Current SEO Advice For WordPress Users

It seems unfair giving SEO advice online since Google changes the goalposts so often that such advice is often inaccurate after a few months.

Current SEO Advice For WordPress Users

However, Google has become more adaptive and far better at identifying spam to the point where large SEO changes are a little rarer. In fact, since they changed their index with the Google Hummingbird update, we have not seen any earth-shattering changes to Google.

We’ve prepared a couple useful tips how to keep up your site up-to-date.

The Most Powerful SEO Tool

Let’s get the stuff you “should” know out of the way. Irrespective of any SEO advice, with the exception of Google guidelines, the most powerful tool you have, and ever will have, is your own trial and error testing. Planning, acting, measuring, analyzing and evaluating. We’ve found that only through your own trial and error testing will you achieve a consistent position on the Google search engine.

Adaptive Learning Means You Keep Doing The Same Thing

The Google Hummingbird update was the biggest update to their structural algorithm since the Caffeine update in 2010. The Google Hummingbird update appears to have moved Google closer to a state of adaptive learning than ever before.

The update, along with various other updates no doubt, has changed the way the search engine works. It still indexes and ranks websites based on their popularity and perceived usefulness, but there is also a level of consistency to consider. In other words, if you are doing something right, then they are not keen on you mixing it up on occasion. If your website suddenly starts acting in a new way, your rank will drop (try it for yourself).

For example, the website in the image below changed the way they posted content. They went from having small pieces of content on dynamically created websites to posting large articles that had GIF images on them. Their ranking dropped in October and subsequently their number of visitors dropped. It is not because the content they were creating was bad, since other websites have similar content and do just fine. It is simply because their ranking was partially based on their consistent production of a certain type of article, their consistent posting times, and so forth, and Google dropped their rank when the webmasters changed it up.

Adaptive Learning Means You Keep Doing The Same Thing

Counter To Popular Opinion

Google has shifted the rules on SEO quite a few times, and it has left a lot of people with a few misconceptions, so here are a few easy ones.

  • Should I Post Content Regularly?: This doesn’t matter anymore. Posting regular content helps, but isn’t vitally needed. What they want to see is that your website is still relevant, useful and that it hasn’t been abandoned. If your web pages are still getting page views and social media attention, then you are okay.
  • Does Length Matter?: No it doesn’t. Pick a posting style, length and format and stick to it. Google has become very good at identifying spam websites so that it doesn’t rely on the word count of a website anymore when trying to determine what is spam and what isn’t.
  • What About Keywords In The Title, Meta Tags And H Tags?: If you have a WordPress SEO plugin, it will probably recommend that you put a keyword in your title, Meta tags and in at least one of your headers. The Google Hummingbird update lowered Google’s dependence on keywords, but common sense suggests you still insert the keywords so long as they fit naturally into the text.
  • Can I Still Copy My Competitors?: An old trick is to look at the top five results that stand as your competition and copy their techniques, ideas and SEO efforts. These days it is helpful in terms of indicating which social media groups you should join, but there are so many ranking factors that sometimes it is too difficult to see where and how your competitors are powering their successful SEO efforts.
  • Do I Still Need To Encourage Commenters?: According to Yoast, only 1% of your WordPress viewers/readers leave a comment, so screw them. They do not represent the silent majority, and many WordPress commenters are often looking for a followed link or for you to return the favor–so don’t waste your time trying to encourage them to comment.

Do I Still Need To Encourage Commenters?

Related Posts Are Your Friends

WordPress blogs that have “Related posts” options seem to do better than WordPress blogs that don’t. Try it for yourself. If you do not have a related posts element in your blog, then download and use a plugin. Use it for a month and it will have a positive effect on your search engine ranking. I have personally found that manual plugins that force me to pick the related posts do better than automatic plugins that use keywords to decide which posts are related.

Make Your Most Important WordPress Posts Into Pages

I am hopping on this trend. If you have a post that you feel that many people may return to or visit your post frequently, then turn it into a page rather than a post. It seems to help exploit the consistent traffic numbers for the benefit of the rest of the website.

Disable Unnecessary Author Archives

If the WordPress blog in question has only one author and you are not planning to take on any new authors, then disable the author archives. The easiest way to do this is to download and use a plugin with a disable feature.

If you want to redirect pages that WordPress pushes out without your approval, such as archives, then use the parse_query action. It will redirect if it is not a query for a page or an admin screen.

function wpa_parse_query( $query ){
    if( ! is_admin() && ! $query->is_page() ) {
        wp_redirect( home_url() );
        exit;
    }
}
add_action( 'parse_query', 'wpa_parse_query' );

WordPress Codex for Parse Query – parse_query.

Or, you can remove your pages and have them act like 404 not found pages with this piece of code added into your index.php file.

if(is_archive()) {
    // force 404
    $wp_query->set_404();
    status_header( 404 );
    nocache_headers();
    include("404.php");
    die;
}

Reference material for a deeper explanation of 404 code – remove-archive-pages.

Speed Still Matters – Mostly

If your page takes a long time to render and/or load, then it is going to see a Google penalty. However, if you have been running your own tests, you may have discovered that loading speed has a varied effect on your SEO. The only big and noticeable difference is if you improve a very slow loading web page or website. If you spend a lot of time tweaking your website, you may hit a wall.

The reasons may have more to do with how quickly your users are able to load your pages thanks to faster mobile and desktop devices, and thanks to faster Internet speeds for both desktop and mobile devices. You may also notice that a media heavy Blogger post that is a little sluggish will still do well on the search engine results when compared to “some” WordPress web pages that are a little sluggish.

Nevertheless, I recommend Yoast’s advice on speeding up your WordPress template to start with. Clean up your CSS and JavaScript code onto external CSS and JavaScript files, and install a reliable caching plugin.

Stop Ignoring Your Image SEO

The fact is that some things are easier to search for with Google images than they are to search with the Google search engine. Many WordPress websites draw consistent traffic from Google images because their page images are optimized correctly.

Keep your file names, alt text, caption text relevant and useful. KissMetrics claim captions under images are read 300% more often than the actual body text of the post. Also, use OpenGraph for sharing on Pinterest and Facebook. It makes your image show when people click to share on your web page/post.

In your <head> section, use the code shown below and remember to flush your Facebook cache in the Facebook URL debugger if it doesn’t work.

<meta property="og:image" content="http://example.com/your-image.jpg" />

You also need to put your images in your sitemaps. Google is very clear about this on its Google Webmaster Tools pages, where they say you should create a separate sitemap for your images or that you should add them into your current sitemap. They go into detail about creating your image sitemap for Google on their Google Webmaster Tools tutorial pages.

Do not embed text about your image within the image. If you have to, such as if it is a meme, then repeat the information on one of your Meta tags, or put it as part of your image caption (not a great idea, but okay). Tell Google as much as you can about the image and keep your words and descriptions relevant within your alt text. Google says that a line of text such as “Dalmatian puppy playing fetch” is more search engine friendly than “Dalmatian dog puppy baby.”

Do not forget the golden rules when it comes to anchor text, especially when external anchor text links to your images. Google also claim that context still influences the search engine friendliness of your images, so place relevant images on suitable pages with related content surrounding them.

Here are a few more Google guidelines about image optimization that also details how you may protect your images, such as using their creative commons license that requires attribution.

What Are Current SEO Guidelines On Headers?

Keywords are not as important as they used to be, which invalidates the argument that a header without a keyword is a wasted header. It is no longer a wasted header if it has no keyword. Google considers headers to be a user-friendly way of allowing readers to skim read and find relevant information. This means that not having headers “may” be damaging to your SEO, especially if you have a longer post. It also means that failing to put a keyword in your header is not a bad thing, though it is good practice.

For your home page, you should use your headers as follows:

  • H1 – Your blog name
  • H2 – A blog tagline
  • H3 – Recent posts
  • H4 – Sidebar content
  • H5 – Unrelated headings

For your post pages, you should use your headers as follows:

  • H1 – Your post or page title
  • H2 – Sub headings
  • H3 – Sub headings within subheadings
  • H4 – Your blog’s name and related widgets
  • H5 – Sidebars and footers

A good tool to check your markup is the W3C markup validation service. It is free to use, you do not need to sign up, you can give a donation, and it can be a little upsetting if you see a slew of errors on your page.

Internal Linking Is An Ongoing Process

This is not a piece of advice meant to help spawn a generation of broken links, it is simply an observation. As stated at the start of the article, the most powerful tool you have is trial and error testing. I have changed my internal linking structure a few times with varied results.

Sometimes I have changed the link structure to help me remove pages that I thought were useful, but was actually repeating information or that had seemingly redundant (self-indulgent) information on them. There are other times that I have changed my internal linking to make the WordPress navigation more refined. My best advice is to use your traffic reports to figure out what pages are useful and what are not, to firstly test the content to see if it is at fault, and then test either removing or moving the page.

If that fails, then consider re-engineering your navigation and internal linking. Remember that smaller and reversible tests will help you figure out what is best for your users and for your SEO.

Internal Linking Is An Ongoing Process

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2 Comments

  1. a lot of thanks! very cool and comprehensive review.

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