Update, Mar 15, 2016: Yoast SEO 3.1 has been released, which reverts back to standard
<input> boxes for updating
<meta> description tags. You’ll see a preview of your snippet, with a button below that says “edit snippet.” Clicking this button reveals the inputs for editing.
Update, Jan 24, 2016: Users are still reporting issues when using the Visual Composer plugin. The Yoast team has not released any word of a fix.
Update, Dec 1st: Joost has written an article about the trials & tribulations of the 3.0 release. It’s definitely worth your time. And the plugin is now currently at version 3.0.6, fixing all bugs, and even addressing some of the community’s feedback.
If you’re reading this, you are well aware that the popular Yoast SEO plugin released version 3.0 earlier this week (Wed, Nov 18th). Since it’s release, there has already been some backlash from the community about bugs in the new version.
- This WordPress.org forum post has 32 replies and counting, most of which are users asking Yoast to rollback to the 2.3.5 release until the 3.0 bugs are fixed.
- The official release post on Yoast’s blog has 189 comments and counting, most of which are citing specific bugs they have found, and requesting help.
Because Yoast SEO is used on over 1 million WordPress websites, this has become quite a painful experience for many site owners. I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss a few things:
- Recap the bugs, and whether or not they have been fixed
- Discuss the PR challenges Yoast is facing, and what they have done (and can do) to mitigate concerns from the community
- Talk about some general rules of thumb when it comes to plugins
Before I discuss the specific issues, let me just say that I still use Yoast SEO on multiple websites, and for the time being, I’m still recommending it as the best WordPress SEO plugin on the market. I’ve seen several people already talking about jumping ship, and switching to another SEO plugin. Site owners are going to do what they feel is best for their site. Their opinions will differ from mine, and that’s totally fine. But I think the decision to switch is a bit premature.
Let’s start with the issues…
Yoast SEO 3.0 Bugs Reported
This version was released the same day that 3.0 came out, and it fixed one main issue.
- Incorrect error messages that a site was not indexable
This version was released the next day, Thursday the 19th, and it fixed 5 main issues.
- Content Analysis issues if you 1) disabled the visual editor, 2) were using the ckEditor instead of tinyMCE (which is currently active on 90,000+ installs)
- Snippet Preview – Slug issues (not matching the actual slug, problems with longer slugs)
- Snippet Preview – URL issues (mainly with permalinks containing post name, which, most people should be using)
- Focus Keyword Issues – 1) digits were analyzed improperly, 2) keyphrases longer than 2 words were not recognized in content
- Translations were broken
It’s also worth mentioning that the Yoast team changed how their files are cached from version to version now. I believe this was in an attempt to better flush a site’s cache when updating to a new version. Yoast often cites that 90% of issues are fixed by clearing your cache.
Another version was released later on Thursday, fixing another issue with snippet previews.
Released Nov 25th. Fixes several more issues, including:
- JS errors in combination with Give Plugin, CMB2 Framework, ACF Layout Builder and any other plugin that replaces the editor with something else.
- For those using Shortcodes Ultimate, Divi Builder & Visual Composer, please let me know in the comments if your issues are resolved.
- Content analysis issues, including the “0% keyword density” issue
- An issue where HTML tags were not stripped properly from taxonomy descriptions for custom taxonomies
- Fixes possible “URI too long” errors when parsing shortcodes in the content before it is analyzed
These may or may not be true “issues,” but they are challenges that users have with the current 3.0.3 release, as of Friday, Nov 20th.
Update SEO Algorithm notification not going away — fixed in 3.0.4 Shortcodes Ultimate plugin not compatible with Yoast SEO — fixed in 3.0.4
- Visual Composer plugin not compatible with Yoast SEO – cannot edit posts/pages
- Traffic Light icon showing up next to “Move to Trash” link in Publish meta box – user feedback on twitter
As of Nov 25th, version 3.0.4 fixes all remaining known issues. The Traffic Light icon mentioned above is more of a preference, not a bug.
If you’re still experiencing issues, please let me know in the comments.
A PR Nightmare?
Well, it’s certainly not the best day in the history of the Yoast SEO plugin, but it’s also not the end of it. It will continue to be the most popular SEO plugin. It will keep it’s million+ active user base. Yoast will continue to sell premium versions of his plugins, perform SEO audits, etc. In short, I think this will blow over in a few days, and most Yoast users will still be Yoast users.
Let’s also keep in mind that there are probably hundreds of thousands of users who have not updated the plugin yet. They haven’t seen any of these issues, and are blissfully unaware of the bugs. This could be seen as a positive for Yoast’s reputation in the short-term, but it could also mean that more challenges, questions & support threads are waiting in the wings.
How will Yoast and his team prepare for what might be to come? Do they revert some of the UI changes that people are unhappy with? Will they monitor their support channels more closely? Perhaps add better in-page documentation to explain the new features and plugin incompatibility issues?
On Yoast’s Support
I’ve seen quite a few people posting message that the Yoast support team has responded with “cryptic messages” that “don’t help at all.” And on at least one forum post, no one from Yoast has responded after 32 replies.
One of the biggest negatives here is the inconsistency in responding to the community. I would’ve liked to see more of a presence from the Yoast team. A suggestion…
- Use one, centralized support channel – I saw almost 200 comments on Yoast’s blog, and Yoast was active in responding to most of them. In contrast, on the WordPress.org forums, there were several posts that went unattended (either entirely, or for quite a few hours).
- One option would be to close comments on the Yoast blog and handle all support through the official forums. I believe this would’ve worked out better for both Yoast and the community.
One of the biggest positives is how quickly they released bug fixes. Keep in mind Yoast runs a business, with premium plugins, marketing services, etc. They make no direct money on the free Yoast SEO plugin. They released 3 minor versions, fixing 6 main issues in about 36 hours (because the third one was to fix something that should’ve already been fixed, we should probably say 2 versions). But still, pretty fast turn-around time in my opinion.
Preparation during big releases
Anytime you release a new version of a plugin, you should be prepared for questions—especially with a plugin of this magnitude, with big changes, and a huge user base. I’d be surprised if Yoast didn’t expect a few bugs to be found (perhaps not quite to this level). Regardless, I think they could have done better responding to users.
A Message to the Users of Yoast SEO
There are a lot of us out there. Yes, I said “us.” I’m a part of this group, too. Here’s what I’ve tried to keep in mind throughout the unravelling of 3.0, and I encourage you to consider these things as well.
Support Doesn’t Always Come Free
Some developers provide free support; some don’t. WordPress itself provides free support via it’s forums. They actually require all new employees of Automattic to do a support rotation when they join the company. Because the WordPress community is so generous & helpful, we are used to receiving free support.
And I’d like to make it clear that Yoast does provide free support. And lots of it. Aside from the replies on Yoast’s blog and the WordPress.org forum responses, I’m sure Yoast’s team has answered tons of questions for free, particularly around new releases.
Could they have provided better free support? Sure.
Could you have paid $69 for premium support (as well as a few additional features)? Considering the value & ROI this plugin likely provides… heck yes!
I’m just as guilty for taking this plugin for granted, as it provides tremendous value to wpsmackdown.com. But let’s keep in mind… it has a metric shit-ton (pardon the language) of functionality built-in. It’s no easy task to 1) build a plugin of this caliber, or 2) QA test it thoroughly, or 3) support it.
Help With Testing
I realize this might come as a surprise, given the issues, but Yoast did test it. And while I would expect every plugin developer to do some testing on their own, the users of a plugin can often help with this. In the case of Yoast SEO 3.0, I’ll quote Yoast’s blog directly (emphasis mine):
Just two weeks ago, Omar wrote another piece on the design decisions for YoastSEO.js. Internally this marked the start of a super-intensive testing period where 4 developers have been trying to break the new Yoast SEO in every possible way. And when our own pace of finding bugs and enhancements started to slow down, we released the Yoast SEO 3.0-RC on twitter and the support forums, and it even made the Post Status newsletter!
We’ve been testing Yoast SEO 3.0 until late last night before we decided, this is it. This is the version we’re comfortable releasing. We’ve tested more than ever before, we’ve announced changes months ahead, we’ve asked everyone to try the Release Candidate and got no negative responses.
They also asked us to report issues on Github. We can save the debate over Github vs. the WordPress.org support forums for another day. Regardless, they did put the word out.
I’m guilty of not helping test with this version at all. Shame on me. I will certainly try better in the future to help. My point is simply this: If you rely on a plugin as much as you probably rely on this one, it might be in your best interest to help test it. Yoast is spending countless hours developing it for free, the least you could do is spare 20 minutes to give it a once-over.
Spread Love, Not Hate
Thankfully, I haven’t seen any super-negative things posted in response to the issues; aside from people saying they’re switching SEO plugins. I think that speaks to the quality of the WordPress community. Nice job, community.
I urge you all to show compassion. We’re so quick to jump on the negative when things go wrong. When was the last time you sent Yoast a note to tell them how much you appreciate all the wonderful things their plugin has done for your site? (Before this release) Have you taken a minute to give them a rating on WordPress.org? Have you marked versions as in/compatible, so that other WordPress users know when it’s safe to install?
General Rules for All Plugins
Let’s use this release as a lesson moving forward. Yoast SEO is not the only free plugin with over half a million active installs. Other plugins will release big features and new versions in the coming months. So, what have we learned?
Maybe not the greatest idea. WordPress 3.7 gave us the ability to configure automatic background updates of WordPress Core, themes, plugins & translation files. While keeping WordPress Core updates enabled is probably a good security practice, auto-updating your themes & plugins is a bit more risky. Unless you only use a select-few custom plugins that you trust with your entire business’ net worth, be careful.
It’s even easier now to update plugins via the WordPress admin. A recent release enabled 1-click plugin updates via AJAX, without leaving or reloading the page. With this comes the need for even more education around how & when to update a plugin.
Minor vs. Major Updates
Does the average user know the difference? There’s so much talk about WordPress security, and most articles mention keeping themes/plugins up-to-date, but can users tell the difference between a security update & major feature release? We need to educate.
Wait a few days after a new big release is made before updating
Asides from security releases, which are usually minor, and contain no other big changes, there’s nothing in the new version that can’t wait a day or two. Let the power users report the bugs, and give the plugin developer a few days to work out the kinks.
Even a simple Google search could help prevent issues with a plugin upgrade. Quickly check to see if others have had issues. And if you’re running several high-profile plugins, or using a really popular theme, Google the compatibility between them. The WordPress community is huge. Use it to your advantage. Others have likely experienced similar issues.
If you’ve already updated to 3.x and are having serious issues, you can easily rollback to a previous version. Two simple options:
- Install the WP Rollback Plugin
- Go to the Developers tab on the plugin page, download the version you want to revert back to, and upload the files via FTP (replacing your existing plugin files)
I realize there are frustrated users out there, and I feel your pain. I’ve had plugins take down entire sites before. It’s the nature of the web, particularly when using free, open-source software. But let’s try to take something away from all of this.
And I’d love to hear your thoughts, frustrations, disagreements and/or support in the comments.