YOAST SEO plugin: How to install and use it on your WordPress site

If you’re looking to bring your WordPress site’s SEO to the next level, one of the best things you can do is make use of the YOAST plugin. In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you how to install and use YOAST to give your content that SEO boost you need.

If you’ve already installed the plugin and want to know how to utilize YOAST’s features when publishing content, you can skip to that section. Also note that these steps are as per the 4.3 version of the plugin.

Installing the plugin

Log in to your site and go to Plugins > Add New from the WP menu:

WordPress install plugin from dashboard menu link

Search for YOAST SEO and you should see the following from the results loaded:

YOAST SEO plugin install from WordPress

Select the Install button. Once it’s installed, the button will change its label to Activate. Go ahead and activate it!

Configuring your settings

Now that the plugin is installed, you’ll need to set some basic settings, many of which will be used for metadata that appears in your site’s markup and contributes to the information Google includes when indexing your pages.

Go to your YOAST dashboard by selecting SEO from your WP admin menu:

YOAST SEO menu link from WP dashboard

You should then see the main YOAST dashboard:

YOAST general settings screen

Select the General tab to access the configuration wizard:

YOAST SEO plugin configuration screen

From here, select the Open the configuration wizard button to input your basic settings.

YOAST SEO plugin configuration wizard start screen

Now proceed through each of the ten sections of the config wizard:

1. Welcome

The suggested action here is to signup for the YOAST newsletter. You can always subscribe later if you wish.

2. Environment

Now you can tell YOAST what type of site you’re running. The options are Production, Staging, or Development. Select the one right for your environment.

3. Site type

Select the type of site you’re running. There are options for both individuals and companies.

4. Company or person

Select whether your site is identified as one owned by an individual or company. This is used for Google’s Knowledge Graph.

5. Social profiles

Add the usernames for your applicable social media accounts, which adds social metadata to your site.

6. Post type visibility

Select which post types are selected to be indexed by Google. Or not. If your site uses custom post types, they will appear as options as well.

7. Multiple authors

Confirm whether your site will have one or many authors contributing content.

8. Google Search Console

Here you can authenticate your site with Google in order to make use of their Search Console tools. Yes, you should definitely do this!

9. Title settings

Here you can confirm your site’s name and the separator used in post titles, which are displayed in your site’s titles.

10. Success!

You’re done! You’ll see a reminder to sign up for the YOAST newsletter in case you chose not to when you began configuring the plugin. Select the Close button at the bottom-right or go back and double-check any of the steps to make sure you got everything right. You can always run the wizard again if you need to.

Other plugin options

The settings available in the series of tabs in the YOAST dashboard should now (mostly) be set based on what you entered in the config wizard. There are many other options you’ll see available such as access to your XML sitemaps and some advanced settings. These we’ll save for another article.

For now, you’ve got YOAST running. Now, it’s time to make use of the plugin when creating your content.

Using YOAST in a post

When you create a new post or page, you’ll see the YOAST settings panel underneath the post editor. Once you input your content, YOAST will automatically review it and give you results and direction based on the following items:

Post titles

The title of your article should describe the subject, purpose, or intended result of what you are writing about.

Also, keep your titles to less than 70 characters if you can or else you risk the end of it truncated in search results, which can potentially hurt your click-through rate and is especially important when promoting your links using AdWords.

Post slugs

One of the handy things YOAST does is automatically remove stop words from your slug. Stop words include to, the, and, from, and for, which are non-essential. Your slug doesn’t have to be a word-for-word copy of your title, either. The title and slug for this article is a good example of making use of each tactic while keeping the slug relatively short:

WordPress title and slug fields in editor

If your slug uses a variation of your focus keyword, that’s also fine. Again, these are guidelines, not sacred cows.

Your content’s word count

YOAST encourages you for post length of at least 300 words. You may think that because Internet users tend to scan before they read that shorter articles are the way to go, but there is compelling data to show that in fact long form content (1,500 words or more) can be more effective and provide a bigger boost to your SEO.

Of course, long form content does not automatically equate with great content.

Your focus keyword

Whatever you choose as your focus keyword (because you’ve done your research first, right?), YOAST measures your keyword density and lets you know if you’ve used it enough times to be helpful, or too many times in which case you may risk being penalized by Google for keyword stuffing, which they consider a form of spam.

YOAST recommends using your focus keyword at the beginning of your post titles and that’s a good rule of thumb. At the very least, ensure your keyword isn’t truncated in search results. You can see an example of how it will appear in the review section of this article.

While for this article I chose YOAST as its focus keyword, you’ll have better luck with the use of long tail keywords, which are longer and can be more descriptive. One reason for using long tail keywords whenever possible is when using one or two-word keywords, you’re competing with other sites who’ve spent years and a lot of resources on building high rankings for those same words and you’re simply not going to beat them at the SEO game.

Adding links

Adding links to your post can be helpful for your post’s SEO as well as an easy way to provide more information to your readers without spending a lot of time. When researching for links to add, be sure you’re linking to credible sources. Don’t just search for a topic and choose the first result you see to link to. Internal linking is great, too, because it helps Google identify relationships and value with other pages on your site. It can also be a good way to cross-promote other articles on related topics or your products and services.

Adding images

When adding images, one of the important tasks is to include text in the image’s ALT attribute. The most important reason the attribute exists is to display its text in the event the image doesn’t load on the page (or to accommodate screen readers), which is why the quality of its text is critical here. YOAST will look for your focus keyword as part of your ALT text, and while this isn’t a bad idea, it’s only applicable in that it also makes sense for the image content.

Look at the purpose of ALT text to describe the image as if you’ve never seen it before. Use your judgement when seeing if you can shoe horn your focus keyword in there. If YOAST returns a warning saying your images aren’t using the keyword BUT your ALT text is sound based on the images, you’re good to go.

Reviewing your post’s YOAST settings

When you see your review based on all the information we’ve covered, YOAST will give you results that are designated with green, yellow, or red light indicators. From here we can see where we may need to make some adjustments.

Here’s a sample of the results for this article:

YOAST keyword review screenshot

In this case, we have green lights across the board. Not too shabby. If you see any red or orange indicators in your review, modify your content accordingly until you’re satisfied.

Modifying the meta description

Contrary to what some believe, meta descriptions don’t directly have much SEO value and are essentially optional, but they can impact your click-through rate. YOAST will by default take the first few words from your article and use that as the meta description, however you may want to manually write one. I think it’s a good idea so you can tailor the description in a way that encapsulates the purpose and value of the content for the reader to entice them to select it when it appears in search results.

Select Edit Snippet to modify your meta description:

YOAST meta description editor screenshot

YOAST also offers some strategic tips on writing effective meta descriptions.

Light obsession

It might be instinctual to feel like you absolutely HAVE to get all green lights across the board with your post, but while that’s obviously not a bad thing, it won’t happen with every post and that’s perfectly OK as long as you have the essentials covered. There are some exceptions that you will figure out as you become more comfortable with using the settings.

Readability review

Now that we’ve reviewed our keyword settings, we can see how readable our content is. Selecting the Readability tab for this article displays the following results:

YOAST readability settings screenshot

While getting green lights across the board is ideal, you may not always be able to for certain types of articles. One example that affects my own blog is when it comes to articles that are more technical and includes various code or markup snippets. YOAST’s readability tool isn’t quite smart enough to be able to recognize this kind of content, so treat the results in these cases with a grain of salt. Likewise goes for articles that consist mostly (or solely) of images, video, or audio.

Adjusting the social sharing data settings

By selecting the Sharing icon, you’ll see you can manually write custom titles and descriptions for your post when shared on Facebook or Twitter. You can even include a custom image, which can be handy if your article’s featured image isn’t sized quite right for social sharing (or you don’t have a featured image at all).

YOAST social sharing settings screenshot

Miscellaneous post settings

When you select the Settings icon, you’ll see some options you can adjust such as what meta information to include or whether or not you wish the URL to be followed or not by search engines.

YOAST misc post settings screenshot

One field that may be useful is the Canonical URL field. This is helpful if you’re duplicating content across domains and aren’t able to set a 301 redirect at the server level. This tells Google that the URL you’ve set is the one you prefer to have indexed. It’s also handy for content offered for re-publication.

Now that everything checks out, we can preview and publish our content!

Remember that YOAST a tool for your SEO, not a fix-all

The first thing to understand is that while using YOAST does help with making sure you’re covering your SEO bases as best as possible, the plugin is not a magic wand that will suddenly make your site rank higher in searches or throw your Domain Authority through the roof. You need to be consistent in your use of the steps detailed in this article, sure, but you still need to focus on writing great content. Other factors critical to SEO like traffic and backlinks are things that YOAST won’t fix directly, but posting quality content and being diligent with link and social sharing will help increase your number of visitors and go a long way to improving your rankings.

And, of course, like with most things in SEO, it will take time to see results. Be patient!

Getting help

If you’re having some trouble getting things set up or you encounter some conflicts or other issues, there is a pretty solid knowledge base that YOAST offers.

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