10th August 2010 at 9:00 am by Dave Cain
Summary: There are merits to using WordPress – it takes care of a lot of your SEO. But if you’re about to make the choice, read this article and make sure it’s really the right option for you.
Without doubt, WordPress makes many SEO tasks easy. Using brilliant plug ins like All in One SEO pack, you can type up your posts in a nice WYSIWYG editor, set your own titles, descriptions and keywords, tag and categorise your posts and use permalinks to get a benefit from having your keywords in the URL for each article. So why wouldn’t you want it?
Google is very good at recognising that your website is using the WordPress platform. Have a try, type ‘angel seo’ into Google and look at the menu options you get on the left of your screen. Click ‘More’ and you’ll see ‘Blogs’. Click ‘Blogs’ and you’ll see a list of blogs, including several of ours (Angel SEO uses WordPress for its knowledge base and for a number of its blogs – our main site is HTML/CSS). The blogs in Google’s ‘blogs’ results nearly all run WordPress. We’ve found that, no matter how much you strip down WordPress, no matter how much you tinker with how your content is displayed, Google seems to know that it’s a blogging platform.
Is that a bad thing? It can be. Because Google knows you’re using WordPress and sees WordPress as a blogging platform, it’s our theory that Google expects you to update your site like a blog. That means fresh, relevant and unique content 2-3 times a week. If content isn’t kept up to date, Google pushes the site down in the rankings. So in my view, WordPress is fine if you’re happy to update your site that often.
Testing the theory
I used two websites – one built with WordPress and one coded with HTML / CSS. Both sites were created with targeting the same niche in mind. Both had very similar content, although unique to each site. All of my SEO work was done the same. Both sites were launched at the same time, set up with analytics using separate accounts. I did a small amount of link building, obtaining the same quality links, and using the same categories etc.
Both sites were ranked by Google and achieved a 3rd page ranking fairly quickly for the target terms. One site (the HTML/CSS site) was a couple of positions above the other. I didn’t update either site. After a short period of time, the WordPress site started to fall out of the rankings. The other site coded in HTML/CSS stayed where it was. This, in my view, really supports the theory that Google expects you to update your WordPress site as regularly as a blog.
A website rebuild
Julia T BettsAnother example of cleanly coded HTML/CSS triumphing WordPress comes from looking at the work I did for a client recently. Julia Betts Solicitors is a friendly, established law firm in Ravenshead, Nottingham. Their old site was created using the WordPress platform. They were targetting the term ’solicitors nottingham’ but were not ranked anywhere for it at all.
I created a new site, lovingly crafted in absolutely perfect HTML/CSS and created very much with speed in mind. Following the launch it went straight in at page 5 for ’solicitors nottingham’. Now admittedly the home page content did change, all the other pages staying the same, but I’m not convinced that my changes to the home page (knowing what they were) were the reason for the change in rankings.
I recently did an interview with SEO expert Rand Fishkin, who stated that WordPress was decent enough in terms of it doing a lot of the work for you.
Rand said: “Wordpress is a great CMS platform for SEO because it does, like Matt Cutts likes to say, it gets 90% of the on page SEO optimisation done for you – I don’t think it’s quite that high, at least not the default installation, but there are lots of plug ins and ways you can mess with it and mock it up so it does do things very correctly”.
“The thing that I don’t like about WordPress, is what it doesn’t do, unless you do a lot of layers of customisation, and do essentially all of the work you would to build your own platform… strip it down and rebuild it from the ground up, do lots of great design things, blah blah blah, just the standard kind of content or WordPress in the standard form, the content in there looks very normal, plain and not very linkworthy, and so I like customisation”.
To be effective, you have to really strip down WordPress to its bare bones. By the time you’re finished hacking it to pieces, practically to the stage where you’ve created your own platform – you might as well write a clean coded site using HTML/CSS.
Large content sites
What about a large amount of content? Wouldn’t WordPress be better for that? Certainly some sort of database driven solution is preferable when your site is likely to run over 50 pages or so. WordPress does certainly give you the advantage with large content sites. But consider that the drop in rankings I was talking about results from not updating your site as regularly as a blog. If you’re asking me about a large content site, I’m guessing you update it regularly, in which case a stripped down version of WordPress would be great for you.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that Google does rank sites with custom designs better than those that use templates. How does it know? I think it’s because the styles are usually named generically and it’s really easy to tell if they’re a template from that. So if you’re using a WordPress template and stripping it down, I recommend you rename the styles with your own names, even if it’s as simple as giving them a new prefix.