7 Simple Ways to Customize a WordPress Blog for SEO

WordPress is a fantastic resource for the small businesses needing easy-to-use, free software for running a blog or small website. Most would agree that “out-of-the-box”, WordPress is easy to install, configure and design to fit one’s business needs.


Business owners should note that the WordPress default configuration does lack certain best practices of basic SEO.

In this post I’ve outlined seven challenges all website owners face with search engine optimization. For each one, I’ll outline how WordPress users can overcome these challenges with WordPress plugins, administrative settings and some basic customization.

The Creation of Unique HTML Titles
Its generally believed that the HTML title tag is the most impactful element of an HTML page as it relates to SEO. Under the default configuration, the HTML title in WordPress may be rendered using post titles, category names and general settings, depending on the file type.

While that means post titles and categories should certainly be keyword relevant, installing the All in One SEO Plugin allows webmasters full control of their HTML Titles.

The All in One SEO Plugin’s general settings allow webmasters to easily create a unique HTML title for the home page and logic for creating more specific HTML category and archive titles as well.

Screenshot - All In One SEO Plugin Settings

When creating new posts or pages, the plugin adds a special section in the administrative panel for adding unique HTML Titles and also META descriptions and keywords.

Screenshot - All In One SEO Plugin Settings per Post

Prevention of Duplicate Content
If you are not using the “the_excerpt()” function in WordPress, a blog post will be replicated identically on the home page, category and archive pages and search query pages.

Content found in multiple locations may impact a search engine’s ability to rank a particular post for a keyword strategy. You want searchers to find the individual post and duplicate content makes it less clear which web address should be presented in search results.

A solution is to block search engines from indexing category, archive and search-based pages of your blog yet still make sure the search engine follows the links to the individual posts. Search engines will better understand that individual posts are meant to rank for a particular keyword strategy. Joost de Valk’s Robots Meta plugin allows you to do this.

The Robots Meta plugin provides an easy to use checklist of options for preventing search engines from indexing certain sections as well as “nofollow’ing” specific links and locations.

Screenshot - Robots Meta Plugin Settings

Note on the plugin: More advanced users can create unique content for categories and archives. If that’s the case, there may be less need to prevent a search engine from indexing these sections. Obviously the home page cannot be blocked from indexing and the last tip is specific to making this page unique.

Search Engine Friendly & Keyword-Specific Web Addresses
The optimal SEO friendly URL has a static, directory-based structure, with less than four apparent sub-directories. Having a keyword-specific URL structure is advantageous because when keywords are bolded in search results when they match the search engine query.

Example of Bolded Keywords Matching a Search Query

WordPress’ default permalink syntax is query based (domain.com/?p=123). Fortunately, this can be modified easily in the admin panel under “Settings –> Permalinks” to replicate a static, folder-based structure.

Screenshot - WP Admin Permalink Settings

NOTE – UPDATED 6/14/2009
I recommend using a custom permalink structure which includes only the /%post_id%/%postname%/. This eliminates an unnecessary date-based folder hierarchy while still using a numeric ID as recommended by WordPress. I’ve updated this recommendation based on learned information discussed here.

When writing new posts, make sure to customize your permalink structure per post, to reflect the applicable keyword strategy. Trim permalinks that are extremely long as well. Shorter web addresses are easier to copy and help minimize the risk of an error in typing them.

Screenshot - Permalink Settings on the Post

Notify Google of Your Updates
Google can index blog posts in less than an hour. Posts are first visible in Google Blog Search but are quickly integrated into traditional search results. While it is simple enough to submit your blog to Google, WordPress also has the capability to automatically notify the various blog search engines that new posts have been created.

In the admin panel, under “Settings –> Writing” (bottom of the page under, “Update Services”), blog owners can input the desired search engines they wish to notify. Every time a new post is published, Google will be notified of your updates automatically.

Screenshot - Ping Notification Settings

Google’s specific ping URL is http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2 but I notify the following services as well (simply copy and paste if you’d like to notify the same services):


Internal Link Architecture – Cross-Links to Related Posts
Cross-linking into related content enables search engines to crawl more of your blog’s material, particularly posts that are older and deeper in the archive.

This can be especially important when cross-linking a very popular post (which ranks well in search engines) to other posts which may not have done as well (but you want them to rank in search). SEO value between web pages can be potentially transferred through proper internal link architecture (cross-linking)

I had used the “Yet Another Related Post” plugin, but found I was not always agreement in the “related posts” the plugin would suggest. As a result, I will often add cross-links (when relevant) within context or simply add “Related Posts” to the bottom a new post.

Important Note: If you’re concerned with the impact of these links with the initial readership, there’s no rule against adding cross-links after a post has done well in social media outlets or gained inbound links needed.

Remember, don’t overdo it. A few relevant cross-links are fine; a few dozen are overkill.

Integration of a Blog Sitemap
An end-user sitemap will enable search engines to quickly crawl and index the important pages and posts of your website. Dagon Design’s Sitemap Generator provides a customizable solution for this.

Once installed, the plugin provides an easy-to-use interface for configuring your sitemap.

Screenshot - Sitemap Plugin Settings

Unique Content Differentiating the Home Page
As indicated above; duplicate content is an issue when search engines need to determine the right web address to show in search results. Since the home page is usually your most valuable asset on a blog, you cannot “noindex” it, but you should still make it as unique as possible to differentiate it from individual posts.

This requires two customizations:

1.) Use post excerpts in lieu of the full post with the Post Teaser plugin.

I recommend the Post Teaser plugin because it requires less customization of the main design and knowledge of PHP. The plugin replaces a need to use WordPress the_excerpt() function (which shows a snippet of each blog post) and can be configured to display a “read more” message of your choice.

Screenshot - Post Teaser Plugin Settings

Screenshot - Post Teaser Plugin Settings

I also favor the plugin because it creates a clean link to the individual post, instead of an unnecessary anchor link when a reader clicks to “read more”.

2.) Create unique content for the home page exclusively.

This can be done by editing the theme design (“Appearance –> Editor –> Main Index Template”). If you want content to only appear on the home page, wrap the desired content with the following PHP: <?php if ( is_home() ) { ?>Content<?php } ?>

Screenshot - Home Page Design Template

Easy to create content for a home page may include an introductory paragraph, blogroll or specific navigational elements.

What Do You Think?
I chose these 7 opportunities because they are relatively easy to integrate and important to an SEO strategy. There are certainly additional capabilities and WordPress plugins which also are valuable, beyond SEO and for a more complete online marketing strategy. I would love to hear your success stories and recommendations.

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5 Responses to “7 Simple Ways to Customize a WordPress Blog for SEO”

  1. Salwa on April 22nd, 2009 8:14 pm

    Thank you. Your post has been a great help. I just spent the last 10 minutes making the changes i needed to by following your step by step instructions. Joost de Valk’s Robots Meta plugin is great.


  2. Chattanooga SEO on May 7th, 2009 11:59 am

    Post titles and categories should certainly be keyword relevant, installing the All in One SEO Plugin allows webmasters full control of their HTML Titles.

  3. Updating Search Engine Friendly Links with WordPress | Cape Cod SEO on June 14th, 2009 9:56 pm

    […] 7 Simple Ways to Customize a WordPress Blog for SEO […]

  4. Updating Search Engine Friendly Links with WordPress « Tajemnice Pozycjonowania on June 15th, 2009 2:40 am

    […] historically recommended using a custom permalink structure which includes only the /%postname%/ element. This eliminates […]

  5. rusli zainal sang visioner on June 28th, 2009 4:45 am

    great step..thanks for teach me.. im newbie and this is informative for me