DiggingIntoWordPress

by Chris Coyier & Jeff Starr

Why All-In-One SEO Deactivates

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In the past I’ve been pretty pissy about the All-In-One SEO plugin from Michael Torbert automatically deactivating itself after updates. My reasoning:

  • If you update and forget to re-activate (somewhat hard to do since it reminds the shit out of you on every page of the admin), it could cause problems.
  • We are forced to see Michael’s large promotional/donation blocks up in our faces above where we can reactivate. I’m all for plugin authors making as much money as they can, but this seemed to me a bit too far.
  • I really like the plugin and use it on all my sites and wish it was closer to my version of perfect.

But Michael recently stopped by to explain his side, which is interesting, so I thought I’d update the record, as it were.

Michael Torbert:

… a site complained that a new feature damaged their site’s search engine results placement. They finally admitted that they were incorrect in this assumption, and that the cause was something else unrelated to the plugin, but their original assessment was that a new feature hurt them.

From then on, any update which introduces new options (not just behind the scenes changes) require the user to reactivate the plugin from the settings page, to make sure that they can review the options.

I can understand this line of thinking. Forcing the user to visit the options page may be the closest thing to getting them to think about the plugins options as is possible.

Michael is also aware of the potentially negative experience:

I’m aware of how it looks, and I understand that it’s annoying for some users. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and consulted with a number of other people in the community when contemplating the decision about what to do.
Unfortunately, in this case there was no way to make everyone happy, so I sided with ensuring that nobody could ever say (even if incorrectly as was the case) that new features introduced caused harmful effects to their sites SEO.

Perhaps a better way?

Let’s say that the moment you decided to upgrade the plugin to a version with new features, the google bot decided to stroll by your site. The plugin is momentarily deactivated, so the google bot sees lots of differences. The canonical tag is gone, the meta tags are gone, the page title is different. Surely that isn’t good for SEO.

Perhaps this plugin could save the currently running version number in the wp_options table. Then when an upgrade is performed, it could update this but also save the previous version number. Then instead of deactivating itself, it could display a message (rather boldly, like the current message) which explains what is new with the plugin and things you should watch for.

26 Responses

  1. Chris,

    Great post.
    As I told you, I’ll welcome any suggestions for a better way to make users aware of changes to the plugin.
    This is an interesting thought, however I should point out that if the site is running WP Super Cache (which hopefully they are), no changes are reflected until the cache is emptied or updated.

  2. Alexander January 7, 2010

    Hi, do you take al look at the great plugin wpSEO (wpseo.org)?

    Yes it costs 25$ but you invest in a really good thing!

    wpSEO can also import the settings from AIO-SEO.

    Have a nice day,
    Alex

  3. Not buying it for a second. Michael has made lots of updates that require activation without actually making any code changes to generate more page views for his ads. The activation requirement was also not occurring for me and looked to have been dropped for a month until right when he launched the new premium services, then every update required reactivation.

    Here are users’ documentation of bogus AllInOne SEO updates:

    http://wordpress.org/support/topic/329540

  4. Eric,
    You’re incorrect. No updates are submitted without changes. I don’t submit updates for page views for ads, which wouldn’t increase money for me anyway. The activation was never “dropped”. Every update doesn’t require activation.
    The “documentation” you’re linking to is incorrect as well, as I stated there. Feel free to look at my changelog and/or trac.

  5. I love the feature that AIO SEO provides and I even sent in a donation quite sometime back.

    From my experience as a plugin author, the donation model is one of the worst methods to make money, because people don’t really donate.

    And, like Eric, I don’t buy the explanation of deactivating only where there is a new feature. There have been so many numerous minor minor version updates and the plugin deactivates itself. Somehow, the main reason I think there are so many updates is because they all contribute to the download count on WordPress.org

    If Michael is so worried about users not seeing the changelog, then he can go ahead and implement something along the lines of what W3 Total Cache has done. When there is an update, on the Plugins page it gives a full list of what is new in the update. That way a user can “choose” to upgrade or not.

    And honestly, if there is a new feature how can you know it is going to break your site, until you upgrade? I don’t buy the logic of forcing the user to reactivate the plugin.

    And lastly, why does the plugin have to reset the option which says “I have donated” ?

  6. Ajay, Eric, can you two not speculate on WHY without any logical proof of what you’re speculating? The “deactivates to generate pageviews for ads” angle is a load of crap.

    The explanation is there, if you don’t buy it, then don’t believe it, but don’t go slinging speculations around without any proof.

    • BTW, I didn’t state that the plugin deactivate to generate pageviews. I know for a fact this doesn’t help at all.

  7. @Jayvie / Michael: the link I provided documents changes to version number without any actual code changes, a non-update if you will that requires users to upgrade, increase download count and re-activate and recheck the donation box even when users have already donated.

  8. @Eric: the document you pointed out is not a primary source of information. That guy is basically saying the sky is red and you’re buying his BS. If you paid close enough attention, Michael in two posts under said: “bugfix for closing PHP tag trailing space which may affect some users – only upgrade if you’re getting an error”

    Try again.

  9. @Jayvie, for one, I honestly don’t see why a plugin needs to disable itself. Maybe provide an option that lets the user decide if he / she wants to plugin to disable itself automatically.

    Secondly, maybe you’d like to explain why the Donation option keeps resetting itself?

    And lastly, about the “new features introduced caused harmful effects to their sites SEO”, isn’t there one very simple solution?
    DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY ACTIVATE THE FEATURE!

    And how does a user come to know about this new feature? That’s what the changelog, and release posts on the official plugin page are for.

    Also, am absolutely sure that Michael can easily put in some code that when the plugin is upgrade, a message is displayed saying, “Hey we got a new feature, would you like to activate it?”

    None of these require the plugin to deactivate itself.

  10. Like Michael said, he’s open to suggestions on how to implement this better. I also wrote about this on the blog.

    What I’m seeing is that users are putting him into a Catch22: keep it running after upgrade, with new features, and someone grumbles. Require you to reactivate after upgrading, another bunch grumbles.

    I can’t explain why the Donation option keeps resetting itself. I’m a friend of Michael’s and help in the support forum but have no hand in coding the plugin.

    “Also, am absolutely sure that Michael can easily put in some code ” –> the code is GPL and open source and if someone has suggestions, not just with the what but with actual code I’m sure he and I would appreciate it.

    • I’ll trying digging through a few plugins where I have seen this feature. And my rant here has given me a good idea for a blog post :)

      • I’m a friend of Michael’s, like I said. I get no compensation for anything I say in defense of him or to field the questions. The truth is, the only thing I want from people with questions is to avoid accusatory tones, or speculation on motives.

        I understand that the web is acriminious by nature.I’ve been blogging about US politics since 2003 and I’ve seen my share of nastiness. But what I always tell people is: if you don’t know WHY, and want to know, ask a question in a non-accusatory manner.

        This is ok: “Secondly, maybe you’d like to explain why the Donation option keeps resetting itself?”

        But (I know it’s not your words) this is over the top: “Michael has made lots of updates that require activation without actually making any code changes to generate more page views for his ads.”

        I’m a front-end designer and I know just how many iterations some projects take. All I ask is that developers be treated with some benefit of the doubt.

  11. The Reveal IDs plugin requires users to re-save the options after each upgrade, without deactivating the whole plugin. While it’s a bit annoying in such a set & forget type plugin, perhaps that’s a good pattern to follow for activating new features for SEO management.

  12. Andrew,
    Thank you for your suggestion. I’m downloading that plugin to have a look at its method.

  13. Wait, one person complained, about something that turned out not to be true, so he changed the behaviour?
    I agree with what other people said… why not just leave the new features un-activated and let the user activate them when they are ready?

    • Problem is the one (or few) people complaining tend to bang the drum really, really, really loudly, and get influential links from people who think they are competing with AIO instead of satisfying a different niche, and everything turns into a huge fustercluck.

  14. Come on Chris, make a stripped down version for us ;)

  15. I use the All-In-One SEO plugin and I also find it a tad annoying to reactivate- but it’s free and it means that I can switch themes without having to retype my information in the headers of the other themes (it’s easy to forget to update it there!)

    It’s imperfect, but it makes my life easier, so my appreciation for the plugin outweighs any complaints I might have.

    There may well be better (paid!) plugins which perform the same or similar functions, but for a student/beginning artist, $25.00 is a lot of money…

  16. Better yet, why not just offer a quick checkbox choice to the user when upgrading along the lines of:

    “[ ] do not automatically reactivate plugin after upgrade is complete”

    i know it’s one extra click in the upgrade process (for those who don’t want to reactivate straight away at least) but it seems the clearest and most practical option to me anyway.

  17. Let’s face it – Torbert and his buddies are HORRIBLE business people. Hey, we’re all making a living off the web one way or another. But when your methods mimic a used car salesman with deceitful and annoying tactics that constantly badger people to pay you – but sent under the guise of “I’m doing it to help the people” – none of us believe that garbage – and none of us respect you for it.

    I asked what should have been a simple question for the designers of an SEO plugin – my one and only question ever about this plugin – on your forum the other day and “hallsofmontezuma” – whoever that is – was an arrogant jerk that was clearly not interested in helping. Here’s the link to it: http://semperfiwebdesign.com/forum/configuring-all-in-one-seo-pack/how-can-i-dynamically-generate-page-title-desc-with-php-variables/

    There is next to nothing for documentation and I’ve heard piles of gripes from everyone about your tactics – so let me give you some helpful advice like you were requesting.

    Instead of pretending you care about the people using your plugin and at the same time creating an awful user experience in an attempt to make money – just be straight forward and go with a free plugin and documentation with paid support.

    You want to see how a business-savvy pro does it? Check out GD Star Rating and their premium support page – http://www.gdstarrating.com/premium/.

    That plugin is powerful and elaborate and functions very well. The documentation is superb. The questions in the support forum are answered quickly and thoroughly. And there’s an option for paid support.

    So they created a great plugin that’s free, genuinely help create a good user experience for the people using it, and still found a way to make money – everyone wins.

    Oh, and by the way:

    1) I do not know the people who created GD Star Rating – have never spoken with them – nothing. No clue.

    2) My solution to the problem I had with AIOSEO was to disable the plugin for the page in question and write the code myself. It took about 6 lines of code and 5 minutes to write. I tried doing it through your plugin – but cut my losses and did it myself.

    If you think a winning business model is to be disingenuous, annoying, and arrogant while forcing your users to disable your plugin and write the code themselves to solve the simplest of tasks – then please keep doing what you’re doing so that you’ll fade into oblivion and we won’t be pestered anymore.

    And a final last reply to hallsofmontezuma saying “I’m not sure what you want me to do short of writing the code for you” – you most certainly did know what I wanted – and you didn’t care – and it shows. What I wanted was one simple example – one line of code – a bit of documentation – anything besides a link to the page that explains what a WordPress hook is.

    And don’t think this is coming from someone who doesn’t understand giving free support – 99% of what I do on the web is free and if you check out my site’s forum it isn’t hard to imagine the thousands and thousands of hours I’ve spent helping people for free – and that’s what has made my site so successful – and in the end allowed me to make a nice living from it and a positive user experience.

    Best of luck to ya – I hope for your sake you listen and learn from the suggestions you’ve been getting from everyone.

  18. Honestly it doesn’t even annoy me that much. It’s not hard to re-activate it, so I don’t get bothered by it much!

  19. How about we treat this like every other plugin and read the changelog before updating, would that not be the easiest approach. I think it’s ineffective for it to be deactivated. How about a option in the plugin for updating, that you can select either to have it deactivate or stat activated.

  20. Sebastian January 14, 2010

    It amazes me the sense of entitlement that people have come to have nowadays.
    Someone develops a great plugin that works like a charm and offers it to everyone for free. That seems to not be enough for some of you out there.
    Now you’re bashing a guy that has obviously put a lot of time and effort into developint AIO SEO just because he’s configured it in a way that doesn’t meet your expectations. Whatever his motivations for having the plugin de-activate on every upgrade; it is HIS plugin and he can configure it any way he deems appropriate.
    Amazing how some of you people out there get a free product and the only thing that you can come up with is complaints about what such FREE product doesn’t do to your liking.
    If you’re enjoying AIO SEO, take the extra second to re-activate after upgrading and be done with it.
    I for one, have only one thing to say to the developer and that is Thanks for making a great plugin available for free.

    • Listen – let’s make no mistake about this – this plugin – and pretty much everything on Earth that is done “for free” is clearly done with the goal of finding a way to make money from it.

      Some people use the guise of “Oh, I did this out of the goodness of my heart for the people and the people have turned on me – those greedy pigs” as a cover to hide behind when their dirty, annoying, or deceitful tactics have been exposed.

      If it was done for free out of the goodness of someone’s heart, then don’t ask for donation money in return. Don’t require payment to get the proper support. Just give it away and never, ever ask for anything in return whatsoever.

      99% of everything I do on the ‘Net is free for everyone. But I’ve found ways to make a living from it using advertising and other profitable API’s, along with selling other premium products. But the 99% I do for free does not entitle me to impose annoying or deceitful tactics in the name of “you owe me” and I don’t disguise my “free stuff” as charity – it’s part of my profitable and successful business model.

      So please understand the difference between a business model and a pure charity. There is nothing charitable about the creation of AIOSEO any more so than there is about the rest of the “free stuff” you’ll find on the web – including my own “free stuff”.

      The AIOSEO plugin was rightfully created with the hope of making money in mind – but the business model is a bit annoying, deceitful, and disingenuous. A bit of “fine tuning” on how they handle their customers and everyone will be fine – and everyone wins.

  21. we stopped using that. It was too annoying.

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