We have looked at three plugins which will help you write your blog. But another important factor of blogging is making sure that search engines find, index, and like your blog. Yes, we care if they like us. Why? Because a large portion of your blog traffic will come from Search Engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
There are numerous things you can do to your blog to help search engines find and index your blog. For example, you could strip out the /category/ word from your blog post URL structure, add an XML sitemap and submit it to the search engines, include meta descriptions and titles on every post, and make sure you write with good keywords in mind.
If you have no clue what I’m talking about, don’t worry. We’ll discuss all of it in later posts. The point to keep in mind right now is that all of this is part of making your blog search engine friendly, which is also referred to as “Search Engine Optimization” or SEO for short.
Now, what I have described above sounds like a lot of work, right? Especially if you have to do all of that for each and every post. Well, thankfully, there are plugins that will do each of these various items for you, but in this post, I am going to talk about the mothership of all SEO plugins. This WordPress plugin does everything I described above, and more!
This plugin is WordPress SEO.
It is not just a plugin. It sits at Google’s right hand and whispers to Google about your blog. There are other plugins out there, and one of the other popular plugins in All in One SEO, which I have also used in the past, but WordPress SEO is far ahead of the pack when it comes to features and usability. So in this post, I am going to show you how to install it and use it for your blog.
The first thing is to install it.
Install WordPress SEO
Do what you always do and search for the plugin within the “Plugin” section of your Dashboard.
Install and activate it, and when you do you will see that it has created a whole new set of options in your Dashboard.
WordPress SEO Dashboard Menu
It has also added some other things, such as add a new section to your Post Draft and Page Draft area. This new area looks like this:
When we finally get around to writing our first post, I will tell you what to put in all of these boxes. It takes an extra minute or two for each post or page that your publish, but it is well worth the time since they help search engines understand what your website and pages are about.
Setting up WordPress SEO
For now, let’s just focus on setting up your WordPress SEO plugin for maximum impact. In you dashboard, click on the “SEO” menu item.
WordPress SEO Dashboard
The first menu item—the WordPress SEO Dashboard—looks like this:
On this page, I checked the top two boxes.
Use Meta Keywords Tag
First, I checked the “Use Meta keywords tag.”
I will do a whole series of posts on keywords later, but just by way of preview, the meta keywords tag used to be quite important for SEO purposes, but after it got abused through something called “keyword stuffing,” some search engines stopped reading it.
So this option is saying, “Hey, you don’t really need meta keywords anymore. Do you want them anyway?” I include them anyway. Why? For two reasons: some search engines out there still do use them, and for savvy internet surfers who like to see what keywords have been put into web pages. I’m not sure if anyone does this except for me, but often, I like to inspect the code on a webpage and see what the person has put down in the meta tags area of their webpage.
Again, we will talk about all this later, but for now, whether or not you keep the meta keywords section is completely up to you. It takes about 15 seconds to fill it out on each post and page.
Remove Date Snippet
Checking the second box removes the date your post was published from the meta description tag, which means you can write a better description about what your page or post is about.
In general, you don’t need the date snippet, with one exception. If you have a time-sensitive blog, such a news blog, you may want to keep the date snippet so that when people search for news items, they can see how new or old your blog post is.
I want my posts to be more “timeless” and so I remove the date snippet. You decide what is best for your blog.
As far the other sections of this first page of the setup, I want the WordPress SEO box to appear pretty much everywhere, so I leave all those unchecked.
The bottom section is extremely important, but we have not yet set up our blog at Google, Yahoo, or Bing, and so we will leave these blank for now. But don’t forget about them! We will be filling in these areas later.
WordPress SEO Titles
Truthfully, you could probably leave this entire page blank if you want, and just move on. This page is asking you for “shortcuts” to writing your meta tags, and I prefer to customize almost all of mine.
But let me show you the changes I have made, and explain why I made them.
Check Template Code
First of all, at the top of the screen is a little note about how your template needs to be set up in order for this to work.
The theme which I use, Standard Theme, actually needs this coding adjustment made. Why? Well, the theme developers thought that most people don’t know about SEO and don’t want to deal with it. This is probably true. So rather than say, “Too bad for you!” they helpfully created a WordPress function called “seotitles.php” to help optimize a blog even if the blogger didn’t know a single thing about SEO. That is a very nice feature.
I, however, did not like the way my search results were appearing in Google and Bing. It’s not that they were wrong, it is just that… well, I wanted more control. So, I remove the line of code calling for “seotitles.php” and add the line of code which WordPress SEO recommends here. In this way, I was able to get full control over all my SEO meta titles, descriptions, and keywords on every single blog post and page.
If you are using Standard Theme, and want to do this too, I have put detailed instructions at the very bottom of this post. Even if you do not use the Standard Theme, you should also check to make sure your theme has the correct line of code in header.php, otherwise the plugin will not work properly.
Specify Default Meta Data
In the WordPress SEO Dashboard page, we told the Plugin that we wanted to see the WordPress SEO box pretty much everywhere we write something for the blog. On this page, it is asking, “OK, but what if you don’t want to fill in the information on every page and post you write? What should we put in the boxes?”
By far, the best practice is to make sure that each page and post is specifically set up by you as you write it. However, if you want the Plugin to fill in the boxes for you, you can set up a universal template here, and as you write pages and posts, the plugin will fill in the boxes automatically.
I always type in my own specific meta description and keywords on each and every post and page. However, if I ever “forget” or need a few helpful suggestions from the plugin, the codes as entered above are sometimes helpful.
Also, one one of my blogs, I have nearly 500 posts which I published before installing this plugin. Eventually, I want to go back and enter meta data for those posts, but until then, these default settings will do some of the work for me. You can do the same for your blog if you already have lots of posts and pages published.
So here are the settings I use:
In the Homepage section, I enter the Title of the blog and a short byline.
Then in the description section, I add a keyword rich description of the blog. Though some search engines no longer read the meta keywords, they still read the meta description, and so if you put keywords in your description, it will help search engines know what your blog is about.
And then I enter meta keywords and keyword phrases, each one separated by a comma. Eventually I write a post on how to select good keywords, but for now, just enter a few key ideas and phrases that you focus on in your blog posts.
Here is how my settings look:
And if you were to inspect my pagesource, this is how it appears there:
And, here is how the page appears to people using the Google search engine:
That is it for the Homepages settings.
In the post and page template sections, you can see what I entered. Again, you will be able to change this on each and every post if you want, but they will generally follow the templates I have entered above. So if you want to put something in these boxes as I have, feel free.
WordPress SEO Indexation
This page sets the rules for how search engines index your site. Since there are multiple ways of organizing and viewing a blog, It is sometimes helpful to make sure that search engines only put the most important and relevant pages in their index, or just the easiest way to find and access your pages.
In the OpenGraph meta data, I have not put anything yet. Later, when we integrate Facebook into the website, I might use some of this. But for now, leave it blank.
The following settings are the ones I use for the Indexation Rules:
The reason I use these settings is that I really only want the main posts to be indexed. I don’t want search engines indexing my admin pages or login screens. Only I need to know where those are located.
As far as the rest, I don’t want to dilute my search rankings with multiple copies of the same page, one from a search page, one from a date-based archive, another from an author archive, etc.
I do allow the Category archives, because the way I set up my categories, they contain some of the “keywords” which I want my site to be known for. That is why I allow them, even though they are kind of creating duplicate content from my site. I don’t use tags on my site (and you shouldn’t either…I’ll explain why later), and so I make sure they don’t get indexed.
Next in the Indexation screen is the Internal Nofollow settings. Here is what I use.
Every link you have within a page or post sends out some of the power and strength of that page or post to wherever you are linking to. I will eventually do a whole post on this, but the bottom line is that you only want search engines to follow the links which are your own, or which you want to give some of your pagerank value to. You clearly don’t want your login and registration links to get some of this pagerank power, and generally, you do not want your commenters to siphon off some of your pagerank value either. So allow the plugin to add “nofollow” codes to both of them.
Moving on to the Archive settings and Robots Meta Settings. Here is what I use:
As the note says, if you are the only author, check the box to disable the author archives box. If your blog will have more than one author, leave it unchecked. I use date archives, and so leave that unchecked.
In the Robots meta settings, I don’t do anything. I am not in the DMOZ directory (though I have tried to get in), I want snippets to appear, and I want pages cached. So leave it blank and move on.
The last screen is to clean up the <head> section. I only check the two that the plugin tells me to check.
I don’t use a remote editor, but whatever, I leave it unchecked. I don’t mind if WordPress shows off that I’m using the latest version. I love WordPress, so why not? The plugin author challenges me to tell him why I shouldn’t check the next two boxes, and since I frankly don’t know why I shouldn’t, I go ahead and check them. I don’t use Previous and Next Post links, and so can leave this box unchecked. If you do use them, you should probably check the box. I don’t mind if the shortlinks are indexed, and I definitely do not want to hide my RSS links.
After all of the proper boxes are checked on the Indexation page, make sure you click “Save Indexation Settings” before moving on.
WordPress SEO XML Sitemap
Next up is XML Sitemaps. You want and need an XML Sitemap, as it dramatically helps search engines quickly find and index all the content on your blog. An XML sitemap is a clean and quick way for Google, Yahoo, and Bing to find all the pages and posts on your site. An XML sitemap looks something like this:
To humans the sitemap is not so pretty. But to search engines, they are beautiful. There are numerous other plugins that will make an XML sitemap for you, but why install them when the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast already does it for you?
Here is how to set up your sitemap. At first, in the “XML Sitemap” screen, all you see is an option to enable sitemaps:
Check the box, and then you get all the options. Note the boxes I have checked:
I don’t really care if images are in my sitemap, but I do want to let Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.com know about my sitemap, so I tell the plugin to inform these sites of new posts. I want both posts and pages in the sitemap, but I don’t want categories and post tags. Why not? I don’t use tags, and organizing a sitemap by categories just repeats the content that is organized by post date. Once you have set this up, save and move on.
WordPress SEO Permalinks
Permalinks is next.
Here are the permalink settings I use:
There are numerous other plugins that will do these things for you, but why install another plugin if WordPress SEO already does it?
But what exactly is it doing?
Search engines love a “pretty URL” structure. Ugly URLs have lots of numbers, letters, dates, and unnecessary words. The simpler and easier you can make your URLs, the better. That is why, when we initially set up the blog, I used the Permalink structure of nothing but %%postname%%. It is simple, clean, and very pretty.
Here is an ugly URL:
Here is an example of a pretty URL:
However, WordPress does something kind of silly when it comes to your categories. When a reader goes to read some of the posts in a particular category, WordPress adds the word “category” to the URL:
By clicking the first box in the Permalink Screen, the plugin strips out that ugly /category/ word and returns your post URL structure to something pretty and a little more helpful.
Doesn’t that look a little better? So strip it out and be done with it.
WordPress SEO Internal Links
The next page is Internal Links.
Breadcrumbs are a nice navigational feature to help your readers and search engines see where they are at on your website. The term comes from the old Hansel and Gretel story where they sprinkled breadcrumbs on the trail in an attempt to get back home. I like using Breadcrumbs on my websites. Here is a picture of what Breadcrumbs look like:
I like breadcrumbs on my sites. However, as you can see from the WordPress SEO “Internal Links” page, I did not select any of the boxes. Why not? Because Standard Theme already has this feature built right in. Very nice.
WordPress SEO RSS
So let’s move on to RSS.
This page contains some features for your RSS feeds. There are two sections. The first is whether or not you want your RSS feeds indexed by search engines.
As you can see above, I go against the recommendations of the Plugin author, and do not allow my feeds to be indexed. We covered this briefly when we set up the RSS feed on Feedburner, and also told it to not allow search engines to index the feed. The explanation there still holds true.
You don’t want an RSS feed item to get a higher search result page than the actual post from your blog. This is rare, but it does happen. So it’s best to just not allow search engines to index your feeds. And if you are not indexing them, it makes no sense to ping the search engines when there is a new feed item.
The second section of the RSS screen is important. It allows you to add a header or footer to your RSS feed items. As with many of the other pages in this plugin, there are other plugins that will allow you to do this, but since WordPress SEO includes this feature for you, why not just use it here? Especially since it works so well!
A typical feed item simply ends before moving on to the next post. But if you add a Feed header or footer, then you can begin and end your feed items with a special message to your Feed readers.
Why is this important? Lots of people prefer to read blogs through a Feed reader rather than actually visit the blog. You may have a nice announcement or some good links on your blog which you want your readers to be aware of, but if your feed subscribers never visit your blog, how will they see the announcement? The answer is through a RSS Feed header or footer. It’s a very nice feature.
Here is what I put in my RSS footer:
You just finished reading %%POSTLINK%% from %%BLOGLINK%%. Consider leaving a comment. Don't miss out! Connect with me on other sites:
| Till He Comes
| Grace Commentary
| Grace Ground
| Grace Books
Want great hosting for your site? Host unlimited domains on a cloud network at hosted by Omnis.
Here is what it looks like in my RSS feed:
It shows links to various social networking sites, other blogs that I write, and a link to my site host if anybody wants good website hosting.
You can craft your RSS footer (or header) to say anything you want. Have fun with it, and change it as often as you want.
Once you are done, click “Save RSS Settings” and move on.
WordPress SEO Import and Export
I used to use All in One SEO and when I switched to Import, used this import feature.
Also, as you saw under the RSS page, I have several blogs. Since I want similar settings on all my blogs, I can quickly and easily export all my settings to a file, and then import them on my other blogs, making it very easy to use the same settings everywhere.
WordPress SEO Edit Files:
It is here that you can edit your .htaccess
If you don’t know what this is, don’t worry about it, we will deal with it later. But this allows you easy access to your .htaccess file, which is important for setting up URL redirects, some security features, and a few other blog settings.
This completes all the settings for the WordPress SEO plugin, but we are not quite done. We still need to make sure our WordPress Theme will allow the Plugin to insert the meta titles, meta description, and meta keywords.
As I indicated earlier, if you are using the Standard Theme, it needs a minor adjustment to properly call the meta titles, meta description, and meta keywords from the WordPress SEO plugin. As I indicated previously, Standard Theme comes “SEO Optimized” which means your pages and posts are automatically coded for Search Engines to see what they are about. However, I wanted more control over what search engines saw, so I install this plugin, and make a minor change to a few lines of code in header.php.
Even if you are not using the Standard Theme, you should still check your header.php file to make sure it has the proper line of code which will allow WordPress SEO to do it’s thing.
Here is how:
First, from your Dashboard, click on Appearance > Editor. Then from the list of files on the right, select the “header.php” file and follow the instructions on the following screenshot.
Here is the code to include (or make sure is already included in your Theme):
And here is where to put it, after taking a line or two of code out:
Essentially, you need to remove the code in Standard Theme which is calling the built-in Standard Theme SEO options, and then put in a line of code to help WordPress SEO do what it needs to. Note that the newer versions of Standard theme may not have that second line of code to remove. It may only have the “seotitles” line.
Once you have removed the code indicated, and inserted the one recommended by WordPress SEO, make sure you save this file. Your posts and pages will now receive the full benefit of the WordPress SEO plugin.
This is the end of setting up the WordPress SEO plugin. It’s been a long post, but that’s because this is such a vital and important plugin. I hope it helps rocket your blog upward in search engine ranking and optimization.