Yoast SEO Plugin 7.0 Bug Causes Ranking Drops

Earlier in March this year, Yoast SEO updated its plugin to deal with the attachment URL pages which are created by WordPress as a feature. However, a bug in the update led to many sites finding a large number of indexed URLs on their site without adding any content. This led the Google search engine to believe that the site had a lot of ‘thin content’ pages thereby leading to a drop in ranking. Let’s try to understand what exactly happened and how is Yoast rectifying the problem.

What was Yoast trying to deal with through its 7.0 – 7.0.2 updates?

In WordPress, when you upload an image, the platform does two things:

  1. It stores the image, and
  2. It creates an attachment URL for every image.

Since these URLs have little or no content except the image (thin content), they inflate the number of pages on your website without increasing the amount of quality content and are bad for the SEO of the website. This is an inherent feature of WordPress.

Until now, Yoast was taking care of this by redirecting the attachment URL for an image to the post in which the said image was attached. However, this technique it had some problems. Duplicate images and those uploaded for reasons other than being a part of a post (like site icons, page header images, etc.), would not redirect.

Through its 7.0 – 7.0.2 updates, Yoast added a new feature to deal with these pages. As per this feature, the default redirect of the attachment URL would be made to the image itself. This simply meant that the attachment URL did not exist on your site at all.

What went wrong?

When the users were updating from the earlier version to 7.0 – 7.0.2, the bug in the update could not always correctly convert certain setting from the old to the new version.

These settings were the Media and Attachment URL settings under the option ‘Search Appearance’ in the Media tab. For the attachment URL to redirect back to the attachment itself, it was necessary that the option was selected to ‘Yes’. However, when users updated to the versions mentioned above, the bug caused setting all the options as ‘No’.

The impact

Since the option now said ‘No’ to redirect the attachment URL back to the attachment itself, XML sitemaps got enabled for all attachments. This resulted in all those attachments getting indexed with Google. Websites which had a lot of images and relatively lesser content were the worst-hit. This is because Google’s algorithms found that their site suddenly created a lot of thin-content pages.

How is Yoast rectifying this problem?

Yoast has taken the following steps to rectify the problem:

  • It has reached out to all users who have updated to versions 7.0 – 7.0.2 and requested them to check if the ‘Redirect attachment URLs to the attachment itself’ option is set to ‘No’. If it is set to ‘Yes’, then the user need not worry about anything. If it is ‘No’, then the user needs to remember if he had set it to ‘No’ intentionally. If he had not set it to ‘No’ intentionally, then the user needs to change it to ‘Yes’.
  • If some websites find the setting to be at ‘No’ and have experienced a drop in the search engine rankings, then Yoast has offered a search index purge plugin which can help the websites remove the unwanted XML pages from Google’s search results as soon as possible. This has also been approved by John Mueller from Google as the best and fastest solution.

Summing up

Bugs can be nagging and annoying for developers. In this case, since the bug changed the settings to ‘No’ as a default, Yoast couldn’t rectify it as the older settings were overwritten. While Yoast SEO is trying its best to rectify the problem, the company hopes that users retain their trust in them as a preferred SEO tool.

As a best practice for any WordPress website, I suggest signing up with a good Managed WP Hosting plan. The reason for this is that 1) they usually provide plugins such as Yoast and Jetpack as pre-installed plugins so that you need not waste time on setting them up and 2) They take care of maintaining and managing plugins which takes care of such issues. At the bare minimum, they will notify you of such problems and provide the necessary support.

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