WordPress is one of the most popular tools for building websites due to its flexibility and adaptability. But the ability to have such control and freedom within WordPress often leads to some pretty common SEO mistakes.
Most of these mistakes aren’t fatal but the longer you go without addressing them, the more embedded the problem can become.
Following great SEO guidance for setting up or modifying your WordPress website can have a significant impact on traffic from search engines. So it’s important to get right!
We are an SEO agency so we see these common WordPress mistakes on a very regular basis. That’s why we’ve decided to highlight them in this article and discuss how you should handle them to get the best results for your site.
1. Not Setting a Permalink Structure
Permalinks set the global format for how your post URLs are laid out. Whilst many people ignore them, they can be hugely beneficial for SEO.
This is because they can help to define a coherent site structure, enable you to prioritise parts of the URL that matter most, and make them user friendly.
One of the biggest issues we see with permalinks is the usage of dates, archives and unnecessary numbers.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are circumstances where dates can be useful – if you’re a large news website for example. And using categories in the URLs can be a good tactic in some scenarios (see tags & categories). But for 90% of WordPress users, the best approach is to use the ‘Custom Structure’ option where your postname directly follows the domain.
This is because it allows your keywords to take prominence and encourages a clean, simple structure.
The other recommended solution is simply to use the archive of ‘Blog’ or ‘News’ within the URL structure for posts.
Most of the time there is little need to use various categories in URLs, but we’ll come on to that point next.
2. Using Categories & Tags Incorrectly
One of the biggest WordPress mistakes we see is the relentless usage of categories and tags with no discernable strategy.
So many website owners will write a post and then add hundreds of tags or categories for anything they can think of. The incorrect assumption is that these tags act as keywords, they don’t.
In fact, a page is created for every single tag and category, and if they are not being properly populated then there will be hundreds of thin pages that are near duplicates of other tag or category pages.
Tags and categories can be useful if there is a clear structure and plan for using them.
Here’s our advice on when to use categories and tags on your website.
Once you read and understand this advice, it’s important to devise a strategy that utilises it well. That strategy should be employed whenever you go to categorise or tag a new post.
WordPress Categories Best Practice
Categories should exist as broad sub themes of the overall niche and where the long term strategy is to fill all of these categories.
There should also be no crossover between categories, each post should predominantly be in one or the other (exceptions to this rule should be rare).
For example, a website about vehicles could have categories for:
WordPress Tags Best Practices
Conversely, tags are primarily used for user experience where there are multiple crossovers and where the tag is very specific to certain attributes.
For example, a food blog may utilise tags for various ingredients or diets so that users can easily click to find other recipes that share that tag.
The solution requires significant interpretation about the strategy of the website. What should be a tag for many websites will be a category for others because that forms a major part of the niche.
The reason categories and tags can be confusing really is because there is no yes or no answer, an understanding and interpretation is necessary. If you are struggling to figure out the appropriate category and tag issue for your website, feel free to get in touch to discuss how we can help you.
3. Having Too Many Plugins & Themes
Many clients come to us with sites that have been grown over many years, leading to somewhat of a messy setup that can lead to issues with user experience.
One of the reasons WordPress is great is because there are plugins for everything and themes that remove the need to build everything yourself from scratch.
However, too many of both can add significant weight to your website and result in slow loading times for the user.
Plugins can also conflict with one another as well as your theme, causing styling issues, functionality issues and user experience issues.
For themes that you are not using, simply go in and delete them. Under Appearance > Themes, you can see all of the themes you have downloaded and you need to click into each one to delete them.
Plugins are a slightly different kettle of fish.
The first step is to delete all plugins that are deactivated and not in use.
Next, go through each of your plugins and assess how much you really need them. If you have a whole plugin just for one cosmetic feature, consider whether you really need the plugin.
The final step is the difficult part but the rewards can be significant.
Write a list of all of the features that your plugins offer your site that you would like to keep. You can exclude core site plugins like Elementor and Yoast as these are fairly irreplaceable.
What you should be left with is a list of plugins that provide simple fixes like:
- Adding sidebars
- Adding popups or banners
- Code assistants (like inserting Google Analytics code)
- Adding recent posts
- Styling elements
And many more. The solution is for these simple functionalities to be coded into your website, utilising minimal code and getting rid of heavy plugins.
You will need the support of developers to do this but it will help you to build a much more stable, faster loading website less vulnerable to errors.
4. Focusing Too Much on Yoast
We often have people get in touch and say that their website is underperforming but they have green lights on Yoast for all of the metrics.
Now Yoast is a really great tool for SEO. It has excellent features for setting sitewide directives and the Yoast box on posts is really handy for setting meta descriptions and social sharing.
However it is important to understand that Yoast is not the all-seeing God of SEO.
SEO is much more nuanced than meeting a simple checklist, and there are many factors that are just too interpretive for a piece of software to understand.
One of the biggest criticisms of Yoast is that it focuses too much on the “Focus keyword” and keyword density. Whilst these can be a nice reminder to double check your content, they can also be a distraction to writing the type of great content that users love and subsequently search engines love too.
Say for example you are to do keyword research for a local plumbing business and you find that the top searched keyword is “plumber London”. You don’t need me to tell you that this exact match search term doesn’t make much grammatical sense.
However, in order to satisfy the Yoast Gods you would need to insert that exact match keyword into your H1, paragraph copy (multiple times) and other headings. This is the reason we get so many poor quality pages on the internet that say things like “If you’re looking for a plumber London…”. And headers like “Best Plumber London”.
Really this text should diversify that keyword and use terms that make grammatical sense like “plumber in London”, “plumber based in London” and “London plumbers”.
Are search engines smart enough to understand that these terms match the search of “plumber London”?
Is Yoast smart enough to understand that?
So it’s important to be very careful to take Yoast recommendations with a hearty pinch of salt.
5. Leaving Comments Open to Spam
Blog comment spam is a big problem.
Many spammers still erroneously believe in the power of backlinks from commenting on blogs. And if you already have an established website you will be very familiar!
An unmoderated WordPress website can be a real sight for sore eyes. Hundreds of notifications in the CMS and each post covered in comments from people promoting all manner of bizarre, unrelated websites.
It’s important to remember that, whilst Google can understand which section of the page is the comments, it still factors in that content when ranking it in search results.
That’s why having lots of great, relevant comments can be incredibly valuable.
But conversely, having tonnes of spammy comments can be detrimental.
How to Handle Post Comments
There are 2 options for handling comments on your blog posts. The first is simply to turn them off and the second is to hold comments for moderation.
You can do this by going to Settings > Discussion and you will be presented with this:
It’s easy to uncheck “Allow people to submit comments on new posts” to turn off commenting for future articles. However, you will need to manually edit past posts to turn off comments.
This enables you to keep commenting open for only posts you wish, but it can be tiresome having to go back through each post to change this setting.
You can also use this section to set moderation rules so that you can filter out the spam.
6. Not Handling Media & Attachment URLs
When we crawl large WordPress websites, a common issue is that there are thousands of pages that solely have an image and no other content.
This is because the site owner has downloaded Yoast and left the setting for Media & Attachment URLs to create a page for each image uploaded.
Images can be a priceless asset for bringing in traffic when optimised well (see image optimisation), so handling this section is important for image SEO.
It is super simple to fix within Yoast. Simply set the option of “Redirect attachment URLs to the attachment itself” as ‘Yes’.
7. Not Creating & Submitting an XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap is a dynamic list of URLs on your site that is in a stripped back format used by search engines to assist with crawling your site.
It’s not mandatory, but it’s very helpful for presenting to Google exactly what your site looks like and new pages you’ve built or removed. It can also be effective for maximising crawl budget.
Again, Yoast is great at handling XML sitemaps but there are many other great plugins available that can build a dynamic sitemap for you.
It is then important to submit this sitemap to Google Search Console which is an option in the left hand menu.
8. Not Tweaking Content Regularly
Unless most of your content is sitting happily at the top of the SERPs for your target keywords, the chances are you need to be tweaking your content until it is.
It’s rare to be able to publish a page and have it shoot to a top ranking position with no additional effort. Instead, it’s best practice to monitor performance, track competitor pages and glean insights to keep improving your pages until you get there.
One of the biggest mistakes website owners make is to set and forget.
But you can turn poor or average performing pages into high performing pages by:
- Using Google Search Console data to analyse keywords the content is ranking for.
- Using Google Analytics to find pages with high bounce rates, exit rates & low time-on-page. (Read more about using Google Analytics for SEO).
- Analysing the search results for your target keywords and finding commonalities or trends in top performing pages.
- Using keyword research tools to find related search terms or better target keywords.
- Optimising your header structure (see Header Best Practices).
- Optimising images on the page (see next point).
- Tweaking your meta title and H1.
- Utilising internal and external linking.
The list of potential tweaks you can make goes on.
The key takeaway is that if you’re not updating your content, your competitors likely are. This means you can likely expect to see a gradual decline in ranking positions as posts become outdated.
9. Not Optimising Images
WordPress offers incredible functionalities for images and it’s your job to take advantage of it.
Every image you use on a page adds additional context that search engines can use to determine the value of the page.
As such, here are some image optimisation methods you can employ when building new pages:
- Add descriptive but concise alt text that accurately describes the image
- Resize to below 150kb
- Add an image title and brief caption
- Include keywords in the image filename before uploading
- Use images that are relevant to the content
So there you have it. 9 common WordPress SEO mistakes to avoid and all the know-how for fixing them.
It can often be a learning curve, but getting WordPress really working for your SEO can make a significant difference to your traffic and income.
If you would like to find out how we can optimise your WordPress site for organic search, feel free to get in touch. We’d be happy to hear from you.