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Don’t let WordPress Destroy your Search Ranking

July 24, 2014 by Robert Wright

The effectiveness of blogs as an e-marketing tool for businesses to communicate more directly and timely with their customers has led to considerable growth in the number of blogs on the Internet. Add in the potential for improved search ranking for companies with high-quality blogs in markets where they are well-received, and there is sound justification for this growth, as businesses continue to look for new ways to reach their target market amidst a plethora of Web competitors. Statistics from NM Incite indicate almost a five-fold increase in blogs from 2006 to 2011, and according to a 2014 research report from MarketingProfs, 76% of respondents indicated Blogs as a key content marketing tactic.

WordPress is the most popular blogging platform at 52% of installations as of 2013, and is continuing to increase as a percentage of installations, according to a study published by Royal Pingdom (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1

Adding a WordPress blog to an existing website, assuming it is done with best blogging practices, would seem, therefore to offer an easy upside. There is, however, a very possible downside that can occur with a standard installation of WordPress – a detrimental impact on a company’s search engine optimization (SEO). This is due to the fact that a basic (unmodified) installation of WordPress does little to embrace today’s search engine, and in some ways may do some harm. As a result, companies that have invested significant time, money and effort into the search engine optimization (SEO) of their website, may be unknowingly degrading the site’s SEO potential by performing a WordPress installation without making specific modifications for search. To see a sample of many sites that are losing search ranking opportunities due to their WordPress configuration, search the Web for “Just another WordPress site”. This is a default portion of the title tag for new WordPress installations, and you will find many websites that haven’t taken the time to modify it..

To test the significance of this impact, we’ve taken a live website (http://www.blacklistmonitoring.com), installed a basic WordPress blog, and gradually made search-friendly adjustments to it while measuring the impact of these adjustments on potential search ranking. For measurement purposes, we used the popular Moz.com set of tools. Note that our testing was on a custom website, with a WordPress blog. For companies using WordPress for their entire website, the following results and recommendations still apply, and may be even more urgent to address, since the entire website could be impacted..

Setup and Baseline Test

We installed WordPress with the convenient Installatron feature that our web hosting provider includes with their hosting services. Installatron is an application that makes the installation of many software applications very simple, usually with just a click or two. Most hosting providers offer the same or similar service. After installation, we modified the theme to match our website, and completed the information in the Settings category in the WordPress administration panel. The settings allow you to customize your blog’s title, tagline, etc. One of the settings involves “permalinks”, which indicate how you want your blog entry links (URLs) to appear to the search engines. We chose the “Postname” format, e.g. http://www.blacklistmonitoring.com/blog/sample-post/. This avoids question marks in the URL, making it more search friendly.

We then proceeded to make several blog entries over time, which we hoped would give the site the necessary search bait for evaluation. Next, we ran the Moz.com crawl diagnostics tool to get our baseline for comparison. Since the actual time for ranking changes to occur from specific website changes may vary, we focused on the error report rather than the ranking report for this testing. The results for our baseline test included six errors, 44 warnings, and 24 notices (see Figure 2). In the Moz analysis, errors are considered the most serious offenses, while notices are the least serious. The problems associated with the website included “Missing Meta Description Tag”, “Title Element Too Long”, “Duplicate Page Content”, and “Duplicate Page Title”. Obviously, all of these issues could negatively impact the website’s search ranking. A drill-down on each issue revealed that ALL of the issues were incorporated into the site via the WordPress blog. The biggest problem with the basic WordPress install appears to be its method of cross-referencing articles in multiple ways (e.g. by date and post type). Search engines just follow the links found in the code, and when they see the same article with multiple URLs, they assume duplicate content by default.

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Figure 2

Version Check

During installation, we noticed that the WordPress version installed via Installatron by our provider was 3.5.1, although the 3.9.1 version of WordPress had already been released. So we updated the software using the simple update button provided within the WordPress Admin panel, to ensure we were testing the latest version. This would ensure that any possible improvements that were made to the code for search engine optimization were included in our testing. The version update had no impact on the errors.

Addressing the Errors

To address the SEO errors found in the blog, we did NOT want to edit the WordPress code directly, and risk losing it every time there was an update. We also didn’t want to go through the learning curve of figuring out where WordPress stored all the relevant code. Instead, we researched available WordPress plug-ins that would address the issues. After some research on various plug-ins that appeared to be relatively highly rated by users for optimizing WordPress installations for SEO, we settled on testing the “Yoast WordPress SEO,” plug-in. Disclaimer: we are not experts on the Yoast plug-in, and installed it as we would expect a typical user to install it, learning as we went. Our approach was to install the plug-in, then add incremental customization of the plug-in field content as necessary to eliminate errors.

Yoast WordPress SEO, Pass 1

After installing the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin, there is an “SEO” category added to the administration menu. Selecting this category opens up a suite of settings that may be used to improve the site’s SEO. We updated the following items under the “Titles & Metas” category:

● enabled the “Noindex subpages of archives” (to eliminate duplicates caused by page-number-based URLs)

● disabled the date-based archives (to eliminate duplicates caused by date-based URLs)

All other items were left at their default settings.

This basic plug-in installation eliminated the six errors reported by the Moz crawl diagnostics. Warnings, however, increased to 49, and Notices increased to 43. All the remaining warnings and notices related to missing description metatags and title elements that were too long. This was an improvement, however, since we had eliminated the duplicates issue, and the next step was to eliminate the remaining warnings and notices.

Yoast WordPress SEO, Pass 2

In an attempt to quickly eliminate the remaining errors, we made use of the plugin’s ability to automatically create title tags and description metatags for our various cross-referenced posts. These templates are set in the “Titlles & Metas” menu, and use a special syntax which is explained on the yoast.com website.

Most of the remaining titles that were too long appeared to be due to our WordPress theme somehow causing duplications of text in the page titles. To solve this type of error, we enabled the “Force rewrite titles” setting in the Yoast plug-in.

Unfortunately, our attempts at quick and easy fixes with the auto-generated tags and metatags still left our site with 13 warnings, or medium-priority issues.

Yoast WordPress SEO, Final Pass

Although we appeared to be out of automated options to remove the final list of problems, the plug-in included a bulk editor for both page titles and descriptions. We used these to manually enter titles and descriptions for the pages that were still problematic. This eliminated the remaining 13 warnings, leaving our blog and our site search-friendly once again.

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Figure 3

Conclusion

After completing this exercise, it was clear that some SEO-specific configuration of WordPress is necessary after installation, or a site may suffer a negative impact on its search ranking. There are WordPress plug-ins available that can make this effort easier. Automated solutions for completing titles and descriptions for pages can be tempting due to the time saved, however some level of manual entry may be required to fully eliminate errors.

 


Writer’s Bio

: Robert Wright is the President/CEO of Global eBusiness Solutions, Inc. and a Professor of Business at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC. Wright has a background of over 25 years in technology companies, including running multiple start-ups and company transformations.

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