As you are probably aware, search engine optimization (SEO) can be described as the practice of ensuring your website is setup in the best possible way, to help it achieve a positive ranking in the search engines. Being well placed in the search engines for the topic of your site and its content is one of the best ways to increase the number of visitors who find their way to your site.
There are countless differing opinions on how much effort and focus you should spend on trying to make sure your site fits in with the current SEO best practices. However, few would argue that building your site on solid SEO foundations is a bad idea or a waste of resources.
Thankfully for WordPress users, there are many plugins out there to ensure that the structure and settings of your site are setup in an SEO-friendly way. At best this will help boost your position in Google and other search engines, while at worst they might prevent you from making any unnecessary mistakes that could come back to haunt you in the future, with a negative search engine ranking.
One of the most popular SEO plugins for WordPress is the aptly named WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast. In this guide we will walk through how to setup this free plugin in order to ensure that you are doing everything in your power to give your site a fighting chance in the search engines.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
Yoast is a well-known team of WordPress and SEO experts founded by Joost de Valk. Amongst their portfolio of WordPress plugins is their WordPress SEO plugin. This plugin has close to 6 million downloads at the time of writing and an impressive 4.7 out of 5 star rating making it the most popular overall SEO plugin for WordPress.
As this is a free plugin available from the WordPress.org plugin repository it can be installed via your site’s admin dashboard. A search for ‘wordpress seo’ should bring up this plugin in the top spot, from where it can be installed and activated.
WordPress SEO Dashboard
Once installed there will be a new addition to the admin sidebar menu entitled ‘SEO’. From here you can access the general settings for the plugin, as well as the more specific features.
On the general settings dashboard, the main options to be concerned about here are ‘Tracking’ and ‘Security’. Tracking allows the plugin developers to gather information on usage to enable them to understand how their plugin is being used. Although no user details are tracked, if you are concerned about privacy then disable this option.
The security option has been designed for multi-author blogs and prevents your authors and editors from redirecting and noindexing your posts. If you are unsure of your authors motives then checking this box might be a good idea.
The next set of options refers to the titles and metas of your WordPress blog. Here are the options presented on this page:
- Force rewrite titles: if you want the plugin to overwrite the default page and post titles of WordPress and your theme, with the ones you enter using this plugin check this box. Recommendation: check
- Noindex subpages of archives: this option will prevent the subpages of your homepage from being listed in the search engines. This is a good idea as it can reduce duplicate content for your site being listed. Recommendation: check
- Use meta keywords tag: Google reportedly doesn’t use the keywords that your enter for your posts but as Google isn’t the only show in town, you might want to check this box. Recommendation: check
- Add noodp meta robots tag sitewide: with this option checked, Google might decide to show the descriptions of your site from a another source, in this case DMOZ. Uncheck this box to ensure your descriptions are displayed in the search engines. Recommendation: uncheck
- Add noydir meta robots tag sitewide: this is similar to the above option but applies to the Yahoo! directory description for your site. Recommendation: uncheck
As for cleaning up the <head>, these settings will help to get rid of unnecessary and unneeded code at the top of your pages that can distract Google when it is evaluating and crawling your site. Checking these is a good idea unless you have any particular reason not to. Recommendation: check
Titles and Description
Clicking on the ‘Home’ tab will take you to the next set of options. These options are to do with the title and description of your homepage. Here you can enter these details in one place and then leave them, unless you decide to change them in the future for any reason.
Enter the title of your site here and a description that will be shown to users in the search engine results page. The length of what is shown in the search engines results pages (SERPS) is limited as follows:
- Title: 70 characters
- Description: 160 characters
If you want to check your lengths, use the free metalength.com service
If you’ve set a page on your site to function as the homepage (from the General > Reading options page), rather than displaying your latest posts on the homepage, this option will take you to that page, where you can edit the title and description directly, as opposed to through the plugin.
SEO Tip: when filling out the title try and put your most important keywords, or those you wish to be ranked for in the search engines, at the beginning. Google puts more weight on the first few words when determining the topic of your site. In the example above I have put ‘freelance blogging’ at the front because that is the term I wish to be found for by Google searches.
When writing your description, it’s worth putting a lot of effort into making it as good as you can. This is because this is what will be shown in the SERPs underneath your page title. Unless your description is compelling, you run the risk of turning away potential visitors before they’ve even reached your site.
As we mentioned earlier, Google no longer uses the meta keywords for anything, but other search engines may do. If you enabled this option enter a few key words or phrases that describe your site, separating them with a comma.
Now it’s time to enter the settings for the individual posts and pages. As the tiles and descriptions for posts and pages can all be done at the individual post or page level, at this point we just want to specify the format or template to use.
The options here include:
- %%title%% – title of the post
- %%sitename%% – name of the site
- %%sep%% – page X of X
Enter them as you see fit, in order to build the post title you want. I recommend %%title%% – %%sitename%% for the title.
For the other options, do not check ‘noindex’ unless you don’t want your sites listed in the search engines. Also do not check the authorship option as this will not display the author information in the Google Rich Snippets display. The same applies for the date option.
The above applies to posts, and the same approach can be taken in the next set of options for each of your post types. When they all have been setup to your specification, save the settings.
The taxonomies tab relates to your tags and categories pages, as well as any custom taxonomies you might have created for your WordPress site. Again, to avoid duplicate content, it is recommended to not index the taxonomy pages. Do this by checking the ‘noindex, follow’ checkboxes for each taxonomy.
Under the ‘Other’ tab you can use the same approach as before for your Author Archives page. The default entry should suffice for most sites though, although setting it to noindex is another way to avoid the risk of duplicate content being indexed for your site.
The plugin also includes the ability to connect your WordPress site with your social network profiles at Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.
If you have accounts with these networks, it’s a good idea to fill in this part of the plugin to help take advantage of any factors that could help your site rank well, such as the Google Authorship feature.
Permalinks applies to the URLs of your page such as http://yoursite.com/post-name
The first option offers to strip out the category base from your URLS. Checking this will result in shorter URLs which can be a good thing for SEO, however including the category name can make life a little bit easier for your readers, providing your categories have relevant and informative names. Here is a comparison of how a URL would look according to your selection here:
- Checked: http://www.wpkube.com/theme-studio-profile-authentic-themes/
- Unchecked: http://www.wpkube.com/themes/theme-studio-profile-authentic-themes/
For smaller sites, checking this option would be my recommendation. While for larger content heavy sites with relevant category titles and category pages, I would recommend leaving this unchecked.
SEO Post Editor Fields
While the above covers the site wide settings for the plugin, the real work of the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin takes place at post level. Once installed this plugin adds a new meta box to the ‘Add New Post’ page in WordPress.
This is where the actual information about your posts is entered. From here you can add the SEO Title, the Focus Keyword, the meta description and the meta keywords.
Unlike other popular SEO plugins such as All in One SEO, this plugin auto populates the SEO Title field, saving you valuable time when creating a post. Of course you can still edit this, which will result in a different title being displayed in the SERPs to the actual title of your post.
The Focus Keyword field allows you enter one keyword which is the focus of your post. This isn’t the same as the meta keywords and allows you to see how targeted your post content is to that particular focus keyword.
When entering text into this field, the plugin will pull data from Google Suggest showing what terms real people are typing into Google when searching on the topic you are entering. This will help you target your page to actual search terms, therefore increasing your chances of being found in the search engines. The plugin will then do a quick analysis of your post and tell you how targeted your content is based on this focus keyword.
The Meta Description can be auto generated depending on what settings you specified in the global settings. However in most cases you will want to enter your own custom written description for each post. Remember this will be displayed in the SERPs, so make it count. A good description can encourage users to click through to your page from the listings.
The Meta Keywords field allows you to enter some keywords or phrases that apply to your post and describe its content. As we covered earlier, Google doesn’t use this field for ranking sites but other search engines might do. This means it’s worth filling it in for the short amount of time it takes to do so.
And with that you are done. Your post is ready to be published and your site now has the foundations laid for taking advantage of the latest in on page SEO techniques. While you shouldn’t expect dramatic results from installing this plugin, you can rest assured that you are unlikely to be doing anything wrong in terms of SEO, which could be negatively affecting your site’s listing in the SERPs.
While this is a detailed plugin with lots of options and settings, the above should hopefully cover the basics and make sure you aren’t indexing the wrong pages and noindexing the right ones.
By filling in a few more fields when adding a new post in WordPress, you can do all you can to ensure your site’s listing stands out in the SERPs and helps you improve your click through rate, getting you more visitors to your site.
While this plugin contains more options and settings than covered above, this post on configuring the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast, includes everything you should need to get your site SEO compliant in no time at all.