WordPress is an SEO friendly platform. This means that it gives you out-of-the-box a number of options you can easily configure to improve your SEO and increase the visibility of your blog or website to search engines. In order to take advantage of these features, you need to know how to configure them correctly and this is exactly the purpose of this post.
My intent is to make this guide for beginners to WordPress SEO but also offer advice to those that have working experience with WordPress but don’t know how to deal with SEO related stuff.
SEO Friendly URLS
The first thing that you need to check is that WordPress is setup to use SEO friendly URLS.
An SEO friendly URL has the following characteristics:
- It is meaningful and describes what a page or post is about
- It has ‘-’ to separate each and every word that make up the URL
- It doesn’t include unnecessary characters and it’s not too lengthy (the limit for a URL is more than 2000 characters but for SEO purposes the shorter, the better)
Here are a few examples of good and bad formatted URLS.
WordPress has a number of options for configuring your URLS (also called Permalinks) and you can find these under SETTINGS.
As you can see in the screenshot above, there are a number of pre-defined settings you can choose but you can also select ‘custom structure’ and define your own URL structure.
What is the best permalink setting for SEO purposes? Having directly the URL after the domain name is the best option. You don’t have to provide any unnecessary information that will make the job of search engine crawlers difficult.
Should you use dates in the URL? No. In the past there was a discussion in the SEO industry as to whether you should use dates in your URLs i.e. https://www.reliablesoft.net/2016/01/post-title in order to help search engines identify new content but this is not needed since there are many other ways to define the date a post or page is published (sitemaps, rss feeds, schema) so there is no particular reason of overloading your URLS with extra information.
What will happen if I change the permalink settings for an existing WordPress website? Normally WordPress will handle the change automatically by adding the necessary code in your .htaccess file so you don’t have to do anything else.
What you can do to test that everything is ok and that your SEO rankings will not be affected is to open a browser window and type in your old URL. If the page redirects to the new URL then everything is ok, if not you may have to check your permissions and come back to the permalink settings page and click the SAVE CHANGES button again.
This will force WordPress to re-write the necessary rules to the .htaccess file.
Choose your preferred domain
One of the basic SEO concepts you need to understand from the very beginning, is how Google treats different variations of the same domain.
From a user point of you, the 4 domain examples listed below refer to the same website but in the ‘eyes’ of the Google crawler, these are treated as 4 different web sites.
In simple words, the http://www version of a website is considered different from the http:// version (i.e. without the www) and the same goes for the https variations.
Which one should you use http://www or http://? It depends on what you prefer, there is no additional advantage from using the one or the other. What is important is to be consistent when creating links (internal or external) that point to your website pages.
This means if you choose to have the www, then when creating links make sure that you link to that version and not the one without the www.
Personally I always like to use the http://www variation since I find it a more natural choice than without the www.
How to setup your preferred domain in WordPress
What you need to do to ensure that Google will treat all variations the same and not account them as different websites, is the following:
Click GENERAL under SETTINGS and make sure that you type the correct variation in both the WordPress URL and Site Address URL.
Note: If you WordPress installation is not in the root directory of your account then in the site URL your need to specify the correct path. Read this for more information.
What you can do to test that WordPress is correctly configured to use your preferred domain is to open a browser window and try to access a URL with both the http://www and without the www (i.e. http://). If everything is ok, both URLs should redirect to the http://www version (if you have set www as the preferred domain) or vice versa.
How to setup your preferred domain in Google Search Console
Besides tweaking the WordPress settings, you also need to configure SITE SETTINGS in your Google Search Console (previously known as Google Webmaster tools).
Go to http://www.google.com/webmasters and login using your webmaster tools username and password. If you haven’t already registered, you first need to register for a new account.
The process is easy and straightforward, you need to follow the on-screen instructions but if you still have problems, read this guide from Google.
This means that you need to add both http:// and http://www versions.
In case where you have SSL enabled on your website (https) then you need to verify all 4 versions like the example above and as shown in the screenshot below.
After you finish adding and verifying your websites, you need to click on the website that represents your preferred domain to open the website Dashboard.
From the top right GEAR select SITE SETTINGS
Choose your preferred domain and click the SAVE button.
These simple steps in WordPress and Webmaster tools will help Google crawl your website correctly without any risk of considering the different variants as duplicates.
Can Google crawl your website correctly?
The next step is to check and confirm that Google can access and crawl (‘read’) your website without any problems.
There are cases where you can accidentally block the google bot from accessing your website (or parts of it) and this can have a big impact on your SEO without releasing it.
To avoid this from happening, we will check ‘Blocked Resources’, ‘Fetch as Google’ ‘Robots.txt’ (these are all options in the Google search console) and the ‘Search Visibility’ option in WordPress.
Login to your Google Search Console account and click BLOCKED RESOURCES under GOOGLE INDEX.
Note: The list may contain both items that are part of your website (domain), or external resources like the example above. For the first case, we will see below how to correct the problem but for external resources there is not much you can do so you can safely ignore these warnings.
Fetch as Google
Fetch as Google is found under CRAWL and it is one of the most useful functions of the Search Console.
You can use ‘Fetch as Google’ to check if Google can access your website correctly, to notify Google of important changes to a page (s) or in the cases you want to inform Google about a new page on your website (you can help them find it faster rather than waiting for the Google crawler to discover it).
Note: You should only use the ‘Submit to Index’ function of ‘Fetch as Google’ when something important changed on your website and not for normal page updates or additions.
The first thing you need to do is click ‘Fetch and Render’. If you don’t type a URL in the box, Google will attempt to read your homepage. After a few seconds you will see the results of the test.
In the status column, you will either have ‘unavailable’, ‘complete’ or ‘partial’. Unavailable means that Google was not able to find the website or page. ‘Partial’ means that Google could read the page but there are some issues and ‘complete’ means that everything was ok.
To get more details click the ‘status’. Your screen should look similar to the screenshot below:
Notice that the last column is called ‘Severity’. This can have the values of Low, Medium or High.
Any items that are marked as high or medium need immediate attention. This means that Google cannot access resources that are important for the crawler process and if this is the case, it negatively affects your SEO.
In the majority of cases, these can be fixed by making changes to Robots.txt. If you see resources that are external to your website, then most probably they will be marked as low and this is something that you don’t need to worry.
What is robots.txt? In simple terms robots.txt is a file that resides in the root directory of your website and can be used to either allow or block access to the website or parts of it.
When search engine crawlers access a website, they first read the robots.txt and depending on the settings they continue to the rest of the site pages.
For example, if you want to block search engines from accessing a particular directory of the website all you have to do is write ‘Disallow: [directory name]’ like the example of ‘wp-admin’ below.
When it comes to WordPress, in the vast majority of cases, your robots.txt should look like the example above i.e. to allow full access to the website’s contents and only restrict access to the ‘wp-admin’ folder.
To check the contents of your Robots.txt click the ROBOTS.TXT TESTER option under CRAWL or simple open a browser window and type http://yourdomain.com/robots.txt.
Note: Whatever you have in robots.txt is accessible by everyone typing the URL so this is not the place to add information that other people shouldn’t know about.
In the case that your robots.txt blocks other WordPress directories like ‘wp-includes’, you should edit it and remove the blocking by deleting the line.
To do that you will need to either use FTP, download the file on your PC, open it with an editor (i.e. Notepad, Brackets etc), make the change and then upload it back or using Yoast SEO File Editor (available in the premium version of Yoast SEO plugin).
Besides the above configuration settings and in order to make sure that your WordPress website is accessible by search engine crawlers, you also need to check the ‘Search Engine Visibility’ setting under READING.
Your settings should look like below, if not uncheck and SAVE CHANGES.
Note: If your website is set to ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’ then WordPress adds an extra line to the robots.txt and this is something that you could also find when reviewing your robots.txt settings.
Although comment settings have no direct relationship with SEO, there are a few things you can check at this stage to ensure that your comment settings will not get you into trouble later.
The first thing to do is click DISCUSSION under SETTINGS and check the option ‘Comment must be manually approved’. You need to do that so that you can manually approve all comments that appear on your website.
In general, you don’t want spam comments or comments that are not related to your posts to be part of your page. It’s good to have comments for your posts, this is a signal that users find your content interesting, but showing spam comments can do more harm than good in the long term.
So, before approving a comment make sure that:
- It doesn’t include any links in the body of the comment that are not relevant to your topic
- Usernames of the commenters are real and not something like ‘SEO Services Atlanta’
- It adds to the conversion or post and is not just ‘Thanks’ or only a few common words that don’t really make sense
The second thing to check regarding comments, is that there is the ‘nofollow tag‘ in ALL links that are part of the comments module (including the author’s website and body links).
The easiest way to do this is to open a page with comments in Google Chrome, right click anywhere on the page and select ‘INSPECT ELEMENT’. Search for a comment, find the HTML and in particular the href tag.
If rel=”nofollow” is added to the link then everything is ok, if not then you should either hire a developer to make the changes for you or check your theme’s documentation on how to make the comment links ‘nofollow’.
Keep WordPress up to date
Another practice to follow that is not directly related to SEO is to keep your WordPress software, themes and plugins up-to-date.
There are many reasons why this is important but in general, new versions of WordPress, themes or plugins add more functionality, fix bugs, enhance security and sometimes add more SEO related features.
The good thing about WordPress is that it gives you a list of all software that can be upgraded by visiting UPDATES (this is under DASHBOARD, in the left menu).
Note: While upgrading WordPress, themes and plugins is very easy, you should check with your developer first to ensure that you will not lose any custom changes (settings, code or files they added to your website) and as always, take a FULL backup of your website before applying any update.
These are the basic SEO settings any type of WordPress website or blog should use in order to be in good shape regarding technical SEO. There are still more things to check and configure for optimum results and I will cover those in a new post.
You next step in optimizing your website is to start with the Homepage SEO by reading my previous article on how to SEO your homepage.