I have to confess something kind of embarrassing. When I first heard bloggers gushing about how fantastic they think Yoast is, I thought they were talking about some new hipster food trend. Yoast? What is that?
It turns out that Yoast is a powerful WordPress SEO plugin that boosts individual blog posts. Basically Yoast can make your blog posts more visible on Google.
This week on Maine on the Blogs, we are going to take a closer look at what Yoast is and how to use it.
What is SEO and why do I need to know about it?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Essentially what that refers to is how to get your blog listed as high up on a search engine as possible.
If your blog is called, My Awesome Blog, and someone types that term into a search engine like Google then you want your blog to pop up before anything else that uses those words.
By using a plugin like Yoast you can skip trying to figure out the mysterious alchemy of the Internet and ensure that search engines are seeing your blog posts. [Tweet “We test drove Yoast SEO plugin and you should too.”]
How do I install Yoast?
As bloggers for the BDN Maine blog network installing Yoast SEO is as easy as contacting our Community Manager and requesting it for your blog. If you are a blogger outside of the BDN Maine blog network then you must first be self-hosted on WordPress before you can download and install Yoast. For more resources on that check out this WordPress tutorial.
Where do I find Yoast once it is downloaded and how do I turn it on?
This may sound like a silly question, but I assure you it is not. Most bloggers starting out are not familiar with all of the options in their dashboard and may have a hard time locating different features.
To use Yoast, you simply open a new draft in your blog and scroll down to the bottom where you will see a box called Yoast SEO that shows you a list of red, orange, yellow, and green dots to left of suggestions and instructions. You do not need to turn it on because it is installed as a part of your editing process. This means that anytime you open a new draft for a blog post the Yoast SEO function is available fo ryou to use.
What are those colorful dots in the Yoast SEO box?
This is where Yoast gets interesting. You may notice a series of colored dots in your Yoast box. These dots act like traffic signals. The basic run down is the closer to red your suggestion is then the more work you have to do on that particular piece of your SEO function. The goal is to tinker with your post enough so that all of the lights turn green.
I will tell you that I was quite flummoxed by this process in the first couple of weeks of playing with Yoast. Those lovely green dots seemed to evade me and it was annoying. But, now that I have played with it, I can tell you that SEO is no longer an intimidating mystery, but rather something of a game: how many green dots can I get with this post?
To break down some of the science behind these dots and how to change their colors let me walk you through several screen shots of this post so that you can see what I did to get as many dots to turn green as possible.
“No meta description has been specified, search engines will display copy from the page instead.”
If you get a message next to a red dit that reads, “No meta description has been specified, search engines will display copy from the page instead.” It means that you need to tinker a bit with your Snippet Editor. This is what that annoying red dot will look like:
To change that warning you can go into your Snippet Editor and tinker with the meta description. The meta description is “HTML attributes that provide concise explanations of the contents of web pages“. That essentially means the text that Google grabs and uses to rank your post. When you use words that are peppered in you title and body of text then your Google ranking goes up. To do this you can click the Snippet Editor and add text in the drop down text bar like this:
Now that I have the meta description down, what are all the other dots for?
If you have ever used the Headliner Analyzer feature over at Co-Schedule then you are familiar with the idea of typing in a line of text and having your text filtered through a sort of scoring system that will tell how to improve your live of text. In the case of the Co-Schedule the score system ranks how well your headline will do online, but in the case of Yoast, the dots remaining will give your post’s SEO a basic score that is color coded. Here, check out this picture to see what I mean:
In this image we can see a few sentenced underlined in red. Those lines draw your attention to how the Yoast SEO plugin combs through your title and blog post looking for all of the possible attributes that can help boost your rank in a search engine such as Google. We can see here that Yoast thinks that the word count is more than sufficient, the title is an appropriate number of characters for search-ability, and the focus word is unique enough to set this particular blog post apart from previous posts in this blog.
If you look at that picture again, you will also notice that Yoast pays careful attention to how images are treated on this page; we gave each image an alt tag, which helps to raise the readability score.
Is Yoast SEO difficult to figure out and is this worth my time?
Once I was able to get past the mystery of what a meta description is and why it is important to pay at least some attention to using keywords within my post, the Yoast SEO plugin felt intuitive and easy to use. But more than that, I feel like I have a better grip on what SEO is and how it can affect my blog visibility, which directly translates into a potential growth in readership. And while I have almost no desire to turn blogging into a science, I do think that tools like the Yoast SEO plugin are pretty awesome; it does the science part for me so that I can get back to focusing on giving you the content you want to read.
Blogging is a great hobby not just because it gives writers a chance to share ideas and explore new experiences through media, but because it also affords us the opportunity to learn new and impressive things about the Internet. When you can feel like you have some control over your content then it frees your mind up to be able to think about writing that next marvelous blog post.