Yoast SEO Plugin – The Definite Guide

If you are a WordPress user and are actively working on your SEO, then the Yoast SEO plugin is one of the best plugins that you can use to help you in your efforts. It’s with good reason that Yoast SEO is one of the most popular plugins for WordPress. No matter if you are just a casual blogger who is running a personal blog or you are an SEO professional that is managing sites for clients, Yoast is a very powerful plugin that will help you make a website search engine friendly.

Take note that Yoast SEO can only be installed on self-hosted WordPress sites and not on free wordpress.com blogs. Did we mention that is free to use? There’s also a premium version that you can purchase that has some extra functionality as well. IT is great for adjusting things like titles and Meta descriptions on posts and pages, managing sitemaps, tracking how often you are using certain keywords, plus much more.

Downloading and Installing Yoast SEO Plugin

If you don’t have Yoast SEO plugin installed already, then the first thing you need to do is to download and install it. On the left-hand side of your WordPress admin dashboard, hover over the “Plugins” option and you will see “Add New” option.

After clicking it, you’ll be taken to a page with featured and popular plugins. On the right side, there’s a search box where you can search for it.

add-new

After you find it, just click “Install Now”, and it will download and install. After that is done and the plugin is activated, you will see a new option on the left-side sidebar menu marked “SEO”.

install-now

Setting Up Yoast SEO Plugin

First, on the left-hand menu find the “SEO” option and click on “General”. General settings are dedicated to basic and global SEO options for your website.

General

General tab is where you can revert everything to default settings. You can also take a quick tour if you’d like.

yoast-seo-general

Your Info

Here you can type your website name or an alternative name. Below that you can choose if you are a company or person, which will help Google to integrate your website in Knowledge Graph results. If you are a company, then you can add a company logo.

your-info

Webmaster Tools

On the Webmaster Tools tab, you have the option to add Alexa Verification ID, Bing Webmaster Tools code, Google Search Console code and Yandex Webmaster Tools if you want to verify your website through here.

This process is simple and we’ll use Google Search Console as an example:

  1. Select “Manage Property” in Google Search Console dashboard, then “Verify this site” from the box next to a website you are adding Yoast SEO to. You’ll need to do this first if you haven’t added your website to Google Search Console.
  2. Select the “HTML Tag” option. Take that code and paste it into the Search Console box you see here and just make sure to delete everything except what is inside the quotation marks (including the quotation marks themselves).
  3. Click “Save Changes”, go back to Search Console dashboard and click “Verify”.
yoast-seo-general

Security

If you have a single author website, then there’s nothing you need to do here and you can leave this box unchecked. But if you have multiple authors on the site where they can add content, checking this box will disable them to change things like no-index settings and redirects that are visible on Yoast SEO’s toolbox on pages.

yoast-seo-security

Titles and Metas

This section is located under the “SEO” option in the left-hand menu. This section is where you can have a saying in how your website appears in search results. The first thing you’ll see is the “General” tab.

titles-metas-general

General

In this tab you can set how your titles display, e.g. “Website Name | About Us” or “Website Name > About Us”. The title separator will be used on all of your pages. “Enable force rewrite titles” option corrects a common problem where some sites have their name appear twice in the title. Take note that some themes have built-in title displays and they can override the settings in Yoast. Checking this box can help solve that problem.

Homepage

What you see in this section will depend on the way your website is set up. The set up in the picture is for websites where you have one page for the homepage and another one for the blog page. If you’d like to change the title and meta description for either of those pages, just click the links next to it.

titles-metas-homepage

Post Types

Title and meta description

You can set up basic templates for your titles and meta description here. You can have one template for posts and another one for pages. If you don’t write SEO optimised title or meta description, then the title and meta description will follow the template you specified here and it’ll be automatically inserted into titles and meta descriptions. Leaving the meta description box blank will make search engines pull an excerpt from the content of the page and display it.

post-types-title-meta-description

Date in Snippet Preview

Whether you should use this option comes down to the type of content you have. If you have evergreen content on your website that will be relevant in a few years as well, then you’ll want to disable this option so people looking at your website in search engine result page and think that your content is out of date. If you are posting content frequently then you’d want to enable this.

Yoast SEO Meta Box

With this option, you can hide the Yoast meta box. This is a good option for websites that have various contributors because it disables them to change those. If you enable this and later on decide that you’d like to revert back, then simply come back here and change this setting.

Taxonomies

Next, we have “Taxonomies” tab. If you like to use different categories and tags on your posts for organisational purposes, then you can use this tab to set up basic templates that will be used in each category and tag, just like you did back in the “Post Types” section. One tip, check “noindex, follow” option so you avoid any chance of being penalised for possible duplicate content.

taxonomies

Archives

On blogs it’s great to have archived content based on author and date as a way to make it easy for people to find your past content. Nonetheless, these pages are not very convenient for search engines because they might see them as duplicate content. This tab is very helpful in this regard, because you can add “noindex, follow” tag to author and date-based archives. Or if you’d like, you can simply disable them both altogether.

Below that you can set up and customise titles for search and 404 pages.

archives

Other

The last tab is “Other” where we have a few other options. Settings here are really straightforward and you can just check out the description for each one and decide if something you’d like to check or leave as it is.

That’s it! That was the most time-consuming part of setting up the Yoast SEO plugin. Next, click on the “Social” section under “SEO”, which is on the left-hand sidebar menu.

other

Social

Social

In the “Accounts” tab, make sure you add all your social URLs in each respective box. In the Twitter section, make sure that you enter only your Twitter username and not the entire profile URL. This section will let search engines know that these social profiles are associated with your website.

social

Facebook

Using the next few tabs will let you control how your content appears on each platform when shared there. Here you have the option to add Open Graph meta data to asection of your website, which will make it easier for Facebook to use correct title, description, and image when some piece of content from your site is shared. You can also upload a default image that will be shown on Facebook when a page or post doesn’t have any on it.

facebook

If you have a Facebook fan page, then you can use Facebook Insights for your site by specifying an admin for your page. Facebook Insights is a great tool that will give you info about how often content from your site is being shared or liked, and how much traffic you have coming in from Facebook. Clicking the “Facebook Insights” link will take you there. Once opened, look for a button marked “Insights for your website”. The box will appear where you can connect Facebook Insights and your website.

Settings for the rest of the social networks are similar. If you’d like to use Twitter meta, then you can set that up under the “Twitter” tab. This is essentially the Twitter equivalent of Facebook’s Open Graph. If you have a Pinterest account, then you’ll first check the option “Add Open Graph meta data” that is located in the “Facebook” tab and then enter the verification code that you’ll receive from Pinterest.

XML Sitemaps

Let’s set up sitemaps by choosing “XML Sitemaps” from the left-hand sidebar menu, under “SEO”.

One of the main features of Yoast SEO plugin is that it enables you to manage your sitemap really easily. You first need to enable XML sitemap functionality, and then Yoast automatically generates a sitemap for your website and updates is as you add new content, plus it pings search engines when there’s an update to it.

xml-sitemaps

In the other tabs, you can include (or exclude) different things from your sitemap, such as some post categories or types of posts. Simply browse through the tabs and check the box next to something you don’t want in your sitemap.

Next option is “Advanced”, found on the same left-hand sidebar menu under the “SEO” section.

Advanced

Breadcrumbs

If you enable breadcrumbs, then your visitors will see links on the top of the page that shows the path from previous pages. An example would be: Home page>Blog>Post.

breadcrumbs

They are also visible in search results, like this:

If you’d like to use breadcrumbs on your website, then make sure that you check out this guide on implementing breadcrumbs as it requires that you add some code into to theme.

search-results

Permalinks

In the “Permalinks” tab, you can clean up your site’s <head> section, URL structure, and permalinks to make them search engine-friendly. Simply read the description next to each box, is really self-explanatory.

permalinks

RSS

Automatic scrapers that scrape and publish content from your site to some other site, word-for-word and without your permission can be annoying. There’s no way to totally prevent this from happening, but you can use this tab to add content to your posts when they appear in RSS feed, and give yourself credit and even link back to your website. This way, at least you will get credit and some backlinks to your site.

rss

Search Console

This tab is only useful to you if you are using Google Search Console. Clicking “Get Google Authorisation Code” will provide you a verification code that you’ll use to connect Yoast to Google Search Console.

search-console

Tools

The last thing in Yoast SEO settings are the tools. “Bulk editor” is used when you need to make changes to multiple titles and descriptions at a time. It’ll bring up a list of all your pages and posts so that you can go through them and make changes as needed instead of going to each individual page manually and making changes there.

In the “File Editor” you can make changes to the robots.txt file and also .htaccess file, and with “Import and Export” you can export your settings in case you need a backup.

tools

Using Yoast

Now that Yoast is fully set up, choose “All Pages” or “All Posts” from the left-hand side menu in your WordPress dashboard, and this will bring up a list of all your pages or posts.

You should see a new column that is marked “SEO” on the far right side of the screen, like below:

using-yoast

You can see a dot next to each page and this is a rating that Yoast SEO assigned to that individual page. Yoast SEO plugin uses a system for rating a page’s SEO:

  • Grey dot – Yoast doesn’t have any information available
  • Green dot – page is good
  • Yellow dot – page can be more improved
  • Red dot – there are serious problems on the page

This is a convenient way to see which page needs optimisation and you can sort pages based on that column.

When you open up a page or post editor, you should see the Yoast toolbox right underneath the page’s content area. There are few tabs in the toolbox, and the first one is “General”.

General

In this tab you can set up the page’s title and meta description and also specify which keywords you’d like to target. When you enter a focus keyword, Yoast SEO will scan page’s URL, title, meta description, content, and heading and inform you how many times that keyword is being used. By doing that, you’ll know if you are stuffing your keyword or if is used just enough.

Be sure to use your main keyword for the focus keyword because you are able to use only one focus keyword.

The “Snippet Preview” gives you a nice preview of what your page will look like in search engine’s result page, so you can see if your title or meta description is being cut off or not.

using-yoast-general

Page Analysis

When you set up the focus keyword, save your draft and move onto the “Page Analysis” tab. Here you can see really specific information on how search engine friendly your page is.

Yoast will provide feedback based on things like how long your content is, if you are using your focus keyword too much (or not enough), whether you have images, and much more.

Keep in mind that it’s not absolutely necessary to have all the green dots for everything. Yes, it would be ideal, but having some yellow dots is not a bad thing. Yoast is there to give you some feedback and suggest where you can improve, but you don’t have to take everything to heart.

For example, Yoast can report that you don’t have an image on the page, but in actuality, you can have an image added with “Set Featured Image” section, and Yoast won’t pick it up and report it. Yoast has an objective look at your content and page, and sometimes the feedback might seem unnatural if you would to implement it. Remember that you are ultimately writing the content for humans.

page-analysis

Advanced

In the “Advanced” tab you are able to configure settings for sitemaps and meta robots and also set a 301 redirect. There’s also option to set canonical URL in case the page has content that has been published elsewhere on the web.

Here’s a rundown of the options in “Meta Robots Advanced” section:

NO ODP – stops search engines from using substitute website descriptions from DMOZ/ODP

NO YDIR – stops search engines from using website descriptions from Yahoo! Directories

No Snippet – stops search engines from using a snippet of content in search engine result pages

No Archive – stops search engines from having a cached version of your page

advanced

Social

This tab is dedicated to making your page look good when is shared on social media. You should make sure that your page is eye-catchy because feeds on social media tend to move quickly, and your page should stand out when someone shares your page.

If you fail to fill out this section, then social media sites will automatically pull your title, meta description (or sometimes a random snippet from your page), and choose an image to post there. This is not ideal, and sometimes the image they choose is really bad. So make sure that you at least upload an image that you want them to use.

Since the title and description you write here won’t affect your SEO, you should make them catchier and add call to action to ensure people will click through.

using-yoast-social

Publish

When everything is done, head over to the Publish section where you can preview your content, schedule it, or simply post it. Also notice a dot that tells you how Yoast has rated that page on the whole.

publish

Conclusion

Yoast SEO is absolutely a powerful plugin. It lets you optimise many aspects of your WordPress website in great detail.

This guide provided you with a lot of stuff that you can implement on your site today. If you want to rank highly on search engine result pages, then you’ll probably have to do most of it.

While this plugin won’t rank you automatically on the first page of Google, it’s certainly a good step in the right direction.