SEO For WordPress: Part 1

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By Sumesh from Blog Creativity, a blog about blogging tips, usability in design, SEO and WordPress (theme/plugin reviews, hacks and WordPress optimization).

WordPress is often praised for its inherent SEO capabilities. The option to use post slugs, clean and valid xHTML (mostly) etc. are some of the reasons for the praise.

However, anyone who inspects a WordPress theme closely will notice that there are several dozen weak points in WordPress themes (in the default theme, freely available themes and even paid themes). Some of these are caused by WordPress core functions (which were developed 5 years ago, since when SEO has evolved), while others are due to designers not willing to brave the choppy waters of SEO experimentation.

Modifying the core functions require extensive hacking (which can be done with proper tutorials), but the changes will be erased during WordPress upgrades. So, the subject of this post shall be mostly about those mistakes caused by faulty theme coding.

In this series of posts, you can read on what the SEO mistakes are, and how to solve them.

Note: The technical aspects of the solution (like code required for various modifications) is beyond the scope of this post. Michael tells me that WPCandy readers are mostly capable of doing such tweaks by themselves, but I will be glad to troubleshoot your problems (if you run into any) at the support forum at my blog.

Sidebar widgets

Some background information: Google gives less weightage to links that appear site-wide, and also links which are separated from the bulk of content. However, the links still pass on invaluable link juice to other pages.

WordPress themes have a static sidebar (in terms of what content appears in which pages). This means that your list of recent posts, categories, archives etc. will appear across every page on your blog.

With a sidebar that appears across every page of your theme, you are passing link juice to archive and category pages, which are used to highlight your older content to visitors. Note that when a blog gets older, the number of categories and archive links will increase, and end up somewhere between 20 to 30 links (this is a conservative estimate).

This reduces the link equity of your post pages and may result in lower search rankings (search engines consider pages with too many links to be spammy).

The solution: Disable sidebar widgets and use PHP conditionals to display contents selectively. For example, you can display all your normal widgets in the front page, and display only recent posts in post pages (since our objective is to reduce static, site-wide links).

Sidebar headers

WordPress widgets use <h2> tags to mark up sidebar headers. To ensure compatibility with widgets, most themes use h2 tags even if widgets are not used.

In terms of SEO, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5 and h6 tags are arranged in a hierarchy, and important keywords should go into these tags in decreasing order of relevance. These tags help search bots identify the page properly.

In sidebar widgets, headings are usually ‘Subscribe’, ‘About’, ‘Categories’, ‘Popular Posts’ etc. To a search engine, these headings do not make any sense about the blog. To make matters worse, thousands of other blogs will also have similar headings.

The solution: Disable widgets (yes, again) and edit your theme to use <span> or <h6> tags for sidebar headings. Widget system can be hacked to use custom tags, but it is for advanced users only. Since the previous point requires disabling widgets, it is better to do so than hack the widget system.

Navigation links

Blogs have navigation links to pages like About, Contact, Advertise and Archives. With the exception of About page, these pages do not hold relevance for search engines, and hence do not require dofollow links from every page.

The solution: Going by our rule of thumb to decrease the number of site-wide links, use PHP conditionals to serve dofollow links to those pages from the blog homepage, and nofollow links to those pages from every other page.

These tweaks help you optimize your site-wide links and content. In the next post of this series, we shall look at other ways to improve a blog’s SEO.

14 thoughts on “SEO For WordPress: Part 1

  1. These are all interesting ideas, but I’m curious if there exists any hard proof of any other these concepts. After all, I seriously doubt that the term “link juice” is used in any algorithm anywhere on the web.

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  3. There are a lot easier ways to fix these issues without doing a lot of major work mentioned here.. . #1 start using SEO oriented themes. A lite google search should bring up a number of different free themes who actually devalue the sidebar header tags to h4s and lower, while making the homepage site title an h1, and the post titles on the main page a h2.

    Even better a good seo wp theme will change the post pages themselves to have the post reflect the h1 title rather than the site name.

    As for the comments posted earlier. . .is this really important. .. header hierarchy. .. yes. If you don’t believe it just don’t do it I don’t care. My sites will rank higher.

    As for link juice being passed on . . . and what ‘link juice’ is. . .well do the semantics really matter? The PR and the value of links are passed on from site to site, and within the site this is not a mystery, its the core set up of google search algorithm itself. Call it what you want but it exists. You want proof? Read google’s patents you’ll find plenty on passing on importance from links both external and within the site. So if you want to call it ‘passing on page value’, or ‘the search engine results are related to the amount of social importance acquired thought links received and the importance of those sites’. . . you can but i think the term ‘link juice’ is a lot easier to write.

    True a lot of SEO is hocus pocus, but there is a reason people are being paid a lot of cash to do it. . .its called results. . . .or better yet search engine results.

  4. I have been doing a number of these things for a while now, and with my latest redesign I really critiqued the conventions within wordpress themes and their relation to SEO. Since the time I relaunched my theme (for which I use da number of similar tricks) I have seen my Search engine traffic triple. Great post and I can’t wait to read more…

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  6. Yes these work but there are much easier options which will increase your SEO results. I would suggest these first and then second these BUT still a good article as there are many other current already articles about WP SEO plugins etc

    I dont agree however about using span for headings, that is not semantic and google does care about semantics, so I would suggest to use h6 instead. btw does it matter that you dont use h4 and h5 but use a h6??

  7. You’ve got some awesome ideas here. I do think that a lot of what your suggesting needs to be looked at from a more “speculative” viewpoint. Many of the SEO principles you mention are hot topics, but they are also hotly contested. For example, using nofollow to “sculpt” is said to maybe be bad. Sitewide navi bar links bad? Not sure about that.

    But, you’ve really come up with great solutions once someone buys into particular SEO ideas.

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