The Yoast SEO plugin offers an easy and effective way to optimize WordPress posts and pages for the search engines. Here’s how.
First things first. What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization sounds complex. But it’s not, really. Search engines want to include pages in their search which are going to be helpful to people looking for information.
SEO is the process of creating web pages which are well-organized and which convey information clearly and in a manner that people will find useful.
When the search engines see such a page, they compare it to other pages on the same topic, and decide (based on a number of factors), how to order them in the search results.
When your page is well optimized, it is more likely to rank highly in the search results. (Of course, much also depends upon the competition.)
Of course, when you optimize for the search engines, you’re also creating pages which are more likely to be seen and read by people — people who are looking for the information you have to offer.
At the core of it, all that is truly involved is writing in a clear manner, and organizing your blog post in such a way that it’s easily understood, and titling and describing your post well.
Put like that, it’s not so intimidating, right?
Using Yoast SEO
The Yoast company is the leader in SEO for WordPress and is widely trusted by professional web developers. Their Yoast SEO plugin sets the standard in the WordPress SEO field.
They offer both free and premium plugins; you can get the free one (which is all most of us need) here.
The plugin offers lots of settings to fine-tune your site. But here I’m just going to cover the ones on the Edit Post page.
If you have existing blog posts, after installing the plugin, you should check these out and make needed adjustments. While these adjustments can be made at any time, it’s best to attend to these before publishing new posts. It will only take a few minutes of your time for each post you publish.
In a few quick steps, you can improve your post, and the chances it will be well-regarded by the search engines.
Let’s get started
Open the editing screen for one of your posts. Now, scroll down until you see the Yoast SEO section, directly under the post editor area.
First, you’ll see the title and description that the search engines will see.
These are also what will be displayed when someone finds your page in a search. And, because of that, they’re very important, for three reasons.
1. The title is one of the primary signals that Google uses to figure out what the page is about.
2. A well-written title is more likely to catch a searcher’s eye, so they are more likely to click on it to visit your page.
3. The search engines don’t pay any attention to the description, but people certainly do. A clear, enticingly-written description can make the difference between someone getting interested enough to click to visit your page, or in moving on.
OK. So let’s take a closer look.
You’ll notice that a title and description have been automatically generated. The title is simply the title of your post, followed (probably) by the name of your website.
(If you wish the default title to include something other than the name of your site, you can do so in the Yoast SEO Titles and Metas settings.)
Below that, you’ll see the address (URL) of your webpage and a description. The page description is generated from the text at the beginning of your post.
While the default title, description, and URL may work okay, with some fine-tuning you can get them to do a better job for you.
To edit any the title or description, click the “Edit snippet” button. You’ll see some new fields available just below.
And, below those, you’ll see green (good), orange (OK) or red (needs attention) bubbles next to a list of items. These are all things you can adjust for better SEO.
First things first: the “target keyword” field.
The “target keyword” is the word or phrase for which you’d like to get this page found in a search. This might take some thought.
You’ll want to fill this in first, so that Yoast can make recommendations for the rest of the fields.
OK. Now that you’ve entered that, let’s move on to the title.
When you edit the title here, the title you’ll see on the page when your post is published won’t change.
But the title that’s displayed in the search results (e.g., on Google on Bing) will. So, you can have it both ways.
In writing a good title for SEO purposes, you’ll want to include the target keyword (or phrase). But there should be more than that; think of what makes your post different from others on the same subject. Make it stand out with a good, descriptive title.
The title shouldn’t be too short, or too long — and should be interesting enough that people will want to click on it.
Maybe you don’t want the name of your website included, either. If not, you can edit it out.
As you type your title into the title field, you’ll see a bar at the bottom. Orange means the title is an OK length; green means it’s in a range that’s the ideal length.
Writing a good title is a challenge. You have to get a lot of information into just a few characters (usually less than 156) while making the title relevant, unique, and enticing.
This is called the Meta description. It won’t be visible anywhere on your webpage. But it’s the blurb that will accompany your link in the search results, so is very important!
Since the opening sentence of your post is what’s automatically generated, you’ll probably want to write a new description that better summarizes your post, and entices them to click.
Yoast SEO provides a guide, here, too — an orange bar is OK, green is good. When the text turns red, it’s too long and you’ll want to edit for length.
Consider adding a call to action; people often respond when they’re invited to do something.
The URL isn’t editable in the Yoast SEO section, but you can do so by clicking the “edit” button next to the URL near the top of the Edit Post page.
“Stop words” are words such as “a,” and “the” which often don’t serve a useful purpose in the URL. You can remove these if it makes sense to do so.
(Please note that if you remove stop words in the URL of a post that’s already been published, links to the previous URL will stop working unless you redirect them. For this reason, I don’t usually change URLS of published posts. This is not a critcal issue)
In its analysis, Yoast SEO will look at things other than the SEO title, Meta description, and URL.
Yoast will also point out that you’ll want to link to other websites from your post. This is because when you link to other web pages which support your post, you gain credibility. And, it will likely bring your site to the attention of the page being linked to, as well.
There are also checks for images and alt tags. Web pages with images get shared more often, and people spend more time on them. An alt tag — a description of the image, which can include your target keyword — can be added to your image when you add it to the page.
Yoast checks for headings as well. Headings and subheadings are important for two reasons.
— They help to structure your post, helping the reader understand what’s being covered.
— The words in the headings are clues to the search engines as well as to what topics are covered on the page.
I won’t go into the details here, but Yoast has written a useful post about headings: Headings and why you should use them.
Many SEO professionals believe that Google doesn’t pay attention to keyword density in a post’s text. (You still definitely need your target keyword to appear on the page, in your title, and in your description.) Yoast SEO provides a keyword density calculation, just in case you care. But you can probably ignore it if you wish.
The Yoast SEO website features a helpful article about writing SEO-friendly blog posts; check it out. Their post about using the features discussed above (which is more detailed than this one) can be found here.
What do you think?
Have you used Yoast SEO? Do you have questions? Please leave a comment below, or email me.