Suppose you know nothing about SEO but have heard about this little gem called Yoast SEO. People told you that it is a very convenient tool to optimize your site and its pages for Google, Bing, and Yandex. It’s effortless. You want to use it. You install the Yoast SEO plugin or the Yoast SEO extension and simply follow the advice given in that plugin. Within a week, your website will be topping the charts in Google. Or not? No, to be honest. It’s not that simple.
Our plugin helps you to optimize your website for search engines. And it does that well, but it needs your input. In this beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO, I’ll try to explain the basics of SEO that our plugin guides you in. I’ll take you through the steps that every user, who tries our plugin for the first time takes, and help you optimize your site in the process.
It’s a beginner‘s guide to Yoast SEO
Before we start, I should point out that this isn’t a beginner’s guide to every single detail of our plugin. I’d just like to show you some things I think you should use or configure. As our plugin has quite some settings, it’s good to know which features to configure first.
The Yoast SEO configuration wizard
Our Yoast SEO configuration wizard is a great place to start. You can find the configuration wizard at SEO > Dashboard > General:
In that configuration wizard, we will guide you through twelve steps that help you configure our plugin, specifically for your site. Even if you have a website that is already a year or so old, I encourage you to use the wizard and see if there are some things that you might have missed. Each step includes some questions; your answers will determine specific settings. In the wizard, we have also included video material to show you even more options.
But there is so much more in this SEO section of Yoast SEO!?
Unquestionably, as there are many aspects to SEO. With the help of your answers in the configuration wizard and our own SEO knowledge, we can configure most of the general settings of our plugin for you. As a result of this, you can focus on your content!
When you start writing a post or page, you will find our analyses. In WordPress, our so-called meta box is right below the larger text area where you write your content:
For you, as a user, this Yoast SEO box will prove very valuable. As you can see, there are a couple of tabs here.
- One tab where you can insert the keyword you want to optimize the page for (focus keyword), in this case: “beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO.”
- One tab that says Readability and I’ll get into that one later.
On the tab where you can insert that focus keyword, we’ll tell you if you have used that focus keyword the right way in that specific post.
What we analyze in our SEO analysis
At present, we perform these checks in our SEO analysis:
Following the image, as shown above, we analyze these characteristics of your text (from top to bottom):
- If you want your page to rank for a specific keyword, you must write at least 300 words about it. Otherwise, it may be considered a ‘thin content’ page by Google, and you want to avoid that.
- Add a meta description; it will invite visitors in Google to your website.
- You want to make clear right from the start what the page is about, so start adding the focus keyword from the beginning.
- Add images to create a vivid experience for your users. Use the focus keyword in the ALT text so that Google can relate that image to the keyword.
- To set up a proper site structure, link to at least one other related page on your site. It keeps visitors on your site and shows them more (background) information.
- We want sites to link to other websites as well, as this opens up the web. Point people to the websites where you get your information. It’ll tell Google what websites relate to each other on what subjects.
- A short page title allows you to add a trigger for a visitor in Google to click to your website.
- If you add that focus keyword at the beginning of your title, it will have the most value. Also, it will immediately stand out when your post is shared
- Repeat your focus keyword in your URL. As a result, even without context, it will be clear what clicking that link will bring you. Furthermore, Google also likes having it in there.
- You optimize a page for a certain keyword – not a website. Prevent competing pages! Yoast SEO will warn you if you write more than one post about the same keyword. When this happens, use a variation, or a long tail keyword.
What’s more: Cornerstone content and snippet preview
If your page is the main page for a topic/keyword in a group of pages you plan to write, you could mark it as cornerstone content here. Not sure if that is a subject for a beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO, by the way. It might be wise to take our basic SEO course first :)
Besides all the checks, we provide an editable snippet preview, which tells you how our plugin displays your website to Google and other search engines.
Since SEO is one of those areas where content is indeed king, we also provide a convenient readability analysis for you. The thing is: not all people have the same skills to process certain texts. I laughed out loud when I found out someone thought it would be wise to use our readability analysis to analyze the readability of books like Hamlet’s First Soliloquy by William Shakespeare. Oh, the time wasted! If Hemingway would have a blog, he’d probably love our readability analysis. It would allow him to translate his offline writing to a nice readable online text.
Online vs. offline
Please understand that online and offline writing are two different stories. While we take the time to read, digest and daydream about all the great stories we read in books, we tend to scan, process and use (in any way) the things we read online. Where we follow the old man on his journey over sea, struggling with that marlin for days, feel his frustration, motivation, you probably scanned this beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO to see if there’s something here you didn’t know already.
This post isn’t a page in a book. It’s information for you to process like most online pages are. With that purpose in mind, we wrote our readability analysis.
Our Dutch government has ruled that the text on all government websites should be at B2: Upper intermediate level. It’s a rule that makes sure that every citizen, regardless of the level of education, can read and understand the information on these websites. We aim to help them with that. Our readability analysis works for websites in English, Spanish, Dutch, French, and German, by the way.
The readability analysis itself
Let’s see what’s in our readability analysis:
We analyze these things:
- Use subheadings so that people can scan your pages faster. It helps you group topics, which makes it easier to process them.
- The Flesh Reading Ease test makes sure every reader can understand your texts. If you are writing for a more educated audience, a lower score is acceptable – it’s a guideline, you decide how strict to follow it.
- Transition words help to improve the ‘flow’ of your page. To put it another way, they send a signal to your visitors that something is coming up, prepare them for the next sentence. You’ll find that the recommendation of using transition words in 30% of your sentences isn’t that hard to achieve.
- Long paragraphs in an online article are more difficult to understand. You’ll find yourself lost in all the words. Bite-sized chunks are easier to process.
- While in a book you can stretch a sentence over half a page, shorter sentences are that much easier to read online. We use 20 words as a target length.
- Passive voice results in distant writing. Active voice is much more engaging. It’s almost impossible to write a ‘natural’ text without any passive voice at all (IMHO), and we ‘allow’ 10% passive voice in our analysis.
If you want more insight into how we decided on all these target numbers, please read the article Content analysis: methodological choices explained.
The last step of this beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO is an advanced one
When you first install Yoast SEO, we hide all advanced settings. We don’t want to bother you with these and have set them up to our standards. But I’d like you to check just two of the settings in there. Go to SEO > Dashboard > Features. Toggle the switch as in the image below to enable the advanced settings. Don’t worry; we’ll close these advanced settings right after this section.
Titles and Metas
If you set that switch to “enable” and click the “Save settings” button, your menu, which used to look like the menu on the left, (this example is in WordPress) will expand to the one on the right. You’ll now have access to the way we set up, for instance, your titles and metas for you. I want you to check that section for me. No need to alter anything, by the way. I just want you to know it’s there and realize what you can configure here.
At “post types,” you will find the default template we use for your post titles:
%%title%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%
This simply means we will use the page/post title you use when writing posts, and add the page number if your post is divided over multiple pages. Then we add a separator, like a dash, and then the site name you have set when creating your site. The outcome for this Beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO could be:
Note that this example doesn’t include a page number after the page title, as this post is just one page. This is the setup we recommend. It’s focused on the page title (“Beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO”) and has proper branding at the end (“Yoast”).
The purpose of me showing you this is that I want you to know it’s there, so you don’t have to look for it in the future. It explains why your titles are shown this way in Google.
Google Search Console
You can find the search console settings a bit further down the SEO menu. Now if you have completed our configuration wizard, you most probably connected Google Search Console to our plugin already. If you haven’t done that yet, you can do it at any time using the Search Console section here.
If you’re happy with the way these two are set up, please go back to the features tab in our dashboard and disable the advanced setting pages again.
Yoast SEO for beginners
That concludes our beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO. I trust your website is ready for Google now, so please add awesome content!