Yoast SEO is one of my favourite SEO tools. It’s ridiculously simple to use, and goes far beyond just using the plugin. So why is it so awesome, and why is Yoast SEO so necessary to have on your WordPress site? How will it help your SEO efforts – even if you don’t altogether understand SEO? (Do any of us get it completely, with its ever-changing nature?)
Yoast SEO stays up to date with the latest Google updates and trends, updating their WordPress plugin regularly. They also write ample content that’s valuable to you on the Yoast Blog and Yoast newsletters (which I highly recommend subscribing to). One of the best things about Yoast SEO is that the plugin is incredibly easy to use. Plus, their blog posts are very straightforward. They’re not written only for people with high tech knowledge or in-depth SEO know-how. Yoast SEO writes for you, and makes SEO far easier.
The Best SEO Tool Out There: Yoast SEO
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, was something I chose to ignore for years. It just confused me to its core. What on earth is SEO? How the hell do I make it work for me? It seemed like a jumble of unknowns that were always changing. The complexity confounded me, causing me to straight up ignore it. I did, however, get the Yoast SEO plugin. While I wasn’t using it to its fullest extent, it still helped a bit. Even with a tiny bit of SEO knowledge, like how to find the right keywords, Yoast SEO can be extremely beneficial.
But let’s take the Yoast SEO plugin a step further. While it is valuable with basic knowledge, it is so much more powerful than what most people use it for. While you of course want the green light showing that your SEO and readability levels are good, we want to make them absolutely great to get noticed by Google. Fortunately, with the Yoast SEO plugin you can do all of this.
What is the Yoast SEO Plugin?
The Yoast SEO plugin is a simple plugin that will show a box beneath any post or page. It tells you exactly what you’re doing right – and what you aren’t. There are two tabs on the Yoast SEO plugin. One is about SEO issues themselves, while the other deals with readability. Why should you care about them both? Obviously, you want to fix SEO issues to help you rank better in the search engines (namely the all holy Google). But Google counts readability as well as a factor in how you rank. So while they may have two different names and tabs, everything about Yoast deals with SEO.
How to Use the Yoast SEO Plugin
Green lights, orange lights, red lights… seems relatively straightforward, right? Make all the lights green, and you’re good to go. Check on them if they’re orange or red, and make them green. Not so fast there. Turning all the lights green may be crucial, but you can certainly go a step further with the Yoast SEO plugin.
The SEO Tab
First off, yes, you want all the lights to go green. The Yoast SEO plugin makes this incredibly easy to do by telling you exactly what you’re doing right, and what you aren’t. First, you must input your focus keyword. I highly recommend using SEMrush to find this, but there are many free and paid tools out there to evaluate the worth of a keyword.
If you choose to indulge in Yoast SEO premium (which I recommend, but at this time am personally too broke to do), you can use several focus keywords. As I am rather low on money, I prefer to use the free version of the Yoast SEO plugin. When I have multiple focus keywords, I’ll put my main one in, and make sure everything is in order. Then, I’ll switch it out for one of my secondary focus keywords, and see how I’m doing on that one. Obviously, this is heaps easier if you just use Yoast SEO premium, but there are ways around buying the premium WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin. It is important to note that Yoast SEO premium has other features that are extremely beneficial. This includes suggesting articles to interlink your content to, and the ability to redirect manage easily.
Simply follow the guidelines the Yoast SEO plugin sets. Starting with the SEO tab, check out everything. Are you not using your focus keyword enough? Go back through the text and put it in – naturally – more frequently. Or perhaps you’ve forgotten to include a photo with the alt text displaying your focus keyword. Get that in there, too.
But merely making the lights go green simply means you’re doing things correctly. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to rank well in Google. With the tools that the Yoast SEO plugin gives us, we can make our articles absolutely superb.
The Different Components of the Yoast Keyword Tab
There are many different parts of the Yoast keyword tab. First and foremost, you’ll need to input your focus keyword. If your article is cornerstone content, in other words one of the most important article on your site, click the box for this. The guidelines will change slightly when this is done, to help push your article even further up on Google’s high competition search results.
The keyword tab is divided into three sections: problems, improvements, and good. It is important to be aware of all three of these tabs. No, you shouldn’t ignore the good ones with their green lights. Let’s take a closer look at everything the keyword tab focuses on.
Meta Title and Meta Description
Meta data is extremely important, as it is what Google will (hopefully) use when displaying your article in search results. To access meta data, go to the Yoast SEO plugin box at the bottom of any post or page. Under “Snippet Preview”, click on “Edit Snippet”. Now it’s time to deal with the both the meta tag of title and description.
First off, put in your SEO title. Perhaps it is the same title you are using as your title on the blog post, or maybe you want to alter it. Yoast will let you know whether your meta title is too long, too short, or just right for Google to display. Google will display not the title of your article, but the one you specify as your meta title. In the box below the snippet preview, it will assure that you’ve used your focus keyword in the SEO title, and that the SEO title is a good length.
After assuring the correct length of titles, meta descriptions are extremely important. How in the world is Google supposed to know what your article is about? As it uses bots to evaluate these things, rather than real people reading every single article on the web, it needs a little bit of help. Input your meta description. It should detail what your article is about, so that people looking at search results know that they want to click on your post, rather than the competitor’s. Try to be as specific as possible. Just like with the SEO meta titles, Yoast will let you know in red, orange, or green if your description is too short, too long, or just right. It’s important to make sure it’s green, as this is how much Google will display. If it’s too long, your description will get cut off.
While Google doesn’t always use the meta description you’ve specified, it generally does. Regardless, it’s a good idea to have it in there. Noticing that Google is using a different description than the one you’ve specified? It’s time to go back to the drawing board and reframe your meta description.
Note that below the snippet preview section, it will make sure that you’ve used the focus keyword in your meta description. No need to use it more than once, as that is sufficient.
It’s a big old mystery as to exactly what your keyword density should be. Some top SEO experts argue that keyword density isn’t a big deal anymore, while others assure us that it most certainly is. So what should you do? Create informative content, and include your keyword naturally throughout. Not so fast there, however. You don’t want to overdo it. In my personal experience – and I’m not an SEO expert, just someone who uses it regularly – you want your keyword density to be somewhere between 0.5% and 1%. Don’t overdo it, but don’t under do it either.
While we aren’t positive that this still matters as a ranking factor to Google, there’s no harm in still using your focus keyword the proper amount of times in a natural way. Remember, though: create informative content on your topic. If your keyword has nothing to do with your article, it’s rather useless. Sure, people might find your page, but they’re likely to go back to the search results right away if the article doesn’t pertain to the keyword searched. This causes your bounce rate to go up, and guess what? Google notices that too. Down in the ranks your article will go.
Images and Alt Attributes
Make sure every article has a minimum of one photo that has the alt attribute of your focus keyword. This is one area in which the light may go green, but you can still do better. The light will be green if you have one single photo with the focus keyword in your alt attribute. Having several, however, can help you even more.
First Paragraph of the Copy
Your focus keyword(s) should appear in the first paragraph of your post or page. If it doesn’t, Yoast will let you know. Once the light is green on this one, you’re good to go. No need to use it more than once in the very first paragraph.
Here’s one area where you can go one step further than making the Yoast SEO plugin light go green. If you’ve used the focus keyword in at least one subheading, on the green light goes. It is however preferable to use it in multiple subheadings. Try to get it in as many times as you can fit it naturally. Remember, we don’t want to stuff keywords where they don’t belong. Rather, use them where they naturally flow into your article. If only one subheading fits, then stick to that. But if you can use it in multiple, bonus points.
The minimum length of your text is different for a regular post or page than for cornerstone content. The green light will go on once you’ve surpassed the minimum Yoast recommends. That being said, if you want to beat your competitors, better is longer. One fellow blogger suggests that you write long content, but if it’s too long, use a table of contents to make it easier for readers to access the parts they’re looking for. Not everyone wants to read an insanely long article, but if you have a lot of informative content to put forward, it’s going to need to be lengthy.
For non-cornerstone content, the minimum length is generally 300 words. Is just over 300 words really sufficient to make you rank for your keyword? Probably not. I use SEMrush which tells me the average length my competitors in the top 10 ranks of Google are using, and I base the length of an article on that. If mine is longer, there’s more of a chance that I’ll rank. This is an area you really have to go well above and beyond what Yoast counts as a green light.
Outbound and Internal Links
The Yoast SEO plugin will let you know how many outbound and internal links your post or page has. While the light will go green with just one of each, more can be beneficial. The more internal links, the better Google understands how your website works and posts relate to each other. While you want to have at least 2-3 outbound links, you don’t want to overdo it either. Your spam score may rise if you have too many outbound links. But what if you have a ton of resources you want to share with your reader? Simply make some of the outbound links no-follow. This way you can use as many links as you like without risking having a higher spam score.
The Difference Between Do-Follow and No-Follow Outbound Links
Do-Follow links tell Google bots to – you guessed it – follow that link. It helps pass link juice to the site you’re linking to.
No-Follow links tell Google bots not to follow the link, thus not providing link juice to that site.
So you’d probably use do-follow links more so for other blogs, or small websites which you wish to pass link juice to. No-follow links are more beneficial to places you don’t care to pass link juice to, such as big organizations that don’t need it. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but one to be used at your discretion.
Focus Keyword in URL
This one is pretty straightforward. Does your focus keyword appear in the URL? Good. You can move on.
Have You Used This Focus Keyword Before?
Again, this is quite simple. Yoast is simply telling you if you’ve already used this keyword in another article. If the light is green, you haven’t used it. Carry on with your life.
The Readability Tab
Now it’s time to flip over the readability tab, which, as previously mentioned, is just as important to SEO as the keyword tab. Once again, it is divided into problems, improvements, and good. But even the good stuff can be improved on. Let’s take a closer look at the components of the readability tab.
This part tells you if a subheading is followed by more than the recommended number of words. This will change for cornerstone content, but is generally 300 words. Find the subheading that is followed by too many words, and break it down using smaller headers. You’re good to go.
Are any of your paragraphs longer than the recommended length? This will let you know so that you can reduce them as necessary.
Consecutive Sentences That Begin with the Same Word
Do you have any instances where three or more sentences begin with the same word? Yoast SEO will give you a slap on the wrist with this. Use the eye symbol next to the notification to find out where you’ve done this, and reword your sentences so that they begin with different words.
Transition Words or Phrases
There is a recommended minimum percentage of sentences that use a transition word or phrase. Make sure you reach that percentage. Here’s an area you can go one step further, however. The light will go green if you meet the recommended percentage, but going above and beyond will position you better to rank in Google’s top 10.
Make sure that you are under the percentage of sentences that can contain more than the recommended number of words. Again, the light will go green if you’re under the maximum percentage that the Yoast SEO plugin recommends. You can go one step further, though, and use even fewer sentences that are over the word limit for a sentence.
Finally, the passive voice shouldn’t be used more than the allotted percentage for the article. Just like with transition words and sentence length, minimizing this even less than the maximum percentage with help with your readability score. Which leads us to the final part of the readability tab in the Yoast SEO plugin.
The copy score has to do with your use of transition words or phrases, sentence length, use of the passive voice, length of paragraphs, lengths of text beneath each subheading, and a few more factors. It is based on the Flesch Reading Ease test. Essentially the higher your copy score, the better. I know, we all like using complex words, and using long, informative sentences (as long as they aren’t run on sentences). However, to rank well in Google, you want a high copy score. This essentially indicates what level of education you must have to be able to read the article.
While you may be writing for people who are highly intelligent, you want your article to be accessible to anyone. That’s why the copy score should be high, and your words and sentences simplified as much as possible.
Final Notes on the Yoast SEO Plugin – Settings Section
There are many other things you can do with the Yoast SEO Plugin. For one, it generates Yoast SEO XML sitemaps for your site, which should be submitted when you begin your blog to Google Search Console for indexing. No need to submit them every time you create new content. They will automatically update every time you add a new post or page. In the settings tab, you can also choose to no index items. You’d generally use this if you have duplicate content. This can happen, for example, if you’re using AMP. You want your AMP page to be no index, as it is the same content as on your non-amp page.
There is also a social media section in settings where you can input your various social media accounts, and do things like setting up Twitter cards or Facebook Open Graph.
Finally, there exists a Local SEO extension. If you’re a local business, you’re going to want this to be featured in Google as a local business. When people search your business name, you want to come up in a box at the righthand side of Google displaying your address, phone number, website, etc. The Local SEO extension lets you do this with ease.
Yoast SEO Blog and Newsletter
It took me forever to even begin figuring out the ins and outs of SEO, or search engine optimization. Frankly, I thought it was too much of a headache to even deal with for years. That’s right, years. How do you think my traffic was due to this? Hilariously low. My only real traffic came from social media, and really, most of my social media followers at the time were friends and family (as I didn’t emphasize this either). Were people finding me through organic search? As if. You’re just not going to be found organically if you don’t perform proper keyword research to find the best keywords to rank for, and implement them in the right ways.
But where does one even start learning SEO? Especially as it changes so often, this is a damn near impossible task. I can research one thing on Google, read a lengthy article, only to think I understand a certain concept and then realize the article was from three years ago. Damn it. Things have changed, and are continually changing with SEO. One has to be on top of it to monitor trends and see how things are changing in the SEO world.
Yoast SEO Newsletter
I highly recommend signing up for the Yoast SEO newsletter. You won’t be spammed, but will get periodic emails telling you about recent changes to Google’s algorithm and the big wide world of SEO. The newsletter will tell you a little bit about the changing trends and new developments. Its main focus, however, is to show you which Yoast SEO blog posts you should be viewing. Some are new blog posts that detail new developments in the world of SEO. Others are older posts that are still very pertinent, and if you haven’t yet read them, you probably should.
Yoast SEO Blog
The Yoast SEO Blog is my favourite place to go for new information on SEO, and to learn new skills about search engine optimization. The thing that I love about the Yoast SEO blog is that it’s not only up to date, but it’s put in such a way that someone with no clue the first thing about SEO can understand. It isn’t written for people who already have advanced expertise in the field. It is written for people like you and me, who have no clue where to start. It’s even divided into sections for the portion of SEO you’d like to learn, like content SEO or off-page SEO. Start slowly, there is a lot to learn when it comes to SEO. But with Yoast’s blog, you can learn it all quite simply.
Start Using Yoast SEO Today!
Hopefully this has explained to you everything you need to know about using both the Yoast SEO plugin, as well as the benefits of checking out the Yoast SEO newsletter and blog. Yoast SEO has made search engine optimization easier than ever, and available to those who are far from experts in the area. Go forth, my friends! Check out all that Yoast has to offer you (for free, too!) today!