SEO is extremely important for directing traffic to websites. Be it a blog, a portfolio, or a business website, one of the sure ways to getting the right kind of traffic is by optimizing its pages and posts for search engines, a.k.a SEO. This post is a beginner’s guide to using the Yoast plugin for boosting SEO for self-hosted, WordPress based blog posts and pages from within the page or post editor.
SEO: What It is and Why It’s Important
In short, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. All the search engines (such as Google, Bing, Yahoo) have a way to look for content in the internet, called algorithm. These algorithms rank websites/pages/posts based on certain criteria (such as: keywords, positioning of keywords, quality of content, etc.). The higher the ranking, the easier it is to find the content by organic search. That’s why it is so important to optimize websites, individual pages and posts for search engines in a way that helps the said search engines to find YOUR content. Search Engine Land has a nice little video explaining all that in a very simple way, as well as explaining which content truly matter for SEO.
Yoast: What It is and What It Does
I talked about SEO with keywords and strategically positioning them inside blog posts in one of the previous posts. The strategies mentioned in that post can be utilized in pages and posts hosted on any content management platform. Today however, I will focus on SEO with Yoast plugin for self-hosted WordPress.org Content Management System (CMS). Yoast makes it easy to optimize website/page/post for search engines. This plugin adds meta data to individual posts and pages and also police a page or post content by showing what can be added, removed, or changed to improve SEO.
As shown in the image above, you can see what a search engine result will look like in the snippet. You can edit this snippet. Below the snippet, you can see a detailed analysis of your content. A red or orange bullet means that something can be changed or improved.
How to Use Yoast on Posts and Pages
Yoast analysis section appears right below the content editor, inside WordPress post or page editor. It’s the same for both page and post editors, so I will only talk about how to optimize it for one (in this case, a blog post). The same steps can be used while editing a page also.
To Begin, Start by Installing the Yoast SEO Plugin
Once it is installed and activated, you will see the Yoast SEO section on page/post editor, below the content section.
Readability Matters for SEO
As you can see in the image above, there are two tabs in the Yoast SEO section: Readability and Keyword. Under Readability, you will see a detailed analysis of what Yoast thinks your page/post content looks like. Think of these analysis results as good advice. But you will see that sometimes all these rules will not apply to your specific content. Take the fourth analysis result in the image for example: “The amount of words following each of the subheadings doesn’t exceed the recommended maximum of 300 words, which is great.” This is great advice as most people lose focus while reading long-form passages. But let’s say if one of my paragraphs were to be 301 words, I’d get an orange bullet instead of green. So take these Readability advice with a pinch of salt.
Keyword: Yoast – The Most Important Section while Using Yoast
Here you can set up a focus keyword (in the paid version of Yoast, you can have more than one keyword). You can also change the snippet here by clicking “Edit snippet”. The image below shows what it looks like when you expand on the snippet.
Page or post titles are very important for SEO. It is imperative to choose a great post title in the first place. But in this section of Yoast, you can further improve upon what the title will look like in search results. Under “SEO title”, you can specify this part of your post or page. As you can see, there are short-form variables for inserting certain metas on Yoast. The common ones are listed below:
%%title%% –> replaces the post/page title that you specified at the top of the post/page editor.
%%date%% –> replaces the published date of the post/page.
%%sitename%% –> replaces the name of the website.
%%excerpt%% –> replaces the excerpt for the post/page.
%%category%% –> replaces post categories, separated by comma.
%%sep%% –> replaces a separator.
Some other useful categories are listed on Yoast’s blogpost on titles and meta variables.
“Slug” is the tail part of a specific page or post’s permalink. It’s very important to have the focus keyword(s) in the slug. Each word in the slug is separated by a dash (-) symbol. Keep the slug short but rich in keyword(s). Avoid stop words (example: the, which, at, on, is, etc.) inside slugs, and try to limit them in post/page titles.
The next item in this section is “Meta Description”. Meta description is important as it shows a short description of the post/page under the title on search results. Choose a couple of short sentences that are informative, and give a correct description of what the particular post or page is about. If the description is too short or too long, you will see the bar underneath turn orange or red. Green, once again, signifies a good length.
In conclusion, as mentioned before, Yoast is more of an SEO police than anything. Ultimately, it is up to the content creator to make sure they do all the “footwork”, but Yoast helps in the way that it reminds us by giving us live analysis of the content, keeping us on our toes, so we create content that is search engine optimized BEFORE we hit the publish button.
Let’s Discuss Now
There’s a lot more to SEO and Yoast, but a full rundown of the plugin is beyond the scope of this blogpost; so, I’ll have to cover some of the other aspects in a later post. However, I hope this has been helpful for the beginners out there who are just starting out with Yoast. If you have any question/comment or have noticed any mistake I might have made, please let me know by leaving a comment or contacting me directly.