At least once a week, I see this question posed in one or more of the Divi groups, occassionally with the inference that an SEO plugin is directly responsible for whether or not a site ranks. The fact of the matter is that any and all of the SEO plugins are not magic bullets; they are merely tools that provide a visual checklist to help a user identify the core elements that go into on-page optimization. Just as you’d write down a grocery shopping list, the SEO plugins help ensure that you don’t forget that all important ingredient. It’s not going to guaranty a gourmet dinner; that’s up to you to prepare.
There are several SEO plugins available in the WP repo, as well as some premium options. For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on the 2 most popular: Yoast and All In One SEO. For some additional and less widely known options, a detailed overview of the 15 best SEO plugins for 2017 can be read here.
PROS AND CONS OF ALL IN ONE SEO
I personally find All In One SEO to be lacking several very important metrics. While it does include the handy character counter for optimizing the SEO title, keyword and meta description, the visual metrics end there. I do like that the noindex and nofollow radio selectors are front and center, unlike Yoast where these options are out of main sight under the advanced tab; however, this minor convenience is not enough to overcome the much more significant shortcomings of All In One SEO.
Most importantly, All In One SEO does not alert a user if/when the focus keyword has already been optimized on another page, nor does it indicate if the current page contains any internal links to another page that is optimized for the same keyword. If you remember only one thing from this entire post: DO NOT OPTIMIZE MORE THAN ONE PAGE FOR THE SAME KEYWORD/PHRASE, AND DO NOT LINK INTERNALLY TO A PAGE THAT IS OPTIMIZED FOR THE SAME KEYWORD. Doing so will cause keyword cannibalization. (Cannibalization in a nutshell: Google only shows 1 result from your site for any given query (unless it thinks you’re REALLY relevant). That means you want the page that shows up to be the one with the greatest relevance and conversion potential. If you have multiple pages that target the same keyword, Google will end up confused and display the non-optimal page over your desired landing page, or will show neither page at all.).
Another extremely important metric that All In One does not display is keyword density. This is another critical metric, as a page that is grossly diluted will not likely rank and similarly, a page that is overly saturated will likely be flagged for keyword stuffing and will be penalized. Avoiding either extreme is crucial. Ideally, keyword density should be 1.9%; however, a slight deviation in either direction is perfectly acceptable.
All In One SEO also lacks metrics for H1-H2 tags, ALT tags on images, and content word count, all of which are important elements of on-page optimization. While an experienced SEO tech might instinctively know to check for these elements, an SEO novice who is less familiar with standard on-page protocol would definitely benefit from a visual checklist that includes these elements as a reminder.
In conclusion, I find All In One SEO to be sufficient for an advanced user; however, grossly lacking several important elements that an SEO novice might easily overlook if not presented as a line item on the visual checklist.
PROS AND CONS OF YOAST
The only pitfall that I find with Yoast is that users have an inherent desire to achieve the “green light”. For SEO novices especially, it’s quite easy to unwittingly abandon best practices in order to change that daunting amber light to green when in fact, “green” is not always best. The only metric that absolutely MUST be green is the line item for “You’ve never used this focus keyword before”, otherwise keyword cannibalization occurs. There is another metric that only appears if the condition exists, and that is an alert that you are linking to another page for which the same keyword is optimized. If this alert appears, remedying this issue is also critical to avoid cannibalization. A nicety that Yoast includes is the “eyeball” so in the event that improper linking does occur, clicking on the eyeball will highlight and quickly identify the troubled link, which can be a significant time saver. Aside from this one metric, amber lights are not necessarily SEO suicide.
Best practices indicate that content should not sound contrived or unnatural. We’ve all seen that site that reads like “For the best dentist in Dallas, contact the best Dallas Dentist today!” NO…just don’t. If your content reads like it was authored by the love-child of Dr Suess and Yoda, move it to trash and select “empty trash”. Seriously. Content should be written for human readers, not for a green light. If keyword density is too low and additional content can be added to include another naturally sounding occurrence of your keyword, have at it. Do not stuff another instance into a contrived sentence just to go for the green. The search engine algorithms become more and more “intelligent” with every update and have abandoned the days of black-hat, keyword stuffed, contrived content and will even penalize a site for this. Readability has become equally as important in the on-page optimization equation and if you are writing good, relevant, readable content, Google is going to find your page whether your keyword density indicator is amber or green.
THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE PLUG-INS
The SEO plugins, particularly Yoast, is a good start for on-page optimization. Will following these guides explicity guaranty that your site will rank on page 1 of Google? Well, that depends on what you’re going after.
If you’re going after a low competition focus keyword and/or targeting a rural or small town area, chances are pretty good that your site will rank well with nothing more than proper on-page optimization. The odds of ranking by on-page optimization alone will decrease in proportion to the competitiveness of the keyword and/or the density of the targeted location. What does this mean in practical application? If your keyword is “how to milk a porcupine”, odds are pretty good that following an SEO plugin as a guide will be more than sufficient to rank your site (For the record, there are actually 557,000 results returned by Google for that search. Who knew???). If your keyword is “law firm in NYC”, you’re not going to see the first few pages of Google just by following along with Yoast or All In One SEO, but following these guiding principles will still lay a good foundation to be built upon by other SEO techniques. In these cases, long-tail keywords and LSIs become increasing important and will help leverage the competition.
There are also very powerful elements that plugins do not even take into account such as silo structure, Google map embeds, GEO-tagged images, embedded EXIF data on images, and schema mark up. These techniques go beyond the intended scope of this post; however, stay tuned for future posts covering each of these optimization techniques in more depth.