We saved wpSEO, we just don’t know it yet.

Anyone who asked me for a good SEO plugin for WordPress in 2015 got a definite answer within a split second: wpSEO, the paid plugin by Sergej Müller. After Sergej’s departure however, the slow death of the plugin began. The solution for an effective further development of the plugin is very simple.


In the time after Sergej’s departure from the community, there was a lot of movement. The free plugins from his portfolio were added to the Pluginkollektiv. The group still takes care of the plugins today – albeit in a slightly different composition. The WP Letter (German), Sergej’s free WordPress newsletter, found a new home with me and is (almost always) published regularly today.

wpSEO was in an uncertain state for a long time. It was established as a paid plugin on the German market and available as a lifetime license for a low double-digit amount. Sergejs engagement in updates and most of all in support was more than worth the money. When it was finally clear that a quite well known SEO person from Germany would take over the further maintenance of wpSEO, I – and many others with me – was first cautiously optimistic.

In the months and years since the change of ownership, not much has happened at wpSEO. The few changes that have been made largely are against the principles underlying wpSEO, like all of Sergej’s plugins. The interface was unnecessarily bloated, a separate menu item in the admin menu was added. Important functional adjustments, however, did not take place and the (paying) customers missed bug fixes for a long time.

The simple solution

In the last few weeks I have been working intensively with wpSEO. The result of my training: wpSEO can still be saved and would provide a good basis for a fantastic SEO plugin. At the moment there is only one thing in the way: wpSEO is not open source software. A detail that is also confirmed by the support on repeated inquiries:

[…] We continue development on wpSEO […] without the GPL. From our point of view a plugin is not a derivative but an independent software which uses the interfaces of WordPress.

wpSEO support

I don’t share this position on the GPL, but more about it later. Opening up the plugin and using the GPL correctly could be exactly what saves the plugin from almost certain death by inactivity.

From the moment the plugin is available as open source on GitHub, I’m sure I won’t be the only one suggesting a whole batch of improvements. With me, other developers and not least SEO professionals could join in, get their hands dirty and breathe new life into wpSEO.

Why should the (in the meantime apparently new) owners of the SEO plugin get involved with such a step? Of course, at first glance it seems absurd to take off the price tag of a paid plugin and give out the code that makes up the product free of charge. But I’m not saying that the wpSEO team should completely stick there heads in the sand. How about a support package for wpSEO users, for example, who can secure premium support in this way while paying nothing for the software itself? Or with SEO audits or chargeable add-ons based on the free core that we now call wpSEO.

In a world in which the open source software WordPress has established a whole ecosystem of free and paid plug-ins, themes, consulting services and services, radical openness is a motor of renewal and does not stand in the way of functioning business models.

It is now up to the wpSEO team to decide whether they want to let Sergej’s wonderful plugin die further or go together with the community. I would really appreciate a reaction from those involved.

Alternative: Plan B

But do we have to write off wpSEO if the team can’t make a – admitted – frightening move? Not at all. As I have already mentioned, I do not share the previously quoted opinion of the wpSEO support. A WordPress plugin, or at least its PHP part, cannot be free of GPL code. Accordingly, wpSEO is already GPL-licensed at least in parts and is open to us.

Since I am fortunately not a lawyer, I have consulted people in this matter who are better acquainted with it and was confirmed in my assessment

So if we don’t get direct access to the wpSEO source code, the rescue of the plugin won’t be aborted. In this case we simply start a Fork of the plugin. The code will be almost identical at the beginning, existing installations of the old plugin could easily switch to the new one and feel comfortable in the arms of a larger group of professional developers, designers and SEO specialists.

We saved wpSEO, we just don’t know it yet.


14 responses

  1. THANKS!

    Finally someone tackles the wpSEO plugin again. I am very curious about the reaction of the current owners.

    I go there exactly like you, if I should recommend a SEO Plugin it was always wpSEO. In recent years I could never give a clear answer. That might change now again 👍

  2. WP-Rocket is also freely available under GPL and still works as a business model. Why shouldn’t this also work with wpSEO? But it is certainly a difficult decision from an entrepreneurial point of view.

  3. Hi, Joost here, founder & CEO of Yoast.

    I’d like to say two things:

    First of all: Yoast SEO has import functionality for wpSEO.de and we fully support German in all our analyses. If you want a plugin as lean as wpSEO.de, you can simply disable all the functionality in Yoast SEO you don’t like. We’d love to hear what you can’t do with Yoast SEO that you can do with wpSEO.de. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@jdevalk) with questions and comments.

    Second: plugins should be GPL. The WordPress community at large is quite clear about this. Not adhering to the GPL will mean that you’re banned from WordCamps and basically can’t operate in this space very well. Choosing to do that is in my eyes not a good idea and also dishonest: you’re keeping something for yourself while using all of WordPress that was provided to you for free.

    1. Hi Joost,
      thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.
      I myself use Yoast SEO in a couple of projects and I’m really pleased with the tools it provides for in-depth optimisation and analytics. At the same time I’m often overwhelmed by the amount of options and visual clutter I’m presented with.

      I’m envisioning a easy to use plugin for inexperienced users with add ons and/or full data-portability to another, more complex plugin like Yoast SEO, if they feel the need to do so.

      Also I have to admit, I had no idea you could disable features in Yoast, I’ll give it a try.

  4. As you already know, I’m in!

    I think it’s good to deal with these things again. I as a wpSEO user and also earlier more recommending in matters of customer questions, am also extremely annoyed what the paid software delivers. You could have said: “Hej Folks, unfortunately you can’t do that with a lifetime license. We’re switching to annual licenses to improve support and development.” Probably no one would have had anything against it. But then at least a real development would take place.

    Then I’d rather take my time and stick to your project. Then I am partly responsible for further development myself, but can also have a positive influence. The community will certainly thank you for it.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

  5. I think the point with GPL Joost is hitting on is very important.

    It is currently not possible to create WordPress plugins without committing to the GPLv2 or higher license. The license states in §2:

    You may modify your copy or copies of the Program or any portion of it, thus forming a work based on the Program, [… ] provided that you also meet all of these conditions: […] b) You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License.

    I believe it is out of question, that the source code of a plugin is “derived from the Program”, as in derived from WordPress.

    Based on this assumption it is plain and simple not legal to publish plugins and themes, which source code is not licensed as GPLv2. There seem to be questionable loopholes, that this could not apply to styles, but generally: If it does not do GPLv2 in part, it’s not legal.

  6. wpSEO is not executable alone, therefore very clearly a derivative and therefore GPL. The support can claim the opposite as he wants. It remains nevertheless wrong.

    Also I am (as you know already longer) with such a project.

    1. Right, wpSEO is not executable on its own. But this alone does not automatically results in the GPL.

      The question is: what are the consequences if I don’t put my plugin under the GPL v2 or v3? And the consequence is (unfortunately) only that the owner of the copyrights to the WP interface to which the plugin docks (the WP Foundation) can prohibit the further distribution of this plugin.

      Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the case that the plugin is automatically under GPL. This is and remains (at least according to German law) still a matter for the plugin originator (or his legal successor etc.).

      Ergo: The further distribution of the wpSEO plugin under a non-GPL license could be prevented by the WP Foundation, but the plugin is currently not under GPL (and probably was not under GPL during Sergej’s time).

      1. It was short in the plugin directory in my opinion. This would only be possible if Sergej defined the plugin as GPL. The price model afterwards (?) was always incompatible with the GPL.
        The question remains whether it was taken out of the directory to be re-licensed (possible at all?) or just because it violated the GPL.
        In any case an unpleasant fact. So any fork would be a legal risk, as long as the new owners don’t understand the strengths of open source and make the plugin GPL themselves.

  7. Hello, everybody,
    I also had all my projects running with wpSEO.
    But already after about one year of the takeover it was obvious that nothing is happening anymore. Since then I have been forwarding new projects to Yoast. Even all older projects are slowly being converted.

    It’s a pity what happened to Sergej’s exceptional project.

    If I would go back again I don’t really know.
    Yoast already offers good features, which you would have to solve with more plugins at wpSEO.

    But I would welcome a takeover of the community one way or the other.

  8. David K. Avatar
    David K.

    The problem is that Sergey was a Wunderkind, if you like. His code was minimal, clean and perfectly maintained. Conscious renouncement instead of nonsensical features and menu items. Focus on performance instead of as many features as possible to advertise with. Yoast is exactly the opposite.

    The downfall of wpSEO started for me at that time already with the fact that one of the first updates was to integrate an own menu item with icon. That alone contradicted the concept of wpSEO. Then nothing came for a long time.

    But I contradict you in the point that AddOns etc. would be the solution. That would be exactly what I don’t want. Most plugins nowadays come with Freemium, but in the end I pay again and in order for all this to work, I also need code that allows such addons. I paid for wpSEO, very gladly even, and got a stable, minimal, very performant system for it, without add-ons or ballast. For me that was also the USP.

    But if neither communication nor much is done, such a plugin dies. And when all regular customers are frightened away because they run after a yoast, without a goal of their own, nobody is in the mood anymore.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

  9. Adrian W. Avatar
    Adrian W.

    Rare updates do not have to speak against a plugin. At the moment I have equipped almost all my sites and those of my customers with wpSEO. Except one where the Yoast runs. And that’s exactly what annoys me so much, because it wants to be updated almost weekly. As if I had nothing better to do. And Yoast still has the problem that even if I switch off functions the code remains much too extensive. To preserve wpSEO would be nice. Nevertheless thanks to Joost for his compassion.

    1. As for the updates, I’m absolutely with you, Adrian. But if there are known (and clearly visible) bugs for example in the dashboard widget and they are not fixed for months or even addressed somehow, I have to ask myself if anything happens at all. Admittedly a higher update density may have seemed annoying, but whether I run 1 or 5 updates during my routine update round doesn’t really matter, does it? I don’t have to update anything manually.

  10. I have long missed a fundamental further development of wpSEO and especially appreciated the simple design with simultaneous SEO effectiveness of the plugin.
    Beautiful idea of the fork. If you need a marketer, let me know. I am always available for such a project.

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