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.