WordPress SEO – The beginner’s guide

Read our WordPress SEO Article

Increase search engine traffic to your WordPress blog with one night’s work!

Imagine having the search engine traffic to your blog increased by tens of percentages, or perhaps even doubling it, by just a few hours work. With putting just a bit of SEO effort into your WordPress you can increase your search engine traffic, just by getting the basics right. I’ll walk you through them one by one.

1. Improve your titles, meta descriptions, and “more” texts

There are quite a few plugins that you can just easily drop into your WordPress, enable, and have everything you need to be able to create good titles for blog posts, and write meta descriptions for them, both requisites for good WordPress SEO. I prefer Headspace2 to do this myself. Just download it, drop it in, and activate it. After that, go in to the Headspace options, select the modules submenu, and drag the “more text” module from disabled to simple. This will allow you to change the more text on all your posts into something more appropriate, without becoming dull.

Now promise yourself to write a good title and more text for each post you write starting now.

2. Pick the correct permalink structure and slug

Although each has his own taste, your WordPress permalink should look permanent for SEO purposes. There’s no real reason anymore to have example.com/?p=2 when you could have example.com/awesome-post/ or example.com/awesomeness/awesome-post/. Now after writing each post, think carefully of the slug you choose for it.

3. Improve your template

3.1. Breadcrumbs

I always like to add breadcrumbs to my single posts and pages, these should link back to the homepage, and the category the post is in. If the post is in multiple categories it should pick one. For that to work, adapt single.php and page.php in your theme, and use one of the available breadcrumb plugins.

3.2. Headings

Although most themes for WordPress get this right, make sure your post title is an <h1>, and nothing else. Your blog’s name should only be an <h1> on your frontpage, and on single, post, and category pages, it should be no more than an <h3>. These should be your easy fixes, later on you could read my article on Semantic HTML and SEO if you want to improve it further.

3.3. Clean up your code

All that javascript and CSS you might have been creating in your files, move that to external javascripts and css files, and keep your templates clean. Search engines, and some of your users, have no use for those.

4. Remove duplicate content

4.1. Choose one taxonomy and stick with it

As of version 2.3, WordPress comes with not 1, not 2, but 3 (!!) archives built in by default. It has a category structure, a tag structure and a date based archive. That creates an awful amount of dupe content, so you should get rid of two of the three. Basically, date archives are only useful for newspapers, so I’d get rid of that. After that, it’s just a matter of personal taste. I like categories and am not really the tagging kinda guy, so I picked categories, but tags are fine too, as both allow for perfect WordPress SEO.

Go into your theme and remove all references to other taxonomies. Wipe out the date based archive, and remove the tagging or the categories from single.php, archive.php, index.php and search.php.

4.2 noindex,follow unimportant or dupe pages

Even when you’ve picked one structure, you’re still left with some pages which have no real use for the search engine. Your frontpage only contains 10 posts, usually, and when you have more, they go to /page/2/, /page/3/ etc. There’s no real reason for those pages to be indexed, so I suggest getting my robots meta plugin, and adding a noindex,follow robots meta tag to them. This will prevent search engines from showing these pages, while allowing them to follow the links to your posts. Do the same to your login and registration pages, and your search result pages with the same plugin.

4.3 A one author blog? Disable the author archives

Even when you’re running a one author blog, WordPress will automatically create an “author” archive, which is a listing of all posts made by each author. They have some use on multi author blogs, but on one author blogs you should disable them, using the robots meta plugin as well.

5. Interlink related posts

An important way of getting both your visitors and the search engines to find more related content on your blog is using a related posts plugin. I use two plugins, related posts, and popularity contest, to show the most popular posts in the current category, and show posts that are related to the content of your post. Adding them in is quite easy, as they both consist of just a few lines of code to add to your template.

6. Create linkable content!

All of this perfect WordPress SEO won’t do your blog traffic any good if you don’t have any links pointing at your blog, so the first thing you should do? Start writing linkable content. Once you do, and you have the above covered, you should be getting a steady stream of visitors from the search engines after a while, provided there aren’t any other big problems with your site.

Want more of this? Sign up for my WordPress Plugin & SEO mailing list!

Now go off and start fixing your blog!


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120 Responses

  1. Zone from ZoneDate.comBy Zone from ZoneDate.com on 23 November, 2007

    If you could fully explain step 2, that would help a great deal.

  2. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 23 November, 2007

    You need to pick a permalink structure in which the URL reflects the content of the post, that’s basically all there is to it :)

  3. KateBy Kate on 23 November, 2007

    And in the end install Super Cache so you don’t get a headache when you see some traffic.

  4. MediadonisBy Mediadonis on 23 November, 2007

    Great writeup Joost – CongratZ!!
    Gotta make that a link-tip in next weeks show!

  5. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 23 November, 2007

    Hey Marcus, thx pal :)

    Kate: Caching is a WISE idea :) But I’ll add that to the followup to this: WordPress SEO – The next step :)

  6. KayBy Kay on 24 November, 2007

    Basically I have done all of it. But the traffic still not that ideal… I wonder what’s wrong…

  7. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 24 November, 2007

    Ey Kay, maybe your content and links? :)

  8. Fred @ Newest on the NetBy Fred @ Newest on the Net on 24 November, 2007

    Thank you very much for writing this article. I have been trying to SEO my WordPress blog, but I find this topic very confusing.

    Would you mind answering a few questions?

    1. You point number one states to use good titles and meta descriptions. I think that I am doing this with the All-in-one SEO Pack Plugin. Do you like this plugin? How does Headspace2 differ from the all-in-one plugin?

    2. When you are trying to create good titles and meta description, what should you focus on? What are your writing tips for making these good?

    3. You state to think carefully about your slug, but what should do try to do? What makes a good slug?

    4. Could you elaborate on what “breadcrumbs” are? What is the strategy here?

    5. If you were to focus on just 3 of the above tips, which will give you the biggest bang?

    Thank you very much.

  9. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 24 November, 2007

    Fred: 1: I’ve never tried all-in-one, so I can’t tell you.

    2: the keywords that particular post was aiming for should be in there, in this case “WordPress SEO”.

    3: same as 2, hence /wordpress-seo/

    4: same as 2 and 3, you’re linking back to other pages, so link back TO those pages with the correct anchor text for those pages.

    5: of these, titles are the most important, by far.

  10. SEOidiotBy SEOidiot on 25 November, 2007

    I have no idea why i missed you plugin…. would have saved me lots of time doing my own – grrr


  11. Graham DaviesBy Graham Davies on 26 November, 2007

    Thanks for the tips.

    I am just starting out on this blogging ‘thing’ so consise pointers and advice like this is invaluable as there is a steep learning curve to climb.

  12. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 26 November, 2007

    My pleasure Graham, glad I could be of assistance!

  13. Henri van den HoofBy Henri van den Hoof on 26 November, 2007

    Very helpful post Joost :-) Headspace2 looks very interesting so will definitely check it out.

    Question regarding 3.2: Using multiple h1′s on the blogs homepage would be ok then? I always figured only 1 h1 per page was allowed.

  14. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 26 November, 2007

    Different people have different opinions about that Henri, I think it shouldn’t be any problem at all :)

  15. Anup ShahBy Anup Shah on 26 November, 2007


    Good post. Just had a point about your tips on headings. I followed through to your article on semantic html and SEO. While search engines guard their algorithms, most SEO I have done and read about find that headings don’t (unfortunately) have that much bearing on SEO (it is too easy to stuff with nonsense, just like the image alt text).

    I try to go into this further on an article here.

    The basic point is that SEO ranking is a business/marketing strategy about gaining better links. SEO indexing however may be affected by markup, but indexing is about search engines getting in.

    (Take a look there at the top ranking factors in 2005 and 2007 to see just in that short time how much there is a swing from technical things one can do, to more strategic things to help ranking – mostly around improving link-building etc)

  16. Anup ShahBy Anup Shah on 26 November, 2007

    For semantic reasons, rather than SEO, I think your suggestion for post titles being h1s is a decent one (one that I will consider re-doing for my blog posts, as they are h2s, currently).

    I am fully in support of semantic markup, but for SEO ranking, it seems like the text of the title element is perhaps the most important. Meta keywords/descriptions are good for results, but you have to rank well first to have those noticed :)

  17. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 26 November, 2007

    Hi Anup, thx for your comment, I had to split it in two because of some weird WordPress bug…

    In regard of the SEO ranking factors research you mention at SEOmoz, I was a part of that, and I agree with you in part.

    Although the strength of using in keywords in your headings has gone down, it’s still a very important aspect of on-page SEO. There’s only so much you can do on-page, and everything you CAN do that helps you should, otherwise you’re giving other people an easy way to beat you.

    So I my advice still stands, though I do agree with you that the power of these headings, SEO wise, is not what it once was.

  18. Anup ShahBy Anup Shah on 26 November, 2007

    Joost. Fair point regarding on-page SEO.

    I think over time, search engine companies are going to try and rely more on non-technical factors.

    While headings may in the future be even less important to them, they (and other aspects of semantic markup) are still important for readers.

    I wish there was a way for search engines to determine if sites are using semantic markup for good reasons and therefore factor heading text higher! I imagine it would be VERY hard to do without some kind of manual check! (I hear Google has such an army of people!)

  19. Jeremiah - SimpletigerBy Jeremiah - Simpletiger on 27 November, 2007

    Wonderful post! I also recommend downloading the all -in-one-seo plugin. I have had a good experience with it.

  20. Zone from ZoneDate.comBy Zone from ZoneDate.com on 27 November, 2007

    I’ve been using the all-in-one-seo plugin, too. No problems here, but maybe you could compare it to headspace2 in a follow-up post? I changed my permalink structure as advised. Consider your blog stumbled, sphunn, and dugg. Thanks for the excellent advice!

  21. Matt EllsworthBy Matt Ellsworth on 28 November, 2007

    nice overall list to get people started.

  22. LoewenherzBy Loewenherz on 28 November, 2007

    Some people from the german blogger scene hates SEO’s. They means, that we don’t give advices to pimp wordpress blogs. Your posting is a good example, that we do it.

  23. Jake RutterBy Jake Rutter on 30 November, 2007

    Awesome stuff! Thanks!

  24. edieBy edie on 1 December, 2007

    Hello, really useful tips. Thank you!

  25. Paul BuraniBy Paul Burani on 1 December, 2007

    This is a great post, though one SEO issue which it fails to mention, from a link building point of view, is linking to social news sites. I like the Sociable plug-in for this. Thanks Joost.

  26. ronnieBy ronnie on 3 December, 2007

    Great stuff! Thanks!

  27. chrisBy chris on 6 December, 2007

    I added the meta robots page but how can i test if it’s actually working as only two of my links show in a firefox plugin that shows nofollow links (two footer links) the rest are normal.

  28. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 6 December, 2007

    @Chris: what you can see depends on the options you enabled under Plugins -> Robots Meta…

  29. Josh HarleyBy Josh Harley on 7 December, 2007

    Would removing the archives list from my blog pages be enough or should I still use the Robot for duplicate content?

  30. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 7 December, 2007

    @Josh: I’d block them with the plugin.

  31. Karel GeenenBy Karel Geenen on 28 December, 2007

    Nice post Joost!

    Why not translate it in Dutch?

    By the way, what do you think of my post about Pogosticking (http://www.karelgeenen.nl/04/heeft-je-website-last-van-pogosticking-zo-kom-je-er-van-af/) and my WordPress Archive post (http://www.karelgeenen.nl/05/bloggers-zo-verhoog-je-de-gebruikerservaring-voor-je-lezers/) as related to your tip about the archives?

  32. HummerbieBy Hummerbie on 29 December, 2007


    Nice! your awesomeness link points to the right Blog :-)

    Great tips and thanks for the hint to headache and your own plugin.
    Looks like I need to read more about nofollow and linkjuice to use it the right way.

  33. Internet InvestorBy Internet Investor on 8 January, 2008

    Good info here, but I still hold my ground with earlier versions of WordPress. They were not so bloated with all that useless code.

  34. Linda Martin-PeoplesBy Linda Martin-Peoples on 12 January, 2008

    Hmmm…I can see I have some work to do!
    Much thanks for the advice!

  35. Josh HarleyBy Josh Harley on 15 January, 2008

    I have an established blog with many pages that are on page one of different keyword searches. My question is, if I change the permalink structure from /%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/ to simply /%postname%, will that affect previous posts as well? If it changes older posts, how will that affect the pages being found in Google and other search engines?

  36. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 15 January, 2008

    @Josh it will affect older posts as well, and it’s not for the faint of heart… Should be all good, but no mistakes allowed there…

  37. gestroudBy gestroud on 15 January, 2008

    Thanks for pointing out the headspace plugin. It’s a great tool. I needed eight plugins (All in One SEO, Simple Tags, Google Analytics, Excerpts, What Would Seth Godin Do, No Index, Filosofo Google Ad Sectioning, and Tag Suggest Thing) just to accomplish what headspace does.

  38. AlexBy Alex on 20 January, 2008

    Josh – As far as updating permalink structure, use Dean’s Permalinks Migration Plugin to forward people from the old naming structure (which you are breaking) to the new one. Good luck.

  39. Marc ChaseBy Marc Chase on 22 January, 2008

    Great post. We just started to focus on our blog and this was a great place to start…thank you

  40. BudBy Bud on 24 January, 2008

    Thanks for the great blog on wordpress seo. I have a newer blog and I am working on seo for my site and this guide really helped me.


  41. JacobBy Jacob on 26 January, 2008

    This post will help me alot with my blog SEO. Great point on the dup content, I’ll remove the dates and categories (since my blog is on 1 topic).

  42. Lars BachmannBy Lars Bachmann on 29 January, 2008

    Hi Joost.

    Do you mind if i translate some of this post to Danish and postet on my own blog, with a link to the original post off course?

  43. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 29 January, 2008

    @lars: nope, feel free :)

  44. BuzzBopBy BuzzBop on 2 February, 2008

    These are excellent suggestions, Joost. I will refer my readers to this post, and keep an eye on your latest thoughts and plugins.


  45. BrewsterBy Brewster on 19 February, 2008

    Great post – thanks for sharing. I’m another all-in-one plugin fan

  46. Dexter | Techathand.netBy Dexter | Techathand.net on 19 February, 2008

    This is a nice post. Good that i enrolled in your seo news letter

  47. Indepth Internet MarketingBy Indepth Internet Marketing on 6 March, 2008

    Clean up your code?

    Then would it be also better to use css divs in stead of html tables?


  48. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 6 March, 2008

    @Daan: yes.

  49. KlydeBy Klyde on 19 March, 2008

    Hi Joost!

    I am using your HeadSpace2 plugin along with others, your plugins are critical to me, and save me more time than I think you can imagine. Thank you.

    This guide is great, Does anyone know of any WordPress themes that have an option to remove specific archive pages in the admin area?

    Great and valuable post, as usual, way to fulfill on step 6.

  50. Web design UKBy Web design UK on 26 March, 2008

    when builing a website it is important to remember your visitors, give them what they want.

    You need to be noticed, applying basic SEO will help you.

    Great post,

  51. SaarthakBy Saarthak on 29 March, 2008

    Thanks for an enlightening article. However, I am ina bit of doubt about the duplicate content caused by cvategory and tag pages.

    My blog lughole.net has category archives and tags too. What I’ve noticed it that google is picking up my tag archives, but not category archives in its search results. Are tags bad? Is it true that I should only display post excerpts on tag pages?

  52. Search engine tipsBy Search engine tips on 5 April, 2008

    I have to learn more about wp and implement this seo guide.

    Anyway, thanks Joos.

  53. CharlieBy Charlie on 7 April, 2008

    Hi Joost,
    I’m rather overwhelmed by the number of plugins available for wordpress, so I’m figuring this out slowly, could you please explain what exactly the “more text” is in the headspace plugin. There’s a description field for each post also, so I’m confused as to what goes in the more text field.


  54. wordpresstutorialBy wordpresstutorial on 13 April, 2008

    Hi Joost. I’m glad I found this blog!

    One question about duplicate content. WordPress Help recommends using a robots.txt file to disallow access to the folders containing dupes. What do you think?


  55. ArunBy Arun on 14 April, 2008

    nice information related to seo

  56. albachtimiBy albachtimi on 24 April, 2008

    I’ve tried vary plugins, but i think those you have explained were good, so i’ll try to my blog.. I hope this work fine.

  57. AjayBy Ajay on 30 April, 2008

    I wonder why it took me so long to find you :) I’ve been using other social bookmarking plugins and just now I discovered yours sociable plugin and hence this blog. I’m going to try these techniques on my Web Design Blog. I need to sort out nofollow stuff also, never paid attention to it.

  58. QuinnBy Quinn on 6 May, 2008

    Thanks so much! I’ve been scouring the internet for information like this, and this really helped immensely! :)

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  60. Awesome information is there which is related to SEO. I have pretty interest to know more about SEO, so I am here and love to increase knowledge.

  61. Autoseller NetworkBy Autoseller Network on 21 May, 2009

    Awesome article! I have gradually become fan of your article and would like to suggest putting some new updates to make it more effective.

  62. geodvBy geodv on 24 July, 2009

    Hi yoast,

    I am currently using all in one seo pack, however, they been a few criticals updates to it in the past, like no index and no follow on categories and tags. How simple would it be if i switch to headspace 2 and will there be a ranking issue if i switch to headspace 2 from all in one? If you can help me on this it would be much appreciated. Thanks and thanks for all you do for the wordpress users.

  63. Online Insurance PlansBy Online Insurance Plans on 27 August, 2009

    Oftenly people likes to know more and more about SEO and they have been curious about this topic and same aspectetion here.

  64. DiamondsBy Diamonds on 28 August, 2009

    I agree with you, the all type of information about SEO we can observe on the internet. There are many SEO tools available.

  65. Wedding Favor GuideBy Wedding Favor Guide on 28 August, 2009

    Awesome article! feel your blog is very helpful for me, i appreciate it very much.

  66. GregBy Greg on 14 September, 2009

    Great article. How did you create the new “articles” subdirectory for the new WordPress SEO article? I didn’t find any explanation. Thanks.


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