Search engine optimization is a confusing and constantly evolving art form, with few definitive rules. Principles that worked a few years ago, such as high volumes of low-grade internal links, can quickly become counterproductive and detrimental to a website or a web page’s SEO performance. Wouldn’t it be nice if a piece of software could analyze individual pages, identifying areas where SEO hasn’t been maximized before providing unambiguous instructions about possible improvements?
While it might sound like the stuff of fantasy, this is very much a reality for the users of Yoast SEO. This free-to-download WordPress plugin can be bolted onto any text-based website, and it’s understandably become one of the platform’s most popular plugins. Although it’s able to import settings from existing SEO plugins, most people will install Yoast when constructing a new website in the world’s most popular CMS platform.
Yoast grades content according to a traffic light system. A green circle means the content is already satisfactory for SEO purposes. Amber suggests improvements could be made, while red flags up significant issues. In the first instance, it’s crucial to abolish red warnings – tackling amber issues can come later, once any key failings have been addressed. Bear in mind that these improvements don’t have to be completed all at once, though it’s advisable to address red warnings before a site goes live if possible.
It’s generally better to experiment with Yoast SEO on a non-core page. Its functionalities often work better on blog pages where lengthy content is actively encouraged. Create a new blog post or news story, save it as a draft to prevent content being lost, and then scroll down to see what Yoast has made of it. Page analysis will identify numerous factors, including the following:
- The prevalence of identified keywords, and whether any other pages on the site are already competing to rank for this particular word or long-tail phrase.
- The presence (or absence) of outbound links, images, and internal links.
- Readability, based on the classic Flesch Kincaid scale, and judging everything from sentence length to the use of passive voice and transition words.
- How shareable content would look if it was reposted on Facebook and Twitter.
- Canonical URLs, creating a definitive URL (with or without a closing/symbol, HTTP, or HTTPS, etc).
It’s easy to identify where opportunities have been missed to exploit subheadings, meta descriptions, and image captions. However, Yoast SEO operates on algorithmic principles, which might not always be accurate or relevant in specific situations. On a product page, it may not be appropriate to have hundreds of words of content, even if Yoast suggests it should. Internal links might not be relevant on a Contact Us page, and photos add little value to a page containing video clip thumbnails. Nonetheless, Yoast SEO provides invaluable guidance and advice on maximizing each page’s appeal to search engines, making it one of the most powerful and significant WordPress plugins ever created.
Dodging the draft
The best way to harness Yoast’s full potential is by running draft content through it first. Once a page has been published live, it could be assessed by search engine web crawlers at any time. If they detect the sort of content or optimization issues Yoast would also pick up on, they’ll downgrade the page. This will remain the default ranking until the crawlers re-visit looking for changes. It’s far preferable to ensure each page is optimized in the first instance – even if that means repeatedly editing, updating and previewing it.