Optimizing the structure and layout of your WordPress site
URLS and permalink structure
You may have never given any URL you’ve visited a second thought, but when it comes to your WordPress site, permalink structure matters. For the absolute beginners out there, URL stands for uniform resource locator and it is the address you type into the browser’s address bar to take you to a specific site. A typical URL features a protocol, domain name, and top-level domain. For example https://www.yourwebsite.com.
Permalink is a combination of the words “permanent” and “link” and refers to URLs of pages of a WordPress site. There is a default setting for WordPress permalinks, but this can be changed in the backend, as well as in the text editor for individual posts. Before you publish any posts or pages, you should decide on a permalink structure for your URLs and stick to it, hence the “permanent” aspect. While permalinks can be changed later, this isn’t advised as you run the risk of diminishing traffic to your site if you don’t properly redirect to the new permalink.
There are six options for changing your permalink structure in the dashboard’s settings. These options include:
Day and Name;
Month and Name;
For most sites, post name or custom structure are the ideal options.
An example of how the plain setting would look is https://www.yourwebsite.com/?p=123. This reveals nothing about what this webpage is about. With the postname structure, the URL will contain the name of the post. Something along the lines of:
When it comes to the structure of permalinks, ones that are short, descriptive, and straightforward are conducive to better SERPS. It’s also best to avoid stop words, such as “and” and “the” in your permalinks. They’re not important and will only serve to lengthen the link unnecessarily.
An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate is what ensures the connection between a user’s computer and a website is encrypted. This is signified by an https prefix at the beginning of a web address, which you may have noticed before, even if you didn’t know what it meant. In the earlier days of the World Wide Web, SSL certificates were optional and largely used by e-commerce websites, banking sites, as well as myriad other sites where sensitive data, like financial information, was handed over.
These days, search Engines look for SSL certificates because online security and privacy is becoming more and more of concern. As such, a growing number of sites are getting SSL certified to give their audience added peace of mind. Therefore, getting an SSL certificate for your site is crucial for SEO; without an SSL certificate, your WordPress site won’t get indexed.
We’ve mentioned HTML a couple of times already and we’re going to touch on how it is used in relation to SEO. For those who aren’t in the know, HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, the standard coding language used to created web pages. With HTML, “tags” are used to introduce various structural or semantic elements to a web page; how the web page looks and what its elements convey.
Semantic elements communicate specific information about a web page’s content to the web browser. For example, when a browser comes across an H1 tag, which is a top-level heading, it will know to treat the information contained in that tag as the most important on the page. Other examples include the H2 tag, which indicates a second-level heading, and the <p> tag, which defines paragraphs on a page. The correct utilization of semantic markup is integral to SEO.
For both search engine crawlers and your audience, header tags are essential for distinguishing the content of individual pages. Headings inform crawlers of what kind of content you have, while aesthetically, breaking it up into sections, making it easier to read than a giant wall of text. On an HTML website, like your WordPress site, this is done with the aforementioned HTML header tags, which can be easily inserted to every page by the WordPress editor.
The following are the main header tags you will come across:
H1: This is the most important of all the header tags, as H1 signals what the most important text on a web page is. It comes second only to your page’s title in terms of what search engines look at. When someone searches for a certain phrase or keyword, search engines will examine the H1 text to determine whether or not it is relevant to their query.
H2: The second most used header tag, H2s are helpful subheads that can be used to divide the text into sections.
H3, H4, H5, H6: Lesser used, but still important, these subhead tags can be used to create additional sections within the H2 subheads on a WordPress post or page.
It is recommended that you only have one H1 per page, and it should be placed at the top of it. From a design standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with several H1s on a page, but it’s typically considered more effective to give precedence to one keyword or phrase rather than several, otherwise, their value will be diminished.
Breaking up the text in such a way that makes it more readable, which is also important when it comes to usability – another area search engines look at when determining how your page should rank.
The importance of categories
Categories and subcategories are key when it comes to properly structuring your WordPress website. Not only are they critical for good user experience, but they also provide another way for search engines to make sense of what your site is about.
Categories the content of your site into segments so that users can easily find the information they’re looking for. As such, categories should be limited and they should have a specific focus. Your website structure won’t be any easier to navigate if every single page or article has its own category.
Category archive pages can be just as important, if not more important, than individual posts and pages. According to Yoast, category pages are akin to landing pages. Resultantly, they should be used as an opportunity to emphasize the focus of your site to search engines.
This is why proper categorization is important. It is also why you should try stick to putting each new post in one category, if possible. Posting an article in more than one category means that it will appear in several category archive pages on your site, and it will also have more than one URL. Having the same content across multiple URLs could result in your site being penalized by search engines for having duplicate content.
You can avoid such penalization by limiting categories, or implementing a no index meta tag in a page’s HTML code, which informs search engines that you don’t want a duplicate page to be crawled. Many SEO plugins provide an option for you to no index a page easily.
Speaking of website navigation (for users and search engines alike), categories and subcategories that make sense are essential for good breadcrumbs.
Breadcrumb navigation, which usually appears near the top of a web page, indicates the path which users took to get to the current page they’re browsing, making them aware of where they are located within the website’s overall structure. It can look something along the lines of:
Home > Category > Subcategory > Post
As a more concrete example, let’s imagine you want to create a book review website. Your breadcrumbs might look something like:
Home > Book Reviews > Science Fiction Reviews > I, Robot Review.
Use tags sparingly
WordPress categories and tags are terms which are often used interchangeably, but they really shouldn’t.
According to WordPress, categories are intended for a “broad grouping of post topics”, while tags should be used to describe a post in more detail. Try to remember this when coming up with tags. The general rule of thumb is that if the term is already a category, then it shouldn’t be a tag too. Otherwise, there will be both a category page and a tag page with duplicate content, which will confuse search engines.
A sitemap is exactly what it sounds like: a map (generally in list form) which displays the layout of a website. While some websites still include sitemaps to help users navigate a site, we talk about sitemaps and SEO we’re most likely referring to XML sitemaps, which are a little more complicated, but important if you want to give search engines more specific information about your site and its URLs.
A type of extensible markup language (XML) document, an XML sitemap features the URLs of all the pages of your site, as well as further information, such as how these URLs relate to each other, and if and how often they have changed or been updated and when. Having an XML sitemap doesn’t mean that your site will be automatically indexed or ranked by SERPs, but it will give search engine crawlers access to every page on the site that they may not otherwise find if your site’s internal linking isn’t up to scratch.
XML sitemaps can be created through an online generator, while WordPress has a number of plugins that will do it for you.
Internal and external linking
The internal linking structure of your site is paramount to getting your WordPress website to rank. Search engine crawlers basically travel from web page to web page through hyperlinks, so if the pages on your site aren’t linked to each other, there is a chance they won’t be found.
Internal linking can be implemented through navigational links, including a list of related posts at the end of a page, as well as including links embedded in content. Furthermore, by including relevant, external links on your site, crawlers will also be able to determine how the content of your site and its individual pages relates to websites of a similar nature.