “Generate Redirects”. Fill out the form and generate the code you need. Copy this code and paste it at the top of your .htaccess file. The last step is to test your old links to see if they properly redirect to the permalink structure.

Backup solution – Redirect Plugin

If your not comfortable working in your .htaccess file, or your host doesn’t give you access to it, there are several WordPress plugins that will generate the desired effects.

I suggest Redirection by John Godley. Install this plugin before you change your permalink structure, then use the WordPress admin interface to redirect your posts. The plugin has a lot of useful features and lets you customize your redirects. Best of all, it generates 301s. Remember to test your links to make sure they are working properly!

Avoid Duplicate Content

WordPress is often rampant with duplicate content, which is a big SEO no-no. Duplicate content can be found on your index or blog page that shows all your recent posts, pagination, tags and categories pages, and archives.

It’s normal in WordPress blogs and sites to show a page that consolidates your posts and links to those individual posts. If these consolidated pages show the entire posts, search engines will index this as duplicate content and often times penalize you for it.

The biggest thing to remember and the easiest way to avoid this is to make sure your page templates use the WordPress function the_excerpt rather than the_content. the_excerpt will show a limited number of words from the post, as opposed to the_content which will display the post content in its entirety. Search engines will index pages with excerpts and more than likely not consider this duplicate content.

Pagination, tags, categories, and archives pages are a different problem. While the content on these pages will be different, the title will be the same for each page, which presents a problem if you have lots of content. We can remedy this by suggesting to search engines what content to index and what content to leave out of their search results.

SEO Meta Tag Manipulation

After attending Nick Herinckx’s Mozinar, I was inspired to take his meta tag table a little further. The table below will let you know what types of pages you should index, and which you shouldn’t, as well as follow vs nofollow, whether or not to include the page type in your sitemap, and how to handle the page in your robots.txt.

Page Type Index Follow Sitemap Robots.txt
Page Yes Yes Include Allow
Post Yes Yes Include Allow
Categories Yes Yes Include Allow
Tags No Yes Exclude Allow
Date Archives No Yes Exclude Allow
Pagination No Yes Exclude Allow
Author Page No Yes Include Allow
Galleries No Yes Exclude Disallow

I’ve taken the liberty of adding Galleries, as I’ve built a few sites that included a large number of image galleries. Some gallery plugins will create an individual post for each gallery, as well as provide you a shortcode to include in whatever post you desire. this is blatant duplicate content, and since we don’t actually use the posts that the gallery plugins generate, we should not index them and not include them in our sitemap.

The Yoast SEO plugin allows for this level of control.

Image Optimization

Search engines include images and videos in a lot of their search results, and this is another opportunity that we should be taking advantage of. How to search engines correlate images and videos with keywords though? It’s a combination of the title tag, the alt tag, and content on the page around the image.

WordPress gives us easy control over the images title, alt, caption and description. Make sure you utilize these on every image you insert into your posts!

WordPress Image Optimization

Statistics and Analytics

OK, so we’ve set our site up for success. How do we measure this success? We definitely want to utilize Google Analytics and Google and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Yoast SEO allows you to link up your Google and Bing webmaster tools accounts easily through its settings page.

To implement Google Analytics code on your site, you could manually insert the code into your header.php file, but I would suggest using a plugin, like Google Analytics for WordPress, which is also by Yoast. This allows you control over your Google Analytics implementation, and has a handful of other advanced options you may want to consider.

There you have it. This beginners guide to WordPress SEO is no definitive guide, but it’s a good starting point. WordPress is always changing, and these methods might not always be the best ones. As of WordPress 3.5, I utilize the above methods in every site I build.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the comments below or via email at brad.s.knutson@gmail.com.

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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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15 thoughts on “WordPress SEO for Dummies

  1. Ken Jansen

    Hi Brad,

    Thank you for the great compilation. I love Yoast SEO plugin too. How important is the WP Super Cache for smaller sites? Say under 500 pages/post? Does it increase in importance as the size of the site grows or is the importance essentially static and does not matter on the size of the site or the page?


    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for the reply!

      WP Super Cache will probably have a much greater impact on larger sites, but there are many other factors that come into play when considering how quickly your WordPress site loads.

      Smaller WordPress sites, in general, will load quicker, because your web server will be able to run its query faster and return results quicker – the more posts you have the harder WordPress has to work to generate the correct content.

      One big factor to consider is your hosting company. Many cheaper hosting companies (like Bluehost, GoDaddy, Network Solutions, etc) will give you slower page load times. Don’t get me wrong, these hosting companies are good at what they do, and you will get good results for what you pay for. If you really want blazing fast page load times, the first place to look is your hosting company – and in general – you get what you pay for.

      If you are concerned with your page load times, you should check Google Webmaster tools, as Google will give you data on how long it takes to generate your pages, like the screen shot below.

      Google Webmaster Tools Page Load Time

      I hope I answered your question!

  2. Ken Jansen

    Yes that answered my question. I have hosting on some of the cheap spots you mentioned. D’oh. I will need to look at that. One site has a lot of dynamic content and URL and that might benefit from upgrading to a better host. Knowing very little about the back end stuff, do I just look around for fast hosts and they take care of it or is it something I would need to learn to do? Thank you again.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hosting is important for sure, but it’s not the only important factor. Bluehost, Network Solutions, and others are very good at what they do. If you are interested at looking at upgrading hosting, depending on your budget, there are lots of options. I would take a look at WP Engine (link in the sidebar at the top of this post), but again, it all depends on your budget.

      If you have a Google Webmaster Tools account set up, I would see where you are currently at. Page load time can very over time, but checking out the chart on Webmaster Tools can give you a good starting point. Anything over a second could definitely be improved via WP Super Cache, better hosting, on page optimization, etc.

  3. Ken Jansen

    Thank you for pointing out the banner. Hah. I had banner blindness. I will take a look at that. Just a guess, but I bet I am over a second on load time.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      I would contact their support team to see what they can offer you. Again, the hosting company is just one factor in page load time.

  4. Kevin

    Very detailed & thorough post, Brad. I downloaded Yoast and went to my settings but didn’t see permalink anywhere. I’ve saved the story in my reader for further perusal once I find that. :)

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for taking time to read and comment. You can find the Permalinks settings page by going into the WordPress admin, clicking on Settings > Permalinks. Here is a screen shot of what I am referring to.

      WordPress Settings Permalinks

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

  5. Sara DeFrancesco

    Hi Brad,

    I have the Yoast SEO and my website looks like crap in the google search results. How do I fix that? I can’t understand anything he says on his site, it’s way over my head. Thanks!

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hey Sara,

      When you say that your “website looks like crap in the google search results” do you mean your rankings?

      Search engine rankings are generated from a large number of factors. The tools and tips in this post are meant as a starting point, to put you in position to succeed. To rank highly in search engines you’ll also need quality content and inbound links from other highly ranking sources.

      If you aren’t pleased with your rankings, I would suggest reaching out to other bloggers in your niche and see if they would be willing to write about your site, or link to you. Start some social media campaigns and get some buzz around your posts. Ask your friends, family and coworkers to share your content on their sites and social media accounts.

      As a blogger you know that blogging is a lot of work. In the beginning, the return is minimal. If you keep at it, write quality content, and grow a social media following, eventually you’ll see the type of results in the search engines that you want!

      Good luck!

    2. Sara DeFrancesco

      Hi Brad,

      No, I mean that I cannot edit my title or site description that comes up when you search for my site.

      It says:

      Sara DeFrancesco | Adventures of a Natural Medicine StudentSara …
      Apr 23, 2013 – facebook · twitter · pinterest · rss. © 2013 Sara DeFrancesco. All Rights Reserved. Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes.
      You’ve visited this page 2 times. Last visit: 5/7/13

      I don’t know why it is repeating my name after “Adventures of a Natural Medicine Student” or how to put my site description there instead of listing the social media sites and Woo Themes.

      I tried editing this in WordPress SEO, but nothing changed. I also tried connecting my google plus profile so my picture would come up and that didn’t work either.

      I’m wondering if something is blocking the SEO from working properly or what I did wrong.


    3. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hi Sara,

      Changes you make to your meta tags via Yoast will only be reflected in Google results once Google re-indexes your site. This could be a day or two, it could be weeks, it’s hard to tell!

      What you can do is use Google’s Rich Snippet Testing Tool to see how your site will look the next time it’s indexed: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets. You’ll see the page title, and whether or not authorship is verified. You won’t see a description because the description depends on the search query.

      Let me know if you are still having trouble!


  6. Spook SEO

    I have still had some issues in conflicting with other plugins and the sitemaps functionality doesn’t seem to work very well. However, it’s the best plugin I’ve been able to find for SEO. And also it is easy to generate custom sitemaps for Google/Bing/other webmaster tools by this plug-in.

  7. Stephanie Riggs

    There is big race among websites’ owners to get maximum traffic and improve their position on search engines. If you are running WP blog and looking for best SEO practice then this is post is exactly for you. In today’s world, say no to duplicate contents and low quality backlinks. Permalink setting is very important for indexing your web pages as well as for making your URLs users’ friendly. Above all, your tips are really great and I recommend everyone to follow this and get top ranked in search engines.

  8. edwinfranklin

    Nice post for me. I was also looking for this kind of post. For my wordpress blog I am also using Yoast. You can add another seo tools serplab.co.uk to check the result of Google SERP of any website. I have used many tools to check my site’s health in Google SERP. But it is totally free better than any premium seo tools.


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