Whatever your niche, the key is to be individual, and to stand out from the crowd. With all the thousands of new WordPress themes out there, it seems as though sites are becoming a little standardized, with new sites being created in hours instead of weeks – it’s important that your website looks like some serious time and effort has been put into it and it doesn’t look like every other cut and paste job out there. When building your website with WordPress, your main objective should be to build a site that is seamless, wordpress should simply be the platform on which you manage your content, it should not lead the design and layout of your site. Here are a few tips, for helping you achieve this.
1. Pay attention to your Sidebar
The WordPress side bar is present in nearly every single WordPress based website, and for me the term “sidebar” is a little misleading. The WordPress sidebar area doesn’t need to be in the sidebar, it can form part of your footer, header or any other content space on your website where features will consistently appear across different areas of your site.
Think about the content in the sidebar area, don’t just include the standard blogroll, categories and archives pages – be creative. Think about the content of your site and add useful meaningful sidebar widgets that help the user navigate your site and discover all that great content. Feature a specific post or guide, add a video, post a feed, link to your social networks or add a site search.
2. Set up your permalinks and custom URL structure.
I typically use /%category%/%postname%/ which displays the titles of my posts and the category in which they are posted nicely, getting rid of the user and search engine unfriendly post IDs. If you intend your posts and articles to be listed in Google news you may wish to include the post ID at the end as Google News requires a unique number at the end of each post in order to be aggregated.
Setting up your permalinks might seem like a complete no brainer, but time and time again I see CMS sites using the standard ugly URLs.
3. Download and Install the SEO Ultimate plug-in
This plug in should form part of the standard list of plug-ins you use with every single WordPress site you build. The plug in lets you easily create useful relevant meta content for each individual post, post category and page and comes with a whole host of other technical options that you can spend hours tweaking and testing the results. WordPress by default inserts Meta data into each post, but so much of the time it ends up being duplicated for each post – this is bad news for SEO, and what’s more if your posts are unique, then so should their meta content be!
SEO Ultimate Plugin on WordPress.org
4. Use Tags & the tag cloud appropriately
Tags and tag clouds are considered by many to be very “web 2.0”, the way in which tag clouds are used is a real pet peeve of mine – so often I see WordPress sites where someone has posted hundreds of useless tags to the post which are then shown in the site’s tag cloud. The concept of a tag cloud is great, and when they first appeared they were a nice way to help users find posts about a subject they were interested in. My advice is to use tag clouds appropriately, look over your post tags and filter out the rubbish, consider the top 1 or 2 keywords or subjects covered in that post and use those as your tags. Additionally make sure you don’t have two tags in different posts that mean the same thing -0 if you’ve used “web design” as a tag in one post, don’t use “website design” in another. Your tag cloud should truly reflect the content of your website, it’s a summary of all the subjects and key points covered during the time in which your site has been online – so make sure it counts.
5. Use the “Nice Search” plug-in
Relating back to the reasoning behind updating permalinks, the Nice search plug-in allows you to replace the typical WordPress search string “?s=my%20search” to a nicer looking, more SEO friendly version – “/search/my+search.htm”
Nice Search Plugin
6. Use CSS instead of Images where possible
Of course you need to use images for your website, but use them appropriately, if you can achieve the same effect with CSS then do it; it’s faster and friendlier to users on mobile devices or really slow connections. Depending on who you’re targeting, you may also which to consider using CSS3 to create some of the effects on your website, but check which browsers and versions will be able to cope with your CSS3 selectors.
7. Track your website with Google Analytics
Track your website with Google Analytics. It’s completely free and very comprehensive, though not 100% accurate; Google Analytics will give you some incredible insight into your website and its conversion. Use Google Analytics to monitor the impact of any changes you make, check the bounce rate and other user behaviour metrics, and use annotations to mark key changes you have made.
I realise some of these tips may be stating the obvious, but it’s imperative to get the foundations right before moving forward, otherwise your website will crumble under it’s own weight. There’s plenty of good reason to become a WordPress web design expert, there’s lots of WordPress Jobs out there that many people make a very good living out of, and if you’re not looking to become a professional WordPress designer, follow these tips where appropriate and make your own WordPress website awesome! Your readers will thank you for it by coming back time and time again and Google will reward you for it by giving your site more exposure!