Get A Perfect SEO Score With Yoast (Or Don't)

Yoast is a must-have plugin if you're building websites in WordPress. It gives you instant feedback on how your page performs according to a variety of SEO best practices.

But SEO is no exact science — and there are various reasons why you might choose to specifically ignore some common tips depending on what you're trying to do.

Before talking about when to not follow Yoast's guidelines, let's talk about what they are and why they're important.

Setting the Focus Keyword

Yoast summary

This is what a Yoast-approved summary looks like for one of our own landing pages. We've got the green smiley face for both SEO and Readability, we've set a focus keyword, and you can see the snippet preview.

So what's your focus keyword supposed to be about? It's the keyword (or phrase) that you're trying to target with this particular page. For a general page like this, we're making this our "digital marketing" landing page, and we've got content on it explaining how we do it throughout.

When choosing your focus keyword, ask yourself, "What's the one thing my page is trying to explain?" Then, find a keyword that fits that phrase while enjoying a good amount of traffic. Or go the other way. If you have a list of keywords you're know you're targeting, pick the most important and start building pages specifically built around them.

Generally, you'll want only one page on your site to target any particular keyword. Don't make things confusing. And this should come up in your keyword research, but Yoast will also rate your focus keyword based on length — you won't want to go above four words.

Editing Your Snippet

You can have control over your snippet, so you should take it. Get your keyword in the title, the slug, as well as the description to help search engines — and use the rest of the space to make it sound enticing to the reader.

Ensure you use a good chunk of the available length to help more fully explain what your page is about to inform the reader on. Search engines want these snippets to look nice and useful when they're in their results. See that yours is helpful.

Where Else to Put Your Focus Keyword

Yoast will evaluate your page on keyword placement. We've already covered the three sections of the snippet. Here's what else you'll want to do:

Maintain Appropriate Keyword Density

Use your keyword several times throughout your page. But as you do, make sure it doesn't sound unnatural. Both readers and search engines can tell when all you're doing is pasting in your keyword wherever you can.

Insert Keywords in Headers

Try to get your keyword in your H1, and at least a few H2s and H3s. This signals to search engines that you're engaging with this topic in a more comprehensive way and tackling multiple angles of it.

Put Your Keyword in the Introduction

Put your keyword as far to the start of your text as you can. At least in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. This helps make it immediately clear what you're talking about.

Internal and Outbound Links

Search engines rate linking to other content as an important sign of a page's trustworthiness and relevance. Get a few links into your copy, both to other, authoritative sites and to your own related pages.

If you're using a content cluster model, you'll have plenty of related content that can help build up your own authority as you create internal links that search engines can scan. Yoast will suggest you get a few of these in.

Image Alt Text

When you hover over an image and you see some text — that's the alt text. It serves several functions.

  • It helps visually impaired people using screen readers understand what the picture illustrates to aid their understanding of the piece as a whole
  • If an image doesn't load, this text will still suggest what should be there
  • It allows you to get a little extra in that might not be immediately obvious — if you post a picture of a beach, your text could mention the location: "Beautiful beach in Mexico with ocean waves," for instance

Search engines prefer pages with images that include alt text, so take the couple of seconds it takes and describe your images. Put your keyword in too — if it's relevant.

Make Text Length A Priority

Don't skimp on what people are actually here for: the content!

In most cases, shorter pages will likely be ranked as too thin to rank well. The longer your page is, the more obvious your topic will become (and the more help you can (potentially) be to your reader).

As a rule of thumb, get above 300 words for a basic blog post — and aim for 1,000 if you're trying to create something more authoritative. But as with all good writing, don't pad for the sake of it. Make sure there's a point to every paragraph.

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When to Ignore Yoast's Suggestions

All of this is great and good to shoot for. But don't ever forget: Yoast is your tool. Not the other way around.

When you put a search query into Google, its goal is to get you what it thinks are the most relevant results. And if you can rely on Google for anything, it's that it's always going to get smarter. It's going to understand better and better how to interpret both user queries and the content on websites, and it's going to understand, better and better, how to filter out the content that relies on spammy SEO techniques because that content is going to be of less interest to the reader.

The results of your intent, as a content marketer, should intersect with Google's intent of delivering the results that people are actually looking for. SEO is always an educated guess at what search engines are looking for — but a guess nonetheless. You should never blindly follow a set of instructions, and always use your own judgement when producing content.

Search Engines Care About All The Words

Keep in mind that while you're selecting a particular focus keyword and Yoast is rating you on that, search engines are scanning all of your content and ranking you on all of it.

If I changed my focus keyword to "apples" for instance, Yoast is going to rate me poorly. Google won't rank me for apples when all the content's about digital marketing. And it probably won't rank me for apples if I replace all instances of "digital marketing" with "apples," because as it parses all the other words in there — sales, advertising, lead conversion, and so on — it knows that people searching for apples don't care about all that.

What that means is just because Yoast says something is optimized for a keyword or not doesn't guarantee you results — content that doesn't support the keyword won't rank for the keyword.

Interpreting Related Keywords

Let's say my "digital marketing" focus keyword was actually "digital marketing in edmonton" — our home town.

Google wants to understand both your content and the search query in order to find the best match. It knows that whether someone is searching for "edmonton digital marketing" or "digital marketing in edmonton", they're expressing the same idea: they want to find a digital marketing company in Edmonton.

Basically, following the strict Yoast setup, I'd have to say "Digital Marketing in Edmonton" over and over again in the text — and a phrase that long will get tiring a lot faster than "digital marketing".

The reality is, if you loosen up your writing a bit —

  • "We do digital marketing in Edmonton"
  • "The Edmonton digital marketing partner you always wanted
  • "Edmonton-based digital marketing that gets results

— search engines will probably figure it out, and your content will be more appealing.

Does the Format Always Allow For The Suggested Keyword Placements?

Sometimes, you'll have a page where you simply don't want to have your keyword in the subheaders. You might consider selecting a different keyword if this is the case. But the problem might simply be intractable.

Perhaps you're tasked with making a digital version of a technical document, and the content's more or less set in stone because there's a high accuracy requirement.

Or suppose you're running through a list of particular technologies in a category, say Office Software. It might not read well to repeat that category in every subhead. Your reader will be put off if you're saying things like "Office 365 is Great Office Software" or "OpenOffice is Also Office Software".

Besides, in these cases, you can probably bet that Google's figured out that Office 365 and OpenOffice are both office software suites, and it's probably enough to have them in there.

You've Got a Sweet First Sentence — But it Doesn't Have the Keyword

And as one more keyword example? Your first sentence is the most important sentence on your page, because it's the sentence that determines whether the reader is even going to give your content a chance.

You need your first sentence to be as good as you can get it. And often, that perfect, snappy, attention-seizing first sentence just can't contain your keyword. When that happens? Just put your keyword in the next good chance you have.

Maybe You Don't Want Links

Links are great at establishing authority. But sometimes the don't belong because you don't want your reader getting distracted. If the point of your page is to get your reader to fill in a form, then you have to balance the incremental SEO benefit of the traffic thanks to the ranking boost you might get against the hit you might take to conversion because of people clicking away.

There's no formula for this. You just have to use your best judgement.

Yoast Is Awesome — But Know Why You're Doing What You're Doing

Despite these points, Yoast is genuinely a fantastic tool and getting that green light is, in many circumstances, a worthy goal. Use it, but keep one thing in mind: never sacrifice the quality or goal of your content for the sake of checking a box unless you're convinced checking the box is worth it.

Want SEO knowledge like this working for you? No problem. Get in touch and we'll get your SEO back on track, attracting readers with content that converts them to leads. Not ready to talk? We've got plenty more for you to read.

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