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?
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.
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.