10 Ways to Make WordPress (and Others) Search Engine Friendly

By Peter Kent

Content management systems (CMS) are designed to make SEO simpler and creating and managing web pages and websites easy for non-technical people. But they had a big problem in the early days of SEO: While they made page creation easy, they didn’t make page optimization easy. In many cases, they made true SEO-based page optimization impossible. They simply weren’t built with SEO in mind.

As an example, many simple CMSs would use the same text for all the <TITLE> tags in the site, or allow you to enter a “page title” which they would then use for the <TITLE> tags, URL, and first header on the page. You couldn’t separately customize each tag.

Now, SEO is big, and it’s big business. So most CMS systems have caught up. These days, virtually all good CMS systems provide tools, (either built into the system or available as “plugins,” “extensions,” or “addons”) to allow users to optimize their pages.

Understanding what you need to do

What must a CMS system allow you to do in order to optimize a site for SEO? These kind of page adjustments:

  • Create templates with <H> tags for headers.

  • Customize the URLs of all pages, so that you can get keywords into them.

  • Modify the <TITLE> and Meta Description tags on every page.

  • Use structured markup.

  • Create an xml sitemap.

These adjustments aren’t always under the control of someone using an automated website creation tool—a CMS or a “Website Builder.” If you’re about to begin using such a tool, check the feature list or talk to someone in sales.

Differentiating between true CMS’s and “Website Builders”

There are essentially four ways to build a website:

  • “By hand” (writing all the HTML code in a text file)

  • “Hand” building isn’t common these days, because HTML has become very complex.

  • * Using an HTML development tool, such as Adobe Dreamweaver or Adobe Muse (there are hundreds of HTML editors)

  • Using a “Web site Builder,” such as Wix, Squarespace, or GoDaddy Website Builder

  • Using a true CMS system, such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or Magento

With the first two methods, you have complete control over your pages, so SEO is no problem.

But what about the last two methods? Both options are content-management systems, in a sense. Think of the “Website Builder” option as a simplified CMS CMS-lite. These systems, generally provided free by hosting companies for ordinary, non-geek folk, have a problem: They often don’t allow full control over SEO issues. Some website builders are good, some not so good, and some, in particular the ones provided by small companies targeting a really tight niche (websites for medical practitioners or lawyers, for instance) are often really bad for SEO.

But there’s another form of CMS: the full-blown CMS systems, such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal (they’re all open source), along with scores of other systems, both open source and commercial.

These full-blown CMS systems (at least WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal) provide ways for you to optimize your site for SEO purposes beyond the capabilities of simple web site builders.

Why use WordPress?

One quarter of the Internet can’t be wrong. That’s about how many websites use WordPress (23.9 percent, according to a recent report by the authority W3Techs). WordPress is used by the New York Times, Garth Brooks and Alanis Moriessette, the Smithosonian Museum, Google Ventures, and many, many others. You’ll be in good company if you use it.

WordPress is free (“open source”); you can either host a WordPress site at WordPress.com or download the software from WordPress.org and install it on your own site. WordPress is relatively easy to install; not totally geek-free, but pretty close.

WordPress allows quite a bit of customization as soon as you install it, but you can add SEO plugins to make it even better.

Finding WordPress plugins

Currently, there are almost 40,000 plugins available for WordPress for almost every imaginable purpose, from speeding up your page loads (a good thing for SEO) to creating social networks on your site, from creating contact forms to integrating Google Analytics data into the WordPress dashboard. And for managing SEO on your site.

WordPress makes it very easy to install plugins, using a “point and click” process in the WordPress console.

Using SEO by Yoast

SEO by Yoast is probably the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress, with more than a million sites using it. This tool lets you do so much:

  • Not only will it create xml sitemaps, but it can even do specialized sitemaps, such as Google News and images sitemaps, and it notifies Google and Bing when the sitemap is created.

  • Helps you edit your robots.txt file.

  • Helps you build navigational “breadcrumbs” that can assist the search engines in learning the structure of your site.

  • Analyzes your pages to see if you have done everything you need to do, such as using keywords in image alt attributes and description tags.

This is a very sophisticated SEO tool that’s well worth looking at.

Using All In One SEO Pack

Another very popular SEO tool for WordPress is the All In One SEO Pack, which covers much of the same ground as the Yoast tool. You can create xml sitemaps, use “advanced canonical URLs,” set sitewide defaults, use canonical URLs, automatic generation of meta tags, and so on.

Using structured data in WordPress

If you’d like to use structured data markup in order to create “rich snippets,” WordPress can help. You can access the HTML while posting content to your site, but there are also a number of plugins designed for managing structured data.

For example, there’s Google SEO Pressor for Rich Snippets. This tool “automates Google Structured data for your wordpress posts, pages, custom posts and categories.” You can create structured data for breadcrumbs, events, music, people, products, recipes, software applications, and more.

There’s also All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets, with 30,000 installations one of the most popular such tools. Search the library and you’ll find a lot of other such plugins (though mostly new and little used).

Specialty SEO plugins for WordPress

Search the plugins library at WordPress, and you’ll find a bunch of specialty SEO plugins, such as SEO Auto Links (which searches your site for particular keywords and automatically creates links from them to specified pages) and SEO Content Helper (a tool designed to help you integrate important keywords into your articles as you write them).

You’ll find tools that help you manage image alt attributes, that integrate SEO tools into particular WordPress ecommerce plugins, that help you bulk edit pages’ <TITLE> tags, and more.

SEO for Joomla

Joomla is the world’s second most popular CMS system, and it too is open source. Joomla provides a lot of flexibility—it has, for instance, a “Search Engine Friendly URLS” choice in the overall settings. Like WordPress, Joomla has SEO plugins, which you can find in the Joomla Extensions Directory.

Your plugin choices are more limited, as Joomla has a fraction of the number of WordPress users, but there are still a few options: SEO Boss, ijoomla SEO, SEO Keyword Factory, and so on. You can even find the more advanced functions, such as xml sitemap generators and structured data markup tools.

SEO for Drupal

Drupal is third in the CMS leagues, and it provides plenty of SEO options, too. Search Google for seo drupal, for instance, and you’ll find a number of articles explaining your choices, including dozens of SEO modules.

You can also find SEO modules in the Drupal Modules library.