Natural Links Are Best for SEO
You've got to love WordPress and its plugin architecture! However, some plugins that automatically add related posts to pages and blog posts in WordPress need to be set up with caution. Why? Two things that Google frowns upon ever since the Panda update are automatically generated content and links. Google wants to see web page content and links that are written and curated by humans.
If you are using a WordPress plugin that automatically generates links to related posts based on category or tags, Google may see it as automatically generated content. Google defines automatically generated content, in part, as: "Text generated through automated processes." Whenever hundreds or thousands of links suddenly appear on your website (only possible with a plugin), that is a sure sign to Google that they are "generated through automated processes." Google's Panda is watching!
In a personal experiment, I added a related posts plugin to two of my WordPress websites and noticed within the week that most of the pages on both websites had fallen in ranking in Google. No other changes were made to the websites. After I removed the related posts plugins, the pages slowly rose in ranking within the following thirty days. I also discovered that the images on those pages also rose in ranking in Google Image Search. I used a different plugin on each website. However, both automatically generated five to ten links with thumbnails based on category or tags on each post.
What Do The Experts Do?
When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, it is good to see what the experts do on their own websites. Are they using related posts plugins? I looked at the code of the official websites of yoast.com (developer of the highly regarded Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress), Moz.com (the top Search Marketing firm) and BruceClay.com (a top Internet Marketing firm). All three of these top SEO firms do not use related posts plugins. Rather, it appears that all related links (typically 4 or less per page) are manually chosen for each blog post. I also did a random test for the top search results for five highly competitive search terms in my industry. The top five (WordPress based) websites in each search result did not use WordPress related posts plugins.
The solution? To be safe, take the time to manually link your content to related posts on your WordPress website or blog. These will be seen as natural links by Google and a way to avoid a slap from Google's Panda. A side benefit is that your WordPress website will probably run faster as a result of removing the related posts plugin. Most of them tend to be database intensive, slowing down your website.
I am not making any rules here. This is only an observation based on the evidence I've considered. I am suggesting that it may be better to err on the side of caution. Manually add links each time you write a post or use carefully curated tags. Links within the content have greater SEO value than footer or sidebar links. Think about what posts are truly relevant. It's worth it if you want to avoid the possibility of losing rank in Google with automated links generated by plugins. -Don Peterson