Improve your website’s visibility with Yoast SEO
Did you know that Yoast SEO is the most popular WordPress plug-in of all, installed on over 7 million websites? Read on to find out how to make best use of this free and simple to use software tool.
Here's what we will cover...
- Getting started: site settings
- Keywords and content
- A brief note on SEO
- Time to get focused
- Permalinks and snippets
- Still no green man?
- Cornerstone content
In an earlier article, we explained why we specialise in WordPress websites. Two of the reasons we highlighted were enhanced search engine optimisation (SEO) and the ability to install powerful extra features through pieces of software known as ‘plug-ins’.
Well, Yoast SEO perfectly demonstrates both of these benefits. This free plug-in takes SEO to the next level while making sure everything is simple to understand for the end user.
Yoast SEO is available via your website’s dashboard. See another one of our articles for guidance on finding and installing plug-ins (you can follow Method #1 as Yoast SEO is in the WordPress Directory).
Getting started: site settings
Although WordPress is SEO-friendly ‘out of the box’, there are two settings you should consider checking before getting started with Yoast SEO.
First, go to the Settings section under the General sub-heading. At the bottom, you will see a checkbox next to some text saying something like: ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’.
This should be unchecked by default but it is possible that your website developer has checked it and forgotten to uncheck it afterwards. It goes without saying that Yoast SEO can’t work its magic if you are telling search engines to ignore your website!
Staying in the General section, click on the Permalinks sub-heading next. Here is where you tell WordPress how to format your URLs (web page/blog post addresses). The default option is a random string of numbers and letters which is not only useless for SEO but looks ugly as well.
You can edit permalinks for individual pages but if you select the option to automatically use the post name in the permalink, this will save you a lot of time later.
One note of caution. If you have an established website, changing permalink structure will break any external links. In this case, speak to your web developer for guidance.
Keywords and content
In order to optimise your web pages, you need to have something to optimise. That ‘something’ is content.
We have written several articles on writing different types of content so be sure to check these out if you are unsure about what to put on your web pages and blog posts.
Before you fire up that Word or Google Doc, you will need to carry out some keyword research. Keywords (also called keyphrases or search terms in SEO-speak) are the words and phrases people type into search engines. While this article won’t delve into keyword research, you can learn the tricks of the trade by booking on to our upcoming SEO Training Course.
Whether you hire an agency or use a keyword tool, you will need to get stats on both the number of people searching for a keyword and how competitive that keyword is (i.e. how many competitors are likely to be trying to use it).
As a rule, the broader and more generic a keyword, the more traffic and competition it will attract. However, the best keywords are often those which are more specific (so-called ‘long-tail’ keywords). Fewer businesses will directly compete for such keywords and any traffic you do get will be more relevant to your business.
For example, the keyphrase ‘left-arm four seater chaise sofa’ clearly won’t attract as much traffic as ‘furniture’. But the people it does attract will be far more relevant to a vendor selling that specific item. And there will be less competition for that elusive spot on Page 1 of Google!
So do your keyword research, choose keywords that are important to your business and write some content.
Done that? OK, it’s almost time for Yoast SEO to do its magic but first…
A brief note on SEO
Before we jump into the Yoast SEO interface, bear in mind that the word SEO is a bit misleading. When you are writing and optimising content, you are not writing for search engines at all.
Your content should always appeal to human beings. So while this tutorial will educate you about putting keywords in certain places, you should always think about the reader at the other end. Do your titles grab attention? Will your descriptions persuade someone to click the link to your page? Will your headings and subheadings make sense to a skim reader?
Time to get focused
Once you have installed and activated Yoast SEO, you can go ahead and add or edit a WordPress page. This time, the visual editor should look a bit different.
On the top bar, there is a ‘Y’ icon with a couple of blobs next to it. Clicking this will toggle a shortcut widget while the blobs will change colour to give you an instant picture of how well optimised your website is.
Ignore this for now and scroll right down to the bottom of the page. Here you will see three tabs (SEO, Readability and Social) with a face icon next to each.
Highlight the SEO tab and you will see a space for entering a ‘Focus Keyphrase’. The Golden Rule is that any web page should be optimised for just one of these keyphrases or keywords.
It doesn’t matter which way round you do it but you need to enter your chosen keyword into the ‘Focus Keyphrase’ box and add your content to the page. Hit update and look at the face icons.
It is likely that the face by the SEO tab will turn red and frowney. If you’re lucky, you will get an orange ‘meh’ face. That’s OK. You haven’t optimised anything yet.
The first place to start is with the page permalink we mentioned earlier followed by the search snippet (the bit people see when your page appears in the search results).
Permalinks and snippets
Although the exact process can vary depending on your website’s theme, you will normally bring up your page’s web address/URL by clicking on the title.
If you have adjusted your permalinks as explained earlier, you should find that the last part of the address matches your page title. Now, if your page title is exactly the same as your focus keyword, you don’t need to do anything.
Otherwise, you can replace the page title with the focus keyword by clicking the ‘Edit’ button at the end of the URL. Don’t worry, WordPress protects the root of the address so you won’t break anything by changing this.
Here’s an example:
Say your page title is ‘Fancy a Ski Trip to the Alps’. You will find that your URL is something like ‘https://yourdomain.com/fancy-a-ski-trip-to-the-alps’, where the bit in bold is editable.
By clicking the ‘Edit’ button, you can replace the last mouthful with your chosen focus keyword. If that is ‘Alpine Ski Holidays’, your new URL will be ‘https://yourdomain.com/alpine-ski-holidays’. Don’t forget the hyphens or to hit save. You will also need to update the page in the usual way before leaving it.
Next, scroll to the bottom of the page again and find the ‘Google Preview’ box. This is a handy display which shows you exactly how your search entry will look on either desktop or mobile devices.
By clicking the ‘Edit Snippet’ button, you can adjust both the title and the description. This is known in SEO lingo as the meta title and meta description but Yoast does all the magic in the background. You just need to ensure your focus keyword appears in both.
As a visual aid, Yoast automatically adjusts the snippet as you edit and highlights the focus keyword in bold.
As you write, you will also notice two orange progress bars. These track the number of characters you have entered and will turn green when you are in the optimum zone.
If you write too many characters, the bars will turn red. This means that your title or description will probably be cut off in most browsers.
Still no green man?
In most cases, adjusting the URL, the meta title and meta description will at least get you an orange face. If you get a smiley green face, well done! Your content is generally well-optimised in Yoast’s eyes.
Either way, by looking at the SEO Analysis section, you will get a handy breakdown into where you are doing well and which areas could be improved.
Some of the factors Yoast measures include the number of internal and external links in your content and whether any images you have uploaded contain your keyword in the ‘alt tag’ field. Don’t worry! This sounds more technical than it is but we recommend attending an SEO Training Course if you really want to demystify the whole SEO thing.
Finally, we cannot write an article on Yoast without referring to ‘cornerstone content’. This is a way of organising your content so that your most high priority keywords are at the top of a pyramid.
Yoast has written an extensive guide on creating cornerstone content so we won’t delve into that here. However, Yoast enables you to mark pages or posts as cornerstone content and helps you to keep those important pages fresh and relevant.