WordPress is one of the most popular site building and hosting platforms around at the moment with some industry estimates putting the number of WordPress hosted sites (both on WordPress.com and WordPress.org) at at least 75,000,000 and rising.
It’s easy to see why the platform is so popular – it’s almost laughably easy to get a basic website up and running – even if you have no coding expertise. And there’s a ton of plugins you can add to your site to enable extra functionality.
The denseness of the plugin ecosystem is one of the big attractions for many WordPress users – but it can also be one of the trickiest things to navigate. Which plugins do you need? Which will help you build that awesome site you’re aiming for – and which will make it load slower than a snail beauty competition in a treacle factory?
Traffic is the life-blood of blogs. Traffic brings new followers and new followers gives you more exposure. Whether you just like to see the numbers clock up, or it’s part of a multidisciplinary marketing plan if you want to increase the number of visitors you get you have to pay attention to SEO.
SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – is the science (or perhaps art) of choosing how to create a website that search engines will find attractive. Then you’ll appear higher on the page and more people will drop by.
Now some parts of SEO are common sense – like actually including some content that people will want to read. Other areas are a bit more obscure – and that’s where a plugin can give you that extra little edge.
But which plugin? There are over 50,000 in the official directory and we’ve not counted the SEO specific ones, but even if only 1% deal with SEO that’s still going to take you a year to try them all out (assuming you give each one a week or so to have an effect). Luckily we’ve sifted the wheat from the chaff and whittled the list down to our TOP FOUR! So, read on to see what we’ve chosen.
YoastSEO has been around since 2008, which makes it pretty ancient in web terms. There’s a basic plugin which is absolutely free, and a few extra features which are premium content, meaning you can get started and, if you like it as much as we do, decide to add them in if you need them.
Search Engines like to know where they’re going so they look for something called an XML Sitemap – something that Yoast will help you tweak to please Google. You can also add a bit of code to enable breadcrumbs – a way of tracking exactly what your visitors are up to.
Yoast will also check your URLs to avoid duplicating – or appearing to duplicate – content – something Google really dislikes and allow you to keep snippets and meta descriptions up-to-date and consistent. Plus, it integrates with Google Search Console, so you can see how it’s really performing.
Another older contender with over 50 million downloads since it was released in 2007. We like the fact that the out-of-the-box configuration will instantly improve your site, making it perfect for beginners just starting out into the world of optimisation.
Integrating with both Google and Bing AIOSEO creates and submits sitemaps as well as keeping the search engines up-to-date with changes to your site. It optimises META data, titles, removes duplicated content and fixes lots of similar little errors that hit your ranking hard. Plus, it’s the only free plugin to provide SEO integration with e-Commerce sites such as WooCommerce. So, if you’re selling you might find AIOSEO is your best starting point.
It’s important for your website to have fast response. Firstly, because human visitors won’t stick around for it to load if it’s slow, and secondly, because search engines are even more impatient and will drop slow pages down the results page like a lead balloon.
Which is where a plugin like W3 Total Cache comes in. WordPress Performance Optimisation (WPO) can give you a boost up the rankings and, once fully configured, you can expect a 10x improvement on overall site performance measured by Google Page Speed or similar.
Just imagine if you could have an SEO consultant looking over your shoulder as you create content, pointing out where you could do better and where you’ve made a complete pig’s ear of it? And pointing out when what you’ve got is going to knock the socks off the competition and push you right to the top of the results pages?
That’s exactly what Squirrly tries to do. It offers keyword research tools to unearth those precious long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are “unpopular” search terms that you can incorporate into your content to make sure you rank high when they are searched for. They have less competition, so you won’t be up against major hitters and stand a better chance of getting “above the fold”.
Squirrly will also scan social media to find popular topics and trends – ensuring you can jump on the bandwagon before the rest and monitor to ensure that you continue to follow the trend potentially driving traffic to your site over the long-term.
But it is the Squirrly Assistant that can really save you wasting resources on poor content. Watching as you type the Assistant provides you with SEO pointers to ensure your page is as optimal as it can be. And with a clear visual indication when a section is optimised you’ll know you’re good to go.
Try for yourself
We think you’ll find SEO heaven with at least one of these plugins, but you’ll only really know if you actually try them out. All of them are free to start with so you can see if the plugin works for you and your blog before deciding if you want to pay for extra customer support or more advanced features.