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Starting up my new SEO blog was an exercise in compromise. For once in my life, I decided not to obsess over the (super fun) details and instead moved straight to writing posts. I grabbed my domain, paid $10 to map a free WordPress blog to it, and slapped my social network icons in the sidebar.

wordpressI didn’t have the time to figure out hosting and plugins in addition to writing the content. I decided to focus on the things I had to have (content and a place to put it), and the things I could not change later (domain) without negative impact on the blog’s SEO. The rest (hosting, cool templates, control over SEO elements, plugins) can be added on or changed later after I’ve proven to myself that I have enough to write about.

In the process, I found a couple of important SEO elements missing in the free WordPress-hosted offering:

  1. No 301 Redirects: This is a biggie for SEO. WordPress does not 301 redirect when you move your blog. In addition, WordPress does not 301 redirect your blog’s subdomain to your mapped domain name. Example: http://jillkocher.wordpress.com 302 redirects to http://i-devs.com/~wpradmin/w. Consequently, if you want your blog to build link popularity & keep it, map it to a domain right from the start so that you can either keep the same URLs or control the 301 redirects yourself when you decide to move it later. Without the mapped domain, your content will either be stuck at the blog’s subdomain or will have to leave its link popularity behind when it moves.
  2. No Plugins. Plugins are not available when blogs are hosted at wordpress.com. You can’t modify your title tags or meta data, no sticky posts or other great SEO plugins for custom WordPress installations.
  3. No Google Webmaster Tools Verification. WordPress is working on it, but the former verification method is kaput.

And a couple of social media and usability elements are also missing:

  1. No JavaScript Support. WordPress’s free blogs only support HTML. Many of the cool plugins and widgets require JavaScript. Bummer.
  2. No Social Media Integration in the Templates. If you want to offer quick logos and links to share posts on Twitter or Digg or Facebook … you can’t. That requires JavaScript, or manual coding in every post. There’s also no quick way to list all your social profiles in your sidebar without manual HTML.

That said, WordPress does include some nifty features in the free version:

  1. XML Sitemap: WordPress creates an XML sitemap automatically, and makes it autodiscoverable on the robots.txt file it also generates automatically. Example: http://i-devs.com/~wpradmin/w/robots.txt links to http://i-devs.com/~wpradmin/w/sitemap.xml. Unfortunately you can’t modify these manually.
  2. Edit Post URIs + 301 Redirects: Bloggers can edit the default title-based URL while they’re in the post admin. Cool. Better yet, if you publish the post and then want to change the URI after it’s live, WordPress automatically 301 redirects the older versions of the URL to the latest version (even through multiple URL changes).
  3. 404 Errors. Deleting a post produces a hard 404 error on that URL, which will prompt deindexation if a URL has been indexed. Would be better to 301 redirect it to harvest any link popularity the URL may have collected, but at least it’s a 404 and not 200 that lives on forever cruftily.
  4. Tags & Categories: It’s nice to have the ability to create tags and categories for posts to easily create a navigational hierarchy. Be careful to choose wisely, though, so you don’t give prominence to non-valuable keywords & phrases. Similarly, don’t name both a tag & category the same thing or you’ll inadvertently set up competition for the same keyword phrase at different URLs.

One day soon I’ll start experimenting with a custom installation, but I’m still too excited about the prospect of playing with 301 redirects and CSS to allow myself to get distracted by it. There are a lot of other pros and cons to starting your blog on WordPress’s free platform, but these are the ones that made an impression on me.

What has made an impression on you?

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2 Comments on SEO Lessons Learned Launching My Free WordPress Blog

  1. DazzlinDonna says:

    There are far more cons than pros to using the .com version of WordPress. The *only* advantage is the fact that it’s free, so if you can squeeze out a little less than $100 per year for hosting at someplace like Hostgator (my fave), then a self-hosted blog is far, far preferable. Plus that $100 means you can host as many sites as you want, with no extra cost. I know times are tough, and every penny counts, but the downsides of the .com version are pretty stiff, imo.

    Remember: It’s all about control. Control everything you possibly can when it comes to *your* site, because if you don’t, someone else will – and that may not be in the best interests of your site.

  2. jillkocher says:

    Thanks Donna — you’re right! And I do love control…. I think I’ll make a custom installation my 25th post present to myself. I’d better get writing.

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