Yoast is an amazing tool that can really improve your SEO …but only if you use it properly! Find out how to use the Yoast SEO plugin to optimise a blog post…
Yoast SEO is an incredible plugin that will help you optimise your blog and individual blog posts for search engines. Used properly the Yoast SEO plugin will help you improve your SEO and so get lots more search engine traffic!
However, there is a lot of confusion about how to use Yoast’s most popular feature – the Yoast metabox, which appears below each post (and also in the top right corner, if you are using Gutenberg – more about that later…).
In this article I am going to take you step by step through how to use the Yoast SEO plugin to optimise an individual blog post, using the Yoast metabox.
First things first, however!
In order to get the most out of this tutorial, you really do need a basic understanding of SEO. If you are not quite sure what SEO is or you feel you need a bit of a refresher, I suggest you start by reading my beginner’s guide to SEO, then come back here!
The next step is to make sure you have a self-hosted WordPress blog! If you need a bit of convincing on this score, check out my post on hosted vs self-hosted blogs. The summary is – having a self-hosted WordPress blog is way better for your SEO, and one of the reasons for that is because you have to have a WordPress blog to be able to use the Yoast SEO plugin!
Finally, you need to make sure you have installed the Yoast SEO plugin and set it up correctly. To help with this, check out my post on how to set up the Yoast SEO plugin PROPERLY!
All set? Now let’s take a look at how to use the Yoast SEO metabox…
The Yoast SEO metabox – overview
Yoast does lots of helpful things in the background to optimise your blog for search engines. But the main part where you get involved is by using the Yoast SEO metabox to help you optimise an individual blog post.
Once you have installed the Yoast plugin, you will notice you get a box that looks like this at the end of each post (when you are in the editing screen).
(N.B. If you are using Gutenberg, you can also access this box in the top right-hand corner of your editing screen. However – this dropdown panel does not contain all the element of the Yoast metabox, so I recommend you use the box below the post instead.)
In this metabox, you will see a number of different tabs…
We will look at each of these in turn, in the following sections…
The Yoast SEO metabox – SEO tab
The first section of the SEO tab is the Focus Keyphrase. This is where you type the main keyword (or more likely, keyword phrase), you want your blog post to be found for.
For more information about how to decide on a good focus keyword/keyphrase, check out my blog post on keyword research for bloggers.
An important point to remember here is that simply typing in a focus keyphrase does not actually DO anything (e.g. it does not ‘tell Google’ what keyphrase you want to rank for), rather it tells the Yoast plugin what your focus keyphrase is, which enables the plugin give you tips on how you can optimise your post for that keyphrase. More about this later…
The next section is the Snippet Preview. You can set this up to tell search engines how you would like your blog post to appear in search results pages.
HOWEVER, search engines do not HAVE to respect this. They may choose to use the snippet you set here OR they may choose to use their own choice of snippet.
I find search engines will often use the snippet I have chosen here, so it is always worth filling this section in, to maximise the chances of your search result being clicked on from the search engine results page (SERP).
Click on EDIT SNIPPET and you have the option to edit 3 things:
- The SEO title of your post
- The URL of your post
- The meta description of your post
The first thing you can change is the SEO title. Don’t do this unless there is a really good reason why you want the title that appears in SERPs to be different to the title which appears at the top of your blog post. If you decide you actually want to change the title of your post, do this in the normal way in the post title section at the top of the visual editor.
Something you might want to change is the slug – i.e. the post specific part of your URL (NB only do this if your post is not yet published or you will break all the links to your post).
You don’t have to change it, but you might want to if you feel it is too long or too short, or it contains ‘stop’ words (and/with/to/your/etc.). One thing you should always do is ensure your keyword(s) is in your URL.
So for example, the original slug for this post was…
…which is way too long! So I shortened it to…
Next, we have the meta description. You definitely do want to change this to ensure your keyword(s) is in the meta description and that the meta description is enticing to searchers in SERPs to encourage them to click through to your blog post.
The next section is the SEO Analysis section. This is probably the most well-known and most important section of the Yoast SEO metabox.
In this section, Yoast will give you hints and tips about how to improve the SEO of your blog post.
The plugin will give you a red, amber or green traffic light depending on how well each element is optimised. And it will also give you tips on how you can improve your blog post.
Don’t worry about getting a green light for everything! Just aim to do as much as you can to get a green light overall. (And, just occasionally, it may not even make sense to do everything needed to get a green light overall. Always prioritise making your post suitable for your readers over getting a green light!)
And remember this part of Yoast doesn’t actually DO anything, but rather it prompts you to make the necessary changes to your post to ensure it is optimised for search engines.
So, what does this section check for?
It will highlight where the focus keyphrase (as set at the top of the SEO tab) appears and where you still need to put it.
The main areas it will tell you to put your focus keyword/s are:
- the URL
- the post title
- the first paragraph
- the meta description
- at least one subheading
- some of the alt descriptions of your photos/graphics
Do check your keywords are in all of those places and change things if necessary (though not your URL if it the post has already been published!).
This section will also highlight if you have used the keyword enough times within your post. This is usually an easy thing to fix, simply go back through and add your keywords in a few extra times – but keep it natural. Better to not get a green light for this part than make your post sound weird!!
And finally, it will highlight if you have used this keyword before. Ideally you should have a different keyword/keyword phrase for each blog post.
READ MORE >>> Keyword research for bloggers
READ MORE >>> Keyword research step by step (plus FREE keyword research spreadsheet!)
It will check to see if your post is over 300 words. For most of us, that’s not a problem. But if you are prone to writing very short blog posts, that’s something you may need to look at.
Yoast will check for both internal and outbound links. Ideally you should have both. You should certainly ensure you always have at least 1 internal link (i.e. a link to another post or page on your site) to try and keep visitors on your site for longer. This is very important for SEO
Remember, you don’t need to do absolutely everything on this section of the Yoast plugin. Just aim to do as many of these things as possible and to get a green traffic light OVERALL.
One important point to note: every now and again Yoast can be a little bit buggy and sometimes you can do everything correctly, but it still shows up as a red or orange light. Don’t worry. What counts is whether you have done it or not, not if you have a green light. Just check it’s done and ignore the lights!
The final section you need to pay attention to on the SEO tab is Cornerstone Content.
Click this section and it will open up to reveal a toggle. If you want to mark your blog post as cornerstone content, you need to toggle this ON.
Should you toggle it on? Yes, but ONLY IF what you have written is, in fact, cornerstone content.
Cornerstone content is essentially your most important posts, the ones you really want to rank for on search engines. It’s your most comprehensive and authoritative content. It’s the 4 or 5 posts you would ideally like someone to read when they first visit your website.
But that’s not all, to flag up to Google that something is cornerstone content you need to ensure your cornerstone content has lots of internal links pointing at it. Google sees the posts which have the most internal links pointing towards them as the most important content on your website. So, you need to make sure your cornerstone posts get lots of internal links.
This is such an important part of SEO strategy that the Yoast SEO plugin includes an option to indicate whether or not an article is cornerstone content.
If you flag the post as ‘cornerstone’, using the toggle, the Yoast plugin will make additional checks on the internal posts that link to that article and give you extra suggestions about how to further optimise your cornerstone blog post.
READ MORE >>> How to use cornerstone content to increase blog traffic
The Yoast SEO metabox – Readability Tab
The next tab along is the readability tab. Click this and you will get a screen which looks like this…
This section will analyse your blog post’s readability and tell you how you can improve your writing. Writing a blog post which your readers find easy and enjoyable to read is an important part of SEO and the analysis here will help you achieve this.
HOWEVER, it is important to bear in mind three facts:
- It is a computer that is checking your readability here, not a real person.
- It is just a guide. It gives you some helpful pointers, but by slavishly following them you could make your content LESS readable not more readable.
- It’s a one size fits all tool. But readability is obviously going to be variable depending on your audience. Readability will mean something very different depending on whether your blog audience is: teenagers / academics / sleep deprived parents / adults with learning difficulties / English students / very niche with a topic that contains lots of jargon and complex phrases….
The idea is that Yoast gives you some pointers to help you make your text more readable. The fact is that I studied languages at university and beyond and taught English as a foreign language for many years (so I know what I am talking about!) and I often disagree with his section of Yoast!
So, don’t be afraid to leave this section orange or even red if you feel you text IS perfectly readable to your intended audience.
It does, however, give you some ideas to think about such as:
- Have you used enough subheadings?
- Are any of your sentences/paragraphs too long and wordy?
- Have you begun your sentences with the same word too many times?
- Have you used the passive voice too much?
- Have you used plenty of transition words (and, but, because, consequently, probably etc.)?
But really don’t be afraid to ignore an individual red light (or even have a red light overall) if you feel that your text IS already easy and enjoyable to read.
However, if you find yourself getting a red light every single time, it might be worth looking into this a bit more, or getting a friend to read it and see if you need to make some changes to your style.
The Yoast SEO metabox – Social Tab
In this section you can specify what you would like your post to look like when it is shared on social media. There are two tabs in this section: Facebook and Twitter.
Under each tab you can upload a specific image, write a title and description. This will be what then appears when you share the blog post on Facebook and Twitter.
If you do not fill this section in, then your featured image, blog post title and part of your first paragraph will be shown instead.
For example – here is what my settings look like in Yoast…
And here is what it looks like when this blog post gets shared on Facebook…
If you have Yoast Premium you will also get a preview section within the Yoast metabox, so you can see what it is going to look like on Facebook/Twitter.
N.B. If you have a social sharing plugin, and you upload a photo / create text for each social media profile, some of the settings in this section MAY get overridden.
The Yoast SEO metabox – Advanced Tab
This settings in this section give you some advanced features…
(N.B. This tab has now moved to be a section on the ‘SEO’ tab, but everything else is exactly the same. Just click the down arrow next to ‘Advanced’ at the bottom of the SEO tab to access these features…)
Allow search engines to show this Post in search results?
The default for this should be set to ‘yes’ (if it is not, check your Yoast settings ASAP!)
However, if you want to noindex your post – i.e. tell search engines not to index the post, this is the place to do it.
To noindex a post, select NO from the dropdown menu.
For an explanation of why you might want to noindex a post, check out my article on site structure
Should search engines follow links on this page?
Under normal circumstances this should be set to YES. Only select NO if you want to make ALL the links in your post ‘nofollow’ links.
Meta Robots Advanced
Leave this well alone unless you know what you are doing here!
Use this if you want to make the breadcrumbs title different from your post title.
Breadcrumbs is what is shown at the top of your blog post, showing your readers the ‘path’ to the blog post. For example, this is the breadcrumbs for this post…
Breadcrumbs is an important aspect of SEO. If you don’t yet have breadcrumbs set up, you can do this in your Yoast settings.
If you leave this section blank, the breadcrumbs title will automatically be the same as your blog post title (I normally leave this blank).
You can use this section if you want to specify a canonical URL.
You would only need to use this section if your blog post is a copy of someone else’s blog post (reproduced with permission!) or duplicate content (the same content appears somewhere else on your blog already).
If you put another URL in here, you are essentially saying to search engines… ‘hey this blog post is just a copy, so don’t index it – the (canonical) URL you should index instead is [whatever URL you have typed into this box]’.
Basically, unless you know what you are doing here, leave this section blank!
How to use the Yoast SEO plugin to optimise a blog post
So that’s everything you need to do to optimise an individual blog post and give it the maximum chance of performing well in Google searches (and other search engines too!).
Remember the golden rule here is that the Yoast metabox doesn’t DO anything magical– it doesn’t TELL Google anything and it doesn’t automatically DO all your SEO for you – but rather it gives you the tools to make your blog post the best it can possibly be.
However, using the Yoast SEO metabox to optimise your blog posts is only one small part of SEO as a whole. To get the real benefits from this tool, you need to work on all the other aspects of SEO too, such as Keyword Research, Site Structure, Backlinks and Cornerstone Content Strategy.
To learn more about SEO and get an overview of each different area of SEO, check out my beginner’s guide to SEO.
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- A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers
- How to set up the Yoast SEO plugin PROPERLY!
- Is Yoast SEO Premium worth paying for?
- 17 SEO mistakes to avoid
- 137 essential SEO terms every blogger should know!