The Mini-Guide to Advanced On-Page SEO with the Yoast SEO Plugin
Google is by far the biggest search engine in the world with well over 5 billion search queries performed every day. It owns at least 75% of the search engine market share; head and shoulders above its competitors.
This translates to the fact that on average, Google is the biggest source of traffic for most websites (e-commerce, blogs, business, etc.), referred to as organic traffic. What’s more, this type of traffic converts 10x higher than social media and ranking on the first page of Google lifts your brand visibility, credibility, and value tremendously.
However, there are roughly 200 million active websites and with over 4 million blog posts published daily, ranking on the first page of Google is no easy endeavor. That’s why search engine optimization (SEO) is getting so much attention these days.
By and large, SEO is a combination of on-page and off-page efforts that’ll ultimately lead your website to the first page of Google.
Now, chances are you’re using WordPress, the most popular and arguably the best content management system(CMS) to power your website. As you know, WordPress has a fantastic repository of plugins. Quite literally, there is a plugin for every obstacle you can possibly encounter.
Among the best WordPress plugins is the Yoast SEO plugin. With more than 5 million active installations, it is the finest SEO plugin endorsed by all the big names in digital marketing including Rand Fishkin, Neil Patel, and Brian Dean.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how you can use this plugin for your WordPress website to turn on-page SEO into a walk in the park.
Yoast SEO is such a feature-packed plugin that configuring it properly can be a bit tricky for new webmasters. Thankfully, this 2019 updated guide has got you covered with the entire setup process clearly explained, step-by-step. Make sure not to skip any step.
On-page SEO is nothing but a checklist of numerous little tasks. Some, you got to do just once on a site-wide level. Others, you got to do every time you create a new piece of content (such as a blog post).
By crossing off all items on the on-page SEO checklist, you are making sure that your website is optimized for search engines while serving awesome content for human users.
Here is a noteworthy infographic by Brian Dean of Backlinko explaining the anatomy of a perfectly optimized web page. Before you proceed, give it a read.
While the Yoast SEO plugin can help with most of the items described in the infographic, there are three crucial ones that’ll require you to install other plugins/themes.
- Site speed: One of the most important ranking factors (as acknowledged by Google) for ranking, site speed is something you just cannot ignore. There are many things you can do to boost your site speed, such as optimizing images, using CDNs, installing caching plugins like WP Super Cache, among others. Not to mention, using AMP for instant loading on mobile devices.
- Social sharing buttons: Though social shares do not play a direct role in your ranking, they help get more eyes on your content, which in turn can lead to more backlinks. Use plugins like AddToAny to easily add good-looking social sharing buttons.
- Responsive design: According to Statista, 52.4% of all website traffic came from mobile devices in Q3 2018. Over the course of 2019, this percentage is expected to rise to over 60%. It cannot be stressed enough then that your website absolutely needs to be responsive and mobile-friendly in order to deliver the best possible browsing experience for your mobile users. To do just that, ensure you use a responsive theme (and plugins).
Now, let’s go over each checklist item as taken care of by the Yoast SEO plugin:
The plugin’s “Snippet Preview” editor gives you the option to modify your SEO title ― the title of your post as shown to your potential site visitors still browsing the search engines results. That is, you can choose to have a more alluring title to be displayed in the search results for a better click-through rate and a different post title/H1 heading for the people already on your website.
The plugin monitors your title length and lets you know if your title length is too long or too short. Also, it’ll prompt you to include your chosen focus keyword in the title in case you forget.
The meta description is an HTML tag shown as a snippet in the search results which summarizes the content of your page. The purpose of a meta description is to get someone searching on Google to click on your link.
For this, the plugin’s same snippet editor allows you to write the perfect, keyword optimized meta description to be shown to your potential visitors in the search results page. The key here is to write an enticing gist of what your content is all about and how it will help solve the visitor’s pain points.
Another cool feature of the editor is that it enables you to modify the slug (or URL) of your page. The default URL is often too long and complicated which does no good for your click-through rate.
Within the editor, you can quickly take care of this problem by writing a perfectly optimized slug which is short but descriptive and contains no stop words.
Take a look at the snippet editor below, containing all the three items:
Writing in-depth content is always a good idea. And studies prove that long-form content tends to rank higher and generate more social shares than short articles.
The plugin keeps a check on the length of your content and gives a green signal only when you write more than 300 words. That’s great, but in reality, it is advisable to write well over 1000 words and cover the topic comprehensively.
You don’t want to be accused of keyword stuffing, even inadvertently. The plugin helps with that as well.
The optimum keyword density is considered to be between 0.5 and 3%, and the plugin ensures you don’t exceed those limits. Moreover, your focus keyword or phrase should ideally occur in the first paragraph (first 100 words) itself.
A proper internal linking structure is very critical to rank higher in Google. The free version of the Yoast SEO plugin advises you to link to relevant content on your website. However, in the premium version, it explicitly suggests which pages you should link to.
Similarly, linking out to relevant content on other websites is also important. Just make sure that the websites you link to are of high quality and not spammy.
No one likes to read huge chunks of text without any visuals to aid what’s being said. Writing long sentences and paragraphs will repel your visitors at first sight.
Thus, boost the effectiveness of your content by adding numerous images and infographics and spreading them judiciously around the piece. Also, consider embedding videos to increase audience retention or dwell time.
Now, it is important to correctly title the visuals you add and provide an “alt” description in case they can’t load for some reason. For this, the plugin shows a red alert in case you forget to add visuals or don’t provide them with an “alt” attribute. Quite nifty.
Structuring your article by using HTML subheadings (H2, H3, and so on) helps search engine crawlers to better make sense of your content. Besides, it makes the content more readable (discussed below) and digestible for your human readers, consequently making it more engaging.
An important point to note here: use your chosen keywords in the subheadings as well to feed further context to search engine crawlers.
Take a look at how these items look in the on-page analysis results at the bottom of your WordPress post editor:
According to HubSpot’s renowned topic cluster model, in order to extract the most on-page SEO juice from a broad topic of consideration relevant to your website, this is what you need to do:
Write several medium-to-long form articles covering the topic from every angle and answering all questions.
Create a piece of extremely long-form content (think an ultimate guide or e-book) that completely describes the topic in painstaking detail. This will be your “cornerstone” content or “pillar” content.
Strategically link all articles with each other and with the cornerstone content, forming a topic cluster.
Learn more about cornerstone content here.
When creating that ultimate piece of evergreen content, switch the toggle shown below to “On”. Content marked as cornerstone will be judged more strictly than usual on SEO and readability in the content analysis, as you want this piece to be longer, have excellent quality, clutch the reader’s attention and rank high.
Readability might not be a direct ranking factor, but it has an enormous indirect impact on your content’s performance. A well-written copy yields higher conversion rates, better user experience, more social shares and backlinks, and can lead to your article ranking in the featured snippet.
A few general guidelines to keep in mind when writing content:
Avoid the passive voice as much as possible.
Keep sentences short.
Don’t form big, convoluted paragraphs.
Use transition words such as “However”, “Consequently”, “Likewise”, and so on.
The plugin further assists in improving readability by rating your content using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
Some Advanced Features
Below are some of the advanced functionalities you can leverage to take your on-page SEO game to the next level.
Robots.txt is a text file that instructs search engine robots (or crawlers/spiders) on how to crawl and index pages on a website.
Basically, it is used by webmasters to tell the bots which pages to crawl and index and which pages are restricted for them. If you do not disallow a URL, then search engine bots assume that they are allowed to crawl it.
This basic text file might not be that useful in the initial stages but as your website grows to a large number of pages, it becomes useful by allowing for greater control over how your website is crawled and indexed in search engines.
With Yoast, you can easily edit your robots.txt file by navigating to SEO >> Tools >> File Editor from the Dashboard.
Duplicate content issue means your website has similar content on multiple URLs, which confuses Google as it won’t understand which content to rank for that particular keyword. As a reader, you don’t mind because you get the content you came for, but a search engine has to pick which page to show in the search results because, of course, it doesn’t want to show the same content twice.
So having duplicate content on your website can hurt your rankings.
You can easily solve this issue by canonicalization: redirecting duplicate content to the correct or canonical URL by adding a canonical link element to the duplicate page. (rel=”canonical”)
The bulk editor tool allows you to quickly change titles and descriptions of your posts and pages without having to go into the editor for each page.
This comes in handy if you want to split test various titles and meta descriptions for multiple posts at one go.
At some point, you’ll need to delete old posts or pages that are no longer relevant. This need might also arise when you are changing your site structure or just performing a general cleanup.
However, deleting a page can have repercussions. The visitors landing on that page/URL will be served a “404 not found” error. This negatively affects your site’s user experience as well as rankings.
In most cases, especially for a frequently visited page, you’d want to redirect the old URL to a new one with the information you think is most relevant to these visitors. In other cases, you might want to tell your visitors content has been deleted or temporarily show another page.
If you have the Yoast SEO plugin’s premium version, then you can easily set the following types of redirects:
301: Moved permanently
307: Temporary redirect
410: Content deleted
451: Content unavailable for legal reasons
After deleting a post or page, the plugin will directly prompt what you’d like to do with the URL.
Over to You
It’s time for you to put it all into practice and witness the results for yourself. Mind you, it’ll take months for your SEO efforts to bear fruit ― a remarkable increase in organic traffic.
Still, once you see your website rank on the first page of Google for your desired search queries, you’ll know that it was truly well worth the effort and patience.
Gaurav is a Senior SEO and Content Marketing Analyst at The 20 Media, a Content Marketing agency that specializes in data-driven SEO. He has more than seven years of experience in Digital Marketing and loves to write about Blogging, Link Building, and Content Strategy to help clients grow their search visibility. In his spare time, he enjoys watching movies and listening to music. Connect with him on Twitter: @belanigaurav