I’ve been debating with myself for the last month which SEO plugin I should point you to. I started with Google XML Sitemaps for a few months, 5 years ago. Shortly after, I moved to All-In-One SEO and used it for 3 plus years before I switched to Yoast for almost a year. Most of my page 1 rankings came from my manual SEO work, and not from an SEO plugin.
Rank Math, although a “newcomer” compared to Yoast, has shown many potentials. I used the Rank Math Pro for 2 weeks on my 2 websites (for the sake of having an experience about it so that what I am going to say in my conclusion will be a reliable verdict).
Google XML Sitemaps Vs All-In-One SEO Vs Yoast Vs Rank Math
Honestly, I am scared to rely on a plugin when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. Google ranking algorithms change all the time. If the plugin underperforms or accidentally breaks, and you heavily relied on an SEO plugin, your rankings can get affected, too.
One thing to take note of experts’ recommendations is that, while they have a solid basis and proof of why they are recommending a specific tool, their decision to recommend something “MIGHT” involve a little bias.
Most programs nowadays have an affiliate program (referral fees), and if one platform’s affiliate program is better, you’ll surely find a lot of people (including experts) recommending it. It’s the reality.
However, since Rank Math DO NOT HAVE an affiliate program (at least as of updating this post), it was a good enough reason for me to switch, together with its promise for rich snippets (more on this below).
REMINDER: I do not wish to rely on a plugin to help me to rank. I would like to reiterate that Google will show the reader/audience what is relevant to them.
Me jumping from one shiny object to another is the only way to give you a reliable verdict every time I conclude a lesson - i.e. I used it versus what the “experts” say.
SEO Ranking Tool (but not necessarily the most important factor): An SEO Plugin
If you are like me who would like to focus on conversion/CTR instead of search volume/traffic/competition, then this is for you.
Introducing the RICH SNIPPETS…
Rich Snippets will highlight your site content and therefore increase the chances of getting a high click through rate (the visitor actually clicks on it to visit your website).
Take note that you cannot dictate Google to feature you in the snippets. They will decide what to show in the snippets depending on the search query of the real person typing the keywords. Featured snippets can change over time.
However, you can somehow influence Google to feature you. You can do this manually or by an SEO plugin.
Let’s see some of my posts which get 100% CTR.
Featured Snippet Example #1: Paragraph
SEO plugins will let you specify what you want to display in Google search result when your target keyword is searched for. However, Google always has the last say if they will display your meta description as it is or not. Meta description is a 160 words summary (or more depending on the SEO plugin) to summarize what your content is about.
If you are eligible for a paragraph snippet, you'll be featured on the top of search results. See example below.
Google fetched what is the most relevant paragraph to highlight and placed the featured image beside it. Note that sometimes, it's not going to be your featured image. You better check that you have an "alt text" on your featured image (more on this in a separate lesson).
You can also get a paragraph snippet without a featured photo like this...
Paragraph For Meta Description
Original Target Keyword:
Did Google rank me on Position 1 for my target keyword?
If no, what keyword/s (search query/ies) are my clicks coming from?
Image Annotation Jobs
"image annotation work from home"
Let's look at how my competitors for this keyword phrase do it...
Yoast SEO plugin has a "traffic light" signal on top that will not turn green (good to go) unless you follow all its recommendations. One of its recommendations is not to exceed the characters for "meta description."
Both All In One SEO and Rank Math plugin will also tell you that it's gonna be cut-off in the search results.
However, my meta description is not cut-off at all. There's only one reason why.
In my All-In-One SEO settings, I ticked on the box to not cut it off.
Another thing about paragraph meta description is to let Google do its job. You have already done your part - you already created the content. If a search query is performed, Google will crawl all available resources on its index, and will show to the reader what is the most relevant.
So let Google do their job. You can do this by clicking on the "Autogenerate Descriptions" in the All In One Seo Advanced Settings.
Then, "Use Content For Autogenerated Descriptions." This way, you are not limiting your ranking for just your target keyword/keyword phrase. Every single word in your content (including synonyms/technical term: semantics), now becomes a potential keyword to rank.
To further illustrate here's another keyword phrase I originally targeted: inboxdollars.
Where are my clicks coming from instead? "Inboxdollars microjob"
The featured images is new. Screenshot is taken December 19, 2020. It may be one of the things that happened during the last Google Algorithm change (first week of December 2020). I say "may be" because I always do search queries in incognito mode and it's the first time I saw it - only after the Google Algorithm change.
Based on this, it seems that creating clickable images will also now play a great role in influencing if your reader will click on your article.
Similar to how YouTube cards and Pinterest rich pins are crafted, I now have to update all my featured images so that if the user is not convinced to click because the autogenerated description is not so helpful, the back up plan is to invite the reader to click because of the image.
Disclaimer: The expandable featured image in Search results sometimes do not show up.
So should you specify meta descriptions?
Personally, I did it for all my posts in the past. Google will sometimes honour the meta description such as this post.
However, my CTRs increased up to 82% when I decided to switch on the auto generate descriptions - mainly to give Google the freedom to crawl my content, display what is relevant to the search term, and therefore earn a click for being relevant.
firsttimeparentguide.com is basically abandoned (and will be abandoned for the next 1 year, so I can focus on this blog). I am going to create a lesson series to document how to resurrect it so make sure to subscribe to my email list for exclusive secret recipes, lol.
Now, what is the relationship of CTRs to earning money? Well, basically, the percentage of the people who did the search query, and ended up consuming my content, will hopefully do my "call-to-actions."
For my baby blog, the main call to action is to check the product in Amazon. Whether or not they buy it, I can end up with commissions from whatever they buy.
For this blog, my main call to action is to subscribe to my e-mail list. By trying to rank work from home jobs, I am targeting people looking for an online income they can do from home.
As a result of a high CTR from the image annotation jobs post, for example, I was able to invite an image annotator to try Wealthy Affiliate, despite not aggressively promoting the platform.
Featured Snippet Example #2: Table
Featured Snippet Example #3: Videos
According to my Google Search Console (image below), I got 1,352 clicks from video search results. To be eligible for this snippet, embed a video in your blog post - to be specific, a relevant YouTube video (anyone’s video that has their share button visible, or better if it's your own video).
I have been experimenting with Vimeo videos and so far do not get rankings (despite having a video sitemap, more on this below) and therefore concluded to just stick with YouTube videos. According to Google database articles, you do not need to do anything special - they can crawl and understand if there is a YouTube video inside.
See the "impressions" column. There are 49,422 people who saw the video in search results, but only 1,352 clicked.
Because the videos are not mine (car seat installation videos), there is no way I can improve my CTR in terms of video search results. I do not drive a car. Chicco gave me a free car seat to review, but it's still in the US since 2 years ago. They don't send products to Philippines, so I had to send it to my brother's address.
No car + no car seat = a perfect recipe for disaster. LOL.
That's my turning point for starting this blog, and creating video lessons.
By having my own videos embedded in my site, I can customize the YouTube title cards so they are more clickable and therefore increase my CTR.
Imagine if that 49k impressions yield to a 100% CTR!
Featured Snippet Example #4: List
To be eligible for a list snippet, simply convert some of your paragraphs to a list. Yes, just a simple list.
Disclaimer: As of updating this post, I no longer rank for this keyword. The Culprit? Backlinks.
I took this screenshot last November 2020, before a major Google Algorithm update.
If you haven't heard of backlinks yet, oh well, good for you because I do not want you to focus on link building.
Now, I can imagine all the GURUS will definitely be saying I am crazy!
Google will specifically rank you higher if an authority website in your industry points to your site! That's the main idea of backlink.
However, people are doing a lot link building techniques - buying "high quality" links or links from websites with high DA (Domain Authority), is just one of the many shady practices.
I did not practice link building in my firstttimeparentguide.com blog. Despite that, I gained backlinks naturally, and in return - rankings, clicks, and earnings!
Ubersuggest tells me that my baby blog's backlink profile is good. However, upon investigating, the sites pointing to this specific article is nothing close to being "authorities."
They are crappy websites (with higher DAs) displaying images from my media library (possibly bots crawling and gathering legit site's images and displaying them on their site).
Contrary to what Ubersuggest is saying about my backlinks, SEMRush Site Audit tool tells me that my backlink profile is HIGHLY TOXIC. Going thru the "authority backlinks" list or those with higher DA or Domain Authority, I confirmed that these are indeed either irrelevant sites or are nothing close to a high quality backlink.
That's when I decided to "disavow" all the links pointing to this article as well as all the toxic links pointing to all of my websites. (DISAVOW: Separate lesson. It's basically submitting a list of websites to Google thru Google Search Console so you will not be associated to the link).
The result? From Position 1, I am now down to position 100 plus for this keyword.
Should I undo the disavowing? Well, part of my long-term strategy is to stick with creating quality contents. The official training of Wealthy Affiliate does not encourage link building and I always think of Kyle (co-owner/author of the training) crazy for not recommending it.
However, only now I realized that Kyle is setting everyone up to future-proofing their websites. Anyone who follows the "old school content-first strategy" will definitely be safe from any Google Algorithm update.
Also, how would you explain these success stories of Wealthy Affiliate members who do not practice link building (including myself).
I may have lost my Google ranking for this specific article, but Pinterest has my back (separate lesson).
An example of a highly relevant backlink I got is from charliebanana.com, a cloth diaper brand who featured the real users in their official website. I got a backlink for this article without me soliciting for it.
Ubersuggest says that Charlie banana's DA or Domain authority is 47. The higher, the better.
SEMRush tells me that the link from Charlie Banana is potentially toxic (repetitive, mainly because Charlie Banana is an e-commerce store with different store locations and therefore repetitive websites - that means the different stores in several countries are pointing to this same cloth diaper review).
Now Moz says that Charlie Banana's Domain Authority score is only 35. It's way lower than what Ubersuggest says.
What's the lesson here? For me to get back the "list" snippet feature (and ranking) for the newborn clothes list, getting a backlink from website with a higher DA "might" just solve the problem - by undoing the disavowing I did (and therefore let the "toxic" and irrelevant links to again point to this article).
Now it's up to me to gamble and have them back or just let time to fix it.
Google will eventually improve its system in identifying quality backlinks and with Pinterest SEO (separate lesson) as a back-up, I might just recover the ranking of this article. I will update this section in the future.
Okay, end of side story, LOL.
Now, this is where SEO plugins are supposed to be helpful - rich snippets/schema. People who have websites that focuses on other things beside blog posts should definitely use an SEO plugin that can help with schema.
Here are the different schemas that Rank Math Pro can generate.
If you are only producing blog posts, pages, and embedding YouTube videos, then you do not need a plugin to generate a schema. Google will crawl your content, and if there is something that is worth featuring, you’ll IDEALLY get a featured Snippet.
After doing a manual format (list, table, embed YouTube video, putting a meta description), go to https://search.google.com/test/rich-results. Enter the URL of your post. It will tell you if you are eligible for a rich snippet.
The difference with having a “Schema Generator” is you can add additional “enhancements” so you can be selected for more schema categories.
As an example, a post with added Schema will look like this:
Note that although YouTube videos are automatically crawled, if you have multiple videos in a post like this one, Google sometimes misses crawling the other videos.
To force Google to acknowledge the presence of all videos I embedded, I had to generate a video sitemap (thru Rank Math Pro video sitemap) and specify the YouTube URL/thumbnail locations in the video Schema generator.
A post with no additional Schema from an SEO plugin will look like this:
Take note, this has also two videos in it, so Google basically didn’t “acknowledge” the videos in a way.
With Rank Math Pro, you can add a video sitemap and generate a video schema to really make sure that Google will acknowledge the presence of the video. This is especially helpful for posts that contain only a video like this…
To make sure that Google acknowledges it, I had to use a “video schema” to begin with instead of the usual “article schema" for blog posts.
Disclaimer: The image (post) above used to contain video only. I have already revised it since I am not using Rank Math Pro anymore.
What is the best free SEO plugin for WordPress?
All four plugins can be used for free - Google XML Sitemaps (super basic functions), All-In-One SEO plugin (simple to use but helped me for 3 years plus with rankings), Yoast (used to be the most recommended of experts), and Rank Math (basically does a lot of things for free, now highly recommended by experts).
The “paid” part only comes when you need to be aggressive in increasing your click-through rate by generating schema other than Article (blog posts) schema.
If your blog is focusing on recipes, you would definitely benefit from a Recipe Schema. The same benefits will happen when you focus on different types of content.
The SEO "Pro" or paid plugins will help you specify the details if you want specific schemas for a:
- Data Set
- Fact Check
- How To
- Job Posting
- Software and;
If you are merely focusing on article/blog post contents, you can choose any of the SEO plugins I mentioned. The FREE version is already good enough to give you rankings and featured snippets as long as you do the above-mentioned ways.
However, if you need more enhancement like me, who belongs to a competitive niche, I would definitely want to make sure that Google acknowledges all my efforts, LOL.
If you are only focusing on video contents (not writing at all), embedding a video and then creating a VIDEO SCHEMA, and specifying the URL and thumbnail location will help Google find your content.
TAKE NOTE: If you are a embedding just a video, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT put any text aside from your Title. Make sure you have a video sitemap in place. It is usually purchased on a subscription basis, cheapest option = Rank Math Pro.
Also, make sure you have a video schema in place (more on this in a separate lesson).
By not surrounding your video with a sea of texts, you are making it easy for Google to find your video and treat it as a video and not as a blog post.
Now this is the part where I am going to give my verdict. Rank Math Pro has been amazing with all the features it has, when compared to the three. However, its built-in redirection has created a massive trouble to my two websites.
First, the redirections I made in the past with my Yoast (technically called as 301 redirect/commonly called as pointing from an old URL to a new URL) - didn't register.
So if I have an old URL in the past that I pointed to a new URL, it now basically either goes to my homepage or to a totally irrelevant page.
I belong to the private Facebook group of Rank Math Pro users, although they might remove me now because I already asked for a refund. Pro users are posting problems about the Pro version (at least as of updating this).
So here's my verdict - I'll point you to the "old school" All-In-One SEO. It has been my trusted SEO plugin ever since. The Yoast is a second option, but its annoying traffic light should first STOP telling me about my keyword density (that's keyword stuffing or repetitively mentioning keywords - an outdated technique).
For the next lesson, we will set up the All In One SEO plugin.
Update!!! December 21, 2020
While doing a video lesson on setting up the All-In-One SEO, I noticed that they released a NEW version,
a brand new look which totally copied the look of the Rank Math!
I looked around to see where they placed the
- "Use Content For Autogenerated Descriptions"
- "Autogenerate Descriptions" and
- "Never Shorten Long Descriptions"
These three are the main features that set them apart from Rank Math and Yoast, at least as of updating this post.
I found the first two, but they changed the term (more on this in a separate post), but I had to dig around before I was able to find it! I don't know if they realize what they have done - trying to be a copycat like Rank Math's layout, when in fact, their old school layout and setup is actually working and easier to use!
I have yet to find the "Never Shorten Long Descriptions" - it's nowhere in sight!
This is the very reason I do not want you to rely on an SEO plugin. They always change - sometimes for the better, but sometimes also the opposite.
So here's what's gonna happen next:
1. I will change this blog's SEO plugin to Yoast.
2. The firsttimeparentguide.com will still use the old All In One SEO version and we will compare the results in a month.
3. I will TEST the new All In One SEO once it's stable. It has only been less than a week since they launched the new version. I am sure problems and bugs will show up anytime. I joined the FB group to gather information from other users' experiences.
So for the next lesson, we will setup YOAST instead.
If you would still like to install the All-In-One SEO, they have step by step videos once you already installed the plugin. Basically, the "most important" that sets it apart is the "meta description" part, where you need to specify the "post content" instead (like an auto generated description).
Let me know if you have any questions.
P.S. How about the Google XML Sitemaps? Well, it's super basic. Good for starting, but you will eventually need to migrate to another plugin that can do more, like the All In One SEO, Rank Math or Yoast.