If you want your website to get the exposure it deserves (and needs, in order to even be considered by the major search engines to rank), one option is to get the extra support provided by a great SEO plugin. Among the very best of these plugins is Yoast SEO, perfect for both beginners and with advanced options for those who want something a little more robust.
Yoast SEO has been making it easy for literally anybody to optimize their site for the big search engines like Google and Bing, since 2008. Additionally, they are constantly working to keep the plugin up-to-date as the world of SEO changes. The best part? The basic Yoast SEO plugin is completely free, with the option to upgrade to Yoast SEO Premium to unlock even more awesome search engine optimization tools. For our purposes, we will just be working with the basics, so let’s dive right in.
Also, this plugin is for WordPress websites. So, something like Wix, Drupal, etc. would not be compatible. But, if you have a WordPress website, keep reading!
Why Yoast SEO?
Above and beyond all of the great reasons we’ve already mentioned, there are some particular features that really help Yoast SEO to stand out from its competitors. Yoast provides advanced XML sitemaps, which make it easier for Google to comprehend your sites’ structure. They also provide templates for both title and meta descriptions, which help to keep consistency across your search results. Even more impressive is the extremely insightful readability check and SEO analysis, which have become synonymous with the plugin. Red, orange or green bullets will pop up next to your content to tell you how readable it is, and how optimized it is for search engines. Because this is such an important part of the plugin, we’ll devote a section dedicated to this, in just a moment. But first, let’s go over the setup process.
The Setup Process
Now that you understand why the Yoast SEO plugin is so beneficial, it’s time to implement a plan that will help you maximize the benefits of using this plugin.
Yoast SEO really has done all of the footwork for you. The configuration wizard is extremely useful and can be found on the general WordPress dashboard once you’ve installed the plugin. It will systematically guide you through a series of questions that will drive the setup process from start to finish. This will ensure your site is using all of the plugin’s compatible features. You can also rerun the wizard periodically to make sure everything is up to date and running smoothly. It will help to be armed with the correct information, so here’s an overview of what you can expect to need as you move through the sections.
The Sections During Setup
- Environment: First, you will need to specify whether or not your site is active or under construction. Typically, if you’re at the stage where you’re ready to implement an SEO strategy, you will choose option A (for a live site).
- Site Type: Next, you will need to let Yoast know what type of site you’re trying to set up. Are you starting a blog? An online shop? Is it an offline business? Go through the list of options provided and choose the one that most closely resembles your purpose.
- Organization or Person: Are you an individual or do you represent a larger organization? If you’re part of an organization, you will need to provide the organization’s name and logo. This is also the place to add all of your social media information you would like associated with your site.
- Search Engine Visibility: This section will ask which content types you want to appear within search engine results. If you’re unsure, Yoast provides default settings for you to stick with.
- Multiple Authors: Will there be more than one person contributing to the content on your site? This will determine how Yoast SEO marks your author archives.
- Google Search Console: Yoast SEO works hand in hand with Google Search Console to keep your site running optimally and detect site issues quickly. You will need to get an authorization code from Google to utilize this feature.
- Title Settings: Yoast SEO will automatically create the title that will show up in Google search results for you. It will follow the formula of your post name, followed by a separator and then your website name. This section will let you pick the site name and separator.
- Finishing Up: The last few sections will encourage you to sign up for the Yoast SEO newsletter (which is recommended) and to upgrade to Yoast SEO Premium or sign up for one of their trainings.
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Interacting with Yoast SEO
After you’ve gone through the configuration process, it will be time to start adding content to your site. The Yoast SEO meta box (located either beside or underneath your post editor) will showcase three different sections; content optimization, social, and advanced tabs.
In the content optimization section, you will be provided with a preview that will show you how your content will appear on search engine results pages (SERP’s). You can edit this preview or leave it as is. This is also the space where you will choose your focus keywords (which you have hopefully researched prior to this) and where you will see your SEO analysis and readability analysis results. We will talk about the analysis in a moment. You can get some valuable insights here, too, by noticing what words and phrases you are using frequently in your content.
Your social media tab will give you a preview of how your posts will appear on any linked social media platforms you use. You will also have the option to edit these, to make them more appealing.
Lastly, the advanced tab will let you customize any advanced options. If you don’t have experience working with SEO, it is highly recommended that you leave the default settings or hire a professional to make changes here.
The Importance of “Green” Content
So, let’s get back to those little colored bullets that we mentioned earlier, now that you’re all set up. Understanding them is going to be crucial when you begin to write the content that will make up your site. These bullets will indicate how readable your content is. It does this by pointing out things like how many transition words you’ve used, your content’s Flesch reading ease score, what type of voice you are speaking in, how long your sentences are, how well you’ve distributed your subheadings and more.
Yoast SEO will also perform an SEO Analysis by checking things like how many outbound links you have, your key phrase and meta description length, SEO title length, image alt attributes, et cetera! Every time you see a green bullet, it means that you are doing a great job optimizing your site for success. Orange bullets indicate the room for improvement. Red bullets showcase glaring problems that could really prevent you from being properly optimized. To add even more value to the Yoast SEO plugin, each time an orange or red dot appears, suggestions will be made showing you the changes you should make to improve this particular piece of content and get you to the green!
So, do all of the bullets need to be green? Not necessarily. Just as there’s no way to guarantee your content will rank if it has all gotten the Yoast green light, there’s no reason to suggest that it won’t rank if there are a few orange or red bullets throughout your site. It’s important to remember that this is just one component to a successful SEO strategy and providing quality content, doing keyword research and structuring your site in a way that is easy for search engines to understand are still your top priorities. We’ll dive deeper into what to prioritize when writing your content shortly, but first, let’s answer an important question.
Why Does Readability Matter?
Have you ever visited a website and tried to decipher content that feels a little unintelligible? Maybe sentences aren’t completely coherent, slang is being used, or it’s obvious excessive keyword stuffing is happening. Or what about a page comprised of just one big block of dense text, with no headers or images. At the moment, you’ve read about 1,400 words in this blog post. If we didn’t have headers and images, you probably wouldn’t have made it this far.
Search engines pay close attention to user signals (patterns followed by site visitors) to determine how high your site will rank. For example, what is your bounce rate (percentage of people who clicks on your site link and then immediately leaves, without going to any other pages on your website)? A high bounce rate indicates a slew of unsatisfied visitors that didn’t find what they were looking for on your site. This sends alarm signals back to the search engine. They will also be monitoring your click through rate, determined by those who click on your snippet from the SERP (search engine results page) based upon the site description you’ve written. They will also look for how much time users are spending on your site and how frequently they return to it. It is, therefore, extremely important to create content that your audience can relate to. Readability is important and your content should be easily understood. It should offer value, solutions and answers.
Best Practices for Creating Green Content
In order to avoid the frustration of rewriting your content over and over again, it can be helpful to understand what, exactly, Yoast SEO is looking for, before you sit down to create.
The readability analysis, as mentioned above, sifts through your content looking for some key components that will make it more or less readable.
- Sentence Length: Shorter sentences are much easier to read. Ideally, your sentences should be fewer than 20 words. If over 25% of the sentences in your content are longer than this, Yoast will advise you to go through and shorten enough of them to get below that percentage.
- Paragraph Length: In a similar vein, large blocks of text can be extremely intimidating and make it harder for your site visitors to scan your content to pick out what they need. Breaking them down into more digestible chunks encourages your visitors to stick around a while. Yoast will give you a green bullet for paragraphs under 150 words, orange for anything between 150 and 200 and red for anything above the 200 mark.
- Subheadings: Subheadings help to further break your content into specific sections. Your subheadings should very concisely illustrate what the following paragraphs are about. Ideally, you should have a subheading placed before any text sections that reaches 300 words.
- Voice Type: You likely remember passive and active voice from your high school language arts teacher, but who knew you’d use it when you were building your website content? Active voice should be used in the majority of your content, to avoid it sounding too wordy and confusing. If no more than 10% of your sentences contain passive voice, Yoast will reward you with a green bullet.
- Number of Consecutive Sentences: How many times do you start a sentence the same way? How many times do you think you should do it? How many times do I have to do this to illustrate my point? Kind of awkward, right? This is why Yoast is on the lookout for this type of repetition.
- Transition Words: Using words like ‘and’, ‘so’, ‘because’ and ‘but’ (to name a few) help to illustrate the connection between differing points and prepare your reader for what is next. They can show cause and effect, clarify a point, offer examples, showcase contrasting viewpoints, offer emphasis, specify timelines or summarize a topic. Ideally, you want to be including transition words in at least 30% of your sentences to get your green bullet. Anything below 20% will earn you a red.
- Flesch Reading Ease Score: This test measures readability by factoring in your contents average sentence count and the average number of syllables per word. Your site’s score will fall anywhere between 0 and 100, with 0 showcasing content that is extremely difficult to read. The higher your score, the more likely you will get that green bullet.
The SEO Analysis takes different variables into consideration to determine how optimized your content is for search engines.
- Word Count: Longer text count enables Google to more easily define what your content is about. It also gives you more opportunities to find authentic ways to weave your key phrase into it. For example, we happened to weave “Yoast SEO” into this blog post 20 times, and it wasn’t difficult to do so. It doesn’t look unnatural, and that’s the keyword we are focusing on for this post. It’s important to note that word count also affects your site’s readability, which is why it is topping our list here.
- Page Title: A page title that’s too long may risk getting cut off on SERP’s. Google has a set width of 600px for page titles, so while there’s no definitive number of words you can use, you will need to consider what will actually be seen by visitors.
- Opening Paragraph: It is important to define your site’s content right off the bat, which is why your opening paragraph is so crucial. How will you hook your readers and leave them wanting more? Yoast will check to make sure your opening paragraph mentions your focus key phrase and any synonyms, but does not overuse them.
- Headings: As we previously mentioned, headings and subheadings help to break up your text into manageable sections. They help make your content more scannable which will likely lead your site visitors to stay longer, thus affecting your search engine rankings.
- Site URL: Including your keyword in your URL can help those searching to understand what your site is all about, driving traffic to it. This is exactly what Yoast will be checking for when they do their analysis.
- Content: While we’ve already talked a lot about content, we’re specifically referring to keyword saturation here. How many times does your focus key phrase appear in your content? You don’t want to overdo it, but you don’t want to underdo it, either. If you’ve mentioned it 5 times on a page containing 100 words, then your key phrase density comes in at 5%. You want your key phrase density to fall somewhere between 0.5% and 3% to achieve your green bullet.
- Meta Description: Your meta description describes what your page is all about and it can show up when Google pops your search results up onto the page. This is a great way for you to show search engine visitors that you have the answer to what they’re looking for. It should be somewhere between 120 and 155 characters (not words), use active voice, include your focus keyword and a call to action… if possible.
- Image Alt Tags: Yoast also checks to see that any images included in your content also include a written description of what the image is about. This works to increase your rankings if search engine users perform an image search. It also helps you maintain ADA compliance for your website.
Putting it All Together
As you can see, this is an extremely comprehensive plugin that can easily benefit your existing SEO plan. With an understanding of the basic components that make Yoast SEO such a valuable tool, and armed with the information of how to use it, it’s almost time to hit launch on your site! Go back through and ensure you’ve followed the best practices and truly considered the feedback provided to you through the plugin. If you’ve got mostly green bullets and feel comfortable and confident with any areas that didn’t, its all systems go! As your site grows and your needs shift, you can always upgrade later down the line to unlock new features, as needed. And of course, we are happy to assist with your SEO, should you need it. Just let us know via the contact form below. Or if you prefer, you can connect through our contact page.