The Power of the Post: Optimizing WordPress Posts
Have you noticed how within seconds after making a WordPress post it becomes cached and indexed by Google? Other pages may seem to take forever to win attention from search engines. Why does the post seem to carry more weight than other page types? Is it by design or just purely accidental?
Previously, I argued that the post is the most powerful page type in WordPress because:
- Posts can be designed to target a very specific set of keywords.
- Posts scale. You can only have one home page but an infinite number of posts.
- WordPress uses update services that send a XMLRPC ping each time a post updates.
Where does the power come from?
The origin of the WordPress post has its roots in an old literary tradition: the diary. History gives many examples of this personal, chronological and sometimes secret way of recording memorable events, experiences and thoughts by way of hand-written entries. Anne Frank could have written her famous diary from a laptop with Internet access to her WordPress website.
In the early days of blogging before Twitter and Facebook were conceived, writers who were coming online sought a way to digitally log their feelings and share them with anyone curious enough to read their opinions. At the time, some of us were trying to accomplish this by simply creating a static HTML page for each day’s entry. We were blogging before it was called “blogging.” The obvious limitations of scalability and features destined static blogging to fail as demand for web “log” software like WordPress began exploding.
Single author weblogs that allowed broadcasting of personal opinions and the ability for anyone with Internet access to engage with a blogger became very popular. You might say this was the golden age of blogging. Anyone could create a blog and be heard. Some have noted with sadness the disappearance of single author blogs from modern day Google search results.
The WordPress post has served bloggers well and remains the dominant page type for making article entries. What makes a post, a post? Some important attributes are:
- User-determined title – you control this by putting in whatever you want in the title field to be the title of your post.
- User-determined content – the body or substance of your post.
- Published date – WordPress keeps track of the date you publish your post. Most themes display this date for users to see.
- Author – every post must be assigned to a user.
- Comments – most bloggers choose to leave comments turned on to encourage engagement on posts. Pages are the only other default page type that can have comments.
- RSS feed – each time you make a post, it pops into the RSS feed so anyone subscribing to the feed will be able to receive the latest post. Google gets the latest post and indexes it after being notified via XMLRPC immediately after a post is published. Other page types don’t get this benefit.
- Tag assignment – tags help organize posts by words the author inputs into the post.
- Category assignment – categories help organize posts by topic.
- Archives – posts are grouped chronologically by default.
WordPress post vs. other page types
Unless you’re doing something unorthodox with WordPress, you will want your post to rank over other pages in Google. Users want to see posts and WordPress is all about the post. In fact, almost all other page types are geared toward supporting the post because they contain preview snippets and links pointing back to the individual post. This is especially true for content sites and blogs that publish regularly. Exceptions to this would be:
- Landing pages or informational pages. Some sites may consist of only a few WordPress “Page” pages with the goal of showcasing a company or product to gain prominence in search results.
- Home page. If you have a domain name that reflects a competitive generic keyword phrase or brand name, you may prefer visitors to arrive on the home page instead of individual posts. Another example would be resume/business card sites may consist of only one page that showcase an individual.
- Category pages. If you are using WordPress for ecommerce, you may want categories or subcategories to rank for big subjects. I’ve done this with certain sites before with mixed results. A coupon site for example, where I wanted individual brands and their coupon related phrases to rank instead of the posts (which contained the same info as the category pages but were too thin for an individual page).
It’s up to you to engineer your WordPress internal linking structure so that search engines understand what your most important pages are.
As powerful as the post can be, Google and Bing may stubbornly rank other pages instead of posts. Besides special custom page types coded into some WordPress themes, there are 6 WordPress page types that can compete with your post. Think about each of these page types and how they appear in your WordPress theme.
If search engines are unsure about where to send a query but they trust your site as an authoritative source, the home page may rank in search results. You may not mind or as mentioned, you may want your home page to rank. The important thing is that your posts retain the ability to rank for their keyword phrase. If they don’t always themselves rank they are at least supporting your home page.
If you have links to pages appearing in a sitewide menu, the emphasis can make them outperform your older evergreen posts that have been pushed to the back of the line in your WordPress theme. This can be more of a problem when you consolidate pages like About, Contact, Legal, etc into one strong page.
Category and tag pages
Categories or tags are the great Ginger/Mary Ann question of WordPress. As a user, the only sites I can think of that I ever want to use tags on are Flickr and WordPress.org, both sites where large amounts of very specific searches are likely to occur. Most websites don’t need both tags and categories because they will inevitably overlap, creating duplicate content that force search engines to choose between them. Unless you will forever have one category, “website” for example, don’t worry about tag pages. The most workable strategy normally is to roll up and relate your posts to a small group of high-level subjects as categories. Who visits any website because of the categories?
Author pages usually show a preview snippet and link to the author’s most recent posts. These are easy to customize in WordPress. To avoid duplicating this content on other pages, I try and make author pages as unique as possible with strong bio and social info for each author. I also remove the text of the preview snippets and leave just the links to the authors’ posts.
Pages created by pagination from categories, tags or archives are some of the most undesirable pages to have appear in search results. I never want users to arrive on page 4 of an “Older Posts / Newer Posts” page. The best way to stop these pages from wrongly competing with posts is to deploy the rel=”next” and “rel=”prev” meta data as prescribed by Google to identify pages in a series.
Tricks to get your posts to rank
Sending a clear signal to search engines that your posts need to be the page type that ranks can make a difference in your WordPress website’s search performance. Consider which among your posts should rank when they compete with each other. Do you want to emphasize related posts over others? Newest posts? Popular posts? Evergreen posts? Posts within certain categories? All this and more can be accomplished with plugins and widgets from the WordPress Plugins directory.
Here are some additional ways to shore up your posts for search engine consumption:
Noindex competing pages via robots.txt or meta tags
The leading WordPress plugins like All in One SEO Pack or Yoast SEO allow you to control these elements. There may be some page types, archives for example, that you never want to show users or search engines. In such cases you can use your SEO plugin to allow search engines to crawl these page types but prevent them from being indexed altogether. Setting up your own custom robots.txt file to eliminate indexation of any page types you want is also an option, although a bit more heavy-handed of an approach.
XML sitemap priority setting
A little-talked about feature of Google XML sitemaps is the ability to designate a priority setting for each URL (item) that tells search engines which URL you prefer in relation to others. Often the home page is given the highest priority. Consider giving posts a higher priority than the other page types in your SEO plugin or XML sitemap plugin.
Dealing with pagination
Use pagination best practices or consider eliminating pagination altogether. If you plan to have categories that hold less than say, fifty posts for the foreseeable future and site speed is not an issue, then you don’t really need this feature. Users can scroll instead of clicking to another page.
External inbound links
If you write great posts, let’s hope others recognize this by linking to your post from one of their own great posts. If others are linking into your posts, it’s a sure sign of worthiness to search engines.
When you’re planning your website’s structure, remember the historic power of the post. Try and enhance your posts through internal linking. Take advantage of plugins, widgets or custom coding to emphasize your most valuable posts to users and search engines.