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Set yourself up for SEO success with WordPress

WordPress SEO setup

Between WordPress evangelicals and SEO gurus, there seems to be some bit of tension over the notion that WordPress provides native search engine optimization. WP peeps point to the sheer publishing and indexing capabilities of their beloved CMS. SEO experts argue that it’s simply not enough in the vast ocean of search land to throw another line in water.

But it’s actually true. In theory, you can use a fresh-from-the-box installation of WordPress for search engine marketing and eventually achieve results. And maybe, if you create awesome content regularly, and have a big enough platform already frothing at the mouth to share and link to your stuff, your site will be blessed with a generous ranking in search results.

For most users though, starting fresh with a new WordPress site, it’s silly not to make these simple changes to your WP settings. These are site-wide implementations that will set your blog or brand up for content marketing success, even before you start cooking on that viral copy you’re planning to write.

On a fresh installation of WordPress, check your permalinks

And even if your site is not-so-fresh, there is no reason you should be using the default permalink structure. Why? Part of any SEO strategy should include optimizing the titles of your pages and posts, and a URL contains your keywords is going to be given a little more weight in the results.

Also, from a user perspective, if you’re looking for a page on giraffes and you see these two URLs, which are you more likely to click?

Thought so!

You change your permalinks under Settings -> Permalinks. And you might consider a http://yoursite.you/category/post-name structure over using just the post name option.

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To do that, you’ll fill out the custom structure like this: /%category%/%postname%/

Why might you go the category/postname route? As your blog grows, you’ll want to be able to offer useful archives to your readers. Setting yourself up with meaningful categories (and even tags) will create a sort of table of contents for your site that visitors can access on the fly. It also provides you with the opportunity to slip one or two extra meaningful keywords into your URLS.

PS – If you’re concerned about performance issues with using the category or post-name permalink structure, a decent caching plugin and webhost will negate these possible effects.

Add breadcrumbs to single posts and pages

Your theme should include breadcrumb navigation on single posts and pages. Even in situations where a post belongs in more than one category, it’s an opportunity to remind your readers and visitors exactly where they are on your site (and it helps Google to know this also!). It shows off those thoughtfully structured and keyword-rich categories you spent so much time on, and inserts them high up on the page. As a matter of record, if you do have multiple breadcrumb navigation on your posts, Google has said they prefer to pick up on the first one listed.

Setup canonical URLS

To www or not to www, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous search results, or to take arms against a sea of webmaster tools, and by opposing, end them.

I jest, but seriously, this one is easy and relatively painless. Decide if you’ll want to use that www in front of your domain name, and then stick to it. Change the setting within WordPress, and then on your Google Webmaster Tools page (which if you haven’t set up, now is your golden opportunity, because that’ll be a BFF in all future search marketing efforts).

It’s not a bad idea to install a well-respected SEO plugin at this point. WordPress SEO by Yoast is free, powerful, and can set canonical URLS (among many other search optimizations it can make) on all the pages in your site, and it will also automate the last suggestion we have for you today, which is…

Make sure you have an XML sitemap

A sitemap alone isn’t enough to get you ranked, but it’s that one piece of the puzzle that tells search engines that you have pages on your website that are up and waiting to be indexed. This is especially useful for new and budding blogs and brands that haven’t garnered the backlinks necessary to get noticed.

You can make a sitemap manually if you’re a glutton for punishment, but there are a ton of great, useful plugins that can automate this for you—including the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin mentioned above.

After you’ve got a complete sitemap, you can submit it to Google through Webmaster Tools to expedite the whole indexing process.

Moving forward with your WordPress SEO strategy

There’s a reason SEO experts are often referred to as gurus. The whole business is shrouded in mystery, conjecture, and guesswork. While there are commonly established best practices, and advice does trickle out of Google from time to time, when you’re starting out with a new site, it might be more helpful to think of your SEO strategy as a journey rather than a destination. Because realistically, it may take months before real search results even start to be apparent. And this short guide is only meant as a jumping off point for a more comprehensive SEO plan that would include further on-page, content, and editorial and social marketing strategy.

Regardless of how you tackle your long-term SEO objectives, setting your WordPress installation up for future success is something you can accomplish in a few hours, with just a few simple changes; no mysticism required.

Sacred Saturdays and saving Sundays

Or, What I learned from scheduling a meeting on a Saturday and then subsequently missing one on Sunday

A few months ago I was chatting with a client about my email response times and working hours, which I specify in my welcome kit/agreement/contract-if-you-like are between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Now, before you get the impression I’m only working twenty-hours a week, those are just the hours that I don’t have children in my house. I am often in the position of catching up on writing or working after my kids are in bed, when they’re at their dad’s house, or otherwise preoccupied (I’m a big fan of the laptop on the back porch method of getting-crap-done). And that means sometimes, yes, I do reply to emails on weekends.

My client, who had recently moved from Spain, Siesta culture, was aghast. You should NOT be working weekends. Not even emails, she reprimanded.

Gosh, if only all our clients had such unreasonable demands, right? ;)

Last week was an unusually busy week for me, and I had a client who needed some follow-up support, and Saturday was just the best time for us to have an intense jam session on the phone. My kids were going to be at their father’s, and I wanted to catch up, so I set the meeting. We hopped on our meeting in the morning after breakfast. But by the time we finished, after lunch, I was drained (it was all very good work, don’t get me wrong, but still intense strategy stuff. On a Saturday).

After that, I just felt done in. My kids came home and I turned off my laptop and ignored email for the rest of the weekend. On Sunday morning, I suggested an impromptu trip to the beach to my kiddos, and on that impulse, we piled in the car and headed to Lake Ontario.

Feet in the sand. Check. Spirit restored. Check.

Not working on Sundays

Sunburn and awkward tan lines? Check.

Except I didn’t bother to check my calendar before we left, and we were so far north that I turned my phone off so I wouldn’t get charged for hitting a Canadian data tower. And I completely forgot that I had a business coaching session1 scheduled for Sunday2 afternoon. That I had paid for, mind you.

So by the time I re-entered the grid and saw her concerned, “Are you okay??” emails, I felt like a total dolt! Completely. Mortified.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from being the Sassy Sibyl and struggling to make that business take off in a way that is sustainable, both financially and energetically, is that I am not my business. If I were the embodiment of my business, it would make sense for me to have meetings on weekends. It would make sense that the lines would blur between business/working/and life. But my purpose for being alive is not a function of the business I am in. If I believed that, none of it would be worthwhile.

This is an issue of boundaries for me. And I know other creative and heart-centered business owners struggle with it. In America, it’s drilled in our brains to work hard and get lucky. Well, how about work hard and have a heart attack at 55? Or maybe, work hard and miss out on your kids growing up?

None of those options sound appealing. And I don’t want to be out of integrity by forgetting meetings because my mind, body and spirit need to rest. So I’m declaring my weekends sacred and drawing that line in the sand.

With my toes. On a sunny beach.

How do you handle work and life boundaries?

The Deep End Test

I was a foolhardy child. Never bothered to foster a healthy fear of death till I was at least twenty-five or so. When I was six, overly excited about swimming with my scouting troop, I ran to the edge of the pool and jumped in the deep end. No matter the fact that I couldn’t swim. I sank to the bottom and was retrieved and resuscitated by a crew of friendly lifeguards and my troop leader. After which, I was promptly banished from swimming/running/otherwise not thinking things through.

That mortal awareness must has skipped a generation. My son thinks everything through in excruciating detail, and if things don’t add up, he’s not on board. For the most part, it’s a non-issue; he’s smart, funny, kind, and usually breezes through life. But when those fear buttons are pushed, he’s paralyzed by anxiety and negativity.

This morning he was spiraling downward, wrestling with all kinds of angst about going back to camp. See, on Friday, at his swim lessons, he worked up the bravery to try the diving board for the first time. But when he got to the end, he slipped and fell in. The instructors and the lifeguards were there to catch him. The nurse called me and said he was badly scraped and bruised. When I picked him up, he was covered in lacerations that ran from his wrist, all the way down his arm and back. He was not happy.

And he wasn’t happy this morning when I told him to go back and try again. It’s hard. I don’t like it. What if I hit my head? What if I never pass the Deep End Test?! 

All of his protests I heard and acknowledged.

Sometimes I’m parenting and I see myself from the outside. This was one of those occasions. A little voice was whispering in my ear, “This is a LIFE LESSON opportunity.” While my Mel-brain was grappling with not wanting to be a hard-ass parent who pushes their kids to do crap they truly hate.

Let me let you in on my little parenting secret. I’m a dedicated follower of the parenting school of wing-dinging it. In fact, we’re all just making this up. And we’re doing it on the fly.

I took a deep breath, and then I explained (more or less this), “Sullivan, you’re going to go to camp. You’re going to continue taking swimming lessons. And you’re going to give it your best effort. Some things are hard. Some things you have to do even though you don’t like it. Sometimes we try and we fail, but we should never be afraid of failing. You’re safe. You’re brave. And you’re strong. I know you can do this.”

What I didn’t tell him is that I never learned to swim after I was pulled from the swimming pool. And it doesn’t bother me, except when I see the sailboats on Cayuga Lake. When my stomach twists up with a longing, but then I think, what if I fell in? Or worse, what if one of my kids fell in?

His lip was quivering and it was about time to leave, so I scrambled. “Okay. When you pass the Deep End Test, I will take you to the mall and buy you any video game you want. ANY. VIDEO. GAME.” And I could see the gears churning away in his head; calculating all new cost/benefit ratios based on the addition of this shiny new carrot I was dangling. He brightened. And agreed.

It’s profound how my children’s struggles are a microcosm of my own. There’s always a Deep End Test lurking around the corner, isn’t there? And if we back away in fear, we’ll be stuck treading water forever.

Maybe we’ve fallen. Maybe we’ve been battered and bruised. And maybe it’s scary as hell. But if we face up to it, there’ll be a new Mario Kart game at the end of that long, dark tunnel… or even sailing lessons, perhaps.

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