If you want to succeed in the blogosphere, you're going to need traffic -- and lots of it!
With over six billion searches each day on Google alone, it's little surprise that a good chunk of your audience will initially find your website via the search engines.
Improving your position in the SERPs is a great way to increase the number of new visitors to your site -- unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
For those of you looking to bolster your SEO performance, here are five actionable SEO tricks for WordPress users and the five free plugins that make implementing them a doddle.
1. On-Page Optimisation: WordPress SEO by Yoast
The first place to focus your SEO efforts is on-page optimisation.
Look at it this way: If the search engines don't know what your content is about, it's not going to feature strongly on the SERPs, is it? Your on-page optimisation gives the search engines a helping-hand, allowing them to better understand the topic your content covers.
The best plugin for on-page optimisation, in my opinion, is WordPress SEO by Yoast. This plugin allows you to tweak all aspects of your on-page optimisation to your heart's content.
Get started by setting your SEO title and meta description, which gives you full control over how your content appears in the SERPs. This allows you to write two titles for each piece of content you publish: one for humans and a separate one for search engines -- the former brings you clicks, the latter brings you rankings.
You can also enter your target keyword and the plugin will work out your keyword density, as well as giving you a checklist of things to consider. Inexperienced SEOs will find this very useful, helping them get to grips with SEO best practices.
A really great all-round SEO plugin that every website will benefit from.
2. Load Speed: W3 Total Cache
Don't care how quickly your page loads? Well, you should.
Not only does a faster loading time provide a better user experience, but it's also a component of SEO.
When you think about this, it makes a lot of sense: Google wants websites that offer the best user-experience so that it can provide the best possible service for its own users -- high-quality, relevant content is the major piece of the puzzle, but quick loading times also play a part.
The primary reason for a slow load time is too many plugins -- I know, I know, ironic on a blog post recommending plugins, right?
In general, WordPress plugins are great: they provide functions for your websites that would otherwise be unattainable to the coding-illiterate, like me.
The important thing is to use them in moderation. Ask yourself, does the benefits of this particular plugin outweigh the impact on my load speed? If not, it has to go.
If, after stripping back all of your unessential plugins, you're still struggling with load speed, consider a caching plugin, like W3 Total Cache.
The plugin works by displaying a static HTML file to the majority of your visitors, rather than a resource-intensive PHP page. Don't worry if all this sounds confusing, the important thing is that it will speed up your page's load time significantly.
3. User-Generated Content: Disqus
In general, your blog's comments section is great; comments help you build a loyal community, interact with your audience, get user feedback, and they even provide you with new ideas for fresh content.
They also play a role in your blog's SEO strategy, in two major ways.
First, your comments -- known as user-generated content -- are included when the search engines crawl your website, making them a valid part of your website's content. This means they can actually help you rank for your targeted keywords. The nature of your comments gives Google a better understanding of what your content is about. In fact, it's possible your site could rank for long-tail phrases not used in the body content, purely because they were mentioned in the comments section!
Second, comments tell the search engines that the users on your site are engaged. Remember, Google wants to rank only the best websites, so if they see your comments section in regular use, they'll assume your readers like what they see, rewarding you with a well-deserved rankings boost.
Of course, WordPress comes with its very own commenting system as default. While this system does its job, to really maximise your SEO performance, you'll want something that offers a little more.
Personally, I'd be looking to go with the Disqus commenting system.
Not only does Disqus look great on your site, but it gives visitors several options to log in -- through WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or even through an account on Disqus itself. This means there is one less obstacle getting in the way of a visitor leaving a comment.
Disqus also has an inbuilt ratings system, giving users an extra incentive to leave comments and, better still, good comments -- exactly what you want.
4. Verified Authorship: AuthorSure
In 2012, Google unveiled a groundbreaking new feature: Google Authorship.
In short, this allowed you to verify ownership of the content you publish by syncing it up with your Google+ account.
In an instant, content ownership debates were a thing of the past, but Google Authorship also brought with it something more interesting: a new element to SEO.
Google believes that verified content -- content an author was willing to stake his reputation on -- would be of a higher quality, rewarding it with a ranking boost and an author image in the SERPs, proven to improve CTRs.
More than this, it allowed authors to build up their "rank" in the same way a website build pagerank; in the past, a brand new website with very few backlinks would struggle to rank for competitive keywords, whereas a popular blog could jump straight to the top of the SERPs. If an established blogger were to write a piece for the new website, would this content not be just as deserving and relevant as if it had been published on the popular blog?
To maximise your SEO performance, Google Authorship is a must.
You can set it up manually, but, as with most things on WordPress, there's a plugin to make life easier. Be sure to download the AuthorSure plugin, and go to their website for installation instructions, as well as loads of other stuff related to Google Authorship.
5. Efficient Indexing: Google XML Sitemap
It may be the least glamorous tip here but it's just as important as the others: you need to make sure you have a working sitemap. After all, how are you going to rank your content if the search engines don't know it exists?
When the search engines crawl your website, a good sitemap shows them how your site is structured, allowing them to get in all the nooks and crannies to index everything. If your content isn't indexed, it won't appear in the SERPs.
While the majority of websites will eventually get indexed by themselves, generating your own sitemap just streamlines the process.
The best plugin for this is the Google XML Sitemap -- with over 13 million downloads, it seems most WordPress users agree.
Beyond generating sitemaps, the plugin also notifies the search engines the moment you publish new content, helping your fresh content get ranked faster. Perfect.
If you're looking to improve the SEO performance of your website, these five plugins will help you address the most significant problems you have. If you want some quick wins, addressing these issues is a good place to start.
Now, we want to hear from you; if we've missed a free WordPress SEO plugin that you wouldn't be without, let us know in the comment section below.