Even Matt Cutts, the head of the spam team for Google, will tell you that WordPress out of the box is very SEO friendly. I think he says that it is already 80-90% there right from a fresh install. I think personally that that number would jump up considerably if turning on “pretty permalinks” by default, and giving us a few extra fields to work with within the add/edit post/page screens.
Pretty Permalinks and Meta & Open Graph Tags
By pretty permalinks I am referring to what it is in the URL for a given post or page. The “words” or “phrases” that exist in the URL can help improve the SEO for that web page. By default, WordPress uses a number that corresponds to the “id” that is used in the database for the given piece of content. Most people switch it so that it displays the post name (perhaps without stop words) by default. This is much more SEO friendly.
Now, as far as the “extra fields” that I mentioned for posts and pages I’m talking about some behind the scenes stuff. Let me explain. In general we get a title, body, category, and feature image to work with. They all serve a purpose for SEO, especially the title which essentially gets used in 3 key spots (between the title tags, between H1 tags, and in the URL with the proper permalinks turned on). What’s missing are some meta tags.
I know that meta keywords aren’t used anymore. And in general the meta description is largely ignored and mostly just created on the fly. I would still include a box when creating and editing posts for the meta description, for the times it is used. Also, when a post is shared to Twitter, Google+ or Facebook we have some level of control over how it shows up. We can include a special meta value for a Twitter description, and an Open Graph description that will be pulled in by Google+ and Facebook, among other social sites.
We can also include a path to a larger high-res image that we would like used, as well as a path to a video that represents the post (both secure and non-secure video links). There are plugins and some themes that will address these important SEO “tweaks” and more.
Consider an All in One SEO Plugin
For all-in-one SEO plugins, there are two that come to mind. There is the infamous AIO (All-In-One) SEO Pack that has been around for a very long time. Then there is the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast that has arguably replaced the AIO SEO plugin for the most part. Both plugins are very much in use and are consistently maintained to date.
Introducing WordPress SEO by Yoast
Knowing the importance of a “focus keyword” for a given web page on the Internet, the WordPress SEO plugin lets you pick a focus keyword for a post. Then it provides you ideas of where that keyword should be used for the post to be considered fully optimized. For example, it will look to be sure there is an image and suggest the focus keyword exist within the alt tag for the image.
When considering organic traffic, the plugin will provide a snippet of how your post may look in the Google search results. This way you could see if the title or the default meta description will be cut off or represent the post in the way that you want it to.
More than just the posts, it lets you optimize other areas of the WordPress site including writing meta titles and descriptions for category and tag pages. Plus, it creates an XML sitemap so a separate plugin isn’t required for that. Upon creation (and update) of the sitemap it will ping the major search engines. And, for better image search, it will include images within the sitemap automatically.
OpenGraph tags are also supported by Yoasts SEO plugin.
Both the AIO SEO Pack and WordPress SEO by Yoast plugins are available for free from the WordPress plugin repository.
Page Load Time Affects SEO, Consider Using a Caching Plugin to Increase the Speed of Your WordPress Site
A web browser will already cache some elements of a page, such as images, but it isn’t enough. What this means is that when a person visits a web page, the web browser will download the images from the page onto the persons computer. It stores the images in the web browser’s cache. Now, the next time the person visits the same page, the images will load near instantaneously because they don’t have to be downloaded, they are pulled from the cache (from the hard drive).
The WordPress caching plugins do a similar thing to increase the speed of a page. Web pages in WordPress are served using PHP which is a server side scripting language. This means that the pages can load dynamic content whereas standard HTML pages are largely static (I know AJAX has changed the game there a little but I’m talking ‘in general’). The content for WordPress is stored in a database and it requires PHP commands (in the case of WordPress) to pull the content from the database for a given page. For the most part though, that content remains static, meaning it stays the same. Given that, it often makes no sense to generate a “static” page “dynamically.” It takes more resources, and is slower to generate a page that pulls content from a database. So, the caching plugin will create a snapshot of a page when it is first shown, and then serve the static version to subsequent visitors. This saves time and precious server resources.
This poses a problem though in some cases. Some sections of the page need to show dynamic content. For example, when running advertisements throughout the page, an ad rotator might be in place. Dynamic execution of that area is necessary when rotating and picking a random ad. Another example is when using geo targeting technology as the content might be unique to a certain geographic location. So, in this case as well, it is essential that the content is generated dynamically and not stored statically. Fortunately, the top caching plugins for WordPress allow certain areas of a page to be tagged for dynamic generation. In essence, those areas of the page won’t be stored in the “static” version that the caching plugin generates. This still allows the bulk of the page to load much faster than before but allows the flexibility for some of the page to load dynamically and from the server. Sometimes the time savings is measured in milliseconds but that could make a big difference in terms of SEO, because all other things being equal, the faster page will likely rank higher in the search engine results pages. It does make for a better user experience after all, which is the point.
Consider a Content Delivery Network to Speed Things Up Further
Caching might not be enough to increase page load time. The time it takes to load a page for a given user is often dependent on how many “hops” it takes to get to that user. What this boils down to is… how close is the user geographically to the server that is serving the web page? The closer they are to the server, the faster the page will load (for the most part at least).
CDN’s or Content Delivery Networks will help bablance the load. They will mirror the static content (images, CSS files, etc.) onto other servers across the globe. Then when a visitor visits the page, the CDN will determine their location and serve the static content from the closest server to them geographically. They might have one or more servers in Canada for example, and several across the U.S. and one in each of the other major countries. So, when someone visits from Windsor, Ontario, Canada they might get the image content served from a server out of Toronto, unless there is one in Detroit Michigan that would be considered closer.
Netflix is a prime example of how important a CDN is. Netflix has their own CDN’s and will set them up at any ISP (free from what I understand) that is willing to sign up with them. Then, when a Netflix user that belongs to a participating ISP accesses their Netflix account, a whole new selection of titles are available to them. Those users can now watch 3D and Super HD content that couldn’t realistically be served from farther locations without serious lag and/or buffering.
CloudFlare is a robust and popular service that has a WordPress plugin, and offers the ability to serve static content through their CDN.
Top 5 Popular Free Plugin for WordPress
The above sums up what I consider a great selection of plugins to help improve the already fantastic out of the box SEO for WordPress. Now, you wouldn’t want to use them all together, in some cases there is a one or the other option. I’ll summarize the choices below.
1. All in one SEO options: All-In-One SEO Pack or WordPress SEO by Yoast
2. Caching options: WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache
3. CDN Network: CloudFlare