Ah SEO. Where do you begin with a field that has exploded over the last few years and shows no signs of slowing down? SEO is one of those very particular subjects that is truly Art applied to Science. And when it comes to WordPress, there are certain SEO items that merit special attention.
For those just beginning with SEO, our recommendation is to--above all--learn SEO from sources that you can trust, resources like Matt Cutts, Moz (formerly SEOMoz) and Copyblogger (particularly for SEO copywriting and content marketing). Learn the difference between black-hat, white-hat, and absolute nonsense. When working on a specific platform, like WordPress, listen to the experts and experiment yourself--but always return to basic, common-sense SEO best practices when in doubt. Or, as an alternative, hire an SEO specialist or consultant--and be sure to vet them as genuine, tried-and-true authorities before proceeding.
So with that word of gentle warning, we offer to you the seven most important SEO items to check off your list when optimizing a WordPress site. Some of these are easy items to finish, but some will take dedication (SEO is, after all, an ongoing effort on any platform). At any rate, completing this SEO checklist will have you well on your way to an SEO-healthy WordPress site.
1. Change your WordPress post slugs
By default, WordPress will create blog post URLs that are generally unintelligible and at most hardly useful--to both humans and bots. Instead, under Settings and Permalinks, change your setting to %postname%. This will allow for better user experience, better sharing, and better identification of the post.
2. Edit your Robots.txt file properly
Your default robots.txt file will allow all bots to crawl every page of your site. In general, this is a good thing. But with sites running on WordPress, you don't want certain pages hit (if anything to avoid penalties following Google Panda). But again a word of caution: if you aren't absolutely sure how to do this, don't. Changes such as disallowing all will result in Google dropping your site (simply because that is exactly what this file will command it to do--not be crawled and subsequently indexed).
Your robots.txt file should allow all (hence the asterisk you'll see, meaning "all"), and then include the following disallows as appropriate: /wp-admin/, /wp-includes/, /wp-content/, /*?*, /category/, /tag/, /search, /index.php, /xmlrpc.php, *?replytocom, /wp-*, /author, /feed/, /trackback/, /comments/feed/, /page/, /comments/, and lastly /wp-content/plugins.
3. Install Analytics and Webmaster Tools
We tend to be partial to Google, so we use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools for our operations, but you'll also find Bing's versions of both to be equally useful. Regardless of whether you go with Google or Bing (or both), you're missing out tremendously if you don't install one. Analytics and Webmaster Tools will offer you a veritable plethora of data from your site, allowing you to do hands-on keyword research (in Keywords from Analytics and in Queries in Webmaster), make well-founded decisions regarding content and posting choices (since you have a degree of user behaviour information from Analytics), and understand how your site is working for your audience.
As you progress with SEO, this information will be invaluable. Ballpark estimates and "traffic counters" (egads) are next to useless--you might as well be making decisions on hunches, and as you'll learn, the more data you have, the more you can optimize it. Installing Analytics and Webmaster is the first step towards that.
4. Do keyword research with your brain and use accordingly
When we say "use accordingly," we're referring both to your keyword research and your brain. Don't rely on SEO plugins, no matter how prevalent (nor easy to install) they are with WordPress! This is where the art of marketing comes into SEO; you can't forsake this human element if you want human results. You're most likely not in this for the largest quantity of traffic; you aren't in this for sheer numbers. You're in this for the highest quality of traffic, the largest portion of your target audience that is primed and prepared to convert. Relying on SEO plugins will often result in information that points you to using terms that generate literally millions of queries per month...and quite often a conversion rate of 0.00%.
While it would be easy to explore the depths of keyword research for several books beyond this one post, we'll leave it at this: once you have a good month of Analytics and Webmaster data, start putting it to use. Do your own research, and apply it to your business and your target audience as you know them best. Put away the thesaurus and instead seek niche topics that actually add value to the audience you want to find. Focus on solid, tested best practices and apply your findings in a way that always treats humans first.
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