Do You Really Need To Install a WordPress SEO Plugin?

Older WordPress versions definitely had loads of SEO related issues. But over time, most of these issues have been fixed.

The current WordPress versions are pretty much fully SEO friendly on their own.

So do you really need to install a SEO plugin to make your blog SEO friendlier?

Let's find out.

The role of SEO plugins

SEO plugins definitely had a job to do back in the days when WordPress had a whole lot of SEO related issues. But these no longer exist.

It should come as no surprise that the modern day SEO plugins are bloated with fancy functionalities that you do not even need. Most of these functionalities are anything but SEO related.

In addition, there are many standalone plugins out there that can do a better job at adding SEO friendly features to your blog, than a single bloated SEO plugin that can actually slow down your website.

What does an SEO Plugin do for your blog?

So, how exactly does a SEO plugin make your site SEO friendly?

Let us go through all the important features that most SEO plugins offer and if or not they add value to your site.

1.) Adding breadcrumbs

Many SEO Plugins allow you to add breadcrumbs to your blog.

Simply put, breadcrumbs are navigational links that display all links that lead to the current page being viewed.

For example:

Homepage > News > Car News > New Releases

If your site has hundreds of categories or is very complex to navigate, breadcrumbs are an ideal solution as they help the user navigate easily.

Also from the SEO perspective, Google sometimes displays bread crumbs in their SERPs (Search engine results).

An example is as follows:

Breadcrumbs SERP

But from the ranking perspective, breadcrumbs are certainly not a ranking factor. Sites that don't use breadcrumbs rank as well as sites that do.

In that sense, adding breadcrumbs is more for aesthetic reasons than for SEO reasons.

As long as you have a proper navigation on your site, and properly named categories, you are good to go.

You can easily do away with this feature.

2.) Adding social media tags

Most SEO plugins will give you an option to add social media tags - OG tags, twitter cards etc.

These tags do nothing from the SEO point of view. They are only meant for Social media sites like FB and Twitter.

And even without these tags, social networks like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter can recognize the URL, Title, Description and Image of the post being shared.

Yes, you do need these tags if you want to administer your Facebook account and get access to features like Facebook insights.

If that be the case, you can easily add social media tags to your site using a specific plugin like this one: Wondermoon's Simple Faceboo Open Graph tags.

Or you can even integrate these tags by editing your theme's functions'php file and adding a simple code. Refer the following article on how to do this:

Steps to add Facebook OG Tags without a plugin

Note: OG tags are not specific to Facebook and they are read by other social networks as well.

3.) Canonical URLs

Most SEO plugins have the feature to add canonical URLs to your site.

The fact remains that canonical URLs are not required if you have proper 301 redirection in place. Let's see how.

Any wordpress website can be loaded using the 'WWW' and 'non-WWW' version.

Similary, if you have HTTPS on your site, your site can be accessed with 'HTTPS' and with 'HTTP'. So that makes 4 different versions of your website as follows:

http://sitename.com
http://www.sitename.com
https://sitename.com
https://www.sitename.com

If you are able to access your website using each one of these versions, then you will run into 'content duplication' issues.

A canonical URL tells google which version is the original version and which ones are mere copies.

But a better way to tell Google of the original version is to 301 (permanent) redirect all other versions to the main version.

You can easily do this by adding a simple rule to your .htaccess file.

For example, let's say you want to redirect all versions of your site to the following: https://sitename.com

You can achieve this by adding the following code to your '.htaccess' file.


RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{SERVER_PORT} 80
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://sitename.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Having said that, most mordern wordpress themes automatically add Canonical tags to your site. So you don't need a SEO plugin to add these tags for you.

4.) Removing stop words from slugs

A slug is the filename part of a URL.

For example, in the following URL, 'how-to-blog' is the slug.

http://sitename.com/blog/how-to-blog/

WordPress auto-generates 'slugs' from the article title. You can edit the auto-generated slug by clicking on the 'edit' button next to the slug.

Some SEO plugins have a functionality to remove 'Stop words' (words like on, is, at, which, the, etc.) from the slugs.

For one, this doesn't do much for you from the SEO perspective and secondly, relying on a plugin to do this for you is not the best way.

While naming slugs, just make sure to keep your slugs short and simple. A max of 5 words should be the key.

Just like you spend time coming up with the heading of the article, take your time crafting your slug. Make it short and meaningful. You can also manually weed out words that you think are not required from the slug.

5.) XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap can be useful, but is definitely not a requirment. Plus a XML sitemap does nothing to improve your site's SEO.

Even without a sitemap, Google can crawl your website pretty well. A sitemap only acts as a very rough guide.

If you want, you can easily install a XML sitemap using the many standalone plugins out there, like this one: Google sitemap generator.

6.) Readability and Keyword Analysis

Some plugins will offer you this functionality.

But if you think about it, you really don't need an automated tool to tell you how readable your content is to humans. You really are the best judge.

As far as keyword integration is concerned, the important thing to remember is to write informative headlines and good quality content that relates to the headline.

In most cases, when you are writing quality content, you automatically integrate keywords (as well as their semantic variations). You really do not need a tool that tells you to improve the readability of your articles.

Plus, be aware that stuffing your articles with repetitive keywords can get your site into trouble. The natural keyword density is the best way to go.

Also, if you really want a great tool to check your content, try Grammarly.com

7.) SEO Friendly Title Tag Structure

There was a time when WordPress title tag structure was not SEO friendly. But WordPress has recently added theme support for 'Title Tags' and most themes are using
this feature.

As of now, the title tags generated by WordPress are perfectly SEO friendly.

Importantly, the current title tags, add page numbers to archive pages. Previously, they did not and that lead to title tag duplication.

So unless you are looking to make some fancy title tag changes, you do not need a SEO plugin.

8.) Custom Title Tags

WordPress automatically sets the heading of your post as the 'title tag'. In most cases, this should be perfectly fine.

But in some cases, you might want to add a custom title tag that is different from the post heading.

Most SEO plugins will allow you to set a custom title tag and yes this is a good feature.

But you can easily add custom title tags for your posts using 'Custom Fields' feature of wordpress. All you need to do is create a custom field and add a code snippet to your theme's functions.php file. Read the article below to find out how to do this:

9.) Meta Description Tags

By default, WordPress does not set a meta description tag. These tags are not necessary and will not aid your SEO much.

But since the meta description tag is sometimes displayed in Google SERPs (Search engine results page), you can benefit by having an attractive description.

In the absence of a description, Google will auto generate a description from your article text.

Most SEO plugins will allow you to add a meta description and yes this is a useful feature.

But you really don't need a plugin to do this for you. You can achieve this easily using wordpress's Custom Fields feature. Refer the article below to know how:

Note: There is no point in auto-generating the meta description from your post content. If you want to add a meta description, make it custom and unique.

10.) Meta Keywords tag

This tag is outdated and is not necessary. Some SEO plugins still have an option to add these tags.

11.) Google Webmaster Tools integration

There are some SEO Plugins that allow you to verify your site for Google webmaster tools (Search Console) and Bing Webmaster tools.

You can easily verify your site for these services yourself. You really don't need an SEO plugin for this.

Here's how to verify your site without using any Plugin or FTP.

12.) Remove category base

Some SEO plugins have an option that allows you to remove the 'category' base that wordpress adds to your category pages.

WordPress automatically adds a 'category' base to all category pages and a tag base to all tag pages.

For instance, this is how a typical category and tag page URL looks like:

http://sitename.com/category/category-name/ 
http://sitename.com/tag/category-name/ 

The problem with having a category base is that it can generate 404 errors.

For example, the following URLs will lead to a 404 error:

http://sitename.com/category/
http://sitename.com/tag/

Although, this is not a huge problem, you can easily solve this issue by adding two new pages in wordpress.

Simply go to 'Pages > Add New' and add a page with the slug 'category' and another with the slug 'tag'.

You can add any related content you want to these pages. For instance, the category page can have a list of all your popular categories.

13.) Robots.txt and .htaccess file editor

Some SEO Plugins give you the option of editing your Robots.txt and .htaccess files from within the wordpress dashboard.

This is certainly an useful feature, but to be on the safer side, it is recommended not to edit your '.htacess' file from within the dashboard.

If you make even a minor error, your site will not load, you will not be able to login to your dashboard and you will need to ask your hosting provider or webmaster to fix the issue for you.

The best way to edit your .htaccess file is by using a FTP (File transfer protocol) software.

As far as editing Robots.txt file is concerned, there is a light weight plugin for this that you can use:

Or you can edit it using FTP.

14.) Redirect Attachment URLs to parent post URL

When you upload an image from your wordpress dashboard, wordpress creates an unique page for the image.

For example, if you upload an image named 'new-image.php', the following page will be created:

http://sitename.com/new-image

Similarly, when you add an image to a single post by clicking on 'Add Media', wordpress creates another page for the same image.

http://sitename.com/single-post-title/new-image

This can lead to thin/duplicate content issues because the only content on the page is the image.

One way to resolve this is to simply redirect the attachment pages to the homepage which is what the SEO plugins allow you to do.

But a better way is to add a NoIndex/NoFollow tag to these pages. You can easily do this on your own by adding a small code snippet to your theme's functions.php file. Read the below point to find out how.

15.) Add Noindex to low value pages

WordPress auto-generates a whole range of archive pages.

There is the daily, monthly and yearly archive, author archive for all authors, tag archives, category archives and index page archives if you have homepage pagination.

Plus, there are other low value pages like the search result pages if you use wordpress search feature and 404 error pages.

This can create a whole lot of duplicate content. The best way to resolve this is to add a 'NoIndex' tag to all unwanted archive pages like the data archive and author archive. Plus, it's a good idea to add 'NoIndex' tag to all paginated archive pages (2nd page and onward).

A NoIndex tag tells GoogleBot not to index a given page.

All SEO plugins will allow you to add NOIndex to these pages. This is a good feature.

But you can easily do this on your own. Check the article below to know how to do this:

16.) The Prev and Next Meta tags

Google recommends adding the Prev and Next tags on any page that is part of a sequence.

Let's say, you have 100 blog posts. All of them belong to a category (or have the same tag). Let's call this category 'category-a'.

Now if you display 20 posts per page, Category-A will have 5 pages as follows:

http://sitename.com/category/catogary-a/
http://sitename.com/category/catogary-a/page-1/
http://sitename.com/category/catogary-a/page-2/
http://sitename.com/category/catogary-a/page-3/
http://sitename.com/category/catogary-a/page-4/

Similarly, if your homepage displays the latest posts, you might have pagination on. You can check for pagination by scrolling down to the bottom of your homepage and see if you have page numbers.

http://sitename.com/
http://sitename.com/page-1/
http://sitename.com/page-2/
and so on..

Now you know that these pages are part of a sequence. In other words, they are not separate pages. They are a single page, split into 5 different pages.

The best way to tell Google that these are part of the same page is to use the Next and Prev Tag.

The Next tag gives the URL of the next page in the sequence and the Prev tag gives the URL of the previous page.

Currently, wordpress does add the Next and Prev tag, but they add it to your regular blog post pages. They do not add these tags to paginated pages where they are required. But there is a good possibility that they will add support for these tags in the future versions.

So as of now, the only way to add this funtionality is to use a SEO plugin. Or you can manually edit your functions.php page to add a code that generates these tags.

Refer the below article to know how to do this on your own:

Having said that, adding these tags is not of massive importance as Google has hinted that they are pretty good at sensing sequences. In other words, they can figure out if a set of pages is part of a sequence.

Plus, you can always add the 'NoIndex' tag to these pages (from the 2nd page onwards), so they are not indexed. (Refer point 15)

In addition, WordPress also adds unique title tags to these pages which prevents content duplication.

So even if you don't add these tags, you are good to go.

Conclusion

Going by all points in this article, the following are the only functionalities that SEO plugins offer that are useful. :

  • Gives you an option to add custom title tags and meta description tags.
  • Gives you an option to alter the title tag structure.
  • Helps you add NoIndex to low value pages.
  • Adds Next and Prev meta tags to paginated archive pages.
  • Adds XMl Sitemap.
  • Adds OG and other social media Tags.

And almost all of these functionalities can be added to your blog manually as discussed in the article.

If you think it's too much fuss to manually add some of these functionalities to your site, then a SEO plugin is definitely a great option.

On the other hand, if you don't mind getting your hands a little dirty and edit your wordpress files to add some code, then you can definitely do away with a SEO plugin.

What are your thoughts? Do you really need a SEO plugin?

 
 
 
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *