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How to Use Yoast to Configure Your Post for SEO

Zip's added the Yoast SEO plugin to his blog. Let's look at how he can optimize a post (or page) for search engine optimization using the Yoast plugin as well as some things to keep in mind when using this helpful plugin.

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Let’s look at how to use Yoast SEO on a post. If you want to do SEO for a page, Yoast works just the same, though homepage SEO might merit a separate post sometime in the future. If you do homepage SEO, you’re generally trying to rank for either the name of your website or your website niche.

After Zip installs Yoast, he finds that he has a new meta box under the blocks in his post editor. The Yoast SEO box has four top tabs and a bunch of expandable accordion areas underneath. He also finds a new Yoast SEO area in the post editor’s right-hand settings panel.

Yoast SEO metabox how to use yoast seo

But before we go into how to use these new areas to boost your SEO, let’s talk a bit about both what Yoast does and some things to keep in mind while using the plugin. If you’d like to skip my blathering and jump to the part about using the plugin click here.

Help! My writing’s been Yoasted!

Zip has decided to write a short post with a simple sloth Halloween coloring page that he drew quickly. He thinks it’s a bit amateurish, but, hey– he’s a sloth and, hey — he’ll get better or so he tells himself. He hasn’t entered most of his post yet, and, already, he notices there’s a red frowny face glaring at him. It makes him feel bad. Very bad. He thinks he should quit.

Don’t give up yet! The first two tabs at the top of the Yoast area may give you a red frowny face, but then will change to orange and then to green as your post “improves.” Improves, that is, by the standards of the Yoast SEO plugin. If you’re not the laid-back sloth type but, instead, the Type-A Tyrannosaur type person, it’s essential to keep in the front of your mind what the Yoast SEO plugin deems important. Otherwise, you might start turning the helpful suggestions offered by Yoast into the “I must get a green smiley at all times” game. You may base your entire self-esteem as a blogger and writer on getting green Yoast smilies or even have a Pavlovian type response. Your life will become a nightmare.

OK, I’m being dramatic, but you get the idea.

Know what the Yoast SEO plugin is trying to do.

We’ll get to how to use Yoast a bit later. I’m starting here because I think knowing what the Yoast plugin is trying to do helps prevent future aggravation.

What Yoast is trying to help accomplish is to:

  1. Organize your post, and the words in your post, for the best chance of ranking well in search engines, Google in particular. Yoast does this by looking at things like:
    1. Does the post have at least 300 words?
    2. Are your keywords in the SEO title?
    3. Are your keywords in the first paragraph of the post?
    4. Have you linked to (related) content off of your website?
    5. Have you linked to internal content — that is, related content on your website?
    6. Is your keyphrase in your meta description?
    7. Is your keyphrase in the slug for your post?
    8. Do your keywords appear in the alt text for appropriate images in the post?
    9. Is your keyphrase unique?
    10. Does your post use headings, and is your keyphrase reflected in enough of them?
  2. Organize your post to be readable in the way that online readers typically read. To do its readability analysis, Yoast does the following:
    1. Uses the Flesch reading ease text to give your writing a readability index score.
    2. It measures the length of your writing.
    3. Yoast analyzes your use of headings in your writing.
    4. Looks at the use of transition words such as therefore, however, furthermore, etc. I frequently have trouble with this one, as I believe good transitions can be accomplished, often more subtly, without these specific transition words. Yet, I find myself sticking them in, sometimes, and then feeling bad about myself for doing so only to please a plugin.
    5. The use of passive voice is looked at, and your writing is analyzed. Don’t know what passive voice is? Go back and start this section over.
    6. It looks at the variety in your sentences.
    7. Analyzes sentence length. If you’re like me and tend to write overly long sentences to illustrate your post and then add footnotes to these sentences1 to add even more information to get your point across, Yoast will score you down. You might want to look at how you can break up these sentences into smaller units. I think Yoast likes sentences under 20 words.

You’ll note a couple of additional tabs in Yoast that don’t have to do with tweaking your content for SEO or readability. In the Schema tab, you get two drop-downs that allow you to choose Page Type and Article Type. For page type, most posts will fall into “Web Page,” and Article Type will be “Article,” unless you’re a news site.

And the Social tab helps you customize what appears when someone shares your post on Facebook or Twitter. We’ll look at that later in this post.

Yoast hates my writing!

No, Yoast doesn’t hate your writing. Despite the emoji-ness of it, a plugin doesn’t judge you or your writing — you’re doing that to yourself. If you’re feeling aggravated about Yoast’s suggestions, always keep in mind that you can ignore them.

If you’re writing Dr. Who fanfiction, for instance, or long-read essays, you might have a difficult time editing your posts in such a way that you get an excellent Yoast score and still like yourself and your writing.

I came across a conversation on social media where a blogger was complaining that people submitting guest posts to her website didn’t submit them with headings. Someone else retorted with, “Yeah, didn’t they ever hear of Yoast?”

I was feeling irritated about something unrelated at the time, but seeing bloggers complain about others — especially others submitting free content to their site — got immediately added to my gripe list. I’ll point out right now that, yes, I am sometimes a hypocrite and have my own particular gripes regarding things guest posters do. But, anyway, I felt like I had to make a response to this. I think I added the same thing I said here — that Yoast was all about configuring a post for an online audience, but added that, frequently, I felt like trying to get a score in it makes my writing clunky and awkward. In a show of support, someone else commented, “That’s because it is clunky and awkward…it’s not literature!”

Most blog posts are not literature. Their goal is to make a point or convey information, and having headings makes it easier for the typical Internet reader like me to find a post and rapidly scroll to that one tidbit of desired information without having the read the whole dang post. However, if you’re writing something that is more along the lines of literature — essays, fiction, some creative nonfiction, poetry — Yoast’s suggestions regarding the use of headings and the number of keywords in your post may not be appropriate.

As an exercise, I once pasted the text of an essay I had published in a magazine years ago into WordPress to see what Yoast would do with it. Adding headings to it or changing its wording to reflect keywords would not have been appropriate. I’m assuming it was readable if someone paid me for it and stuck it in a magazine. My score in Yoast? An orange “meh” face for SEO and a red frowny for readability.

Do take Yoast’s suggestions into account — following them can help your post rank better and can help a wider number of readers digest your content. But don’t take them as gospel. You know your writing. Don’t Yoast your post if it makes you hate your writing.

How to Use Yoast SEO: Let’s Analyze Zip’s Post

So Zip wants to share a coloring page with a bunch of trick-or-treating sloths, even though he’d never find the energy to trick-or-treat himself. He creates a simple post with a featured image, an image of the coloring page, a download button using the file block to let people download the PDF, and a couple of sentences of text saying, “here’s a free Halloween sloth coloring page.”

Surprisingly, he gets a green smiley for readability at first (and I’m so jealous.) However, he gets a red frowny for SEO after he enters his keyphrase.

Choose a focus keyphrase

In the SEO tab of Yoast, you’ll see an area at the top where you can enter a focus keyphrase. If you use the premium version, you’ll have the opportunity to add more than one focus keyphrase, but Zip is using the free version of Yoast and will focus on one.

Which keyphrase should I use?

He chooses “sloth Halloween coloring page” as his keyphrase. Sometimes, the keyphrase you’ll want to use will be self-evident. But what if he’s not sure? He could spy on his competitors if he could find other sloth blogs. He could use Moz’s keyword explorer tool, which will allow him to search for up to 10 keywords or keyphrases a month with a free account and give feedback as to which website uses those keywords and the search volume for the keywords. Or he could try other tools like Ubersuggest or Wordtracker.

He decides to look it up on Moz and finds NO entries for this keyphrase, but for “cute sloth coloring pages.” Maybe he’ll tuck that away for later use if he ever has a variety of coloring pages.

Looking at Yoast SEO Analysis

After Zip enters his keyphrase, if he scrolls down, he’ll see an SEO analysis area (it’s in an accordion, and you may need to click the arrow to open it.)

Yoast SEO analyzis how to use yoast seo

Yoast gives his post an analysis like the one above, with problems with red dots, suggested improvements with orange, and things that he’s doing well getting green dots.

Hmmm. According to Yoast, he’s already linking to something else on his website. I know he’s not — it may be that Yoast is counting the link to the downloadable PDF as an internal link here. To get a better score here, we’ll need to add some text and change the SEO title, slug, and meta description in this area right under the target keyphrase area. If it’s not open to editing, click the “Edit Snippet” button.

This is what it looks like (with Zip’s new text added):

Yoast SEO snippet editor how to use yoast seo

You’ll see a green bar under the SEO title and Meta description. The bar will go from red to orange to green as your text approaches the right length, and then back to red if it exceeds that length. This title, text, and slug are what appears in search engines as your post title and description; Yoast is trying to get the length just right — as much text as possible, and with the right words, but not so much that part of it gets cut off.

He still hasn’t got to green for SEO. The last two items Yoast is “complaining” about are that no outbound links appear in his post and the length of his text.

Finally, Zip writes more than is probably necessary for a post with a coloring page, asking people to email their completed ones, if they want, or to share a story about trick or treating sloths. If he does this solely to add text length, he’d better be prepared to follow up if people actually send him stuff (myself, I’m wary about asking for emailed image files.)

Getting to 300 words of text plus tucking in his keyphrase a couple of times in that 300 words gets him a green dot for SEO.

Looking at Yoast’s Readability Analysis

I’m envious because Zip got green on his readability analysis without really doing anything extra:

Yoast SEO Readability Analysis how to use yoast seo

I think to myself that if he wrote a longer post, he would have had to break it down into headings and do more here. While that’s true, it’s just sour grapes. Maybe as a sloth, he just writes shorter sentences naturally. Maybe.

The Social Tab in Yoast SEO

The Social tab allows you to customize the image, title, and description that will appear for both Facebook and Twitter when someone shares your post. If you’re using the premium version of Yoast, you’ll get a preview of how your post may appear when shared. The free version works the same but doesn’t give you a preview.

The best image size to use here is 1200 x 628px — the size of a Facebook ad. I often like to add an image here that I’ve created specifically for social sharing — one that looks like the featured image but has the post title text in the picture. Doing so isn’t, strictly, necessary — your title will appear in the post. However, I think it’s a nice look.

It’s beneficial to have an image in your social shares, however. Social posts that include visual elements — pictures, gifs, or videos — get more attention than ones without images.

Yoast SEO social tab how to use yoast seo

Yoast Analysis in the Right Sidebar

You’ll find Yoast areas in the right sidebar, both at the top and in the sidebar itself. Both of these areas have those pesky-but-helpful little bubbles reminding you of what Yoast thinks of your post.

Yoast SEO right sidebar

If you click the little Yoast icon at the top, you can view your Yoast analysis information in the right-hand tab in the same way that you can view it underneath your post.

Yoast SEO right sidebar 2 how to use yoast seo

Now that Zip has thoroughly Yoasted his post, what should he do next?

Since we’ve talked just a bit about SEO, let’s talk, in the next few posts, about installing analytics. Zip doesn’t care how many visitors come to his website — but I do, and he might in the future.

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References and Footnotes
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