Wondering how you can drive traffic to your website or blog from search engines?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO for short) is the process of increasing the quantity of traffic to your website from search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. Traffic from search engines is known as organic traffic.
There are so many ways in which you can optimise your website and it’s content so that is found and ranked by search engines that it can be a little overwhelming.
Fortunately, if you use WordPress, there are some amazing plugins out there that will help you to easily improve the SEO of your content.
Over the years I’ve tried a number of SEO plugins and tools to help me analyse the content of my blogs, but there has been one plugin that has stood out above the rest; Yoast SEO.
In this post, I’m going to tell you what Yoast is, how to install it on your WordPress site and how to use to improve the SEO of your posts and pages.
What is Yoast SEO?
Yoast SEO is a free plugin for WordPress that helps you to improve the SEO of your site. It analyses the content of your posts and pages and based on keywords it provides suggestions for how you can improve your content.
Not only that, Yoast SEO has many other helpful features that will help drive organic traffic to your website. It allows you to easy submit sitemaps to search engines, it integrates with the Google Search Console, and it provides important meta information that is required for Rich Pins on Pinterest and Twitter Cards. It’s a very powerful and useful plugin to have.
There is also a paid premium version of Yoast SEO that is a one-off payment of €79 or $89 per site. The perks of the premium version include:
- More keywords per page
- More social media previews
- Internal linking suggestions
- Content insights
- Redirect manager
- 24/7 support
- No adverts
In this post, I’m going to solely focus on the free version of Yoast.
How to install Yoast SEO
To install Yoast, open your WordPress dashboard and go to Plugins then Add New. On this page, search for “Yoast”. Usually, Yoast SEO is the very first result to appear, and it looks like this:
Click “Install Now” then once it has installed, click “Activate“.
That’s it! Easy peasy, right?!
Right, let’s spend some time getting to grips with Yoast and learning how it can help us.
How Yoast SEO works
As I previously mentioned, Yoast analyses posts and pages and tells you how optimised the content is based on the keyword you have chosen for the post.
More specifically, Yoast checks a post to see how optimised it is for search engines and how readable it is, and then gives a score based on a traffic light colour system:
- Green = Good
- Orange = OK
- Red = Needs improvement
- Grey = Unavailable/Focus keyword not set
All will become clear very soon. Let’s start by looking at a post to get a better understand of how Yoast works.
Start by clicking on Posts on the left hand of the WordPress admin area. This, as you’ll probably already know, will show you a list of all your blog posts.
You’ll notice that some changes have been made to this page. There are some new extra columns next to your list of posts.
The first column shows the number of internal links within the post, the second is the SEO score and the third is the readability score. You will notice there are some coloured dots (or they might be all grey at the moment!) in the SEO and readability columns. These colours will change based on the SEO and readability scores of a post, and they will follow the traffic light system as mentioned before.
Now, let’s start by picking a post to work on. Any post will do, but one with content would be best!
When you select a post, you’ll notice that some changes have been made to this page as well. On the right-hand side in the Publish box, you will see your readability score and SEO score.
If you have content in your blog post then you will already have a readability score, but you won’t have an SEO score just yet as you haven’t set a keyword for the post. I’ll show you how to do this in a second.
If you scroll down, you’ll notice a brand new box titled Yoast SEO. This might look a little intimidating at first, but don’t worry. I’m going to talk you through it.
The first thing you’ll see is three tabs; Readability, Keyword (currently says “Enter your focus key…” because we haven’t added a keyword yet) and Add Keyword (which we are going to ignore as additional keywords is a premium feature).
If you are looking to improve the SEO of your post or page, this is the most important tab to look at.
So let’s start by looking at the keyword tab and let’s add a keyword.
A keyword is a word or short phrase, that describes what the post or page is about. It’s the search term that you most want to be associated with a particular post or pages.
So, say for example I’m writing a post about Yoast SEO (like this post!), my keyword might be “Yoast” or “Yoast SEO”. Of if I was writing a post about making brownies, my keyword might be “brownies”. You get the picture!
Enter your chosen keyword into the focus keyword box.
As soon as you enter a keyword, you’ll notice that you will be given an SEO score, and underneath where you added your keyword you will see a list of analysis.
You should use this analysis to help you to improve the SEO of your blog posts. Here are some tips:
- Choose a keyword that’s not been used before on your website
- Ensure the SEO title is not too short or too long
- Use the keyword in the URL/permalink (see how to change permalinks here)
- Ensure the post contains at least 300 words
- Add alt attributes to images, and include the keyword in theme if possible
- Include the keyword in the title and ensure that it’s near the beginning
- Include the keyword in subheadings
- Add a meta description that isn’t too short or too long, and that includes the keyword
- Ensure you don’t overuse the keyword
- Include internal links and outbound links
You’ll notice as your SEO improves, your SEO score will improve. Of course, we’re aiming to get a “good” SEO score.
Sometimes Yoast will suggest changes that you might not want to make. For example, if you insert an external link to a page that contains the keyword you have chosen for your post, Yoast will flag this as a problem. But you might think that the link is important and shouldn’t be removed.
For example, in this post, I link to the Yoast website because I think my readers will find it helpful. Unfortunately, Yoast flags this as a problem. Sometimes you’ve just got to use common sense and put your readers experience first over SEO. Plus, there are usually other ways you can improve your SEO score.
You’ll also notice in this tab the Snippet Preview. This shows you what your post will look like in Google’s search results.
If you click Edit snippet you will be able to change the text that is shown underneath the post title and URL. This text is called the meta description, and it should briefly describe what your post is about, including the keyword for the post. If you don’t add in your own meta description, the first few lines of your post will be used instead.
The coloured bar underneath the meta description box will change colour depending on the length of the description. Aim for green!
You’ll also notice that the SEO title has a coloured bar underneath it. Again, this will change depending on the length of your SEO title.
Ok, now let’s take a quick look at the readability tab. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but basically, the readability score tells you how readable your post is. Again you will see a list of analysis using the same traffic light system as used for the SEO score.
The readability score is based on an algorithm that Yoast has created, and the analysis given supposedly helps you to write more readable content.
I personally think this is a bit of an odd one, and I don’t necessarily agree with all the measurements and checks that Yoast has in place. At the end of the day, everyone has their own way of writing, and this is what makes our blogs unique. It would be really boring everyone wrote in the same way!
Sometimes I’ll try to make changes based on Yoast’s analysis, and it just won’t seem right to me. As I mentioned when I talked about SEO, sometimes we just have to use a bit of common sense! It can be helpful to have these guidelines, but what I’m saying is take them with a pinch of salt! If you don’t achieve a “good” readability score it’s not the end of the world.
Anyway, if you do choose to take notice of Yoast’s readability score, here are some ways you can improve the readability of your post:
- Ensure that subheadings aren’t followed by more than 300 words
- Make sure that you aren’t using too few or too many transition words
- Ensure that your paragraphs aren’t too long
- Avoid using too much “passive voice“
- Ensure that you don’t use the same word to start multiple consecutive sentences
- Try to achieve a high Flesch reading ease score (on a scale of 0 to 100)
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