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The acronym “SEO” stands for “search engine optimization”. The website Moz.com provides a good definition:

SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.

Since good results in search engines can be bought through a service such as Google AdWords, when we speak of SEO we’re referring to obtaining these results without paying directly for them. These are sometimes called “organic search results”.

SEO is a very big subject; in this lesson we’ll only touch on it briefly, and only specifically in relation to the basic measures a WordPress website owner or manager can take. For those with the motivation and time to learn more, we’ve provided some good articles in the Resources list at the end of this lesson.

WordPress takes care of a lot of SEO work for you

According to Matt Cutts, a senior software engineer at Google, WordPress takes care of 80-90% of the mechanics of search engine optimization for you. So even if you don’t manage to do anything else but create a WordPress site and produce good content on a regular basis, your site will be in good shape to compete for high positions in Google searches. Of course, the competition is heavy for many search terms, and there’s a lot more you can do.

Search engines like good content added regularly

The good news is that search engines favor many of the same things that human beings like about a website — primarily, good content, added frequently. A website with the same content month after month will usually not rank very well in the search engines.

Blogging is an excellent strategy for meeting this need. Far from being “over with”, blogging is still extremely important and valuable for both SEO and humans, since a blog usually means adding new text (and maybe multimedia content) on a regular basis. It’s worthwhile to include a blog on almost any website where search engine traffic is desirable, if — and this is a big “if” — there is someone who can commit to posting regularly, and posting useful, interesting content.

WordPress is ideal for this, being state-of-the-art blogging software.

Search engines like well-written code

All WordPress generated code is in full compliance with the standards set by the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium). So right “out of the box”, WordPress gives you a great head start in this area.

Content Marketing

What ties all of this together is content, the text and media you present to the world via your website. High-quality content containing the language (the keywords) that your audience uses is a powerful force. Search engines like it, but just as important, humans like it. When people like your content, they share it on social media, creating backlinks to your website — and this contributes to the site’s Google rankings.

Get other websites and social media posts to link TO your site

Search engines favor websites which a lot of other sites link to, since that is a decent indicator of the value of the linked-to website. When the sites linking to yours have similar subject matter to yours, and/or are highly-ranked on the engines themselves, their link to you carries even more weight. So this is a strategy to pursue: seek out links to your website from others. Blogging can be a good way to achieve this, since an interesting, useful blog post naturally inspires people to mention it online. Social media links to your website are definitely valuable.

Google Plus

Participating on the social media platform Google Plus (“Google+”) helps with the Google ranking of websites associated with your name, not surprisingly. So those who are serious about promoting a website are advised to participate on Google Plus with an emphasis on providing excellent content in their own subject area. See the Resources List below for further reading on this topic.

WordPress SEO by Yoast, a quality free plugin

There are a couple of good, comprehensive SEO plugins for WordPress, but WordPress SEO by Yoast is widely considered to be the best — and it’s free. This single plugin allows you to easily take several important measures to improve your site’s search engine ranking, providing guidance and feedback on how effective your efforts are likely to be.

It comes with good instructions, and the author also offers an excellent free Definitive Guide to Higher Ranking for WordPress Websites which is well worth reading top to bottom as you work on optimizing your site with the plugin.

Allowing/preventing search engines from indexing your site

This is as basic as it gets: WordPress allows you to discourage search engines from listing your website with a setting. This is something you certainly don’t want to do when your site is live and you’re hoping for lots of traffic. But when a site is under development, but live on the Internet, this is probably exactly what you want.

This setting is found in the Admin Main Menu under Settings > Reading.

Typically, you’ll want to have this setting enabled (checked) if you are developing a website live on the Internet. Even if you’re not yet using the official domain name during the development process, if search engines list your site, people may stumble onto it and see your site in a half-finished state.

When your site is live and open to the public, assuming you want traffic via search engines, be sure to check this setting. It’s all too easy to leave it set to “discourage search engines” accidentally.

As WordPress notes underneath the setting, search engines can ignore this setting. A good search engine won’t ignore it; I’ve never seen Google ignore this setting. But keep this in mind; your content is definitely not completely safe from prying eyes simply by checking this setting.

SEO can get pretty involved

But even taking a few modest steps can bring good results. We hope that this basic information provides a good head-start for you in your efforts to promote your WordPress website on the search engines.