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The temptation of the green bullet in Yoast SEO: 3 pitfalls to avoid

Ever since I started using Yoast SEO plugin, I’ve been amazed by its ease of use and by the many features it contains. Our analysis offers everything you need to fine-tune your text in such a way that search engines will be more likely to rank your content. I genuinely believe that the SEO analysis features in Yoast SEO can help you make your text SEO proof in a very, very easy way. The checks the plugin does are amazing, and we’re constantly working to improve the existing checks and add new ones!

But, you should be aware of the temptation of the green bullet! In this post, I’ll discuss three pitfalls to watch out for, and how to deal with them when optimizing with Yoast SEO.

Pursuing all the green bullets in Yoast SEO

The gamification in our Yoast SEO content analysis helps you to upgrade the SEO-friendliness of your post. Using it is great fun! It can feel like an exciting challenge to always get as many green bullets as possible. However, this gamification can make you lose sight of what’s truly important when optimizing your articles. It could also increase the likelihood that you’ll cheat your own SEO process to get every bullet green in Yoast SEO. Of course, neither would be good for your SEO! Let’s discuss the three main pitfalls of the temptation of the green bullet.

See those orange and red bullets? Frustrating, right? But let’s make sure we really need to fix things before tweaking the post until they turn green!

1. Not every post or page has to be optimized

When you’re adding content in the backend, it’s just so tempting to fill in a focus keyword and start getting those green bullets. But before you start optimizing, you have to ask yourself: does this post or page need to rank? Does that fit in my keyword strategy? Won’t it be competing with another page that’s more important?

Not every page on your site has to be optimized, so you should always think about how your content fits in the grand scheme of things. For example, in some cases, you should aim to rank with a category page. Optimizing another page with more text for the same (or a similar) keyword could even harm this category page’s chances to rank. Some content, like announcements, doesn’t really need to be optimized. Always consider whether it’s actually necessary to add a focus keyword and get that green bullet. Of course, if your keyword strategy and site structure are in order, you’ll already have thought about all this and you’ll be good to go!

2. Not every bullet has to be green

Now, let’s say you established that you really want the content you’ve just written to rank. Does that mean that every single bullet in the Yoast Readability and SEO analysis has to be green? No, not every bullet has to be green to rank. Beware, you shouldn’t just ignore the feedback whenever you want, but always use common sense when optimizing.

So, let’s take a look at the process. You’ll probably know that once you’re done writing your content, you should first look at the suggestions in the readability analysis. Then, you turn to the SEO analysis and optimize your post (or yoast your post, as we like to call it). If, during either step, you have an orange or red bullet or two, that’s fine. It doesn’t mean your post will never rank. Look at the feedback in each check and use your own common sense to decide whether the suggestions will actually improve your text and your SEO. Some red bullets could be more urgent to fix for you than others. Just try to make sure that both analyses have green overall bullets.

The overall score in the Yoast SEO content analysis
Ideally, these two ‘overall’ bullets should be green and smiling when you’re done optimizing your post.

An example is the consecutive sentences check. It can give you a red bullet for using a list in your copy, as these often start with identical words. Writers sometimes also deliberately start several consecutive sentences with the same word, for instance, to place more emphasis on them. Another example is the passive voice check, which unfortunately sometimes gives false positives. And, if you’re unable to add a relevant outbound link, you’ll get a red bullet. But you shouldn’t add a link just for the sake of it. In such cases, you can safely ignore your orange and red bullets (though it may be hard ;-))

3. Don’t cheat your keyword research: keyphrases and synonyms

A final thing to watch out for: don’t change your keyphrase at the last minute to get a green bullet. It can always happen that you aim to rank for one particular keyword, but end up using a synonym of that keyword in your text. Perhaps because you subconsciously prefer that word, it’s an easier word to use or more prominent in your vocabulary. But whatever the reason, if you’re consistently using another word instead of your keyphrase, you’ll soon find your bullets orange and red in the optimizing phase. But that doesn’t mean you should alter your keyphrase!

Example: newborn clothes or baby clothes

In one of my first attempts to use the SEO analysis tool, I found myself cheating the tool to receive a green bullet. At the time, I also contributed to a mom blog, besides writing posts for I wanted to write a post about my favorite brands of newborn clothes. Of course, I had done some extensive keyword research in advance. And I wanted this post to rank for [baby clothes].

When I started to optimize and entered my focus keyword [baby clothes], I noticed that my post did not contain the words ‘baby clothes.’ Not once. Not in the body of the text, not in the SEO title, not in any of the headings. I had written about ‘newborn clothes’, instead of ‘baby clothes’. So, my bullet did not turn green. So, this is what I did: I changed my focus keyword from ‘baby clothes’ to ‘newborn clothes’. And.. my bullet turned green instantly. It didn’t feel good, however… My keyword research had been in-depth and solid. I had decided to attempt to rank for [baby clothes].

In the end, I made some alterations to my blog post, so it was a better fit for my SEO strategy. I decided to change ‘newborn clothes’ in my text to ‘baby clothes’ a few times and made some alterations in headings and titles. I did not alter the core of my blog.

Never change your focus keyword to get a green bullet!

Think very carefully before you change your focus keyphrase. While it is true that search engines have become a lot better at recognizing synonyms, your keyword is still most important. It’s the search term that people use, and expect to see in the results pages, for example. While it’s perfectly fine -and even recommended – to use synonyms of your keyphrase, it’s still important to optimize for the exact keyword.

So, if ‘baby clothes’ is what people search for in Google, make sure you use that specific keyphrase often enough. After all, changing the focus keyword you optimize for will not change the search behavior of people. A green bullet does not lead to findability if the terms you optimize for are not the terms people use to search in the search engines.

Read more: Things we don’t do in Yoast SEO and why »

Pursue the green bullet wisely; use the SEO analysis tool correctly

Now that you know the pitfalls of mindlessly hunting for green bullets, you can use the Yoast SEO content analysis to its full potential. You’ll think about the place and purpose of your articles before you start optimizing them, and you won’t just take everything the tool says at face value. Plus, you now know that your keyword research should be leading. If you do an in-depth analysis of the terms you want people to find you for, your articles should be a reflection of these keywords. Changing your keywords based on the content of your articles will lead to an ad hoc SEO strategy. You don’t want that! A strategy should never be ad hoc. To summarize: getting green bullets should never be more important than your keyword strategy, content (strategy) and site structure

Become an expert at using Yoast SEO, with our Yoast SEO plugin training! Want to know more about keyword research and optimizing the right pages for the right keyphrase? Our keyword research training is for you!

Keep reading: My bullets are green but my post doesn’t rank?! »

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18 Responses to The temptation of the green bullet in Yoast SEO: 3 pitfalls to avoid

  1. Luke
    Luke  • 9 years ago

    Hi Marieke,

    Really the green & orange dots don’t mean much for me, i try to put all the content I like.

    I rank good in Bing & so so in google. I don’t think that might be the reason for not ranking good in google.

  2. Soji Fagade
    Soji Fagade  • 9 years ago

    I just started using Yoast and I have to say I have found it to be an awesome tool. I can relate to everything you said in your post and I’m having to resist the temptation to compromise.

  3. Blurithmics Chris
    Blurithmics Chris  • 9 years ago

    Hi Marieke,
    I know tried a few days since I readed this post but I still can’t find it. Please tell me how the german Flesch Index comes to that Screenshot up there … might be a dumb question, but please be so kind and tell me your secret ;)

    All the best,

  4. Hamza Ahmed
    Hamza Ahmed  • 9 years ago

    Google doesn’t like over optimization, it can detect it easily, so Sometimes doing green can lead to over-optimization suspicion from Google, and our site can be marked as spam.

  5. Loveday Anyim
    Loveday Anyim  • 9 years ago

    I have configured my brain to never write anything less than 300 words and must include one hyperlink. Lool am loving the SEO Plugin with its numerous features.

    This plugin is awesome and I am happy to be using it. I am presently working on a new project of which the Keyword of the site is evenly distributed to the entire 300 Articles on the site… not an easy thing, which might make one always over do the Green button.

    I guess it’s time I write a review too.

  6. Laurent
    Laurent  • 9 years ago

    There is something that I don’t get here and makes me rather confused. I’ve checked once, and the “focus keyword” doesn’t appear at all in the html code, this is not a meta. Therefore, as far as Google is concern, you can put anything in this field, it won’t make any difference.
    My understanding therefore was that you filled this field in WP SEO to be sure that what you had chosen as “focus keyword” was present in the article as it should. Which means that if you use newborn clothes many times in the article but fill the ” focus keyword” field with baby clothes, as far as google is concern, your article won’t rank at all for baby clothes but might for newborn clothes.
    Am I missing something here ?

    • Bram Joosten
      Bram Joosten  • 9 years ago

      The Focus Keyword is purely an internal Yoast thing. You use it to “program” the plugin for the specific page which you are optimizing. This way Yoast can count the amount of times your keyword is used. It’s really strict though. Only exact matches get counted.

      • Marieke van de Rakt

        You are right, Bram, Joosten, I also feel that the matching is rather strict. It’s hard to come up with something less strict without making it terrible complicated mathematically. Nevertheless, we are looking into ways to possibly solve the strictness.

      • Laurent
        Laurent  • 9 years ago

        That’s my understanding indeed, but this is not what is written in this article at all, which explains my confusion.

        • Laurent
          Laurent  • 9 years ago

          Of course, optimizing for a term that is not used is useless.
          So you actually changed in the article “newborn” for “baby”, sorry, I didn’t get it :-( My understanding (well, my misunderstanding), was that the article was written with “newborn” but since in WP SEO, you had set the focus keyword to “baby”, everything was fine, which explains why I got confused. Sorry …

        • Marieke van de Rakt

          You are absolutely right that my original post would have ranked for newborn clothes. However, my keyword-research (using google trends, clearly indicated that people just don’t use the term newborn clothes. If people do not search for a term, optimizing for that term is rather useless.

  7. NetProfiter
    NetProfiter  • 9 years ago

    Google doesn’t like over optimization. Sometimes doing 100% green can lead to over-optimization suspicion from Google.

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      You are absolutely right that Google doesn’t like overoptimization. First, you should write an awesome post, make sure it’s readable an structured nicely (see my previous post While maintaining the structure of your text, you can fine tune your post while using the page analysis tool. Using the tool only for fine tuning will not lead to over-optimization.

  8. Damon
    Damon  • 9 years ago

    Those bullets are dangerous. I had a micro-managing boss once who didn’t know a thing about marketing but understood green bullets.

    If I’d known how much I would come to hate them, I would have written a plugin that just hid those things from view.

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      I wouldn’t say the bullets are dangerous. You just should never use them blindly or without thinking. But that goes for almost everything, now doesn’t it?

  9. sandra
    sandra  • 9 years ago

    Great article and a great example of the lure of the green button.

  10. Gorakhnath Sirsikar
    Gorakhnath Sirsikar  • 9 years ago

    For a free information blog, majorly about an open source plugin, I keep admiring how well written and researched your articles are, not to mention how informative they turn out to be for us readers/users :)

    • Marieke van de Rakt

      thanks :-)!