Review: how to use the Yoast SEO plugin as part of your SEO strategy
WordPress is the most widely-used content management system (CMS) in the world, and has become popular with everyone from small businesses and niche blogs, to international publications and major shopping sites. There is a large catalog of SEO plugins that make it easy for designers, developers, and content editors to optimize their websites. The most popular WordPress SEO plugin, by far, is Yoast SEO.
Built on the mission of “SEO for everyone,” Yoast SEO has helped millions of people learn more about search engine optimization and easily make improvements to their websites. And, while Yoast SEO is a useful plugin, SEO tools alone are not the same as having an SEO strategy. Simply because you’ve installed the Yoast SEO plugin and get “green light” scores for your title tags and meta descriptions, doesn’t mean your pages will jump to the top of the search engine results. To get the most out of plugins, such as Yoast and others, you must also put to use the basic principles of SEO.
In this post, we will show you how to use the Yoast SEO plugin to help analyze, diagnose, and fix issues on your website and strengthen its on-page optimization. However, for true SEO success it is necessary to create a holistic SEO marketing strategy that includes content development and promotion, in addition to sound on-page SEO. After all, the goal is to reach your ideal customers and have them sign up for your service or buy your product, not just to get a good keyword score in an automated tool in your wp-content/plugins/ folder.
Our Yoast SEO plugin review will cover, not only how to use this tool, but the slew of other SEO tools available for keyword research, competitive analysis, content audits, and outreach campaigns in order to build the proper digital marketing strategy for your company or organization.
Yoast SEO Overview
The Yoast SEO plugin was developed by SEO consultants who wanted to help WordPress users “optimize their websites for search engines.” When installed, the plugin assists users with implementing SEO best practices as they create or update a page on their website, and has features to address a wide range of SEO tasks. The plugin is easy to use and will alert users if SEO best practices aren’t being followed, such as writing too-long title tags or not using your target keyword. Yoast SEO also offers a comprehensive guide to using the tool, so developers and marketers with less SEO experience can learn the basic principles.
Yoast SEO Features
Settings and optimizations that affect your SEO, site wide.
- Create an XML sitemap
- Set up a robots.txt file
- Change permalink settings
- Implement breadcrumbs
- Show website health
SEO elements that are optimized through individual pages and posts.
- Establishing a focus keyword
- Defining a title tag and meta description
- Changing the URL structure
You can access many of the site-wide settings for Yoast by selecting SEO in your main WordPress menu. Here you can edit options for the SEO elements that affect your entire site, using features such as the robots.txt File Editor or the XML Sitemap generator.
On-page elements and settings that assist you with SEO best practices are accessed at the page level. You can find these options below the content section, when you are editing a specific page or post. Just click the Edit Snippet button under the Yoast SEO section and you’ll find fields for updating your focus keyword, title tag, meta description, and URL.
Limitations of Yoast SEO
Although the Yoast SEO plugin has many useful features for optimizing a website, the plugin is not a substitute for an SEO strategy. For example, while the plugin will help you optimize an individual page for a target keyword, you still need to know how to select a target keyword in the first place. This is where the plugin is limited in its usefulness, and you will need to rely on other SEO tools and knowledge to effectively optimize your website.
Selecting the Right Keywords
The best place to start is with keyword research, which will help inform the rest of your strategy. Use an online SEO tool, such as Ahrefs.com, to conduct keyword research. You’ll be able to tell the monthly search volume of different keyword variations and their keyword difficulty (competitiveness). We typically recommend aiming for a keyword with a search volume of 200 or more, and low to medium competitiveness.
Once you’ve found keywords that look promising, it’s important to test them in Google and review the search engine results pages (SERPs) to confirm that search intent matches the goal of your content. Search intent is key when trying to reach your target market at different phases of the marketing funnel. It refers to the types of content people expect to find in search, as they move through the decision making process. As such, it’s imperative that the content you are optimizing aligns with searchers’ expectations. Too often, we see broad, top-of-funnel keywords assigned to bottom-of-funnel content like product pages. This is rarely successful because product pages tend to be short and promotional—they don’t match the mindset of a person who is at the top of the marketing funnel, searching for more general information.
A quick Google search will confirm if the type of content you plan on writing and optimizing is actually ranking well for that particular keyword, while also giving you an idea of how you can compete with the top results. When reviewing top results on the SERP, consider the following: how long are the pieces? What type of media do they include? How can you write content that is even better than the top result?
After selecting the right keywords, you can move on to the on-page optimization of your content with the help of Yoast SEO. Whether starting from scratch or editing existing content, the steps are essentially the same. Think of the intent of the person searching for your keywords as you determine what words you use in the title tag and what type of calls-to-action to include in your meta description. For example, a bottom-of-funnel piece might include words like “buy,” “get,” “price,” “best deal,” etc.
Yoast’s on-page settings also allow you to edit the URL “slug” of your page. This is important because WordPress automatically generates the URL for a page from it’s title, however, this can create long and cumbersome URLs. And, if you’ve overridden your title tag with Yoast to contain your keywords, this will not be reflected automatically in your URL. For this reason, it’s important to edit the URL slug to reflect your target keywords. Remember to keep your URL concise, eliminate unnecessary words, and be sure to incorporate your target keywords.
Website SEO Health
As you work through creating and optimizing your content using your SEO strategy, it’s important to periodically check to confirm that the technical foundations of your website are sound. This is especially true after a website redesign, when changes to URLs, content, and site architecture can put your rankings and traffic at risk.
The Yoast SEO plugin has a helpful feature to show your overall “website health.” Unfortunately, this analysis only scratches the surface in terms of your SEO strength. You will get a more comprehensive picture of your website’s performance in search, as well as any potential SEO issues by checking on technical factors individually, with tools specialized for evaluating things like page speed and crawl rate.
The following are some of our favorite SEO tools for assessing the technical health of your website:
- SEMrush Site Audit: This tool scans your website for more than 130 technical SEO issues. Your results are ranked by priority and include recommended solutions.
- Google PageSpeed Insights: A free tool for analyzing your site speed on both mobile and desktop.
- GTMetrix: A free tool for evaluating how well your site loads. Your results include recommendations on how to improve.
- Ahrefs: This tool offers a range of useful SEO features: Site Audit will provide insights into your website health, and Site Explorer will show you the quantity and quality of backlinks, keywords, and more.
- Google Search Console: This free tool from Google provides data on your website’s search traffic, as well as inspects your URLs for issues, and identifies opportunities to optimize.
By using these tools you can discover what’s working and what’s not on your website, and make changes accordingly. A full website SEO audit like our Visibility Audit, will assess all the vital elements of your website’s optimization and how well they are working together, including technical SEO, content, on-page SEO, mobile-friendliness, backlinks, competitors, and more. The outcomes of a Visibility Audit will provide a crystal-clear picture of the entire search landscape as it relates to your unique website and business.
Our Final Thoughts on the Yoast SEO Plugin
The Yoast SEO plugin is a valuable tool in the hands of web developers and marketers who want to implement SEO best practices on a WordPress-driven website. Its easy-to-use interface gives even less-experienced users the opportunity to effectively optimize their website and make a positive impact on their search rankings.
However, plugins like Yoast SEO are not a substitute for a well-thought SEO strategy. To use Yoast SEO to its fullest potential, you need to first understand the basics of search engine optimization, such as keyword research and search intent. You also need to supplement your efforts with other SEO tools for a complete picture your website’s SEO performance. When used in this combination, Yoast SEO can play a critical part in a well-rounded search engine optimization strategy.
WordPress and Yoast SEO Resources
- Definitive Guide to WordPress SEO
- Beginner’s Guide to Yoast SEO
- How to Configure Yoast SEO
- Content Optimization Checklist