Always Be Careful With Software Upgrades; WordPress Plugins Are No Different
Ah, WordPress and plugins.
They can be wonderful additions to this open-source blogging platform, adding functionality that either doesn’t exist (yet) in vanilla WordPress, or else simplifying other things that one would normally have to code or otherwise do manually. As such, plugins can be particularly useful for those not familiar with HTML and CSS, or Java, for example.
But plugins can be a hassle sometimes, namely when one doesn’t work like it should. Sometimes it can be a conflict with another plugin, which is why it’s a good idea not to use any more plugins than you have to. At other times, it can be because you’ve upgraded WordPress, and the plugin isn’t compatible in some way, or otherwise conflict with, the latest version.
Sometimes it’s just an upgrade to the plugin itself that may not always workout like the author had intended – but such is the nature of all supported software. And sometimes it may be something peculiar to the user’s configuration that the original author of the software didn’t foresee.
A case in point of this latter phenomenon is the latest version of the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin, developed by Joost de Valk. If you’ve used WordPress and studied or otherwise worried about search engine optimization (SEO) at all, you’ve probably at least heard the name.
I’ve used this plugin for awhile now; it’s very comprehensive – one might even say a bit complicated, at least for someone new to all this – but it works great and simplifies SEO chores considerably. An example: with this plugin you can easily manipulate the SEO post title and meta description so that they are different from what a reader may actually see when they come to a blog post or page. You can do this by hand in the code, of course, although it’s kind of problematic with the way WordPress dynamically serves things up – thus the beauty of an SEO plugin.
Of course any SEO plugin that’s any good will let you do this; the Yoast SEO Plugin does many other things as well – a dizzying array of things, in fact. Yoast actively supports this plugin, along with several other plugins he maintains for use with WordPress, and his blog and Website feature a lot of information on SEO.
Recently he updated the plugin into version 0.4.1 – officially it’s still in beta, but it works fine (this is the first time I’ve had any problems with it) – and changed the way xml sitemaps are generated. If you’re not familiar with sitemaps as they pertain to SEO not to worry; they are just things that search engines use to help their spiders crawl (as in navigate) and index your site. You don’t have to have a sitemap, but it can help, this ability to control how a search engine indexes your site, particularly when it comes to search optimization.
To make a long story short, with this version the Yoast SEO plugin dynamically generated sitemaps, as opposed to creating an actual sitemap file (i.e. sitemap.xml). So whenever a search engine goes looking for a site’s sitemap, it is generated when called upon, as opposed to being cached to a disk on your server.
You can read more about why Yoast changed the way his WordPress SEO plugin handled xml sitemaps on his blog. As you can see from the comments on that post, though, some people had problems. I was one of those people. I had actually upgrade the plugin a few days before I noticed, but when I was checking my statistics in Google Webmaster Tools, I noticed their were crawling errors and a big red x next to the sitemap entry for all of my sites.
Fortunately a lot of people weighed in on Yoast’s blog with their problems and what they did to get things to work; Yoast chimed in often, as you can see (and this is one of the things that’s makes the open source community, and WordPress in particular so wonderfully awesome). It didn’t take long for me to narrow down the conflict. One part of the Yoast SEO plugin deals with permalinks; one of the options was “Redirect ugly URLs.” This actually redirect links back to the site that contain errors or junk at the end of them – unwanted parameters, as Yoast says. The plugin also notes that “this is not recommended in many cases” as it can conflict with other plugins.
I’ve used it in the past without any problems that I could discern though, so I always left it checked. But actually it was this redirect option that was causing a conflict with the dynamically generated sitemap in the latest 0.4.1 version of the same plugin, which creates a sitemap at http://exampleurl.com/sitemap_index. (The sitemap index actually contains links to several different sitemaps corresponding to pages, posts, etc. Again, if you read the related post on Yoast.com, he explains why it does this.)
Anyway, I should note that just about a half hour ago (about 2:15 a.m. Wednesday, June 8 – I’m nocturnal, don’t you know) the plugin has already been updated to 0.4.2. I don’t know if this update addresses the sitemap issue some were having, but I would presume that it does – although it doesn’t seem to have changed the dynamically generated sitemaps, at least on the surface. I just know that I’m not having any problems so far with 0.4.2.
So there you go. Just a story about WordPress plugins and how problems can arise. Of course as problems go with software, this was pretty painless. And let me just offer props once again to Yoast and his WordPress SEO plugin.