How to use Yoast to improve your SEO

Yoast is one of the most popular free SEO plugins for WordPress. I recommend it to many of my clients as a straightforward way to optimise their pages and posts for search engines. If you’ve installed this plugin recently and you’re wondering how to get the most out of it, this article will take a step-by-step look at how to use Yoast to improve your SEO.

Install and activate the Yoast SEO plugin

Yoast can be installed for free from the WordPress plugin directory. Once activated, you’ll get a prompt to set up the first time SEO configuration. This is fairly easy to follow and can be done quickly.

The real magic of Yoast is the metabox that appears at the bottom of your pages and posts when you’re in the WordPress editor. This is what you’ll see:

A screenshot of the yoast metabox

Scroll down a little further to see the SEO analysis of your page or post. This example is of a simple recipe page, which I haven’t optimised at all for search engines (yet!).

Yoast provides prompts and suggestions to help you optimise your pages for search engines. ‘Problems’ will be shown with a red dot next to them, whereas ‘Good results’ will have a green dot next to them. Enough good results produce a green smiley face in the SEO tab.

A screenshot of the Yoast SEO analyisis section, showing the various areas for SEO improvements

Choose your focus keyphrase

Your keyphrase is super important from an SEO point of view. When someone conducts a search, the search engine will attempt to show that person the most relevant web pages based on the words they typed in. Our keyphrase tells the search engine what this page is all about.

When choosing a keyphrase, try to think about the person you’re writing this page for. What would they type into Google if they were looking for your services or product? I’ve written more about choosing the perfect keyphrase here.

Once you’ve chosen your keyphrase, type it into the ‘Focus Keyphrase’ box in the Yoast tool. Your SEO analysis section will now have a few different suggestions, based on how you’re already using this phrase in your page content.

Edit your page content to optimise for your keyphrase

Using Yoast’s suggestions, you can now tweak the wording in your page or post so that the ‘problems’ turn into ‘good results’. The most important areas it’ll pick up on are:

Keyphrase in introduction – use the keyphrase in the first sentence of your page or post.

Keyphrase density – make sure you’ve included the phrase enough times within your content, relative to the amount of words in your page. But don’t force it, it’s better to have a slightly lower keyword density than to write clunky text that doesn’t flow well.

Keyphrase in subheading – search engines know that subheadings often summarise the topic of the page, so will be paying special attention to the wording here. Make sure you’re actually creating a subheading in WordPress rather than just using bold text. Ask me about this if you’re not sure!

Set your meta description

The ability to edit the meta description for a page is a huge benefit of using Yoast. The meta description is the small snippet of text that shows up under the page title on search engine results pages.

Be as descriptive and concise as you can with this snippet of text, and make sure to include your keyphrase so that search engines have a clear idea of the topic of your web page.

Review your page URL

The ‘slug’ is the part of the URL that appears after your domain name and forward slash. The URL of your page can also signal to search engines what your page is about.

For example, in the URL for this post, the slug is ‘how-to-use-yoast’. The Yoast plugin gives you access to this part of your web page, allowing you to edit it if necessary.

If your page or post has been published for a while, it’s best not to change this part. Changing the URL of a page can result in broken links and could negatively effect your SEO. If you really want to edit the slug of a well established page, you’ll need to set up a redirect so that the old URL redirects to the new one. Just get in touch with me if you need help with this.

Feel free to edit the slug to include your keyphrase if you’re creating a new page or post.

One big exception to this is the home page! DO NOT EDIT THE SLUG FOR THE HOME PAGE – you will break your website!

Use outbound and internal links

Outbound links – linking to an external website which is relevant to your topic can provide more context to search engines, helping them to see what your page is about. If you link to a page that already has high rankings in the search results, you can potentially enhance your own search engine rankings.

Internal links – linking to relevant pages within your website also helps search engines to understand the context and content of your web pages. It can also benefit user experience and engagement, encouraging visitors to click through your website.

Add alt text to your images

Search engines don’t see images, but they do read the alternative text that you can attach to each image on your page or blog post. This alternative text can also help to provide context to search engines.

Yoast will suggest that you use your keyphrase in the alt text for the images on the page. This is a good idea for SEO, but only if that keyphrase is actually relevant to the image. Bear in mind that the alternative text is used by screen readers to provide assistance to partially sighted people. Don’t spam your keyword into the alt text if it’s not relevant; focus on providing a good description of the image instead.

Check the readability of your page

As well as the SEO tab, Yoast has a couple of other tabs you can use to optimise your page content. Navigate across to the Readability tab for some suggestions to make your writing easier to read.

Although not directly related to SEO, if your page is easier to read then it’s more user friendly, encouraging visitors to stick around. The longer people spend on your website, the more Google views it as an authoritative source, and will bump it up in the search rankings.

Screenshot of the 'Readability' suggestions that get flagged up in the Yoast SEO plugin

Use Yoast to add schema to your page

Schema markup is a type of microdata that provides search engines with more context about the structure and content of your web page. A news article, for example, would have different schema markup to a contact page.

Yoast’s schema function is a little limited; currently there are a few types of pages I’d like to see added, for example a recipe page. Click on the ‘Schema’ tab and select the type of page or post you’re creating. If you can’t see your post type there, stick with the default ‘Web Page’.

Screenshot of the 'Schema' tab in the Yoast SEO plugin

Add social media metadata

This step is only really important if you’re widely sharing your post or page on Facebook and Twitter. Yoast’s Social tab allows you to add an image, title and description to the preview that will show up when the link to this post is shared on social media platforms.

If you don’t do anything here though, the featured image and page title will show up in the preview instead, so make sure to add a featured image to your post or page.

If you’ve followed all the steps above, you should be seeing green dots and smiley faces across the board.

Just remember though, the Yoast plugin is a general guide to improving your SEO, but there may be some cases where following every single suggestion just isn’t appropriate or necessary.

And the most important thing to remember: Don’t get so caught up in optimising for search engines that you forget to write for humans.

There are many factors that affect how well and how quickly you’ll rank in search engine results. Optimising your pages with Yoast is just one step you can take – it’s unlikely to get results immediately and I’d always recommend ongoing SEO work if you’re serious about ranking on the first page of Google.

Following Yoast’s suggestions will create a really good foundation for strong SEO, and I hope this guide has shed some light on how to use Yoast effectively. Good luck!

More resources for website owners:

The 3 bucket method: How to streamline your services for Clarity and Impact

Blogging for SEO: A beginner’s guide

How to choose keywords for blog posts

What’s so great about WordPress anyway? (Let’s bust some myths)

Should you put prices on your website?

Things to consider before working with a website copywriter

Creating a Website Growth Strategy

The core pillars of a lead-generating website: Visibility and Credibility.

How to make case studies your secret marketing weapon

Got problems with your business? Let’s tackle them today!

Understanding the buyer journey when designing your website

Make your website work smarter, not harder

New website launch roadmap to maximise results

Why are analytics important for your website?

Top 5 advantages of blogging (and why it’s great for your website)

How to create a blog post in WordPress

How to elevate your website with professional brand design

How to write copy for your website

How to optimise website images

How to choose a Web Hosting Provider

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