I’ve been working and developing themes for WordPress for many years. While it’s a great content management system it’s not perfect, and I’ve picked up a few simple tips over the years which could really help keep your WordPress website lean and SEO friendly. You might be surprised how simple they are.
1. Bad Word! Bad!
A lot of people like to compose inside an application like Word (or Pages, Libre Office etc), then paste the finished text into WordPress. While Word might be a great tool for writing letters, it is badly suited to the web. Take a look at the following screenshot which shows a block of text which was copied from Word and pasted directly into the WordPress editor, versus a block of text composed right inside WordPress without going from Word: You can see the code on the right is much more concise, and has valid and semantic markup, with no weird junk. Those more technical among you might point out that both versions of the generated code will actually render despite a few font differences and inconsistencies here and there, so who cares right, it works so what’s the big problem? Well I could go on about how having clean code is good for the web, how it benefits users with accessibility problems, or how it will help future-proof your site and make redesigns easier, but I’ll just focus on the one big benefit which affects the bottom line for your website, SEO. When Google and other search engines index your website, they like to see valid, semantic HTML code that they can understand, so keeping things clean and semantic will increase the value of your pages to them. But if you should avoid composing in a text editor like Word, what’s the alternative?
2. Don’t be Draft!
So how should you go about composing drafts and ideas if you can’t use an application like Word? Well there’s no prizes on offer here as you already use it, WordPress! Simply compose directly inside the WordPress editor and save posts as drafts until you’re ready to publish. Simple. If working directly inside WordPress doesn’t suit you, you could instead just use a plain text editor like Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on Mac (make sure you are in plain text mode not rich text mode) and style things later when you bring it into WordPress. Or if you’re the adventurous type, invest a little time to learn Markdown. Markdown is a simple markup language for the web and is now natively supported if you install the Jetpack plugin from WordPress.
With so many bloggers on the web it can be difficult to stand out. You can and should give your articles an extra boost, as well as gain some additional SEO benefits, by adding Google+ Authorship to your posts. There are several ways to go about this in WordPress but I recommend using the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast. When you have linked your Google+ account in your profile you’ll soon start to see results appear like this in Google Search results: A comprehensive guide has been written up by Susan Walsh over at elSue which shows you the steps you need to take. Note: while you’re at it, make sure you’ve linked up your Facebook and Twitter as well inside your profile.
4. Become a plugin minimalist
At the time of writing there are more than 30,000 plugins available for WordPress. This is an astounding feat and accomplishment for the WordPress platform. As tempting it is to go out and download hundreds of plugins, you should instead practice some discipline and try to keep your plugin count to a minimum. Simply sticking to as few plugins as possible is a bit of an over simplification of the problem (it is really a question of quality) but if you want to keep things simple, just stick by the philosophy that less is more in WordPress world. It’s not that plugins are bad (they often serve as essential extensions to your website) but they often come with baggage, and sometimes cause major issues for your website. You will soon find things get messy with a lot of plugins installed, and in my experience trying to figure out which plugin is causing what issue and why can be a real headache.
Why you should care
Two of the most important concerns you should have are in respect to performance and security. Plugins often add in a lot of extra scripts and code which needs to be run at every page load. Whilst one or two plugins doing this should be reasonably OK, if you have 20 plugins all adding their own scripts and stylesheets this will add up and slow down your website to the detriment of your users and search engine results (you will get penalised for having a slow website). Plugins are also often not vetted as for example the WordPress core is itself, so for every plugin you add you also increase the potential attack surface.
Choosing the right plugins
Of course there are some plugins which I simply could not live without, and for those times where you do need a plugin there are a few best practices to go about choosing a high quality one. The first thing to remember is to only download from the official WordPress plugin repository unless you are 100% sure of the plugins origin and quality. Secondly, check the last time the plugin was updated, if it was 2 years ago then it is either abandoned or rarely updated so you’ll want to avoid it. Thirdly, see how many downloads there are for the plugin, if there are only 5 downloads then you’ll likely want to move on, but if there are thousands then you should have some confidence this is a popular and widely used plugin. You should make sure you read the description, and if the author has gone to the trouble of adding a banner picture on the WordPress plugin page this is a good sign they care about the plugin. Read any reviews to see if there have been issues reported by users and if they were fixed/addressed by the plugin maintainer. Stars are somewhat helpful, but they don’t seem to get enough numbers to really make a difference. Finally, use your common sense, if the plugin seems to be nothing but a pitch for a “super premium version” then you might think about how much functionality this plugin is really going to offer you and look elsewhere. If the description is full of typos or very sparse on details, this could be another alarm bell.
5. More Widgets aren’t always a good thing!
If you suffer from a temptation to add widget after widget to your sidebar, maybe it’s time for a rethink. Calendars, News Tickers, Asteroids Widgets, yes they’re all available to add to your sidebar, but do you really want to treat this prime area of your website like a dumping ground? Remember point 3, less is more, avoid the temptation and ask yourself if that widget is really necessary to your visitors user experience, or would they rather have seen a cleaner site with less distractions and smaller page sizes? Save your users eyes and your bandwidth by keeping widget counts to a minimum.
What do you think?
I’m always on the lookout for more WordPress tips and tricks, leave yours below in the comments.