As a web developer and blogger, the WordPress plugin Yoast is one of my favourite plug-ins.
What is Yoast?
Yoast is a WordPress plugin. It’s a vital tool if you’re writing content on your website. Most content writers would be lost without it. Yoast analyses your content as you upload it in real time, then suggests improvements to make it more SEO friendly. Yoast gives each element a score on a traffic light system; the aim is to get a clean sweep of green lights.
Eliminating the passive voice
Writing in the active voice is good copywriting practice. However, some writers do sometimes accidentally wander off into the land of the passive. Only 10% of your content can be written in the passive voice if it is to receive the coveted green light from Yoast.
“Passive voice occurs if the noun or noun phrase that would be the object of an active sentence (such as Yoast SEO calculates your SEO score) appears as the subject of a sentence with passive voice (The SEO score is calculated by Yoast SEO)”
Definition of the passive voice – Yoast
Yoast’s definition of the passive voice is quite complicated (ironically, for a company that champions readability!) A much simpler explanation is that the passive voice is when the target of the action is used as the subject. So instead of ‘Kate likes cats’ (active voice) it would be ‘cats are liked by Kate’ (passive voice).
This update will help you keep your passive voice in check and sharpen your writing as a whole. Only use the 10% buffer for few instances where you can only convey meaning in the passive voice. Otherwise keep it active and you’ll get the green light, and make it easier for users to engage with your content as well.
Flesch Reading Test
Yoast has been using the Flesch Reading Test as an indicator of readability for a while now, and it is a big contributing factor to your readability score. Yoast generates The score by measuring the textual difficulty of reading each passage.
The lower the score, the more difficult the text, so you want to aim high. Write short sentences and words with few syllables (no more than two where possible) to get a higher Flesch score.
Writing easy-to-read content is an important part of best practice copywriting: as the wise George Orwell once said, “never use a long word where a short one will do.” As a general rule, if a 12-year-old can’t understand your copy, it’s too complicated.
This ties in to your Flesch Reading Score, but we really have to hammer home that long sentences are bad if we’re all going to keep Google happy. Any sentence longer than 20 words will send up a red flag, no matter what punctuation you use (though a bug in the system sometimes thinks that semi-colons are new sentences). 25% of your sentences can be longer than 20 words, but this is the maximum.
I recommend tackling the passive voice first, because converting any passive sentences to their active equivalents generally requires fewer words. Remember: ‘Kate likes cats’ is shorter than ‘cats are liked by Kate’.
“And”, “because”, “due to” and “consequently” are all transition words as they demonstrate how two sentences relate to each other. Using these words in appropriate places will benefit the flow of the piece and help your reader understand the main message of your copy.
Google uses your headings to determine the nature of your content. So use them to your advantage and optimise your post with them. But remember, they must be attractive to your reader too.
Yoast suggests that a maximum of 300 words should follow a subheading. So bear this in mind while writing longer pieces. Can you break up longer sections into shorter ones with subheadings?
Focus keyword and content analysis
In the Yoast SEO metabox you can set a focus keyword. This is the keyword you’d like your post or page to rank for in the search results. The plugin then runs a check on your content to check whether you’re using the keyword often enough – but not too often – and in the right spots.
Post titles and meta descriptions
In the Yoast SEO meta box you can completely optimize your post or page title and meta description, using the snippet editor functionality to see what it would look like in Google. Don’t want to think about that for every single post? Yoast SEO also let’s you set templates for titles and meta descriptions for all types of pages.
Robots meta configuration
If you want Google not to index your page, or a set of pages, you can do so with Yoast SEO. It’s also possible to tell Google not to follow the links on your page. You can set this for single posts or pages or, for instance archives.
Apart from checking the SEO friendliness of your post, Yoast SEO now also analyzes the readability of the copy you wrote! It checks the length of your sentences and paragraphs, and whether you use transition words or sub headings. Moreover it assesses if you don’t use passive voice too often. On top of that it calculates the Flesch Reading Ease score(see above for more information on this topic). At this moment it’s fully available for English and German, and partly available for all other languages.
Your website can show the same content on various URLs, which can confuse Google: this is called a duplicate content issue. The canonical link element prevents this by indicating one URL as the original content holder. WordPress core fixes this partly, and Yoast SEO does the rest!
The Yoast Breadcrumbs code has been powering many (premium) themes breadcrumbs for ages. Using the same code, the Yoast SEO plugin now gives way more granular control over this breadcrumb. You get to determine, for each post type, which taxonomy to show. You get to determine for each post, page and taxonomy, what title to use for that specific entity in the breadcrumb paths it appears in. Full control, that’s what this entire Yoast SEO plugin is about.
Did you just write a post that fits in one category, but should definitely be in another category as well? Of course you can select both categories, but you probably consider one the main category. Yoast SEO brings the solution: you can select a ‘primary category’ for the category that’s most important and should be shown in the breadcrumb.
Permalink clean up
Don’t you hate it when someone adds /2 to the end of a link towards you? Or links with all weird variables at the end of the URL? Yoast SEO solves this for you! Just checking one box will redirect all that stuff away, and make sure that your content is always found under the URL you want it to be found under. If you use a Google Custom search engine, checking another box will prevent that from breaking down while using this function.
XML Sitemaps are an essential part of current day SEO, and can thus not be excluded from a complete Yoast SEO plugin. While there are other WordPress XML Sitemap Generators out there, they don’t talk to your SEO plugin. Meaning that if you noindex a page, preventing it from showing up in Google, it might still be in your sitemap. They also don’t allow you to keep certain taxonomies out of your sitemap. This plugin does. And, to boot, it makes your XML Sitemaps look good by using an XSLT stylesheet on them, so humans can read them too.
My RSS Footer plugin used to allow you to add a piece of content to the beginning or the end of posts in your RSS feed. The Yoast SEO plugin goes one step further and allows you to add content to both of them, allowing you to link back to your blog and the specific blog post, which is very helpful when you have a lot of people scraping your blog.
Edit your robots.txt and .htaccess
Editing your robots.txt and .htaccess files has never been this easy: you can edit them straight from the Files editor of the Yoast SEO plugin, so you can easily check and or update those files and keep it all nice and clean.
Redirect manager – Premium feature
This allows you to create and manage redirects from within your WordPress install, allowing you to easily redirect old URLs to new ones, and solve common issues. This is especially powerful because of the combination with the Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools) integration.
Built for scale, this redirect module can either handle the redirects for you or generate a redirect file that you can include in your Apache or NGINX server config.
Multiple focus keywords – Premium feature
With this feature, you’ll be able to optimize a post for two completely different terms, or for two synonyms. This means you no longer have to choose between terms you’d like to rank for!
Social previews – Premium feature
With this feature, you’ll be able to check what your Facebook or Twitter post will look like when you share your post! Check, while working on your post, whether your image has the right size for Social Media sharing!
Internal linking – Premium feature
We’ve made it possible to directly add related links to other articles from within the post editor. Yoast SEO Premium looks for the most common words in your post, analyzes these and presents related posts from your site that use the same words. This way you can add links to relevant articles on the fly instead of having to manually search for them, thus saving you valuable time and money. Currently, this feature is only available in selected languages. You can also determine which articles are cornerstone content, so you can easily link to them.
Insights – Premium feature
As part of Yoast’s content analysis, they check the readability and SEO-friendliness of your text. On top of that, Insights shows you the 5 words or word combinations that appear most often in your text. With this feature, you can check if the topics you discuss in your text line up with what you’re aiming to write about. Currently, this feature is only available in selected languages.
Premium support – Premium feature
Buying Yoast SEO Premium (formerly known as WordPress SEO by Yoast Premium) gives you access to their support team. You can email them your questions about usage of the plugin or your problems in setting it up and they’ll assist you!
Yoast: my verdict
I have to admit, Yoast is a really handy tool for making sure content is great. There are a couple of bugs that need sorting out – such the occasional wrongful detection of the passive voice – and sometimes there’s just no way to make the light switch to green, which can be really frustrating! However, these frustrations are a small price to pay for a tool that offers such a neat editorial boost.
As with any automated tool, use a degree of judgement when Yoast is in place to evaluate your copy. Sometimes there’s a trade-off between making everything green but ending up with a very plain piece of content, and accepting a few oranges to maintain the integrity of your piece.