At some point during your WordPress development cycle you’ll need to decide on how to implement the tooling for SEO. It’s not an option. You need something. The question inevitably is, “do I use SEO tooling native to a WordPress theme or do I go with an SEO plugin?”.
The answer comes down to portability, bypass evaluating themes on their SEO setup and instead go with a popular, well supported, and highly rated plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast. What will happen if you rely on a theme’s SEO capabilities, is that you will essentially be “locked in” to their standards.
When the day comes that you wish to switch themes, portability will become your number one issue. You can hope that there is a syncing path, but it’s best to offload SEO to a plugin so that it remains part of the installation even when you switch themes.
Portability, and separation of concerns, it’s the same argument as to why WordPress developers are advising that core functionality built with Custom Post Types be kept in plugins. See, “Why custom post types belong in plugins” and “WordPress.com and Jetpack should lead the way toward standardizing custom post types“. This is why WordPress is now providing Portfolio capabilities via plugin at WordPress.com and Jetpack: “Portfolios at WordPress.com“, “Jetpack 3.1: Portfolio Custom Post Types“.
If we need a list, I’d say the following points are the primary reasons WordPress website developers and designers should stick with using plugins for their SEO solution:
- Portability: avoid “lock-in” to themes (you will want to change themes one day)
- Specialization: let plugin builders specialize in SEO and theme builders specialize in themes
- Best Practice: WordPress, Automattic, and most high-profile WordPress devs are advising that core site functionality be placed within plugins
Good WordPress themes should be amenable to 3rd party SEO plugins (and if they’re not, that would be a mark against it). For instance, Genesis Framework provides their own SEO solution, but can easily be replaced simply by activating the plugin WordPress SEO by Yoast: How to replace Genesis SEO with WordPress SEO by Yoast Plugin.
So, if the question arises, and it usually does, we at Red Bridge Internet advise relying on a well regarded WordPress SEO Plugin in place of any SEO functionality provided by your theme. The benefits start today, and will be fully realized much further down the road.