If you run one of the 70 million websites built with WordPress, you are likely concerned about SEO, and overwhelmed by your options. These days, there is no shortage of plugins built to assist with SEO and social sharing, but it’s hard to find the gems in a sea of the top SEO plugins. Read on for advice on which are truly helpful in boosting your search engine efforts!

WordPress SEO Basics

Before you start installing a plethora of plugins, you’ll want to tackle a few basic SEO tasks on your WordPress site. These are must-haves for Google-friendly sites, and are a great place to start your strategy.

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1) Map Out Your Site’s Structure

All you need to create an easy to follow site flowchart is a great MindMap tool. Mind42 makes an excellent one, and it’s totally free too. The tool will help you create a site guide that compartmentalizes navigation sections and lets you see a snapshot of the entire flow.

2) Setup Your Permanent URL Structure

First, set your preferred permalinks format in the WordPress settings; you’ll have several options to choose from, but none are completely SEO friendly. To rectify this, download the WP No Category Plugin, which will then remove the <word>/category sections of your URLs. This makes them clean, concise, and keyword rich.

3) Specify Which Folders Can and Cannot Be Crawled

Chances are there will be sections of your site that you would rather not allow search engines access to. To manage this process, create a Robots.txt file in the top-level directory of your site. For full instructions on how to add one to your site, visit the ‘Robots.txt how-to guide’ ( robotstxt.html). Once created, you can specify any folders that search engines will thereby ignore, and keep others from spying on this private content as well. It’s also a great solution for hiding duplicate content. Don’t forget that users can still access the pages through the direct URL.

4) Create a Sitemap

Many of the tools listed below will help you quickly generate a sitemap. When this is complete, don’t forget to submit it to Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools as a request to start crawling your content.

The Best WordPress SEO Plugins

1) SEO Ultimate

This puppy is a meta data powerhouse, with access to controls for descriptions and keywords, Google Webmaster Verification, and integration with Google Analytics. If you have a lot of pages with separate titles, Ultimate will help you manage all this data with ease.

2) Local Search SEO Contact Page

Perfect for those just beginning their quest for great SEO, Local Search allows you to add all business information to your site’s contact page, and will also include an embedded Google map, which links to your Google+ Local account.

3) WordPress by Yoast

Yoast helps determine what your current SEO score is, and in tandem, lets you monitor the areas that require some improvement. Yoast will let you know if your keywords are missing from title and H1 tags, and looks at your content and metadata too. This tool is rumored to be the most-used WordPress SEO plugin, and for good reason. It assists in setting up XML sitemaps, helps you map out all title and description templates, and truly enables you to stay on top of all the SEO must-do’s. If you only have one SEO plugin, this should be it. It’s regularly updated too, which is a big bonus.

Top SEO-Friendly Image and Content Tools

1) SEO Friendly Images

This plugin does exactly what you’d expect – ensures all your images have alt attributes, title tags and all other relevant search engine data. There’s also a premium version that unlocks a myriad SEO features, like XML sitemap generators and custom settings.

2) SEO Content Control

If you’ve got a lot of content on your site, you need this tool to help you identify the weakest links. Options for SEO Content Control include viewing a list of all pages/posts that have lackluster (too short) text, missing meta data, and missing keywords.

Must-Have Analytics Plugins

1) SEO Rank Reporter

Rank Reporter is an awesome tool that allows you to monitor your Google ranking through your WordPress dashboard, and it’s updated every three days. This plugin will help you assess if and when more SEO improvements are needed. When your ranking slips, you can use the other tools to identify why this may have occurred, and then set out to address each one.

2) Google Analyticator

If you’re a fan of Google Analytics, download this plugin now and integrate the data directly into your WordPress dashboard. You’ll be able to view your top performing pages, referrers, and keywords, among many other invaluable metrics.

Top-Notch Social Plugins

1) Sociable

Sociable is a superior sharing plugin that is jam-packed with customization options. It features an excellent default setup, with the options to use all your own personal icons and images. It’s super easy to connect to most WordPress themes, and makes your social sites immediately accessible to your users.

2) Social Media Tabs

This one is a unique plugin that allows you to add a social media widget to your site in a tabbed format, showing data from your major social sites. It currently supports Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Flickr, and RSS.

You are now armed with a gaggle of excellent, functional and easy-to-use WordPress SEO tools. Go forth and enjoy your increased rankings!