Review of 13 Must-Have WordPress SEO plugins in 2016
Optimizing a website for higher rankings on search engines takes time, patience, and most of all, a keen sense of ‘where’ to direct the efforts.
Search Engine Optimization is a subtle science/art, something that was looked over in the race to stuff as many ‘relevant keywords’ as you possibly can in a post. But now that practices like those are outdated (and penalized), optimizing titles/meta tags is also equivalent of barely scratching the surface.
To delve deeper and get better, here are 13 plugins, split in 6 major categories that would help refine SEO on a WordPress website.
“Active Installs” are taken from WordPress Plugin Repository and refer to number of websites that still have the plugin installed (Good indicator of code quality, and not causing compatibility issues)
“Live Websites” numbers are exact figures taken from Builtwith. These stats are only available for highly-popular plugins. All of the following plugins are routinely updated by their developers (at the time of writing). Always read through the plugin description thoroughly before installing it.
Performance: P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler)
Plugin Authors: GoDaddy.com, Kurt Payne, and asink
Usage Stats: Over 100,000 active installs
Why you need this plugin:
Site load speed (performance) is a significant factor in determining SERP (Search Engine Results Page) ranking. The faster the better: for both SEO and User Experience. Since indiscriminately installing plugins can be the reason behind your unwanted page-bloat, P3 is necessary.
P3 is a plugin analyzer/debugging tool. Once you install and run it, it’ll test all plugins on your WordPress website for their load times. It creates a report of all plugins and their performance to help you understand how they are individually affecting your site’s load speeds.
The scanner generates some traffic to test your plugins’ performance and counts the total number of database queries being sent per page. Keep in mind that database queries are also affected by other elements on the page (like theme functions) so this may not be entirely reliable metric.
If you are one of those people who are tempted by every plugin they see, P3 is a must.
Broken Links: Broken Link Checker
Plugin Author: Vladimir Prelovac (CEO, ManageWP)
Usage Stats: Over 400,000 active installs
Why you need this plugin:
Broken Links (“404 Error”) stop search engine crawlers in their tracks. So if your pages or some elements on your pages are returning 404 Errors, the content on those pages/elements is not being crawled, i.e., registered in the eyes of search bots. Basically, a URL problem can keep your content in the dark.
Broken Link Checker scans all posts, pages, comments, bookmarks, etc. for their links. Once it has listed them all, it goes through each one to find out non-functional links, redirects, and missing images.
It has features that let you deal with them as you please: remove, hide (from crawlers), or fix.
SEO Suites: Various
The following plugins come with an arsenal of features, all aimed at improving SEO. These are comprehensive tools. Read the documentation and feature-list for each and select the one which you think fits your needs and skills the best.
Keep in mind that most of these are Premium plugins (with free versions available on WordPress directory for download). The authors do not provide support on WordPress plugins/hacks forum for these plugins until you upgrade to pro or pay for support separately (they say that clearly on the plugin pages!).
This was a thorn on a lot of negative-reviewers’ sides, and you should make an informed decision before berating the developer with a similar complaint.
All in One SEO Pack
Plugin Author: Michael Torbert and Steve Mortiboy (of Semper Fi Web Design)
Price: Free-mium (Pro version available for sale currently at $39, usually sold at $79, Support sold separately on subscription basis starting with $10/month)
Usage Stats: Over 1 million active installs (1,899,237 live websites)
As you can guess by the name, this one is really quite comprehensive, and that’s just the free version.
All in One SEO is a clean, no-nonsense SEO toolkit built to generate XML sitemaps, meta tags, and auto optimized titles, support optimization on custom post types, canonical URLs, navigational links configuration, support eCommerce on WordPress (with built-in Nonce security, because they paid attention to details), etc.
The pro version (usually sold at $79) is worth its salt and twice as capable as the free version with advanced custom post type options, video XML sitemaps, WordPress taxonomy SEO feature, and an even tighter control over individual SEO configuration for each page/post.
I would personally recommend this plugin to professional SEO wizards everywhere. It causes fewer disruptions in workflow due to compatibility issues (compared to other SEO plugins out there), is very cleanly coded, and packs no unnecessary bloat through frilly UI (see: ‘no-nonsense toolkit’ above). SEO-newbies may need some getting used to this plugin to be able to use it to its maximum capacity, which is quite something.
Plugin Author: Joost De Valk (Founder, Yoast)
Price: Free-mium (Premium version, including support, starting at $69/year for single site)
Usage Stats: Over 1 million active installs (1,594,732 live websites)
WordPress SEO by Yoast is one of the few legendary plugins that cross a million-user mark due to an extensive feature-list capable of multi-tasking. Despite the fan-rage over Version 3 and subsequent upgrades, Yoast SEO continues to hold firm on its popularity. What began as a great free plugin is now the foundation of a million-dollar business.
Developer’s inspirational story aside, the plugin has every feature necessary to make SEO easier for neophytes and intermediate-level optimizers. For not-so-tech-savvy users, the plugin encourages creation of more search-friendly, relevant content (text and media alike). Technical aspects include XML sitemaps, meta elements, access to .htaccess and robots.txt files, RSS optimization, the handy breadcrumbs, import-settings-from-previous-SEO-plugin feature, and multisite compatibility.
It’s a hassle-free, easy SEO tool. The free version is relatively easy to use, and there are plenty of resources available online for this particular plugin’s usage and troubleshooting. The premium version has redirect manager and multiple focus keywords, and paid extensions like News SEO and Video SEO etc. are available for a more complete optimization.
Plugin Author: Jeffrey L. Smith, John, and Alexander Djuric
Price: Free-mium (Plus version, including support, starting at $49/year for single site)
Usage Stats: Over 200,000 active installs
Out-of-the-box, this plugin packs some very powerful features. What it does, it does them beautifully. What I like about the plugin is a different style of feature-categorization, which may bounce right off some newbies’ heads, but will delight professionals.
SEO Ultimate lets you optimize title tags and meta description. It has a ‘Deeplink Juggernaut’ which basically contains URL, interlinking (with Silo linking available), anchor text, footer links, link import/export via CSV, and every setting you could wish for to do with links. It has some detailed fixtures for social output (tabbed under Open Graph Integrator), Author Highlighter to insert your bloggers’ Google profiles in their writer profiles on the site and more, Rich Snippet creator, link masking (hiding irrelevant or other sections of website from search bots), import/export-settings-from/to-previous/another-SEO-plugin, etc. and every other feature you could get in a free SEO plugin.
The Ultimate+ version pays even better attention to social share outputs and your links’ excerpts/appearance on SERP, with additional features for power users.
SEO Smart Links
Plugin Author: Vladimir Prelovac (author of Broken Link Checker mentioned earlier)
Price: Free-mium (Premium versions, including support, starting at $149/3months (for personal use) and $299/year (for personal and clients’ websites) for unlimited sites)
Usage Stats: Over 100,000 active installs
Note: The free version of this plugin hasn’t been updated in a year and supports only up to WordPress version 4.1. The premium version is kept recently updated and supports Version 4.4.
With that said, SEO Smart Links is a clever plugin.
The plugin “suits both beginner users (with a plugin & play philosophy with optimal options pre-set) as well as those proficient in the art of SEO with numerous customizable features.” With the extensive list of features, that certainly makes it a plus for SEO-newbies.
The premium plugin takes care of automatic interlinking, lets you process RSS feeds, makes nofollow easy to add and manage with whitelist, has separate settings just for ‘how’ to open links (external window, tab, etc.), and works with “an enhanced content parsing algorithm” which supposedly makes your content more clearly visible and relevant to search bots, link masking, redirects, UTF-8 and inbuilt caching (to counterbalance performance issues many users complained of in the previous versions of this plugin), supports multisite, and shows stats and reports to give you insight into the efficiency of your SEO efforts.
If you were to go for this plugin, my advice would be to go straight for the premium since the free version is feature-crippled and largely pointless (especially to a professional).
Greg's High Performance SEO
Plugin Author: Greg Mulhauser (Altruistic WordPress Plugin Developer)
Usage Stats: Over 20,000 active installs
Greg’s High Performance SEO supposedly isn’t really meant for high-traffic or large database websites, since a lot of features you would probably want in a SEO suite are lacking in this one. Nonetheless, the good doctor (yeah, no kidding; He is one) did a really nice job on this plugin and continues to update it routinely.
The plugin comes without any promotional material for the developer/company so Hallelujah to that. It gets severely upset and alerts you to presence of output buffering hacks via conflict checker (could be caused by other plugins on your site and may mess up your SEO tweaks’ intended outcome), supports settings/tags-import from legacy (and some popular) SEO plugins, and gives you total control over titles, keywords, canonical URLs, robots.txt, paged comments, duplicate content, and basically most content-centric SEO features you would need.
With over a 100 settings that can be configured separately for individual page types, this is a thorough plugin and it’s a shame not more people have used it. It’s clean, lightweight, plays well with other plugins/themes, even has a 6k-words long ‘user manual’ inside the package, and is perfect for blogs, portfolios, etc.
SEO by SQUIRRLY™
Plugin Author: Calin Vingan and Florin Muresan (of Squirrly.co)
Price: Feature-crippled free version (Pro and Agency versions, including support, starting at $20-76/month)
Usage Stats: Over 10,000 active installs
Squirrly’s only useful in Pro version, so we’ll talk about that. It also calls itself “a plugin for non-SEO experts” which is very apt.
SEO by Squirrly focuses largely on content optimization and analysis, and the plugin does it very nicely, so bloggers and content marketers will find it very user-friendly and extremely useful. Features include keyword research and weekly site audits (for up to 100 pages/month on Pro, 500/month on Agency), Rich Snippets, multisite sitemaps and icons, social media integration, and a really helpful interface (SEO Live Assistant) to expedite relevant/SEO-friendly-content-creation process.
As far as Analytics go, the plugin tracks Google Rank, Social shares, inbound links, and page authority.
It’s easy (and rather delightful) to use and work with.
Site Map: WP Sitemap Page
Plugin Author: Tony Archambeau (Altruistic WordPress Plugin Developer)
Usage Stats: Over 100,000 active installs
Why you need this plugin:
Site-Maps are exactly what they say on the tin. They give site users and search-bots a bird’s eye view over your site’s navigation and content hierarchy. Keep in mind that this plugin only generates HTML sitemaps (which are for user’s eyes only), and doesn’t directly amp up your SEO scores. But the sitemaps it generates helps your users see where they need to go to find what they are looking for. Eventually HTML sitemaps (are a necessity for SEO scores) help boost UX, which is a win-win.
WP Sitemap Page does not generate an XML sitemap, the one which actually ‘speaks’ to the crawl-bots. But that’s not the point of this plugin.
This plugin generates an HTML sitemap page automatically and saves you the hassle of creating and updating one yourself.
Other SEO-enhancing plugins: Various
All 404 Redirect to Homepage
Plugin Author: Fakhri Alsadi (Altruistic WordPress Plugin Developer)
Usage Stats: Over 60,000 active installs
When 404 Error pages are in fact your fault (because you forgot to fix the permalinks settings after a theme change, maybe… Just an example), this plugin helps you out.
It’s simple really. All 404 Redirect to Homepage will redirect all 404 error pages to, you guessed it, Homepage, via a more SEO-friendly 301 redirect. That’s just the name. You can actually set the redirect link in the plugin settings to whatever you want (maybe a recent/popular posts or the HTML sitemap… Just a thought)
It’s a lightweight, clean plugin, kept updated to be compatible with latest WordPress version. It’s a simple, sweat-free solution to a problem that could get out of hand pretty quickly, SEO-wise.
WordPress Related Posts
Plugin Author: Zemanta Inc.
Usage Stats: Over 40,000 active installs
While WordPress Related Posts does what it advertises (adds related posts right in the footer of your content), it also lets you add in-text links to your articles with ease (‘handpicking’) from the rest of the web (think of these as ‘citations’ like in Wikipedia), lending authenticity and credibility to your content.
The plugin has internal caching, so performance lags aren’t as common in this plugin as others would believe (it has a test-bed plugin named ‘Related Posts’ also by Zemanta, where users have complained about the performance issues on larger database). It’s extremely customizable and lightweight, so integration with your theme wouldn’t be painful.
For bloggers and content-based websites where keeping the visitor engaged for the longest time period is the primary ‘conversion’ goal, this is the plugin.
All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets
Plugin Author: Nitin Yawalkar and Sujay (of BrainstormForce.com)
Usage Stats: Over 30,000 active installs
Schema.org is still under-used in SEO and WordPress still doesn’t have this feature built-in (especially considering its flexibility with post types). I blame the complicated-looking descriptions for schema markup in Google.
The reason why they can be a veritable goldmine for content marketers and bloggers is that Schema.org lets you provide content to search bots in a way that shows up exactly as relevantly as you intended it to be for a keyword search. Simply put: it shows search results from it shows search results from your website in the best/ most relevant light. This is how I see it: Putting books (your content) in the correct places in a library so librarians (search bots) can find it in quick-time.
Since the feature is not yet included in the core so that the WYSIWYG editor would stop messing it up, writers either have to work in HTML specifically (what’s the point of WordPress if you were going to do this anyway) or resort to plugins. One such asset is All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets.
This plugin supports Schema.org markup for post types used for Reviews (Items, with star-based ratings), Events, People (Great for community platforms built on WordPress), Products (eCommerce), Recipes, Software/Apps/Video Games, and Articles; covering most of the content genres published on the internet.
It’s super easy to use and lets you test the SERP output of your page’s links. Why it’s not used by more bloggers is baffling.
Social Media: Mashshare
Plugin Author: René Hermenau (of WP-Staging)
Price: Feature-crippled free version (Extensible with add-ons available individually and in bundles starting at €39/year for one site)
Usage Stats: Over 30,000 active installs (7,422 live websites)
It integrates with All-in-One SEO pack and WordPress SEO by Yoast! You also get only 3 buttons (mail, Facebook, Twitter) for free and must get add-ons for the rest, which they take care to mention on their page in WordPress repository but still get complains for (because people have a nice handy TL; DR excuse ready)
This plugin gives you social media icons in a, and I quote, “a highly customizable ecosystem for social sharing and optimizing of your content.”
The first thing you notice about the plugin is that it’s really fast. Test it in P3 and see for yourself. Thanks to its “no external dependencies” on scripts, the tiny buttons don’t take forever to load (unlike those customized heavily using jQuery or the like). It has built-in caching (for better performance once loaded with extensions/add-ons), and has more social media content marketing tricks up its sleeves (fake counters, image/video share buttons, etc.) via add-ons. Noticed a theme (everything is add-on)?
In a modularized concept of add-ons such as Mashshare’s, you get exactly what you need/want without the feature bloat and unnecessary headache of trying to figure out what goes where.
It’s nicely done with vector fonts (for responsive output) and completely customizable so your developers can have a field day with it. The add-ons range from Google Analytics integration to sticky bars, popups, social sharing optimization, and more.
Mashshare is worth mentioning simply for its attitude towards performance and modularity (I personally condone excess). Get this plugin if you’re minimalistic in nature and always find yourself rooting for efficiency.
…will be much the same as the beginning: Effective SEO requires a more subtle approach than a bunch of plugins thrown together.
If you went through the list (instead of just skimming over it), you would be able to select the right plugins for your needs among the top 13 listed here to cover a majority of your SEO requirements.
Just remember: Nothing, not a single plugin, will guarantee you top rankings and SEO success in a matter of few days. As long as you keep learning about SEO best-practices and various ways to optimize your website, you’re along the right track. In the end, nothing beats content relevance. So patience, grasshopper; you’ll get your turn.
And if you think I forgot to include some of the features in the plugins mentioned above, share it with me in the comments section below.
Author Bio: Lucy Barret is a WordPress developer working for HireWPGeeks Ltd. She is an expert of converting HTML to Wordpress theme with over 5 years of experience. She is also a blogger and loves to share her knowledge through her articles.