WordPress is a great CMS. But, if it is not setup properly, there can be a lot of SEO “fixes” that agencies have to do in order to get programs started. By talking with the developers well before they start customizing and developing, you will end up with a site that looks great and is SEO friendly.
It helps to understand that good website creation is a multi-disciplinary project. There are four primary areas of responsibility.
Business owners, these are not necessarily the legal owners of the company, but the people who are charged with understanding the objectives of the site and the target markets.
Designers are creative and user experience (UX) specialists who ensure the site looks good, key functions are accessible, and it is easy to navigate.
Developers are a crucial component from a technical perspective; they do your coding and make sure the site works.
And SEO is a fourth specialty needed to ensure the site can index properly in search engines.
One of the strengths and simultaneous weaknesses of WordPress is that it is easy to launch a site without having any of these expertise. With the myriad of templates, novices can launch a halfway decent looking site without knowing anything about design, development, or SEO. But, therein lies the problem.
If you are launching a website that is intended for more than just a couple hundred visits a month, at the very least, you will want to get a developer who specializes in WordPress. They can ensure your site is setup to scale with the proper plugins and customizations. If you don’t do this, your site may look okay, but it will slow down and some functionality may stop if there is too much traffic. The developers however, may need to be reminded about SEO functionality as you work with them.
SEO Issues in WordPress
One of the first things to understand about SEO is that it is not static. A given page will be edited over time (maybe over short or long periods, but it will change). So, when your developer tells you they’ll “SEO the site” when they are developing, don’t stop there. The site must be developed in such a way that you can edit the key SEO areas easily.
In our experience there are six areas that are frequently overlooked when developing for SEO. Talk with your developer before they start work and be sure they cover the following:
Title tags provide the content that the search engines typically show on the first line of the search results. It is also the first level of content indicators for the search engines. What you put in the title tells the search engines the subject matter of the page. All things flow from this.
This is a block of text that the search engines usually display in the search results right below the title and URL. While the search engines don’t use this for ranking, it is your “sales” message to the searchers… why they should click on the SERP for your page.
We cover more about the SEO of these areas here. These are really your first pitch (and perhaps only pitch) to prospects using Google, Bing, Yahoo! or other engines. You will find yourself changing the Meta Description and Title to increase clicks, experimenting with different messages and calls to action.
If you don’t designate these tags, the engines will populate the SERPs dynamically, giving you no control. Our favorite plugin for this part of SEO is Yoast. Have your developer install the plugin.
This is a big one. The H1 tag, like the title tag, provides another indicator to the search engines as to the subject matter they should expect. For many WP templates, the Page Name is pulled into the page and make the H1 tag. We like this.
Here is Where H1 Tags Go Wrong.
We see sites with no H1 tags and we see sites with multiple H1 tags on a page. There should be only one (1) H1 tag per page.
No H1 tag and you miss an opportunity. More than one, and you confuse the content indicators.
When developers create or edit templates, they either don’t pull in the Page Name as an H1 (they’ll use “Strong” or custom CSS), or they use H1 in the template in multiple places. Sometimes the default style of the H1 looks good as a section title, so they use it there.
Have your developer use the H1 tag only once on a page and implement in a way that you can easily edit it. The Page Name is a good field to use for editing this.
Image Alt Attributes
Images are a great way to enhance the content on your web pages. But, search engines are not great at determining the content of images. So, each image tag has an “alt” attribute. This is simply a description of what is in the image. It is a great way to provide more signals to the search engines about the subject matter on the page and to improve image search results.
When customizing WordPress, developers often forget to pull in the alt attribute that is entered when you first upload an image to the media library. Be sure images that are programmatically set have the alt attribute as well. (For images that you add manually, you can add the alt attribute to the tag.)
WordPress has a great menu functionality built into it. It provides the ability to create and edit multiple menus, changing anchor text, links, ordering, and menu placement on the site. When you work with a developer, you may unwittingly request functionality that causes them to bypass the native menu functionality in WordPress. Be sure you will always have control of the menus.
Sitemaps are lists of the pages on your site. They also have other information about relative page priority, update frequency, and other metadata. This is a good way to keep search engines up to date on site content.
WordPress does not automatically create sitemaps. But, the Yoast SEO plugin mentioned above can do this, as well as other plugins. Just be sure that if you have two plugins installed that are capable of creating the XML Sitemap, only one is actually doing so.
If you work with your developer to ensure you have flexibility to edit these key areas, you will be able to optimize your pages easily and quickly. While not exhaustive, this list provides a good starting point for creating a WordPress site that you can get to index and rank with the search engines.