Matt Cutts, the former lead of Google’s web spam team, spoke about why WordPress is the best-optimized blogging platform and gave some tips for all bloggers on how to start getting traffic from search engines. This talk has stood the test of time and is an excellent introduction to SEO.
WordPress is “a fantastic choice”
Matt Cutts praised WordPress for being an SEO-friendly platform. WordPress automatically solves a ton of issues bloggers might have. It’s 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.
In short, the advice is to produce a lot of quality content and follow a few simple tips to optimize your site and get better in Google’s results. Watch the full presentation and see the full list of tips below:
How Google search works: Reputation and Relevancy
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.
Quality algorithms such as Panda extensively evaluate different aspects of a site to assess its value and quality. As these algorithms continually 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’s what people say about you in social media and how people link to you from their websites. It’s about the number of links and the importance of sites that link to you.
- Relevancy is internal. It’s the topic that you create content about. It’s how you present yourself and the content.
What bloggers need to do to rank high on Google
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 to rank higher in the search, regain your rankings if you’ve lost them, and future proof your site.
Great content is key to your search rankings
Create quality content. Without great content, you will not have any visitors, loyal followers and any traffic from search engines. For gaining a good reputation and good links, high quality, linkable and shareable content makes a difference. If you create great content that gets you visitors, social shares and links, the search engines will find you no matter what and will start sending traffic to you.
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 is by being so obsessed with search engine optimization that they neglect the importance of quality. Forget about SEO. Don’t worry about search engines. Start with your audience in mind. Focus on creating the best experience for people who are interested in your topic. 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.
- 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. Double and triple check everything before publishing. Have a checklist of things to do before posting an article and 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 and be an editor for you. The second opinion will help you improve and spot mistakes that you may have missed.
- 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.
- 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. But 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.
- Use Analytics for ideas. Look into your Google Analytics data to see where people are going on your page to get ideas for new topics to create content about.
- Consider having a descriptive domain name. The majority of search traffic that I get contain keywords closely related to the words in my domain name. You could help yourself by using a descriptive domain name too.
- Avoid shortcuts and scams. There are no easy ways and tricks to the top of the search engines as some marketers promise you. It takes time and hard work.
Do the content audit
Common advice pre-Panda was to publish a large quantity of posts to rank for a variety of long tail keyword phrases. Post-Panda having fewer articles (but of higher content value) can actually result in more organic traffic from Google. Low quality content on parts of your site can impact the rankings of the rest of the site. This is why you should do a full content audit and identify articles to keep as they are, articles to improve or consolidate, and articles to delete. Here’s how:
- Review your entire content archive. Do a search on Google for “site:yourdomain.com” to get a list of pages from your domain that Google ranks. Do the full audit of all these pages. 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?
- For each article you need to decide to either keep as it is, improve by adding updated and better content, consolidate with other article(s) or delete. Review all the pages and don’t be afraid to remove any bad or irrelevant content. Revisit your older content, expand it, update it, improve it, make sure it is still relevant and accurate. 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 pillar post 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.
For more information check out my complete guide to creating compelling and shareable content.
How to optimize WordPress
Matt Cutts’ advice is not to worry about small things, but to spend time on producing great and targeted content that your audience loves to share and link to. 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? There are few things he recommends you do in your WordPress admin to optimize it:
- 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 descriptive keywords in them as well.
- Change the URL of the post. Make a different post title from the URL itself to help cover more keyword alternations that you wouldn’t cover if they were both identical. Use the “Edit” button on the side of your permalink when writing a new post and change the URL slug.
- 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. Consider also activating the official WordPress plugin for Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages to speed up your loading time even further.
- 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 in your domain name. Especially if you’re a store selling products or in other ways accept payments and feature other personal info forms on your site. Google prefers encrypted and secure sites as these protect the users better and browsers warn against sites that are not secured.
- 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. Your design needs to be simple, effective, clutter-free and mobile-responsive. Your design needs to help your visitors explore more. 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.
- 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 page views 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.
What you need to know about links
The original PageRank idea was based on citations and the fact that the number of citations a research paper has is a good way of judging its quality, credibility and influence. A major component of increasing your rankings is the quality of backlinks you get to your site from other sites. Links give you that authority that Google wants to see. 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 help you create great content that will get other people to take notice, share your content on social media and link to it from other sites. Links from quality sites and social media shares are keys to becoming a recognized authority.
- Link quality, not quantity. It is not all about the number of links pointing to you. 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. The quality of links depends on the relevance, context and popularity of the site that is linking to you. Google evaluates how many links there are to your site from other pages, and the relevance and quality of the linking sites.
- Syndication and guest posting on the authoritative sites in your field is another great way of getting quality links. One good way to get links when you’re a new blogger is to publish guest posts and in other ways syndicate your content on bigger sites that are related to your field. Read more about the powerful rules to follow when guest posting. 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.
- 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.
- Other inbound links and social shares. Comment on relevant and high-profile sites. Be active on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Post useful answers in relevant forums. Take time each day to work on the promotion of your site. Try to get your name and the URL out there. This is my marketing routine for after publishing a new post.
- 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.
- Get free links. In Google Search Console (more info below) 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.
Don’t forget to internal link
Page authority in Google is calculated on an article by article basis rather than on a site by site basis. Which means that you need to help your articles get some of that authority and push them up in the search engines.
Linking to your own content within your articles is one of the most important aspects of building a successful site. It is the best way of directing your visitors from one story to another and make the traffic flow. This process is called internal linking. Internal links are a great service for your visitors. They introduce your visitors to relevant articles, provide them more detailed information and get them to look deeper and further explore your content.
- Internal links lead to an increased stickiness of your content and improve the usability. It means that your visitors will love your content and stay on it for a longer period of time.Time spent on site and the number of pages per visit should increase. The bounce rate will decrease. Bounce rate is the percentage of readers who navigate away from the site after only viewing one page.
- WordPress makes it very easy to link within the content so do it whenever it makes sense to help your visitors explore your relevant content further. Click on the “Insert/Edit Link” button. It lets you search for keywords that you are writing about and easily discovers relevant internal pages to link to. Select the relevant article and click on the “Apply” button.
- You don’t necessary only have to link from new to old posts. You can also do it the other way around. If you have a good, older post that is relevant to something you have written more about lately, go back and edit the old one and include a link back to the new post.
- Your internal links should indicate and describe what it is that you are linking to in order to attract visitors to click on them. Phrases like “click here” or “go here” may work sometimes but as the link anchor text does not indicate what you are linking to it does not help your visitor know what will happen after they click. This is a much more effective method for encouraging people to explore deeper than making them have to use the “back” button to search for relevant content.
- Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link. Enable breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a great internal linking tool. Install this plugin or use one of the themes that enables breadcrumbs by default.
- Use at least one of the tags or categories to categorize your content. Every one of your posts should contain a category or a tag link.
- Show related posts at the end of your articles. Several plugins are available for this including YARPP.
- Include links in the sidebar and the footer. Link to your popular posts and latest posts from your sidebar. Use your footer to place links to contact us, about us and other similar pages.
Google Search Console is a valuable free tool that you should use
Search Console (formerly known as the Webmaster Tools) is a free web app created by Google. It can help you improve your site and thereby get more visitors.
With Search Console, you connect your site to Google and share information directly with the search giant. In return, Google provides you insights into how they “see” your site and many other useful details. Google notifies you if and when there’s something you should fix to rank higher or even to regain your lost rankings.
Alongside the tracking code from Google Analytics, verifying your site with Search Console should be one of the first things you do when starting a new blog. It’s an essential part of optimizing your site for search engines.
Things Search Console can help you with
Search Console gives you a lot of useful information and sends you notifications that you can use to improve your site:
- You can see how your site appears in the search results
- See which search phrases and queries people use to find your content
- See which of your posts get most visitors from search
- View clicks, impressions, click-through rates and average search positions for your content
- See which sites link to you, which posts they link to, and what words they use to link to you
- See which internal pages you link to and how many times you link to them
- See “page not found” errors that Google has discovered on your site
- See any other HTML, usability and security issues detected
- Get notified if you’re running an old version of WordPress
All this means that you can learn about specific problems Google has with your site. Many of these are also problems that may annoy your visitors. Fixing these will help you get higher search rankings, more traffic, and happier visitors. And all this as a free service. It’s a must for all bloggers who want to optimize their sites.
Adding and verifying your site to Search Console
- Visit Google Search Console and log in using your Google account
- Click on the “Add A Property” button in the top right corner
- Type in the domain name of your site in the window and click “Add”
- Verify the ownership of your domain name. Google’s recommended method is to upload a verification file to your server, but a plugin such as Jetpack can help you do this too. Alternative options are to verify your domain through Google Analytics (if you’ve already set it up), or add an HTML tag to the <head> section of your site
- Choose the method you prefer and go through the process
- After you verify the ownership of your domain name, your setup is complete
4 things to do after connecting to Search Console
These are the things you should do after signing in to your profile for the first time:
- In Crawl > Sitemaps you can add your sitemap file to tell Google about your content and help them learn which pages are most important to you and how often those pages change. An XML sitemap is a file that lists URL’s of your pages with additional metadata such as when the post was last updated. Several plugins can help you create an XML sitemap. This one is one of the most downloaded. Install a sitemap plugin, activate it and submit it to Google Search Console.
- Create a permanent redirect of your domain name. Decide what is the URL of your website. In Settings – General in WordPress 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. Then set your preferred domain in Google Webmaster Tools. Click on the Settings button on the top right and then “Site Settings“. Here you can specify your preferred domain. Should your site be displayed with or without www in the URL.
- In Search Traffic > International Targeting you can inform Google if you are targeting a specific language or a specific country. This could be the case for those that run multilingual sites.
- You should subscribe to get email notifications if you don’t plan to check the Search Console regularly. Click on the Settings button in the top right corner, choose “Search Console Preferences” and enable email notifications. All the valuable insights will now be delivered to your email inbox.
A guided tour through Google Search Console
There’s quite a bit of information that you get access to in the Search Console. It all helps you get a better picture of how optimized your content is, and what changes you need to make. Here’s a guided tour of the different sections and information they provide:
Dashboard is where you get a quick overview of any significant and critical messages that Google has sent you and the current status of your site regarding Crawl Errors, Search Queries, and Sitemaps.
Make sure to monitor these as Google will give you warning signs if there are things that need your attention such as Google robots being unable to crawl your site, new 404 pages found that you should fix immediately, and any increase or decrease of your rankings in search results. You will also be notified via email.
“Messages” is your inbox which features any message that Google sends you about your site. These are mostly automated messages that can alert you to some things that Google has discovered that you may have to take a look at. Things such as an increase in the number of “page not found” occurrences or a drop in rankings.
Search Appearance gives you more details on how your site and pages appear in the search results. This includes information about Structured Data (your schema.org data), Rich Cards, and HTML Improvements (issues with titles and tags of your pages). Review these recommendations and fix any outstanding issues.
Search Traffic is very interesting. It tells you what keyword phrases Google ranks you for, how many impressions and clicks you get from the individual search results, what positions you are ranked in, and even which of your pages are best ranked. Google also shows information about internal links and external sites linking to you.
“Manual Actions” part tells you if Google has taken action and removed your site from their index because of spam, harmful content or any other reason. “Mobile Usability” section informs you if there are any usability errors with your site design on tablets or mobiles.
Google Index gives you the status on how many of your pages are indexed and what keywords you are using the most. Here you also have the option to remove URL’s from Google’s index if you don’t want them to display any longer.
Crawl section gives you “Errors” (such as 404 page not found) encountered on your site. There’s also details on how Google crawls your content and how frequently. Make sure to fix or redirect any missing pages. This helps improve the user experience and will contribute to you having better rankings. The easiest way is to use a plugin such as this. You do also edit the .htaccess file on your server. Add a new line for each redirection:
Redirect 301 /old-post-permalink/ http://yourdomainname.com/new-post-permalink/
Security Issues section will be empty hopefully. Do check and see if Google discovered some important matters you should deal with. To reduce your exposure to hackers, these are the things you should do to keep your WordPress safe and secure.
Other Resources section gives you links to some other useful Google products, such as “Structured Data Testing Tool” and “Pagespeed Insights” which help you speed up the loading time on your content.
Google Search Console is a highly recommended app to learn more about your site. Register for an account, add your site, and stay tuned for the email notifications. Then make sure to act on the recommendations in order to improve your search rankings and get more happier visitors.
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.