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Five Quick Tips to Optimize Your Blog for Search Engines

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Search engines like Google are, for most blogs, owners of a large chunk of referrals through users discovering your site through search. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is the process of improving a website's standing with regular, algorithmic search engines. This can lead to more visitors as your site becomes better equipped to deal with search engines and their accompanying traffic.

In this article, we'll look at a number of basic tips in order to better optimize your WordPress blog for search engines.


1. Create "Pretty" Permalinks

Permalinks are the "pretty" version of URLs that different from the default WordPress configuration of an ID URL parameter. We've already covered how to create permalinks here at WPTuts+, if you need to know how to generate them.

As I touched on in that article, permalinks can be used as a method of improving SEO. If you use a permalink structure that includes important data like your title, it can be used in the indexing of your posts. These key words' role in search engine indexing is debatable, but the general consensus is that they help in some way.

Of course, users are also shown the permalink in Google's search results, which enhances the feeling that the link is relevant.


2. Make a Robots.txt file

Search engines can read your robots.txt file (that needs to be in the root directory of your website so that it's available at http://domain.tld/robots.txt) for instruction into how they crawl the site. Most search engines suggest this is good practice, as it allows you to define where the real content is, while also avoiding duplicate content being indexed (if you, say, exclude archive and categories from being indexed).

Robots.txt files contain multiple commands to not index specific content by defining directories to disallow to search engines. If you look further into using the robots.txt file, you can even go ahead and define specific rules to specific engines, but we're going to keep it simple. Most commands look like the following.

In this case, we can read it literally as all search engines, do not index /cgi-bin and /wp-content. You can add more, or less, and of course tailor it to your site's specifics.

Because of the nature of these sites, you can go ahead and take a look at those of popular sites like NYTimes.com and Apple.


3. Use Semantic Headings Appropriately

Now we can get to actual content, namely the headings used throughout your blog posts and WordPress theme. There's six heading tags, ranging from <h1> (the largest) to <h6> (the smallest). These little tags can be a very important part of your blog's SEO because they define the individual importance of different titles on a page to a search engine, which can be useful when they come to indexing the page.

Your titles should follow a logical hierarchy, with a single <h1>, top-level heading being used for the page's overall title (your site's name on your homepage, the post title on a single page etc.), with sub-headings following the 2-6 hierarchy. That means the headings used in blog posts should be <h2>, and sub-headings of those <h3>, etc.


4. Opt for SEO-friendly Slugs

You can also improve your SEO within the post editor by modifying your slugs. Shorter slugs with fewer, but more important, key words can be beneficial to search engines crawling your site. Typically, WordPress will take your post title and set it to the slug, but you can easily modify that yourself. Once you do, change a long slug to something shorter like /what-can-i-do-to-improve-seo-on-my-wordpress-blog to /wordpress-seo-improvements or similar.

While you're free to do each one manually, there's a few plugins that will minimize your slugs down to just the basics needed to benefit, such as the aptly named Better SEO Slugs.


5. Make Sharing Easy

This is a bit of a bonus really, because it's not anything you can technically do to optimize your blogs. It turns out, especially with Google, that social media links can affect search ranking. With Google, a fairly big percentage of each search result can be dedicated to referencing a Google+ share or +1, which can encourage some users to opt for one link over another.

By including social sharing buttons like Google's +1 button or Twitter's Tweet button, users can be encouraged to share your article on sites, potentially creating a large number of backlinks.


Wrap-up

Permalinks, a Robots.txt file, semantic headings, keyword slugs and easy sharing are five ways that hold a consensus for bettering your standing in search engines, and they're all incredibly easy to implement. If you've got any other SEO tactics you use within WordPress that work, be sure to share them with your fellow WordPress'ers in the comments thread below.

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