It hurts my heart whenever I come across a website that completely ignores SEO. I mean, what’s the point of having a website if nobody can find you? Your website should build your business, generate sales or leads and help build your brand.
If you’re running a WordPress website this can be easily done by installing a plugin for your on-page SEO and making sure that all your web pages are optimized for search. Of course this is only but a step in an SEO strategy however one that is extremely important and can drastically impact how well your site ranks.
What is YOAST SEO?
YOAST SEO (or usually referred to as just YOAST) is the most downloaded WordPress plugin with over 5 million downloads on WordPress.org. If you’re like most WordPress developers like myself, this is usually the first plugin that you’ll install.
YOAST was developed back in 2008 to provide search engine optimization functionality for WordPress websites. It considers several SEO factors that benefit both visitors and search engine spiders.
In this article we’re going to look at 5 ways to use YOAST that can improve your websites search engine visibility and search engine rankings.
How to install YOAST SEO in WordPress
Installing the YOAST plugin takes less than a minute. Just follow the instructions below to install it on your website through the WordPress plugin library.
- Log in to WordPress Dashboard
- On the left menu choose Plugins -> Add New
- Search “YOAST SEO” in the search field in the top right
- Click “Install Now'”
- Click “Activate”
That’s it! Now you can begin configuring the plugin with your website.
5 useful ways YOAST SEO can optimize your WordPress website
1. Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Title tags are arguably the most important SEO factor for websites. They are visible when you mouse over your browsers tab and more importantly used as clickable headlines in the search engine results.
Meta descriptions are snippets of text around 155 characters which summarize a web pages content. It is also used in the search engine results just below a listings headline.
When optimizing your website it’s recommended to set both these HTML elements and include target keywords for all pages to increase their visibility for search engines.
YOAST adds the capability to set these two elements for WordPress pages, products, categories and custom taxonomies.
2. XML Sitemap
A common mistake I come across is web developers will install a separate plugin to generate an XML sitemap in addition to installing YOAST which is redundant since it’s already possible with the YOAST plugin.
YOAST automatically generates and XML sitemap once the plugin is installed and can be accessed by adding /sitemap.xml after your domain (IE https://nextoronto.com/sitemap.xml) however it should be configured properly through the YOAST settings to only display pages, posts and taxonomies that are relevant to your website.
SEO TIP: You may want to modify your sitemap to omit certain pages such as a 404 page or thank you page, robots.txt file or an empty category.
When managing individual pages or posts you can omit them from search by clicking on the Advanced tab and selecting options for “Allow search engines to show this Page in search results?”
If you had a list of page ID’s you can also use the following code in your functions.php file:
4. Set up a focus keyword with all content
Keywords are are words or phrases that define what your content is about. They are specifically important in SEO because they can connect search users with your website. This is why it’s important for content creators to set a target keyword for their websites.
If you’re using keywords on your website then your chances showing up users finding your content or web page in the search results certainly increase.
Setting target keywords for your web page or website requires research and should be discussed more in depth in a future article, but for now we’ll keep things simple – keywords are important! If you’re looking to perform keyword research you can speak with clients, check forums, use keyword research tools or just common sense.
Not be confused with meta keywords which are a hidden HTML element that consists of keywords that describe a web page. We’re talking about focus or target keywords that are used within the content of your web page.
YOAST allows you to set focus keyword(s) in a field for web pages then evaluates the page including HTML elements such as your title tag, heading tags and meta description to let you know if you’ve optimized with the appropriate keyword density (how many times its been used). Repeating a keyword too many times in your content is bad for SEO, seen as spammy by search engines and can result in penalties.
When entering your focus keyword you will be provided with a color-coded response similar to traffic lights. Green means go, yellow means caution and red means stop. Your aim should be to get a green light so that you know your focus keyword is used and correctly optimized within the content. In addition to the color coded response, you will also receive suggestions to improve your web page to optimize it for your focus keyword.
5. Social Sharing
An often underused or ignored function within YOAST is its ability to manage social sharing such as Twitter Cards and Facebook’s Open Graph. This functionality allows you to customize how your social shares appear for these two major social platforms.
Sometimes content doesn’t appear properly on social streams on Twitter and Facebook when shared. By using this functionality in YOAST your social shares will look more attractive to users and you can customize them so they are more likely to be clicked.
Similar to setting up title tags and meta descriptions for your web page for search engines; YOAST allows you to specify meta data such as your title/headline and description/excerpt and choose an image instead of your featured image in order to customize your social shares.
Configuring your meta data for a specific page is easy and done in the same location as your meta title and descriptions by clicking on the Social tab as seen below.
YOAST SEO is one of the most important plugins you can install on your website. Without installing this WordPress plugin you are doing your website a great disservice. You can also purchase the premium version which provides additional functionality such as setting up 301 redirects, setting additional focus keywords, internal link suggestions, 24/7 support and more.