Can WordPress plugins help your SEO? Certainly! Can they also hurt your SEO? Yes, we’re afraid they can.
It’s all about minimalism. Any fulltime or freelance SEO consultant will tell you that you need to be incredibly choosey with the plugins that you install in the back end of WordPress.
Why? Because these SEO plugins take up space in the back end of your site. The more plugins you add, the more they could potentially slow your website’s performance down. And your site’s speed has never been more important to your SEO than it is right now.
A few weeks ago, we saw the release of one of the biggest Google updates in recent years and the introduction of the Core Web Vitals. This update firmly positioned your site’s speed as one of the most important ranking signals—maybe the most important.
You don’t want to take painstaking steps to make sure your site is running as lean as possible with good hosting, slick design, and high-end hosting, only to be slowed down by a bunch of WordPress plugins that were supposed to help you.
We’re not saying that you should ban all SEO plugins. Some of them are incredibly helpful. In fact, some of them are time-savers and lifesavers. But you want to make sure that you only keep the ones that offer you real value and throw the rest away. You don’t have room for any redundancy (i.e. two plugins that compress images), or anything that doesn’t actually help you.
Which ones should you use? We have polled a bunch of nerds that have been obsessed with all the latest trends in SEO in the last decade, and compiled a list of the best WordPress SEO plugins.
After some very SEO-nerdy discussions, here is our list of 7 SEO plugins that can make your site, and 3 plugins that could break it (or at least hold you back).
Site Maker #1: Oxygen – The Leanest Page Builder
Oxygen is billed as the most bloat-free, powerful visual site builder ever, and we wholeheartedly agree.
Why is a bloat-free page builder important? Because fast and lean websites have never been more essential to your SEO than they are right now.
As we said earlier, the Core Web Vitals changed everything. Or at least, they will eventually change everything. Most of the web has actually been a bit slow to adapt. In fact, it was recently reported that only 4% of a sample of 2-million URLs passed the Core Web Vitals test.
We have been absolutely obsessed with making our clients’ sites faster for the last year and a half. That’s why Oxygen has been invaluable to us. Site speed begins in the design phase. You can easily weigh down a page before it’s even built by using the wrong page builder.
Most site builders were not designed with SEO or speed in mind. Oxygen was created by an SEO guy who wanted to make it easy to build lean pages.
Oxygen vs Elementor vs Cornerstone vs Beaver Builder
One video really sold us on Oxygen. It shows the difference in bloat and load times when you build a page with a simple title in both Oxygen and Elementor.
We were using Elementor before, and we were reasonably happy with it, but this video convinced us to make the switch to Oxygen across the board.
Oxygen was built for developers. So, if you have a background in development and you know how to code, you will probably prefer Oxygen. It simply allows you to do more and you will probably find it more flexible than Elementor.
Site Maker #2: Yoast – The Page Optimizer
You have probably heard of the Yoast SEO plugin. If not, allow us to tell you about it and take all of the credit for making your life easier. You’re welcome!
Yoast is one of the most popular SEO plugins on the market, and for good reason. It’s simple, it’s user-friendly, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
You can use the free version of Yoast, or you can spend $89.00 (USD) for a year of the Premium version. The freebee has most of what you need to optimize your pages, fill in your page title, and add your meta descriptions. But springing for the Premium version is money well spent. It opens the door to things like internal link suggestions and other cool features.
There’s no need to overthink this one. The world’s most popular SEO plugin should probably be the one you use. You will see a lot of other so-called Yoast SEO plugin alternatives on the market today. But we don’t see any need for an alternative.
Site Maker #3: NitroPack – The Speed Optimizer
We’re talking a lot about speed in this blog for one reason: Site speed is gosh dang important. It should be at the heart of any successful SEO strategy these days.
As soon as Google announced the Core Web Vitals and told us we had a year to prepare, we didn’t hesitate. We rolled up our sleeves the next day and started to look for new ways to make our client sites as fast as possible.
At first, we relied heavily on a 3-pronged attack of:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with these 3 SEO plugins. We saw some pretty good results using them, and if you use them to speed up your site, you will too. However, we found something better.
We started using Nitropack and we haven’t looked back. Trust us when we say it is just awesome.
The work we’ve done with NitroPack has led to some very fast sites and very happy clients. We’re seeing consistent PageSpeeds Insights test scores in the 80s, many of them are in the 90-100 range.
The three tools we mentioned earlier are pretty good. But we’ve been able to use NitroPack to come close to 2-second load times. I mean… come on!
It helps you do crucial things like getting your top-heavy assets to load first so that users can start interacting with the page as quickly as possible. It also shows you everything that you don’t need on a page so you can dump all of the bloat.
Another huge benefit is NitroPack’s Content Delivery Network (CDN), which can shorten the physical distance between your users and your server.
This can give you:
- Optimal load times
- More server uptime
- Less bandwidth usage
- Better security
- All-around better website performance
A CDN is an absolute must for giant international sites like Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix. They’re also very necessary in the world of online video games.
If you’re a small business competing on a small level, you probably won’t benefit from a CDN. However, if you’re receiving a high amount of traffic from multiple geographic areas, you should definitely talk to your SEO firm about your options.
You may have heard that using a CDN can actually hurt your SEO. Our data says that this is far from the case. At the same time, Google Search Advocate, John Mueller, put this myth to bed in no uncertain terms.
CDNs are amazing and NitroPack is a game-changer. We cannot recommend it enough.
If you’re a small business just trying to boost a small site, WP Rocket, Asset CleanUp Pro, and Imagify are probably going to be very useful. But if you have to manage a few thousands of pages (like we do), NitroPack is unquestionably the tool for you.
Site Maker #4: WordFence – The Site Protector
Your site’s security has always been massively important. However, Google reminded us how important it is by making it one of the Page Experience Signals in their 2021 Page Experience update, just in case any of us felt like slacking off a bit.
We feel that WordFence Security is the best security plugin available, and a few thousand 5-Star reviews clearly agree with us.
It basically does an all-in-one kind of thing. It scans your website for any malicious code. It knows which files are supposed to be installed. If it finds any fishy-looking extra code, it will notify you of it.
We chose it because of its firewall, which continuously updates to block exploits. Their real-time firewall and malware signature updates via the Threat Defence Feed, while their Real-time IP Blocklist blocks all requests from any known malicious IPs.
It has been an exhausting 150 words since we brought up site speeds, so we might as well talk about how WordFence can help your site’s speeds. It blocks requests from malicious IPs and keeps them from tying up your resources. The more pages you have, the bigger of a deal this is to you. If you have thousands of people trying to hack your site, this firewall can make an absolutely massive difference.
We also really like that it prevents brute force attacks by limiting login attempts.
Site Maker #5: Redirection – The 404 Error Preventer
We feel that Redirection is also crucial. It’s invaluable when migrating your website, but it’s also good just to have it.
It protects your website from any 404 errors. Let’s say you have a page with the URL abc.com/mypage. But for one reason or another, you want to change it to abc.com/myawesomepage. The original URL has probably been around for a while and Google has probably crawled it. Redirection helps you manage this by ensuring that Google knows this is the old URL at a new location, while also helping to prevent any 404 errors.
Those 404 errors are bad for your user experience and bad for your SEO. It’s very important to stay on top of all your migrations, and this SEO plugin can really help you manage things.
Site Maker #6: The MozBar (Google Chrome) – The Link Builder’s Best Friend
We’ve spent so much time talking about WordPress plugins that we almost forgot to address the best SEO plugins for Google Chrome. And that would be a shame.
Moz’s Domain Authority score remains one of the most used SEO metrics in the world today, and for good reason. Their score is incredibly predictive of SEO success.
The Mozbar helps you instantly see any given page’s Domain Authority and Page Authority numbers. You can see those scores at the top of each individual page, or when they’re listed in the SERPS.
Looking at these scores is always helpful when sizing up your competition or looking at a would-be guest posting opportunity. Also, when you see that your local newspaper has a DA of 57, it really helps you recognize how much link building value these sites have.
But it’s also just incredibly addictive and fascinating (to SEO nerds, at least) to look at these numbers. It’s always interesting to see things like Sportsnet has a slightly higher DA than TSN.
And best of all, it’s totally free. Just sign up and then sign in.
Site Maker #7: Grammarly (Google Chrome)- The Proofreader
Yes, yes, we know. This is not exactly an SEO plugin. This is a spelling and grammar checker.
However, let’s be clear about one thing: Good content means good rankings and bad writing is the #1 content killer on the web. The odd spelling or grammar error is forgivable. But if your blogs are littered with problems, it absolutely murders your credibility.
If a small business owner asked me what the best free blogging tool was, I would say Grammarly without any hesitation at all. Most small business owners aren’t writers, nor are they proofreaders.
There is a paid version of Grammarly, but the free plugin is more than enough to raise the quality of your blogs, emails, and reports. It also has really good Google Docs integration. So it will proofread your content as you type it in Google Docs, or in the backend of WordPress.
Like spellcheck, using Grammarly doesn’t mean you’re 100% guaranteed to post 100% error-free content. But it can help you avoid some of the most common and easy-to-miss errors.
Site Breaker #1: Cornerstone – The Page Breaker
There are a lot of companies using Cornerstone to build their pages right now, and many are reasonably happy with it. But we have seen it literally break pages on more than one occasion.
We feel that Cornerstone is sort of the worst of both worlds. The pages come with a lot of excess coding, yet it’s not user-friendly enough to justify non-developers using it. Your page builder should either be fast or be easy, and we feel Cornerstone is neither.
If you get an average blogger with an average level of WordPress experience to use Cornerstone to post a simple blog with a few images, you’re going to hear a new standard of in-office profanity. Trust us on that one.
More often than not, the user is going to have to sheepishly say, “I broke it,” and ask the designer to fix it.
Site Breaker #2: Slider Revolution – The Code Bloater
This is an SEO plugin that helps you manage the sliders/ image carousels on your site.
Here’s the thing: Sliders and carousels are a bit outdated in the world of web design right now, particularly in the age of trying to get our pages to be as fast as possible. There are simply too many other better design options out there.
We have talked to people that list this plugin among the top bloat-adders out there today. It has been a few years since we’ve used it, and during this time they seem to be positioning their offering as more of an overall user-friendly page builder.
In our humble opinion, you can do better.
Site Breaker #3: Jetpack – The Over-killer
What is Jetpack? It’s an all in one SEO plugin, developed by the people at WordPress. It’s a back-upper, it’s a malware scanner, an uptime monitor, a spam blocker, and also a brute force attack preventer.
The problem is this: By trying to do a little bit of everything, Jetpack struggles to do any one thing exceptionally well. It tries to be all things to all people, and it suffers because of it.
The fact that it has 3 times more 1-star reviews than it has 4-star reviews is not a good sign. But it’s backed by the WordPress name, so people still reach for it.
Are the tools within Jetpack useless? Far from it. But the issue is that it comes with 20 modules that take up the same amount of space as 20 SEO plugins. Do you need all of these modules? Do you stand a reasonable chance of getting real value from at least half of them? Absolutely no chance.
If you find yourself drawn to any single feature within Jetpack, we advise you to download a simple plugin that specializes in that single task and save yourself a lot of space.
What to Consider Before Installing a New SEO Plugin
As we keep saying, you want to keep the backend of WordPress as clean as possible. If you’re going to allocate space to a plugin, you want to make damn sure it’s going to offer you real value.
So how do you know if an SEO plugin is a waste of time and/or a waste of space? Look at these 3 things:
1. The Number of Downloads
Yes, there is something to be said for being an early adopter and discovering the value of an under-the-radar plugin that not a lot of people know about yet. However, there is far more to be said for an SEO plugin with a few thousand downloads and good reviews.
If you’re going to try something with very few downloads, make sure it comes personally recommended from someone you trust.
2. The Reviews
The best part of the WordPress plugin store is that you can instantly get an unfiltered account of what people think of this product. If it sucks, people will be only too happy to explain exactly why it sucks.
Read both the good reviews and the bad reviews and look for reoccurring themes. If the 1-star reviews complain about the inability to do something that you have no intention of doing, you will probably be fine. But the bad reviews could also flag an issue that could be a real deal-breaker for you.
And of course, if the 5-star reviews all describe how it solved the problem you’re currently experiencing, you are probably going to love it.
3. Their Last Update
If the plugin hasn’t been updated in a year or more, that’s a really bad sign. In most cases, it means that there wasn’t enough commercial demand for this plugin. The business that created it has moved on and they aren’t supporting it anymore.
That means that you’re not going to get any support, and it might not even be compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
Want to Take Your SEO to the Next Level?
Paul is a 15-year veteran of the industry and a thought-leader that is frequently sought by major media outlets to comment on current SEO trends.
Paul started his career working for the biggest SEO agency in Canada. But he started his own agency to solve some of the problems that come with a Big Agency. He made it his mission to make transparent and affordable SEO services available to the business owners who need the most help.
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