Let’s Talk About Trust
This may seem like a funny place to start for this post, but I want you to understand my view on trust – which is probably quite different than most others. Most of the time, in my experience, people only trust you after you have earned their trust. I’m quite different than that. When I start a relationship, I immediately trust others in that relationship. Instead of making them earn my trust, I instead trust them until they make it impossible for me to do so. Once my trust is lost it is nearly impossible to regain. In some cases, I might give people a second chance, or even a third, but that’s about the limit.
Yoast SEO Has Lost My Trust
Several years ago when we started using WordPress here at Site-Seeker, we looked at various tools for SEO. Yoast SEO (formerly known as WordPress SEO and later WordPress SEO by Yoast) was relatively new then and did not have the following it has today. It did everything we needed it to do, and it did a good job at it. Yoast also had some significant features that other SEO plugins lacked, like the ability to edit the meta tags on category, tag and other “archive” pages missing from all of the other plugins at the time. To be quite honest, the ability to add and edit meta tags on archives and terms was the major factor in the decision.
For some time, there were no problems when it needed to be updated. I could just install the update without worrying about it too much; bugs were rare. I had even thought of paying for the premium version of the plugin for our use; unfortunately, at about the same time I started to see problems. Bugs became more frequent, and some of them were site-breaking bugs. When there was an update, there would need to be several additional updates to fix the problems. I figured this was open source; some mistakes are bound to happen. But as time went on this trend did not get better.
In fact, it got worse. The updates to correct the flaws of the previous update included new and additional bugs. It was no longer safe to simply update the plugin, and I had to have a test site set up just for installing the updates for this plugin and to do testing. I continuously visited the support forum to see what bugs other people were reporting. Then I tested those bugs myself until Yoast fixed them and I felt I could safely update sites. On top of the bug problem, the plugin also started becoming more and more bloated with more and more spam advertising their paid services.
I’m going to be honest; I’m a developer. I have the luxury of having additional sites and servers lying around that I can use for testing. That’s not the case for the majority of the plugin’s user base. They have to hit update and pray. While everyone should back up a site before starting updates, it is still a process and undoing that process can be a lot of work. It started feeling to me that the developers of the plugin were using the users of the plugin to do the testing for them instead of doing any testing themselves.
I can almost understand that…almost. But at the same time they were not offering those users (that were acting as their guinea pigs) any support. Reports of bugs went unanswered. Someone was reading those bug reports. After all, the bugs were eventually getting fixed. How long would it take to say, “Thanks for the bug report, we’re working on it”? But there was nothing. Like I said though, I am a developer, and have the luxury of having an extra server lying around to test. However, I don’t have the luxury of infinite time to test a new plugin on a backup of every site that I maintain to make sure it’s not going to cause problems. If I did that, the only thing I’d have time for these days would be testing new versions of plugins.
Let’s Take a Minute Here to Talk About Support
Support is another reason the Yoast plugin started to lose my trust. This is only my opinion, and it’s not an opinion shared by all plugin developers, but if I release a plugin for public consumption, I feel some responsibility for making sure I’m not breaking the sites of the people that use it. If there is a problem, I feel a particular responsibility to fix it, and I have the courtesy to at least acknowledge the person that’s reporting the issue and letting them know that I’ll look into to the problem as soon as I have time. But from the Yoast team? Nothing, zilch, nada.
I can understand not helping people with setup questions, questions about how the plugin works, how to use it or about specific implementation techniques. Look, I know that this type of support is hard, specifically on a popular plugin. I actually work part time for a big, popular plugin providing this kind of support; it’s costly, and you simply cannot sustain a business if you spend all of your time helping users with “How do I” questions.
But I find it completely unacceptable to remain completely silent when a user is reporting a valid bug without so much as a “Thanks for the bug report.” People were having serious issues and getting no help or even acknowledgment. Sometimes it made me wonder how the plugin got so popular other than luck at not having problems with a majority of sites.
The Final Straw
This past November (2015), another major update was released. As usual, I waited, and I’m glad I did. This new update introduced some major site-breaking bugs and UX changes that completely baffled users. Many of these bugs and problems have yet to be rectified even after the seven (7!) subsequent updates attempting to fix the problems. I’m not going to list them all; if you’re interested, you can read about them yourself. I suggest putting aside a couple of hours to do so…
Over the last three months, the plugin has gathered more than 200 1-star reviews directly related to these problems. If you don’t know much about plugins and reviews, that is an incredible number of poor reviews even given that more than one million sites utilize Yoast. This update has cost a lot of real people real money. Once again, the Yoast team was silent until it became evident that something needed to be done because of the uproar or they would be in jeopardy.
Is It Too Late?
As I mentioned above, about a week after the update that caused the uproar a post was made on the Yoast blog about the issues and acknowledging that they’d done a poor job of communication. Since then they’ve started looking at how to mend the loss of trust, but is it too late? For me, yes it is.
They’ve gotten more than their fair share of chances as far as I’m concerned. Saying that you’re going to change and then asking “Please trust me again” is a bit like that friend that asks to borrow money when he’s never paid you back in the past and swears that things will be different this time. They now have an uphill battle to regain the lost trust and it’s going to take more than one post about changing and saying that they believe they are once again trustworthy. It’s going to take proof in the form of actions and updates that do not break a large number of sites as well as getting input from the people that they effect the most. Is it possible for them to regain that trust? I don’t know, but I don’t have the time to wait and see if they can.
Clients depend on me and the tools that I choose. I cannot afford more lost time on testing other people’s work and solving vendor problems. Like I said, if I took the time to test every plugin that we use every time there is an update that’s the only thing I’d have time to do. I have to choose trustworthy sources for the tools that I use so that we can spend our time, just like Yoast, on creating new business and earning a living.
So What Now?
I’m currently looking for alternatives, and there is at least one promising option. I’m testing them changing a plugin like this is a significant change to the development process for everyone involved. The version of Yoast from before the fiasco is stable and secure and should continue working without updates for a while.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the author may not reflect the views and opinions of Site-Seeker, Inc.