What is a search engine optimization (SEO) plugin?
SEO software plugins identify places where your web pages could be improved to make them more visible on search engine results pages (SERPs). Many of these tools also automatically fix, write code, implement changes, and monitor for optimization opportunities. For example, an SEO plugin may suggest meta descriptions and title tags that tell search engines what your content is about. Or they might identify keywords that your competitors rank well for on SERP pages but your site doesn’t yet cover. If you use the WordPress CMS, you can add SEO software plugins that give you more control over how your site gets listed on search engines.
The best website in the world is useless if visitors don’t know it’s there, which makes search engine optimization (SEO) one of the most important aspects of your online game plan. Thankfully it can be performed through any number of popular and easy to use plugins for WordPress – all that’s left is to choose the best for your circumstances.
The possibilities and depth of complexity you can delve into are endless, so a SEO plugin is often your best bet to prioritize and action the most important tasks. More importantly, the best ones are proactive, monitoring your site’s SEO health and alerting you when there’s room for improvement you might not be aware of.
Comparison of the top SEO plugin options for WordPress
Standout SEO plugins for WordPress
WordPress is popular due to the wide network of plugins available to help you do anything from run an ecommerce store to sharing your site on social media. But choosing the right SEO plugin for your needs can be confusing, considering the number of options. These are our favorite SEO plugins for WordPress.
All In One SEO: Most popular SEO software.
All In One SEO (AIOSEO) is not only one of the most popular SEO tools on the market with over two million users, it’s free and lets you improve your site performance and rankings without a lot of complicated tinkering.
It begins with a getting-started wizard that lets you choose the best pre-programmed SEO settings for your business type. Just answer a few questions about a category that best describes your site, provide your homepage title, meta description, your logo, contact information, business name, and social media accounts, and it will suggest the best features to enable.
Once installed, your SEO health is displayed seamlessly through AIOSEO in your WordPress backend. It displays an ongoing SEO score and issues alerts about any critical issues, many of which can be corrected with one or two clicks that automate the process.
You can optimize every new page or post before you publish it, and more advanced features like sitemaps, dynamic keywords, and social media integration are just as easy to switch on and deploy.
MonsterInsights: Best SEO software for Google connectivity
MonsterInsights is the best known Google Analytics SEO plugin for WordPress, which means it’s a tool for adding, customizing and managing Google Analytics services intuitively. It’s in fact so widely used it’s among the top 20 most popular WordPress plugins altogether.
There’s a free and a pro version, and even though the latter contains far more features, most SME users will find almost everything they need in the free tool.
After set-up, the main page gives you an at-a-glance view of basic metrics like visitor sessions, pageviews, new versus returning visitors, where in the world your visitors are and the devices they’re visiting on, how much traffic comes through referrals, and the most successful or popular posts, products, or pages on your site.
And if you need it, the pro version goes further. The ecommerce report reveals conversion rates, transactions, revenue, top performing products and conversion sources. Dimensions reports let you drill down based on date ranges, campaign, or marketing tactic. Enhanced link tracking lists the sources pointing at your pages to tell you which one is performing the best.
But they’re only the beginning, the pro version of MonsterInsights containing far more features with ever-finer levels of complexity besides.
Yoast: Best SEO software for beginners
Another free tool, Yoast is a little different in that it nicely balances content creation for humans as well as search engines. A good example is in the automatic 301 redirect tool, which sends people to a replacement URL rather than a broken link.
Yoast offers an easy to use interface for entering custom SEO titles and meta descriptions, so content writers can better control the text that gets suggested for use on search engines. Another key feature in Yoast is its ability to define the breadcrumbs on your site to make it easier not just for your visitors to navigate it but for search engines to index it.
Yoast makes certain tasks like editing meta tags and descriptions easy and generates your sitemap in the background, ready for you to submit for indexing. But among the most powerful features is custom social media content. Usually when you post a link to your social media pages it simply grabs the snippet text, title and featured image automatically. Yoast lets you create custom content specifically for social media – and you can define different posts for Facebook and Twitter with the free version.
Semrush SEO Writing Assistant: Best SEO plugin for writers
Semrush is a popular SEO software used by professional search engine analysts. It grew out of the dark days when SEO was a precision science only a chosen few could parse, and it contains the most well-honed tools that emerged from early SEO practices. It follows that the Semrush SEO Writing Assistant plugin is useful for the writer who is invested in using SEO practices to boost their website’s rankings.
The SEO Writing Assistant lets you compare your posts or page content with the top ten sites on the Internet for any keyword you specify. The assistant then gives you tips to make your text better by suggesting relevant words and phrases to include, how many links it thinks the post needs, the readability of your text and even the creative tone of your writer’s voice – very handy if you’re not a professional web or SEO copywriter.
Ahrefs: Best SEO plugin for connected features
While the plugin is free, the four tiers of paid services ranging from $99 to 999 per month for access to the Ahrefs platform could get expensive for users. The different plans allow for different numbers of users, projects, access to features, reports generated per period and the depth of analysis. If you use the Ahrefs plugin on its own, without a paid Ahrefs subscription, you are able to perform a content audit on your site only. The real power of the plugin comes from comparing your site audit to the other strong features within the platform.
The Ahrefs platform boasts the largest backlink index among its competitors, with over 295 billion pages indexed and more than 16 trillion backlinks. It also has among the most comprehensive user documentation we’ve seen (somewhat necessary owing to the breadth of features). The Ahrefs SEO plugin uses this index to build a backlink profile for your site that you can use to improve your standing across the web.
The lynchpin of the platform is the Site Explorer, a dashboard interface that presents essential metrics like organic traffic, backlinks and relevant keywords. It contrasts info on your site with that of competitors’ strategies and ranking per keyword with paid traffic and organic keywords research, giving you an overall picture not just of your own SEO but how it compares to that of your competition. The Ahrefs SEO plugin provides a similar interface via connections to your Google Analytics and Search Console tools.
Major features of SEO plugins
Duplicate content control (Canonical URLs)
As websites grow, even a professional content manager can lose track of information that’s duplicated or nearly identical across an entire domain. Even if you’re an SME, you might have products or services that are so similar you can end up with duplicate content issues without knowing it.
It might not sound like much of a problem to a human, but when similar content appears across the web (or even a single site), search engines don’t know where to send traffic, ultimately damaging the page ranking of every offending page.
A canonical URL is a link you want index and search services to consider the ‘definitive’ copy of a given piece of content. It’s achieved by inserting a string of text into your site code, and a good SEO tool should let you control it by asking you a few key questions when you’re setting up a page or post or letting you input a canonical URL directly.
Automatic XML Sitemap
A sitemap is a schematic of the links between pages and content on your site. If you developed or planned your site yourself you probably even made one to spread out on the floor.
When your site’s been published on WordPress, it can generate a sitemap automatically in a format called XML, a computer language that encodes information in a format readable by both humans and computers. The computer (in this case, a search engine), scans your sitemap and understands which pages are available to be indexed for search results.
It might contain information about when a URL was last updated, how often it’s edited and where it lies in the hierarchy of importance, even whether to exclude it from search results. Rather than having to trawl your entire site, a search engine need only reference your XML file for what to index, making the process much more efficient.
The best SEO plugins will include the means to generate and submit your XML sitemap at the click of a button instead of you having to build or program your own. You can choose from plenty of services to create your sitemap (WordPress itself includes one), but they vary in quality and complexity, and deploying a comprehensive XML sitemap from within your SEO plugin takes the worry of doing it properly out of your hands.
Monitor/compare with competitors
You might have created the most incisive blog posts ever, given your product or service categories unique names and carefully selected keywords throughout your site for the best possible result, but if your competition has gone one better without you knowing, it’s all for naught.
Your SEO plugin should give you an indication of how your site is performing in search results compared to everyone else – particularly other companies in your industry who might use similar terms or keywords.
Some SEO tools give you the means to take a glimpse at how other companies’ search results are faring by looking at their search terms, but a certain few make it a central tenet of their interface. To our mind the platforms that put your competitors up front offer the most value, because looking only at your own performance is half the story.
Easy set-up/ease of use
SEO is a little like web development as a whole. You might know full well what you want to achieve, but the field developed out of such complicated technologies with arcane terms (few of which mean anything in plain English), you might have no idea how to articulate it.
So for most of us, choosing and deploying an SEO solution is something of an act of faith. The best ones need to put functions and features in the easiest possible terms, and we need to trust that they’re actually doing what they promise behind the scenes to bring about the effect we want.
That goes doubly so because SEO is a pretty dark art anyway. No matter how precisely you try to arrange your SEO profile, the actions of competitors, changing algorithms and practices inside search engines and many other factors make the whole field endlessly variable.
Any SEO plugin needs not only to keep things simple for the non-techies among us, it needs to constantly situate your SEO in the larger scheme of results across the whole web (see above for the ability to monitor your results against those of competitors).
Choosing a SEO plugin for your WordPress site
The days of banner ads promising you the top result in Google for $100 are gone. While still fairly cryptic, SEO has been demystified enough to let you take control of it for your own site fairly easily.
Like web development itself, you can delve into the deeper nuances of tweaking SEO if you pay money, but establishing good practice is easy enough to do for free for the beginner WordPress site owner with the right SEO plugin.
Your first step is to figure out where you are in your market. If you sell computer parts you have a whole industry of competition endlessly scrambling to figure out and use the best keywords to one-up each other. If you sell artisanal cross-stitch thread you’re a little more niche and SEO becomes less about beating competitors than making sure visitors can find you to begin with.
As we’ve mentioned, the best SEO tools show you what competitors in your field are doing, but the same tools can be used to give you an idea of the best SEO profile to build even if you don’t have direct competitors, because it will suggest better keywords and content principles to attract search engines to your site.