What you Really Need to Know About WordPress & SEO

Most of what you read about SEO is overhyped and a complete waste of time. It’s based on people going way over the top, thinking they can follow a magic formula to get into bed with Google and preaching their thoughts to the masses as if they developed Google’s algorithms themselves.

I speak from experience, having built this site from the ground up, into a moderately busy and successful website in about a year. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I want to give you an idea of what I’ve done with SEO on this site.

I never bought into all the SEO stuff that was flying around when I started getting into blogging. Everyone said they had the magic key, and it just seemed over-the-top to me. So I went to the other extreme and essentially ignored most of it.

What I’ve come to realise is that you can go about 90% of the way with about 10% of the effort. You can kill yourself fine-tuning things to get a pristine site in the eyes of search engines, but it’s just not worth the colossal extra effort.

So here’s my own SEO strategy. It’s worked for me handsomely and it doesn’t take much work at all.

  • Install WordPress SEO by Yoast.
  • Configure it and be sure to enable sitemaps, make category, tag, author and date archives nofollow/noindex and set up title and description templates under SEO > Titles. There is no need to enable meta keywords, based on Yoast’s own advice.
  • For every page and post, create a meaningful title and description. Bear in mind that this is your chance to sell your post/page to a potential reader when it appears in their search results. So think about what they’re searching for and what you can write that will seal the deal and get you that click.
  • You do need some backlinks, clearly, but I’ve only got a couple of hundred and I’m doing pretty well.
  • Be wary of opening up your comments to anyone, especially if your comment author links are dofollow, as those can quickly amount to a whole lot of spammy outbound links from your site which isn’t good.
  • Write your content like a human, not a machine. There is no magic formula and you don’t need to worry about keyword density. Just write the content as you would want your readers to read it.
If you want WordPress SEO set up right for your site, I can set it up for you. Please see my WordPress SEO configuration service.

It really couldn’t be simpler. As soon as you stop worrying about the search engines, you’ll actually start writing normally and the clever search engine computers can tell that your content is genuine, decent and useful, and you’ll start doing well in the rankings.

So the bottom line is, don’t sweat it, just be yourself, write from your heart and not a grand vision of trying to be an online millionaire and you’ll do pretty well. Content is, still, king.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you also bored with all of the SEO “advice” or have you found it useful?

38 thoughts on “What you Really Need to Know About WordPress & SEO”

  1. Jean Galea says:

    Totally agree with this article Dave. I follow the same strategy on WPMayor and it always works well. Something that is very important, based on experience, is the social activity your post generates, especially when it comes to comments. Articles with lots of comments invariably rank better than those which have no or just a few comments.

    1. Thanks Jean, I’ve noticed a very big dividing line between the people who really follow all of that advice and those who don’t and it’s very evident both in the appearance of their sites, and in their writing style, but ultimately, I don’t think they’re any better off for following that advice. And your site I suppose is a prime example – very successful without all the SEO bullshit. Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated.

  2. Brian Driggs says:

    I love this advice. If you are consistently delivering quality and relevancy, Google will find you. I installed Yoast a year ago, did some basic setup, and focus first and foremost on serving our audience. I don’t care much about traffic, pageviews, any of that lowest common denominator-driving drivel. Write like a real person to help other real people. Simple as that.

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one. (And pretty stoked to see @YourAnonymousNews tweeted this link. They are becoming an increasingly valuable source of news and information!

    1. Hi Brian,

      Sounds like you’re on the right track – as soon as people stop fretting about optimising their pages and just deliver the content that their readers want, they’ll be successful in their writing, and Google et al will acknowledge and reward that.

      I was excited about the mention too – saw a big traffic spike and it only took a few minutes to find the source :)

      1. Brian Driggs says:

        Absolutely, sir. Less trying to look better. More trying to actually BE better. Why is that so hard?

  3. Interesting post, where is the nofollow/noindex option in the plugin settings? Also based on Jean’s comment – is it better to use the core WordPress commenting system or is it safe enough to use a third party like facebook commenting, I hear that Google are on the way to releasing their own commenting system soon?

    1. That’s under the Indexation Rules. I also believe that Jean is speaking more to the fact that social sharing leads to more discussion in your comments section, which is ideal for SEO. I personally prefer the WordPress commenting system over third-parties, because I believe they’re overly complicated and don’t add much value.

      1. Ah sweet Dave thanks, can’t understand why I didn’t see it before >< doh!
        I reckon you're right on the commenting front, since adding facebook comment to my own site the discussions have more or less stopped! I guess not everyone has a facebook account, also the content actually goes in to facebook and not your own content (albeit user generated content) so it's a no brainer really… think I must be getting a bit thick in my old age!! Oh well it's good to talk right!

  4. fak3r says:

    I agree with this, and it’s been what I’ve done with my site, do the basics with a plugin and then work on descriptions for posts – one question though:

    > You do need some backlinks, clearly, but I’ve only got a couple of hundred and I’m doing pretty well.

    How do you define “pretty well”? What kind of traffic do you see? Thanks for the post, it reinforces much of what I believe.

    1. For now, I’m at about 30K views/mo and am generating a moderate ad/affiliate income as well as selling WordPress services – it’s a moderate side income.

  5. Eva says:

    Thanks, this is what I’ve been doing for my web clients content as well. What about using the All-in-One SEO plugin? Should get the same results, right? I have been using that one for all my web clients.

    1. Well, AIOSEOP is very simplistic, but it will do the trick. WordPress SEO by Yoast has a lot more functionality to it, such as creating sitemaps, verifications tools for Google, Yahoo & Bing and Facebook OpenGraph data, so it’s a more well-rounded solution in my opinion.

      1. Sunny says:

        Well, it may create the sitemaps but Google says my site doesn’t have any even though I have that function activated. Since I can’t get past the volumes of Yoast hype to find a solution and have now wasted volumes of time, my vote would be to ditch Yoast. Anything that is supposed to be simple as defined by the seller that is not simple and leaves you with completely zero traffic for your site is not worth it, in my opinion.

        1. Use Google Webmaster Tools and define the sitemap with Google. Your default sitemap address is /sitemap_index.xml

  6. Karen Johnson says:

    Was thinking exactly the same thing myself last night after reading far too many tweets about penguins and pandas. To me it’s like driving, if you learn to do it well you shouldn’t need to think about it too much, it should become second nature. If you over-think it then you make mistakes. If you try to get somewhere too fast then you are going to be caught out and eventually crash!

    1. Nice little analogy, that makes a good point. If you just put your attention into the “driving” then you’ll arrive at your destination with ease. But if you start spending too much time thinking of all the best routes and shortcuts, you’ll cause yourself undue stress and probably won’t make any more headway.

  7. This seems so obvious, but what is common sense to some people is an art to others. But it’s good to see it reinforced and so clearly. You’re right about the backlinks too, a few decent ones are better than none at all, and also better than a bunch of crappy ones.

  8. Completely agree with your points, these days I’m writing posts heart-fully and they are doing well in getting search traffic.

  9. Nhick says:

    Just fresh and unique content, some backlinks and the rest will follow right?

    1. That’s prety much all there is to it, yep.

  10. Alex Medic says:

    Most people who choose to use WP as a CMS do so because they are making compromises and tradeoffs. Let’s be honest: it takes very little skill level to set up a wordpress blog. It’s a neat CMS for a personal blog, but it’s architecture is not suitable for professional use.

    1. I beg to differ. Does something require a great level skill to set up in order to be awesome? Part of WordPress’ lure is that it’s so powerful and so easy to set up as well. With the increased complexity and functionality comes a greater need for skill, but that’s why it’s an excellent system for all levels.

    2. Alex, you’d be surprised how many fortune 500 companies are using wordperss for their blogs. WP is good for both, personal and business needs.

      The only good thing about SEO is keyword research. I always do it before I write a new post to my blog – just to make sure that topic is searched.

      SEO was really good old days – now it’s getting really harder (latest Google algorithm updates, Penguin and Panda, for example).

      Concluding: Marketing > SEO


      1. Thanks for your input Paulina, I have to agree with you. These days, it’s more about being genuine, writing about something that you care about (and writing well), and then marketing you, and your site, to people in your niche and social networks.

  11. Mike says:

    I like the SEO basics that you have given and also the plugin that you have shared. I agree with you that we should not worry about search engines and just provide good content. When the SEO basics are right and we provide good content, we will rank better on search engines.

  12. Hi Dave
    Nice write up and thanks for the hint and tips.

    You said “make category, tag, author and date archives nofollow/noindex” and under Taxonomies, on my version of Yoast it says Noindex Follow. Is this what you mean?

    1. It seems that Yoast changed things slightly in version 1.2. But yes, that is the setting you want to enable.

  13. Sean says:

    Well, I agree most people bloat SEO and make it sound like a magic potion, but truth is if you seek optimal success and want the most visitors to your website you will pay attention to SEO.
    For instance, in a comparison between 2 different blogs which detail the same information… if you are one of these blogs and you obviously want to gain more attention and do better in SERPS you will pay deep attention to SEO. Which in the end leads to a lot more money than someone whom did not pay attention to SEO.
    In other words if you want to be successful and compete online, you will pay attention to your SEO. If you don’t, someone whom respected SEO much more than you can easily take your place in results.
    Now some people blog just to blog and share junk and some people blog to make money… If you are interested in making money whilst blogging you should definetly understand and pay attention to every detail of SEO.

    PS. One day if doitwithwp.com faces a large drop in visitors due to poor SEO, maybe one day they will rethink about what was said in this rant.

    1. Sean,

      Clearly SEO has some importance and I’m far from denying that it does. However, my personal belief, and experience, has been that so long as you get the basics down, the rest is all extraneous fluff that you might as well not bother with. Search algorithms are getting much smarter and are focusing more and more on the content. Most SEO techniques beyond writing thoughtful titles and descriptions tend to take people too far and into the territory of black hat techniques that will do them more harm than good, like bloating their keyword density.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you don’t consider SEO, but not nearly as much effort is required as most of the articles you read online would suggest.

      Thanks for your open and honest opinion (always welcome here).

      1. Sean says:

        I see where you’re coming from, but I still disagree. I run a small site with similar rank to yours (as if that means anything).
        I do agree a big emphasis should be on content, but if you want to stay a float, SEO tactics should be inducted into every nook and cranny…. (IMO) nothing to do with “black hat tactics”; that term is taken out of context a lot or automatically spoken of by those whom fear or do not understand SEO (Not saying that’s you at all, obviously). I am not talking of methodologies which include embarrassing tactics like mass submits, and keyword stuffing, or whatever spam lovers do.
        I’m talking about actual optimization (the definition of the word). Fine tuning your website for inclusion.
        Here’s the thing… in a world with recycled blog posts after another and competing keywords, if you do not obsess about proper SEO technique (nor even hire a SEO team) your website will be ignored in a competitive atmosphere. If you are not strategic, you’re in the dumps and that is why so many websites have traffic drops, or have trouble finding their way on Google in the first place. Websites with the same material and a better emphasis on their SEO will easily sweep up results, I see it every single day.
        If a website does not have proper SEO any competitor can pick that website apart, use the same content and rank better in a single day too.
        Here’s a simple SEO rule which applies to any website:
        Rule 1. If you want MORE traffic than you have now, include more SEO.
        Thanks for the healthy chat mate.

  14. Dave, your Alexa score is awesome and your site is an encyclopedia of useful, well written information. You have EARNED your traffic.
    I’m a bit concerned that I allow DoFollow comments, and although I screen them, lots of links go to, well, low authority sites. How big a problem may I have created for myself? (My traffic lately has dropped pretty drastically — should I blame my commenters or my own lazy self?)

    1. I wouldn’t think that it would be a big problem, especially if you’re vetting them and they’re not linking to spammy or blackhat sites. If they’re just low-ranking, then it shouldn’t be a big deal for you.

      1. Thanks, Dave. I notice a lot of successful sites don’t allow DoFollow, so it made me wonder if I was losing out. Still, when people comment I want to give them (a tiny amount of) “link juice.” CommentLuv gets me a fair amount of interaction and I’m sure the motivation is to get a link back. That’s fine with me. :)

  15. Indeed SEO is still important; but with Google coming up with updates like Penguin, it seems SEO is under a great threat! Imagine a website which has never published anything ranks higher than one which is decades old and has lots of valuable content just because it has never done any Seo!

    1. Well, the new site would need to have good content to get a good ranking, but what’s wrong with a new site that has decent content ranking well, over an old site with the same content. Just because the old site has been around for a long time, doesn’t mean its content is necessarily any better than the next site. It can be likened to opening up trade restrictions to a free market; may the best man win.

  16. Mark says:

    Even i am bored with some SEO advise because there is so much conflicting information out there but I like the tips you have given. I agree that we should not worry a lot about search engines and write awesome content. This will definitely improve our rankings. I have also tried yoast for one of my wordpress blog and I find it very user friendly :-)

  17. Joe says:

    What about the all in one seo pack plugin you can get in wordpress?
    I heard some good things about that plugin actually.
    Normally wordpress is really great for seo in general so i wonder if having an extra seo plugin is really necessary since google doesn’t give that much importance to met keywords anymore.

  18. I’m just running through your blog page by page. Some really great stuff. I was struck by how many comments there are on this post. It is clearly a subject of interest but content is king. If you write great posts then people will get to know about it, back links will build and SEO will take care of itself. You are right about SEO by Yoast though. Helpful for the little tweaks.

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