Don’t Leave Your SEO To A Theme or a Plugin

In the WordPress community, especially amongst new users, a lot of emphasis seems to be placed on themes and plugins as crucial factors in SEO. Theme companies compete for bragging rights on whose is the most ‘SEO-friendly’ while website owners are frustrated that they are not getting the search engine traffic they expected despite having such-and-such theme and an SEO plugin.

The reality is that these things are helpful, but only if you have the right content.

Themes and plugins are like well-written directions to a party (your content).  They help your guests (search engine bots) find your site’s content, but whether or the not the party rocks depends on what they find when they arrive, and that responsibility lands squarely in your, the website owner’s, lap.

Even the most SEO-tweaked theme and fine-tuned plugin cannot make your site rank highly if your content is not relevant and targeted for your audience.

Cover the Basics:

  • In WordPress, make sure you are NOT using the default permalink structure. Change it to a custom structure so you have words in your urls/permalinks.  This is one of the best SEO tweaks you can make and has nothing to do with a theme or a plugin!
  • The most important places your keywords should appear are in the Page or Post title, the permalink and the body text.
  • Also important are the alt text for images, and the titles of any media you include in a post such as images, pdfs etc
  • Internal linking – linking one piece of content to another within your site, called internal linking, is a great SEO tool. For maximum effect, the text that links to another piece of content (anchor text) should contain relevant keywords for that piece of content. So if I might create a link to another post on my site that looks like this:
    Read about how to use the WordPress gallery shortcode
    In this sentence the anchor text is the phrase ‘WordPress gallery shortcode’ which is the most relevant phrase for the post I’m linking to.

Your content should be:

  • Focused – It sounds ‘duh’-obvious to state this, but make sure your content actually reflects the keywords you want to rank for! This is a basic step in diagnosing your site’s SEO – it’s not enough to just have your keyphrase in your tagline for example, there must be tailored content on your site that addresses your keyphrases – if there’s not, you need to re-write your website’s copy, or create some blog posts.
  • Specific – Each blog post or web page should be individually targeted for a specific keyphrase. Don’t try and target every keyword in every post.
  • Relevant, Valuable, Human-friendly – Google’s pretty smart so you can’t fool their little bots with spammy content that’s stuffed with keywords but has no real value. So don’t do it, K? Just write useful content that you would want to read and that is of value and interest to your audience. Not only does Google like it, but it will also attract natural inbound links if people share it on social networks or link to it from their own blog posts. It’s a win-win!
  • Comprehensive – Create multiple pages for a group of related keywords and link them together. Use a range of keyphrases around your target niche so that you strengthen your SEO from a long tail perspective as well as going for whatever the obvious ones are. In the beginning, unless your niche is very UN-competitive, you won’t rank right away for the obvious, one or two-word phrases  – you will have better luck with long-tail phrases – those are more specific phrases which are less competitive.

Remember that all these are just on-site factors – aspects of your site that are under your control.

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Off-site factors such as backlinks (links from other sites to your content) are very important in search engine ranking, but you have less control over them which is why it’s important that you write great content that other bloggers and websites want to link to.

Overall, placing greater emphasis on the quality and clarity of your content will have a bigger impact on your organic search engine traffic than agonizing over picking the best theme.

Header courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dickstock/1270744025/

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