How to Properly Set up and Use the Yoast SEO Plugin on Your WordPress Blog

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How to properly set up the Yoast SEO plugin
One of the most popular WordPress plugins is the Yoast SEO plugin. Although, sometimes I wonder if people misunderstand the purpose of Yoast.

This misunderstanding arises from a lot of factors. Factors such as a lack of understanding of what SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is, what it means to rank on Google, why it matters (or doesn’t matter) if someone ranks or not… being just a few of them.

And as far as WordPress users go, some of the beginner bloggers and business owners mistakenly assume that installing and setting up a plugin like Yoast and getting a”green light” will magically solve their SEO issues.

Now, if you want to understand ranking from a beginner’s perspective, I have a blog post on SEO right here which I recommend you read.

This post, however, focuses on the auspicious Yoast SEO plugin. I’m going to talk about what Yoast is, what it does, and basically everything you need to know about the Yoast SEO plugin, including, how to install it, set it up, and use it.

Content

A brief introduction to SEO

To understand SEO better, I suggest you read the blog post I linked above. But in order to talk about the Yoast SEO plugin, I have to give you at least a basic intro for what SEO is.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is referred to all the things one can do to increase organic traffic. 

By organic, I mean that people are not clicking on an ad to come to your site, but people are finding your website naturally by searching for a topic.

For example, I teach people how to sell Canva templates. I have a blog post on this very topic, and if you search for this topic, my blog post shows up towards the top of the page. In fact, my post is the second link that you see on Google’s SERP (Search Engine Result Page) at the time of writing this. If someone searches for this topic on Google and then clicks on my post link to come to my website, that is called “organic traffic”.

A look at Google's SERP for search term - sell Canva template
On Google, if you search for the term “sell Canva template”, my blog post is the second link that shows up on SERP.

Now, let’s take a look at how the Yoast plugin relates to SEO.

SEO and the Yoast SEO Plugin

Yoast SEO is a plugin for WordPress users. The purpose of this plugin itself isn’t to improve your SEO, but to accomplish some of the things that can improve your SEO. It’s a tool, not a magic wand.

First and foremost, let me be clear about one thing. The Yoast plugin in and of itself doesn’t do anything to improve your SEO. Someone who understands SEO can achieve great results without even bothering to use a plugin. This plugin is a tool and nothing more. A tool’s purpose is to help your life a little easy. But if you do not even know what the tool is used for and what exactly it does for you, how can you expect to get results?

Anyone can slash away with a carving knife. But that doesn’t mean everyone can make a wood sculpture out of a block of wood simply because they have a knife.

So, in this blog post, all I’ll do is teach you what you can do with this tool. But to get results, to improve your rating on search engines, for this tool to be actually helpful to you, you’ll need a better understanding of SEO. And that’s something else entirely and removed from the Yoast plugin.

So yes, please read the blog post on SEO. If you’re a complete beginner with SEO, that post should help.

Why use the Yoast SEO plugin

Again, think of this plugin as a tool. It doesn’t improve your SEO, but it does help you implement certain things that can eventually impact your standing with search engines.

For example, search engines look at post/page titles and meta descriptions. All of your blog posts and pages have titles. But, what if you wanted to have a title for your readers (the title you set on the title field inside WordPress editor), and another for search engines to look at? For example, what if you wanted to add your blog name after each of your blog posts? That would be overkill for your readers, but great for search engines, no? With the Yoast plugin, you can do that easily.

So, while there are plenty of features available with this plugin, here are a few that I use personally, and recommend you familiarize yourself with. (Don’t worry, I’ll go over these in detail shortly.)

SEO title

This allows you to set a title for all your posts and pages. This is what the search engines see.

Meta description

Search engines, as well as social media platforms, pull this meta description to show alongside your links.

Sitemap

Yoast automatically generates a sitemap for you. This means that you do not need yet another plugin to generate this sitemap for you. Also, a sitemap is super important if you want to add your website to Google’s Search Console (which you should).

Ability to hide pages from search engines

There may be pages that you do not want search engines to crawl. Maybe these are private pages. For example, I have certain “hidden” pages on my website. The freebie library is one of them. I can easily make it, with Yoast, so that search engines do not crawl this page or show it to the regular public.

Open Graph markup

These are markups that some social media platforms use (like Facebook or Pinterest) to pull up your content info. Yoast does it for you. Had it not been for Yoast, you’d have to do it manually, by hard coding the header file of your template. Again, not always the best way to go about it.

Schema markup

Schema markups are codes that help out search engines by telling them exactly what kind of data you are sharing with your content. Search engines are pretty smart, so they can figure this stuff out on their own… eventually. But, by specifying what type of content you have with schema markups, you’re making their job a bit easier and helping them understand your content faster.

For example, if you’re publishing a blog post, on Yoast’s schema tab, you can share what kind of content it is. Is it an article? A news article maybe? Or a tech article? For most bloggers, you’ll want to have your posts set to “article”, but if you’re a niche blogger, you may choose something more appropriate. This will tell search engines that you have a specific type of content that users may be interested in.

Structured content

Structured content uses the same schema markups (codes) to give search engines even more information than just what type of content you’re offering. For example, let’s say that inside a blog post, you have a Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ section. Now, you could just type them up, which is handy for your human readers. But a search engine may take forever to figure out that you have some useful FAQs inside your blog post.

But, if you use structured content to tell the search engines that you have an FAQ section, then it will be easier for the search engines to show your content to users who are looking for answers to the questions you have on your blog.

There are plenty of ways to implement different types of structured content, but two super useful ones are How-to and FAQ types. And thankfully, Yoast can help you add these two types of structured content pretty easily, without you having to hand-code and add them manually.


There are plenty of other things that you can do with Yoast, but for our purposes, the ones I’ve just mentioned should give you enough to start optimizing your content.

And now, let’s see how to use the Yoast SEO plugin. Just as a reminder, Yoast has a LOT of great features on both the free and the paid versions. I use the free version myself and have found it sufficient for my needs. Assuming that most of you reading this post are new or intermediate bloggers not yet super familiar with SEO or Yoast, I’ll keep this tutorial simple for you to follow, but with enough advanced information to help get everything set up properly so that you won’t have to worry about changing anything as your blog grows.

The Yoast SEO plugin setup

As stated above, Yoast SEO is a plugin for the self-hosted WordPress platform. If you haven’t set up your blog or website yet, you’ll need to do that first. I suggest signing up with a hosting company (I recommend the GrowBig plan or higher on SiteGround) and then installing WordPress. If you need some help, I have a blog post on how to set up WordPress; feel free to check it out.

Install and activate the Yoast SEO plugin

Just like with any plugin, you can directly install the Yoast SEO plugin from your WordPress dashboard.

Log in to your WordPress dashboard first if you haven’t already, and then go to Plugin > Add New, and then search for “Yoast”. This will pull up the Yoast SEO plugin. Click on the “Install Now” button next to it, and once it is installed, click “Activate”. This should activate your plugin. Now you’re ready to set it up.

Install the Yoast SEO plugin from WordPress dashboard
Install the Yoast SEO plugin from the WordPress dashboard

Set up the Yoast SEO plugin

Now that the plugin is activated, head over to the plugin setting options to make sure everything is set up properly. This step is simple enough, just following along.

“General” settings:

Inside WordPress Dashboard > SEO > General window, you should see four tabs: Dashboard, Features, Integrations, and Webmaster Tools.

Yoast dashboard screen-capture

The “Dashboard” tab shows you if the plugin finds any problem with your SEO and any other relevant notifications.

Yoast features window. Everything should be enabled except for usage tracking.

The “Features” tab shows you all that the plugin does for you automatically, without you having to set things up manually. All of these should be enabled, except for Usage Tracking. Leave it like that.

The SEO and readability analysis options are what those “green” lights are all about. These can be helpful but don’t think that just because Yoast gives you green light, your blog post is ready to be ranked. These indications are helpful for beginners who’re still polishing their writing skills, but being too dependent on these indicators can, in fact, often do more harm than good. Read the blog post on SEO to understand more about how to write better content for SEO.

Cornerstone content refers to pages or posts that are the most important in your blog. Everything else you write is centered around these cornerstone posts and pages. When you have this enabled, you can mark a post or page as cornerstone content from within the single page or post editor. Marking something as cornerstone content doesn’t do anything in terms of SEO; it only helps you to keep track of these pieces. When you mark a post as cornerstone content, you can easily access them from your list of posts or pages. It helps you remember to always keep these posts and pages up to date and relevant as they are the most important.

The text link counter feature is also enabled by default. It counts the links inside your posts and pages. Specifically, it counts how many links you have in total inside a single page/post, and how many links are directing to that page/post. Again, it’s mostly for your benefit. It’s good practice to add inbound links to your blog posts (links that point to content in your own site). For example, in this blog post, I have added a link to my SEO post. That’s an inbound link. When you understand what inbound links are, and you start practicing adding them whenever you can, it becomes your second nature, and you do not even pay attention to this number that Yoast collects. But, if you’re a beginner, this could help remind you to add more inbound links to your posts.

 XML sitemap is the most important feature in this window, and make sure that it is enabled . This feature creates a map of all of your content within your site. When you add your website to Google Search Console, you’ll need to add your sitemap. That’s when you’ll need this feature.

Under integrations tab, SEMrush and Ryte integration should be enabled by default.

Under “Integrations”, you should have SEMrush integration and Ryte integration enabled by default. Leave them be.

Webmaster tools can be used to verify site ownership for search engines.

Finally, under the “Webmaster Tools” tab, you are able to verify your site with search engines by adding search engine provided verification codes. Personally, I prefer to do this on the domain level, so I leave these blank.

“Search Appearance” settings:

In the WordPress Dashboard > SEO > Search Appearance window, you’ll find even more tabs. You can leave all of these at their default state, but I do want to explain a few settings to you. Understanding what they do will be helpful for you in the future when your blog grows and you start to learn and understand more about SEO.

Under the “General” tab, you can set up how your homepage looks like on SERP (Search Engine Result Page).

To properly understand what I’m talking about, let’s look at what we see when you search for “the side blogger” on Google:

The Side Blogger on Google's SERP

You can set up these metadata from inside a single blog post or page editor. However, to save some time and keep things simple, you can set up a few things under the plugin’s “Search Appearance” settings.

As you see in the photo above, the search result has a few parts. For the home page, it’s showing my site title, followed by a dash (this is called a separator), followed by my site’s tagline (the blog description I had set up when I installed WordPress; you can edit it easily from WordPress settings.)

Under Yoast’s “Search Appearance”, in the “General” tab, you can specify what your homepage would look like on a search engine’s SERP.

On Yoast, set up what your homepage would look like on Google's SERP

The default settings should be fine in this tab. You can choose the separator to be something other than a dash if you want to. As for the SEO title, notice the variables: Site Title + Page + Separator + Tagline

The “Site Title” is self-explanatory — it’s your website’s name.

“Page” is for the page number. Typically for bloggers, most of us don’t have page numbers on our posts or pages, so that’s a bit redundant. You can remove it if you want. Even if you leave it there, it’s fine, nothing will be populated if there is no page number.

The “Separator” is the one you’ve specified above.

“Tagline” is your site description as I’ve pointed out already.

Ideally, you should leave the meta description empty since it is better to create a unique meta description for each of your posts and pages. So, you should fill them up inside each individual page/post editor.

Under “Knowledge Graph & Schema.org”, specify whether your website represents a person or an organization. If a person, choose the name from the dropdown below. You should be able to choose a user from that dropdown.

If you’ve changed anything in this tab, make sure to save it.

Set up schema settings under the Content Types tab.

Under the “Content Types” tab, you can do the same as you did for the home page — you can set up what an individual page or post will look like on Google’s SERP.

What I want to draw your attention to is the “Schema settings” section under this tab. Recall I mentioned earlier what schema markups are. They are useful information that tells search engines what type of content you create. You can change them easily from individual post/page editors, but in this tab, you can set a universal value. So, for example, if you consider all of your blog posts to be articles, then you won’t need to change this setting on each individual page or post editor.

The default values are “Web Page” for all pages and “Article” for all posts. Typically, that’s the case for most people. But if you need to change that, you can do it here or from individual page/post editors.

Feel free to explore the other tabs, but it’s safe to leave them at their default settings. For the sake of brevity, I will not be going over these other settings.

“Social” settings:

In the Dashboards > SEO > Social window, leave most of the things as is. However, I want to point out a few things under the “Facebook” tab.

Make sure Open Graph meta data is enabled under Yoast's Social tab.

In this tab, make sure that Open Graph meta data is enabled. By default, it should be. Facebook and other social media platforms use these to pull site and page titles and excerpts for your content. So, if you ever plan on sharing your blog on social media, it is important that this is enabled.

Under “Frontpage settings”, you can specify what the main (home) page of your website/blog would appear as. If your homepage doesn’t have a featured image or if you want a different image to show up on social media when you share a link to your site, you can add an image here that will show up. You can also specify a title and description for the home page. If you leave these blank, the site title and tagline would show on social media when your share your homepage. Fill them out only if you want something other than your site name and tagline to show.

Under “Default settings”, you can add an image that will show if your content doesn’t have a featured image. So, let’s say that you have a page that you want to share on Facebook. But you forgot to add a featured image to that page. Then Facebook will show this image when you share a link to that page. I suggest you add an image here. preferably one with your website/blog’s name on it, and maybe the tagline too.

Working with Yoast from individual Post/Page editors

So far you have added some global settings to your website.

However, the best part about the Yoast plugin is that you can customize these settings from inside a post or page editor too. Not all of your content may fit the same type of structures you have specified so far.

For example, maybe you need the title of a certain blog post to be different from the title that shows up on search results. In that case, you can just edit the SEO title of that blog post only from within that post’s Yoast settings.

Also, consider this. Maybe you have a food blog where you sometimes write articles and other times share recipes. Recall that when we set up the schema earlier, we set it up so that all blog posts were set to be the “Article” type. But Yoast has a schema markup available for recipes. So, when you’re posting a recipe, you can easily change the schema for that post from within that post’s Yoast settings.

Let’s now look at how you can do all that.

Find Yoast inside the page or post editor

Once you install and activate the Yoast plugin, you should see a dedicated Yoast section within each of your post or page editors.

If you’re using the Gutenberg editor, you should see it below the editor space, and also to the right side of the editor (on a laptop/desktop, click on the Yoast icon on the top-right corner to show the Yoast options.)

If you’re using the classic editor, like me, then you should see it below the editor space.

Yoast settings for individual posts when using the Gutenberg editor.
Yoast settings for individual posts when using the Gutenberg editor.

Whether you’re using the classic editor or Gutenberg, the settings are all the same.

Specify SEO settings

Under the SEO tab, the first thing you see is the “focus keyword”. This is where you set your keyword, which enables Yoast to track how many times and where you have used said keyword.

And that is all I’ll talk about keywords. I have talked about keywords in this blog post, but in short, you do not need a plugin like Yoast to tell you if you’ve used a certain keyword a certain number of times in your blog post. Even the idea of it is something I find preposterous.

Moving on.

Set up SEO title and description

By now you should be familiar with the SEO title and meta description areas. We have seen them when we were setting up Yoast. The default value for the title should be what you have set up already, but as I mentioned before, you can change it here if you want to. For example, if your primary title is too long, you could change that here and set a shorter title. It is a good idea to make sure your title length shows green (in the image above it is showing orange because the title is too short.)

The “slug” is the part of the domain name that points to the specific page or post (the part that follows your primary domain following a forward slash.) By default, this slug is the title of your post or page, which may or may not be what you want. Sometimes it is beneficial to have shorter slugs, so you can manually change that in this “slug” field.

The meta description is what shows up underneath the title in search engines and social media platforms. Now, there’s one thing I want to point out. Even though in theory you expect Google to show the meta description underneath the title in SERP, this may not be the case. You see, often Google pulls text from within your post’s body that it thinks is the most relevant and useful to its users. So, do not get alarmed if the description that shows up in Google does not match the meta description you have specified.

But even if Google doesn’t show this meta description, social media platforms will, so do be mindful when writing this description. Keep it brief but descriptive.

SEO analysis shows you problem areas.

Under the “SEO Analysis” section in the same tab, you should see areas where Yoast thinks you need improvement. Take these with a grain of salt. Not all content fits the same mold. For example, if you’re a brand new blogger with few blog posts, it may be that you wouldn’t have many internal links to share. Or external for that matter if there is no need for one.

Some of the advice here is useful. For example, all of your images should have an alt-tag. If there are images without alt tags, Yoast will show them here, and it could be a good reminder for you to go back and add them to all of your images.

The Cornerstone content works as an indication for yourself. There is no other practical use of this, nor does it help your SEO in any way. When you mark a post or page as a cornerstone piece, you can easily access them from your page or post lists inside the WordPress dashboard. It also serves as a reminder that these are important pieces of content and need to be revised often to keep them relevant. You may also want to link these posts internally as often as possible.

Under the advanced section, you can specify whether or not you want search engines to show this post.

Under the “Advanced” section, you can specify whether or not search engines should show a page or post in search engines. Ideally, for most of your content, this should be set to its default state – which is “Yes” to showing your page on search engines.

But it is possible that you may want to hide some pages from search engines. For example, I have hidden pages that are specifically targeted towards my email list subscribers, and I do not want search engines to index these pages or show them in search results. In these cases, I select “No”.

You can also specify whether search engines should follow links on your page. Ideally, this should also be set as “Yes”. If you have mixed links in your posts, some of which you do not want search engines to follow (such as affiliate links), then I advise you to make those links no-follow links using the nofollow rel-tag. See an example below:

<a href="https://exampleurl.com" rel="nofollow">Example</a>

I won’t talk much about the “Readability” tab. In short, it gives you tips to improve readability. Grammarly does the same, but better.

You can schange schema markup for your content from the Yoast Schema tab.

Inside the “Schema” tab, you should now recognize the two options already — you’ve seen them during the global Yoast setup. What you see inside this tab is what you’ve set up during the global setup. But you can change those default options from within the individual page or post’s Yoast settings. For example, in our example, we left the posts to be article type (default), but you can change it here to be one of the other available types. For example, if you think what you’re writing is a specific type of article (news, tech, satire, etc.), then you may choose that here. Feel free to check out all the available options.

Under the “Social” tab, you can specify if you want your post/page title and description to show something different from what you’ve already set up. You can set them up for Facebook and Twitter if you so choose to. For most of us bloggers, they’re the same as what we have set up in the SEO title and meta description, so there’s no need to fill them out once again. You need to add those only if you want them to be different.


That wraps up the most common uses of the Yoast SEO plugin and its setup process. In the next section, I want to draw your attention to something cool that comes with the Yoast SEO plugin and it works only if you’re using the WordPress Gutenberg editor.

Adding structured content with the Yoast SEO plugin

Yoast has two structured content blocks for Gutenberg users — a How-to block, and an FAQ block. Not everyone has a need to use these. For example, the how-to block is useful to only those of you who write a ton of tutorials or guides. But even then, it may not be practical for everyone.

For example, I write a lot of how-to type posts, but the tutorials I write are often too complex which makes it unsuitable for structured content.

Personally, I suggest you only use the How-to structured content block if you have a relatively simple process.

The other block — the FAQ block is the one I prefer. You see, most people are on Google or other search engines asking all kinds of questions. That’s why, if you can come up with some relevant questions that you think your ideal audience may be asking, then create an FAQ section inside your blog posts using the FAQ block. This will tell the search engines that you have answers to frequently asked questions by users. And next time someone is asking one of these questions, Google may just show them your answer!

You can add Yoast's How-to or FAQ structured content blocks in WordPress's Gutenberg editor.

To add one of these blocks in the Gutenberg editor, click the “+” sign to add a new block. In the search bar, start typing “structured” and these structured content blocks will show. Choose the appropriate one and add your content.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Yoast SEO plugin free?

Yoast has a free and a premium version. The free version is powerful and for most people, especially bloggers, you should be fine using the free version. When you start to understand the different aspects of SEO better, you may consider investing in the premium version, if you think you have a need for the paid features.

What does Yoast SEO do?

The Yoast SEO plugin for the WordPress platform helps you implement SEO strategies to your website that could help increase your search engine visibility and ranking over time.

Does Yoast SEO really work?

The Yoast SEO plugin is a tool that helps you implement proper SEO strategies. The plugin in and of itself doesn't do much unless you, the user, know exactly what you're doing and why you're doing them. Results depend on your capability of using this tool the right way.

How long does it take for Yoast SEO to work?

Most people say that it takes 4 to 6 months to see results. It depends on a variety of factors such as your content quality, quantity, relevancy, etc. Also, keep in mind that when it comes to SEO, you do not just wake up one morning and find that things are suddenly working. Good SEO practices build up over time.

And that’s it, guys! I hope this will help you get the Yoast SEO plugin on your WordPress blog up and running.


So, are you using Yoast on your site already? How do you like it so far? Do you think you’ve learned anything new at all about Yoast after reading this post? Also, if you do not have Yoast already, have I managed to convince you to add this plugin and use it on your blog yet?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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How to properly set up the Yoast SEO plugin

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