Review: Is The SEO Framework the Best Free SEO Plugin?

When it comes to SEO and WordPress plugins, there’s plenty of choice. The reality is, though, that most users tend to fall back on the most obvious and popular choices without giving much attention to the up-and-comers.

Besides our own SEO plugin SmartCrawl (which is currently in the midst of a pretty exciting development update!) and Yoast, today we’re going to review The SEO Framework, a fledgling WordPress SEO plugin created by a WPMU DEV member that is quickly gaining ground – and has a lot of fans in our community forum and amongst staff on our support team, not to mention 20,000+ active installs worldwide.

Is the SEO Framework up to the critical task of helping with SEO on your WordPress website, posts and pages? Let’s find out.

The Origins of the SEO Framework Plugin

The SEO Framework plugin has a very interesting story, which I’d like to share with you before we begin this review. Sybre Waaijer is a prolific member of the WPMU DEV community. In fact, he’s a level 5 user – an Incredible Code Injector.

One fine day, whilst working on a client project that used a theme that didn’t have sufficiently advanced SEO settings, he decided to write his own plugin to get around it. Given that he felt that he had learned quite a lot from the WPMU DEV community, he thought it would be great to give something back and he published his SEO plugin and made it available to other WPMU DEV members. This all started circa May 2015.

After the plugin was very well received by the community, one of our support team members, Ashok, encouraged Sybre to release the plugin officially to the WordPress Plugin Repository, because giving back to the community and sharing WordPress knowledge is what we’re all about here at WPMU DEV.

So he did. And that’s when the plugin really took off.

The following are some plugins stats as at the time of writing this post:

SEO Framework download stats
SEO Framework download stats as at the time of writing

As of last month, the SEO Framework has surpassed the 20,000 installs milestone, with 125,000+ downloads. The more than 100 reviews are very positive with an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars. Most of the reviews describe this as being the go-to alternative to the Yoast and All-In-One SEO plugins.

That’s pretty impressive if you ask me! When a plugin is being compared to the popular SEO plugins that are dominating the market, there must be something great going on, right?

Let’s see what the SEO Framework is made of.

Proviso: I’m an avid Yoast SEO user, and I find very little to complain about with it. My biggest gripe is with regards to how it handles exact matches in keyword density. Given Google’s intelligence with synonyms, I do believe it’s high time for Yoast to handle keyword density much more intelligently.

The SEO Framework: First Impressions

Honestly speaking, when I first heard about SEO Framework I was sure I’d find a plugin that planned to cater to a few SEO basics. Yet, when I first installed it, I could see that I was wrong. The scope of the plugin is broad. Very broad.

As somebody who likes to have full control of the SEO settings on my websites, there was plenty of stuff for me to digest.

There’s clearly been a lot of work put into this plugin, but it’s not overwhelming in any way. The interface is very intuitive and the tab-based interface makes sure that sections that require a fair amount of parameterization are “simplified” by splitting them over multiple tabs.

SEO Framework UI

SEO Settings: the Details

Without going into too many details about each of them, the SEO Framework plugin includes all of the following:

  1. An SEO bar with RG indicators about the  state of on-page SEO for the post
    On page SEO status bar
    On page SEO status bar
  2. Post and page title settings – with the title being one of the most essential and on page SEO which is totally within your control, this is, of course, a must.
  3. Description and META settings – this is also not just a nice-to-have, but essential. Full control of this is critical and SEO Framework delivers with plenty of flexibility
  4. Homepage settings – once again, customizable SEO settings on the home page are a must, especially if you’re SEOing a niche site. SEO Framework allows you to override the custom settings defined above, with specific settings for the homepage.
  5. Open Graph / Social sharing settings – complimentary to your SEO efforts, are your social media marketing efforts. In fact, traffic from your social media campaigns can actually send positive SEO signals to your pages, so once again, full points for complete integration and customization of OG tags for Twitter and Facebook, together with Pinterest and Google+.
  6. Schema settings – having schema settings on your site allows you to influence what search engines understand about your site, so once again, bonus points for supporting this out of the box. The Schema settings are quite extensive and give you plenty of power.
  7. Robots.txt META settings – those who are paranoid about SEO and want to be in full control of their technical SEO will be able to also fully control the no-index and no-follow robots meta settings. This is particularly important if you want to avoid potential duplicate content issues stemming from the multitude of ways that the same content is linked to from WordPress.
Robots.txt META settings
Robots.txt META settings
  1. WebMaster META settings – if you want to do SEO right, one of the essential elements is following the recommendations of the WebMaster sites from Google and Bing. The SEO Framework allows you to quickly verify your site on Google. Bing, Yandex, and Pinterest – i.e. the major WebMaster tools available.
  2. Sitemap settings – whilst we’re on the subject of WebMaster tools, a sitemap is, of course, another critical element of your WordPress on page SEO. The SEO Framework once again fully delivers here, with the automatic generation of a sitemap with plenty of configuration options.
  3. Feed Settings – there is a prevalence of scrapers reading off a site’s content, which can potentially rank better than your site if you are not careful. By setting excerpts settings in your site’s RSS feeds, any site scraping your content will be limited to an excerpt and will be giving you a backlink rather than stealing your content.

So far so good, none of the essential SEO elements are missing. Rather than missing, it goes above and beyond the established WordPress SEO plugins.

But what about the actual on-page SEO recommendations? Does the SEO Framework get it right?

SEO Post Settings

In terms of on page SEO, the SEO Framework plugin offers the following recommendation tab below the page.

SEO Framework – post SEO settings

Using the RAG status bar about all the things you can optimize for SEO is sweet. You can quickly tell what and where you need to work on. You can see the exact number of characters and what you should be tweaking to fix any problems and meet the general SEO recommendations.

You’ve also got full control on the visibility of the post, together with the possibility to define a custom social image.

All of the basics are fairly covered.

Honestly speaking, I was expecting a bit more out of the SEO framework here. While the general SEO settings of a site are critically important to how search engines view your site, it’s how you SEO each individual page around keywords which really matters for search engines.

SEOing a specific page or post is all about how you use the keywords in the article / page. If you’re not doing SEO around specific keywords, you’re not doing SEO right. For an SEO plugin, on page SEO recommendations around the keywords you are focusing on, is a must.

Frankly speaking, my expectations have not been met in this regard.

Since complaining does not do much good, and in the spirit of the WordPress community, I thought I’d make some recommendations of my own. I reached out to the author of the plugin to enquire specifically about this.

SEO Framework author outreach
Had a frank chat with SEO Framework author Sybre

This is something which the author has already thought about and discussed, in fact, there are suggestions for features based on HTML Content analysis here and here.

In a nutshell, Sybre argues against having keyword-focused recommendations.

Sybre’s argument against the usage of focus keywords is valid, up to a certain extent. He argues that what today is recommended as good on-page optimization is speculative at best, because, Google’s secret sauce and main criteria for ranking is top-secret.

Valid point.

Yet… various studies and my own experience actually correlate specific on-page optimizations around keywords with better rankings. In reality, when you do on-page optimizations around keywords, you are guiding the search engine to get a more clear understanding of what your topic is about. The more the guidance, the better the likelihood of ranking (although usage of keywords is not nearly enough).

That’s why such factors as usage of keywords in specific areas of a page, such as the <title>, the <h1> header, the alt tags of images, the first and last 100 words of the post, and plenty of other factors, are highly recommended. They provide a clear “guide” to search engines on what the page is about, and what it should be ranking for.

Of course, in the day and age of machine learning, focusing on specific keywords only for on-page optimization is not enough. One must remember that keywords and their synonyms are treated as nearly identical – search engines will treat pages in terms of “topics” rather than specific keywords.

One can also understand the development complexity of analyzing keywords + their synonyms, so I fully understand the author’s hesitancy in implementing such a feature.

So I proposed a middle-ground.

Somebody who is writing to rank pages should be guided, as much as possible, to create a content structure which ranks for specific keywords and topics.

This can be done by actually having a sort of checklist similar to the below.
Something like the following would be more than enough, at least in my opinion. The [  ] would be a checkbox, which improves the SEO on page optimization, whilst the “Detected | Not detected” would be a simple search within the content. While this is not necessarily accurate, because you could never detect all synonyms, the author can then be guided accordingly and be able to judge whether the content is hitting the SEO sweet spot.

What is the keyword focus for this article ______________

What are the synonyms you’ll be using     ______________

[  ] Have you used the keyword (or synonyms) you want to rank for in the title? (Detected)

[  ] Have you used the keyword you want to rank for (or synonyms) in the headings? (Not detected)

[  ] Have you used the keyword in the first 100 words of the article (Detected)

In other words, you will guide the plugin towards the keywords and synonyms you’ll be using. The plugin will then provide you with a checklist with on-page SEO recommendations.

As somebody writing for SEO, you will understand that the SEO plugin is not fully automated to check for this 100 % – but the checkboxes are guides for writing. It would be similar to what is done by Good Writer Checkify, which helps you ensure you have met certain guidelines.

Good Writer Checklist
The plugin author did feel that my recommendations were valid, and took the suggestions on board. Hopefully, a few releases down the line, we’ll get to enjoy these features too.
SEO Framework recommendations
data-true

The SEO Framework Extension Manager

Besides the default functionality available with the free version, the SEO Framework comes with a number of paid extensions. (Hey, everybody needs to put money on the table!)

The subscription priced is based on the number of sites you plan to use the extensions on. Once you purchase a subscription, all the premium extensions will be available.

The subscription starts at $35/year for a single site. If you develop several sites, you can go for the bulk pricing tiers available.

A current early bird discount is on now, until the end of Q2, so do grab the discount, before prices increase.

The following extensions are currently available:

  1. AMP: The AMP extension binds The SEO Framework to the AMP plugin for AMP supported articles and pages.
  2. Incognito: The Incognito extension removes all front-end branding from The SEO Framework.
  3. Monitor: The Monitor extension keeps track of your website’s SEO, optimization, uptime, and statistics.
  4. Title Fix: This extension makes sure your title is being outputted as configured in the SEO settings of the plugin. Even if your theme is doing it differently, this extension fixes it.
  5. Articles: The Articles extension enhances your published posts by automatically adding both AMP and non-AMP Structured Data.

The following extensions are in development but will be part of the subscription, if you subscribe now

  1. Local SEO: The Local SEO extension lets Search Engines know where your business is located and practicing.
  2. Transporter: The Transporter extensions allows you to export and import your SEO settings from site to site.

Is the SEO Framework Your One-Stop SEO Plugin?

The more popular WordPress SEO plugins such as Yoast, typically get a lot of flak due to bloatware and ads. Whilst I can’t blame Joost for pushing for conversion (that’s what makes successful companies), some people do feel that this is a bit over the top.

The SEO Framework is certainly a refreshing and very clean approach towards doing SEO in WordPress. If you don’t need the guidance necessary whilst writing content, the SEO Framework is definitely a viable alternative to the established SEO plugins, so go ahead, download and install the SEO framework.

You never know, you might actually be really happy to have tried this alternative WordPress SEO plugin.

David Attard
Have you already used the SEO Framework plugin and found it useful? Are you ready to give it a try against the established players in the WordPress SEO plugins space? Or is much too big a risk to trust WordPress SEO to a newcomer? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!

37 Responses

  • Flash Drive

    I’ve used the cartoon seo plugin before and found that if I tried to use the keywords as much as suggested, my writing just sounded fake. The natural flow of quality organic writing is what google’s shooting for with their algorithm and keywords will get used organically. No need to stuff the same word in several times and I don’t see the top websites stuffing keywords so I don’t think it’s necessary.
    Also, if I want to see cartoons, I’ll turn on the tv or buy a comic book. He really goes over the top.
    I like plugins that just do their job and stay out of the way. It’s especially important with multisite. I’ve got another plugin that displays it’s name in the form of a 350x1200px banner on the setting page along with a donate button. Luckily, it allows turning off the donate button and I went in and shrunk the image way down in size. Luckily, he only does one or two updates a year and if the image gets replaced as part of the update, I can just replace the image before activating.

    I use and will continue to use SEO framework.

    If wpmudev starts putting their superheros or other cartoons in my admin area…………….

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Hey,
    This looks super interesting. I have been the super fan of YOAST SEO for 5 years, but I will surely try this. :)

    What’s your thought on Video SEO or News SEO, there is not many alternatives of these two SEO plugins other than the premium offerings by Yoast. Are these SEO plugins indeed needed separately? Should I expect these from you in future?

    Thank you.

  • Flash Drive

    I was a fan of Yoast up until the catastrophic 3.0 update that trashed my site and many thousands of others. I called Joost out on his subsequent constant in-plugin demands for 5-star reviews to cover up the avalanche of 1-star ones. It was informative to learn from him that “WordPress core by itself is very SEO friendly, the technical improvements of Yoast (though many) will never make more than a 10% difference on normal sites.” https://wordpress.org/support/topic/laughable-positive-review-spam/

    I switched to AIOSEO and found that within a few days I was getting ranked a lot higher and faster. Go figure!

    I think newcomers suffer an awful lot of confusion about SEO and content optimisation. I think it’s preferable to split them out, if you need interactive feedback on your content, then use a dedicated tool such as Web Text Tool https://www.webtexttool.com

    • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

      I think you are absolutely correct.

      And one of the biggest reasons for this is the way the plugin repository has been run for years.

      Why? Because when you’re a noobie, and trying to figure which way is up, you tend to do what everybody else does. So you look in the repository and then you choose the plugin that has the most downloads/installs, right?

      And often that doesn’t mean its the best plugin — or ever was — or the most appropriate for your site, only that its been there longer. Which is the case with Joost’s WPSEO plugin.

      If you want the best, the fastest. the most able SEO plugin for WordPress, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever, its SEO Framework.

      And by the way, I once called Joost out and showed him the staggering increase in performance when his plugin was deactivated. Know what he answered? “Its doing a lot”.

      His arrogance is staggering.

        • Mr. LetsFixTheWorld

          It’s exactly for this reason that I’m thankful for some of the updates to the WP plugin repo. As seen in this article, we now have the ability to compare Active Installs to Total Downloads, which is of course vastly different. What we do not have right now is the ability to filter reviews of active users over time. This would help us to see if the star is rising or falling. The recent X out of Y support issues resolved is also helpful but is also not a clear indicator of responsiveness.

          I really wish the data for the repo was available as frequently updated database download. I’d slice and dice that thing to bring out the best or worst in any offering. How about a grid to show support issues for a plugin over time, super-imposed with ratings at that time, and activity by the author on other plugins at the same time? How about a comparison of plugins by tag/category with a variety of metrics? How about a refinement of the rating algorithm so that 10,000 reviews at 4.0 means more than 10 reviews at 4.0? Or so that 100 reviews at 1.0 last week means more than the 10,000 reviews of 4.0 a year ago?

          One thing that we’re missing in this industry is a focus on creating a base of better consumers, empowered with better information for making decisions. Yes, some noobs today still make decisions like we, the noobs of yesteryear, did. There’s no good reason for that. This continues to give people the impression that WP is the same as with Drupal or other FOSS – that it’s just a dumping ground for new ideas and a costly free-for-all for anyone just trying to get a job done. That does not appeal to the corporate world where they’d rather pay for a proprietary product than to have their people surfing for stable solutions or dealing with temperamental developers who will stop supporting their software as soon as they get a girlfriend.

          Um, I guess this note would be more suited to my blog than here, sorry. ;)

          • Staff

            Hey, Tony.

            I do love your feedback. WordPress is ever growing. I am glad that they are making these changes to the plugin repository, however, slow it might seem to us. Not all plugins are good, I agree, but it is the best place to start for noobies with virtually now budget. I started out like that. Testing until I found what I liked and that is how my WordPress journey started. Developing plugins and themes takes time. It is not necessarily that the person finds a partner. :-) Developers have to come down from the developer’s cloud sometimes and that is when they realize they need a job to pay the bills and then life sort of takes over and they just don’t have the time or energy to spend on their projects so they abandon them. Sometimes they move on to other platforms. Once again thank you for your point of view.

          • Hey Tony,
            plenty of food for thought in that comment of yours.
            I do agree with most of your opinions – making it easier for people to get stuff done is the real measure of success, not how many new features we’ve delivered.
            Your suggestions would be absolutely helpful, but I doubt these would have much priority in the eyes of the teams developing WP.
            I’d suggest you take your suggestions directly to them – not on your blog, they will get lost in a sea of rants, but directly to the development team of the WordPress repo.
            That way, you’ll have done as much as you can to bring this to fruition.
            Cheers
            David

  • Ben
    The Reaper

    Site maps in the most current version (version 2.0) are not working for me, maybe its just my setup doing a network set up, are other people seeing the same issue? I’ve notified dev but not getting a timeline on the fix. Can people sound off on their set up (single site, multisite, subfolder set up, subdomain setup) and on weather its working or not. I’m going to try to debug today.

    Thanks.

    • Ben
      The Reaper

      @info4227 this functionality has been not working since its release in February for a multi-site set up. David what set up are you using…i’m kinda freaking out here and about to debug because even after submitting tickets…people are silent on a timeline to fix.

      Have you used the MULTISITE SITEMAPS plugin from wpmudev, it hasn’t been updated since 2012, do you know if it works?

      Good tested solutions appreciated. Thanks.

        • Mr. LetsFixTheWorld

          OT note: I think this approach can kill a product: “It is a stable version, which means it did not need updating.” When we’re looking for software in the FOSS world we check for recent updates as an indication that the software hasn’t been abandoned. Without an occasional heart-beat to confirm life, there’s nothing to help us differentiate between “it’s legitimately done, we really didn’t need to do anything recently” and “we’ve lost interest, it may or may not compare well to more updated offerings, we might or might not replace it with what we think will be the next best thing”.
          I can’t claim innocence here. I have a non-WP product of my own that was written back in 2009. It found stability in v1.1.4 and never had to be updated. I still get occasional installs and a check in the mail for a new purchase. But I could probably get more if it didn’t look abandoned.
          Please take note, WPMU DEV, as you continue to add to your portfolio and occasionally some products do fall out of favor and go to GitHub. Unless you tell us where you think a product stands, we simply don’t know until we see an update or we see it put out to pasture.

  • Mr. LetsFixTheWorld

    Thanks for this review. Indeed, SEO is a skill/art and the tools are merely facilitators for those who are adept with the craft – and that does not include me. I’m at the point where I’m slapping together several sites for myself and friends, and will soon go back to review the SEO, armed with data gathered from articles, forums, books, videos, and other resources. Getting sites functional is the first priority. Getting some peer/audience review comes next. When those basics are mostly locked in, Then I think it’s time to improve search ranking. Why that order? Because it doesn’t make sense to optimize an environment that isn’t acceptable to the target audience.

    The thing that confuses me is that each solution does things differently and with different effectiveness. This applies to all plugins and themes in the WP universe – and really to everything else in the world. It’s tough to know what a given package does Not do, or does not do Well; to know where it’s reasonable to supplement those gaps with another plugin; and to know when multiple plugins would be overkill or even conflicting to create a result that’s worse than having no optimization at all. This goes for security, compression and page optimizations, CSS, ads, etc…

    It would be very cool to have plugins that provided an ala carte menu of functionality to disable/enable, so that we could use the best tools for specific jobs, and the developer challenge would be to rise to the top of the pack for each feature. Alas, it’s pretty much all or nothing. Developers (including myself) don’t write that way. We spray (plugins and features) and pray (that we didn’t go too far or not far enough). And we dig in with specific developers that we trust based on reviews or experience, to at least try to fill in the gaps in their functionality whenever such gaps are identified.

    Articles like this help us to become aware of new options and developers, and where other perhaps longer-established solutions have faltered.

    • Hey Tony,

      thanks for your thorough comment. If you’re optimizing for search engines AFTER optimizing for your target audience, you’re doing SEO the right way – focus on your users first is the ultimate SEO advice :-)

      You’re quite right in your comment re effectiveness of plugins / themes.

      While I can’t argue on what you say, I can tell you how I handle the overwhelming amount of plugins which do essentially the same thing.

      1. I follow recommendations of other people and then give a few plugins a shot based on what people are saying about them.

      2. If those plugins are effective for me, I stick with them. If they are not, I look for alternatives.

      I’ve had several instances where I’ve looked at the top option people recommend, not found it suitable for me and switched. Most times, the 2nd best option worked better for me.

      Does that mean the first plugin was bad? Nope, surely not – it just wasn’t suitable for me. The reasons for that may be several, but we didn’t “fit”.

      I wouldn’t dream of trying to figure out all plugins out there. There’s enough to last several lifetimes.

      Stick with the stuff that works. And stick with the reliable vendors. You’re on this site for good reason ;-)

  • New Recruit

    I read the review and actually removed Yoast from a site that I am building right now. There was very little in term of settings/ data done with Yoast so I thought I would give SEO Framework a try.

    So far so good and I like using it.

    There is a feature I am missing, the bulk edit feature of metas on Yoast. Maybe something in the works for SEO Framework?

  • Mr. LetsFixTheWorld

    Setting up new sites now. I understand WPMU DEV personnel are in a weird spot with this sort of recommendation but in the interest of truly getting the best solution and thus value for our membership dollar here:
    – Should we forego SmartCrawl in its current state and just go with SEO Framework, at least until an update for SC is available and we can do our own comparisons?
    – Can we run them together? And is there any value in doing so?
    – Does anyone feel that SmartCrawl may be superior to SEO Framework in some technical or business way?

    Thanks.

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