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How to Optimize Your WordPress Site for Search Engines

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of preparing your site to make it as easy as possible for the major search engines to crawl it and cache your data in their systems so that your site appears as high as possible in the search results.

WordPress is equipped to create an environment that’s friendly to search engines, giving them easy navigation through your archives, categories, and pages. This environment is provided by a clean code base, content that is easily updated through the WordPress interface, and a solid navigational structure.

To extend SEO even further, you can tweak the following five elements of your WordPress posts, pages, and templates.

Plant keywords in your website

If you’re interested in a higher ranking for your site, use custom permalinks. By using custom permalinks, you automatically insert keywords into the URLs of your posts and pages, letting search engines include those posts and pages in their databases of information on those topics. If your site is hosted by a provider that has the Apache mod_rewrite module enabled, you can use the custom permalink structure for your WordPress-powered site.

The default permalink structure in WordPress is pretty ugly. When you’re looking at the default permalink for any page, you see a URL that looks something like this:

http://yourdomain.com/?page_id=2

This URL contains no keywords of worth. If you change to a custom permalink structure, your post URLs automatically include the titles of your posts and pages to provide keywords, which search engines absolutely love. A custom permalink may appear in this format:

http://yourdomain.com/the-page-title

Optimize your post and page titles

One way to present your content in a way that lets search engines catalog your site easily is to give your blog posts and pages titles that make sense and coordinate with the actual content being presented. If you’re creating a page on a certain topic, make sure that the title of the page contains at least one or two keywords about that particular topic. This practice gives the search engines even more ammunition to list your site in searches relevant to the topic of your page.

A page with the title A Book I’m Reading isn’t going to tell anyone what book it is, making it difficult for people searching for information on that particular book to find the page. If you give the page the title WordPress Web Design For Dummies: My Review, you provide keywords in the title, and (if you’re using custom permalinks) WordPress automatically inserts those keywords into the URL, giving the search engines a triple keyword play:

  • Keywords exist in your page title.

  • Keywords exist in your page URL.

  • Keywords exist in the content of your page.

Write content with readers in mind

When you write your posts and pages, think about what keywords will help ensure that your content appears in the first page of search results so that people will find your site.

When search engines visit your site to crawl through your content, they don’t see how nicely designed it is. They look for words to include in their databases. You, the site owner, want to make sure that your posts and pages use the words and phrases that you want to include in search engines.

If your post is about a recipe for fried green tomatoes, for example, you need to add a keyword or phrase that you think people will use when they search for the topic. If you think people will use the phrase recipe for fried green tomatoes as a search term, you may want to include that phrase in the content and title of your post. You can apply the same technique to pages that you create on your website.

A title like A Recipe I Like isn’t as effective as a title like A Recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes, right? Including it in your post or page content gives the search engines a double keyword whammy.

Create categories that attract search engines

One little-known SEO tip for WordPress users: The names you give the categories you’ve created provide rich keywords that attract search engines like bees to honey. A few services — Technorati being one of the biggest — treat categories in WordPress like tags. These services use those categories to classify recent blog posts on any given topic. The names you give your categories in WordPress can serve as topic tags for Technorati and similar services.

Search engines also see your categories as keywords that are relevant to the content on your site, so make sure that you’re giving your categories names that are descriptive of your content.

If you sometimes blog about your favorite recipes, you can make it easier for search engines to find your recipes if you create categories specific to the recipes you’re blogging about. Instead of having one Favorite Recipes category, you can create multiple category names that correspond to the types of recipes you blog about — Casserole Recipes, Dessert Recipes, Beef Recipes, and Chicken Recipes, for example.

You can also consider having one category — Favorite Recipes — and creating subcategories, or child categories, that give a few more details on the types of recipes you’ve written about.

Categories use the custom permalink structure as well. So links to your WordPress categories also become keyword tools within your site to help the search engines — and ultimately, search engine users — find the content. Using custom permalinks gives you category page URLs that look something like this:

http://yourdomain.com/category/category-name

The category-name portion of that URL puts the keywords right into the hands of search engines.

Use the <ALT> tag for images

When you use the WordPress image uploader to include an image in your post or page, you’re given a Description text box in which you can enter a description of the image. This text automatically becomes the <ALT> tag.

The <ALT> tag’s real purpose is to provide a description of the image for people who, for some reason or another, can’t actually see the image. In a text-based browser that doesn’t display images, for example, visitors see the description, or <ALT> text, telling them what image would be there if they could see it. Also, the tag helps people with impaired vision who rely on screen-reading technology because the screen reader reads the <ALT> text from the image.

An extra benefit of <ALT> tags is that search engines gather data from them to further classify the content of your site. The following is the code for inserting an image, with the <ALT> tag of the code in bold to demonstrate what I’m talking about:

<img src=”http://yourdomain.com/image.jpg” alt=This is an ALT tag within an image” />

Search engines harvest those <ALT> tags as keywords. The WordPress image uploader gives you an easy way to include those <ALT> tags without worrying about inserting them into the image code yourself. Just fill out the Description text box before you upload and add the image to your post.

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