Switching WordPress SEO plugins

Just as the web is constantly evolving, so are WordPress and WordPress plugins. This post is about a case where we’ve decided we need to evolve from a plugin we’ve been using for years to a different one.

The basic WordPress install doesn’t set the “meta data” that is used to give clues to the search engines and searchers about what kind of information they’ll find on a particular web page. So one of the core plugins we install on every site is a search engine optimization (SEO) plugin. Typically these plugins enable you to:

  • Customize the title for the page that appears in the browser header or tabs, and which shows up when you bookmark a page.
  • Customize the description for the page that appears in the search results for most search engines.
  • Create a computer-readable (XML) sitemap that gives Google or other search engines a comprehensive list of all the pages on the site.
  • Insert “Open Graph” tags that are used to improve the listing when your page is shared on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites.

WordPress SEO Plugins We’ve Used

We’ve used several different SEO plugins, starting with HeadSpace and Greg’s High Performance SEO back in 2011-2012. When Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin for WordPress came on the scene a few years ago, it offered a very clean and helpful user interface, and over the next year we switched almost all our sites to use it. Unfortunately, over time Yoast’s SEO plugin has grown to be bloated and intrusive. It generates a lot of messages, some of which are confusing to users. With version 3.0, we were already looking at alternatives.

Version 3.1 of Yoast’s SEO was released a couple of weeks ago. Knowing there are often bugs in a new release, we decided to wait for 3.1.1, and are glad we did. There have been dozens of reports on WordPress.org complaining that it caused problems in the editor, caused lost data and even crashed sites. Sadly, version 3.1.1 doesn’t seem to have fixed the problems.

So what to do? We are currently maintaining over 40 WordPress websites, most of which use Yoast’s SEO plugin. We can leave them at version 3.0.7 temporarily, but not updating plugins is bad practice that can leave a site vulnerable. So we researched alternatives.

Alternatives to Yoast SEO

After searching Google and WordPress.org, we narrowed our choices to two very different options:

  • All in One SEO Pack – First created in 2007, All in One boasts over 1 million installs and a 4.4/5 star rating based on over 260 reviews. It is powerful, full-featured, and well-supported. Premium support and a Pro version are available.
  • The SEO Framework – Only a year old, The SEO Framework has 4,000 installs and an almost perfect 5-star rating based on 32 reviews. It includes all the basic SEO configuration, plus XML sitemaps and Open Graph. There is no premium version; donations are appreciated.

These are both good options. We chose The SEO Framework for several reasons:

  • The SEO Framework includes Open Graph and other newer technologies, which All in One doesn’t have.
  • All in One includes settings such as meta tags and menu tags that are no longer used and just confuse and clutter the user interface.
  • The SEO Framework was developed to be light and fast.
  • We like that all features of The SEO Framework are included; we’ve found that when there is a premium version, two things often happen: developers don’t include important features in the free version, and what’s almost worse, they add unnecessary features to the paid version just to differentiate it.

Making the Transition

What about all those keywords, titles and descriptions that have been entered into the Yoast SEO database? Good news–the SEO Data Transporter plugin can translate all that information from the format used by one SEO plugin to the format used by another. In this case, since The SEO Framework was first developed for the Genesis theme, we want to translate from Yoast SEO to Genesis format.

After a couple of trial runs, we settled on this sequence of events:

  1. Back up the database!
  2. Install SEO Data Transporter and activate it.
  3. Run SEO Data Transporter (under the Tools menu) and translate from Yoast to Genesis.
  4. Deactivate Yoast SEO. (Don’t do this before running SEO Data Transporter as deactivating the plugin removes the configuration.)
  5. Install The SEO Framework and activate it.
  6. Verify that your SEO information is still there on the pages and posts.
  7. Configure The SEO Framework (see below).
  8. When you’re comfortable, delete Yoast SEO; deactivate and delete SEO Data Transporter.

Configuring The SEO Framework

We encourage you to explore all the configuration options and documentation for The SEO Framework. These are just a few areas that we suggest starting with.

  • The SEO Framework prefixes the default description with “Page Title on Site Name | ,” following it with a short excerpt from the page or post. I found this to be off-putting. Unfortunately you cannot override it completely in the Settings but you can tell it not to include the “on Site Name” part so that it just has the page title and the excerpt. Editing a description manually removes this automatic prefix. (This “feature” is the only complaint I have against The SEO Framework so far.)
  • Do go in and add your Facebook and/or Twitter account information. This will help your social media connections when someone shares your page.
  • By default, The SEO Framework creates an XML sitemap and puts a link to it into the robots.txt file. We recommend using Google Webmaster Tools to point Google to this sitemap.

More Resources

In researching for this post, we found some articles with good suggestions for other SEO plugins: