Best WordPress Plugins for Search Engine Optimization
WordPress is undeniably one the most popular content management systems people use, and optimizing a WordPress website is generally easier from a technical standpoint than if you were to use any other content management system or create a custom website.
That said, you still need to have correct expectations and knowledge about different tools to use for different processes, which we’re going to introduce in this article.
We’re going to cover numerous topics from analytics to optimization of written content, loading speed optimization, mobile optimization and many other topics.
Setting up traffic analytics for WordPress
Knowing where your traffic is coming from, which keywords are converting the best and analyzing user behavior is extremely important for any webmaster. When it comes to traffic analytics, Google Analytics covers this the best and our recommendation would be to use Google Analytics on the website.
If you’re not currently using Analytics, it’s the easiest to integrate using a plugin called “Google Analytics Dashboard for WP”. The plugin does everything automatically and provides you with the data within their WordPress dashboard. All you have to do is set it up once, which is an easy process that’s going to take 3-5 minutes.
What you need to do first is head into official Google Analytics Homepage, register an account on their platform If you don’t have one and on the left side menu hitting “ADMIN” button, which should be towards the bottom of your screen.
What you have to do then is press on a small blue button on top left that says “Create Account” and it will let you fill out information about the business.
In the next screen that opens up, you just have to add information about the business, set up account name. This can be set to anything you want, but I would recommend setting it to something that you’re able to recognize yourself. For example this website has account name titled “Start Cap”.
Don’t forget to add your website URL with the correct URL (either HTTP or HTTPS address), with or without www. address line and also make sure you’re selecting industry category. Some of the industries won’t be covered by their industry list and in case you can’t find your exact industry – pick the one that’s closest to yours.
Now with usual integration into the website, you would have to copy a certain code into a specific file within your website or to upload a file to it, but the integration using analytics dashboard plugin is much easier.
What you have to do is download the plugin by searching for “Google Analytics Dashboard for WP” on plugin search you have within WordPress dashboard or you can download it from the official WordPress website listing.
Once a plugin is downloaded, make sure you activate it and hit “Google Analytics” button at the very bottom of WordPress left side menu. They have a video tutorial showcasing how the authorization should be done and the video can be accessed through the page you just opened-up, but it’s not necessary as long as you’re going to follow this guide.
Next step is to hit the “Authority Plugin” button on a new window.
This brings you to a page where you need to provide a plugin with one-time access code. You can get it by pressing the bright red “Get Access Code” button above the bar where you’re going to enter it 10 seconds later.
It will let you authorize the plugin use by connecting to Google Analytics profile and if you’ve set up a profile correctly, with the right URL before – it should give you the access code that was requested earlier. Copy the code, paste it into the bar on previous page and hit “Save Access Code” below.
Congratulations, you’re all set! From now on, every visitor coming into your website will be tracked by Google Analytics and you can see all the data by connecting to official analytics page again or some of the most important data on your primary WordPress dashboard.
Now let’s look at the best WordPress plugins that directly impact SEO.
Setting up Yoast SEO plugin correctly – the best WordPress plugin for the purposes of SEO
For quite a while now, Yoast SEO has been the best WordPress plugin for search engine optimization. It helps you create automatically updated sitemaps, properly structure meta content, offer recommendations for content optimization and have full control over which pages appear on search engine results.
Seamless plugin integration, help with full automation, 24⁄7 helpful customer support and ease of use is what makes it the best. I would highly recommend you give Yoast SEO plugin a try if you’ve built a website on WordPress.
Installation of Yoast SEO plugin
Just like with any other WordPress plugin, you would begin installation process the same way – first finding the plugin on WordPress, downloading and activating it.
You can either go into plugin search within WordPress dashboard and search for “Yoast SEO” or download it from their official WordPress website listing.
Next step would be activating the plugin, which is done the same way as any other plugin – by hitting a small “Activate” button once it’s finished downloading.
Most of the plugin’s functions will be available for free, but if you want more comprehensive and additional functionality – feel free to get a premium version.
If you wish to upload Yoast SEO settings from an existing account or a different website of yours – head into “SEO” section on left sidebar and select “Tools” subsection.
From this page hit “Import and Export” button. It will allow you to export current settings so it could be used on a different website, import settings from a different website or even import settings from a different SEO plugin.
This will bring you to a window, where you have different tabs with different options, based on your needs in that particular case.
What I’ve tested is importing data from another plugin called “All in one SEO”, which is sometimes used by several of my clients, and the Yoast plugin was able to import most of the settings from that plugin – meta content, sitemap setup, indexation setup.
Setting up XML sitemaps with Yoast SEO plugin
XML sitemaps are important to create for search crawlers. It allows them to crawl and find different of your pages much easier, plus get a better understanding of your website’s structure.
First thing you need to do when setting up XML sitemaps on Yoast plugin is to make sure they are enabled. You can do that by going into “SEO” category on left sidebar and selecting “General” option subcategory.
Once you’re on the page – head into “Features” tab on top of the page and scroll down a little to make sure that “XML sitemaps” option is enabled.
If it isn’t currently enabled – make sure you enable that and hit “Save changes” button at the bottom of that page.
What you have to do now is upload the sitemaps file to Google Search Console. If you haven’t registered your website on Google search console – make sure you do that within their official page.
Go into “Crawl” and “Sitemaps” sections of your Google Search Console.
Now on top right of your screen, you should have a bright red “ADD / TEST SITEMAP” button. Press on that.
It will open up a small window, where you’re able to add the sitemap URL.
By default, Yoast plugin creates the sitemaps on domain.com/sitemap_index.xml, so I’d advise you to first go into your homepage, add /sitemap_index.xml at the end of it and see if sitemaps show up. If it does – feel free to add the URL of your sitemaps into a small bar that extended after going through last step.
Once the URL is added – hit “Submit” and see whether the crawler picks up any issues with the sitemaps or not. After a 24 hours or so, you should come back to the page and see how many pages they were able to index from your sitemaps.
You can do that by heading back to the same Sitemap section on left sidebar menu and seeing the results that show up around the middle of your screen. This is how an average sitemap should look like:
As you can see from screenshot above, it shows how many pages were submitted into sitemaps, how many were indexed, how many issues a crawler had going through your pages and when it was last processed. Obviously your data will be different from one shown in my screenshot, but you should be aiming not to have any issues and to successfully index all submitted pages.
Fixing some of the most common indexation issues related to Yoast SEO plugin
In most cases, you have quite a few types of pages created by WordPress you don’t want to be indexed or to show up on your sitemaps. These are usually individual pages created by various content tags, author pages, date archives, product tag pages (if you have WooCommerce plugin added and are actively using it), maybe even category pages.
Fortunately Yoast SEO plugin makes it easy to make them have noindex tag and not show up on sitemaps. Adding it to the whole list of pages can be done with just a few buttons.
You can do that by heading into “SEO” category within WordPress dashboard and then selecting “Search Appearance” subcategory.
What you have to do then is head into “Content Types” tab for the most important sections of the page – posts and pages. In case you wanted to disable indexation of all pages or posts – you can do that by selecting “No” to “Show Posts / Pages in search results?” option. That said, I can’t imagine why you would want to do that.
Next tab you should look at – “Taxonomies”. Within this one, you have a category which most likely you should disable – tags. By default, WordPress creates individual tag pages and shows all the posts you have with that tag. In majority of the cases, you don’t want these being shown as a new page on search results as it might start outranking pages that you’re specifically targeting with certain keywords and you don’t want your pages to compete with each other.
You can disable indexation for tag pages by going scrolling down a little bit, until you find the question “Show Tags in search results?”. If you select “No” – it will stop showing those pages on search results and these pages will stop showing up on your sitemaps.
Last tab we’re going to look into – Archives. Here you have the option to enable or disable author archives as well as date archives. Once again – most webmasters will prefer to disable these and I’d recommend you do that as well.
If you want your website to be found for individual writers that create content – feel free to leave author pages enabled, but I don’t see any point of enabling date archives.
You can disable them by going into Archives page and selecting “Disabled” under “Author / Date archives” sections.
Don’t forget to save changes at the bottom of the page once you’ve disabled all the page types you wanted to disable.
If you wish to add no-indexation from an individual page or remove it from sitemaps – feel free to scroll to the last section of Yoast SEO plugin introduction, where I will discuss the process of setting this up for individual pages.
Adding correct meta content using Yoast SEO plugin
Meta descriptions and meta titles are one of the most important things to take care of within your content, to make sure that pages are showing up correctly on search engine results.
Meta title will determine the primary title of the page on search results, while meta description will determine a short summary of what the person could expect in a specific page of yours. This is how an average search result shows up on search engines:
I’ve highlighted meta title and meta description on the screenshot above, hoping it might be easier to understand with visual representation.
Meta titles should be similar to primary heading used on the website – should tell search engines and their users what the page title is, while descriptions should be a short summary of what type of content to expect or explanation of what the page is.
There are 2 different ways to set up meta descriptions and meta titles: automated and manual. Manually setting up meta descriptions will help them optimize much better, while automated one could be a better solution for large sections of your website, where you wouldn’t be able to go through thousands of pages and set up meta descriptions for each individual one.
You can access automated meta content templates through the same pages we’ve discussed in previous section – “Search Appearance” subcategory within Yoast dashboard. Head into different tabs like “Content types” to see the template for posts and pages, “taxonomies” tab for category and tag page templates, “archives” tab author, date archive pages, plus search pages and 404 page.
You can learn how to optimize or create automated templates using extensive Yoast meta template variable guide. You can also access the guide by pressing on “NEED HELP?” button within “Search Appearance” section of Yoast options.
The guide cover topics, such as how to structure the automated code, what different variables you can use and how to use them properly, how to troubleshoot and test automated meta content structures.
Now a completely different type of optimization starts with individual pages. If you want to get the most optimized descriptions and titles – you will have to go through the process manually for each page.
To do that, just head into any individual page or post and scroll to the bottom until you find Yoast SEO options. The primary option menu will let you control the most important things.
First what you need to edit is meta title and meta description. To do that, you will have to press on “Edit Snippet” button below the showcased search engine results.
It will extend you the settings bar and add “SEO Title”, “Slug” as well as “Meta description” fields that you can fill out yourself. When you’re filling these out, the colored bar below each section will show you whether the information you filled out is too short, of good length or too long. Once it exceeds a certain limit (in which case the bar below turns to red), that meta description or title won’t be shown in full length on major search engines, so it’s recommended not to go over recommended character limit.
By default, these are set to show the first roughly 180 characters for meta description, the title of your page that was set above and title of your website for SEO Title, while slug will be set to URL of that specific page.
It’s usually not good to leave the description open and automatically being created by the first 180 characters, because it won’t be properly optimized in that case. You want to describe what the page is about and try to use your primary keywords once or twice within that descriptions or meta title. This will help you increase the potential of ranking for those keywords as well as search engines or users understanding your page’s content better, therefore having a higher likelihood of turning into a lead, whether that be a potential buyer of your product, service or just a new reader of your blog.
Right below meta description section, you have focus keyword field and a question whether this is cornerstone content.
Adding a focus keyword will not directly impact your rankings for that keyword in any way, but it will give you better recommendations for optimization of that specific keyword below (which we’re going to talk about in a minute).
As for cornerstone content – I assume some of you don’t have what that is, so let me start with a basic description of what that means. Cornerstone content is made up of the most important pages within your entire website – ones you want to rank the highest.
So think of the most important articles or pages within your website and mark only those with cornerstone content option within Yoast settings. Once again, this won’t directly impact your rankings of that page, but it will provide you with better recommendations.
This brings me to one of the most important feature of Yoast SEO plugin – recommendations for content optimization. There’s several different types of recommendations for your content optimization.
First type is optimization for a specific keyword, while a second one is made of recommendations for readability improvements.
If you scroll below focus keyword tab, it will show you recommendations for better keyword optimization.
These recommendations include optimization within your meta title, URL of the page and entire content within the specific page, including headings and even alt text for your images or keyword density.
I wouldn’t say you need to religiously follow these recommendations and over-optimize your content, because making it user-friendly is more important than creating a better structure for crawlers, but majority of their recommendations are great and I’d recommend going through them, seeing what you can optimize without the change having any negative effect on user experience.
Definitely don’t participate in any keyword stuffing activities, don’t try to use keywords just for the sake of using them. This tool might sometimes recommend you do that, which I would be against, but in general try to follow as many of the recommendations as possible.
If you want, you can add additional keywords and see how well you can optimize the page for several different keywords. That’s assuming you’re going to target more than a single keyword per page.
You can add the new keyword by scrolling back to the top of Yoast plugin settings and pressing on “Add keyword” selection above snippet preview.
Unfortunately this is one of the paid features and unless you have a premium plugin license, it won’t allow you to add additional keywords. Either way, it would essentially be just the same as adding a new keyword within “Focus keyword” section and seeing recommendations based on how well it’s optimized for the new keyword as well.
You don’t need to buy a premium version if all you need is this extended functionality. Once one keyword is optimized, just add another keyword into “Focus keyword” section and see how well you can optimize that one without breaking any of the content from previous keyword.
The second type of recommendations Yoast plugin provides is readability recommendations. You can see those by pressing on “Readability” tab on top of Yoast option menu.
It will show you readability recommendations in a similar fashion as keyword optimization recommendations – list of things that you need to look at, with some insights into how well your content is optimized now, which of the issues are most important ones, etc.
This I found to be even less important for search engine results, but most of them you can follow to improve readability for people going through your website. Most of these recommendations are related to content length, sentence structures, paragraph structures, heading and some smaller general stuff related to structuring of your content.
Once all the settings are set up and pages are optimized – don’t forget to update the page, otherwise none of the changes will be saved.
Setting up individual page settings using Yoast SEO plugin
There are a number of different settings we’re going to discuss in this section: how to add titles and descriptions for Facebook / Twitter page sharing, how to add canonical URLs to individual pages, how to stop individual pages from being indexed or shown on sitemaps and how to make sure links from a page are not being followed by search crawlers.
First things first – titles, descriptions and images set up for social media sharing. You can set these up by pressing on a small share icon on the left side of primary Yoast options within individual pages.
Once you head into the page, you will be able to switch between Facebook and Twitter optimization by selecting the correct tab, as highlighted in the screenshot above.
Unfortunately this is a paid feature that only works with Yoast SEO premium version of the plugin. The options selected here determine how your pages show up when shared with direct link using those 2 social media channels and if setting up individual options for each of them is important for you – feel free to purchase premium plugin version and give it a try.
In most cases the social media page shows up with primary meta title and meta description as well as featured image selected within WordPress settings. If this setup is good enough for you and you’re not looking to get individual optimization for each social media channel – you’re not going to need this paid feature.
Next we’re going to look at no-index tag setup and hiding a page from sitemaps. You can do that by heading into advanced settings tab by pressing cogwheel icon on the left side of Yoast setup.
The very top option on this page will let you disable page from showing up on search results. Press on that option and select whether you want the page to be indexed or not. Once the page is set not to show up on search engine results, it will also be removed from your sitemaps.
Using this method, you remove indexation from individual pages that you don’t want to show up on search results. In most cases these could be login pages, admin pages, shopping cart or wishlist pages, maybe some content you don’t want to be found until you make an official release and so on. You can re-enable indexing of this page at any point.
The next option within the advanced setting window will be whether you want links in that page to be followed by crawler or not. You might want to set it up as no-follow if the particular page contains your competitor links and you don’t want to give them any SEO value, page with a list of no-indexed content that you don’t want crawlers to see or something similar.
“Meta robots advanced” option will let you choose some of the most used robots.txt options, like adding noindex tags to all images within that page (in case you don’t want them to show up on image search results) or removing this page from archives. It would remove it from every archive you have on the website – author archives, category archives, date archives - you name it.
Final option within advanced setting window will let you add a canonical URL for the page or post that is being edited.
Canonical tag is primarily used to tell search engines that majority of content on this page is duplicate and all SEO benefit should be passed to a different page within your own website or a different website, that you want to rank for that content. The canonical URL is URL of the page that has original content.
If you have canonical tags added with URLs to correct original content pages, it’s almost impossible for your website to be punished by Google for content duplication, since you’re letting the search engines know where the original data comes from.
So the canonical URL field should be filled out if you have duplicate content on the page and it’s being the original one you’re editing. In that case, add URL of the original content page.
This covers the primary setup of Yoast SEO plugin. Hopefully by now you understood the value of it and how much of an easy it will make your content optimization. Give it a try and see how the plugin works on your WordPress website.
Feel free to share any insight or questions you have about the use of Yoast SEO plugin. I’m no expert with this particular plugin and don’t know everything about it, but have used the plugin on dozens of websites over the last 3-4 years, so I think I have enough knowledge to answer most of the questions related to everyday use of it.
The other plugins we’ll discuss in this article aren’t similar to Yoast, aren’t their direct competitors, but they still help you with overall search engine optimization, just in a different way than Yoast SEO plugin does.
AMP for WP plugin
Accelerated Mobile Pages (abbreviation - AMP) is a project started by Google and Twitter. As you might have guessed from the name of it – it helps pages load much faster on mobile devices.
The idea behind AMP is to create a stripped-down version of a website that uses minimal resources and loads fast because of that. It is an open-source library, which you can read more about on AMP project’s official page.
The great thing about WordPress is that you have lots of publicly available plugins that help you automate processes and AMP setup is one of them. There are a few plugins that help create AMP-compliant pages with just a few clicks of a button and the whole process becomes fully automated.
Unfortunately the process doesn’t work with most visual content builders or drag-and-drop builders, such as WPBakery Page Builder (previously known as Visual Composer), Divi Drag-and-Drop Page Builder, Thrive Architect, Beaver Builder or Page Builder by Site Origin.
That’s because most of these builders use their own code structures, elements and lots of shortcodes, which the automatic AMP plugins can’t understand. Hopefully they integrate AMP functionality in the future, but at the time of writing this article – none of these page builders work with AMP plugins.
If you don’t use any of these page builders – you should be good. There are several themes or other plugins that I’ve seen causing issues on my client websites, but roughly for 95% of WordPress websites I’ve worked with - the plugins work really well.
There are 2 plugins I wanted to talk about. First one is official Google’s plugin with lots of contributors that helped make it. You can download the plugin here.
I have tried using it, but the whole setup is too complicated and I failed to get proper structures whenever I’ve tried it. There seems to be quite a few people complaining about this as well and WordPress plugin page has nearly as many 1-star reviews as 5-star reviews.
The plugin I would recommend – AMP for WP. This one is much easier to activate and use.
The first thing you’re going to do is download the plugin from WordPress plugin page or search for it on plugin search within WordPress dashboard.
Then activate it and it should be working on your website right away. No additional setup is needed, unless you want to have some custom settings, like adding it only to a single category of pages.
You can test whether the AMP setup is working properly by going to any URL within your website, adding /amp/ at the end of your URL and seeing whether it shows up without any larger issues. Hopefully it works well with your website.
If it creates any type of errors and you’re not using of the page builders I’ve mentioned before – I’d recommend checking out their official support forum thread. They might have addressed and fixed the same issue already, so at the top of this error we recommend you search for whatever error you’re having and creating your own thread if there are none with similar issues.
You can always disable the plugin if the AMP pages don’t work and that’s what I recommend you do until the issue you’ve addressed gets fixed.
I believe AMP will become even more important in the future, because Google is focusing more and more on mobile users, more specifically their user experience. If you mobile website loads extremely fast and the structure of it is still smooth – it will impact mobile rankings in a massive way.
It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but AMP setup might already be one of the ranking factors, because some of my clients have seen a slight increase in mobile search results once AMP was added. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was.
Structured data markup plugins
Structured data is a standardized format for providing additional information about your pages and classifying page content. Google Search works really hard to understand the content on each page and provide you with keyword rankings based on the context of that page, relevancy and trust of that website.
Google and other search engines use structured data it finds on a website to understand the content of each page better, as well as gather additional information about each page.
Essentially structured data consists of additional pointers for crawlers to look at. These pointers classify your content and help it create a proper structure that crawlers understand much better than a page full of unstructured content.
So for example if you want to add additional details about your business, so Google understands more about it – you would add certain information with Organization or LocalBusiness types of markup, which highlight business name, URL, social media channels, open hours, reviews of your business, business category and other valuable information, all based on the data that you add into the structured data markup.
The crawlers are then able to review your data and understand more about your business, therefore being able to serve it to more relevant search results.
I’ve written an extensive article about structured data markup, the primary benefits of it, ways of adding or fixing it within your website.
On top of that I also have a short guide talking about the best WordPress structured data plugins.
Just like AMP, structured data markup will become even more important in the future, which was confirmed by their latest update and consistent updates to better showcase rich content on Google search results.
Rich content refers to extended Google search listings, which could be review star additions for any review-based page, lists of best items within a certain category, direct answers to your question above all search results. You have many different types of rich data and the screenshot below highlights some of it.
As you can see in the image above, both results are unique and these aren’t usual structures of a Google Search listing. The top result shows up directly as a short recipe description, which helps answer user’s question right away and results below show up with an image on the side, review stars, length for this recipe to complete, calorie count and an extended meta description that fits more characters. All of this was created with the use of structured data markup.
Essentially structured data markup is just additional information that usually appears above other search results. You can use it to your advantage, because I’ve seen pages with low overall website authority ranking above some of the highest authority pages with the use of rich content. Based on the markup added and how well it’s done, most websites can increase their organic traffic from search engines by at least 20% just with the use of structured data markup.
I would recommend you look into this subject more thoroughly and start adding correct structures to your website. Once again – feel free to read my extensive article explaining structured data markup in much more detail.
Google prefers to show pages with correct structured data markup within them, higher than other pages, because they’re able to understand more about it. On top of that, since the results are unique and they stand out – more people are going to press on your page, which is going to increase clickthrough rate.