With the New Year just around the corner, Google has released some really interesting algorithm changes, to wrap up 2015. The introduction of Google’s new Artificial Intelligence (AI), RankBrain, has changed the ranking playing field tremendously. For those who haven’t heard yet, RankBrain, Google’s new AI which uses machine learning to better understand search queries it has not encountered before to return better results. Other big Google updates part of Hummingbird have now put a bigger focus on user experience on a website, by rewarding websites with good on-page metrics. This includes things such as having low bounce rates and high time spent on page.
According to Google, this new update, RankBrain is the third most important factor to the ranking algorithm. They did however omit to comment on what the first two most important factors are. One can still assume it is a combination for content and link-building, which have always been the two of the most dominant factors in SEO since the dawn of time. While we should not neglect the 200+ ranking factors which we “think we know,” this resource aims to do exactly that, and cover some of the top SEO WordPress plugins, which will help website owners to further optimize their SEO for the many ranking factors.
These recommendations are to provide overall improvements to a website’s SEO, but also to help improve those on-page factors, which have become ever more important with the last update, RankBrain. Let’s remember that SEO is not about backwards engineering an algorithm, but remember we cannot never forget about the users, and their experiences with our website. After all, for any legitimate business, what is the point of driving traffic to our websites if our user’s get no value out of it.
For this reason I complied a monstrous list of plugins we have used, and recommend, and broke them down into different categories. These categories span from site performance, architecture, sitemaps, on-page optimization and more.
Site Performance Plugins for WordPress SEO
Why are site performance plugins important?
Increasingly over the years as the Google ranking algorithm has evolved, Google has been putting more of a focus on user experience. This means Google care about how fast your website loads, and what the general website experience is. If a user arrives to your website and its loading too slowly, and the bounce off the page and return to the Google search results, if over time this pattern persists, it will impact your rankings negatively, and advance the rankings of websites with better user experience over yours.
1. WP Super Cache
While I do not use the WP Super Cache plugin myself on this website (your hosting provider may have their own caching systems and prevent you from using caching plugins), I have used it on other sites and it has worked really well. The plugin creates static HTML files from your dynamic WordPress PHP scripts, which generally load much slower. Google’s algorithm has evolved over the years and there’s a continuing importance is having a fast loading website. This will not only improve user experience, but in theory should impact your website rankings positively.
2. W3 Total Cache
3. WP Optimize Speed By xTraffic
The WP Optimize Speed By xTraffic is a great plugin to instantly boost your site performance for those who are limited by their hosting accounts to run WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache. After running this plugin, we immediately saw sizable improvements to site’s performance metrics in Google’s PageSpeed Insights test. While not all websites achieved over the recommended score of 80/100+, improvement over the lower previous score is still a winning situation.
4. Use Google Libraries
5. P3 Plugin Performance Profiler
The P3 plugin can be both a complex or simple plugin to use, depending on what you do with the information it provides you with. The plugin send traffic to your site so that it can analyze how your website loads, and which plugins may be causing slowdowns on your website. Its worth mentioning that the more plugins you use, the slower a website will become. If you yourself are a developer or have a development team the information the plugin provides you with can be used to fix issues caused by plugins, or simply try and swap out plugins with other alternatives until you have a better loading website.
An image optimization plugin is something that virtually any WordPress site could benefit from. ShortPixel is a full featured, mature and well supported image optimization plugin that can squeeze all the unnecessary bits from your JPEG, PNG and GIF images while leaving them looking as the originals. PDF compression support also available.
General On-Page Optimization Plugins for WordPress SEO
Why are on-page optimization plugins important?
One of the easiest “wins” in SEO is properly optimizing the existing content on your website for search engines, and making sure it’s actually being seen and found by them. This includes having keyword rich title tags, meta descriptions, website breadcrumbs, sitemaps and linking your website to all of the Webmaster Tools. These general plugins will help you complete all of these tasks.
7. Yoast SEO
8. All in one SEO
General Sitemap Plugins for WordPress SEO
Why are general sitemap plugins important?
Connecting your website with Google and Webmaster Tools to upload the sitemap directly to the search engines is a very important aspect in having your website content found and indexed by search engines. Sitemap plugins make the tedious task of manually creating a sitemap file an absolute breeze.
9. Google XML Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps is the original sitemap generator plugin for WordPress that has been around for more than 9 years. This plugin will not only create a sitemap for your website, it will ping Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com when a new content is published on your website, so that search engines know to crawl and index it. Simply one of the best plugins to use for creating sitemaps for your website, if not already using the Yoast or All in One SEO sitemap functions.
10. XML Sitemap & Google News feeds
The XML Sitemap & Google News feeds plugin is very similar to the Google XML Sitemap plugin, but packs a couple extra features. This plugin features a dedicated Google News sitemap, which if you’re site is an approve publisher, will be immensely beneficial in having, to allow your news to reach the Google News results. Additionally this plugin supports multiple languages, to allow content in separate languages to be indexed in the search engines. On top of everything, the plugin will dynamically update the robots.txt file with the locations of your sitemaps, to help aid the crawlers in finding the sitemaps.
11. Better WordPress Google XML Sitemaps
A close alternative to the above two sitemap plugins, Better WordPress Google Sitemaps, is a popular choice by many WordPress users. One of the differences with this plugin is it’s support of multi-site sitemaps, which is particularly important for websites which feature subdomains. I see subdomains being popular with e-commerce sites, and business sites, where their blogs will be found on a subdomain, like blog.exampleurl.com. It is fundamentally important to have your subdomains and root domain linked together through a sitemap. If you’re website uses subdomains, or if your business blog is on a separate URL, this is the plugin for you.
Specialized Sitemap Plugins for WordPress SEO
Why are specialized sitemap plugins important?
If your websites boasts a multitude of media types and platforms for content delivery it is important to have sitemaps optimized for every important element on your website. This includes having sitemaps for videos, images and mobile versions of your website. As the Google algorithm treats all of these media types differently in terms of how they rank, it is important to have these specialized sitemaps created on your website and submitted to your linked Webmaster Tools accounts.
12. Google Video Sitemap Feed
If videos are your thing, it is imperative that have a separate sitemap just for videos. The Google algorithm treats videos very differently from from text, and there are huge opportunities to driving traffic to your website and videos if you have an optimized video sitemap. The Google Video Sitemap Feed is one of the better plugins to use for creating video sitemaps.
13. YouTube Video Sitemap generator
There aren’t many worthwhile specialty plugins for video sitemaps, but the YouTube Video Sitemap Generator plugin does a great job at finding all of the embedded YouTube videos on your site and putting them together into a sitemap.
14. Udinra All Image Sitemap
While the Yoast plugin is able in creating image sitemaps, the images are the re-sized versions. If for example you have a Wallpaper website, a plugin like Udinra All Image Sitemap is the perfect plugin for your website. This is currently the only plugin that supports NextGen Galleries.
15. Image Sitemap
If NextGen Galleries are not an issue, the next best image sitemap plugin is coincidentally titled Image Sitemap. This plugin is a mixture between Google XML Sitemap for Images and XML Image Sitemap, both of which are both no longer being updated, so I have not tested them out.
Internal Linking Plugins for WordPress
Why are internal linking plugins important?
The importance in internal linking is no secret in the SEO world. The use of anchor text in your internal links will act very similarly to acquiring external links from third party websites. They will help your rankings, but also flow authority throughout all the pages on your website, if properly linked together. Internal linking plugins make it easy to automate linking in-between your blog posts, because after-all its hard to keep track of all the posts you’ve made over the years to manually link to them. Worth noting that this technique should not be overused, as Google has a history for penalizing websites that abuse having too many internal and outbound links on the same page. The second benefit is that internal links will improve user experience and lower bounce rates, which are increasingly becoming a more prominent factor in Google’s ranking algorithm.
16. SEO Smart Link
The SEO Smart Link plugin is one of my favourite internal linking plugins. The plugin allows you to set a list of keywords and phrases, which will link to certain posts, pages, categories and tags in your blog. Additionally you have the option to set links to nofollow as well, if you are taking extra precautions to how excessively you are utilizing internal linking, or if you don’t want to pass any link-juice when linking to external sites (common practice when you are linking out to affiliate sites).
17. WP Optimize By xTraffic
Like the SEO Smart Link plugin, the WP Optimize by xTraffic plugin will take your list of keywords and internally link the keywords to the provided posts. Additionally there three other neat features. The plugin will automatically use an algorithm to link to the most appropriate posts on your site, optimize your images by reducing file sizes and adding alt tags, and lastly it will watermark your images in bulk if you are every worried about people stealing your work.
Broken Links Plugins for WordPress SEO
Why are broken link plugins important?
Broken links and pages that return as 5xx sever errors can and will hurt the SEO of your website. Google’s crawlers are allocated a certain amount of resources to crawl and indexed websites, and once your website returns with too many errors there is a good chance that many pages will not become indexed, or will be dropped from the indexation list, therefor hurting the potential traffic to your site. Luckily there are many plugins that can help solve some of those issues.
18. 404 To 301 Re-direct
A simple, yet effective plugin, which automatically 301 re-directs all of your 404 errors to the home page. While this plugin is not exactly the efficient in terms of best SEO practices, it will improve the websites ability to rank better and improve user experiences. As a best SEO practice, I would recommend manually re-directing each 404 errors in the .htaccess file, to the most relevant page or post possible.
19. Broken Link Checker
Out of all of the broken links plugins, Broken Link Checker is probably my favorite plugin for dealing with 404 errors, and probably one of the most popular ones out there. The plugin interface allows you to manually update URLs for 404 errors, and not only detects 404 errors of internal pages of your own website, but also if external links have become 404 errors.
Malware, Virus and Hacker Prevention Plugins for WordPress SEO
Why are malware, virus and hacker prevention important?
More and more, Google is able to detect websites which have been hacked and infected with viruses and malware. As their detection has improved so has it’s importance in the ranking algorithm. Making sure you’re website is free of any malicious attack, it is best to keep your site as safe as possible.
Among many of Jetpack’s great feature’s which I have covered in more detail before on my person blog, also comes with a decent security feature which blocks brute force attacks on your website. To date I have more than 7,000 brute for attacks blocked by Jetpack, on my website. This feature will come automatically set when downloading the plugin and you will not have to do anything extra. any protection is better than none.
21. Sucuri Security
Sucuri Security is one of the better defensive plugins you can get for WordPress, which come free of charge. It has a lot of great features like malware scans, firewalls and file hardeners. The malware scans incorporates the top security blacklists from from engines such as Google Safe Browsing, Norton, AVG, McAfee, and many more. No security plugin is complete without any post-hacking measures, and Sucuri does exactly that through its Post-Hack feature. If an intruder breaches you’re website, the Sucuri plugin will allow you to reset any of your security keys so the information the hacker obtained becomes invalid, and also force user password resets. Lastly the plugin will also allow you to reset and re-update all of your WordPress plugins, which are often the entry-point for hackers.
22. Wordfence Security
Wordfence Security is probably the number one free security plugin for WordPress, with more than 1 million active installs. I has many of the same features as Sucuri Security, but had a couple unique features which most other security plugins do not. For example, Wordfence has its own high speed caching engine to avoid security and caching conflicts, protects against DDoS attacks, and it verifies the source code of your website against the official WordPress repository, so you can monitor changes. There are many more unique features which you can read more about on their website.
Social Media Sharing Plugins for WordPress SEO
Why are Social Media Sharing plugins important?
Last we heard from Google, social signals were not a part of the Google Ranking Algorithm, but we all know that to be a little untrue. For any experienced SEO, who has experimented with social media, will tell you that they do indeed have some impact on rankings. We do however believe that there is a strong correlation between the quality of the content, and whether not it gets a lot of attention on social media. Good content is sure to get some of the social media love, right? The most recent Panda update which penalized sites with poor content, which well of course, probably got no social media shares. There is no shortage of well put together social sharing plugins for WordPress, so we will only cover a few of our top favourites.
The SumoMe plugin has a lot of great features that go above an beyond social sharing, which is one of the main reason’s we love this plugin. The less plugins you have installed on your website, the better, in terms of website performance. So whenever we come across plugins with multiple features, we can really appreciate them. With SumoMe, you actually don’t even need to worry about potential slowdowns from the plugin, as it features asynchronous loading, which will not affect your page load speed. Besides the eye pleasing social share buttons which are great motivators to users to share your content
- List Builder: A pop-up box which allows you to capture email leads. This has support for the top e-mail platforms such as Mail Chimp, Infusionsoft. HubSpot and more.
- Welcoming Mat: A full-screen call to action when a visitor lands on your page.
- Heat Maps: A feature which allows you to see where people are clicking around on the screen
- Scroll Box: An email collection system triggers where a reader gets to a certain part of the page a
- Smart Bar: A floating bar at the top or bottom of your website which encourages users to sign up to your site’s newsletter or email list.
- Highlighter: The ability to highlight text and easily Tweeting out the highlighted section.
- Image Share: The ability to easily share a picture in your post to with a link to your post on Pintrest, Facebook and Twitter.
The Shareaholic plugin is rather similar to SumoMe, but boasts a lot of other great features we particularly like in some cases. Again besides the obvious of the aesthetically pleasing social sharing buttons, and the addition of the floating share buttons you may often see on many websites on the left hand side.
- Related Content: The related content is a little different from most related content features found in other plugins. It works extremely well, and also allows you to feature sponsored posts, which you can earn money from.
- Social Analytics: The social analytics feature allows you to measure social activity on your most popular pages for valuable insight you might not otherwise be able to obtain.
- Affiliate Links: Shareaholic has its own network of affiliates with over 35,000 retailers.
- Follow Button: Not only will users be able to share your content across their social media accounts, they will also have the ability to easily follow you across all of your social media accounts, at the click of one button.
25. AddToAny Share Buttons
For those looking for a more simplified solutions to social sharing AddToAny is probably one of the better options to go for.
- Custom placement: The plugin allows you to place the share links just about everywhere. Before the content, after, or both. Also features a vertical and horizontal floating share bar
- Analytics Integration: Automatically integrates with you Google Analytics account. It can track shared links with bit.ly, goo.gl and custom URL shortners.
While this by no means is a definitive list of available WordPress plugins which can and will provide users with SEO benefits, but it is a good start to build a solid foundation for any website which is starting to consider the value of SEO in their business, or for other’s which are looking to further improve their presence in the Search Engine Results Rankings.
If there’s any SEO plugins for WordPress that you think we missed from our list, let us know in the comments below, and we’ll make sure to add them to our resource!