As a WordPress website owner, one of your primary goals is getting as many people to your site as possible. Few methods are as effective as SEO in doing this. And this is where SEO plugins like Yoast SEO can make a huge difference for your site or business.
As you are possibly aware, getting your site to rank on search engines requires content creation, page optimization, proper meta descriptions, and more.
You could decide to make a list of things to do, and try to enforce SEO rules manually. But that will be much unnecessary work. Yoast SEO for WordPress gives you a dashboard with the tools and tips you need to get your site to rank!
But why should you be interested in Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? And how can you use Yoast to boost your ranking, traffic, and sales?
In this step by step SEO guide, we will provide answers to these questions under the headings:
- Why is Search Engine Optimization Important?
- Installing and Configuring Yoast SEO.
- Optimizing Individual Posts and Pages with Yoast SEO.
- Verifying Your Site with Google, Bing, or Baidu Using Yoast SEO.
- Generating Your XML Sitemap with Yoast SEO.
- Other Important SEO Tools and Settings.
Why is Search Engine Optimization Important?
Many marketers agree that SEO is one of the best forms of advertisement, and for a good reason.
Firstly, when done properly, SEO can produce the greatest results for the least amount of work and expense. The ROI on SEO is usually higher and more consistent than other channels.
Secondly, people who find your site through SEO are those searching for things you provide. Let’s say you have an eCommerce site that sells home decor items. If an internet user searches for ‘modern window blind designs’ and lands on your article, they are already in the shopping mode and are more likely to make a purchase.
Thirdly, conventional ads like banners and text only work while they are up and you are paying for them. SEO on the other hand continues to deliver traffic and conversion for years to come.
With the why out of the way, let’s now learn the how.
Installing and Configuring Yoast SEO
To get started, login to your WordPress dashboard. When in, install Yoast and activate it when the installation completes. If you need help with this, please read our guide on how to install WordPress plugins.
After installing Yoast SEO, you would see SEO on the dashboard menu. Hover over it and click General. This would take you to the general dashboard.
At this point, you have to configure SEO settings for your site using the configuration wizard. In the ‘First-time SEO configuration’ section, click configuration wizard.
This will launch the configuration process for your site. We’ll take you through the steps:
In environment, select option A, so that search engines are allowed to index your site. Only select option B if you are working on a staging site. And if you do, remember to change this option before going live.
2. Site Type
In site type, select the type that is closest to the purpose of your WordPress website.
3. Organization or Person
Here you specify if the website represents an organization or an individual. If it’s an organization, you have to input the name of the organization and upload a logo.
This information is used in Google Knowledge Graph, which is the information on the top right of Google Search Pages.
You should also add social links in the input boxes provided.
Search Engine Visibility
In search engine visibility, tick yes for both posts and pages. This will allow your pages and posts appear in search results.
If you are the sole author on your site, select No. When you do, Yoast will mark your archive pages as noindex (search engines will not index them). This is important as search engines view archives from the same author as duplicate content, for which you can be penalized.
In the future, if/when you have more authors, you can change this setting by going to SEO > Search Appearance > Archives.
Of course if you have more than one author, select ‘Yes’ instead.
If you want to change the name by which your site appears in search, this is where to do it.
You should also select a separator. This appears, for example, between the name of a page and your site title. E.g. if you select “-” as your separator, you would see something like “Home Page – Fixrunner” as your homepage title.
Steps 7 and 8
In step 7, you will be asked to sign up for a newsletter. You may decide to do so. It’s up to you.
Whatever you decide, when done, click Next to go to step 8. You should get a Success message! Voila, you have finished setting up Yoast SEO.
Click Close to end the configuration process.
Optimizing Individual Posts and Pages with Yoast SEO
Yoast is an amazing tool for optimizing individual pages and posts for onpage SEO. This is the feature you will likely use the most, so pay special attention to this section.
When creating a post in your editor, you would see a content analysis section below your content editor. The content analysis section is also called Yoast SEO meta box.
This section helps you ensure you have the right keywords, meta description, alt texts, links, and all other required aspects to optimize your content for SEO.
The content analyzer has 3 tabs – SEO, Readability, and Social. We will go through each tab.
To clearly illustrate how to optimize a page or post using the content analyzer, we’ll be taking you through the optimization process for a real post we want to publish on our site.
The title of the post is ‘How to Fix 502 Bad Gateway WordPress Error’. This post has been written and uploaded as draft on our site. When we go to the content analyzer, this is what we see.
The focus keyphrase is the primary keyword you want the article to rank for (from your keyword research). This is the first thing you should type in.
After you do, Yoast will compare the content against the keyphrase and give you a color score. Orange means the SEO is OK but needs to be improved, green means the article is optimized and ready to rank. Your aim is to see the green colour.
After adding the focus keyword in our sample article, this is what we see.
Obviously we need to improve the SEO for this article.
To see what issues we need to correct for the article to rank, click the SEO Analysis tab to expand it.
As you can see, the issues identified are put in 2 sections, Problems and Improvements. Ideally, all problems should be resolved. You also want to resolve all improvements but these are less important.
The first issue identified is Meta Description. Let’s start here.
Adding Meta Description
Meta description is a short text that describes what your page or post is about. While they are not directly a search ranking factor, they affect Click Through Rate, which is one of the ranking factors.
Thus, you should always set a meta description that contains the Keyphrase you aim to rank for.
To set meta description, click on the Snippet Preview tab to expand it. In the expanded view, click on the section that says “Please provide a meta description by…”
When you do, a couple of input boxes will appear to enable you add title and meta description. Type in your meta description in the box marked for that purpose. Remember to include your keyphrase at least once.
As you type in your description, take note of the color bar below. It indicates if the length of the meta description is ideal. Your aim is to see green. Orange indicates the description is either too long or too short.
Note: In the top bar in the picture above (item 3), you can see that SEO has already turned green for our example article. This means that, while it is ideal to address most or all the issues identified, it is not always required to do so for your content to be marked as optimized. And for it to rank.
SEO Title Width
In the picture above, you would observe that the SEO title is marked in orange. This means the post title is too short and needs to be edited.
Whatever you type into the “SEO title” input box in this section is what will be displayed in the search results. It will override the main title of the post or page.
In this input box, you can see a title placeholder. This defaults to the title of your page, so if you leave it as is, your SEO title will be the same as your page title.
You can however decide to add to it, or clean it out and write a more SEO friendly title.
In our case study article, we added “ – A Quick Guide” to make it the ideal length to rank.
Keyphrase in Subheading
After fixing meta description and SEO title length, we have two issues left. They are Keyphrase in subheading and Keyphrase in title.
Keyphrase in subheading issue indicates that you need to use the keyphrase you are trying to rank for in more subheadings.
You will have to go through your content and try to reasonably add the keyphrase in more subheading.
In our case study article, we edited a subheading from “Refresh your browser” to “Refresh your browser to clear 502 bad gateway”. We did similarly with another heading and this issue was fixed.
Keyphrase in title
Having the keyphrase you want to rank for in your title is one of the most important aspects to good SEO.
In some cases, this may not be in your keyphrase at all. When that happens, Yoast identifies it as a problem and you should add your keyphrase to fix it.
In the case of our sample post, the keyphrase is in the title. But it is not in the beginning.
Thus, we adjusted the SEO title once again from “How to Fix 502 Bad Gateway WordPress Error – A Quick Guide” to “502 Bad Gateway WordPress Error – A Quick Guide on Fixing This Issue”
With that edit, our keyphrase is now at the start of the title and better positioned to rank.
After the seo title change, we have completed all recommendations by Yoast to make our article rank and it is now all green on the SEO analysis tab!
Following this pattern, you should perform all possible and reasonable recommended edits on your article to make it rank. Whatever the recommendations, the steps you have to use aren’t much different from those we used in our sample above.
Better yet, the messages provided by Yoast are detailed enough to give direction on what needs to be done.
Now let’s go through readability, which is also important to SEO.
Cornerstone contents are your most important pages or posts. If you have a site that often discusses a topic, you should tell search engines which page or post about this topic is most important. And this is where cornerstone comes in.
Your cornerstone piece should be linked very often from other posts and pages. So it has to be informative, and preferably lengthy.
You can mark a content as cornerstone in the SEO tab. Simply click to expand the Cornerstone section and turn it on.
Since the article we’re using to illustrate this process is not cornerstone, we left this turned off.
Readability is a measure of how easy your article is to read and understand.
In Yoast, this tab is next to the SEO tab.
If readability shows orange, then it needs to be improved. To see what improvements are needed, switch to the readability tab.
In this tab, you will see all identified problems. To improve readability, most or all of these problems need to be fixed.
In our example article, two problems are identified – consecutive sentences and subheading distribution.
For most items identified, an eye appears to the right which enables you to highlight the section with the problem.
To solve consecutive sentences, click the eye. Next, scroll to find the section highlighted.
As you can see in the image, 3 consecutive list items start with the same word “What”. To fix this issue, adjust any one. We picked the one in the middle.
After making this fix, we no longer see the consecutive sentence error.
The 2nd error identified above – subheading distribution – simply means there’s a section that contains more than 300 words. To fix this, we added a subheading to break this 300+ word section into smaller bits and that fixed it.
After both edits, here’s our readability section.
The social tab gives you options to control how your post will appear when shared in social media.
Click this tab to switch to it.
The Facebook section enables you to add a title, description and feature image that only appear when the page or post is shared on Facebook. This can be useful because information shared on social media has to be catchy to get attention.
To add this info, click to expand the Facebook section.
Next, type in your title and description, and select an image if necessary.
Do the same on the twitter tab to add twitter specific info.
After setting up the Social tab, and with the SEO and Readability tabs green, your content is optimized and ready to rank!
Verifying Your Site With Google, Bing and Baidu Using Yoast SEO
Search engines provide tools to manage the search appearance of your site. Google provides the Google Search Console while Bing and Baidu provide Webmaster tools.
For SEO to be effective, you should add your site to these tools. However, you would have to verify ownership of your site. You usually do this by adding a code generated by the console or webmaster tool to your site.
Yoast also makes this process very easy. When you get the code from either Google, Bing, or Baidu, simply go to SEO > General and then switch to the Webmaster Tools tab.
Next, paste the code in the corresponding input for the search engine and click Save.
Now go back to the Console or webmaster tool and proceed with verification.
Generating Your XML Sitemap with Yoast SEO
Search engines generally require you to submit a sitemap to aid crawling and indexing of your content. In Google, you can do this using the Search Console.
But first, you need to be able to create your sitemap. Gladly, Yoast makes this very easy.
To get your sitemap, go to SEO > General. And switch to the Features tab.
In the features page, scroll down to find ‘XML Sitemaps’. Next, ensure it is turned on and click the question mark to expand more details. In the expanded view, you will see a link labeled, ‘See the XML sitemap’. Click on it.
A new tab will be opened showing your sitemap. The url in the navigation bar is the link to your site map. You can copy this and submit it to Google, Bing, etc.
Other Important Yoast SEO Tools and Settings
Besides those already considered, there are quite a few other tools and settings that are important for your site SERP rankings. Let’s run through them, starting with the dashboard.
Yoast SEO Dashboard
To access the dashboard, go to SEO > General.
On the dashboard, you will see the option to start the configuration Wizard (in case you ever needed to redo it).
You should however pay special attention to the Problems and Notifications sections. Problems alert you when there are issues that could ruin your SEO or stop Yoast from working as it should.
Notifications let you know of recommended actions to take (and any other necessary info).
The features tab gives you access to enable or disable features and modules in Yoast.
To access features, go to General > SEO and click the Features tab.
It makes sense to leave all features on, but we’ll take you through each of them so you can make that decision.
The SEO analysis feature is the backbone of Yoast. It is the feature that enables you to optimize your posts and pages for SEO. Obviously, this feature should stay on.
The Readability analysis feature analyses your content and offers suggestions to make it easier to read. This should also stay on.
Cornerstone content feature provides tools to create special posts and pages that you want to rank!
Text link counter counts the links in and to your posts or pages. This feature helps improve your site structure and SEO. It is thus very useful and should be kept on.
As we considered earlier, XML sitemaps enable you to create a sitemap, which is very useful for getting your site indexed by search engines. Unless you decide to use something else for sitemaps (which is unnecessary in most cases), this feature should be turned on.
Ryte integration checks your site to ensure nothing is preventing it from ranking. For example, if your site is blocking search engines from crawling it, Ryte will alert you on this. You should keep this feature on.
The Admin bar menu gives you easy access to notifications, Yoast settings, etc. You may decide to leave this on, but no harm turning it off if it makes your admin bar look busy.
Lastly, the Security feature, when turned on, prevent authors from making major changes, such as removing a post from search.
You should keep this on.
The search appearance settings can be found in SEO > Search Appearance. As the name implies, these settings determine how your posts and pages are displayed in search results.
We already set most of these up during the initial configuration. But you can go on to tweak these settings, or add new ones as you please.
These settings can be found in SEO > Social. You can add your social pages using the options in this section. This enables search engines to identify the social pages that are associated with your site.
You can also upload default images for social sharing. These images are used in social media when a post shared does not have a feature image.
The tools section gives you access to the Importer exporter, Bulk editor, and Text link counters.
With Import and Export, you can import and export your SEO settings between sites.
The Bulk editor allows you to edit the SEO title and description of multiple posts without having to click into each one.
Clicking on the link counter makes Yoast perform a count of all links to ensure it is updated.
This information can be seen in your post lists (Posts > All Posts).
How can you use this information?
SEO is important for any website or business that wants to thrive. If your website is WordPress based, then you cannot go wrong with Yoast as you choice of SEO plugin.
Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress sites is built with intelligent features to help you analyse your individual content and your entire site. Used properly, it will enable you position your site to rank!
In this article, we have taken you through everything you need to know about Yoast SEO plugin. You should now be able to set it up, optimize your content with it, submit your XML sitemap, etc.
Go on to make your site rank!
To continue learning about WordPress SEO, read our 20 tips to make your WordPress site rank!