The Netherlands has given the world many technological innovations, such as CDs, wifi, and the Python programming language. However, Yoast might be the greatest invention of them all. Launched in 2010, this search engine optimization (SEO) tool is regarded by many as the finest content management system ever created.
Table of contents
At its simplest, Yoast provides a way to upload content to a website. Once a site has been launched, people often assume it can be left to its own devices for months or even years. However, that’s generally not recommended. To perform well on the results pages of Google and Bing, all sites need to be updated and expanded regularly. Frequent revisions tell search engines the site is active, with relevant and topical content. As a result, most high-performing websites feature one or two pages dedicated to news or a blog. These provide vital SEO benefits, and sit alongside static pages like About Us and Contact Us which don’t need revising.
Being able to edit the content of a website (such as changing a phone number, or adding a note about Easter opening hours) relies on software known as a content management system. WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS, and Yoast is a specialized piece of software known as a plugin that bolts onto the WordPress framework. Yoast combines editing tools with SEO analysis, indicating where improvements could be made to a web page to optimize its appeal among search engine algorithms. These scan every aspect of a page, from its title and description to the captions accompanying featured images. Each element, therefore, has a part to play in boosting a page’s SEO performance.
Red light, green light
While many SEO platforms operate along similar principles, Yoast has adopted a simple (yet ingenious) way of measuring a web page’s quality. Once a user has created a new page or blog post/news story, Yoast analyzes it using over a dozen criteria. It then presents its analysis with a traffic light coding system. Red items need urgent attention, amber elements could be improved upon, and green items are optimized. Even a complete beginner with no understanding of SEO will understand a message saying: “The text contains 100 words. This is far below the recommended minimum of 300 words. Add more content that is relevant for the topic.”
Yoast covers most aspects of web page SEO, including many attributes beginners might not be aware of:
- It asks users to choose a keyword for the page, then calculates the number of appearances as a percentage of the total word count. It’ll recommend an increase in the frequency of the keyword’s usage, if necessary.
- It asks people to set a title for the page, an important element of search engine rankings.
- It requests a meta description – the two-line summary appearing below the blue hyperlink in Google and Bing searches, describing a page’s contents. This is critical for persuading audiences to click on the link.
- It encourages the use of tags, which provide another clue to search engines about a page’s topic and focus. A web page tagged with ‘Yoast SEO’ will be more likely to show up in any searches for that term.
- It invites users to upload an image and add various tags and descriptions to further bolster the page’s ranking. It’s often mistakenly assumed that images don’t affect SEO, whereas they can be invaluable.
- It supports Facebook posting, with dedicated titles, descriptions and even images for Facebook links to new content on your website.
- It can be used to edit canonical URLs – the version of a particular website address that’ll always be used. For instance, web pages may or may not have a / after them. It’s important to standardize URLs so the exact same link appears in search engine results; mixing different versions of the same web address weakens its SEO performance.
Being able to save draft pages (and preview their eventual appearance) enables Yoast SEO users to experiment with different wording and content before any changes go live.
Plug and pay
There’s a common misconception that Yoast is exclusively a WordPress plugin. Although its reputation has been forged in its association with WordPress, Yoast SEO is also compatible with Magento 2 and TYPO3. A previous relationship with Drupal’s developers has ended, though it may be rekindled at some point in the future. However, the Magento and TYPO3 extensions are little more than clones of the dominant WordPress plugin, which has been downloaded 40 million times and receiving five-star reviews from 94% of WordPress users.
It’s important to note that free and premium versions of Yoast are available. Both offer the keyword optimization outlined above, with regular software updates taking into account recent changes in Google’s all-conquering algorithm. However, the premium version is the only one capable of recommending internal page links (an easy way to improve SEO across a website). Other premium features include free technical support and no adverts for Yoast products. A single-site license costs $69 for a year, while licenses for multiple sites can also be acquired.
Help is on the way
Plenty of help and support is available for Yoast SEO customers. The Yoast website has over 250 FAQs in its WordPress knowledge base, and several free support forums have developed within WordPress.org. Online support is only available for Premium subscribers, though the help center is accessible from most pages of Yoast. Clicking the hyperlink “Need help?” bar reveals a drop-down box with video tutorials and email support links, plus a search box for interrogating the knowledge base repository.
To provide a more comprehensive understanding of its product’s capabilities, Yoast runs a series of online courses. These range from basic SEO training through to site structure classes and rich snippet training. Hardcore fans can even attend YoastCon – a biennial SEO conference where guest speakers share insider knowledge while copywriting classes hone people’s writing skills. The next YoastCon will be held in the Netherlands in February 2019, giving platform newcomers plenty of time to brush up on their skills…
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