The Yoast SEO plugin: when it comes to optimising a blog post in WordPress from an SEO perspective, I recommend that you make Yoast your go-to choice.
It’s logical and uses a traffic light system to guide your SEO efforts, as well as highlighting any potential readability issues.
Today, I’ll be taking you, step-by-step, through how to install and optimise a blog post with the free version Yoast plugin. We also have a quick look at some of the Premium features.
Stage 1: Install the Yoast SEO plugin
If you don’t already have the Yoast plugin installed and activated on your website, then follow these steps:
- Log in to the dashboard of your WordPress site.
- Hover your mouse pointer over the Plugins option in the main menu running down the left-hand side of the screen.
- If you’re not sure whether you already have Yoast on your site, you can click on Installed Plugins and check whether it’s listed.
- If Yoast isn’t already on your site, click on Add New in the plugins menu instead (see picture below).
This will take you to the Add Plugins screen.
Here, WordPress will show you a selection of popular featured plugins that you might want to use on your site.
Ignore these for now.
- Your next step is to type Yoast in the Search plugins bar highlighted in red in the screenshot below.
This search should bring up Yoast SEO as the first result.
- Click on Install now in the top right-hand corner of the Yoast listing.
- You will probably see two circular, rotating arrows telling you that the plugin is installing. Once the installation is complete, the Install now button should change to Activate. If it does, hit the Activate button and move on Stage 2.
If you don’t see the Activate option here for any reason, click on the Installed Plugins option in the Plugins menu on the main dashboard menu. This will take you to a list of all of the installed plugins on your site. Scroll down to Yoast SEO and click on Activate.
Congratulations. You now have the free version of the Yoast plugin installed on your site.
Our next step is to set it up.
Stage 2: The Yoast SEO Configuration Wizard
If you haven’t used Yoast before, it’s advisable to go through the Configuration Wizard to make sure you’re happy with the settings.
To do this, go to the Installed Plugins page (as explained in point 7 in the section above) and click on Settings.
This should take you to a screen that looks something like this:
Click where it says configuration wizard.
The configuration wizard will ask you a selection of questions designed to help the plugin (and Google) understand more about your website.
Simply choose the option that best fits your site for each question and then click on Next. Here’s a screenshot of the first question you will see:
Once you’ve been through these nine screens, click on Close the wizard.
Next, click on the Start SEO data optimisation button in the general Yoast screen (you’ll find this below where you clicked to start the configuration wizard).
This will prompt the Yoast SEO plugin to look at any existing posts and pages on your site and analyse how optimised they are.
Once Yoast has completed its initial optimisation, your general set-up of the plugin is complete and you should see ticks next to each of the main set-up tasks:
Stage 3: Optimising a blog post using the Yoast SEO plugin
Now, let’s discover how to optimise a blog post using the Yoast plugin.
Click on Posts>All posts in the main menu of your WordPress dashboard and then choose the option to Edit the post you want to optimise.
(Depending on which WordPress theme you’re using, you may see a couple of editing options, such as Edit with block editor, Edit with classic editor or Edit with Divi. Pick your preferred editing option).
Once you’re in the backend of your chosen post (remember, the screen in which you added and edited the content, as explained in How to log in to WordPress and write your first blog), scroll down to the end of the post.
Here, you will see the panel for the Yoast SEO plugin.
Note: I will be sharing screenshots from my own blog to explain each field. I do have the Premium (paid-for) Yoast plugin installed but the core features are the same as in the free version.
The panel will look something like this:
As you can see, Yoast fills in as many details as it can from what is included in the post. We just need to do some fine tuning.
Check the Readability
I like to check the Readability tab first to ensure that the article is as readable as possible.
As you can see from the screenshot above, when I copied and pasted this article into WordPress, Yoast immediately gave it a green smiley face for readability. This means there shouldn’t be anything too drastic to resolve.
To be sure though, let’s click on the Readability tab.
The information on this tab will depend on the content of the post. Broadly speaking though, the Readability information looks at elements of your content such as:
- Are your sentences too long and complicated?
- Is your copy easy to read?
- Are you using an active or passive voice?
- Is there enough variety in your content?
- Are you using enough sub-headings to break up the copy?
- Are the paragraphs short and snappy?
- Have you used enough transition words (e.g. because, for example, for instance, as a result) to provide clarity?
As you can see from the Readability information for this article, Yoast has flagged up two potential problems: Sub-heading distribution and sentence length.
Sub-heading distribution tells me that there’s one section of text that could probably do with an extra sub-heading to make easier for a reader to skim read.
Sentence length tells me that a few of my sentences could probably do editing.
If I click on the eye icon to the right of the issue, Yoast highlights the affected text. I can then edit the copy, where appropriate, if I want to.
Given that the article has a green light for readability, I may decide to leave as it is.
The SEO tab
Having checked the readability of your article, your next step is to click on the SEO tab in Yoast.
This will take us back to the SEO panel I showed you earlier in this article. Here it is again:
As you can see, Yoast has already given the post an SEO title based on the main title of the article. If the title is too long to appear in full in a Google search, you will see an orange or read line under the title (more about this in a moment).
At the moment, the overall traffic light ranking is grey because Yoast doesn’t have enough information to assess the SEO data.
Your next steps
We now need to do the following:
- Add a focus keyword or phrase in the Focus keyphrase field (with the free option, you can only add one word or phrase)
Stop! Before you do this, you’ll need to do some basic keyword research. Choosing a relevant keyword that your target audience searches for will help to ensure that the right people find and read your content. It’s all very well getting a green light in Yoast but it’s not so great if it’s for a search term that isn’t used!
Need help? Check out my Keyword Research Guide.
By adding “Yoast SEO plugin” as the focus keyphrase for this blog, you can see Yoast gives the SEO elements of the blog an amber rating (a neutral amber face), meaning there’s room for improvement. That’s because some information is still missing.
- Next, we need to check that the SEO title is a good length. If you want to change the title, you can delete the dark pink lozenges that say “Title” and “Page” and type a new title into the SEO title field. As I have a green line for the length, I plan to leave the title as it is for now.
- Your next task is to set the slug for your post. The slug is the end part of a URL that identifies a particular page on a website. My domain is seo-plus.co.uk but every page has a unique slug so a reader can go straight to the right page, instead of having to find it via the Home page.
Yoast may use the title of a post to suggest a slug for you. This auto-suggestion is often too long.
Aim for a short slug that includes your focus keyword and describes what the post is about. For this post, using-yoast-seo-plugin would be a good slug.
- You now need to give your post a meta description. Remember that this will be the description of the post that people see in Google searches. It needs to explain what the post is about in a compelling way. Try to include your focus keyphrase.
Again, keep an eye on the colour of your line below the meta description in the Yoast SEO panel. Also, look at the preview for how your listing will appear in searches. If your meta description is too long (or short), the line will turn amber and then red.
Fine-tuning your SEO
As we can see from the screenshot above, using a keyword-rich SEO title, meta description and slug has helped to turn our amber rating to a green smiley face.
But there may be more that we can do to boost the SEO elements of the post. Yoast will tell us.
Click on the next section in the Yoast SEO panel, titled SEO Analysis.
This will open up a list of traffic-lighted insights and recommendations. Here’s the SEO Analysis for the draft version of the article you’re reading now:
Fortunately, everything looks pretty good. The only thing I haven’t done yet is add images to the article but they’ll all be in place by the time I hit publish.
The SEO Analysis looks at the following points:
- Are there outbound links to further sources of information? (The more reputable your sources, the better for building trust)
- Are there internal links to related content on your site?
- Is your keyphrase in the SEO title and as near to the beginning as possible?
- Is the SEO title a good length?
- Does the focus keyphrase appear within the introduction of the article?
- Is the keyphrase well distributed throughout the article?
- Is it a good length?
- Are you using it too much or not often enough?
- Is the keyphrase in the meta description?
- Is the meta description a good length to appear in searches?
- Have you used your keyphrase before? (It’s better to use a unique keyphrase so you’re not competing with your own content in the same search).
- Is the text a good length? (Google might consider articles with fewer than 300 words as “thin” content)
- Is your keyphrase in the slug?
The exact points raised in the analysis will depend on your content.
If there is anything that you can improve, Yoast will highlight this with a red dot and explain what steps you can take.
It’s up to you to decide whether to follow all of the recommendations. For example, if you have an impactful title, do you really need to put the keyphrase at the beginning?
As the SEO Analysis that I’ve just run has mentioned image alt tags, I want to cover those briefly.
Yoast likes to see images with alt tags, with at least one including your focus keyphrase.
If you use images that illustrate and complement the key points of an article, it’s usually fairly easy to include your focus keyphrase without keyword stuffing.
For example, when I added the Configuration Wizard image earlier in this blog, I was able to give it an alt tag of “Where to find Yoast SEO plugin configuration wizard” to explain the purpose of the image. This naturally included the focus keyphrase.
Adding this image and alt tag turned the final red bullet point in the SEO analysis to green.
One final option on the SEO tab is to flag up a post or page as cornerstone content. Cornerstone content is a term used to describe the most important bits of content on a website.
If you’ve read my blogs before, you may have heard me talking about the “hub and spoke” model of blogging, where you have an in-depth article about a topic that links to smaller articles about sub-topics within that overarching subject area. In turn, all the smaller articles link back to the main article.
In this context, the main article would be seen as cornerstone content. You can tell Yoast this by turning the cornerstone content switch from “Off” to “On”.
Yoast SEO plugin premium version
For a free tool, the Yoast SEO plugin provides amazing power and is an essential tool for putting the SEO basics in place.
A premium, paid-for version of the plugin is available. The features on the premium version are all about improving the overall structure of your site, how content ties together and the user experience.
They can help you to:
- Find and update stale content
- Fix broken links and manage redirects
- Easily find related content to link to elsewhere on your site
- Find orphaned content (i.e. content that has no internal links)
- Review the language you use in your copy to include more synonyms and related keywords
- Optimise posts before sharing them on social media
- 24/7 technical support
- Access to the Yoast SEO academy
Let me know how you get on
I hope this step-by-step guide will help you to feel confident about using the Yoast SEO plugin to boost your SEO.
If you tweak your SEO title and meta descriptions, how does it affect clickthrough rates?
If you add in more sub-headings and internal links, do people stay on your website for longer?
Yoast in a fantastic addition to your SEO arsenal. It will also help you build up a bigger understanding of your ideal customer and their favourite content.
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Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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