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October 19, 2007

Building the Perfectly Optimized Site Using WordPress

In the past few years WordPress (www.WordPress.org) has become the standard blog publishing platform because of its ease of use, rich feature set, available plugins, and standards compliance.  Of course, the fact that it’s free and open source hasn’t hurt either.

While developers have flocked to using WordPress as their blogging platform of choice, it’s often overlooked as a content management platform for non-blog sites.  WordPress allows you to create pages that are automatically are added to the sites’ navigation bar and can be customized by a PHP programmer to handle just about any task you’d want to accomplish with a site.  Free themes and plugins can help reduce programming and design costs immensely, and with a little work WordPress can be customized to automate many of the most arduous SEO tasks.  The result is a powerful and easy to use search engine friendly publishing platform that eliminates the majority of both upfront and ongoing SEO work.

Since WordPress is already very standards compliant, you and your programmer don’t need to worry about proper HTML formatting – that’s all taken care of for you.  There are, however, a few simple steps that should be taken to turn your WordPress site into the ultimate search-optimized site:

Create Unique Title Tags

Search Engine Optimization firm SEOmoz recently polled 37 of the best SEO’s about what factors influence Google’s algorithm. The NUMBER ONE factor influencing a high ranking was “Keyword Use in Title Tag”.  For that reason alone you want your Title Tag to include the most relevant keywords related to your post.  Unfortunately WordPress defaults to having your site title as the first thing in your Title Tag.  Ideally you’d have a customizable page title show up first. 

For example, if your company named Cool Designs is located in New York and has a Web Design page, the Title Tag “New York City Web Design – Cool Designs” is more likely to rank high for NYC-related web design queries than a page that has “Cool Designs – Web Design” as the Title Tag.  Fortunately WordPress has a SEO Title Tag plugin that allows you to customize each Title Tag.

Turn on Permalinks

The default WordPress post or page has a permanent link that looks like http://www.yoursite.com/?p=123. This is what’s called a dynamic URL – a URL that uses variables in the URL to determine the page content.  In this case the “p” variable determines what is shown when the page is loaded.  And while dynamic URLs are efficient for programming, they aren’t exactly search engine or user friendly.

Years ago search engines had trouble indexing dynamic URLs.  That’s not necessarily the case anymore (although you might as well remove all doubt), but static URLs like http://www.yoursite.com/keyword-filled-post-title/ still offer several advantages.  The primary advantage is the cleanliness of the URL, which really has nothing at all to do with search rankings.  A URL with real words in it (as opposed to numbers and question marks) is much more enticing for people to click on when search results are returned, and consequently is much easier for them to remember when re-visiting your site.  Having relevant keywords from your post in your URL can also have a slight impact in boosting your rankings for those key words.

This change can be done with URL rewriting.  Normally doing this requires quite a bit of programming effort.  Not with WordPress.  Just go to Options à Permalinks and change your default structure to the date and name based structure.

Create Sitemaps

Both HTML sitemaps (a page that lists links to every other page on your site) and XML sitemaps (a file that lists all of the pages on your site for search engine spiders) can aid immensely in getting every page on your site indexed by all of the search engines.  Automating each type of sitemap usually requires a few hours of programming for most sites.  Of course, WordPress has a HTML sitemap plugin and a XML sitemap plugin that does all of the work for you.  After creating the XML sitemap, be sure to submit it to Google and Yahoo to access extensive crawling information about your site.

Install Analytics

All of the traffic in the world isn’t worth very much if you aren’t converting any of it to sales, leads, newsletter signups, or whatever the goal of your site may be.  Google Analytics has become the premiere analytics software because of its simple and customizable interface, breadth of features, and price (free).  In addition to the normal important analytics metrics – visitors, unique visitors, page views, new/returning visitors, traffic sources, most viewed content, etc   – Google Analytics has goal tracking and e-commerce revenue tracking so you can see exactly where each conversion is coming from.  After signing up for an account, the Google Analytics plugin for WordPress will have you up and running in minutes.

If you also use WordPress for its blogging capabilities, you’ll want to install the Sociable plugin and sign up for a Feedburner account to make sure you get the most out of your blog.  Sociable allows people to submit your posts to social bookmarking sites like Digg, del.icio.us, Furl, Technorati, reddit, and StumbleUpon, which can be VERY effective for promoting extremely viral sites and articles.  Feedburner offers a plethora of advancements to your RSS feed for your posts, but from a SEO standpoint the most important thing is to configure it to automatically ping search engines and blog directories.  This ensures that your posts always get indexed, and usually gets them indexed fast.

There you have it – a perfectly optimized site using WordPress and other free tools in about a hundredth of the time it would take you if you built it from scratch!

Author:  Adam McFarland is the co-founder of Faceup-Sites and the author of the Faceup Web Marketing Book: The Perfect Combination of SEO, SEM, and other tactics to maximize results without breaking the bank.  Faceup-Sites uses WordPress to create professional, highly customizable, and easily maintainable sites at a fraction of the cost of what most developers charge.

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