A couple of notes. First off, my personal coaching program has room for three more students. As a member, you can ask me unlimited questions, one question at a time, which I will answer. This is a great opportunity to be mentored by me, personally.
Second, one of my students in my personal coaching program, asked: “Michel, I'm starting a blog using WordPress. Do you have any general tips on things like layout, plugins, design, etc?”
In my last article, I talked about the fact that I don't spend much time on search engine optimization (SEO). However, I didn't want to convey the idea that SEO doesn't work. It certainly does.
One website my wife and I launched late last year went to #3 in Google for a very generic keyword in just 5 days, and finally reached #1 in just 9 days. So SEO does work. In fact, it was a content site using WordPress as the content management system (CMS).
How did I accomplish this? I do use several plugins and WordPress as a CMS, even for non-blogs, because its built-in SEO and pinging functions do help a lot, without much effort. (That's why I don't spend much time on SEO!)
But let me give you my quick list.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list. However, some of these basic tips can be immediately applied to your website to help you get yours up to speed in very little time.
If you don't use a blog as a way to deliver your content, even for a regular website, I recommend it highly. My friend Andy Beard often speaks of using a blog — particularly WordPress — as a CMS for regular websites, and I completely agree.
(My flagship site at The Success Doctor, Inc., is completely WordPress-driven, and it's not even a blog.)
Other than its SEOish features, there are many other benefits — posting new pages and content in a snap, templatized process throughout the entire site for consistency, user-friendly administration panel, and more.
As for layouts, here are some tips:
Place Sidebar On The Right
For blogs, put your sidebar on the right. There are three reasons for this:
- It opens up the left-hand side for creating eye gravity (i.e., the “golden triangle” section, which eyetracking studies show people read first, is a perfect place to put important content or calls to action, including AdSense ads for greater clickthrough ratios).
- People read from the left, but they scan from the right. I've found that putting the sidebar on the right attracts more response than the left. (But on regular, non-blog sites, sometimes the left is best. I'm still testing this.)
- The last reason is, and unless you're a cascading stylesheet professional who knows how to position your content, the main content is on the left and read first by the search engines.
Focus On The Topmost Section
The uppermost section of your website (the first screen that appears the moment you land on a site), which is often called the “above the fold” section, is the most important part of your website. Things like main headline, calls-to-action, opt-in forms, etc are best placed there.
In fact, always add an email form for people to subscribe to your site, and an RSS link for people to subscribe to your blog, in this section — especially at the topmost portion of the sidebar.
Encourage Email Subscriptions
Ask for people to subscribe to your site (in the case of a blog, offer them to subscribe to your feed and even to an email list, to be notified of new content). Make sure it's prominent, particularly in the topmost portion of your sidebar, for example.
Also, put an RSS feed link, an email opt-in form, and, in the case of blogs, social bookmarking links on every page and following every post. Bottom line, encourage at every possible chance for people to subscribe to your website somehow — particularly to join your email list.
(If you use an autoresponder service like GetResponse or Aweber, they also have RSS notification services, too. Or you can use Feeburner.com‘s native email subscription form, or FeedBlitz.com. For example, I use the autoresponder's blog auto-notification feature.)
“Iconize” Your Pages/Posts
Add an avatar or icon to your post or page — one that represents something related to the content. Make sure the avatar is linked to the page or the whole post, as a lot of people click on the picture. (I've tested this with CrazyEgg.com, and 45% of clickthroughs come from people clicking on the avatars themselves.)
Some people iconize their pages and even their categories (or website sections), which helps readability and encourages navigation. For example, take a look at the main page of my flagship site, and you'll notice icons for every major section in the website.
To automatically justify the avatars (such as in the top, leftmost section of a page or post), use CSS to do this. In the Kubrick design (which is the base template I design my own themes from, and the default theme that comes with WordPress), it has the following classes:
You can copy these from the default theme's stylesheet file (in the presentation section of the admin panel), to the stylesheet file of the theme you use. You then simply add the CSS class “alignleft” to the image tag in your page or post's code. For example:
img src="whatever.jpg" class="alignleft"
Install These 15 Plugins
Plugins are files you simply upload to your WordPress' plugin folder, and activate within your admin panel. That's all there is to it — although some plugins do require a bit of tweaking of your template's code.
I use quite a few plugins with my blogs. To list them all here would take a lot more space than I wish to take. So let me list the few that are really important.
I've linked to their location, although some may be outdated. To find the latest ones, simply Google these names, along with the keywords “WordPess plugin,” and you should easily find them. (You can also check out the plugin database or WordPress' new plugin directory.)
This plugin customizes the HTML title tags, and reverses tag order for SEO purposes. For example, rather than the default “Blog Name | Blog Post Title,” you can have “Blog Post Title | Blog Name,” where keywords are included in the title.
(It's a known protocol that search engines pay closer attention to the earliest appearance of keywords in tags. That's why it's important to have keyword-rich titles appear first in the title tag.)
There are too many benefits of Ultimate Tag Warrior to list here. For now, just note that the main purpose is to assign keywords to your page or post, making them easier to search, as well as creating additional pages for the search engines to crawl, thus increasing your visibility.
Creating an extensible markup language (XML) sitemap for Google, you encourage the crawler to visit all your pages. To you and me, this page means relatively nothing. But to Google (and now the protocol is also accepted by MSN and Yahoo), this page is very meaningful.
Look at it as a shortcut of sorts for the search engines, and a beacon for them to know what they can crawl and index. Also, the plugin updates your sitemap at specified intervals, and automatically “pings” Google each time, especially when new content is added — telling them your site it ready to be crawled again.
4. Ultimate Tag Google Sitemap Add-On
This plugin is self-explanatory. It adds tag pages created by Ultimate Tag Warrior to your Google Sitemap, thereby adding more pages to be crawled. Look at it this way: this plugin helps to make your Ultimate Tag Warrior and Google Sitemap Generator work together.
This one adds links to related posts at the end of each post, which is good to encourage both crawlability and deeper reading within your blog. You can also do this with Ultimate Tag Warrior, by the way. But I prefer Related Posts because of the next plugin.
6. Add Related Posts to Feed
By using this plugin, you add links to related posts to your RSS feeds, too. Again, the beauty of these plugins is to encourage deeper navigation, reading, and linking. In the case of RSS feeds, blog search engines and directories — like Technorati, for instance — can more easily find and crawl other pages on your site via your feeds.
Speaking of encouraging deeper reading, by adding this plugin you also have the ability to track which posts or pages get the most traffic, readership, and return visitors. You can also use it to list them, so people can see the most popular posts on your blog in a snap.
Meta-tags are pieces of code in the header section of your HTML code, which are readable by some search engines. There are many meta-tag plugins for WordPress. I use Autometa, particularly for meta keywords. This plugin creates meta-tags automatically for you.
(But if you want more control over your keyword meta-tag, you can use Ultimate Tag Warrior instead. If so, then for the description meta-tag, you can use the Head Description Tag plugin.)
With this plugin, I can easily add Google AdSense ads to every post, page, sidebar, and more. But in spite of its name, the plugin also allows you to add any code, graphic, or piece of content, in specified blocks, to your blog — and not just ads.
10. Semiologic's DoFollow
I described the beauty — and my reasoning — for using this plugin in a previous post about dumping the default nofollow attribute. It's partly for increasing crawlability, especially internally, and partly for rewarding commentators to my blog.
One of the many reasons why WordPress is such a great content delivery system is certainly because of its native pinging process. That is, when you post a new entry, page, or article, it automatically pings a variety of search engines and directories. PingFix simply enhances this feature.
One of the most important things you can do to your blog, as mentioned earlier, is to encourage people to return to it as much as possible. This requires in large part the addition of email opt-in forms and RSS feeds.
But this plugin notifies by email your blog's commentators of new comments within a thread in which they have participated. By encouraging conversations within your blog, you are also increasing greater keyword density to your posts and pages that are indexed.
(You wouldn't believe how much traffic I get because of some keywords included within the comments' section of my blog. The more comments you get, the greater the keyword density, and the greater the exposure will be.)
These two plugins are incredibly important, and I've placed them together for a very important reason.
Search engines sometimes do not recognize different URLs (website addresses) as being the same when different protocols are used to access them. For example, to you and me, the following URLs are the same and all lead to the same page:
But to the search engines, however, these URLs represent six different web pages. If people link to several of these pages, your pagerank will suffer as a result of what is commonly referred to as “pagerank bleeding.” Also, it may cause your pages to be flagged for duplicate content, thereby being unnecessarily penalized.
The above plugins solve this problem by redirecting users — and search engines — to one, single URL. (With Permalink Redirect, you can also redirect your blog's native feed URL to third-party services like Feedburner.com.)
We talked about email forms and RSS feeds. In addition, this plugin adds links to social bookmarking and networking sites for quick, one-click use. You can add them to every post and page, and even on other parts of your blog such as the sidebar.
If someone has an account with any of these popular social linking services, like Digg, del.icio.us, MyYahooWeb, Netscape, Reddit, Furl, StumbleUpon, and more, they simply need to click on a link to instantly add the page or post to their account, and share them with the rest of the world.
(Aside from encouraging link popularity, crawlability, and traffic, this plugin also uses icons to make them easier to spot and use by the readers of your blog. For me, Digg, del.icio.us, and Technorati are definitely must-haves.)
I think that's about it (that's coming to my mind right now). Admittedly, there are quite a few other plugins in use, and I may list more of them at a later time. But these are definitely the most important ones on my list.
Hopefully, this will help you. And keep in mind, this a reprint of an answer I gave a coaching student, and the kind of answers I give with my personal coaching program.
If you want to be part of my mentoring club, join now while the three available spots — and the low price — are still available. I'm sure that these spots will be taken before the end of the day. So I urge you to act quickly.
I'll leave you with a question. What plugins do YOU use that have created visible results with your blog? Please add them in the comments below.