This is part two of our tutorial on using the WordPress plug-in Yoast to optimise your website. While in part one we’ve explained how to use Yoast to optimise your site for search engines, in this second part you’ll learn how to use the plug-in for on-page optimisation.
The all-green-lights obsession
While Yoast is very useful for on-page optimisation, keep in mind that this is a tool. And like any tool, you need to use your own judgement and knowledge when deciding whether to apply the advice and recommendations it suggests.
So let’s review some situations and see when to follow Yoast’s recommendations and when it’s best to ignore them and use your own knowledge and expertise to optimise the content on a page.
Here are the key things you should know about the title:
- It’s the backbone of the URL structure
- The title will also be the H1
- Unless you edit it manually, it will be the Title Tag in SERPs
To optimise the title of a page, we recommend you to:
- Include a relevant keyword or keyword phrase in the title
- Keep it short (but not too short) and sweet. Google will display roughly 60-63 characters in the search results so make the most of this space
- Make it descriptive and easy to read
- Whenever relevant, add numbers or catchy words to entice users to click through to your site
- Do not over-promise and under-deliver, otherwise you’ll end up disappointing visitors who will leave the website in seconds, never to come back.
To properly optimise slug URLs, you should:
- Remove stop words like “a”, “and”, “the” to shorten URLs
- Remove any special characters like punctuation marks, hashtags, currency signs. These will make the URL “ugly” and encoding will increase the length of the URL.
When it comes to the title tag:
- This will most likely be the title of the blog post
- The maximum length should be between 60 and 63 characters
- Depending on the Yoast title template setup, you’ll need to consider if the site name is being added at the end of the title tag as this will eat up space from the title length.
Meta Description Optimisation
Here are some things to keep in mind when optimising your meta description:
- The meta description should summarise the article and also include words that are relevant to the content found on the page
- You should include the topic to increase the chances of the meta description showing up in SERPs whenever there’s a search query that matches that topic. If you don’t include it, you might end up seeing different snippets of text that include that topic, but might not be the most compelling option found on page.
- It should be catchy to entice people to click through to the page
- Try to keep the length between 150 and 155 characters
Social Media Optimisation
This is where you can choose how you want your post to look when it’s shared on Facebook. You can customise the title, the description as well as the image that you want displayed alongside the post.
The Advanced Tab
Here is where things get a bit more technical:
If, for any reason, you don’t want to have the article indexed, you can change the meta robots to noindex:
You can choose to noindex in a variety of situations, like when you write a short article where you make an announcement or when the content is not unique.
And if you first publish an article on Medium and then decide you want to add it to your blog as well, it’s best to edit the canonical and include the original source:
If throughout the article you’ve made references to external sources that you don’t want to link to or to endorse, then simply edit the meta robots to nofollow.
Is Your Content Easy to Read?
Yoast provides a Readability analysis tool that’s based on an internal algorithm, which offers recommendations to make a text easier to read and to understand.
While some advise against using Yoast’s Readability tool, saying it’s problematic, we find that there are some useful aspects to using it. Even Yoast admits that the readability tips shouldn’t be implemented without considering the context and industry.
The purpose of any piece of content is to offer useful information to your audience that’s easy to digest, no matter if users read it or listen to it using virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant.
The readability analysis is based on the Flesch Reading Ease scale for text readability and it includes four scales:
- A score up to 30 means that the text is difficult to read. The sentences are, on average, 37 words long.
- A score between 30 to 64 means that the text is still a bit hard to read. Usually, the sentences have around 25 words.
- A score between 65 to 100 indicates that the text can be understood, with sentences including between 15 and 20 words
- A score of 100 means that the text is very easy to read, with short sentences of 12 words or fewer.
When creating your content, make sure you always consider your audience. When you know who you’re writing for, it’ll be easier to adapt your language. But regardless of that, you should always aim for simple language and content that’s easy to read and to understand.
Now, if you’re working in a more technical field where you need to include jargon or terminologies, don’t be afraid to use them just because you might get a lower readability score. In some cases, it really is necessary.
When it comes to blogging, write your articles in plain English and try to use active voice as it’s simpler and more direct.
In addition to using simple language and writing in short paragraphs, you should also add sub-headings to break up large chunks of text into smaller, more manageable pieces. This will help to make the content scannable and more engaging.
Try to add a mix of shorter and longer sentences and, whenever possible, add transition words to break up longer sentences. So use the tool to check and see where there’s room for improvement.
Do note that the tool offers different options for free and paid subscriptions. While the free version offers recommendations for one keyword only, with Yoast SEO Premium you can optimise one article for multiple keywords.
Let’s review these recommendations one by one:
Yoast Keywords Recommendations
No focus keyword was set for this page. If you do not set a focus keyword, no score can be calculated.
A focus keyword is the main keyword of the product page or the topic of the article. For example, if the article is called “Seven design tips for mobile websites”, the main topic of the article is “design tips”. However, since it’s covered from a mobile perspective, the focus keyword of this article should be “design tips for mobile websites”.
You’re linking to another page with the focus keyword you want to rank for
You may be linking to another article that covers the same topic, but from a different angle. That’s why it is best to choose a focus keyword that’s more specific, and not a general keyword. Say you have five articles that cover the graphic design topic, but one of them is an all-in-one guide and the others cover different angles of the topic. Use the Cornerstone analysis to point out which is the main one (we’ll cover this topic later in the article).
Keyword not included in the title / & subheadings
Yoast can’t tell the difference between the singular and the plural versions of a noun. For instance, if the focus keyword is “modern design tip” and the title is “Seven modern design tips… no one cares about” – the title includes the focus keyword but, because plural being used, Yoast will display this message:
Google relies heavily on machine learning to determine context and to make connections. This means that it no longer goes for exact matches. So when it comes to sub-headings, go for a holistic approach: focus on context and use synonyms and keyword variations throughout the content.
The SEO title contains the focus keyword, but it does not appear at the beginning; try and move it to the beginning.
While it’s necessary to have the topic in the title of the article, only position it at the beginning if it makes sense. If adding the topic at the beginning of the title makes it sounds unnatural, simply skip this recommendation. At the end of the day, you’re writing for people, not search engines.
You’ve used this focus keyword before
This is similar to the “You’re linking to another page with the focus keyword you want to rank for”recommendation. Use this advice to your benefit when creating product pages to avoid having two product pages competing against each other in SERPs. Otherwise, for articles it’s ok to skip it if there is no suspicion of duplicate content.
The focus keyword doesn’t appear in the first paragraph of the copy. Make sure the topic is clear immediately.
If the title includes the topic, you may use a variation of that keyword or keyword phrase in the first paragraph in order to avoid repetition.
The keyword density is X%, which is too low/high; the focus keyword was found X times.
This recommendation is useful as it highlights when a focus keyword is being used too many times in the text. According to Yoast’s recommendations, a good density is between 0.5% and 2.5%.
Yoast focuses on finding the exact match query in the text and counts how many times it was found. If you’re using the free version, this recommendation won’t be of much help. But if you’re using the Premium version, you can include keyword variations to make sure you haven’t gone overboard with repeating the focus keyword.
Yoast Meta Data and URL Recommendations
The page title is wider than the viewable limit.
This tells you that the title tag is too long and it will get cut out in the search engine results. The default template for it is %%title%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%. So if you usually go for longer titles, you may want to edit the default and remove the sitename part.
No meta description has been specified. Search engines will display copy from the page instead.
Try to come up with a unique meta description that’ll entice users to click through to your site and read more.
The SEO title is too short. Use the space to add keyword variations or create compelling call-to-action copy.
If the title covers the topic and it’s catchy (meaning it is not just a general “Graphic Design Ideas”) don’t feel compelled to make it longer just because Yoast suggests it.
The slug for this page contains a stop word, consider removing it.
This recommendation was covered in the URL optimisation section above.
The slug of this page is too long
You can shorten the slug, just make sure to keep it relevant to the article, especially if you have more articles on the same topic. After all, not all slugs can be www.yoursite.uk/graphic-design-tips/.
Yoast Image Recommendations
The images on this page are missing alt attributes.
This is a very useful reminder as many of us forget to name our images. The alt tag is used as a placeholder for when graphics can’t be rendered and for visually impaired people.
Here are some tips for setting the alt attribute:
- Make sure it’s descriptive so users know what it’s about even if they don’t or can’t see it
- The name of the image file automatically becomes the TITLE of the image, so use a short and descriptive file name and not the default stock photo name
- Don’t stuff the ALT or file name or TITLE with keywords
- There’s a 16 words limit for the ALT TEXT so make sure to take advantage of that useful space
No outbound links appear in this page, consider adding some as appropriate.
Sometimes you may need to link to other articles or pages on your site or from external sites to give users more information. Other times, your article can be so in-depth that you don’t need to link to other resources.
Don’t feel compelled to link out just because Yoast suggests it. But if it makes sense and you link to another website, consider if the link should be follow or nofollow.
The cornerstone option focuses on highlighting the best content on your website. So, by marking those blog posts that you consider to be the best, you’re telling Yoast which content matters the most.
This is a useful option for internal linking as whenever you’re posting a new article on the topic, Yoast will remind you to link to the cornerstone article so that the popular article gets some link juice.
You can access the cornerstone articles from the All Posts section and also check how many internal backlinks each one has. It’s a quick overview on the internal linking for the most important articles:
When it comes to cornerstone article ratings, you’ll need to put in some effort to get a high score. For example, you’ll notice the green button light up when the content is over 900 words, as opposed to the 300 words regular limit.
But don’t obsess over word count or any other of Yoast’s recommendations. And definitely don’t fall into the green light button trap. These are only suggestions for improvement. Sometimes they’re valid, other times they don’t make sense. It’s up to you to use your judgement and skills to decide what works for you and what doesn’t.
We hope you found this on-page Yoast optimisation guide useful. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments section below.