What is the Yoast SEO Plugin
Before we get started, let’s first just look at what the Yoast SEO plugin actually is. This is the leading free plugin available in the WordPress space which is designed to allow you to customise the basic on-site technical SEO items on your website. This helps Google to crawl and index your website easier which in turn can help to increase visibility in the search engines. The Yoast SEO plugin powers over 22,000,000 websites to put its popularity into context. Quite simply, you would never use anything else, Yoast is awesome.
Installing the plugin is one thing. Knowing how to use the Yoast SEO plugin once installed is another. For many newbie webmasters, the Yoast SEO plugin can feel a little daunting at first yet it needn’t be when you know what you’re doing.
One important point to note about Yoast SEO though, and this is a big one, installing the Yoast SEO plugin on your WordPress website does not mean that you have taken care of your SEO. SEO is a little more complex than that… The Yoast SEO plugin simply means that your website isn’t technically bad and is not making life difficult for Google to crawl and understand the basic content on your website. If installing a single plugin on your website meant that you had “done SEO” then everyone would be doing it, right? Exactly. There is a lot more to SEO than just installing a plugin and making the options go green.
The Yoast SEO plugin is great, although it can mislead, not intentionally, newbies to SEO by thinking that if the page traffic light system is green then all is good and you can sleep easy at night. Green simply means that you have at least got the very basics in place. Red means that Google is not going to look too kindly on your website.
Ok, so now we’ve got that caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at how to get the most out of the Yoast SEO plugin and how you can work with this on a day to day basis. This type of work is not something we generally get involved with as it is simply too time consuming and hence costly for businesses. Instead, by us helping you help yourself, we can focus on the strategic side of your digital marketing.
General Settings Page
Your Information Tab
The website name settings allow you to inform Google what your website is called. This is generally set to either your brand name as a business or if this is a personal blog, then your own personal name;
Company or Person
Self-explanatory, the company or person details allow you to specify this information to help Google understand who is behind the website. This information is often used to pull in various information from your website into the search results;
Webmaster Tools Tab
If you’re not using Google Webmaster Tools yet, what are you waiting for, get signed up at www.google.com/webmasters/tools/. This free tool will help you to understand how Google is viewing your business website. There are many ways for which you can verify your Google Webmaster Tools account, personally I prefer to use the Google Analytics option although if this is not possible for you then you can always use the meta tag verification option where you can place your code into this box here.
These settings allow authors and editors to redirect posts, noindex them and do other things which you might not want if you don’t trust your authors. Specifically these settings are really only relevant for websites with a large number of authors writing content on the website.
Titles & Metas Page
General Settings tab
You probably don’t need to change anything here so it would be recommended to leave these settings as they are out of the box unless you know what you are doing.
These settings tell Google how your website should be displayed within their search results pages. It is important to fill this information out accurately so that Google understands what your website is about. It is important to note that you should keep your Meta Title set to around 65 characters and your Meta Description to around the 165 characters limit. Any more than this and your content will be snipped to fit within the standardised listings on Google. In the screenshot below, the Meta Title is the blue bit that you see on Google which is counted as a ranking signal and the Meta Description is the grey bit which is not counted as a ranking signal. This being said the Meta Description can allow you to entice potential customers to click through to your website when they see your listing alongside competitors.
Post Types tab
Unless you are an advanced user and know what you are doing, then you should probably leave these settings as they are by default. Changing settings within here could result in your accidentally telling Google not to include your website in their search results which means that you will not receive any traffic from Google. Which is probably not something that you want to happen. For reference, here are what some of the settings mean;
- Noindex: Ticking this option will tell Google to not include these set of pages within their index. This can be used for certain Post Types which may include low quality content in the eyes of Google or duplicated content. There are valid reasons to use this, although in most cases this should be left unticked.
- Follow: This means that Google will follow the links that are included on this set of pages and pass authority to the pages that are being linked to. Generally speaking, there is no reason why you would ever nofollow any links on your own website.
- Show date in snippet preview: This option provides additional information to Google when they crawl your website which indicates to them when the blog post or page was published. This can be useful for certain Page Types such as blog posts although can be problematic for static content such as ecommerce products or service pages on your website.
As above, it’s probably best you leave these settings as they come for all of the same reasons outlined above in the Post Types section. Taxonomies within WordPress are ways of categorising the content on your website.
As above, it’s probably best you leave these settings as they come. Most business websites do not need to do anything with these settings unless concerned about being penalised for duplicate content.
There is very little that really needs customising here for the majority of WordPress websites. If you are thinking about customising any of these settings, it’s best you seek the advice of an expert. To understand some of the phrases listed within these settings, here is what they mean;
- Meta Keywords tag: This is a piece of code that is used within HTML which was originally designed to help to categorise pages by including keywords for what the page is about. Do not bother about this tab, Google and all major search engines completely ignore this information so you will be wasting your time filling this out.
For all of the social media channels you are active on, list your information in here. This helps Google to understand which social channels belong to your business.
Open Graph tags help Facebook to generate key pieces of information about the page on your website that is being shared on Facebook which is then presented in an ideal way for your audience. For example, when you see an image and title nicely listed on Facebook when you have shared some content, this is due to these tags being used.
For websites with a high number of social shares then it is recommended to implement these settings as this will make any content that is shared on Facebook from your website look better than if this information wasn’t present.
Most of the settings are self-explanatory which helps, the one point which you may not have come across before relates to the Facebook Insights and Admins. Within your Facebook business page, you will have a specific App ID which can be used to input into this section which helps to gather data about content that is shared on Facebook throughout the Facebook network. For example, whenever someone shares content from your website onto Facebook, when this setting is configured then you can see the reach of your content within the Facebook Insights reports which can help to gather data about how your digital strategy is performing and most importantly which pages on your website are most popular on Facebook. This is a more advanced setting, so if you aren’t sure what you are doing here then it is best to seek the advice of an expert.
The Twitter Cards tags do essentially the same thing as the Facebook Open Graph tags. They are designed to help Twitter understand what the content is about on the page that is being shared which can then be automatically used for generating the social media update and making this look good. Again, configure these settings accordingly if your website has a good amount of social shares.
This information is self-explanatory, configure these settings if you have a Pinterest account. Pinterest also uses the Open Graph tags which Facebook uses, so if you configure this information, make sure your setting within the Facebook tab are also configured correctly.
This information again is self-explanatory, so configure the settings accordingly if your business is active on Google+, while it is still around.
XML Sitemaps page
An XML Sitemap is designed to help Google understand what content is on your website and easily identify all of the pages that they should be aware of. XML is a structured format which allows Google to understand specific information that relates to a specific page on your website. For example, some of this information includes the date the page was last changed which can help inform Google if they should re-crawl that specific page or not.
XML Sitemaps are essential for websites and it is important that your website has an automatically updating XML Sitemap so that whenever you make a change on your website then this is automatically reflected in your sitemap. Thankfully, WordPress handles this all automatically for you. For non-WordPress websites, there are free services such as Simple Sitemap Generator which allow you to quickly create a temporary XML sitemap while you work on building a more robust system and framework for your website to update all of this dynamically.
For the average business, you probably don’t need to configure any settings within here. Just make sure that you submit your XML Sitemap to Google via Google Webmaster Tools so that Google is aware of all of your content. There is a link provided to your sitemap for ease which is likely to sit at www.example.com/sitemap_index.xml
The breadcrumbs settings within the Yoast SEO plugin is a little more advanced and requires a developer to set this up correctly. When this setting is turned on, and it is generally recommended that breadcrumbs are used as this helps massively with SEO, then you need to configure some PHP code and add a snippet to your WordPress theme. If this is a little beyond your level of expertise, then speak to an expert who can implement this for you.
Permalinks in WordPress are the URLs such as www.example.com/product-x/ for example. There are a lot of different types of permalinks throughout WordPress which are designed to show different content on your website.
Your RSS feed for your website can generally be found at www.example.com/feed which lists all of the recent blog posts on your website. This is useful for other systems to be able to pull in the content from your website onto theirs if needed.
For most users, customising the RSS feed is something that likely isn’t relevant as the default settings within Yoast SEO are more than sufficient.
There are a couple of handy tools within Yoast SEO, primarily the Bulk Editor and the File Editor. The Bulk Editor tool allows you to quickly change the meta titles and meta descriptions on your website in bulk without needing to go into each page to edit these individually.
The File Editor tool allows you to change important files such as your .htaccess file and robots.txt file from within the WordPress interface. These are for more advanced users, so if you aren’t sure what to do with these, then don’t use them and seek the advice of an expert.
Page SEO Settings
In addition to the default settings within Yoast SEO there are additional page and blog post specific settings which need checking over once you publish any page or blog post on your website. This information allows you to target specific keywords that are of interest for each of the individual pages on your website. It is important to note that these settings are the very basics to SEO, and simply turning these settings green does not mean that you now have a successful SEO strategy in place that is going to work for your business.
For the general settings tab on your new blog post or page, this allows you to focus on making sure the keywords you are targeting are within the key elements on the page. To do this, enter in the main keyword within your Focus Keyword settings tab then look to make sure that everything at least includes this target keyword as outlined on the page.
The next tab allows you to go into a bit more depth to make sure the content on the page is targeting this main keyword. The Page Analysis tab allows you to go into more detail to make sure the content you are producing is as good as it can be, with tips provided throughout;
Again, it is important to note that this is simply a guide for what can be produced and should not be seen as a strict rule to follow. Use your intuition here to avoid overly focusing on SEO when you should be focusing on the user experience instead.
The Advanced settings tab on the page should not be touched unless you know what you are doing. These settings can quite easily tell Google to not crawl and index the new content that you have just creased which you probably don’t want to accidentally trigger.
Summary of Yoast SEO for WordPress
In summary, it is important to configure all of the settings within Yoast SEO which are relevant for your business. There are no one set of rules that apply to every single website as this can vary hugely from website to website. As such, review which settings are most appropriate to use for your own website and do not change any settings unless you are confident that you know what you are doing.
The settings and configuration options within Yoast SEO are the real basics for SEO. Implementing all of these basic settings is going to allow Google to at least understand the content on your website currently. The next step for SEO, and the work that is going to generate you some real results is focused around content marketing and promotion which is a much bigger topic to cover.
As always, if there are any questions specific to your business where you could use a bit of advice on the topic then get in touch and we’ll be happy to guide you through the process and show you where improvements can be made.