seo-ask-an-expert

Dear Melissa,

I built my new WordPress website and installed the All in One SEO Pack plugin to automatically generate my meta content. It’s one of the most downloaded plugins on WordPress.org – so I know it must be good!

I don’t enjoy writing, and it sounded like a chore to actually have to write all that content. So when I discovered this fab shortcut, it seemed like a great idea getting some free software to generate content for me. That’s going to give me a big advantage in Google, right?

I want a no-brainer way to do SEO and would love to use the All in One SEO Pack WordPress Plugin, just be done with all the hassles of having to think though things on my website. But I need to know, am I going to SEO h@ll for that?

–Automated and Lovin it

Dear Automated:

All my leftover Easter candy melted together isn’t enough to sugarcoat this one: Trying to use some free software to write your content is indeed your all-in-one ticket to the down elevator. Google doesn’t want you to have meta tags… Google wants you to have well-written meta tags.

There are always going to be people who want to believe that building a website and a successful business is something quick-n-easy they can do over the weekend (if football isn’t in season). Then start shopping for private islands the following Monday. The All in One SEO Pack plugin answers the hopes and dreams of so many people completely unqualified and unwilling to do the real work a website requires with promises like “Generates META tags automatically” and “Works out-of-the-box. Just install.”

Unfortunately, as so often happens in SEO, less truly is more. In your particular case, having no meta tags is better than automatically generated content. Tempting as it is to want to give your brain the night (or the week) off; in this case, it would be better to do nothing than to use auto-generated content. I know what you may be thinking, “Why should I trust a cranky SEO expert bent on quality standards?” Fair enough, let’s go to Google to see what they say:

In general, rather than have one meta tag description repeated over and over again for every page on your site, I would either go ahead and make sure there is a unique one for the pages that really matter, or leave it off and Google will generate the snippet for you.”

– Matt Cutts, head of Google’s WebSpam team

I’ve worked on websites that trigger hundreds of Google errors because they’ve been using the All in One SEO Pack plugin for WordPress. But most beginners don’t have the software or know-how to check for those red flags. They don’t even know what they’re doing to damage their site. (If this could be the problem with your site, one recommended beginner-intermediate option for checking your website’s health is Moz.com.)

Here’s what you can do to undo the automated content penalty:

1)      Remove the plugin entirely and just go au naturel. No meta tags. (And don’t tell me that you can’t do that because you know meta tags are important. If you truly believed that, you would have made sure unique content was written for them.) All meta tags are not important; only meta tags that have been well composed and provide value to the audience are important.

2)      Or… Get the excellent Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress. Sure, it’ll mean doing some work. You’ll have to write the meta content and research how to make sure the settings are configured correctly. But if you’re not doing hard work on your website, then you’re not doing it right.

Yoast understands the complexity of SEO, and doesn’t soft peddle the easy yet ineffective tips just to make a quick buck. Yoast’s got the right idea on meta content too: “The only well written description is a hand written one, and if you’re thinking of auto generating the meta description, you might as well not do anything and let the search engine control the snippet.” To check out his SEO plugins, go to the Yoast website.

I’ve transformed the rankings of websites by removing the All in One SEO plugin and writing quality optimized content in its place. With the Yoast SEO plugin, you can add meta content to a WordPress by yourself without hiring a coder. The Yoast free and premium version plugins are both highly recommended. The free version is fully featured and is enough for many websites; but don’t skimp if you need the features in his more advanced plugins. There aren’t many SEO investments that will yield so many positive benefits for a WordPress website, Yoast plugins range from about $69-$89 annually and are entirely worth the small one-time investment.


SEO BOTTOM LINE: No meta tags is better than auto-generated content triggering Google spam penalties. Don’t check the meta tags box off your SEO to-do list with auto-generated content and expect a gold star. A child could cut and paste their history report off the internet instead of writing it themselves. They would technically have “done their homework” – only they would have cheated and deserved to get an “F” for it after getting caught. Don’t expect Google to be any nicer when they catch an SEO cheater.


 

Q&A Disclaimer: While the questions in this column have been paraphrased (rewritten to be less boring), the SEO confusion is real. These are actual SEO questions people have asked me or I’ve come into contact with in my work. The names have changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. Any resemblance to people real or imagined is strictly coincidental, unless it's Gwyneth Paltrow.