A large proportion of WordPress sites use a plugin called Yoast to help with their on-page SEO.  Used correctly it is a great tool for a whole host of activities, which include things like:

  • Site mapping
  • Setting page meta-descriptions
  • Controlling social-media related page descriptions and images
  • Using the focus keyword facility to analyse your page content
  • Improving the readability of your content
  • Setting indicators so pages like your Privacy or Terms aren’t indexed

BUT, and it’s a huge but, I see a lot of client’s fall into the trap of the traffic light system that Yoast provides and spending inordinate amounts of time and effort to achieve the holy grail that is the GREEN LIGHT and setting the best ever focus keyword, because that means the SEO on that page is awesome, right? Wrong.

I provide an SEO service for a whole host of business owners, both here in Warwickshire and further afield, and it’s a common thread that client’s coming to me to improve their site SEO, are interpreting the WordPress Yoast plugin as some kind of magical SEO tool that will rank their pages for whatever keyword they choose by just setting some fields.

They are fundamentally misunderstanding two central features in Yoast, these are:

  • The traffic light system
  • The focus keyword

Now I want you to concentrate for this next bit, because I have two very important things to tell you.

  1. Optimising your content does NOT mean getting green lights in Yoast (shocker!)
  2. The focus keyword does not have any direct impact on your SEO (devastating, but true)

Let me make this clear, Yoast SEO is not a magic wand for SEO. Its main function is giving you tools and features which will help direct you though some helpful actions you can complete to contribute to your SEO.

How does the Yoast traffic light system work?

The red/amber/green symbols Yoast uses do not equate to terrible/okay/great SEO, they are a readability and content analysis device to help you with your page content.

The traffic lights are used for two things:

  1. Content analysis – reviewing your content against a focus keyword that you set
  2. Readability – checking if your content is readable for a general audience.

I’m often asked ‘do all my light’s have to be green?’ and the answer is no, use the guide that Yoast gives you to optimise your content, writing valuable content where your business and page related keywords, phrases and location keywords are all present.  Having an orange light for your page is not a problem, your content can still rank, even if it doesn’t pass all of the tests. This is merely an indication, not a necessity.

There is so much more to great content than Yoast and I’ll have to save that for another post, otherwise we will all be asleep, so I’ll just wrap up with some clarification on focus keywords.

What is a focus keyword?

The focus keyword you enter into Yoast is the search term that you want that page or post to rank for most, and setting this will enable Yoast to detect exact matches of this word or phrase within your page content.  When you use the focus keyword tool you can  find the feedback to improve your content in the SEO analysis tab of your page, and amend your page accordingly.  The feedback takes into account best practices with regards your page content, keyword density, number of words, readability and other factors.

It’s vital to understand that the focus keyword is a tool you can use to analyse your pages content, it does not set actual page keywords.  The practise of setting a whole load of keywords or phrases in the background of your site does not contribute to SEO any longer, as the Google algorithm is much more complex that that, and the content on your page is now vital.

Do not get confused with this, the focus keyword can be a complete redherring – it has no actual impact on your SEO, it is just a tool you can use to help you.

You can of course achieve a green light by injecting your focus keyword all over the place in your page content, but it will just make it look spammy, and Google is smarter that that.  Yes, you should use your keyword in the page title, SEO title, and meta description… but you don’t have to use an exact match just to make your lights turn green. Find a balance, mention it in the first couple sentences and get back to creating great content.

It’s like having an awesome pair of trainers to run in, which I do, as my husband is an ultra-runner, and self proclaimed running shoe expert in our house, but honestly, I’m still a terrible runner.  So I’d do better to focus on technique and consistency in my training, than spend inordinate amounts of time making sure my running leggings match my shoes.  All the gear, no idea, applies here.

Your content readability

Yoast uses an algorithm to determine how readable your content is. It features several checks that’ll give you advice when you write your pages and posts. In other words, by following the advice, you can make your text easier to read and understand.

By simplifying your content, and making it more ‘readable’ you can reach a wider audience, as more people can understand and enjoy your content.  Plus your content is also being read by Google and virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri.

As with everything, use your common sense, the the advice in the readability section is just a guide, it can give you important pointers to the perceived difficulty of your text, and you can use these to help you.

So in summary, stop sweating the small stuff, orange lights are fine, some pages, like your contact page may even have a red light.

Focus on these top tips within your content

  • What do you want to say about your business or service?
  • Who is the audience for your writing, the business area, the key phrases they might be searching for?
  • What key phrases or words do you need to incorporate into your content?
  • Don’t forget location keywords, these can be vital in your ranking strategy!

Oh! SEO what a subject, there is lot’s more to say on this, so have several more blog posts to come on this.  Thanks for listening.

If you would like help improving your WordPress website SEO then get in touch.

P.S. Yoast have written their own fabulous article on the green light so I won’t repeat that, so pop over and read it here.