We get a lot of questions about SEO here on WordPress.com, and no wonder — you work hard on your site and want to get the word out! SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO recommendations are intended to help your site rank higher and more accurately in search engines, like Google. Say you write a blog about sailboats. When someone Googles “sailboats,” how many pages of results do they have to scroll through before they see a link to your blog? The goal behind having good SEO is to increase your website’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page) ranking.
Ideally, you want your link to be on the first page of results. The best ways to accomplish this are:
- consistently publish useful, original posts about sailboats; and
- promote your blog in intelligent ways to people who are looking for information about your topic.
The more traffic your blog receives for sailboat-related searches, the higher it will climb in Google’s results. No mystery to that, right? But if you look around the internet, you’ll find dubious advice about how to increase your blog’s SERP ranking. Some of the suggestions you’ll find are just extra busywork, but some can actually end up hurting you with Google.
Common myths about SEO
Myth: I need a plugin for SEO.
Fact: WordPress.com has great SEO right out of the box — you don’t have to do anything extra. In fact, WordPress takes care of 80-90 percent of the mechanics of SEO for you, according to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team. All of our themes are optimized for search engines, which means they are designed to make it easy for the Googlebot (and other search engines) to crawl through them and discover all the content.
Myth: I need to regularly submit Sitemaps to Google so it knows I’m blogging regularly.
Fact: Every WordPress.com blog has an XML Sitemap. To view your Sitemap, type yourblogname.wordpress.com/sitemap.xml in your browser’s address bar. What you see there is code, so it’s not meant to be easily readable by us. For the Googlebot, however, it’s a “what’s hot” guide to the latest and greatest on your site. WordPress.com also automatically sends notifications to Google every time you publish or update a post or page. This is similar to how your subscribers get email updates. Every time you post, you’re telling Google, “Hey! Check this out.”
Myth: The more tags and categories I use for a post, the better it is for Google.
Fact: Using a bunch of tags and categories that have little to do with your posts won’t increase your site’s visibility. Actually, Google doesn’t rely on tags or categories — it can tell what your post is about from its content (or it should be able to), as Matt Cutts explains here. Plus, any post on WordPress.com with too many categories and tags will be excluded from the Reader Topics pages. It’s best to use only a few, carefully selected categories and tags for each post — those that are most relevant to what the post is about. Likewise, avoid overly broad tags: “catamaran” is a better tag than “boat.”
Myth: Creating several identical sites about sailboats and making frequent use of sailboat-related terminology in my posts will help me get a lot of sailboat-related traffic.
Fact: Google frowns on duplicate content, and if you have multiple identical sites, your search ranking will suffer for it. Also, while it’s a good idea to use accurate keywords in your posts and post titles, going overboard with so-called “keyword stuffing” will hurt your SERP rank. Strive for clear, natural-sounding writing that reads like it was intended for human ears, not search engine crawlers.
SEO DOs and DON’Ts
- Regularly publish original content.
- Use a few precise categories and tags.
- Write for human ears.
- Build your traffic in smart, organic ways.
- Choose simple, meaningful post slugs.
- Create a descriptive tagline.
- Include keywords selectively.
- Start duplicate sites.
- “Stuff” your site with irrelevant, broad categories, tags, or buzzwords.
- Write with search engines in mind.
- Purchase or exchange meaningless “backlinks.”
- Buy into SEO fads.
- Worry too much about SEO at the expense of writing good content!
Myth: One effective way to improve my blog’s SERP rank is to purchase or exchange links (sometimes known as “backlinks”) with as many bloggers as possible, so that there’s a lot of traffic going to my blog.
Fact: If you blog about sailboats, the more sailboat-focused sites and articles that organically link to your blog as a fantastic source of sailboat info, the better. On the other hand, Google won’t be impressed if it sees a ton of links to your sailboat blog from blogs about, say, marketing, basketry, lipstick, electronics, or SEO tactics.
Think of it this way: Google wants people to use its search engine as much as you want them to visit your website, so its goal is to return the most useful results for any given query. The more tactics bloggers come up with to fool Google into ranking their sites higher than they deserve to be, the more Google corrects its search algorithms to screen out such bad behavior.
Paying for backlinks is a case in point: in April 2012, Google introduced its controversial Penguin algorithm that improved screening for this bad practice, and many bloggers with excessive backlinks found that their SERP rank plummeted. The moral of this story is that while SEO fads might bump your site artificially for a bit, in the long run, they won’t work.
Myth: SEO requires a strategy and possibly an expert.
Fact: SEO is mostly common sense. While large organizations might need to hire a specialist to help them reach some very specific SEO goals, bloggers and small business owners can do everything required for good SEO on their own. Google is very transparent about its process — it has a guide for SEO best practices here, and it shares any new changes in its methods on its blog.
So, what can you do to increase your SERP rank? There are some simple steps you can take to make sure your content is properly indexed.
Smart ways to increase your SERP rank
- Make sure to use short, easy-to-read post slugs that accurately describe what your posts are about. On WordPress.com, the post slug is the last part of your post title, which you can edit to be anything you like. For example, the slug “/buying-sailboats” is better than “/how-to-buy-a-beautiful-inexpensive-sailboat-on-Craigslist” or “/354.”
- Create a descriptive tagline for your blog that explains what your site is about. For example, a strong tagline for our sailboat site might be “On sailboats, sailing, and sailors. Ahoy!”
- Use narrow and specific keywords that will help interested readers find your site. If you yourself were looking for information on this subject, what search terms might you try? Be sure to use those terms once or twice in your post, assuming they are relevant. But don’t use them fifty times.
- Be sure to publish new posts or update your content regularly, even if you have a website. On WordPress.com, most sites are set up in a standard, blog-style format with a reverse chronological list of posts on the front page. However, many of you use WordPress.com for websites consisting mostly of static pages. This type of site is not updated as frequently as a typical blog, so if you do have a website, it’s beneficial to have a blog component that you update more often. Link to that “posts page” from your site’s front page, whether by using a menu tab, or by using the Recent Posts widget in the sidebar of your front page. Because most new visitors land on your front page first, providing an obvious link to your most recent posts will help Google see that your site is current and active.
- Focus on building your traffic in smart ways. Seek out other blogs on your topic (or sharing your point of view) and leave substantive comments. Use Publicize to promote your blog to your social media circles. If you’re more of a general interest blogger, involve yourself in the WordPress.com community by participating in the challenges over on The Daily Post.
If you’re ready to get a bit more advanced, you can use webmaster tools (provided by Google and Bing) to collect more data about how visitors find your site. This can help you make decisions about which topics to focus on in future.
In the end, remember that while it’s admittedly a lot easier and less scary to tinker around with SEO than to make yourself sit down and write, there is no shortcut to building a popular site. The surest way to improve your site’s ranking is to regularly publish interesting, creative content that people want to read.
That’s the reason why I love wordpress..always interacting with its users and eager to help them with tons of useful info. I’m guilty of the tags and categories part out of ignorance. And this post has made a lot of things about SEO clear that were very confusing to me earlier. Also I’m glad I didn’t buy into any of the spams I got about SEO. Thanks for sharing!
I’m relatively new to blogging and this info on SEO was very helpful. Particularly because it is from a bona fide source. Thanks, Elizabeth. My understanding is that the best way to attain a following is to interact with other bloggers and create authentic, compelling content. I would prefer to have a loyal, engaged small following than a large following that is not genuinely interested or changed by what I’m sharing. Good luck to everyone in finding what you’re looking for in the blogosphere.
Very informative article. It’s good to know that not you help us make a blog, but also provide us with tips on how to make it successful. I’ve blogging for almost and year and I have to admit that all of you have done a great work. Thanks for everything and keep up the good job!
@craigengland21, there’s nothing to be mystified about. Just because content is the most important thing, it’s not the *only* important thing. SEO is important, as well. And, the same way one pays a chef to make their steak instead of doing it themselves for significantly cheaper, many would rather pay an expert and use their time more productively.
@Elizabeth, I realize this isn’t your fault, but since you’re the author, I’ll complain to you. 🙂 This blog is not very accessible…when you zoom the page in your browser (at least in Chrome) the font stays the same, puny size.
Conservative, but very sound advice. And very true about WordPress’s SEO. The search engines are intensely interested in WordPress blogs and constantly scan the site. Another important WordPress property is the “trust” factor accorded to the service. We are in certified good company.
Thank you very much, Elizabeth… I’ve been worried about SEO since the very day I started my wordpress blog. I told myself that then will come the day I must buy some SEO stuff. Now I know that it’s all about keep on writing good content.
I’ll keep an eye on your “demystifying” advise.
Oh, SEO I have heard so much about you from the spambots. They were so keen on informing me that my SEO skills are severely lacking. And they offered help! Just click the strange looking links and they shall transport you to a land of million clicks. It’s so silly it’s amusing. But I’ve got to say this article is extremely informative – a lot of great tips. Thanks!
Excellent advice, I especially like the one about the post slugs. I tend to be a little creative with my titles so being able to change the slugs to something more descriptive is going to be something I do in the future.
Does WP have the same updating with Bing as far as site maps goes? I’m constantly being bothered by Bing to “update my site map,” which is a pain and I don’t often do it.
Hi, Elizabeth, I have read your post word by word line by line very attentively. Its really helpful to refresh some old knowledge. I have a question just to be sure myself. I use sitemap plugin for WordPress. Is it better to use sitemap plugin or not? Thanks for your help. Regards, Yakub
This was one of the best articles I have read that helped explain the ‘dos’ & ‘don’ts’ for someone in the early part of the blogging learning curve. It was clear & without ambiguity & helpful in warning us about spending money for contrived plug-ins that won’t serve any real purpose. Appreciate the ongoing advice & hope to be able to apply it better in future efforts!
This is a great perspective on how SEO works with WordPress.com blogs. The only thing I would add based on observation and being part of best practice forums with both Google and Bing is that WordPress sets the industry standard in terms of of how it’s content is indexed by search engines. This means that bloggers can concentrate on producing great content and allow the WordPress engine to do the SEO work for you. One Golden rule of SEO I would add – If you want to rank for something then it needs to be physically present in your blog – eg. If you want to rank for “Photographer in Houston” then you need to have that text in your blog – it isn’t going to cut it to have a photo blog and a contact page saying you are based in Houston but to not actually mention anywhere in your blog that you are “a Photgrapher based in Houston” – you need to be specific and if you are, you will be able to take advantage of all that WordPress has to offer.
Thanks “WordPress!” I set-up my “blog spot” with you simply to keep track of my own interest’s! I don’t consider myself to be a “blogger” nor did I intend to be one. However, this article of yours has made it seem so attractive and “easy-to-do”…I “just” might use your tips to become ONE!!!
WordPress does a great job handling technical SEO aspects right out of the box. In my opinion one of the reasons why WordPress got so big 😉 But one very import SEO aspect isn’t covered by default: the HTML title tag.
To have full control over this SEO element you do need to install a plugin.
Yet another well written article by the WordPress Team! For you guys to only have around 150-180 employees you guys sure are always busy making our experience here exceptional and you are always trying to improve it! That is the very definition of a great company in my opinion. Being new to blogging and to social media i have read a bunch of the posts you guys have written within the past week since making my blog and it always helps and answers my question with simplicity and readability. The best decision i made this year apart from starting to write and read again…was not that i decided to make a blog….but that i decided to make one on WordPress! ~Shane