WordPress comes hosting some really strong features out of the box when it comes to SEO; the fundamentals have certainly been well thought about before being deployed into the core CMS code base. Plugins build on this foundation and allow you to enhance existing functionality or bring new aspects onto your site to try and improve your rankings. The plugins section of WordPress is a huge selling feature because the marketplace for plugins is so vibrant, with a solution to almost every problem, often with multiple options to solve that specific problem too.
With such an array of choices for plugins, it can cast a little bit of confusion on where to go and what to use first, here I want to walk you through some of the essential plugins I use. Now let me start off by saying these are my preferred SEO plugins; other viable alternatives do exist and if you do have a real point of contention with any of the plugins below, please do feel free to explore the large number of plugins available to you; I’m sure you’ll have plenty of choices and there is a high probability of you finding what you exactly need.
Loading Speed Plugins
When it comes to loading speed, it’s an element of SEO that is very close to my heart – having written a guide on how to resolve website loading speed errors on most CMS and platforms. Here I want to touch on the specific plugins and what I typically use as part of my WordPress build. Let’s start with image handling, I typically don’t work with webp files locally and instead use the likes of Canva to generate PNG and JPG files; I use a plugin called Imagify to handle webp for me. This is a really powerful tool when it comes to image handling, when I upload an image onto WordPress it’ll automatically compress it and use the webp version. It also packs a mass process feature which will work through not only your other, older images but you can define files in your FTP to cover both media and theme images too. Users can also benefit from having the ability to toggle the aggression on compression, often the highest settings come with a few visual changes (minimal) but typically I select the medium option.
In addition to compression and filetype, it can support removing metadata and also using the <picture> HTML tag when applicable. If the site you are managing is relatively new and small; there is a small number of free credits to get you started but there is also an unlimited package which is very cheap (£8-9 or so, per month, at the time of writing this).
One of the downsides unfortunately is with multiple developer solutions, and layers of features, it can cause problems with how key website assets are served, such as CSS and JS files. What I see happen a lot is a plugin will be used for one particular purpose but instead of just firing code on one page, CSS and JS files will be used site wide. Over the years I have tried many different solutions and now use two different plugins within a hybrid approach.
The first plugin I typically subscribe for is Perfmatters, which is a really powerful performance-enhancing tool, it allows users to declare which scripts to run on which page, and it comes packed with additional enhancements such as broken cart fixes, expired transients handling and an array of pre-build features to streamline a site. I’ve seen recently it has started incorporating things like preloading and lazy loading, reducing the need for development involvement around performance features which were typically complex for an amateur website owner to implement singlehandedly.
Once Perfmatters has resolved some global problematic areas, I couple this with Hummingbird, a modification, caching and overall speed-enhancing tool. Hummingbird ticks a lot of boxes for me, it gives you full control whilst also fixing a lot of problems straight out of the box as standard, without the need of tinkering with the settings. I’ve not seen any major assets break or malfunction when I’ve deployed this plugin, it seems to be using very robust modification logic. There are secondary functions bolstered to the backend of this plugin too – such as speed reporting, grading and suggestions on how to even further boost performance.
Dedicated SEO Plugins for WordPress
When it comes to dedicated SEO plugins for WordPress, there are a lot of options here but my preference is Yoast. What I mean by a dedicated SEO plugin is over 90% of the functionality of this plugin is geared toward improving your rankings or giving you the tools to help facilitate this. I know there is Rank Math and thousands of other plugins but Yoast has never let me down. It’s powering this site and every WordPress site I manage (and have a say in what to deploy).
The key features I like with Yoast, aside from the expected page-by-page SEO analysis and functions options (around writing page titles, meta descriptions, canonical etc…) but the ability to do some mass changes around archives, taxonomies and the ability to get almost everything right. There used to be a bit of drag when deploying this plugin due to how the database handled storage of the metadata and other key SEO information but this has been resolved by Yoast, allowing it to be much quicker; I absolutely love this plugin for its functionality and also being a key player in me ranking websites very well.
An additional optional SEO plugin I would say, is Google’s Site Kit – I’ve just found seamlessly adding the full suite of Google tools very useful to do it under one plugin very appealing. This allows you to manage everything from Console to Tag Manager, under one plugin developed by Google.
Noteworthy Plugins For WordPress
A few other tools which I install in almost every WordPress build or take over, that’s Really Simple SSL – ensuring my site doesn’t get any HTTPS redirection loops and providing robust management at a domain level.
Simple 301 redirects – really like the user interface and is a big player when it comes to things like product redundancy, allowing me to seamlessly redirect discontinued pages to a relevant page. If you use this plugin, or any other version of it, it’s also worthwhile knowing about temporary redirects – just in case you get them mixed up, as they can have consequences with SEO.
IndexNow – less now so, but on some sites which have issues with indexing in Bing (and potentially Google), a Bing-managed plugin can hook straight into WordPress and seems to provide more reactive indexing in Bing than XML sitemap. I run it on this site and noticed a big shift in pages indexed in Bing but also saw a spike in pages within Discovered – not yet crawled in Google Search Console. Very limited testing and very low amount of effort required in setting it up, I don’t typically recommend this but have on this site as a test.
Plugins play a major part in the efficient (or not so efficient) running of WordPress but it is only one of the main component parts, additional areas you need to be familiar with are the WordPress Themes and also these top level speed improvements, specific for WordPress.