WordPress SEO Tutorial updated February 2016

Now that’s we’ve covered how great WordPress is as a general CMS on the first page of this WordPress SEO tutorial let’s take a look at how WordPress should be setup to run as a SEO CMS or to make a general WordPress blog do better in the search engines (especially Google).

If your new to WordPress out the box your new WordPress URL’s will be along the lines of:

www.domain.com/?p=1

This is called a dynamic URL and contains variables (?p=1 is a variable), when Google was first created their search engine algorithm couldn’t read URL’s like this, in layman terms you were pretty much stuck with URL’s lacking variables (meaning no question marks ?) simple URL’s like www.domain.com/page1.html.

Today Google and all other major search engines have no problem at all with dynamic URL’s like this and so your site will be fully spidered/indexed by Google etc… However, there is a MUCH better way to present your URL’s for better search engine rankings and that is the SEO friendly WordPress permalinks that can look like this:

www.domain.com/awesome-site-on-keyword.html
www.domain.com/awesome-site-on-keyword/
www.domain.com/awesome-site-on-keyword
www.domain.com/awesome-site-on-keyword.php
or many other ways to present your content.

I used to use the top version because Google used to spider pages ending in html faster than those ending in php (Google assumed a page ending in php might be dynamic and slowed spidering) and I liked to see content pages ending in .html and archive pages like your Category archive to lack .html (just my preference, any of the above are good SEO wise and if migrating from a site using *.php the .php option might be easier to use: no need for 301 redirects).

Note: the above is no longer true, Google doesn’t prefer .html and in 2016 (last WordPress SEO Tutorial Permalinks update) I recommend the second option (www.domain.com/awesome-site-on-keyword/ or www.domain.com/awesome-site-on-keyword there’s no real difference).

SEO Optimize your WordPress URL’s

WordPress Permalinks

To achieve this is easy, it’s a few clicks of the mouse for most WordPress users.

Under your WordPress dashboard in WordPress 3.8+ on the left menu find “Settings” and click the down arrow (you get this arrow by hovering over the Settings links and it will show to the right of the link) to open up more options, click “Permalinks”.

On the new page the “default” box will be ticked if this is a new WordPress installation or you’ve never changed this setting.

To get the www.domain.com/awesome-site-on-keyword/ type format tick the “Post Name” tick box and in the box below you’ll see:

/%postname%/

Like the screenshot below.

WordPress SEO Permalinks

If you want a different setup use the variables on the Permalinks settings page (there’s a link with anchor text “number of tags are available”) to build your desired URL structure and tick the “Custom Structure” tick box. For example if you wanted domain.com/category-name/post-name.html you would use this code:

/%category%/%postname%.html

For SEO reasons I recommend /%postname%/

I also tended towards /%postname%/ for new sites as adding html was making multi comment paged post look messy (they work fine, but the URLs look messy).

If this is a new WordPress blog installation (content not indexed in Google yet OR you don’t mind loosing current search engine listings) I strongly advise making this permalinks settings change, it will give your pages a small boost in the major search engines as long as you use relevant keywords (this is VERY important and covered later) to your content in your blog post titles.

If this is an old WordPress installation and you currently have the default www.domain.com/?p=1 format (only for this format, not others) you can still make this change in WordPress 2.7+ and experience an increase in search engine rankings for your WordPress blog. The latest versions of WordPress now automatically 301 redirect the dynamic URL’s to whatever version you choose under these permalinks options: very impressed with the WordPress development team adding this feature (well done guys).

SEO Value of Changing WordPress Permalinks on Old Sites

That being said I have old sites using the /%postname%.html structure because Google used to spider html pages faster and to change it now would mean setting up a LOT of manual 301 Redirects (WordPress doesn’t 301 redirect /%postname%.html to /%postname%/ automatically) and a 301 redirect costs a little SEO link benefit, so to change permalink structure would cause SEO damage for no real SEO benefit. Generally speaking don’t change the permalink structure of an old site that’s indexed in Google, it will have a negative SEO impact (I would change this format www.domain.com/?p=1 but not others on an old site).

This means if your WordPress URL’s currently look like www.domain.com/?p=1 and you make the permalinks change advised above Google will automatically know www.domain.com/?p=1 goes to one of the new page URL’s and your site will work when people come to your site from either type of link. This means you can make this change if your site is years old and since 301 redirected pages are not penalised in anyway in Google (there’s a small dampening factor on 301 redirects, but you do get the benefit from the keywords in the URL: SEO swings and roundabouts) your old search engine rankings and backlinks will transfer to the new page URL’s.

I’ve made this change on a few old WordPress installations that had quite good Google rankings with good results. Please be aware short term you may loose some SERPs, but they will recover quickly (well under 6 weeks in my experience) and should improve after your WordPress blogs fully reindexed (this assumes you use keywords in the titles of your posts). Can be well worth making this change on a large keyword rich (where your posts titles are keyword rich) WordPress blog.

Note: if this is an old WordPress installation and you used another URL structure like the “Month and Postname” structure you can’t make this change without damaging current SERPs and messing up backlinks (you could manually fix this with 301 redirects and possibly plugins, but that’s beyond the scope of this WordPress SEO tutorial article). I used the “Month and Postname” structure on one site and that meant I was stuck with it: I eventually bit the bullet and changed it mid 2010 by 301 redirecting the URLs manually. Don’t worry though, as long as you have the name of the post (%postname%) in there somewhere it helps a lot, if not we’ll just have to make sure everything else is fully search engine optimized :)

Note 2: The WordPress SEO Tutorial you are reading now used to be on another domain, I managed to get the other domain penalized in Google: added a footer link from the Talian 5 WordPress SEO theme (theme I sell on the other site) to the old site this WordPress SEO tutorial was on, this per se wasn’t an SEO problem until Talian 5 became the go to WordPress AdSense Theme for autobloggers and it was used on tens of thousands of WordPress autoblogs. Even though the footer link could be turned off (tick one box and it’s off) on the Talian 5 options page many (and I mean thousands) left it on and I have millions of backlinks. SEO wise that’s great other than it’s millions of identical sitewide links from WordPress autoblogs which Google understandably didn’t like!!! Basically shot myself in the foot by generating too many backlinks. In Stallion Responsive haven’t made that mistake, if a user leaves the footer link on it’s a single home page backlink, not sitewide. So moved the WordPress SEO tutorial to here in Feb 2014 and 301 redirected from the old site to here.

SEO Consultant Makes a Mistake

Note: WordPress SEO tutorial 2014 the information below is no longer valid, WordPress solved the issue below so using the best permalink structure advised above is again recommended SEO wise (don’t you just love how things change :-)).

I’ve had the above information on the site for about a year and recently discovered I made a mistake on advising the above without adding a warning.

WordPress works in a way that it reads a URL with the format www.domain.com/%postname% (and the similar structures I advised) by looking for WordPress Pages (the static Pages) first because they have the same structure. If you have a WordPress blog with a lot of static Pages having a permalink structure like www.domain.com/%postname% for your blog Posts can slow down WordPress generating a blog Post link URL under some scenarios when a visitor accesses your site (it’s because WordPress Pages use the same URL format).

I’ve been using this structure on many sites for years (sites with thousands and even tens of thousands of posts), with no obvious problems, though I tend not to use many static Pages. As I understand things as long as you don’t have lots of static WordPress Pages (static Pages are like the About page) the impact is minimal on the average WordPress site.

If worried about this use something like:

/%post_id%-%postname%
/%post_id%/%postname%

This is not ideal SEO wise as it adds the posts ID number to the URL which won’t help with SERPs. It’s not a massive SEO loss, so if you plan to have a lot of static Pages consider the above. When I make new sites I’m using /%pageid%-%postname%.

The benefit of this is anyone visiting with a broken URL like

/%post_id%-truncated-title

Will still get to the right page (as long as /%post_id% is in the URL it works).

Note: the above is no longer valid, left this information here for those who find the above advise on other sites and think in newer versions of WordPress you should add the post ID into the URL structure..

WordPress Category Base Optimization

**Warning do not make this next change on an old site that's fully indexed**

On new WordPress installations I also change the optional “Category base” setting to something relevant, for example on this site I changed it to responsive, see screenshot below:

WordPress SEO Category Base

To this optional setting and this results in the default URL structure for categories changing from:

http://stallion-theme.co.uk/category/category-name

to:

http://stallion-theme.co.uk/responsive/category-name

So I get Category URL’s like

http://stallion-theme.co.uk/responsive/wordpress-seo-plugins/

The benefit of this is all the Categories of this WordPress blog will now have a small boost for search results related to responsive without having to even use the word responsive in the content (that’s how Google works). It’s only a small boost, but every little bit helps. so choose a word or short phrase (phrase format is hyphenate – keywords: responsive-theme or travel-articles etc…) that has relevance to the majority of your WordPress content.

**Warning do not make the above change on an old site that's fully indexed**

As indicated above do not make the above change on an old site, only do this for new WordPress installations since WordPress does NOT automatically redirect the old Category URLs to the new like it does for the first permalink setting. So if you went with the default /category/category-name I’m afraid you are stuck with it unless you manually setup 301 redirects. Don’t worry this is a small boost and I have plenty of WordPress installations that I created before understanding what this setting did doing very well in Google etc…

The other optional “Tag base” should ideally be left as is, this controls the URL’s of your tags. Social networking sites like Technorati look for sections with a tag URL to index, so you don’t want to change it.

WordPress SEO and the .htaccess File

With a new WordPress installation or one you’ve never changed the permalinks settings, you will now be lacking a .htaccess file. After clicking “Save Changes” under “Settings” >> “Permalinks” it will probably create the .htaccess file for you as long as your server allows WordPress to create the new file. If your server isn’t setup this way you might see a warning message like this:

“If your .htaccess file were writable, we could do this automatically, but it isn’t so these are the mod_rewrite rules you should have in your .htaccess file. Click in the field and press CTRL + a to select all.”

With a box below it with some code, these are WordPress .htaccess rules that use mod_rewrite to rewrite your WordPress URL’s from dynamic looking to static looking.

# BEGIN WordPress
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
</IfModule>
# END WordPress

If you don’t get this information you already have a .htaccess file that’s got the right file permissions and SEO friendly permalinks should be working fine (check your WordPress blog). If not we are now going to create a .htaccess file which isn’t as easy as it sounds or should be :)

Interestingly it’s not as simple as you might think to create this simple text file with a strange name, personally I take a .htaccess file from another site and edit it because many text editors won’t let you create a file called .htaccess (try it in Notepad for example, it’s the . that’s the problem!). For this reason I’ve added a blank .htaccess files in zip format for downloading at:

Blank .htaccess file

This will make life so much easier.

Download the file above and unzip it, inside you’ll find the .htaccess file.

WordPress Permalinks .htaccess Method One:
WordPress .htaccess Permissions
Upload the blank .htaccess file to the same place you uploaded your wp-config.php file using a FTP program like Filezilla. Just to make our lives a little more difficult some FTP programs don’t show the .htaccess file after upload, (it’s considered a system file!) so if you can’t see your new blank .htaccess file after upload use Filezilla which does show it by default (it’s free and better than many commercial FTP packages) or follow method two (see below).

If you can see the .htaccess file in your FTP program we now need to change the .htaccess files permissions so WordPress can edit it.

In Filezilla after uploading the .htaccess file we do the following, first click “View” followed by “Refresh Views” (F5 does this as well) on the file menu (if you miss this step sometimes the permissions box has a bug on newly uploaded files and no tick boxes are ticked!).

Next “right click” the .htaccess file you’ve uploaded (in the right bottom pane window) and select “File Permissions”.

WordPress .htaccess Write Permissions
In the new box tick all the boxes so it says 777 in the “Numeric Values” box, click OK.

This gives WordPress full write access to the file so it can make changes to it. If you use another FTP program there will be a similar way to change file permissions.

Go back to the Permalinks settings page in WordPress and click the “Save Changes” button again, if you’ve done everything right the writable warning and the box with the code in it will disappear and WordPress has written those .htaccess rules to your blank .htaccess file.

Check your WordPress blog to see if everything is working correctly. If it’s working change the permissions back to like you see in the image above, leaving the permissions at 777 is a potential security risk.

WordPress Permalinks .htaccess Method Two: (easier in some respects as you skip the file permissions step)
Edit your blank .htaccess file in a text editor like Notepad (weird Notepad will edit this file, but not create it!) on your computer before uploading via FTP. Load the file in Notepad etc… and copy the code WordPress created on the Permalinks setting page. It’s the code in the box below the “Save Changes” button, it will look something like this:

# BEGIN WordPress
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
</IfModule>
# END WordPress

Save the .htaccess file and upload the file to your websites server using FTP (Filezilla etc…) to where your wp-config.php file is. No need to save changes again on the permalinks page this time.

Check your WordPress blog to see if it works with the new URL structure, if it does you’ve done everything right.

This gets us to a WordPress blog with SEO friendly URL’s.

I know the above sounds like a LOT of effort, but the truth is this takes a few minutes at worst in practice.

Assuming everything went to plan your URL structure is SEO friendly, you have SEO URL’s.

David Law

David Law > AKA SEO Dave
*
: Experienced WordPress SEO Expert, Internet Marketer, Developer of the Best SEO Package Stallion Responsive WP SEO Theme (tested to WordPress 4.8 June 2017) and Nice Guy :-)

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