How to Improve Search Rankings with the Yoast SEO Plugin

Previously, we discussed SEO — what it is and what it (fortunately) is no longer.

If you want Google and the other search engines to understand what your page is about, and what your keyword(s) is, your next steps are simple:

  1. Write the best-quality content you can, using natural language
  2. Make sure your article provides a top-notch user experience
  3. Do just a tiny bit of tweaking. For that, you need the Yoast SEO plugin.

Install Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO will help you make sure your content covers the remaining SEO bases.

It’s basically the Cadillac of SEO plugins for WordPress, with over 3 million active installs and a 5-star rating. (Well, 4.8 out of 5 anyway.)

Yoast SEO

Install it the same way you install any other plugin from the WordPress repository.

Once you’ve installed it, you’ll notice a new menu in your WordPress Dashboard, and also a new icon in the WordPress admin bar.

Yoast icon in WordPress admin bar

Yoast SEO menu

If Yoast has important messages for you, you’ll see a red circle in both these locations, with a number inside it indicating the number of notices. Just click on it to see them.

On the post edit screen, you’ll also see a new item in the sidebar, within the Publish menu.

Yoast SEO

It shows you at a glance what you can improve.

Configuration Wizard

Once you’ve installed Yoast SEO, the Configuration Wizard will automatically start. It guides you through the most basic steps to set up the plugin, and you can restart it at any time from the General menu.

Yoast SEO integrates with your Google Analytics and Google Search Console, as well as Bing Webmaster Tools. Stepping through the Configuration Wizard will be simpler and faster if you prepare:

Once you’ve set those up, go ahead and start the wizard. Here are the steps:

  1. Sign up for the Yoast newsletter (or not, it’s optional, but it usually includes a lot of useful information.)
  2. Specify whether the site is live, a staging site, or a production site
  3. Tell Yoast what type of site it is
  4. Tell Yoast whether the site is personal or for a company, and the name
  5. Fill in your social media account URLs
  6. Specify the post types you want Google to be able to see and search (choose hidden for any post types that you don’t want available to the public)
  7. Specify whether the site will have multiple authors
  8. Authenticate with Google Search Console
  9. Choose your Title Settings. This section is important, because it controls how your listing will appear in the search results — see below for details.
  10. Success! screen, with a short video introducing the Yoast SEO metabox.

Title Settings

Yoast SEO Title Settings

Click the image for an enlarged view

Under Website name, make sure the name of your site appears exactly as you want it. It does not need to be identical to the actual site name. For example, I could change mine to read “Learn to Build an Effective WordPress Site with WP Building Blocks.”

The Title Separator refers to the punctuation that separates your site’s title from the name of the article. The first one is the most popular, but you can choose any that you want. It makes no difference to your search results, just the way the reader sees them.

Yoast SEO Title Settings

Once you’ve completed the steps in the wizard, go ahead and close it. If you need to reopen it at any time, navigate to the SEO / DashboardGeneral tab and select Open the Configuration Wizard.

SEO Menu

Click the SEO Menu to expand it. There are only three items:

Yoast SEO simple menu

Click Dashboard. There are six tabs, but for now you can leave them all on the default settings, except for Features.

Features Tab

Use the Features tab to turn on some of the most useful tools included in Yoast SEO.

I select Enabled for each feature on the page. (If your site is still under construction and you don’t want it searched yet, you can leave OnPage.org set to disabled. Just remember to enable it when your site goes live.)

Once you’ve enabled the Advanced Settings, your SEO menu includes four more items:

Yoast SEO expanded menu

Yoast Makes Social Media Easier

Use Yoast SEO to make social media posting easier for you, and easier for your readers to share your content. You can set up your profiles on eight different social media platforms, and you can specify how social posts will show up in Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus.

Note: If you’re using a standalone social media plugin like Social Warfare, disable the Social tool in Yoast to avoid conflicts.

Yoast Social lets you use open graph, and also lets you select default images to use on Facebook and Twitter.

The Yoast SEO Metabox

The metabox is where you’ll spend most of your time once you’ve done the initial plugin setup.

It sits below the content editing window when you’re working on pages and posts.

Yoast SEO Metabox

It includes two tabs, and three menu icons.

Traffic

The default view is on the traffic menu (the icon looks like a traffic light), and the Keyword tab, because this is where you start.

Keyword Tab

Enter your focus keyword / keyphrase in the appropriate spot. Everything you’ll see in the Metabox starts with the keyword.

Next, click the Edit snippet button. It will expand to show you a spot for the post’s meta description, snippet, and title.

Yoast SEO snippet

The SEO title shows the default, but you can change it here for this individual post.

The Slug is the portion of the URL that follows yourdomain.com/.

The Meta description is the language that Google displays in the search engine results. If you leave it blank, the results will show the first 160 characters of your post. Sometimes this is fine, but often you’ll get more clicks when you rewrite it to persuade more searchers to click on your link instead of someone else’s.

When you’re done with the changes, click Close snippet editor.

Scroll down to see the Analysis section. The plugin will show you problem areas, designated with a red light, caution areas (yellow light), and areas that are good (green light). While you needn’t remove every single red light, at least look at them.

Yoast SEO Analysis

For example, the Analysis might indicate that your keyword density is too low. In this respect, the plugin hasn’t kept up with Google’s natural language ability because it looks only for an exact keyword match. Your keyword might be “WordPress plugins.” Google knows that if you mention a “WordPress plugin,” it’s the singular form of your keyword. It also knows that if your sentence reads, “In WordPress, a plugin can make certain tasks easier,” it’s still the same keyword. So if you receive this warning, double check your content. If the post includes natural-language variations of your keyword, don’t sweat the red light.

Readability Tab

Click the Readability tab to see suggestions for improving your content.

Yoast SEO readability

Notice the eye-shaped icon to the right of some of the items. Click on it, and then scroll up — in the Visual Editor, pertinent sentences will be highlighted so you can find them easily. After you edit content, take a look at the Readability Analysis again.

When you’ve completed your changes in the Analysis and Readability tabs, take a look at your sidebar. You should have two green lights (or know why they’re not green!).

Yoast SEO Sidebar shortcut

Social Menu

Set up Facebook and Twitter so readers can share on those platforms with just the click of a button. Select the TitleDescription, and Image you want to share.

Yoast SEO Social

Settings Menu

These are advanced settings. You might want to make changes on specific pages — a landing page or sales page, for example — but generally you’ll never need to touch these.

YoastSEO-Settings

Yoast SEO Premium

Is it worth paying for Premium?

Only you can answer that question. The Premium version of the plugin gives you everything in the free version, plus:

  • additional keywords
  • suggestions for internal linking

I use the premium version on this site because the folks at Yoast were kind enough to upgrade me after I wrote an article about the plugin a while back. I do use the premium features. Premium starts at $69 annually for a single site, with discounts for 3 sites and more.

Here are some additional articles about SEO:

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