Introduction to SEO
You have just launched a great looking website and now you want visitors to your site. You are suddenly left wondering if someone can even see your site when they search for something relevant to your website. Then someone tells you that you need SEO to list your site higher in search results! Now what is this SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Most of the search engines like google, yahoo, bing etc provide a listing of search results comprising of webpages, videos and other relevant content based on the search string provided. The ranking of the search results is based on the search engine’s estimate of their relevance to the search topic. SEO helps in getting your website into a higher or a better ranking on the listing. The WordPress SEO by Yoast is the most comprehensive solution for SEO and they have a host of services to cover the needs of most users. Let us have a brief look at some of the popular features and their configuration.
WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast
The SEO plugin by Yoast is popular (with over a million downloads) and provides the most complete SEO solution for your needs. We shall see how we can accomplish some of the important SEO techniques with this plugin.
Have a good “display” in search results
The first and foremost thing that you need to take care of is to ensure that the description of your webpage looks good in search results and makes people visit your page. For this we need to add meta data to the home page and the posts.
- Add meta data for homepage
Meta data is special data that provides information about a webpage. They are typically added as HTML tags. The meta tags that are particularly useful for a search engine are the “Title” tag and the “Description” tag.
Title tag – This is the text string that is the title of the webpage and forms a part of the display by search results and helps people decide weather to visit your site or not.
Description tag – As the name suggests, this gives a brief description of the content of the webpage. Search engines pick up this content to display in their results.
The following example shows how the Title tag and Description tag look in a search result.
The meta data for the home page can be updated in the Yoast SEO plugin as shown below.
The other 2 meta data of interest are – Meta Keywords and Meta Robots. Meta Keywords contain some keywords which can be specified by you so that your webpage can show up in search results when these keywords are used. Meta Robots tell the search engines what to do with the webpage, whether to exclude from the search results, to follow links within the webpage and so on.
- Add meta data for posts
Just like the meta data for the homepage, we can update the metadata for each individual post so that they can show up during relevant searches. The following steps show you how this is updated. You could also just set a template for post titles and descriptions as shown.
Include a sitemap
A sitemap is a list of pages of a website that is accessible to crawlers or search engines and enables your website to get indexed by search engines. It provides search engines information about all the content of your website and also all the associated pages which the search engine might otherwise not discover. It also enables you to tell the search engines how to prioritize your content. Yoast SEO has a feature that generates XML sitemaps easily and quickly. Simply select the “XML Sitemap” button from the SEO menu and check the following box to enable the functionality.
When enabled, WordPress will automatically ping “google” and “bing” after post publication. Also you can select the option to ping “yahoo” or “ask.com” as well.
Have clean Permalinks
As the name suggests, Permalinks are permanent links to your individual blog post or categories. By default, WordPress permalinks contain characters like “?”, numbers etc which are not very intuitive to the user. (Eg, www.example.com/?p=22 ) While WordPress offers options to create user-friendly permalinks, this plugin offers more cleanup options as seen below. Some of the interesting things to configure would be to strip the “/category/” from the category links, redirect attachment URLs to parent URLs, increase crawl efficiency be removing the ?replytocom variable from comment reply links and disabling them. These options can be set by choosing “Permalinks” from the SEO menu.
Integrate with Social Media
This plugin allows you to seamlessly integrate with Social media like Facebook, Google + and Twitter. With this you can add “Facebook OpenGraph meta data” to your site which enables Facebook to pick up the right thumbnail and page information when a post is shared on Facebook. You can also associate your site with a Facebook profile and access your Facebook Insights as well. Also, you can associate your site with your Twitter and Google+ accounts as well.
Social media can be configured by selecting the “Social” item from the SEO menu.
Breadcrumbs are nothing but a trail of links provided for the user to navigate back to his starting point. They provide links back to the previous pages navigated by the user or a hierarchical structure of the parent pages. The links are generally separated by a “>” or “>>” sign.
Eg- Parent page > sub link1 > sub link 2
Yoast provides us with this easy feature to further boost your SEO. Select the “Internal Links” menu option and check the box which says – “Enable breadcrumbs” to set this option.
Add contents to RSS
With the Yoast plugin, you can add RSS contents to both the header and footer of your post. This helps in linking back to your posts so that search engines know that you are the original source of the article. You have options to add your author link, Post link, blog link, and blog description to the feed. This can be configured with the “RSS” option of the SEO menu.
Advantages of this plugin
WordPress SEO by Yoast being one of the most comprehensive SEO solutions has numerous advantages. Some of the main advantages are:
- Only one plugin for a host of SEO features as discussed above
- Provides a snippet preview of how your post/page will look like in a search result
- Post analysis tool
- Automatically ping search engines
- Export the SEO settings to another website
- Import SEO settings from other plugins
- Built in breadcrumbs creation
- RSS feed support
- File editor which allows you to edit robot.txt and .htaccess
- There are a host of premium (paid) features like Integration with Google Webmaster tools, video tutorials for the plugin, manage redirects etc.
- And last but not the least; it is available in 25 languages!
Let us take a look at some of these advantages in detail.
Import settings from other plugins
If you have been using other SEO plugins like “All in one SEO”, this feature allows you to import the settings onto the Yoast plugin. You can also import setting from other plugins by Yoast like RSS Footer, Yoast Breadcrumbs etc. All you have to do it click on the Import & Export button from the SEO menu on the left bar of your WordPress dashboard. Select the plugins you want to import from and then click on the “Import” button and you are done!
Edit files (robots.txt and .htaccess )
The robots.txt file indicates to search engines about the areas of your website that you don’t want to be scanned. .htaccess is a directory level configuration file that allows restricted access to specific sections of your website.
This plugin provides a text editor to edit these two files in a quick and simple manner. All you have to do is edit them from the “Edit Files” menu of the WordPress SEO plugin.
Another interesting feature is the Snippet Preview, which shows you a preview of your page and description as it would appear in google search results. By looking at this, it is easier to set a title and description as per your needs. This is shown below when you add a new page or post.
How to improve WordPress SEO?
While the Yoast plugin offers a variety of features, you can effectively improve your SEO by following a few of these steps for your website.
- Configure Permalinks
- Add Title tags
- Use pages instead of posts
- Interlink the posts
- Use site analytics
Other SEO plugins
Some of the other popular WordPress plugins which provide SEO functionality are as follows:
- All in one SEO
- SEO Ultimate
As we have seen, the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin provides a very comprehensive SEO solution which can cover the needs of all kinds of users. Also a single plugin is enough to achieve a lot of objectives, thus reducing the configuration overhead for the user.