DIY SEO Part 6: Optimizing Search Engine Listings Using SEO Plugins for WordPress
Everyone wants their website to be well ranked in the search engines, but when a user does find you on Google, what do they see? If you haven’t asked this question yet, it’s time you do!
If you manage a website using WordPress and you’re at all concerned about your SEO, you should be using a plugin to help you optimize it. A good SEO plugin is a versatile tool, making basic functions simple and user friendly, but offering advanced optimization options for those who want to dig deeper.
There are a number of different plugins available for this purpose, but the two most popular and highly reviewed are All in One SEO Pack and WordPress SEO by Yoast. Both of these plugins are free, and though both offer premium (paid) versions with more complex features, both free versions offer more than enough functionality for the typical user.
Once you’ve installed and activated one of these plugins you’ll notice that each adds a menu option to your left-hand sidebar, either titled All in One SEO or simply SEO depending on which you chose. Clicking on that option will allow you to edit the functionality of the plugin, as well as the overall settings for your site.
When Someone Googles You, What Do They See?
One of the most important functions of these plugins – probably the main reason most users install them, and the function we’ll focus on right now – is that they allow you to easily edit the title and description that is shown in the results page when your site is found by a search engine. The main settings that are accessed by the All in One SEO item in your sidebar will allow you to edit that information for your site as a whole. In WordPress SEO (which is the slightly more complex of the two but, as a result, arguably more full featured) you’ll find these options under Titles & Metas / Home.
While you definitely want to start by optimizing these settings, it’s especially important to optimize the listings for the individual pages of your site. On the backend settings of each of your pages within WordPress you’ll now find a section with the plugin’s title underneath the main content area. Filling in the Title and Description fields will let you optimize what search engines see for each page.
If you’re not using a plugin or code to specifically determine what information is fed to search engines then what they pull may not be as tidy and descriptive as you’d like. You may want the title of your page to appear differently in a search engine listing than it does on your actual site for example, because you’re playing to a different audience. Someone who is already browsing your site will know that your Products page is going to be information about your company’s products, because they presumably already know whose website they are viewing. Someone who sees a search engine listing simply titled “Products” may need more information – you may want that title to instead appear something like this: “Products | Bruce’s Pretty Awesome Hammers.”
The description is important as well, and pay attention to the character limit! According to All in One SEO Pack, most search engines use a maximum of 160 characters for the description. If you don’t enter a description the listing will simply pull the first string of characters it finds from the content of that page. The introductory sentences of your page were probably not intended to be used as a super brief tagline and will seem out of context as a search engine results description. Also, that text will likely not come to the end of a sentence neatly at the correct character limit, causing your description to trail off mid-sentence with a “…” in the listing. It looks much better to have a brief, well-tailored description that is written for this purpose – and if that description manages to include a keyword or two, all the better!
You can also use the plugins to edit the listings for blog posts. While it may not be as crucial as optimizing your site’s pages, if you’re already taking the time and effort to blog then why not take an extra moment to make sure your post’s listing is neat and descriptive? Another benefit – the title and description you enter will also be shown in the preview if you share your post’s link on Facebook (which you should be doing!).
Of course you have control over the description you enter into your Facebook status update when you share your own link, but the preview will show automatically no matter who posts the link, so if others share your link your brief description of the site’s content will still appear.
Now that you’ve seen how neat and descriptive your listings can be, and how easy it is to optimize them, there’s no reason not to get started! Install one of these two plugins and optimize, optimize, optimize! And keep an eye out for future blog posts covering some of the myriad other things you can do with these versatile tools!