Optimized Social Media: WPSSO Plugin Review

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes | Last updated on

Why Social Media? link

We’ve got a WPSSO plugin review (WordPress Social Sharing Optimization) lined up for you today, which is a really nifty social sharing tool. However, before we go into some detail about the plugin and what it does, I’d like to take a step back and talk about why social media is important to your marketing efforts (which we’ll be discussing in depth in a later post).

First, I’d like to tell you a story. Ever heard of Willie Sutton? Probably not. Anyway, Willie’s one of the most prolific criminals of the past century (he puts John Dillinger to shame), and stole more than $2 million from banks throughout the early to mid 1900s (and escaped prison a few times). Willie was once asked why he robbed banks, to which he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

So if you were to ask me why social media is important, I’d first ask, “How do you drive revenue?” People buy things – and guess what? To market effectively, we need to go where the people are and interact with our customers (which is also why email marketing works well). That’s where social media marketing comes into play, and how it’s become one of the most powerful forms of marketing available (here’s a study on conversion rates for likes, shares, pins, etc if you want stats).

There are a lot of awesome social sharing tools already (Buffer is one my favorites) that help you share content, but don’t change the content itself or structure of what you’re sharing. That’s where plugins like WPSSO come in – WPSSO makes sure that your content is optimized for sharing on any platform so that not only do you interact with customers, but you and your fans share content in the most effective way by including images, product information, and more.

When shared content includes media (which WPSSO helps to do), it’s usually shared more (especially if it contains images), and can increase CTR and conversions for your eCommerce store.

WPSSO Plugin Review TOC link

Here’s a table of contents for you skim readers:

WPSSO Overview link

WPSSO is designed to optimize your social sharing, and offers both free and paid versions. Both versions will add relevant information to the <head> part of your site that social media networks can reference to optimize the display of your shared content. If you’re familiar with the way Facebook does this, then you’ve probably heard of Open Graph meta tags – WPSSO adds these to your site (and more) to make sure each network has the information it needs to display your content (KISSmetrics has a good explanation of what Open Graph tags are used for if you want to read more).

For example, let’s say you spend a lot of time interacting with customers on Twitter – did you know that you can make your tweets far more effective for sharing and selling? Twitter cards allow you to add media information to your tweets, such as larger images, summaries, and product information. If you’ve ever noticed the “View Summary” button on some tweets, this is what they’re doing. As a store admin, this can allow you to add product images, information, and pricing when tweeting about your products, so that customers can begin thinking about purchases before they even hit your site and improve your usage of social media for conversions, not just communication.

This is what WPSSO offers – optimized social sharing. Not only can you optimize your content for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social networks, but it also adds information that helps for Google search results (by adding Google / SEO description meta tag if no SEO plugin is present). Yes, SEO plugins can add some of the information that social networks need, but WPSSO is designed to either provide or augment your current SEO efforts so that your content is optimized for both search and sharing.

Here’s a description from the plugin codex on how WPSSO adds to the capabilities of your site beyond what SEO plugins allow you to do:

But what about your images from NextGEN Gallery? SEO plugins don’t resolve shortcodes to retrieve images. How about videos? With preview images? SEO plugins don’t use Youtube / Vimeo / Wistia APIs to fetch that information. How about WooCommerce / WP e-Commerce / MarketPress products? SEO plugins don’t offer information on prices, variations, stock levels, categories, etc. How about bbPress forum / topics / profiles?

In short, SEO plugins provide help in optimizing your content for search keywords, adding ‘official’ (canonical) URLs, and creating meta descriptions. Some SEO plugins provide basic information to social networks, but their main focus is to help with search traffic. WPSSO then steps in to do the rest – it assumes your content is the way you want it to be, and adds all of the relevant data to your content so that it can be shared effectively. The plugin combs your site for information to create meta tags that it can then feed to social networks, molding your social media communications into a better avenue for selling.

Setup and Configuration link

While going through setup, I’ll point out some of the features of both the free and pro versions of the plugin. However, at $39.95 (single site license), I’d highly recommend the pro version, as the support for Twitter cards and integrations for eCommerce plugins (such as WooCommerce, WPeC, and MarketPress) makes it worth the price for eCommerce sites.

WPSSO Review Menu Options

WPSSO Menu

Installing either the free or pro version of the plugin is simple, and there’s a “Where do I start?” guide to point out some important settings. The default settings will probably work just fine for most installs, but there are several options to review so that all of the behind-the-scenes work is configured for your site, and exploring make take you some time.

The first thing I did was head over to the general settings. Most of these options are exactly the same for both versions; however, the Pro version enables the Twitter card settings on this page. You can also rearrange or hide the settings on this page by viewing “Screen Options”.

WPSSO Review | General Settings

WPSSO General Settings

Note the image settings – these allow you to set sizing for the best fit for each platform. For general images, {800x800 px} is a good option, but {1200x1200 px} is ideal if your site and product images are large enough to do this. For example, Facebook prefers images with widths above 1200px, and will display these posts more prominently. You can default to one image, or use more than one image for sharing. This is handy for Facebook shares as well, as users who want to share your site, products, or content can cycle through images and choose their favorite to use in the post.

WPSSO will also auto-regenerate any inaccurate or missing WordPress image sizes, and you can set a default or placeholder image for content that lacks its own image (i.e., your logo). Default videos can also be set, which may be useful for podcasts or similar sites, but should probably be disabled so you don’t add this to every piece of shared content.

The Twitter card settings for the pro version add more image options – you can set image sizes for each card type if you’d like to override the default sizes so that every share is optimized.

You can also set up Google+ Authorship and a publisher link in these settings if necessary. If you’re already using an SEO plugin, such as WordPress SEO, the Pro version will detect this and make sure that information in your site <head> isn’t being duplicated to maximize performance.

Once I’d gone through my general settings, I checked out the User profiles. New fields are added for each user with both versions of the plugin:

WPSSO Review | User Profile Changes

WPSSO User Profile Changes

The free version of the plugin adds contact fields for Google+, Twitter, and Facebook for your users, while upgrading to WPSSO Pro provides the ability to add more fields, such as fields for Skype, Pinterest, Tumblr, and more. This contact information allows author information to appear with shared content along with the website information. From the “getting started” guide:

Have your authors enter their Facebook, Google+, and Twitter contact information on their WordPress user profile page. The SSO General settings allow you to enter contact information for the website (Facebook Page, website Twitter account, etc.), but each author’s contact information can also appear in the meta tags — if they complete their user profile.

The final stage in setup was for me to view the advanced settings, which are only enabled for WPSSO Pro users. Here you can manually adjust which meta tags are generated, add more contact fields, enable checking for embedded media (which I highly recommend), and more:

WPSSO Review | Advanced Settings

WPSSO Advanced Settings

These advanced settings allow WPSSO to access embedded content – such as images or videos – from shortcodes that otherwise would not be acknowledged and included in your shared content. For example, WPSSO is integrated with Wistia so that your videos can be shared via social media as well as on your site. Here’s a sample of this in action that embeds videos in a Twitter card.

Usage link

Once the plugin is configured, you’ll want to check that everything is working properly in case of theme or plugin conflicts (as some themes try to add meta tags or information that they don’t need to, so you may have to adjust settings). This will require you to check out shared content on the platforms that you’ll be using, such as Facebook or Twitter, and authenticating Twitter cards or Rich Pins on Pinterest. Once you have your site authenticated on these platforms, any links to or shares of your content (whether shared by you or customers) will include more details.

The first thing I’d recommend doing would be checking out how you’ll appear in search results (in case you haven’t previously set up an SEO plugin) using Google’s Rich Snippets tool. This should show authorship for your blog posts (don’t forget to add the link back to your site in your Google+ profile!), and detailed information with products from your schema tags (which improve click-through rates and conversions). Take the product example below – note that my reviews are pulled in, as well as pricing and availability:

WPSSO Review | Search Preview

WPSSO Google Search Preview

All this with minimal effort on my part :) . You could set all of this up manually, but WPSSO automates this process, helps you avoid the hassle of getting rich snippets set up yourself, and streamlines your store management.

*Note: WooCommerce (which I’m using in this example) adds some schema tags for reviews and pricing, and themes will usually pull these in or create their own as well. If you’re not seeing this information in search results for your products, you’ll probably want to look into what your theme is doing – I’m using TwentyTwelve and it’s working fine. This information will not necessarily be provided to Google if you’re only using an SEO plugin, which is one reason I liked WPSSO.

 

After checking out my search settings, I tested out how I’ll appear on Twitter via Twitter cards. Instead of simply sharing product links, now any time I’ve tweeted out product information (or blog posts, etc), more information will be included in my tweets. Make sure Twitter cards are enabled and that images settings are adjusted if needed:

WPSSO Review | Twitter Settings

Twitter Card Settings

Now you’ll need to make sure that your Twitter cards are validated and approved. The plugin codex has some instructions for Twitter Cards that I’d recommend reading to help with this. I set up a couple of card types for my site within a few minutes following these guidelines. Even though Twitter tells you it may take up to a few weeks for cards to be approved, I was able to get Twitter cards approved within a day (though apparently player cards can require more time). Here’s what they looked like on my preview (which accurately reflects what my live tweets looked like):


 
WPSSO Review | Twitter Product Cart

WPSSO Twitter Product Cart



WPSSO Review | Image Card Sample

Twitter Image Card Sample


Looking good! The product cards are especially useful for eCommerce sites, as product information (such as pricing) is pulled into the card, and another field can be pulled in or set by you (my “ships from” field in the above examples). Product Cards even helped some eCommerce sites triple click-through rates.

Validating your sharing data with other social networks is just as simple, and the “getting started” guide helps a lot with this. For example, I was able to set up rich pins for Pinterest within a couple of minutes as well.

UPDATE: Here’s a cool case study that discusses how Etsy uses Rich Pins to increase sales – some store owners have reported 20% jumps while using rich pins via Etsy.

WPSSO Review | Pinterest Rich Pin

Pinterest Rich Pin

That’s all there is to usage – most of what the plugin does is in the background for your site, as you’ll notice the difference while sharing content, but not on your site itself. Rather then spending days setting up rich snippets, cards, and more, I was able to spend an hour or two setting up the plugin on my test site, reading through some documentation, and sharing products and content that now have rich descriptions and media.

Performance link

Even though WPSSO adds a lot of information to your site to make it available to social networks, it doesn’t increase page load time appreciably, which was one of my concerns at first. Speed is better than with most plugins, so site performance is not adversely affected. If you’ve ever had this experience with a plugin (which I unfortunately experienced with a shortcodes plugin), you know that the slow-down of site page loads can be very frustrating, and you’ll spend too much time with your web hosting support team trying to track down an issue that shouldn’t exist.

I also found the performance in relationship to shortcodes pretty handy (see more about video integrations below). WPSSO will read through any shortcodes in your site to check for content or meta details that it can use in content that’s shared from your site. As shortcodes are typically ignored or are not expanded by many plugins, this was a great feature.

Integrations link

Some of the real benefit for me was in the integrations built into WPSSO. Lots of social media and SEO plugins step on each other’s toes by creating all of their own meta data or descriptions. However, WPSSO Pro detects when other plugins are installed to make sure that it works with them, not in addition to them. I’ll single out a couple that I used on my own test site.

WordPress SEO

WordPress SEO is our SEO plugin of choice, and WPSSO integrates with this and the All in One SEO Pack. If you have an SEO plugin installed, WPSSO will detect this and drop some of the tags (such as the description meta tag) that it generates in favor of using the ones created by your SEO plugin. This allows you to add on to the functionality of your SEO plugin without duplicating its efforts.

WPSSO will retrieve some of the settings from your SEO plugin as well, such as the canonical URL and post or page custom descriptions, to make sure they work together seamlessly.

Video (Wistia, etc)

As we mentioned before, WPSSO Pro includes advanced settings that allow WPSSO to access embedded content such as images or videos. This is a really cool feature, as most plugins stay away from expanding shortcodes, and the content embedded by those shortcodes is ignored. For example, Facebook will share video directly in the timeline (though you can disable this if you’d like).

If you run a membership site that uses secured videos from Wistia, or you provide setup / installation tutorials on YouTube, you’re probably embedding these videos via shortcode or HTML. If you share this content via social media without WPSSO, users will not see videos or other content because these shortcodes aren’t expanded and this media will not be acknowledged.

WPSSO expands these shortcodes and uses the APIs for these services to pull in your content or media so that it can be included in your shares – meta information about vides, such as resolution, will also be fetched. For example, you can use WPSSO to embed videos in your Twitter cards or on Google+, which increases the likelihood that your content will be shared (and including YouTube videos in Google+ posts allows comments to be shared between the two platforms). Any private media will not be available (i.e., protected videos for members), as the public APIs are used.

WooCommerce

Optimizing social media marketing was my ultimate goal in using this plugin, so the eCommerce integration was of the most interest to me and worth the price tag for the pro version. WPSSO Pro supports WooCommerce (versions 1.x and 2.x), WPeC, and MarketPress, and adds the relevant meta data to your store’s products, and will pull in all product information, such as gallery images, categories, and tags. This document has a good overview of what product information is included.

When the pro version is installed, custom settings will be added to your product pages for the social meta data associated with the products:

WPSSO Review | WooCommerce Product Settings

WooCommerce Product Settings

This allows you to adjust information on a per-product basis if needed. You can customize which image should be used for sharing, override product titles or descriptions, and change the “topic” for the product. For example, your site may be focused on Internet / Software (which will be under your general settings), but your product might be a swag tee-shirt, so you can adjust the topic to reflect that this product is “Apparel” instead of “Internet / Software”.

You can also validate your product pages directly from this new menu to see what your shared content will look like on different social networks.

You could add the same information manually or with another plugin if needed, but the inclusion of all popular social networks is why I liked WPSSO. For example, to get the Twitter card capabilities for WooCommerce (along with a few other XML improvements), you could use the WooCommerce SEO extension from Yoast. However, this extension is comparably priced to WPSSO Pro at just under $30, but WPSSO also supports formatting for Pinterest, Facebook, and other networks for $10 more.

Customization link

One of my concerns with plugins is the ability to extend and customize their functionality on a case-by-case basis. WPSSO includes over 100 filters to help you or a developer customize the plugin for your site if you require additional tweaking that isn’t opened up in the settings. Any meta tag value or information about the webpage and its media can be modified based on any criteria you choose.

For example, you could change the Open Graph webpage URL to respond to where the share is coming from (i.e., to recognize if the share is from Facebook or Pinterest), which will allow you to track traffic and conversions from each network.

These filters allow you to customize the information that’s given to social media networks in shared content, letting you can track or modify any information that’s shared from your site. If you’re not already working with an independent developer, you can request quotes for customization instead.

Support link

Support for the free version of the plugin is provided via the WordPress.org forums, and typically has fast resolution times. Support is listed as one of the selling points for the plugin, so checking out responses for the free version can give you some insight into what to expect.

WPSSO Pro has other dedicated support resources, such as a knowledge base, forum, and ticketing system so that you can get personalized help if needed. There’s also plenty of documentation available to help with setup (I read up on the Installation Guide, FAQ, and Notes to start). In addition, there are some helpful resources on setting up your social networks (such as the documentation on getting Twitter cards validated and approved). All support resources are included in a WPSSO Pro purchase.

Other Comments link

Though I didn’t test this myself, WPSSO Pro does allow you to use the plugin on a multisite install. This could be a really handy feature for those of you that use a subdomain for your shop so that you don’t have to set the plugin up for different domains, or run a membership site network.

Support for Easy Digital Downloads products is coming very soon as well (within a week or two). WPSSO will add support for download product details in the same way as the WooCommerce examples above. That will bring support for eCommerce to four different plugins: WooCommerce, EDD, WPeC, and Marketpress.

WPSSO Plugin Review Conclusions link

At $40 for a single site license, WPSSO Pro provides a handy tool for your marketing team, and improves your content whenever it’s shared by you or your fans. The free version has a lot of great features and makes a good trial version, but I think that eCommerce sites really benefit from the eCommerce plugin and video integrations (as well as the inclusion of Twitter card support) that the Pro version offers.

Providing detailed content and media is not only a good strategy for communication, but also optimizes your social content for increased sharing, click-through rates, and conversions. This helps to generate and improve leads any time a customer shares your content or products, and WPSSO makes the setup of social media marketing tools easy.

Further Reading link

Here are some other tidbits about social media marketing that will help you get the most out of WPSSO:


Note: This post was sponsored by Surnia Ulula, as the plugin was provided for us to review. The opinions in this article are solely those of the author without bias, and are based on experiences using the plugin. For more information, please see our editorial policy.

7 comments

  1. Sunit

    Hi Beka,

    Can this plugin act as a replacement to WordPress SEO by Yoast. Or do we still need to install it along with WPSSO?

    Thanks

    • Beka Rice
      Author

      Hey Sunit, great question. WPSSO replaces some of the features of an SEO plugin, but not all. It optimizes your content for sharing, and adds relevant data about products (such as pricing, rating, etc), which free SEO plugins do not do (there’s a bit of detail here that I’d read). It also replaces the social part of some SEO plugins (such as Google+ or Twitter card setup).

      It’s actually best used in conjunction with either WordPress SEO or All in One SEO. While WPSSO adds some appropriate formatting information (such as basic site details, open graph tags, or product schema.org information like rating and price) that can be used by search, it’s not meant to replace your SEO plugin. SEO plugins add in the extremely valuable information on key word density and suggest ways to improve your content. WPSSO assumes that you’ve done this already, then adds in additional formatting to optimize content and products for search and sharing. I use it alongside of WordPress SEO rather than as a replacement (unless you’re talking about the WooCommerce SEO plugin that extends WordPress SEO – then yes, it can replace it). Hope this clarifies a bit how I’ve used it!

  2. Pingback: Industry Reviews for WPSSO | Surnia Ulula

  3. Extremely well written and detailed review.

    We’ve only recently started testing the free plugin and it’s one of those plugins where you’re left scratching your head on why you haven’t bought a couple licenses yet.. ;)

    Thank you Beka.

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