5 Ways to Make Search Engines Fall in Love with Your WordPress Website
For better or worse, search engines are still the tastemakers of the internet, the front door through which most of your site’s traffic will likely arrive. In the world of websites, think of search engines as sometimes-finicky, always-influential critics who possess the clout to make or break your fortunes.
It is handy to know a few tricks for putting your best foot forward with these powerful influencers, and doing all you can to make them, well, like you.
1) Roll out the red carpet with your WordPress settings.
Search engines experience your site by deploying programs called spiders to “crawl” it, allowing them to evaluate both its code and content. If your site is ready to be seen by the world, be sure to encourage search engines to take a good look.
On your WordPress dashboard, go to Settings > Reading, and look at the setting for Search Engine Visibility. There is a checkbox labeled “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” – once your site is live, this should always be unchecked.
2) Create compelling, unique content to win over visitors and search engines.
Search engines rank your site using algorithms that weigh more than 100 factors in judging the quality of your content. These algorithms are always being tweaked as well, but there are constants you can rely on to boost your site’s standing.
Generally, successful content helps site visitors meet specific needs. Whether you offer a product, service or simply information, understanding your site visitors and offering content meaningful to them is the way to build up trust – and an audience. Consider your visitors’ goals, and the pain points they face. Then, generate content that delivers knowledge your visitors will find valuable. Cover high interest topics, and include useful suggestions that visitors can put into action. If your site capably addresses the needs that people are using search engines to seek answers for, those algorithms will notice and your site’s rank in search results will improve.
Each piece of content you produce is a new opportunity to earn site traffic, so publish fresh material at a steady clip. At the same time, maintain a level of quality that keeps your audience’s trust – content must be worth their time. Also, experiment with forms of media beyond simple text. WordPress makes it easy to incorporate video and images into posts, which can help to communicate ideas visually and be particularly ideal for tutorials or complex information. Video and image content will also enhance your standing with search engines (especially videos, which can assist in establishing traffic and links from platforms, like YouTube, where that content can be shared). Podcasts and guest bloggers can offer additional opportunities for fresh formats, content, and linking, all of which tend to be appreciated by search engine ranking algorithms.
3) Know the keywords your audience searches for, and use them.
It’s critical to speak your target audience’s language when it comes to the search terms they use. Search engines know these keywords, and they’re more than happy to share that knowledge. For example, Google AdWords includes a feature called Keyword Planner (shown below) that provides the top keywords for specific topics. Similarly, Bing offers a Keyword Research tool.
Use resources like these to help create a list of keywords to target. Then, incorporate these terms strategically into your post and page titles, permalinks, header tags and body content – as well as your meta-descriptions, WordPress categories and tags. Shape your content to ensure that what potential visitors want (based on these terms) is what they get. Search engines want to play successful matchmakers between visitors and sites. Executing a thoughtful keyword strategy makes it easy for them.
4) Use a permalink structure that helps search engines "appreciate" your keywords.
WordPress offers a selection of formats for your permalinks (the URLs of your site’s posts and pages). Some formats prominently display the keywords you’ve carefully included in your posts, like so:
Whereas others don’t inform search engines whatsoever:
The best practice is to use the title of your posts in the permalinks. To do this, select Settings > Permalinks from the WordPress dashboard, and set up your site to use /%postname%/. Note that it’s recommended not to use dates in permalinks – or any post for that matter – because users may be less inclined to read dated material. Also, if you already have a different permalink structure and wish to switch to using post titles, be aware that the change may cause current backlinks to become broken. An easy solution is to create redirection rules for your links, which can be done easily using this tool.
5) Impress search engines with an SEO plugin.
WordPress users have an advantage with search engines in that the platform includes many high-quality SEO plugins to choose from. These plugins offer features such as the ability to fine-tune permalinks, perform content analysis, ensure the functionality of backlinks and navigation controls and plenty more. We highly recommend the Yoast SEO plugin, the All in One SEO Pack, and SEO Smart Links (the latter of which offers the ability to automatically link keywords and phrases in your posts to relevant content across your site).
By customizing your WordPress settings, strategies and content to match the needs of your audience, you can simultaneously optimize your site to woo search engines while earning a special place in their rankings.
About the Author
Stefano Maffulli is the Director of Community at DreamHost, a Web hosting and cloud services provider for WordPress users.