So you’ve bought into the concept of content marketing and are ready to write some SEO-friendly articles for your site. You understand the general best practices, but whenever you sit down to write, you’re not sure if you’re actually doing it right. Did you choose the right keyword? Did you use the keyword too many times? Did you forget a meta description? How do you know what is good when so many factors of SEO fall into the gray area of “it depends”? If you’re on WordPress, the answer to all of these questions— and more — can be found in the Yoast plugin.
Once installed, Yoast will appear at the bottom of any post on your site, and will flag SEO issues using a simple green, orange, and red grading system. The feedback happens in real time, so you’ll immediately know what you’ve optimized and where you have opportunities to up your game. Plus, if you have content that you don’t want to be found in search engines, this plugin lets you easily hide those pages. Below is our guide to Yoast, with a ranking of factors to prioritize and tips for optimizing the tool.
First, you must focus
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of Yoast, a few basics: all of the fields in this plugin will be graded based on the focus keyword of your article. Each page should be about a distinct topic, and you should determine that topic and specific keyword phrase before writing the content.
Use the language your audience understands, and think about the way people search for the issue based on their needs. Google Trends can help you to compare options so you avoid the curse of knowledge. For example, a company may refer to their product as “avocado smash” (to be #hip in 2017), but “guacamole” far outranks “avocado smash” in searches. Sorry, hipster cafés.
Aim to use the focus keyword of the article in the subheaders, but don’t overdo it: Keyword stuffing will hurt your ranking. When it starts to feel inorganic, switch out the keyword for some synonyms — these will actually help your ranking.
Next: Don’t forget the URL
When you create a new page or post, WordPress will automatically set the page’s URL (slug) to match the title. For instance, this page is titled “Guide to Yoast” and the URL is wholewhale.com/guide-to-yoast. Normally, the default URL will be fine. To be on the safe side, we recommend double-checking that the URL:
- Includes your keyword(s)
- Isn’t too long
- Uses hyphens to separate words
- Doesn’t use jumbled letters and numbers
- Is a fair advertisement: When a user clicks on it, do they know what to expect?
Finally, prioritize your SEO factors
There are lots of things to keep in mind when publishing SEO-focused content. Here is our list of the fields and factors in Yoast to focus on, in priority order:
- Page title: Make this unique (every page or post should have a different title) and keep the keyword as close to the beginning as possible. Try to keep the length around 50-60 characters.
- URL slug: This is the actual URL where the page will live. For URLs, shorter is better.
- Meta description: Keep it between 50-300 characters and use the keyword at least once, as close to the beginning as possible. More info on meta descriptions.
- Meta title: By default, this will be [Page title] – [Your Organization’s Name]. You will probably only need to edit this if it’s too long. In that case, change it to [Something better] – [You Organization’s Name] to keep a consistent formula.
- Keywords within the content: You’ll want to use keywords at least once in the first paragraph/ toward the top of the page, and at least 2-3 times after that. This can include variations/synonyms as well.
- Social shares for FB and Twitter: Here you can update the headlines, descriptions, and images for social sharing, where you will (probably) have a different audience than you do on organic search. Fresh headlines can help drive traffic and affect rankings in social searches, so it’s a good idea to customize them. If you don’t, it will use data from your meta description and meta title instead, which might be fine most of the time. More on the social share feature below.
- Header titles: Within the content, you’ll want to include H1 tags to break up the content and to send more info to Google about what the page is about. Make sure to add these in, especially for longer articles, and use keywords/variations on your keywords.
- Image alt tags: This will help Google understand what the page is about and will help those images on your content to appear in Google Image search. Include keywords or variations thereof.
- Linking out to high-quality sites: This helps to build your SEO authority over time. If you can link to .gov, .edu, or high-reputation .org sites within the content, do that where appropriate. On the flip side, avoid linking to low-quality sites.
- Meta URL slug: The URL that appears in the meta description. We don’t recommend making this different from the actual URL slug, as it can pose more complicated technical challenges.
Here is an example of feedback based on the focus keyword “marketing myths” for our resource on that very topic. When using Yoast, read these recommendations to absorb SEO best practices, and soon they’ll become second nature.
You can also click the “Readability” tab for feedback on the writing style of the content. Readable content makes for a better experience for users, and is also a factor in SEO.
Using the tabs on the side, you can edit the social sharing headlines, descriptions, and images. Changing the the image comes in handy if the dimensions of images on your site do not match those on social. It can also be used for A/B testing to get a better idea of what headlines and images resonate with your audiences.
As mentioned before, in the settings you can also determine whether or not you want the article to appear in search. One situation when you would want to hide a piece of content would be if it is part of a download where someone has to sign up for pay.
If you have a WordPress site, we highly recommend installing the Yoast plugin to make sure you are truly optimizing your content. When working through the different fields, keep in mind that it’s not easy getting every dot to turn green. Focus on the priorities so that the overall score is green. Like any muscle, the process of using Yoast will get stronger with practice.