If you run a self-hosted site, you can make it even more attractive to Google and
other search engines by using an SEO plug-in. But be warned, most SEO plug-ins
are an extreme case of overkill for the casual WordPress site-builder. Prepare to be
swamped by pages of options and search settings.
If you search WordPress’s plug-in repository for “SEO,” you discover quite a few
popular plug-ins. One of the best is WordPress SEO by Yoast (http://tinyurl.com/
seo-yoast). Its creator is WordPress über-guru Joost de Valk, who also blogs some
useful (but somewhat technical) SEO articles at http://yoast.com/cat/seo.
Once you install and activate WordPress SEO, you see a new SEO menu in your
dashboard, packed with a dizzying array of options. You can ignore most of them,
unless you want to change the way the plug-in works. The following sections explain
two useful features you can tap into right away.
CREATING AN XML SITEMAP
After installing the SEO plug-in, your site gets one immediate benefit: an XML
sitemap. This is a document that tells Google where your content resides on your
site. It ensures that all your posts get indexed, even if your home page doesn’t link
to them. Although you don’t need to give your XML sitemap another thought, you
can take a look at it by choosing SEO→XML Sitemaps and then clicking the XML
Sitemap button. Needless to say, WordPress SEO updates your sitemap every time
you publish a new post or page.
NOTE The XML sitemap feature works only if you use descriptive permalinks that include post names (as
explained on page 116). If you use the stock ID-based permalinks, the plug-in won’t create an XML sitemap.
TWEAKING TITLES AND DESCRIPTIONS
The WordPress SEO plug-in also gives you control over two important details: the
title and description (known to web nerds as the meta description) of each post or
page. These details are useful—even to SEO newbies—because Google displays them
when it lists a page from your site in its search results. Figure 12-19 shows an example.
The title and description are also important because Google gives more weight to
keywords in those places than keywords in your content. In other words, if someone
searches for “dog breeding” and you have those words in your title, you can beat
an equally ranked page that doesn’t.
Ordinarily, the WordPress SEO plug-in creates a good title for a post, based on a
title-generating formula in the SEO→Titles & Metas section. This formula puts your
post name first, followed by your site name, like this for the “crystal jasmine” post:
Crystal Jasmine Named Tea of the Year – Magic Tea House
However, you can customize the title before you publish the post using the Word-
Press SEO by Yoast box, which appears on the Add New Post page (Figure 12-20).
For example, it’s a good idea to shorten overly long post titles, and to replace cutesy
titles with ones that clearly describe your content. You can also use the WordPress
SEO box to type in a meta description.
The WordPress SEO by Yoast box also lets you run a pretend Google search so you
can see how your newly chosen title and description work. To do that, type the search
keyword you want to test in the Focus Keyword box. Figure 12-21 shows an example.
TIP For even more ways to optimize your site for search engines using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plug-in,
check out the detailed tutorial at http://tinyurl.com/seo-yoast2.