WordPress is a content management system that makes it easy to blog on your website. 48% of the top 100 blogs in the world happen to use WordPress. In fact, there were over 634 million websites in existence at the end of 2012, with 60 million of those sites being powered by WordPress. With all these blogs competing for attention online, making sure your content is optimized for search engines and distribution across the web is paramount! How will people see your new content these days without good SEO?
Fortunately, there are number of capable WordPress plugins that make it easy to optimize your blog posts, plus some interesting WordPress hacks we'll discuss later.
First of though, what does "SEO" really mean in terms of how your content gets discovered by search engines and determined relevant for given search queries? Well a number of factors (over 200) go into calculating how Google ranks your site in a search query which include multiple SEO factors, content, PageRank, incoming links, speed and more. Google has provided some Webmaster Guidelines to help you with the design, creating quality content and other technical aspects to address for your site. Now once you've perfected your site layout and you're ready to write a post, you'll then want to optimize your article content for SEO which is where these plugins come in.
General Search Engine Optimization Guidelines for Content
WordPress SEO plugins typically give you control over setting meta data when creating a new post like the title and description. Here are 7 of the very best SEO plugins out there in the market:
Considered by many to be top SEO plugin available, WordPress SEO by Yoast offers a broad range of features to help you take care of technical optimization aspects and to also write better content. The plugin forces you to choose a focus keyword when writing an article to populate it throughout the content. The robust list of features for this plugin include: snippet previews, page analysis, automatically optimizing and inserting meta tags, link elements, XML sitemaps, RSS optimization, breadcrumbs, editing your .htaccess and robots.txt file, social integration, import & export functionality, Google News SEO module and much more.
The All-In-One SEO pack is another robust WordPress plugin with a host of SEO features for your site. It does the basic stuff like automatically optimizing titles for search engines and generating meta tags. The plugin also supports Google Analytics, custom post types, advanced canonical URLs, fine tuning page navigation links and has a built-in API to extend its functionality. The plugin also helps you avoid duplicate content found on most typical blogs, and is one of the only plugins to provide SEO integration for WP e-Commerce sites.
The SEO Ultimate plugin is another all-in-one SEO plugin with some powerful features. The plugin gives you the ability to rewrite title tags, edit meta descriptions and help you use anchor text to create deeplinks. Some of the advanced functionality includes the rich snippet creator, author highlighter, link mask generator, canonicalizer, 404 monitor, permalink tweaker, slug optimizer and more.
The folks over at foliovision are big WordPress enthusiasts and understand the importance of search engine optimization. It's common knowledge among Internet marketers these days that keywords in meta data are basically ignored by search engines (due to lots of keyword stuffing previously in an attempt to trick them). So the FV Simpler SEO Pack looks to remove unwanted features from previous SEO Plugins, to minimize the effort of writers. They found that authors were often times confused having to enter both keyword tags and keywords in the meta description when creating a new post. So this plugin looks to make it easier to optimize sites with advanced functionality available but mostly hidden out of the way for simplicity and speed.
Scribe is a powerful SEO plugin that provides you with content marketing tools for research, optimization and interaction. Scribe gives you research tools to help discover topics that matter most to your intended audience. The step-by-step on-page optimization and content development guidance enable you to build a site with greater authority giving you a chance for better PageRank. Scribe also helps you identify authoritative social media users and high-ranking sites in your industry to connect with. What's also great about Scribe is that it's compatible with all the WordPress plugins mentioned above giving you some robust options to choose from (like SEO by Yoast + Scribe for example).
SEO Friendly Images automatically adds proper alt and title attributes to all your images (according to the options you set) improving traffic from search engines. The ALT attribute plays a significant role with search engines by describing your images (otherwise unreadable) with some meaningful text. The TITLE tag plays a lesser role in SEO but is still important as this text provides tool-tips for your readers when they hover over an image. Not all WordPress themes insert ALT and TITLE text into your images automatically after inserting them into a post, making this issue a frequent SEO problem for websites.
The XML Sitemap plugin will generate a special XML sitemap that provides navigation for search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo to better index your blog. These sitemaps make it much easier for web crawlers to view the complete structure of your site to retrieve it more efficiently. The plugin supports auto generated pages by WordPress plus custom URL's. But most importantly, this plugin notifies all the major search engines every time you create a new post!
Custom SEO with No Plugin
Each of the SEO plugins mentioned have some nice features to enhance the SEO of your blog content, but not all these options are necessary which can then add unwanted overhead (extra code) and complexity to your site. You could consider customizing your WordPress site/theme to automatically set meta data for your posts like title and description, which is the primary automation of these SEO plugins. Your article title would be copied over to the meta title, and the first 160 characters of your content would populate the meta description (note: most search engines allow up to 160 characters within the description). These features can be easily added to your site by any competent WordPress developer. This is how we do it here at DashBurst, and we have custom feilds for meta title and description to manually overwrite if needed. As far as keyword optimization and other benefits those SEO plugins provided, they're all pretty much extracurricular, and any best practices (like using keyword placement) can be enforced on your own without the need of an extra plugin slowing down your site. It might take some practice, but considering speed is a factor of SEO, do you have any performance to give up just for a few extra pointers when you create a post? Well if you're not an experienced blogger or have little development resources, then that extra overhead may be worth it.
But WordPress plugins constantly change and go out-of-date, and aren't always properly maintained with the new builds of WordPress. By adding only the basic needed functionality of a WordPress plugin directly into the theme of your site, you increase your sites performance and avoid other potential maintenance issues down the road. So the ultimate minimalist approach here for optimal performance and SEO would be to automate the meta data yourself (via your WordPress theme code) and just add the one light Google XML Sitemap plugin to take care of refreshing search engines after new posts.
So what SEO plugin strategy have you implemented on your WordPress blog?