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.
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).
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.
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.