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

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

When it comes to SEO and WordPress plugins, there’s plenty of choices. 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 – complementary 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 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 that 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 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 that 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.

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 price 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 allow 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.

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!
Hassan Akhtar
Hassan Akhtar Hassan Akhtar is the lead dev for SmartCrawl. In his free time he enjoys writing about his development adventures at