Wordpress is meant to be easy, but what about when it isn’t? We’ve heard it all before, so hear it from a pro, because Wordpress can be easy, but good Wordpress rarely is.
Every week, my job as Senior Content Manager and SEO Specialist at M&a provides me with fodder for the old grumbling journo and publisher bones that I have. There are good days and there are bad days, and the latter usually turns up when a client paraphrases one or all of the following:
We used Wordpress because it has good SEO! Wordpress is easy! Wordpress is fun! We like Wordpress because it offered everything under the one banner!
There is a pillow on my desk that I use to scream in from time to time. I’m sure it looks mad to the other lovely co-workers at the company, but given who I am, I’m sure it surprises no one. The pillow’s name is “Mr. Muffles” because he muffles the screams of an expert who seems to hear the same shtick over and over again.
To calm myself, I try and recall the positive things. My wife, my child, my dogs, my spiritual home of New Orleans. And when that doesn’t work, Mr. Muffles hears from me.
Seriously, I’m 33, and I shouldn’t be this angry. I shouldn’t need a pillow, and I damn sure shouldn’t be naming him. It. It is what I meant. I shouldn’t be naming it.
And yet the approach of numerous organisations to how their online presence should be handled and how their search ranking is talked about makes me feel that Mr. Muffles will endure my screaming for time to come.
Can we talk about this, clients of the world? Can we talk about Wordpress, because I feel we should be having a two-way communication, not a one-way with a pillow in between?
Wordpress is easy
Let’s start with the most common one: “Wordpress is easy”.
If I had a nickel for every time I’d heard this over the past year, I probably wouldn’t have to work quite so often (except for that the Australian dollar is good at the moment, so that’s probably a lie).
There aren’t many people who will argue in favour of Wordpress as often as I do, outside of the fine folks that own it, Automattic. I’ve used it for well over a decade to build some amazing things, some less amazing things, and to manage publications.
Wordpress is without doubt one of the best content management systems out there, offering solid coding, flexibility, and ease of use, However, “ease of use” isn’t necessarily the same as “easy”, and if you mistake the two, you’re going to get yourself a schooling.
Beware, brother beware, because while it is relatively easy to install, operate, and maintain a Wordpress site, if you are not an expert, your work won’t amount to much more than a website that people visit, rather than a website Google actually cares about.
Ultimately there are a lot of things that everyone says are easy, but require some semblance of skill for. Making ceviche is easy if you know how to do it, but if you don’t, you’re left with lemonade and sushi. Close, but no cigar, or even a spot of dinner.
Wordpress is good for SEO
Without doubt, Wordpress is one of the best platforms to make SEO easier to manage, but it’s not one that lets you work with a “set and forget” mentality. In fact, I’d say that needs to be avoided with the entire field of search optimisation. There are just too many variables.
By itself, Wordpress doesn’t really offer much search visibility. Fortunately, there are numerous plugin extensions made to factor this in. Yoast is the most popular, but most SEO plugins do the same thing, offering a way to revamp your content in a way that Google and your audience will pay attention best.
But you can’t just install the plugin and disappear, expecting it to do all the work. So many times, that’s what I’m seeing, and it comes back to that feeling of Wordpress being easy.
Almost like an advertisement from the 50s, you can hear an announcer shouting “Just set and forget, it’s that easy!” Except it’s not, and if you install a plugin and automatically assume Wordpress will do everything, you have another thing coming, and it’s damn sure not good SEO.
Random fact: "SEO" offers about the worst word-score possible in Scrabble. Fortunately, it can do better things for your business.
When Wordpress is both easy and good for SEO
Wordpress can be easy and great for search when it is handled appropriately, but that’s the very point: it needs to be handled properly. Often these people are called “power users” or “admins”, but they actually have to know something about what they’re doing.
I cannot stress this enough. The main Wordpress install and themes will not have the goods needed to make any site just suddenly stand out.
You need to control the posts individually, setting titles and descriptions not just for the page, but also for search. They need to have socially-optimised variables, and they need tags and categories all set up nicely. You can even automate some of this, but much of what makes for good SEO happens on the content side of things, so while a Wordpress pro can make Wordpress SEO shine, they can’t make it hit goals unless the copy is good to begin with.
I cannot stress enough that Wordpress sites focused on getting the best search results need to think of the whole sandwich, not just the bread or meat.
It’s a complicated thing, and if you think “free” is going to get you solid results, you desperately need to think seriously about what you want: a free CMS can help, but unless you pay for the expert to come in and do their thing, your site will pay in other ways.
About the Author
Leigh Stark is M&a's Senior Content Manager and SEO Specialist, responsible for being the company's go-to guy on all things Google, search, and content. A technology journalist before joining M&a, his expertise runs across fields, and his work can be seen across TV, radio, online, and print, and in publications such as Popular Science and The Australian Financial Review, as well as his own website Pickr.com.au.Follow on Twitter More Content by Leigh Stark