Beginners guide: Yoast SEO

The beginner's guide to
Yoast SEO

The beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO

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.

Optimize your site for search & social media and keep it optimized with Yoast SEO Premium »

Yoast SEO: the #1 WordPress SEO plugin Info

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:

yoast seo configuration wizard 1

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.

Read more: ‘The Yoast SEO configuration wizard and why you should use it’ »

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!

SEO analysis

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:

Beginner's guide to Yoast SEO: the meta box

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:

yoast seo seo analysis

In the image above you can see the different characteristics of your text we analyze:

  • If you want your page to rank for a specific keyword, you should 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. Use the focus keyword and make it enticing to click.
  • 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.

New to SEO? Learn the Basics of SEO in our Basic SEO course »

Basic SEO training Info

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.

Readability analysis

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. We have a post called “Yoast SEO hates my writing style” that goes into these common misconceptions.

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.

Government rulings

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, German, and Italian by the way.

The readability analysis itself

Let’s see what’s in our readability analysis:

yoast seo readabiity 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

Of course, there is so much more you can do with Yoast SEO. In the Search Appearance menu you can determine how your site appears in search engines. And in the Search Console section, you can connect your Google Search Console account to Yoast SEO so it can find and fix errors.

search appearance yoast seo

Search Appearance

In Search Appearance, you’ll 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.

Become a technical SEO expert with our Technical SEO 1 training! »

Technical SEO 1 training Info

At “Content 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:
Beginner's guide to Yoast SEO: page titlesNote 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.

Keep reading: ‘Search appearance variables in Yoast SEO’ »

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.

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!

Read on: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

22 Responses to The beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO

  1. NSIM Digital
    By NSIM Digital on 19 March, 2018

    Really useful tip for Newbie ,there is recently some changes in the SEO Yoast Plugins design,Please update the new images, thanks

  2. Gracious Store
    By Gracious Store on 18 March, 2018

    Is the Yoast SEO for blog postings only? How does it apply to product pages?

  3. Uday
    By Uday on 14 March, 2018

    Thank you very much for sharing this, i was just looking for some inspiration and found this.

  4. Lucas
    By Lucas on 14 March, 2018

    I was looking for these tips. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Fahad
    By Fahad on 14 March, 2018

    Yoast made it easy for new bloggers to make their content SEO friendly. Thanks for this awesome guide.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2018

      Thanks for reading, Fahad!

  6. Basit Ansari
    By Basit Ansari on 14 March, 2018

    Hey Michiel,
    Thanks for sharing beginner guide of Yoast and since 2015, I am used, Yoast plugin in my 10 websites.

    Basit Ansari

  7. kankana saha
    By kankana saha on 13 March, 2018

    awesome post….some important points noted..hope it would help me ranking

  8. magenative
    By magenative on 13 March, 2018

    Is there any way to add more than 1 keyword without the Yoast pro?

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 14 March, 2018

      Hi. Of course, you can always add multiple keywords or relevant key phrases to your text. But that’s fairly time-consuming and you won’t be able to optimize it perfectly. So the multiple focus keyword feature in Yoast SEO Premium is a great addition to your toolkit.

  9. nexvan
    By nexvan on 13 March, 2018

    For other options like
    Learn the Meta Dascrithium template

  10. bobq3465
    By bobq3465 on 13 March, 2018

    Very useful, thanks for sharing this information. Do you think it is possible to become a pro with those tutorials from Yoast?

  11. Murat
    By Murat on 13 March, 2018

    Hi Michiel,
    Thanks for this beginner’s guide. I use Yoast for more than 5 years and this plugin is always evolving in the right direction. I was wondering about AMP. Maybe you should speak about it since it’s becoming more and more important as ranking factor. I noticed that you have an addon for Yoast, which make it even easier to use.

  12. nexvan
    By nexvan on 13 March, 2018

    hi Michiel We used the code %% title %% %% sep %% %% sitename %% from the beginning up to now. Do we need to change?
    Which one do you use?
    %% title %% %% page %% %% sep %% %% sitename %%
    %% title %% %% sep %% %% sitename %%

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      By Willemien Hallebeek on 13 March, 2018

      Hi Nexvan, In most cases, just the page title works fine indeed. Only if you have very long posts divided over multiple page the page number is needed.

      • nexvan
        By nexvan on 13 March, 2018


  13. jayanth reddy
    By jayanth reddy on 13 March, 2018

    very informative article.if we implement these steps it will ranks your page on google.
    Thanks Michiel for sharing with us.

    -jayanth reddy

  14. Yoseo
    By Yoseo on 12 March, 2018

    Great article with great information!!!
    I will share it with all of my friends for sure :)

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      By Willemien Hallebeek on 13 March, 2018

      Hi Yoseo, Thanks for sharing our post!

  15. Somnath Jadhav
    By Somnath Jadhav on 12 March, 2018

    Another great article.
    By following those steps I could achieve first rank in google. The position is still unbeatable from last 4 year.
    Thanks for making great plugin.

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