Yoast is a plugin that helps you with SEO, but what does Yoast actually do? How do you set Yoast up correctly? And how do you use Yoast to increase your page views? Read on to discover how to use the Yoast SEO plugin to grow your blog…
How to use the Yoast SEO Plugin to grow your blog
Want to know the best, most reliable way I have found to grow my blog? SEO!
Want to know the best tool to help you with SEO? Yoast!
But oh my goodness Yoast throws up some headaches for many people. There’s a lot to get your head round and a bit of a fear that you might be accidentally messing something up by fiddling with it (which actually is quite possible).
Plus, there’s quite a lot of misinformation floating around on social media (like all you need to do is get the plugin and it will magically do SEO for you – NOT TRUE!!).
So, I have written this short guide to help you learn to use the Yoast plugin to help you get better at SEO and so grow your blog. Please rest assured I have checked all my facts with the actual Yoast website, which has a fabulous knowledge base which you can access to check anything that isn’t answered in this article.
Just to be clear, this article is a beginners’ guide to Yoast and assumes you have no knowledge and so I have started right from the beginning. If you already have Yoast and know you have it set up correctly, skip to the later sections of this article where I go more into detail about how to actually use Yoast to grow your blog and increase your page views. But first let’s start with the basics…
What is Yoast?
First things first, what exactly is Yoast? Yoast is a plugin that you can use on self-hosted WordPress blogs (WordPress.org). It helps you to improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in all sorts of different ways. If you don’t know much about SEO then I suggest you read my post on how to boost your blog’s SEO first and then come back here to discover more about the Yoast plugin and how to use it.
I believe you can also access the Yoast plugin from the hosted version of WordPress (WordPress.com), but you need to pay for the premium version. I would strongly advise you look into self-hosting your blog rather than upgrading your hosted blog to the premium version. It will serve you better in the long run.
For an explanation of the difference between self-hosted and hosted and how to decide which one is better, check out this post: 9 essential things to do before starting a blog
For help in actually setting up a self-hosted WordPress blog, check out this post: How to start a successful WordPress blog – a step by step guide
How do you get the Yoast SEO plugin?
OK so, if you don’t have it already, the first thing to do is to get the Yoast SEO plugin. You get the plugin in the exact same way you get any free plugin: Go to your WordPress dashboard. Hover over PLUGINS on the left-hand side and then ADD NEW. Type YOAST into the search box in the top right and then INSTALL NOW and ACTIVATE.
How do you set up the Yoast SEO plugin?
Once you have installed and activated the Yoast SEO plugin, you will now see a new section in the black panel on your WordPress dashboard called SEO. Click that to access the settings.
Most of the setup is done for you and so I strongly advise that you don’t touch anything you don’t understand, as you may cause yourself SEO problems by doing so!
However, there are one or two things you SHOULD do to finish the setup process.
The first thing is to navigate to GENERAL => WEBMASTER TOOLS. This is the place where you can verify your site with Google, Bing etc. Yoast make it very easy to do this. For example, with Google, simply click on the ‘Get your Google verification code in Google Search Console’ and then select the html code option and copy and paste the code into the box on the Yoast Plugin. And remember to save changes!
For more detailed instructions on this check out the section below on adding your site to Google Search Console.
The second thing to do is navigate to SOCIAL => ACCOUNTS and fill in the details of all your blog’s social media accounts. This lets search engines know which social profiles are associated with your website. Twitter requires you to put in the actual user name e.g. ebgargano (no @ symbol), all the others require you to put in the full URL e.g. https://instagram.com/productiveblogging Simply fill in all the required information and hit SAVE.
Next you should navigate to SOCIAL => FACEBOOK and ensure the OPEN GRAPH METADATA is set to ENABLED. This will allow Facebook and other social media to display a preview with images and a text excerpt when a link to your site is shared. To create an image for your home page, go to the FRONTPAGE SETTINGS section and add an image, title and description. This will be what appears every time you share your homepage on social media. (Without filling this in you usually either get something really random or nothing at all). Also fill in the DEFAULT SETTINGS with an image that you wish to appear if you share a page on your site that has no images associated with it.
Navigate to the SOCIAL => TWITTER section and ensure the TWITTER CARD META DATA is enabled and you have selected your default card type as SUMMARY WITH LARGE IMAGE.
The SOCIAL => PINTEREST section is where you can verify your website with Pinterest. Just head over to ACCOUNT SETTINGS in Pinterest and in the CLAIM WEBSITE section, enter your website URL and click on CLAIM WEBSITE. Select the ADD HTML TAG option. Copy the tag and paste it into the box on the Yoast Pinterest tab.
In the SOCIAL => GOOGLE+ tab, simply put the URL of your Google + page in the box and hit save.
That’s it! In time you may want to fiddle with some of the other settings in the Yoast SEO plugin (but please only do this if you know what you are doing!), but for now you are all set. If you need any extra help, there is a video on every page of the Yoast setup area to help you. Just click the NEED HELP button and watch the video.
There is also a setup wizard you can use to guide you through the setup process.
How do you use Yoast to optimise individual blog posts?
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 in using Yoast to help you optimise each 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.
Once you have written your post you should come down here and start checking things and filling things in.
The first thing to note is that Yoast will give you a snippet preview. This is how your site will most likely look in search engines.
The first thing you can change is the post title. Don’t do this unless there is a really good reason why you want the title that appears in search engines to be different to the title which appears in your actual post. If you decide you actually want to change the title of your post, do this in the normal way in the title box of the visual editor.
Something you might want to change is the slug – 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 to 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.
Next, we have the meta description. You do want to change this to ensure your keyword(s) is in the meta description and that the meta description is enticing searchers on search engines to click through. Otherwise, by default it will pull the first line or two of your post which in most cases is not suitable.
Now close your snippet editor by clicking the CLOSE SNIPPET EDITOR BUTTON and look at the FOCUS KEYWORD section. This is your keyword or keyword phrase (it can, and usually should be, more than one word). This will help Yoast help you to ensure your post is optimised for that keyword/keyword phrase. If you don’t know much about keywords, head over to my post on how to boost your blog’s SEO to discover more about keywords.
Now comes the most important part. The analysis. Now this part of Yoast doesn’t actually DO anything, but rather it helps you to ensure your post is optimised for SEO. And don’t worry about ticking every single box. Just aim to do as much as you can do and get a green light. Just occasionally it may not make sense to do everything possible to get a green light. In that case I would always prioritise the making my post suitable for my readers over getting a green light.
OK, so what sort of things does it look for? There are so many things I don’t want to bore you by going through all of them. But these are the mains ones:
It will highlight where the focus keyword appears and where you still need to put it. The main areas it will tell you to put your focus keyword/s is: the URL, the title, the first paragraph, the meta description, at least one subheading and 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).
It 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.
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.
You will see a checkbox that says CORNERSTONE CONTENT. Should you tick it? 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. Your most comprehensive and authoritative content. 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 the most 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 checkbox, the Yoast plugin will make additional checks on the internal posts that link to that article and give you extra suggestions about how to improve the visibility of this content.
You will notice there is also a readability tab next to the SEO analysis tab.
Please bear in mind three facts. 1) It is a computer that is checking your readability, not a real person. 2) 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. 3) 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 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 over all) if you feel that your text is already easy to read. If you find yourself getting the red light every time, though, 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.
How do you use Yoast SEO sitemaps?
The other great feature of Yoast is sitemaps. When you install the Yoast plugin, it will automatically create a sitemap of your site. You can submit this to Google Search Console in order to ensure it has an accurate sitemap of your website and can index it correctly. Better still, this sitemap is automatically updated as you add, remove or change your content.
First go to the Yoast SEO plugin and double check you have sitemaps enabled. You can check that by going to GENERAL => FEATURES and scrolling down until you find XML sitemaps. Ensure this is set to ON.
Adding your website to Google Search Console
Next, if you haven’t already added your website to Google Search Console, please follow these steps first. If these steps fail, please check Google’s official directions here for the most up to date steps. (If you have already added all 4 versions of your website to Google Search Console you can skip this part.)
Sign in to Google Search Console, using your usual google account and click ADD A PROPERTY. Type in your website URL in its 4 variations:
Each time, it will ask you to verify your website. Select the HTML option and copy the code. Paste this code into the Yoast plugin in GENERAL => WEBMASTER TOOLS in the GOOGLE VERIFICATION CODE section and save changes. (You only need to do this for the first variation.)
Now go back to the Google search console and click verify. You will need to do this for each of the 4 variations of your URL.
Adding your sitemap to Google Search Console
Now you are ready to add your sitemap.
- On your Search Console home page, select your website URL (any 1 of the 4 versions).
- In the left sidebar, click CRAWL => SITEMAPS
- Remove any old sitemaps like sitemap.xml
- Click the ADD/TEST SITEMAP button in the top right.
- Enter sitemap_index.xml into the text box that appears.
- Click SUBMIT
- Click REFRESH THE PAGE and you should now see your sitemap
- Repeat for each of the 4 variations of your URL
Well done! By doing all the steps above You are well on your way to improving your SEO. However, Yoast is only one part of SEO. To find out what else you should be doing head to: 11 easy ways to boost your blog’s SEO
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