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How to use the Yoast SEO plugin

This post is mainly intended for Winter Design clients, but should be useful reading for anyone who’s looking for tips on how to use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress.

There are three initial points to observe:

  • Firstly I should point out that you do not need to populate the Yoast SEO panel on every page of your website. Yoast is more of a catalyst for promoting the key pages on your website, rather than every single page… For example there’s no point in populating your contact page if the page title is simply ‘Contact’, because ‘contact’ is an ambiguous search term that means nothing about your business.
  • Secondly I should point out that the Yoast guidelines are only guidelines; do not feel obliged to jump through every hoop it asks you to… If you have a page that doesn’t require 300 words then don’t write 300 words! Remember that primarily we’re trying to create content for actual human beings, not robots, and if it doesn’t read well to a human, something needs looking at.
  • Thirdly, and most crucially, using the Yoast SEO plugin can contribute towards web content being discovered – but it is not a guarantee. If nobody is interested in that content, nobody finds it useful, relevant or interesting and nobody shares it, it will not rank well. Content that ranks well is the result of many things, including your on-page efforts (for example achieving a Yoast green light), your off-page efforts (for example social media promotion, online marketing, etc), the page load time and mobile friendly score for the site, and also the fundamentals behind the subject matter; is what you’re trying to promote of interest to people to the point where they share it with other people?

Start by identifying your key pages and posts

Your website exists to provide people with information, and the pages that contain the most important information are the pages you should promote. Using the Yoast SEO plugin in these pages will act as a catalyst for these pages, to improve your ‘on-page’ SEO.

If your business sells coffee machines online, for example, you want to make sure each of your coffee machines has it’s own page which you can then optimise with the Yoast plugin. If your business offers a wedding flowers service, then you want to ensure that you have a ‘wedding flowers’ page. Or if your website is showing live coverage of the Tour de France, you want to embed this live coverage in a page with a title like “Tour de France Live Coverage”.

Hoops to jump through

The Yoast SEO plugin works by helping the author make sure their content ticks all of the on-page SEO boxes that it needs to, so we’re going to look at them all now. The Content Analysis section in the Yoast panel provides useful information on the boxes that the page needs to tick. Each entity is given a red, amber or green light to indicate the score for that particular entity.

Focus Keyword

The Focus Keyword is the search term someone would enter into a search engine to find this page online. It is not necessarily just one word – it can be a series of words. If I was to search for “Wedding Flowers in Bath” using Google, I’d expect at least the first page of results to contain relevant information about wedding flowers in Bath [and sure enough it does – our client Pulteney Bridge Flowers occupies the top two spots in the natural listings].

Page title

The page title must include the Focus Keyword. The page title can contain other words, but the Focus Keyword must appear exactly as you have specified it within the Focus Keyword box. You could have a page with a title “Watch the Tour de France Live online with Bike Channel”, but the Focus Keyword could be simply “Tour de France Live”, for example.

URL or Permalink

Every web page has a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) which is a unique listing on the web. This is also referred to as a ‘permalink’ and can be seen at the top of the page in the CMS, as well as within the Yoast panel itself (for version 3.0.7 and later). The URL should be the same as the page title. However, changing a page URL will also require a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL, which can be accessed via Settings > 301 Redirects. Do not change page URLs or permalinks unless you know how to create a 301 redirect! And if you must change URLs, I strongly recommend setting up a Google Search Console account, which will tell you when you’ve broken something…!

Meta Description

Google will use the first 156 characters that exist in the body of the page (so not including the page title) to generate a ‘meta description’ for the page. This meta description is shown in the ‘snippet’ in search engine results pages. Your Focus Keyword should appear within this first 156 characters, almost as a means of verifying that the page content really does relate to the title. If this isn’t possible, or it would make awkward reading, you can put a manual meta description in using the Yoast panel.

Word count

Google likes content. And the best, most indexable content is text… So it’s for this reason that Yoast recommends that your pages have 300 words at least, in order to stand a chance at achieving good organic SEO. Some web pages (like this one) are very easy to fill with written content, so it’s not a problem. Some pages will never, and should never, have 300 words.

Keyword density

Repetition of the Focus Keyword is sometimes necessary to re-iterate the relevance of the page title. But again, if it doesn’t read well don’t do it.

Outbound links

The page should link to some external sources if relevant. The page can also link to other pages on your website for useful cross-referencing, but these are not classed as outbound links.

Flesch Reading Ease test

The Flesch Reading Ease test scores the readability of the page, which is considered a contributing factor towards good SEO. Yoast recommends that the page content should score at least 60%, but I would dispute that because it depends on who your target audience is. The Flesch Reading Ease ratings are:

  • 100: Very easy to read. Average sentence length is 12 words or fewer. No words of more than two syllables. Easily understood by an average 11-year old student.
  • 65: Plain English. Average sentence is 15 to 20 words long. Average word has two syllables. Easily understood by 13-15 year old students.
  • 30: A little hard to read. Sentences will have mostly 25 words. Two syllables usually. Best understood by university graduates.

Sources: Wikipedia and Yoast.

Page title length

The page title should be between 40 and 70 characters long, but again if this is not possible don’t force it.

Site-wide Focus Keyword usage

The Focus Keywords you assign to pages should only be assigned once on the site. So you only want one “Wedding Flowers” page, because having two would compete with each other and therefore dilute their prominence.

Rich content

Formatted text (for example making use of subheadings, bullet points and lists) enhances the reading experience, allowing the reader to delve into different sections of your content easily. Similarly, images can enrich content, so adding some appropriate imagery is a good idea. See below for further information on images.

Some key points on images

Here are some recommendations for how to manage your images:

Image URL

Just like pages, images also have their own URL. When you upload an image to the WordPress media library, the file name will become the URL of the image and this cannot be changed as standard with most WordPress sites. Therefore, give all of your images a relevant file name before you upload them to WordPress.

Image title

So how should the images be named? Just like with your pages, imagine what people would have to search for to find the image you’re working with. That’s what the image title should be. Simple!

Caption

This should be left blank if the website design does not display captions on the front end.

Alt Text

This is an invisible caption, originally designed to give screen readers something extra to read to further describe the image. So if you wish you can add a little more information here to further describe what’s in the image. Do not simply copy and paste the title as there is no benefit in doing this. If your website displays captions on the front end, leave the Alt Text blank. It may sometimes be beneficial to add your Focus Keyword to within the Alt Text field for certain images, but only if it truly describes what is in the image… Search engines will penalise any websites who appear to adopt “keyword stuffing” as a means of trying to boost their ranking.

Description

This should be left black unless the front end design makes use of image descriptions.

Remember the on-page vs off-page rule

The role of search engines is to provide us with relevant content when we search. One thing Google does is understand which content is popular based on how many times it is viewed, shared and interacted with. Trending content will rank better in search engine results, because naturally Google sees it as something more people are drawn to than the rest.

Hopefully you’ve fond this guide helpful, but if you have any questions please get in touch or alternatively visit the Yoast website for further information.

 

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