Is your WordPress SEO properly optimized for on-site optimization? Most WordPress developers have a basic understanding of how search engine optimization works – quick page load times, backlinks, and keywords in content and metadata – but just knowing the basics doesn’t guarantee that they’ll develop a search engine friendly website.
Should you even worry about WordPress SEO? There’s a common misconception that WordPress out-of-the-box is automatically search engine friendly. Well, I’ve got news for you, WordPress by itself will not get your website ranked in the search engines. Don’t get me wrong. It’s an excellent tool for publishing content on the Internet, and it greatly simplifies following SEO best-practices. But in the end, it’s still just a tool, and you have to know how to optimize it properly to get the most out of your search engine rankings.
The following are the four biggest WordPress SEO mistakes that I see when taking on new clients and how to avoid them to improve your WordPress website’s search engine friendliness.
1. Having WordPress Installed on Your Subdomain
This one is big as it can increase your website’s potential for ranking by as much as 40%. Search engines view a subdomain of a domain as a completely separate website. As a result, a blog hosted on a subdomain will have its own page rank and domain authority, and be viewed by Google as a stand-alone website separate from the domain itself (main website). The significance of this is that when you create link-worthy content on your blog and perform your linking strategy (off-page SEO) to build its authority in Google, that authority will not get passed to your main website or help it increase its rank in the search engines. This is why you should have your WordPress blog either installed in a subdirectory or use a single installation of WordPress for both your business website and your blog.
By installing your blog in a subdirectory, all the contextual links (backlinks) that are linking to your blog’s pages will pass their link juice (authority) on to your main site (domain), helping increase its page authority and rankings. This can help build a website’s reputation and increase the amount of inbound links twice as fast, especially if the client’s content is mostly housed here.
This topic is one that is regularly discussed by SEOs, especially because there are times in which a subdomain installation might be a better choice. This Search Engine Watch article has more information on the theoretical situations that may lead you to choose a subdomain over a subdirectory, including a reputation management issue or desire to occupy an additional spot in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
2. Aggressive Credit Links from Themes or Plugins
This mistake is one that applies to any developers creating WordPress themes, or occasionally plugins.
Many themes have a credit link in the footer with a link to the creator’s website, which is common practice. However, aggressive credit linking can be a huge SEO mistake.
When you add a credit link to the footer of your theme, or somewhere below or within a plugin, this link essentially appears on every page of a WordPress installation on which it is used. This is known as a sitewide link. Sitewide links can be very powerful, and generally speaking, the more you get, the better your site authority will be.
However, Google’s algorithm has advanced to the point of easily detecting unnatural links, specifically sitewide ones. So if your theme or plugin ends up on thousands of websites, and hundreds of thousands of indexed pages, you could be in trouble. A sitewide link from a few sites may look natural, but from thousands of unrelated websites with different topics? It’s not going to make much sense.
Increasing your own website’s reputation through the use of aggressive credit links simply isn’t worth the gamble. To preserve your credit link without potentially subjecting yourself to a Google penalty, I recommend changing any footer or plugin credit links to nofollow.
Simply add the rel=”nofollow” link to your link as follows:
<a href=”http://www.wordpress.org” rel=”nofollow”>Theme by WordPress.org</a>
The credit link will still appear intact, allowing those interested in your work to visit your site, but no value will be passed. Essentially, the site using your theme or plugin won’t be seen as ‘endorsing you’, which won’t boost (or harm) your authority.
3. Not Taking Site Speed into Consideration
There are two ways that the speed of a WordPress installation affects a website’s SEO:
- Google prefers faster websites and will give them preference over slower ones in its ranking algorithm
- Users prefer faster websites. If users are driving up the bounce rate by leaving quickly because WordPress takes too long to load, Google will dock the site in its ranking algorithm
A study by Moz found that it’s not how long it takes your entire website or page to load that affects SEO and therefore ranking, but the time to first byte. Therefore, if your server is sluggish, or a plugin or dependency is wrecking the time it takes to load WordPress, your ranking (or your client’s) could take a hit.
However, keep in mind that this isn’t all just about what search engines want. Users want faster websites, too. Generally speaking, faster websites have lower bounce rates, and have higher conversion rates as well.
If you’re concerned about speed, you can use a CDN service like CloudFlare or Amazon CloudFront to speed up the load times of your WordPress site. You can learn more about using a CDN with WordPress by reading this article by Jacco Blankenspoor.
We also covered the overall topic of site speed in a recent article: “Speed Up Your WordPress Site“.
4. Ignoring SEO Altogether
Ignoring SEO altogether is, in my opinion, the worst mistake a WordPress developer can make. Ignorance is not bliss, and if you’re doing any kind of work for a client in which you are responsible for ‘making it work’, you owe it to them to have an understanding of how SEO can be used to improve their current circumstances or your own development tasks.
However, even if you work as part of a team, or will be handing your work off to a team in which someone responsible for SEO is employed, it’s still key to have some knowledge of how SEO works and why it is important. If you develop slow, weighty plugins or link heavy themes, or install WordPress without a CDN, you may simply be creating additional work for someone else further down the line.
If you’re new to SEO, or simply want a refresher course, here are a few resources you may find helpful:
What other tips do you have for WordPress developers looking to avoid making SEO mistakes? Have you made any mistakes in the past that you’ve learned from? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences.