How to Use Free WordPress Plugins to Improve Your Search Ranking


In a survey released by Clutch, only 54% of the 350 small business owners surveyed had a website. And the reason why these businesses failed to establish an online presence? The top two reasons were cost and irrelevancy to their business.

If you’re one of the roughly 46% of business owners trying to run your business without a website, you’re making a big mistake. Websites are an indispensable part of your business’s success.

I don’t mean to invalidate anyone’s concerns about the costs of building and managing a website. It’s true: websites do require an investment, but it’s not as lofty as you might think. The basic building blocks of a website (like web hosting and WordPress themes) are inexpensive and take little time to set up. Where you’ll probably spend the most time and money is in the plugins—but not if you do it right.

Websites are a fantastic source of passive income, especially if you find the perfect set of WordPress plugins to help you optimize for search. Today, I want to focus on the free WordPress SEO plugins you can use to whip your website into shape and rank higher in a search.

12 WordPress Plugins for the (SEO) Win

How to Use Free WordPress Plugins to Improve Your Search Ranking

If you’re new to WordPress or you’re simply unsure of how to use plugins to optimize your site for search, then you’ve come to the right place. The WordPress directory of plugins is a great source for free website integrations, but it can be difficult slogging through the tens of thousands of plugins there.

To complicate matters, search engine optimization (SEO) plugins are not as straight-forward as you might assume. Sure, you could search for “SEO”, but the results won’t truly capture everything you need to truly enhance and optimize your website for better search results.

If you really want to do SEO right (especially if you’re trying to land more local business), then you’ve got to get your site on the first page of Google search. The most popular “SEO” plugins like Yoast and All in One may help, but they’re not enough.

Don’t worry about spending time, hunting around, trying to find the less-obvious WordPress SEO plugins. I’ve included the most important ones you need down below. They’ll help you optimize your website from all angles, including:

  • Website performance
  • Keyword optimization
  • Header tag utilization
  • Metadata implementation
  • Social media integration
  • And more

If you’re ready, let’s get started.

Really Simple SSL

Before we explore this plugin, let’s quickly address why we’re talking about SSL:

  1. SSL certificates—and the encryption that allows your website to reside on secure HTTP—provide safer websites for you and your visitors.
  2. Google has taken action against websites that don’t use HTTPS. A couple years ago, they started rewarding sites with higher search rankings if they ran on HTTPS. Now, they’re actively telling visitors (that use the Chrome browser) when they visit a website that’s “Not Secure”.
  3. If you’re concerned with the cost of getting an SSL certificate, don’t be. Let’s Encrypt offers them for free.

Once you’ve got your certificate in hand, it’s important that your website is 100% running on HTTPS; this includes all pages, images, internal links, and so on. If any remnants of your previous HTTP address remain, visitors will receive a “mixed content” security warning before they even reach your site—which is really bad for SEO.

Make sure you have this plugin in place so you can automatically fix all HTTP/HTTPS mixed content issues.

Sucuri Security

Next up is Sucuri Security. While you might not necessarily connect security plugins to SEO, this is a must.

For one, you need a way to secure your website from malware, ransomware, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and more. If you’re just starting out, a free plugin is a good way to cover your site. Secondly, if your site becomes infected or, worse, is taken down by an attack, there is a good chance the drop in traffic and the flagging of your site as a security risk will be detrimental to your site’s search ranking.

If you don’t want to spend money and time trying to repair, recover, or even rebuild your website (and brand) after a security breach, be sure you’ve got this plugin installed.

W3 Total Cache

Now, in terms of optimizing your site for search, you’ll want to start with W3 Total Cache. Why? Because search engines aren’t just sending visitors to your website for high-quality content. They want to ensure people find websites that promise a high-quality experience. This means fast loading times, intact links, and mobile-friendliness.

While you can run a test on Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to find out what’s not currently optimized, you might not know how or be comfortable with implementing those changes yourself. And that’s okay. The W3 Total Cache will take care of making a lot of those optimizations for you.

Smush

High-resolution images tend to take up a lot of server space on websites, weighing them down and keeping visitors waiting for pages to load. This is no good for your visitors’ experience, especially since many visitors won’t wait more than a few seconds before totally abandoning a site altogether. This is no good for you either since the higher your bounce rate goes, the lower your site will rank in search.

So, optimize your site’s files with W3 Total Cache, but then use this Smush plugin to optimize your site’s images. They’ll remain high-resolution and pixel perfect across all devices, but they’ll create less heft on your website.

WP Broken Link Status Checker

Here’s another plugin you might not necessarily think would help in optimizing for search, but 404 (broken link) errors are much like slow loading pages: a huge turnoff for visitors.

At the end of the day, what’s most important is that the experience visitors have with you online is just as seamless, positive, and helpful as if you met them in the real world. Any disruption to that experience can easily send an impatient or otherwise irritable visitor backing out of your site—and that includes running into one too many links.

This plugin enables you to quickly scan your site for broken links and to repair them on the spot. You can also create auto-redirects so that if someone does happen to visit a previously bookmarked URL that no longer exists, they’ll be sent directly over to your home page.

Yoast SEO

Every WordPress SEO article you’ll run across typically includes either Yoast SEO or the next plugin in this list, and I can tell you why: It’s because they’re the absolute best when you need to optimize content for search.

When it comes to Yoast SEO, you’re not just getting the standard metadata fields. This extremely popular and well-reviewed plugin includes a whole host of features that will optimize your entire website for search:

  • Metadata fields for meta titles, descriptions, slugs, and focus keywords.
  • Page analysis to let you know when both your SEO and page’s readability are spot-on.
  • XML sitemap creation and delivery to search engines so they know when new content has been added to your site.
  • Social integration to encourage visitors to spread the word about your content.

All in One SEO Pack

Here is another one of those all-in-one SEO plugin solutions. Both Yoast and All in One are very popular, highly reviewed, and well-supported, but the interfaces and features you’ll find in each may not be right for everyone. So, take some time to familiarize yourself with both and then pick the one that’s best for your needs.

All in One SEO includes the following search-boosting features:

  • Automatic optimization of metadata. This is particularly helpful if you’re new to SEO and need assistance moving in the right direction.
  • XML sitemap creation and search engine notifications whenever new content is published on your site.
  • Google Analytics integration.
  • Works on e-commerce sites, so you can optimize product pages, which is a big deal if you’re trying to increase traffic (and sales) to them.

SEO by Squirrly

SEO by Squirrly doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. In other words, it knows it’s not going to compete with the likes of Yoast or All in One—and that’s great. This plugin helps users with a different aspect of SEO: keywording.

While high-quality content creation is important for improving you search ranking, so too is your site’s ability to be associated with popular and relevant keywords. You can use the aforementioned SEO plugins to optimize your content around certain keywords, but they won’t tell you which keywords will actually help.

Typically, if you want to generate long-tail keywords that your site can rank for, you’ve got to put some money into it. Until you get to that point, this plugin will help. It will point you in the direction of keywords that are a good fit for your target audience and will track your progress against those keywords.

TinyMCE Advanced

This is another one of those off the beaten path type of plugins that will help you optimize your efforts to rank well. Specifically, this plugin will give the Visual Editor toolbar a much-needed upgrade.

For the most part, people creating content in WordPress aren’t familiar with HTML. If you’re one of those people or if you just hate switching back and forth between the visual and text editors, use this plugin.

You can pick and choose whichever stylization buttons you want to be added to your editor. For the purposes of SEO though, you’ll want the dropdown that looks like this:

By adding this to your visual editor, you’ll now be able to add header text much more easily, which, in turn, makes the search engine’s job of “reading” your website easier.

Google Maps Widget

For those of you trying to tap into a local audience, you should include a Google map widget on your website. Technically, you’ll need to do a little more than that (starting with registering your business with Google My Business), but ensuring that you have an up-to-date business location embedded within your website is very important for improving your site’s visibility within local searches.

GeoTargeting Lite

Geotargeting is the process by which you can target specific geographic regions (typically countries) with your website. Here’s why you’ll want to do this for search:

  • To weed out irrelevant traffic coming to your website and skewing Google Analytics visitor data.
  • To weed out potentially malicious traffic coming to your website.
  • You can free up your server from having to deal with global visitors (that have no need for your services or products), so you can better target local visitors.

This plugin will, in a round-about way, help you improve your site’s performance by targeting a specific audience that’s interested in or needs your services. In so doing, your impressive site data and lower bounce rates will help your search ranking.

Plugin Performance Profile

As a word of warning, it’s important that you know (if you don’t already) that plugins can potentially have an adverse effect on website load times.

Plugin developers do the best they can to create lightweight plugins that won’t have too much effect on a website’s performance. But, when you’re looking to tackle something as big as SEO with a bunch of non-premium plugins, you nonetheless run the risk of overloading your site’s server.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should go straight for the premium (paid) plugins right away. It just means that you’ll need to be a little more vigilant. This P3 plugin will help you do just that.

It will not only provide you with the data above. It’ll also tell you how long your plugins take to load with every site visit, so you can decide which ones to sacrifice in the name of running a fully optimized and SEO-ready website.

Summary

Great SEO requires a multi-faceted approach.

  • Content should be optimized for readability and with search metadata.
  • Your website should be optimized for speed and experience.
  • And everything should tie together to tell the search engines (and visitors) a singular idea about what your business does and why people should return.

By utilizing these key WordPress SEO plugins, you’ll be well on your way to improving your site’s search ranking.


About the Author

Nathan Oulman contributes around the web to tech-related web sites. He owns and operates the DailyHosting.net where the focus is on reviews for hosting companies.

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