WordPress is pretty well optimized for search engines out of the box, but it isn’t perfect. There are many onsite WordPress SEO mistakes that users make. More specifically, WordPress needs a helping hand in two areas:
- Additional functionality in the form of an advanced SEO plugin such as Yoast SEO.
- The effective application of onsite SEO measures.
Ultimately, you are responsible for how well-optimized your site is for search engine results pages (SERPs). If you’re not following basic SEO fundamentals, any plugins or widgets you have installed will be of little use.
With that in mind, I have written this list of the most common WordPress SEO mistakes, along with guidelines on how to avoid them. First, we’ll focus on mistakes specific to individual posts and pages. Then errors can have ramifications across an entire website. E.g. the kind of issues that can have a major impact on your site’s ability to rank for relevant keywords. If you find that your site is victim to some of these errors, rectifying them may make a dramatic difference to the flow of search engine traffic to your WordPress site.
Not Optimizing Your Permalink
Your permalink is good for two things:
- Giving visitors to your site an indication of what a page is about
- Indicating relevancy to search engines
Permalinks should be set to the post (or page) name. This is the format I would generally recommend. You may wish to add the date to your permalink if the content on your site is in some way date-relevant (such as news articles). But for the majority of blogs using the post name makes the most sense.
Once you have set your permalink structure correctly, you will want to make sure that each of your posts’ permalinks are are well-optimized for the specific keywords you are targeting.
Not Optimizing Your Post’s SERPs Presentation
One of the many reasons I consider the Yoast SEO plugin so invaluable is its per-post/page optimization options. Here’s a screenshot of what Yoast’s post options look like:
If you’re not optimizing your posts and pages by filling in the fields above, you’re missing out on a few tricks:
- The Focus Keyword allows you to assess how well-optimized your post/page as a whole is for the primary keyword.
- The SEO Title allows you to adjust your title tag(as opposed to the headline within the content itself) to be more search engine friendly.
- The Meta Description allows you to create a manual description for your page/post. This will display in SERPs as well as in other places (such as social media sites). Writing manual descriptions can have a dramatically positive effect on click-through rates.
There are a number of benefits to linking blog posts on your site. This can include things such as lower bounce rates or increased user engagement. But for SEO purposes we are concerned with relevance.
Put simply, if Google sees that you are linking to contextually relevant pages within your site, they are going to better understand your site’s relevancy to a particular topic as a whole. Effective interlinking can demonstrate the relevance of a particular page to a topic. But that’s not all. It can also result in an overall increase in rankings across an entire topic (as your site is recognized as an authority).
Poor External Linking
Although it may seem counterintuitive, you can positively affect your search engine rankings by regularly linking to relevant and authoritative external sites. This is for two reasons:
- The relevancy factor as discussed in the interlinking section above
- Google likes to see sites refer to others – in the same way, that a medical journal cites other studies
Put simply, if your site doesn’t link to external sites, Google will take that as a sign that your content is not particularly valuable. So make sure that you are regularly linking out to relevant and authoritative websites and blogs in your niche.
Poor Image Optimization
When it comes to common WordPress SEO mistakes, one I see most often is poor image optimization. Search engines cannot see text in image form, so you need to hold their hand a little when it comes to media. That’s where the alt and title tags come in, as shown here in the WordPress media uploader:
There is an endless debate in the SEO world as to how important alt and title tags are respectively.
Don’t forget to include alt and title text on logos, taglines, and any navigational images. They’re all useful for providing search engines with greater context as to the subject of your site. But this is just the tip of the image of the iceberg.
This is a real pet peeve of mine – pages that are associated with a huge number of categories and tags. How is a search engine supposed to make sense of a post that is associated with a wide range of keywords?
Categorize and tag selectively and specifically. You should have a very limited number of categories (generally less than 10, with certain exceptions), and a limited number of tags (perhaps no more than 50). If a category of the tag has only been used a handful of times, it probably isn’t worthy of existence.
Poorly Structured Headers
HTML headers (e.g. the <h1> tag) provide Google with a lot of context pertaining to the relevancy of your site. Words placed within header tags are weighted more heavily than those contained within the main content on your site.
As such, it is vitally important that you include relevant keywords within these headers whenever possible, but it is also important that your header tags are structured appropriately. Some WordPress themes do not follow best practices in this regard, so you may want to check your header tags now. In brief:
- On your home page, the <h1> tag should be the name of your site
- On all other pages, the <h1> tag should be the headline (i.e. of the post/page)
That way, your homepage has the best chance of ranking for your site’s name, and other pages have the best chance of ranking for whatever specific topic they are covering.
Furthermore, <h2> and <h3> tags should be free for use as contextually relevant sub-headers. What your theme shouldn’t be doing is using those tags for wasteful purposes (e.g. for the headline “recommended posts” in a sidebar widget – that does not help the search engines at all).
Instructing Search Engines to Index Too Much
A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that Google will crawl and index their entire site. Whilst Google may crawl your entire site, it often will not index all of the posts and pages. And in reality, you don’t actually want Google to crawl all of the content on your site – only the stuff that is actually worth ranking. Anything else is superfluous and does not benefit from being in Google’s index. Specifically, such pages include:
- Unused taxonomy/archive pages (e.g. tags, author archives, date-based archives, etc.)
- Legal disclaimers
You get the idea. The “cleaner” a site you can present to Google, the better. Anything that is irrelevant or useless to searchers only serves to dilute your site’s relevancy. As such, you should ensure that all such pages are set to “noindex” – i.e. tell search engines not to index it.
Focusing on Meta Keywords
This is less a mistake and more a complete waste of time because Google does not consider meta keywords when ranking sites. Meta keywords have been historically used by spammers to such an extent that Google now apportions no value to them. So if you are still using meta keywords, now is the time to stop.
Duplicate Content (and Not Defining Canonical URLs)
A lot of people will tell you that duplicate content is your worst enemy. If Google sees you publishing content that is available elsewhere it will unleash holy hell on your site until there is nothing left but some garbled HTML.
In reality, this is not necessarily true. Google does not (always) penalize sites for using duplicate content. Instead, if it sees two web pages with largely the same content, it will try to figure out which one was the original publisher. Then it will prioritize that page in search results over the other.
On the other hand, duplicate content on the same site is not great. While not a world-ending issue, having multiple instances of the same content present on multiple pages is just plain messy.
Not Optimizing for Speed
Your site’s load speed is of vital importance. People hate sites that are slow to load, and by extension, so does Google (and probably other search engines). Put simply, the speed at which your site loads can actually have an impact on your rankings.
Not Optimizing for Social Media
Whether you like social media or not, you should make sure that your profiles are correctly set up and linked with your WordPress via Open Graph and Twitter Cards. If you haven’t guessed yet, Yoast SEO is a quick and simple way to do this as social settings are built into the plugin.
It may seem like a relatively minor thing but making sure your site is correctly linked to your social media will help ensure your posts are more “shareable.” In addition, with Yoast, you can add your own custom Facebook and Twitter meta tags. This includes a title, description, and optimized image. Again, this can help improve your post’s visibility and sharing.
Wrapping up Common Onsite SEO Mistakes
SEO can be rather intimidating – there is a lot to get wrong. But the flip side of this is that if you can get most things right, you’ll have a big advantage over the competition. Most of the WordPress SEO mistakes you see above aren’t rocket science. Plus once you understand the basic principles of SEO, you will be able to intuitively spot when something is good for your site’s rankings, and vice versa.