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Most readers of CMS Critic will be familiar with WordPress’s huge user numbers. What you might be less familiar with is the extent to which the semantic publishing platform’s popularity might in part be driven by its friendliness to the digital marketing community and, in particular, SEO professionals.
Search engine optimisation specialists have become major standard bearers for WordPress. An SEO specialist often runs at least one website outside of their main job and WordPress is nearly always the chosen platform. By why is WP so favoured by this particular community; what are the features that SEO types love; and what plugins should be in your WordPress SEO toolbox?
SEOs aren’t technical
While search engine optimisation specialists are often very literate and numerate they very rarely have any technical or coding skills. So a CMS that sets up a brand new website in under 10 minutes with no need for advanced technical knowledge is a gift to them.
Search professionals appreciate not only the ease of set up but the huge WordPress community and masses of ‘how to’ style articles on the web. This vast cache of resources means that despite very little coding know-how an SEO specialist can make sizeable customisations to their WordPress site by accessing the hive-mind.
WordPress has SEO baked in
Straight out of the box WordPress has a ton of SEO-friendly features.
- URLs are a factor in how a page ranks. WordPress lets you choose from a variety of permalinks to increase the chances of other sites linking back to you and to get all important keywords into the URL of a page.
- Pingbacks and Trackbacks join WordPress sites together in something resembling a social network. Other site owners are notified when you reference them and vice-versa, increasing the chances that they’ll link back to you.
- Images are increasingly important to SEO as search engines pulls them into results pages and social networks like Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook pull them into posts. WordPress makes image formatting easy and lets you edit the all-important alt-image attribute without any extra plugins or customisation.
- A huge number of available themes lets you pick a site structure that compliments your SEO efforts without requiring any technical input.
Of course many of these features have been prompted by a desire to follow best digital publishing practices rather than a desire to make WordPress a great platform for SEO. But a large part of the work of an SEO specialist is ensuring web pages adhere to best practice in the eyes of Google and the other search engines, so the benefits are there regardless of intent.
There are a ton of WordPress plugins for SEO
Here are a few of the most important:
- Google Analytics for WordPress inserts tracking code into all your pages automatically so that all your traffic data is available in Google’s Analytics tool. This plugin from Yoast doesn’t just provide vanilla tracking but also lets you customise where the tracking code is placed, how downloads and clicks on outbound links are tracked etc.
- WordPress SEO, also authored by Yoast, is an extremely powerful and feature-packed SEO plugin that lets you edit meta-data alongside a page’s content, analyse the page for optimisation based on a specified keyword phrase, canonicalise your content, exclude specified pages from being indexed by search engines and it can generate tags and data to help social networks like Facebook recognise your content. It even lets you edit your robots.txt and ht.access files from WordPress.
- Google XML sitemaps generates a new XML sitemap every time you update your site’s content. An XML sitemap helps the spiders of Google, Bing et al to find all the pages on your site, increasing both the likelihood and speed with which they get indexed by search engines.
- Social media and SEO are becoming increasingly intertwined as the search engines incorporate social data into their algorithms. This plugin from Mailchimp allows your users to comment via their social media profiles, lets you pull in social media mentions as comments and lets you automatically broadcast your new posts to your social networks. Digg Digg adds the essential social sharing buttons to your pages and posts.
- Tracking the end goals of your SEO efforts is vital. Contact form 7 provides simple but very customisable contact forms to which it is easy to add Google analytics tracking.
The vast number of plugins available for WordPress mean that whatever your SEO strategy you’ll almost certainly find a combination to suit. By leveraging the power of WP plugins you can make major SEO changes to your site without ever having to login to an FTP server or write a single line of code.
You can write your own SEO-friendly theme
The main problem with using plugins for all your SEO needs is that they have the potential to slow down your page load times – another increasingly important factor in search engine algorithms.
Luckily a decent WordPress developer can bake all the features that an SEO consultant specifies, and which would otherwise be provided by plugins, directly into a customised theme. This allows for faster page load times, a better user experience and better rankings in search.
I have to admit here that I don’t have a great deal of experience with using other Content Management Systems. But, from the perspective of an SEO professional who’s never written a line of code in his life, it would take a lot of persuasion to pull me away from a platform that requires so little programming knowledge, that offers so many options for customisation, that has so many bespoke SEO plugins and that is supported by such a large community of search experts.