SEO doesn’t come prepared in a neat little box.
It’s not a one-time business expense.
And you won’t rank #1 just because you’re publishing fantastic, unique and truly valuable content—that’s not how things work anymore.
You have to play the game.
No matter your online business, SEO is something you’ll have to put a great deal of time, thought, strategy and often dollars into—and even then, results aren’t guaranteed.
To do well, you’re going to need more than just a good WordPress theme up your sleeve. Yes, having a theme that’s built to be optimized will help a lot, but that’s just the thing: You still have to optimize it.
With hundreds of thousands of businesses and websites implementing detailed search engine optimization strategies, there’s absolutely no way a non-optimized website could ever be found organically on the first few pages of Google anymore.
That’s why, if you want your customers to find you online, you need to create a website that’s SEO-friendly (which means it can be optimized, not that it’s already optimized for you—I think it’s important that we’re clear on that). But luckily, there are plugin-craftsmen out there trying to make this easier for you.
To make the SEO workload lighter, you can turn to WordPress plugins.
There are some really smart plugins to support or facilitate various elements of your SEO work.
But before exploring the best of these WordPress plugins, let’s talk about what you’ll want to use them to optimize.
How to Achieve Search Engine Optimization with WordPress Plugins
SEO is incredibly complex and involves a lot of moving parts.
At the heart of it all, it’s really just about making your website a great experience for your users. That’s what search engines like Google are all about: Giving users what they’re looking for by meeting their search intent.
To do this, Google looks at three key elements of your website—onsite factors, offsite factors and content—which we’ll explain right here. Then, as a result of that look-see, Google determines where to rank you in its search results.
Since plugin creators are trying to meet your needs, their WordPress SEO plugins are all designed to help you optimize these three elements of your site.
This is all about the way people interact with and experience your site. There are a number of things you can switch around on your site to improve this.
Onsite SEO factors are things you can visibly see on the pages of your website. This includes things like your URL structure, title tags and meta descriptions, image alt text, keyword usage and navigation options.
Optimizing these onsite items will make it clear to users and search engines what your site is all about, making it easier for users to find what they’re looking for and easier for search engines to rank you for the correct search terms.
Offsite factors, on the other hand, are things that happen outside of your website.
They’re things that won’t visibly affect how your website looks and reads, and they’re things that might seem to be out of your hands, beyond your control. Rest assured, they’re not.
The predominant offsite factor is your link profile—the links you have pointing to your site from other sites. You want high-quality, authoritative and relevant websites linking to you because it tells search engines that you’re a trustworthy source (and thus deserve a top spot in the rankings). Other offsite factors include social shares and brand mentions.
Your link profile is also arguably the most difficult offsite SEO factor since it’s not as easy as logging into your site and playing around with the customization options and text. It’s a factor that requires ongoing work to maintain and improve.
While content technically counts as an onsite element of SEO, we all know that it’s its own beast.
Content is a very large part of SEO and a significant ranking factor that deserves to be unpacked a little more. The content across your website needs to be unique and of the highest quality. It’s how search engines determine how closely you’re meeting the searcher’s needs.
Search engines look at not just the quality of your content, but also its freshness, keyword match and how informative and comprehensive it is compared to what competitors offer. Keyword stuffing doesn’t work like it did back in the early days of optimization—you have to provide real value.
Your website is ranked according to how well your content answers the search query, and so it’s imperative that it’s optimized in detail.
How to Choose the Right SEO Plugin for Your WordPress Site
Ok, now that you have an idea of what SEO is made up of, how do you make it work for you with WordPress plugins? A big part of it comes down to choosing the right plugins—keeping in mind that what works for you might not work for someone else, and it could be for myriad reasons.
Take the time to think about what you need from your website and ask yourself these questions before deciding whether you should use a particular SEO plugin (especially if it’s a paid plugin).
- Compatibility: Is the plugin compatible with your website? Will it work smoothly with any existing themes, features and plugins? This is especially important if you’ve already spent a lot of time and resources creating your website—you don’t want it all to go to waste for a plugin. If a particular plugin isn’t compatible, there will always be an alternative.
- Developer: Who developed the plugin? Do they have a good reputation and track record? This is worth looking into, especially if you’re buying a plugin rather than downloading a free one. Trusted developers are a much safer bet, so take the time to do some external research for reviews and testimonials.
- Support: Does the plugin come with technical support? Does the developer provide support, or does the community? While the importance you place on this will probably depend on your own technical prowess, it’s still something you should be aware of before committing. Check out support forums, reviews and feedback from other users to get an idea of what to expect.
- Popularity/usage: How popular is the plugin? Have active users been increasing steadily? If a plugin has a lot of regular downloads, you can pretty safely assume that it’s used by a lot of people and it provides what they need. It also indicates a widespread community network that could prove handy if you need help or ideas down the track.
- Future updates: Does the plugin come with ongoing updates? Is the developer known for updating and improving their products? It’s worth keeping in mind that access to updates is usually one of the biggest distinctions between free and premium plugins (or free and premium versions of a single plugin).
Now keep these points in mind as we delve into the best WordPress plugins designed specifically for search engine optimization.
10 WordPress Plugins to Make Search Engine Optimization a Breeze
1. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is one of the most well-known and widely-used SEO WordPress plugins, with over 3 million active installs and a phenomenal, five-star rating on WordPress.
It’s a fantastically comprehensive, all-around SEO plugin that gives you the ability to write more keyword-focused content, closely analyzes your pages for SEO elements and much more.
If you’re brand new to search engine optimization in WordPress, then this will give you a crash course and train you in best practices. If you’re more seasoned, it still serves as an important reminder of key SEO steps to keep you on track.
There’s also a premium version available (with an unbelievable 40+ million downloads) that gives you deeper insights and technical capabilities for $69 per website. Just keep in mind that, whether you use the free or premium version, Yoast SEO is a general SEO plugin and should ideally be used together with extensions and a selection of other plugins to make sure you have all your (more specific) bases covered.
2. All in One SEO Pack
People tend to fall into one of two main camps: Yoast SEO users or All in One SEO Pack users. These are the two most popular SEO plugins for WordPress, and people tend to prefer either one or the other.
All in One SEO Pack is another great, all-around SEO plugin that lets you optimize titles, adjust meta descriptions with ease, identify duplicate content—and it’s the only free plugin with SEO integration for e-commerce.
Matching Yoast’s 3 million+ active downloads, All in One SEO Pack also has a premium version available with more advanced features starting at $57 per site.
If you’re trying to decide between the two plugins, I’d recommend trying out the free versions of both to get an idea of what they can do for your website and what you prefer to use.
A lesser-known alternative to Yoast and All in One SEO Pack that I’d like to mention is SEOPress, from independent developer Benjamin Denis.
Small but powerful, SEOPress is another very well made, general SEO plugin that makes it possible to optimize both onsite and offsite elements and make your website Google-ready.
It’s newer than the two big players and is being used by a comparatively smaller 4,000+ people, but it’s moving steadily up the ranks with its 100% five-star rating.
One of the best things about getting on board with a relatively new addition to the market is the cheaper price—if you’re after a premium SEO plugin, SEOPress Pro is only $39 for as many websites as you want.
4. WP SEO Keyword Optimizer
And now we get into the more specific SEO plugins, designed for just one or two focused elements of your SEO strategy.
WP SEO Keyword Optimizer connects your website to Google Search Console and imports relevant and important keyword data to your WordPress backend, so that you can analyze and optimize your keywords and content.
It’s an incredibly handy little tool to have in your arsenal, especially if you’re fairly new to SEO and are feeling overwhelmed by the number of programs, tools and accounts you’ll need just to monitor and track everything. Keyword Optimizer eases that a little by bringing a small but essential part of it to you and putting it where you can easily see and make sense of it.
5. SEO Optimized Images
When you have so much of a focus on optimizing your content, it can be pretty easy to overlook your images—but these are just as important as your text.
SEO Optimized Images actively applies alt attributes and titles to all images on your site based on your pre-entered settings, making sure each image is optimized for the page to send stronger ranking signals to Google.
This is a useful plugin, especially if you have a website with a lot of pages. It’ll save you a ton of time and let you get up and running with optimized images sooner.
With a respectable four-star rating and more than 10,000 people actively using the plugin, SEO Optimized Images is a very beneficial addition to your WordPress site.
6. Broken Link Checker
There’s not much to guess about what this plugin is for, but the depth of Broken Link Checker is pretty impressive all the same. Helping with the more technical side of SEO, this plugin actively monitors your website and alerts you to any broken links, redirects and missing images that pop up (and that can hurt your SEO by worsening the user experience) and then gives you the option to fix them.
I’d especially recommend this plugin for anyone with a blog—or any sort of website with a lot of content—because I’m sure you’re already aware of how difficult it can be to keep up with content management as it keeps building.
What Broken Link Checker does is keep an eye on all your content for you and ensure that it’s always working for you as it should be, which is massively helpful as your archive continues to grow.
7. Google XML Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps is an essential addition to your site, allowing you to easily generate a customized and complete XML sitemap for your website so search engines can better find and index your content.
The best part about the plugin is that, once you’re happy with the sitemap settings, you don’t have to touch it or think about it again. Google XML Sitemaps will automatically update your sitemap with each new piece of content you publish and notify search engines that you have new content.
It’s been nine years since Google XML Sitemaps was released and it’s still a top-rated plugin on WordPress.org, with more than 2 million active users and a perfect five-star rating. A top choice for WordPress SEO.
8. W3 Total Cache
This is another one for the more technical side of things. W3 Total Cache runs in the background of your website, working to ultimately increase your site speed, reduce download times and boost your overall performance—all major wins for SEO.
W3 Total Cache is trusted by more than a million active users including some big names like Mashable and AT&T—a sign that it’s a plugin well worth checking out.
9. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)
A great name, I know! On top of being super-fun to say, YARPP is also a great and easy-to-use tool.
It’s designed to lower bounce rate and increase the time people spend on your site—both positive SEO signals for Google and other search engines, showing that people are enjoying using the website and that it’s meeting their search intent.
It works by enticingly displaying posts and pages that are related to the current content, encouraging people to click around to other relevant pages on your site and spend more time there. YARPP is worth checking out, especially if you run a blog or similar site that hosts a lot of content and you want to improve your key metrics.
10. Google Analytics for WordPress
And finally, we come to Google Analytics for WordPress.
A core part of SEO is tracking and analyzing data so that you can keep adjusting and evolving your strategy, and you couldn’t do any of that without Google Analytics. Google Analytics tracks your top keywords, website visitors, links and much more to give you a complete overview of where your website is at in real-time.
This Google Analytics plugin by MonsterInsights will connect your WordPress website to your Google Analytics account, allowing you to view key data and reports from within your WordPress dashboard.
It’s simple, easy to use and with almost 15 million downloads, by far the most popular SEO analytics plugin on the market.
A Final Word on Choosing WordPress Plugins
It’s important to remember here that no matter the theme and plugins you use, no combination of them can replace a proper SEO strategy.
These plugins are a great way to make your SEO more practical and accessible, and you should definitely be using a strategic combination of them with your WordPress theme.
But don’t go downloading everything that calls itself SEO-friendly and thinking you now have an optimized website.
That’s just one side of the many-sided SEO dice.
Think about the SEO work that’s most useful to your website and content strategy. Think about the SEO work that you’re doing most often.
Then think about which of the above plugins target that work and can truly lighten your load.