Matt Cutts, the lead of Google’s web spam team, spoke about why WordPress is the best optimized blogging platform for search engines and gave some tips for all bloggers on how to start getting search traffic. It is a classic WordCamp talk that has stood the test of time and is a great introduction to SEO for any blogger. In short the advice is to produce a lot of quality content and follow a few simple tips in order to optimize your site and get better in Google’s results.
WordPress is “a fantastic choice”
Matt Cutts praised WordPress for being SEO-friendly platform. WordPress automatically solves a ton of issues bloggers might have. It is a fantastic piece of software, makes your site easily crawlable by search engines, solves some 80-90% of mechanics of SEO and is the first big step anyone can take towards creating a popular online business. Watch the full presentation and see the full list of tips below:
What bloggers need to know about Google
Google provides value to the searchers by displaying the most relevant and useful content in the search results. The goal is to reduce and eliminate ranking of unsubstantial and useless content. Algorithms such as Panda extensively evaluate different aspects of a site to assess its value and quality. As these algorithms constantly evolve Google’s advice for content publishers is to focus on creating the best user experience instead of working on tweaks and patches to keep up with the latest algorithmic update.
Google cares about relevancy and reputation when choosing which sites to rank in their listings. You want your site to be a very reputable place with a lot of relevant quality content about your topic. Reputation is external, it is what people say about you in social media and how people link to you from their websites. It is about the number of links and the importance of sites that link to you. Relevancy is internal, it is the stuff that you write and create content about. This is what you need to do:
- Create quality content. For gaining a good reputation and good links, high quality, linkable and sharable content makes a difference. More on how to do this is further down in this article.
- Post new content often. By producing more content you have more material that search engines can find. It also helps get people to come and visit you more often.
- Be natural. To be relevant you need to think about what your target group would type into Google to find the topic you write about. Create content in regular English, in language that people in your target group speak.
- Research keywords. Use Google Keyword Planner to find the demand for the different keywords. When you know in-demand keywords that you want to target, include those keywords naturally when writing your articles.
- Use Analytics for ideas. Look into your Google Analytics data to see where people are going on your page in order to get ideas for new topics to create content about.
- Revisit older content. Some of your content might have been published a year ago but still gets traffic and ranks in search engines. Revisit your older content, update it, make sure it is still relevant and correct.
- Link quality not quantity. It is not all about the number of links pointing to you though, it is about the quality and importance of places that point to you. The higher the quality of a site that links to you the more importance that link gets.
- Get free links. In Webmaster Tools go into “Crawl Errors” to find links to non-existent pages on your site. See “Linked From” to identify sites that linked to these pages and either fix the page or contact the author of the link to get them to update it.
- Avoid shortcuts and scams. There are no easy ways and tricks to the top of search engines like some people will promise you. Follow the principles in this post instead.
How to optimize WordPress
As seen above Matt Cutts’ advice is not to worry about small things, but to spend time on producing great and targeted content that your audience would share and link to. There are though few things he recommends you do in your WordPress admin to optimize it. These are the things you should do after installing a new WordPress blog:
- www vs non-www. Create a permanent redirect of your domain name. Decide what is the URL of your website. In Settings – General choose either www version or non-www version and stick with it. If you decide your main URL is yourblog.com (without www) make sure to always and from anywhere link to yourblog.com, and not to www.yourblog.com or any other alternative. Also set your preferred domain in Google Webmaster Tools.
- Create a sitemap. Google uses your XML sitemap to learn about the structure of your site and to hopefully increase the exposure your pages get in its results. Install a sitemap plugin, activate it and submit it to Google Search Console.
- Pretty permalinks. Create a custom permalink structure of your posts and pages. Having keywords from your post titles in your URL is a very important step in ranking well in search engines. Go into Settings – Permalinks and choose “Post Name” or “Custom Structure”: /%category%/%postname%/
- Descriptive categories. If you use categories when publishing your posts, make sure that categories have keywords in them as well.
- Change the URL. Have a post title be different than the URL itself to help cover few more keyword alternations that you couldn’t cover if they were both identical. Use the “Edit” button on the side of your permalink when writing a new post to change the URL.
- Show related posts at the end of your articles to reduce bounce rate and increase page views and time spent on site. Several plugins are available for this including YARPP.
- Your design needs to be simple, effective and clutter-free. It needs to help your visitors explore more.
- Use a mobile-responsive design. Google is expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as an important ranking signal. Find a quality theme with a clean code, clean CSS and mobile responsive design. Help on finding the right design theme is here.
- Upgrade your software to keep your site secure. Older versions of WordPress are easier to hack and that will negatively affect your site. More tips on making your site secure.
- Speed up the loading time. Make sure your site is fast to load as that is another factor that contributes to people staying longer. See here how to do that.
- Check for broken links. Search engines and your readers do not like broken links so use the Broken Link Checker plugin to discover and fix broken links. It is a simple plugin that automates the process for you.
- Use HTTPS instead of HTTP. Google prefers encrypted and secure sites as these protect the users better.
- Authorship in Google’s search results is no longer relevant as Google has dropped the authorship functionality on August 28th 2014.
5 elements of a user-friendly (and Google-friendly) website
Google has a list of evergreen questions that you can use to assess the quality of your site. Reviewing these questions will help you figure out what to improve in order to regain your rankings, get back to that coveted first page and future proof your site. I’ve split the 23 questions into five categories:
How to create quality content and add substantial value
Great content is key to your search rankings. Without great content you will not have any visitors, loyal followers and any traffic from search engines.
Google constantly preaches about high-quality vs low-quality content. Google wants you to focus on creating high quality content. Quality content means original content such as reports, analysis, insights and research. Low quality means content with no value added to the visitor, material that is not useful or that is copied from another source.
The way some bloggers and content creators go wrong with Google is by being so obsessed with search engine optimization that they neglect the importance of quality. Forget about SEO. Start with your audience in mind. Focus on creating the best experience for people that are interested in your topic and that are using your site.
Here is how you can create quality content that gets visitors, social media shares and links:
- Be interesting. Nobody wants to spend time on or share boring content. Thrill and delight your target audience. Your content needs to engage and grab the interest within the first couple seconds.
- Provide a useful service. Help people. Sort their issues.
- Do original research and reporting. Don’t just repeat what everyone else is saying, create some value on top.
- Give great information, tutorial and guides. Be substantial, insightful and comprehensive. Teach and educate your audience on how to do something.
- Make lists. People love lists.
- Publish videos. Videos are very sharable and linkable, people enjoy watching them, they spread fast and tend to rank very well in search engine results.
- Create controversy. Make people respond and take action. Make them either agree or disagree with what you’re saying.
- Create content that is timeless and does not expire or become irrelevant few days or weeks after being published.
- Start experimenting with long form content that mixes textual storytelling with different multimedia aspects. Introduce high quality pictures into your content. Present data and information in nice looking infographics.
For more information check out my complete guide on creating compelling and sharable content.
Quality control measures
You need to put strict quality control measures in place when publishing content. Your content needs to be of such high standards that it could be published in a magazine or in a book.
- You should double and triple check everything before publishing. Have a checklist of things to do before posting an article and actually take the time to go through the list. Use a spell checker. Look for typos and sentences that don’t read well. Check your facts and sources. Review the links.
- Get a second pair of eyes to review your content and be an editor for you. Second opinion will help you improve and spot mistakes that you may have missed.
Google values trust and wants to rank trustworthy sites. This means that you need to build a trustworthy site. But how do you actually make a site that is trusted by people?
- Design plays a big role in building trust. Start by having a professional looking design. Using WordPress is a good first step as with it you have access to a large selection of great designs. Look for something clean, pretty to look at, fast to load and mobile friendly as described earlier.
- Personalize your site. Present yourself, show your face, tell your story and explain why you are worth listening to. What are your achievements? What is your experience? One of the main elements you need to get right is your about page.
- If you are a company include full company information, address, phone number and other contact details.
- If you are providing services or selling products include testimonials and reviews from real customers and people.
- Work on the social proof. Build your following and shares on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This is not about buying followers. It is about creating real and lasting connections with people in your audience. Display your social media profiles, your follower counts and number of shares your content gets on your site by using one of the many WordPress plugins.
- Limit the number of banner ads, especially those prominent banners above the fold. Banners are not the best monetization method as you need tons of pageviews in order to get a decent income and those numbers are out of reach for most. If possible remove banner ads entirely and focus on other revenue sources which have more potential such as creating your own product or selling services.
Authority goes hand in hand with trust. What can you do to make yourself and your site more authoritative?
- First of all you should actually be an authority. You must know your topic. Knowledge and experience helps you create great content that will get other people to take notice, share your content in social media and link to it from other sites. Links from quality sites and social media shares are keys to becoming a recognized authority.
- Proactively reach out to other webmasters and influential users. Give people a reason to link to you. Show them why they should interview or in any other way feature you on their sites.
- Guest posting on the authoritative sites in your field is another great way of getting quality links. Remember that this is not about writing bad content or outsourcing your content production and posting on any site that will accept you. This is about strategically choosing a handful of popular and relevant sites and posting great articles that will drive views and social media engagement.
- Include the list of sites and other media that you have been featured in so your visitors are aware of your status and your authority.
- Common advice pre-Panda was to publish large quantity of posts in order to rank for a variety of long tail keyword phrases. Post-Panda having less pages (but of higher value) can actually result in more organic traffic from Google.
- Don’t just rely on keyword research and on publishing weak articles targeting keyword phrases people search for. Don’t post content on topics that you don’t care about, that you have nothing interesting and useful to say about.
- Review your entire content archive as low quality content on parts of your site can impact the rankings of the rest of the site. Are there any very short articles? Are there bad and spammy guest posts that you have featured? Are there posts that you copied from another site? Do a search on Google for “site:yourdomain.com” to get a list of pages from your domain that Google ranks.
- Review all the page and don’t be afraid to remove any bad content. Spend a lot of time and effort on adding to, enhancing and improving the content on individual pages that are short, shallow and not extensive.
- Merge similar articles to create “ultimate guide” type of posts where you put all the important information on one topic in one post. Aim for one ultimate guide per individual topic area instead of having several smaller and shorter articles on that one topic. It’s quality over quantity.
That’s it. Straight from the horse’s mouth. Google is the biggest search engine and a very important referral of traffic for most online publishers. These SEO tips are very valuable in order for your site to get ranked and get traffic from search.