Become a Yoast SEO pro:

The beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO

Let’s say you have a website but know little about SEO. But you’ve heard about Yoast SEO, and people have told you it’s a great tool to optimize your site for Google, Bing, Yandex and other search engines. So you install the Yoast SEO plugin. What now? Well, our plugin needs your input to help your pages rise to the top of the search results. In this beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO, we’ll guide you through the most important steps to get the most out of this plugin and your content!

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which means optimizing your pages to get them to a high position in the search results of Google or other search engines. If you have a website and want to attract more people, SEO should be a part of your marketing strategy. Our plugin, Yoast SEO, helps you fix many technical issues. But also by giving you feedback on your content to optimize it for SEO and your website users.

A beginner‘s guide to Yoast SEO

Before we start, note that this isn’t a guide to every detail of the Yoast SEO plugin. This post introduces some important things that you should use or configure first. In this beginner’s guide, we assume you have installed the plugin. Not quite there yet? Check out how to install Yoast SEO Premium or our free Yoast SEO plugin before you read on.

In this post, we’ll cover the following:

The first-time configuration

The Yoast SEO first-time configuration is a great starting point to set up your plugin. You will get the option to start the first-time configuration right after installing Yoast SEO. Don’t see the welcome screen or already have the plugin installed? You can also the configuration in the backend of your WordPress website by going to Yoast SEO > General and clicking the First-time configuration tab:

the first-time configuration in Yoast SEO
Start your Yoast SEO journey with the first-time configuration

The first-time configuration guides you through several steps that help you set up our plugin to suit your site’s needs. By answering a few simple questions, Yoast SEO will learn more about your website and how it can help your SEO. Even if your site has been around for a while, it still pays off to complete the configuration. It’s also a good idea to repeat it now and again to make sure your settings are still up to date. Because the information you fill in here helps Google and other search engines understand your site better.

For example, in the second step, you’ll be asked if your website is about you or an organization you represent. This is relevant because the information you fill in here is used in Google’s Knowledge Graph. What is a Knowledge Graph, you ask? It is the block of information you often see on the right-hand side of the search results when you search for a company or person. So make sure to fill in all the fields you can in this step to provide Google with this information and increase your chances of a Knowledge Graph. But the first-time configuration also improves your site’s technical settings with SEO data optimization and asks for your social media profiles to help Google understand these belong to the same person or company. If you want more help getting Yoast SEO configured correctly for your site, check out the help article on how to use the first-time configuration.

The tip of the technical iceberg

There are many aspects to SEO and many more settings you can tweak in the plugin. But we set the first-time configuration so that it correctly configures the plugin’s general settings for your website. And there’s also loads of other stuff that Yoast SEO handles for you, to give you a head start on your technical SEO. Here are some things Yoast SEO automatically takes care of in the background. Our plugin:

  • Outputs structured data for your pages, helping Google understand them even better.
  • Creates an XML sitemap that search engines use to find and index your pages.
  • Yoast SEO Premium also avoids dead ends on your site by automatically creating redirects when you move or delete content.

There are lots more hidden features and settings that you control, we’ll talk about those later on. For now, it’s good to know that all of this allows Yoast SEO to roll out the red carpet for the search bots, making it easy for search engines to find and understand your content.

Using the Yoast SEO sidebar or meta box

Yoast SEO is known for its green, orange, and red traffic lights, giving you feedback that helps optimize your content. In the past, you’d find these in the Yoast SEO meta box below your post editor. Nowadays, if you’re using the WordPress Block editor, you can also find them in the Yoast SEO sidebar on the right side of the editor.

Are you using the block editor, but not seeing the sidebar? Make sure to click on the Yoast SEO sidebar icon at the top right of your screen:

screenshot of Yoast SEO icon that opens up the Yoast SEO sidebar
Click the Yoast SEO icon to open the Yoast SEO sidebar

Here, we’ll highlight four essential elements you’ll find in both the Yoast SEO meta box and the Yoast SEO sidebar:

  • The Focus keyphrase
  • The SEO analysis
  • The Readability analysis
  • The Google preview

When you write a post or page for your website, checking these four elements should be the bare minimum before publishing your content. If you have more time and want to fully optimize a post, we’d advise following the steps described in this blog post checklist.

The focus keyphrase

The focus keyphrase field is the first in the Yoast SEO sidebar and the meta box. In your Yoast SEO sidebar, on the right side of your editor, you’ll find this field at the top:

the focus keyphrase field in the Yoast SEO sidebar
The focus keyphrase input field in the Yoast SEO sidebar

Below your post, you’ll find it in the SEO tab of the meta box:

the focus keyphrase field in the Yoast SEO metabox
The focus keyphrase input field in the Yoast SEO meta box

In this field, you can enter the phrase you’d like this specific post or page to rank for in the search engines. By adding this keyphrase (or keyword), Yoast SEO will give you feedback on how well you’ve optimized the content for that specific keyphrase. It’s good to note that adding a keyphrase here doesn’t mean that Google will ‘know’ that you want the page to rank for that keyphrase. It simply helps Yoast SEO give you helpful feedback, so adding the keyphrase without looking at any of the feedback will not do anything for your rankings.

You can add this keyphrase at any moment, but we suggest adding it immediately as a reminder to keep your content focused on this topic. Wondering how to choose the perfect focus keyphrase? Read our guide on choosing a focus keyphrase, as it will help you select the right keyphrase you want to (and can) rank for. You can select a keyphrase post-by-post, but if you’re serious about your rankings, you must conduct keyword research first.

Yoast SEO Premium allows you to set related keyphrases and synonyms too, which is great if you want to take your SEO copywriting to the next level. You need user-focused and high-quality content to rank high in a (competitive) market. Because Google is getting smarter, Yoast SEO Premium recognizes variations of your keyphrase and helps you write natural and user-friendly content.

The SEO analysis

When you’ve added a keyphrase (and ideally a bit of content), Yoast SEO is able to run the SEO analysis. This analysis evaluates how well your content is optimized to rank for that keyphrase. For instance, it checks whether you’ve used the keyphrase enough and not too often. But also whether it’s in your SEO title, meta description, images, or subheadings. Moreover, it checks other SEO aspects of your content that are not related to your keyphrase, for instance, if you have any internal links to other articles on your website which is also important for search engines to understand your content.

The SEO analysis in the Yoast SEO sidebar

Getting orange or red traffic lights? Look at the feedback the analysis gives and try to make improvements where possible. To dive deeper into this, read our article on how to use Yoast SEO’s content analysis.

The readability analysis

Below the focus keyphrase field and SEO analysis, you can find the Readability analysis tab (in the Yoast SEO sidebar). It’s best to look at this tab after you’ve written the first version of your post or page. It gives you a red, orange, or green traffic light, which reflects your text’s readability score. This analysis contains a few different checks that our plugin automatically does on your content. Open the tab to find out how you score on all the individual checks and what you can improve on. You may wonder why you should look at this tab, but trust us: readability is crucial for SEO!

The Yoast SEO readability checks in the sidebar

If a traffic light is green, you’re doing great in that field. Is it orange or red? You can follow the instructions along with the traffic light to improve on this front. If there’s an eye icon, you can click that to see what part of the text still needs some checking. Now you don’t need to get every traffic light green but try to get the overall traffic light for the readability analysis green to end up with readable text. That way, the readability analysis helps you write easy-to-read content that your readers will love!

Our readability analysis works for many languages, and our team is working hard to add more languages as we go. If you’re interested in finding more about the logic behind this analysis, you can read more on how to use this analysis in Yoast SEO.

The inclusive language analysis

The third analysis that you can find in Yoast SEO is the inclusive language analysis which gives you feedback on any potentially non-inclusive words or phrases you’re using in your text. We at Yoast strongly believe that you should inclusive language in your content. Because creating inclusive content is good for both your users and SEO. Wondering how that works? Read more about it in our post on inclusive language and SEO.

The Yoast SEO inclusive language analysis in the sidebar

Wondering how it works and what the analysis looks at? You can read all that and more on our page dedicated to the inclusive language analysis. Also, it’s good to note that the inclusive language analysis is opt-in, so it won’t be activated by default. It’s up to you whether you want to get feedback on the inclusiveness of your content. 

Does every traffic light need to be green?

No, not every single traffic light in the different analyses has to be green for your post or page to rank. Similarly, getting your post and traffic lights ‘all-green’ in no way guarantees that it will rank. While it’s tempting to aim for all-green traffic lights on every post or page without working on other aspects of your SEO, this isn’t the best SEO strategy. Proper keyword research and site structure always come before getting green bullets. Read more about properly using the colored traffic light system in Yoast SEO.

The Google preview

In addition to analyzing your content, we provide an editable snippet or Google preview. In the meta box below your post, it’s in the SEO tab, and in the sidebar, you can find it here:

screenshot of Google preview tab in Yoast SEO sidebar
You can find all the features of Yoast SEO in the sidebar in the block editor

The Google preview shows you how the Yoast plugin displays your page to Google and other search engines. In other words, it gives an idea of how your page can appear in the search results:

The Google preview feature in Yoast SEO
The Google preview makes it easy to optimize your post for the search results

In the Google preview, you can set an SEO title and meta description. Make an effort and write a title and meta description that reflect what your post or page is about. Let people know they’ll find what they’re looking for on your site and entice them to visit your page. There’s no guarantee that Google will display your meta description in the results pages. But if the meta description you add here is good, you’ll increase the odds of it being used.

Other items in the sidebar and meta box

As said before, we believe this is the minimum investment you should make before publishing a page or post. You may have noticed more items in the Yoast SEO sidebar and meta box, like the internal linking suggestions, social previews, Schema, cornerstone content, insights, and advanced section. It’s worth looking at those, as these can also help your SEO efforts!

A bit more advanced: Yoast SEO Settings

Of course, there is so much more you can do with Yoast SEO. You can access and change lots of settings in the Yoast SEO settings overview. There’s usually no need to change anything. Especially if you’re new to SEO, it’s wise to start with the settings you set with the first-time configuration. But let’s quickly look around to give you an idea of the options.

Go to Yoast SEO > Settings in the left-hand side navigation in your WordPress dashboard to go to the Settings overview. Here you can select which features you want to use, how your site should appear in search engines and loads more! Use the menu on your left to navigate the different settings that are divided into four categories: General, Content types, Categories & Tags and Advanced.

The Yoast SEO settings overview

When you go to the Yoast SEO Settings, you land on the Site features page in the General section. Here you can select which Yoast SEO features you want to actively use and which ones you want to opt out on. Each feature that is listed there comes with a short explanation of what it does and you can use the toggle below to activate or deactivate the feature.

Site basics

In the General section, you can also find Site basics. As the name suggests, you can configure the basics of your website here. Take the Title Separator, for instance. You can choose whether you want a dash, asterisk, or something else between the different parts of your SEO title that will be shown in the search results. But, if you change your mind later, you can always change it here. Read more about the options in our help article on the Yoast SEO Settings: Site basics.

Simply pick what you want, but the default option is usually the best one

In addition to the separator of your SEO title, you might also want to change how your SEO titles are set up. Simply go to Content types, click on Posts or any other content type (depending on which one you want to change) and go to Search Appearance. Here you can change how our plugin sets up your titles and meta descriptions. Set up by using snippet variables that tell the plugin what the title of your post is or the separator of your choice.

Change the variables in any way you like

This simply means we will use the title of your page or post as the page title. Then we add a title separator (which we discussed in the first paragraph of this section) and the site name you set when creating your site. So, for example, the title for this Beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO post would look like this:

Beginner's guide to Yoast SEO: Page titles

Feel free to change this setup, but this is the one we recommend. It’s focused on the page title (Beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO) and has proper branding at the end (Yoast). We’re highlighting this to give you an example of the type of settings that you can find here, but of course, there are loads more.

We hope this gives you an idea of the options that Yoast SEO gives you. Throughout the years, we’ve introduced a lot of new features to our plugins. With that said, there are also many things we haven’t done in Yoast SEO, a few of them being things that we probably won’t ever do. If you’re curious as to what these are, check out our blog post on things we don’t do in Yoast SEO and why.

That’s it for our beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO. With Yoast SEO properly installed, your website is ready to take on the competition and climb to the top of the search results!

If you want to become a pro user of the Yoast SEO plugin, here are a few more reading recommendations:

Or some more general SEO guides for beginners:

We also have a free Yoast SEO for WordPress training course that tells you all you need to know about our plugin, with the help of videos. It helps you master our plugin and take the first few practical steps into SEO! Or if have a question that you could use some help with, consider joining one of our live Q&A sessions to get the most out of Yoast SEO!

Become a Yoast SEO pro series

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