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We get a lot of questions about SEO here on WordPress.com, and no wonder — you work hard on your site and want to get the word out! SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO recommendations are intended to help your site rank higher and more accurately in search engines, like Google. Say you write a blog about sailboats. When someone Googles “sailboats,” how many pages of results do they have to scroll through before they see a link to your blog? The goal behind having good SEO is to increase your website’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page) ranking.
Ideally, you want your link to be on the first page of results. The best ways to accomplish this are:
- consistently publish useful, original posts about sailboats; and
- promote your blog in intelligent ways to people who are looking for information about your topic.
The more traffic your blog receives for sailboat-related searches, the higher it will climb in Google’s results. No mystery to that, right? But if you look around the internet, you’ll find dubious advice about how to increase your blog’s SERP ranking. Some of the suggestions you’ll find are just extra busywork, but some can actually end up hurting you with Google.
Common myths about SEO
Myth: I need a plugin for SEO.
Fact: WordPress.com has great SEO right out of the box — you don’t have to do anything extra. In fact, WordPress takes care of 80-90 percent of the mechanics of SEO for you, according to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team. All of our themes are optimized for search engines, which means they are designed to make it easy for the Googlebot (and other search engines) to crawl through them and discover all the content.
Myth: I need to regularly submit Sitemaps to Google so it knows I’m blogging regularly.
Fact: Every WordPress.com blog has an XML Sitemap. To view your Sitemap, type yourblogname.wordpress.com/sitemap.xml in your browser’s address bar. What you see there is code, so it’s not meant to be easily readable by us. For the Googlebot, however, it’s a “what’s hot” guide to the latest and greatest on your site. WordPress.com also automatically sends notifications to Google every time you publish or update a post or page. This is similar to how your subscribers get email updates. Every time you post, you’re telling Google, “Hey! Check this out.”
Myth: The more tags and categories I use for a post, the better it is for Google.
Fact: Using a bunch of tags and categories that have little to do with your posts won’t increase your site’s visibility. Actually, Google doesn’t rely on tags or categories — it can tell what your post is about from its content (or it should be able to), as Matt Cutts explains here. Plus, any post on WordPress.com with too many categories and tags will be excluded from the Reader Topics pages. It’s best to use only a few, carefully selected categories and tags for each post — those that are most relevant to what the post is about. Likewise, avoid overly broad tags: “catamaran” is a better tag than “boat.”
Myth: Creating several identical sites about sailboats and making frequent use of sailboat-related terminology in my posts will help me get a lot of sailboat-related traffic.
Fact: Google frowns on duplicate content, and if you have multiple identical sites, your search ranking will suffer for it. Also, while it’s a good idea to use accurate keywords in your posts and post titles, going overboard with so-called “keyword stuffing” will hurt your SERP rank. Strive for clear, natural-sounding writing that reads like it was intended for human ears, not search engine crawlers.
Myth: One effective way to improve my blog’s SERP rank is to purchase or exchange links (sometimes known as “backlinks”) with as many bloggers as possible, so that there’s a lot of traffic going to my blog.
Fact: If you blog about sailboats, the more sailboat-focused sites and articles that organically link to your blog as a fantastic source of sailboat info, the better. On the other hand, Google won’t be impressed if it sees a ton of links to your sailboat blog from blogs about, say, marketing, basketry, lipstick, electronics, or SEO tactics.
Think of it this way: Google wants people to use its search engine as much as you want them to visit your website, so its goal is to return the most useful results for any given query. The more tactics bloggers come up with to fool Google into ranking their sites higher than they deserve to be, the more Google corrects its search algorithms to screen out such bad behavior.
Paying for backlinks is a case in point: in April 2012, Google introduced its controversial Penguin algorithm that improved screening for this bad practice, and many bloggers with excessive backlinks found that their SERP rank plummeted. The moral of this story is that while SEO fads might bump your site artificially for a bit, in the long run, they won’t work.
Myth: SEO requires a strategy and possibly an expert.
Fact: SEO is mostly common sense. While large organizations might need to hire a specialist to help them reach some very specific SEO goals, bloggers and small business owners can do everything required for good SEO on their own. Google is very transparent about its process — it has a guide for SEO best practices here, and it shares any new changes in its methods on its blog.
So, what can you do to increase your SERP rank? There are some simple steps you can take to make sure your content is properly indexed.
Smart ways to increase your SERP rank
- Make sure to use short, easy-to-read post slugs that accurately describe what your posts are about. On WordPress.com, the post slug is the last part of your post title, which you can edit to be anything you like. For example, the slug “/buying-sailboats” is better than “/how-to-buy-a-beautiful-inexpensive-sailboat-on-Craigslist” or “/354.”
- Create a descriptive tagline for your blog that explains what your site is about. For example, a strong tagline for our sailboat site might be “On sailboats, sailing, and sailors. Ahoy!”
- Use narrow and specific keywords that will help interested readers find your site. If you yourself were looking for information on this subject, what search terms might you try? Be sure to use those terms once or twice in your post, assuming they are relevant. But don’t use them fifty times.
- Be sure to publish new posts or update your content regularly, even if you have a website. On WordPress.com, most sites are set up in a standard, blog-style format with a reverse chronological list of posts on the front page. However, many of you use WordPress.com for websites consisting mostly of static pages. This type of site is not updated as frequently as a typical blog, so if you do have a website, it’s beneficial to have a blog component that you update more often. Link to that “posts page” from your site’s front page, whether by using a menu tab, or by using the Recent Posts widget in the sidebar of your front page. Because most new visitors land on your front page first, providing an obvious link to your most recent posts will help Google see that your site is current and active.
- Focus on building your traffic in smart ways. Seek out other blogs on your topic (or sharing your point of view) and leave substantive comments. Use Publicize to promote your blog to your social media circles. If you’re more of a general interest blogger, involve yourself in the WordPress.com community by participating in the challenges over on The Daily Post.
If you’re ready to get a bit more advanced, you can use webmaster tools (provided by Google and Bing) to collect more data about how visitors find your site. This can help you make decisions about which topics to focus on in future.
In the end, remember that while it’s admittedly a lot easier and less scary to tinker around with SEO than to make yourself sit down and write, there is no shortcut to building a popular site. The surest way to improve your site’s ranking is to regularly publish interesting, creative content that people want to read.
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