Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin Guide [2023]


Pretty much all WordPress users will have heard of Yoast SEO plugin. Since its start in 2008 it has been downloaded over 350 million times and it runs on multiple big websites around the world. It is the most famous and number one SEO tool for WordPress websites. In this article we will look at how you should use it for the best results and if there are any competitors that might do a better job…   🧐

What is Yoast SEO?

Let’s start with the basics: Yoast SEO is a plugin on WordPress, the biggest CMS (content management system) in the world. Within WordPress there’s the possibility to download plugins to ease or customize processes. In that way Yoast serves as a tool to simplify SEO on WordPress websites, so you will perform better in search engines like Google.

There are many different SEO elements, features and tools available when you download Yoast. Some of these add-ons will help to influence the entire website, others are specifically tailored to elements for an individual post or page. Yoast is super accessible and offers both a free and a premium version, which we will cover in more detail. The free version already offers many options to optimize elements that could benefit your SEO.

If that already got you curious, head over to their website and check out the features or go to your WordPress website and download the plugin:

Yoast SEO plugin download

Free version features

So what do you get when you download the free version of Yoast SEO plugin? There are multiple ways to approach this. When you’re a beginner, Yoast actually offers a service that will guide you through SEO and the tool in a pretty intuitive matter:

Yoast SEO Main Page

Just click the configuration wizard to start the beginners guide. From there you will get some questions about the following:

  • Should your website be indexed or not
  • What site type do you have (e.g. blog, online shop or news channel)
  • If the website represents an organization or a person
  • What content types should appear in the search results: by default Yoast will let pages and posts appear. If you don’t know what you’re doing (and you probably don’t if you’re following the first timers configuration 🙃) don’t change anything to these settings.
  • The authors on the website (one or multiple)
  • Connecting Google Search Console: if you don’t know what this is or how to set it up, please read our other article 🤓
  • Your title settings, for more information about best practices, please go to our page title tips. These are specifically your default settings, you can still customize on individual posts and pages.
  • Step 8 and 9 basically consist of signing up for the Yoast newsletter, buying premium (which you don’t necessarily need) and then you’re finished.

Yoast Metabox

This is where most of you probably have used or will use Yoast. It’s the section on the bottom of each page or post where you can modify some SEO elements such as page title and meta description. It looks like this:

Yoast SEO features

It is divided in three elements of which SEO is the most extensive:

1. SEO: you can add a focus keyphrase to let Yoast track how much you’ve used your main keyword and in what capacity. Then there’s the option to change your metadata and to give a preview of what it would look like in mobile and desktop Google results. This is your advertising space (!) so make sure your page title and meta description are compelling and contain the most important keyword(s). You can modify this by clicking edit snippet:

Yoast SEO metadata

A little bit down you will find the ‘SEO analysis’ which allows you to find some other elements that are scored by Yoast. For tracking synonyms and additional keyphrases you would need premium, but some elements that are being taken into account are: whether or not a keyphrase was set to check for Yoast, if the image alt attributes are optimized with the keyword. If there are any outbound and inbound links and the length of the title tag, meta descriptions and entire text. As you can see Yoast can give three different scores. A problem that is indicated with a red dot, an improvement with an orange dot, and good results with green dots:

Yoast SEO analysis

Below this section you will find “cornerstone content” and “advanced”:

Yoast cornerstone and advanced

Toggling cornerstone content indicates that the article is one of the most important pieces on your website. Nothing really changes on the page when you click it, but Yoast will remember as one of your key pages and with premium you can run a cornerstone analysis that will provide suggestions around content usage and internal linking.

The advanced section focuses on crawlability and indexability for search engines. So it basically asks if search engines can show the page in the results and if search engines can follow the links. If you haven’t set a default canonical link, you can also adjust the canonical link that refers to the “original” content. For more information, please check out our technical guidelines.  😌

2. Readability focuses around the way your content is set up in general; the way your headings are set up, sentences are built and connected to each other. This is also scored with a green, orange or red dot.

Yoast readability

3. The third element is social. It allows you to change the title, description and image when you share the article on Facebook or Twitter.

Focus keyword in Yoast

There’s a big misconception that the focus keyphrase section from Yoast actually helps to rank better in search engines. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. It helps Yoast to get a better understanding of what the page is trying to focus on. It tracks how well the keyword is integrated on main content elements on that page, which could be an indication it will rank easier for that particular keyword.  🤫

Yoast focus keyword

However, there are a few major preconditions for this to actually generate organic traffic. First of all, the keyword that you’re targeting should be one that actually has search volume. If nobody is searching for it, you can rank nr 1, but you still won’t get any traffic. Check out our article about keyword research to learn more. Secondly, there are many other factors in play, like technical SEO and the backlink profile that play a vital role in ranking well.

Yoast SEO Dashboard

The Yoast SEO dashboard can be found in the side menu at the Yoast logo and “SEO” and provides an overview of any issues on your website. Those will be mentioned at “problems” with some guidance to solve them.

Yoast SEO dashboard

The second tab at the top menu provides features that can be changed. This section helps you to turn on/off certain features of the Yoast SEO plugin. Things like readability analysis or the cornerstone content could be disabled to exclude them from the overview.

Yoast dashboard features

XML sitemap in Yoast

One of the elements in the features overview is the XML sitemap that can be turned on and off. By default an XML sitemap will be created for your website and based on the page types and pages that are indexable. There is no option to completely modify the XML sitemap, but you can make some changes to it by enabling/disabling, no-indexing page types in search appearance or by adding a custom sitemap.

Verify Google Search Console in Yoast

Yoast also offers the feature to verify your website for Google Search Console, Baidu, Bing and Yandex. The feature is called ‘Webmaster Tools’, which was also the former name of Search Console – Google Webmaster Tools. The verification process can be done in numerous ways. Also check out the Google Search Console article for more information.

Yoast google search console

Search appearance Yoast

In the free version, the sear appearance section is one of the most advanced elements. It let’s you set semi-automated page titles and meta descriptions and decide what page types should be indexed or not.

Rewrite metadata yoast

Rewrite metadata Yoast

The feature above is showing the rewrite metadata options for the homepage, but this can also be modified for other page types. You can automate elements by selecting default characters, fields or words that should be included in the page title and meta description. Even though you will set up a specific type of metadata here or you modify it in the Yoast metabox at and individual page, it is not guaranteed Google will show your metadata. Sometimes Google will choose a more ‘relevant’ page title or meta description, especially when it’s not relevant, too short or too long. Then an excerpt from the H1 or body text can be chosen instead. So always make sure all these elements are optimized.

Knowledge Graph Yoast

This overview also helps you to modify structured data for an organization knowledge graph. It is super straightfoward by adding the organization name and logo, which could result into a knowledge graph in the search results.

Content types Yoast

There are different content types within WordPress: most commonly the homepage, posts and pages. Next to that, URLs will be created for Avia frameworks and portfolio items. The settings for each can be modified within search appearance. Besides changing metadata you can also enable/disable indexation (and with that sitemap settings) and adding a date to the search result.

content types yoast

Remaining features within search appearance

The other options include:

  • Media
  • Taxonomies
  • Archives
  • Breadcrumbs
  • RSS

Not everything is super important or should be modified, but it would be good to at least check out taxonomies and breadcrumbs as these could have an impact on the flow of your website and organic visibility.

categories and tags yoast

Categorization and taxonomies in Yoast

Categorization and tagging happens when you’re grouping particular pages and posts. Those taxonomies will be individual URLs, which you can include or exclude from the search results. In most cases excluding them would be the best option, since it can quickly become a sprawl of thin content pages. However, if you can easily customize these type of pages and the categorization / tagging has been done based on search volumes, it could be beneficial to have them indexed.

Yoast breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are a way to navigate throughout the website with internal links for user interface purposes. Breadcrumbs could be beneficial for SEO as they boost internal links and show hierarchical topics. Yoast offers the opportunity to enable/disable breadcrumbs. Whether you should choose one or the other is dependent on your website theme, type of website and amount of pages.

Yoast Premium Features

This article mostly focuses on the free features of Yoast, which are already pretty vital in the SEO process, but the premium features allow you to go deeper. Next to all the extra tooling, Yoast also provides an academy with some tutorials on how to best use their plugins and learn more about SEO.

Some worthwhile features and extra plugins include:

  • The redirect manager that helps to group and redirect URLs in bulk.
  • Internal linking analysis.
  • Get insights on related keywords and synonyms.
  • Automatically add structured data.

Then there are a few other separate premium plugins:

Video SEO 📹 

Video is getting increasingly important and if you’re website is very video-heavy, this feature could come in very handy. It helps you to provide more information to the search engine about your video to potentially target for rich snippet results.

SEO News 📰 

When your website is very reliant on news articles, this extension could help you to optimize these elements for getting featured in Google News (carousel).

Local SEO 📍

Local SEO is one of these things that has been growing over the last few years, naturally with the growth of mobile and local results in the search results. If your business has a local branch, this plugin allows you to set information about your business such ass phone number, address and operational hours for a more detailed and descriptive overview of information in the search results.

Yoast vs. competitors

Although Yoast is by far the most popular plugin for what it does and offers, there are some competitors with similar features. The top three is:

  1. All in One SEO
  2. Rankmath
  3. SEOPress

Yoast vs. All in One SEO

All in One SEO (AIOSEO) is one of the oldest SEO plugins for WordPress, going back to 2007. It has one main configuration page for different features, which is obviously different from Yoast that has multiple pages and sections to review. It’s easy to use for beginners, but still extensive enough to cover important SEO elements. It is not tight to a specific type of website. Just like Yoast the free version already covers a lot of ground and does things like meta tags, XML sitemaps, some basic structured data and (de-)indexing.

For the premium version the price range ($49.50 a year) of AIOSEO is a bit lower than that of Yoast. However, it must be said that Yoast offers exclusive academy video courses that can help you in the right direction.

Final Thoughts & TLDR

  • Yoast is the most popular SEO tool on WordPress.
  • The free version already offers a wide variety of features.
  • It covers some technical SEO, metadata and copywriting tips.
  • Filling in everything in Yoast doesn’t automatically mean you rank well or get tons of traffic in 🤐
  • Premium features could definitely be worth it, especially websites with some specifics.
  • Yoast does have some good competitors like All in One SEO that offer similar functionalities, try them out to see what your preference has.

That’s a wrap 🤠! If you haven’t done so, try out Yoast or one of their competitors to make your life a bit easier on Wordress sites. Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

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