Expert Chris Dendy on commonly overlooked SEO factors.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of formatting one’s website in such a way that Google can better understand it, index it, and display it to users via Google search. Without going into the hundred plus ranking factors that Google uses to determine where one’s website will fall within the search engine rankings page (SERP), I would like to focus on three on-page factors that should be the foundation of any SEO strategy. As luck would have it, your out-of-the-box WordPress installation excels in all of these categories with the very simple modifications.
URL structure is one of the most overlooked website SEO features. URL structure is simply a hierarchy that you give to your pages. By placing some content/pages close to the homepage, you are able to tell Google which pages you feel are more important than others.
For example, if you’re selling widgets you want to structure the navigation in a way that tells Google the homepage is the most important page and the page directly following the homepage is slightly less important, but still significant. Commonly you will see URLs like:
This is known as “keyword stuffing,” it’s an older strategy aimed at getting as many relevant keywords into your URL as possible. This technique was mildly effective 10 years ago, but Google has adopted a policy of only placing importance on the first 50 or so characters in any URL. It is also worth noting that Google places more importance on the characters/words after the .com from left to right. In the example above keyword1 and keyword2 would have more relevance than keywords.
WordPress makes setting your own URL structure simple. It even allows you to change the URL structure of an existing website. By going to the administration panel of WordPress, then selecting “settings” on the left-hand side of the page, and then “permalinks”, you should see a page that looks like this:
Here you can set variables for your URL structure. As you can see here I chose to go with the simplest and most direct option possible. Understandably, if you are running an e-Commerce site with many different products falling into a few dozen categories, you may want to change your URL structure by going with something like “category/product name/”.
Page load speed:
When Google has to choose between multiple websites to offer in their search results, one of the main deciding factors is page load time. Google’s goal is not only to serve the most relevant result, but the result that gives the best user experience and the time it takes your site to load, is a key factor. I recommend using a caching plug-in like W3 total cache that serves a cached page to the user rather than making a brand-new database call. Configuring some plug-ins can be confusing and time-consuming and even on the best day, they can fail. My preferred method of speeding up one’s site is by choosing the fastest hosting provider available.
Search engines don’t read websites the way you would or I do. They rely on different signals from the site and historical data to tell them what the site is about. Meta-data is one of the ways you can proactively tell the search engine what your site is about. You do this by adding meta-tags. With WordPress you don’t need to know how to write HTML code. There are many different plug-ins that will write the code for you and insert the code into your pages. The plug-in that I have used for years to do this is All In One SEO. After installing this plug-in, you either set global changes that will affect every page, or you can go into each page individually and make modifications at the page level. Keep in mind that when you are filling out your title tags and meta-descriptions, you want to keep the information brief and to the point, while still being as informative as possible.
Keep in mind that effective SEO is a culmination of many different factors, and I have only covered a few here – the ones I feel are more important. They are the most commonly overlooked site variables, so they are the low hanging fruit.
Chris Dendy has been the enterprise level SEO director at many e-Commerce firms since the early 90s. He continued his SEO education at AT&T and then GoDaddy.com. He’s now the managing partner at Digital Traffic where his team focuses on the ever changing world of enterprise level SEO, and website traffic acquisition.