Five Ways to Screw Up Your WordPress SEO

As I’ve mentioned before, WordPress does a good job of laying the foundation for good search engine optimization right out of the box. Unfortunately, there are still ways for you to screw up your WordPress SEO if you fall for one of these traps:

Point your visitors in the proper direction1. Forget to properly set permalinks

This is WordPress setup 101 stuff, here. Don’t accept the default permalink of “domain.com/?p=123” when you can have “domain.com/post-name” instead. In the first example, search engines will generally ignore everything in the URL after the “?” character, while using the “post-name” in the second example as a ranking signal.

Similarly, don’t include the category in your permalink if you plan on assigned more than one category to any of your posts. This will lead to two different URLs with the same content, as in “domain.com/category1/post-name” and “domain.com/category2/post-name“.

2. Leave your comment permissions wide open

Don't let these bad comments ruin your WordPress experience

Who writes like this? Oh, and nice username…

I see many WordPress sites like this, and I cringe every time. You’d recognize them, too, even without having access to the admin panel. How? It’s easy – if you see a post with a bunch of crappy comments unrelated to the post with keyword-stuffed “usernames,” there you go.

Setting up your WordPress site this way WILL attract the worst crowd of spammers who will quickly drag your site down into the “bad neighborhood” status by association. That is not a place that you (or your blog) should be hanging out in…

My strong advice is to control your comments in some fashion – allow commenting without moderation if they already have one accepted, moderate all of them, or employ some third-party commenting system. (I’m not a big fan of linking in Facebook comments, because you have no control over them.) At the very least, set your comments to email you when WordPress accepts one, so you don’t get blindsided by spammers.

These boots were made for kicking your ass, if you make any of these SEO mistakes!

These boots were made for kicking your ass, if you make any of these SEO mistakes!

3. Use bad image names

Image search is as valuable a source of traffic as web search, and in many cases it’s easier to rank well there. Unfortunately, too many webmasters miss out on the opportunity to rank well in image search by using the default image names from their cameras. What image filename do you think will rank better, “DSC1029″ or “My black cowboy boots”?

Take the opportunity to change your crappy unhelpful image names to something more reflective of what they are. While you’re at it, don’t forget to include some descriptive text in the “alternate text” field in your WordPress media library too. This will also help your sight-impaired visitors who may not be able to see your images but (because of your smart use of the Alt tag and filename) will know what the images are about. Just be sure not to overdo it, or you’ll run afoul of item #5 below.

4. Use the wrong privacy setting

Stop screwing up your WordPress privacy settingsWordPress by default is set to allow search engines to index your site. Sometimes when we are working on sites we might change that to “Ask search engines not to index this site” for whatever reason. If you do this, don’t forget to CHANGE IT BACK. Otherwise, search engines that choose to respect your wishes will pass you by and you’ll never rank for anything.

This goes double for messing with the .htaccess file, for those of you who feel comfortable enough to do so. If you edit yours to tell search bots to “go scratch,” you’d better change it back if you ever want any search engine love.

5. Over-optimize your site

Don't write content like you're a foreign exchange student.

Don’t write content like you’re a foreign exchange student.

Lately Google has decided that some webmasters are doing too much to optimize their sites. They object to the overuse of keywords in the content, the overuse of exact-match keywords in anchor text, and other such tactics that many SEOs still employ.

For WordPress site owners, you can avoid this by varying your anchor text when interlinking your pages, and when requesting links from others. Maybe the biggest thing, though, is to try extra hard to craft good content. Too many sites have poorly-written blog posts that you can tell from reading are just excuses to repeat the same keyword over and over. They look like they were written by a 4th grade student or a foreign-exchanger who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of English just yet.

Write your content naturally, and let the keywords fall where they may. If you can’t write, then hire someone who can and focus your time on the things you can do well.


As I said, WordPress has great out-of-the-box SEO potential. Make sure you don’t do anything to squash that box, and your blog will flourish in the search engine results.


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