The NEW Yoast SEO Plugin to Improve Your Performance

yoast SEO
yoast SEO
Image courtesy of Yoast SEO Plugin

A few weeks ago saw the introduction of the new Yoast SEO plugin, self-proclaimed the #1 SEO plugin for WordPress and, with over 30 million downloads, the boast doesn’t seem unfounded.

Today, after discussing a little background, I want to focus on USING the Yoast SEO plugin.

Background of the Yoast SEO plugin

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few years, you know what SEO now relies heavily on content, but not just any content, highly valuable, SEO optimized content. That means not only getting your content right, but taking care of the background structural elements like snippets and metas.

WordPress and Drupal are coded in a way to optimize SEO for users, that’s why so many sites use these content management systems (CMS) as the backbone when creating websites. But websites still need a little help from a plugin specifically designed to integrate SEO with content.

The 2 leading plugins for WordPress are All-in-one and  Yoast SEO.

Here’s what Yoast says about their performance:

Yoast SEO (formerly known as WordPress SEO by Yoast) is the most complete WordPress SEO plugin that exists today for WordPress.org users. It incorporates everything from a snippet editor and real time page analysis functionality that helps you optimize your pages content, images titles, meta descriptions and more to XML sitemaps, and loads of optimization options in between.

WPBeginner uses the Yoast SEO plugin to manage their site and gives it a 5 out of 5 rating. Here’s more of their rationale for using it:

Unlike most other plugins this plugin is way more than simple meta tag additions. We use it to add custom post title, meta description, and meta keyword for our posts, pages, and taxonomies (tag, category, etc).

WPBeginner even offers a great video showing the proper settings for the Yoast SEO plugin:

Using the Yoast SEO plugin

Yoast does much of its magic in the background. If you’ve got your setting right, set up your social media connections (social media is also a big part of SEO now), you’ve made good progress toward crafting good SEO content.

Even with the background structure, you’ll still need to add customizations based on your particular piece of content. I call this the SEO dashboard and it’s an integral part of website ranking. Here’s what the dashboard for this post looks like before I’ve optimized for SEO:

yoast seo pluginNotice, I’m already doing pretty well, with a Yoast SEO score in the green — Yoast uses a system of red, yellow, green we’re all familiar with. Yoast also includes some suggestions for improving my SEO, suggesting that just getting to green isn’t your end point in optimizing your post.

One of the major changes in the new Yoast SEO plugin is the addition of readability measures. This is a recognition that we’re writing not only for Google spiders, but human beings. It’s those human beings that bring money into our corporate coffers, making them very important. But, they also share, link, and perform other behaviors that contribute to our SEO efforts.

Customizing your post SEO

Customizing your post SEO begins long before you craft your first post — by performing keyword research. I recommend the free Keyword Planner tool within Google Adwords and, luckily, you don’t need to pay for Adwords to use the planner. If you’d like to learn more about keyword research, check out this post. Actually choosing keywords is probably to most critical aspect of SEO contributing to success.

Once you start crafting your post, Yoast SEO plugin provides guidance. Here are factors Yoast considers contribute to good SEO:

  • a meta description (snippet) that uses your focus keyword and is at least 156 characters. You can specify the description by selecting the <<Edit snippet>> button. The description will turn green when you’ve reached the desired minimum number of characters.
  • Using the keyword in your title, preferably as the first character string, and in headings and the first paragraph on the page
  • Using the keyword in your URL, which may mean handcrafting it because connecting words are commonly eliminated
  • Adding your keyword to the alt tags of images on the page
  • Including “do follow” outbound links, which signify a well-researched post
  •  Using your keyword frequently, without keyword stuffing — too many uses
  • Exceeding the 300 word minimum for a post — although evidence suggests the ROI improves with longer posts — currently around 1200 words although Search Engine Journal suggests a minimum of 2000 words produces a higher ROI than something closer to 1000.
  • The number of times you’ve used a keyword impacts SEO performance, according to Yoast (actually, he’s Joost, but he found he was better off using a phonetic spelling of his name for marketing purposes). He recommends setting up content for frequently used keywords as a special type of content.
  • Including a link for the keyword you wish to rank for is considered by Yoast as a negative

Yoast readability factor

As mentioned, the readability factor is the most striking element of the new Yoast SEO plugin. It’s brand new for this version.

Within readability, Yoast considers:

  • Flesch Reading Score, which assesses reading level. You achieve a Green score when the reading level is at the upper range for a 13-year-old. That’s important if you’re running a consumer site, but may not be accurate if you’re running a B2B site where it helps to if you’re seen as a knowledgable leader in the industry. I wouldn’t be concerned unless your content contains a lot of jargon that your average target reader would find difficult to understand. For instance, I once got a comment that the reader didn’t know what ROI meant. I wasn’t terribly concerned since my target readers would be familiar with the term ROI.
  • Contributing to the Flesch score are elements such as length of sentences, below 20 words, the length of paragraphs, which should be short, and the length of sections, which should be less than 300 words. Again, I think this varies greatly with your target audience. The more technical your content, the less it will conform to these guidelines.
  • Passive voice is deadly for writing. It makes you appear weak and, by extension, your concepts seem weak. I try to avoid passive voice as much as possible. When you use Jetpack, you can turn on grammar and spelling checking, which can help detect passive voice.
  • Transition words make sentences flow together more seamlessly. They also help the reader understand the content better. Here are examples:
yoast seo plugin
Image courtesy of Smart Words

Some final words

I use the Yoast SEO plugin and have for many years. I find it valuable in helping me reach the #1 position for a number of my keywords.

Others find Yoast SEO too complicated and feel it’s overkill — that you don’t need all the elements to achieve good SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) or page rank. I agree. The content of your posts has much more impact on results than ensuring everything is Green on Yoast SEO checklist.

But, I remain convinced that Yoast SEO contributes to performance. However, I agree that obsessing over every factor in the SEO dashboard is unnecessary. My advice is to post valuable content, do the best you can to conform with Yoast’s guidelines without compromising content, then focus on off-page SEO factors such as blogger outreach and social sharing.

Good luck.

As an aside, after optimizing the Yoast SEO plugin for this post, I achieved all greens for both readability and SEO.

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