4shared

I have been running a blog of some kind since the Spring of 2003. In a few short months, it will be my 17th blog-aversary. The most important lesson I have learned over the years is to not do more work than is necessary to publish a blog post.

There was a time when I fiddled with custom field boxes to fine-tune every aspect of a blog post, such as meta keywords, descriptions, titles, and much more. However, worrying over every bit of metadata about a post became more work than actually writing the blog post itself. It was killing my creative process.

I have tried numerous SEO plugins and even built such a plugin myself once. Eventually, I would always come back to simply automating most of the process for whatever project I was working on.

Some SEO purists may balk at the idea. They might argue that everything must be fine-tuned for the best results in search engines. I could not say. Worrying about ranking seems to be a never-ending, uphill battle. In my experience, no particular plugin has ever given me an edge in comparison to another. Results were always similar regardless of whether I fixated on every detail that options-filled SEO plugins offered or let an automated system generate the bits and pieces I needed.

I decided to give the Slim SEO plugin a try. It promised to handle the dirty work and ticked most of the boxes in terms of what I was looking for in an SEO plugin.

Slim SEO is a plugin built by eLightUp, the company behind the Meta Box framework and GretaThemes. Given their history of building quality extensions for WordPress, their SEO plugin made sense for a test run.

The plugin beautifully handles the basics that you would expect from an SEO plugin. It automatically handles meta tags, including Open Graph Tags for social media. It generates a sitemap of your public posts and pages. It outputs structured data via JSON-LD with no work on the user’s part.

TL;DR: For users who are looking for a simple SEO solution with little legwork, Slim SEO is a solid option. For users who want to tinker with every aspect of their SEO, look elsewhere.

A Slim User Interface

As a user, the things I tire of quickly the most are complex options screens. Just give me the basics. That is exactly what Slim SEO does. It has a single options screen titled “SEO” under the default “Settings” menu in the admin. Currently, the only options are for inputting header and footer scripts from various services, such as Google Tag Manager or Google Analytics.

On the post-editing screen, the plugin provides a simple meta box for customizing the meta title and description. Users can also opt to hide the post from search engines and change the Facebook and Twitter images for the post. And, that’s it.

Screenshot of the meta box for handling per-post SEO options with the Slim SEO plugin.
Per-post SEO options meta box.

Each of these options can be skipped if you prefer to let the plugin handle them automatically.

Suffice it to say, I am a fan of the slimmed-down interface. The plugin has no SEO scores, keyword rankings, or 20 different options to worry about. It does not show a preview of what the post might look like in a search engine. The options available are items that I may want to configure from time to time, so it’s nice to have the ability to do so when needed.

The Downsides of the Plugin

Slimmed-down does not always equate to being better. You make sacrifices by allowing the plugin to make decisions that may not always be the best for your site. Keep these in mind when deciding whether to use the plugin.

Automatic Redirects

One of the biggest downsides of automated systems is that I sometimes want things to be handled differently by the plugin. The plugin’s automatic redirect feature is a good example of that issue. Out of the box, the plugin will redirect all attachment page views to the media file. It also redirects visitors to author archive pages to the home page if the author has not written any posts or on single-author sites.

These auto-redirects may be desirable for some end-users, but they are not something I want. The problem is there is no clear way to disable this feature, even via code.

Header Cleanup

The plugin also has a “cleanup” feature that automatically removes the RSD link, Windows Live Writer manifest link, WordPress version number, and post shortlink from the <head> area on the front end. It may be desirable to remove those items, but their removal would be more appropriate in a cleanup WordPress type of plugin rather than a plugin focused on SEO.

Automatic Image Alt Attributes

Slim SEO automatically adds the alt attribute to post thumbnails and when inserting images into the editor. The problem is that it uses the attachment title. This could make accessibility worse than simply leaving the alt attribute empty. If your attachment title is something like DS_IMG9453.jpg, it does not accurately describe an image.

Breadcrumbs

The plugin has a shortcode for outputting breadcrumbs. It must either be manually added to a shortcode-aware area or within a theme template.

The breadcrumbs functionality provides a baseline experience. It doesn’t handle every scenario or even close to every scenario. The feature will not get you far with highly-complex setups. However, it would work OK for the average install.

That’s par for the course with SEO plugins — mediocre breadcrumbs at best. Frankly, SEO plugins should drop breadcrumbs from the feature list and let fully-fledged breadcrumb plugins do their thing. Users should use opt for a plugin that specifically focuses on being a breadcrumb plugin. Authors who build those tend to have more experience handling edge cases.

How Does the Code Stack Up?

From a programming perspective, the code is clean and clear. It is 90% to the point where it should be. The missing 10% is that there are no references to many of the objects the plugin creates. This is not an issue limited to this plugin and is more common than it should be.

This issue makes it next to impossible to remove actions and filters from hooks. For end-users, this does not matter. For developers, it is not a frustration-free exercise to manipulate how the plugin works. This could easily be solved in numerous ways, such as using a container, service locator, static single instance, singleton, or even a global. Whether some of those methods should be deployed is beyond the scope of this review. Nevertheless, some reference to the plugin’s objects would help.

Addressing this issue would come in handy disabling those auto-redirects.

The Final Verdict

Aside from a handful of admittedly trivial gripes, I would use this plugin in lieu of SEO plugins with more options. Years of running multiple sites has taught me to grab for the simplest solutions so that I can get back to doing the things I enjoy doing.

If you prefer to micro-manage every aspect of your SEO, there are plenty of existing options out there. Slim SEO will not fit your needs.