Take it from me—Yoast SEO is the best SEO plugin. I’ve tried using other WordPress SEO plugins for during my WordPress SEO optimization portion of my SEO consulting and have found time and time again that Yoast gives the most control over SEO settings for WordPress with minimal work.
When it comes to WordPress SEO, using Yoast correctly is just the tip of the iceberg. Yoast is an SEO plugin that helps you implement an SEO strategy on your site—so don’t forget that this is just an SEO tool.
I’ve created the below Yoast SEO guide to help you learn the basics of how to use the plugin to get started doing SEO for your website.
If you’ve installed Yoast SEO and done nothing after installing it, are struggling to get green lights on your posts and pages, or just don’t know if you’re setting up your WordPress site for the most SEO benefits, I’m here to help!
While Yoast is an extremely valuable tool, if you don’t take the time to set it up, you’re leaving a ton of SEO benefits on the table! So let’s go through Yoast together and set it up so your site can start ranking on top.
What is Yoast SEO?
Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that allows you to customize SEO elements on your website and helps you implement SEO strategy by providing insights into your content from an SEO perspective. It’s not an infalliable tool but it’s definitely something I always rely on as an SEO pro.
Yoast helps take care of on-page and on-site SEO by getting your website talking to search engines in a way search engines understand.
You can take care of most of the most important things for SEO, including:
- On-page keyword optimization
- Linking structure optimization
- Readability optimization
- .htaccess (Doesn’t work ok NGINX servers, like my favorite Flywheel hosting, however!)
- XML Sitemaps
- Meta Titles & Meta Descriptions
- Canonical Linking
- Individual page Robots meta data controls
- OpenGraph integrations for Facebook & Twitter
- Verifications for Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Pinterest, Bing etc
After determining an SEO strategy for my clients in my SEO consulting, setting up Yoast correctly is the next thing on my list. I also do a lot of other technical clean up and set up throughout my consulting packages—but Yoast is always where I start!
That being said, the Yoast SEO plugin can be really confusing to understand and has a lot of caveats you need to understand. In this Yoast tutorial, you’ll learn how to get the basics of Yoast set up correctly so it’s not hurting your SEO. Just know that if you want get the most out of this plugin, you’ll need to learn some more about SEO!
How to use the Yoast Plugin
- How to install Yoast
- Setting up general site-wide settings
- Using Yoast on individual pages
- Next steps for get the most from Yoast
How to Install the Yoast SEO Plugin
You install the Yoast plugin just the same as you would any other plugin.
- Go to Dashboard > Plugins > Add New
- Search for WordPress SEO by Yoast.
- Click the Install Now link. Wait a few seconds and click Activate to finish installing the plugin.
You’re all set and ready to go!
Setting up Site-Wide Yoast Settings
The first thing to do when you set up Yoast is to take care of all of your site-wide settings that affect all of the content on your website. Once you’ve installed the plugin, go to the Yoast and click the General settings menu.
Verify your Website in Google Search Console
Adding your verification allows your website to get extra information from Google Search Console, which is the only way Google will ever communicate with you in an official capacity about your website in search rankings or if your site has been given a manual penalty.
To verify your site with Google Search Console with Yoast:
- Go to General
- Click Webmaster Tools tab
- On the Google Verification blank, click the link to verify your website with Google Search Console.
- This will open a new tab with Google Search Console. Select HTML tag and copy the entire text.
- Paste the entire meta tag into the Google Search Console blank and click save changes.
Once you’ve pasted in that information, go back to Search Console and click verify. It can take a couple of minutes and you may need to click your website’s cache if you’re having trouble.
You can repeat this process to verify with Bing, Baidu, and Yandex as well!
Setting up Search Appearance with Yoast SEO
The next step is to set up how your website will appear in search results, especially what kinds of content from your websute you want Google and other search engines to show in search results.
Yoast makes this very easy to do with their Search Appearance tab in the Yoast menu!
Set your SEO Titles with Yoast
You can set a site-wide setting for your SEO titles to make it quick and easy to set your titles with minimal effort in the General tab within Search Appearance. You can also set extra information about your business or who you are to help Google identify your website, including your business name and logo.
Set what types of content appear in search results with Yoast
You can also tell search engines what kinds of content you’d like to appear in search results.
This is just a suggestion to search engines so they don’t have to follow this—however it does work with most major search engines!
This also works for custom post types! For instance if you collect testimonials as a type of post in your website but don’t want individual pages created by WordPress to appear in search results, you can use these settings to let search engines know you’d prefer this content not to appear.
What kinds of content should appear in search results?
Generally speaking, I tell search engines not to show custom post types when they’re used as content within a page, like testimonials. I check this by looking at the preview of an individual custom post type and seeing if it’s worthwhile to searchers. Would they enjoy landing on this type of page? If not, set that content type to not be shown.
You’ll see the following for all the different post types you have on your site:
You have the following options:
- Select whether you want this content type to show in search results. (You can control individual posts and pages differently, this is for all that type of content on your site.)
- Shows a publish or last updated date will show in the search result preview.
- Shows the Meta Box (covered below) on individual content pages. This is a way you can control who gets access to SEO changes on your site.
- Allows you to set a default SEO title and Meta Description for that type of content which can be changed in individual posts. )I generally leave this alone!)
Prevent image pages from appearing in search results
WordPress creates individual webpages for most things you add to your site, from the obvious like posts and pages to the not-so-obvious like custom post types (addressed above) and media uploads.
When you add a media upload to your WordPress website, it create an individual page that only has that upload on it called an attachment page. They’re really useless so you don’t want them to appear in search results.
If your WordPress image pages are appearing in search results by accident, fix it by selecting Yes on the media & attachment URLS option in the Search Appearance tab in Yoast.
Yoast did an update at one time that did not have “Yes” as the default setting to redirect attachments URLs so if you’ve had Yoast installed for a long time, be sure to check this setting to prevent thin content issues!
Set how taxonomies appear in search results
Taxonomies is a fancy WordPress word for ways your content is classified on your website, including categories, tags, and other custom taxonomies you might have on your site.
I like to think of taxonomies as different types of archives because they’re much easier to understand that way!
You can use Yoast to control whether or not these taxonomy types appear in search results. In other words, if you want category pages to appear in search results, you can control that through the Taxonomies tab in Search Appearances in Yoast.
In most cases, I include categories in search results but tell search engines not to include other taxonomies to prevent duplicate content issues. I combine this with a content siloing method, which is an advanced SEO technique that requires special coding for WordPress to work with correctly.
You can also control some of your archives on this page typically. I like to eliminate archives to prevent thin and duplicate content issues. I’d select Disable on any archives I want to get rid of as well as exclude them from search results. If archives help your readers navigate your site easily, however be sure to enable them.
Control your site’s Archives with Yoast
For the most part, you can control what kinds of archives your website has with Yoast, which is a handy feature if you’re trying to eliminate duplicate or thin content on your site!
If you have a single-author website, you’ll want to disable your author archive since it is identical to your regular archive!
Below that, you’ll also find a date-based archive. This is the archive that breaks down your posts into year and month archives you’ll often see in blog sidebars. If you want to give this navigation functionality to your visitors, keep it! (At the very least, I leave the default setting to exclude it from search results if it makes sense to keep it for visitors.)
You also can control the automatic titles for special pages on your website in this tab, like your 404 and search pages. If you want to spice up your website to give it more personality, you can do that here!
How to use Yoast to add Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are the links usually seen at the top of a page that help you navigate between pages in the website’s hierarchy.
I don’t always add breadcrumbs to websites—it depends on how the website is intended to be used. However, breadcrumbs are an SEO best practice so when in doubt, add them!
When you enable Breadcrumbs, it will give you a lot of options to control how the Breadcrumbs are styled. Keep in mind that you will have to edit your website theme to add breadcrumbs—and if you want anything other than the basic style, you’ll have to code!
- Make sure you have a child theme installed.
- Copy the code required from Yoast.
- Generally speaking, add it to your child theme in the single.php and page.php files, though your individual website might vary.
- Check how it appears by clicking through your site to make sure you’re happy!
Protect your SEO with RSS feeds
People who steal content often use RSS feeds to do it because it’s easy. Just loop in an RSS feed to a website and voilà, they’re going to steal every single post you publish on your site.
To help protect your content from an SEO standpoint, Yoast helps you add a message to your RSS feed that links back to your website or whatever other message you’d like to add to posts in your RSS feed.
While it doesn’t prevent someone from stealing your content, Yoast’s RSS settings help search engines understand where that stolen content originally came from and can help you find it to take action after content has been stolen.
I use trackbacks to find stolen content myself and strive to protect my intellectual property! This Yoast setting helps me do that because it auto-links back to my content—and then I can find it to have it removed.
Link Your Website to Search Console
The next menu option is Search Console. This doesn’t verify your website with Search Console—that’s done in the General menu tab. Instead, this allows Yoast to pull information from your Search Console to help alert you to any issues your site has.
In my experience, linking my sites to Search Console hasn’t helped a lot—but that’s also because I routinely check Search Console and dig deeper into my errors. If you’re not good about doing that, be sure to do this step.
With your site linked, you’ll be able to see 404 errors in your Search Console report right in Yoast without having to leave your website! However, you should still check your Search Console from time to time, especially as Google is making changes to Search Console.
Help Search Engines Identify Your Social Channels
SEO is a holistic view of your entire online presence, not just your website. Google and other search engines can take social media into account when creating a picture of your authority online. So giving them a helping hand by saying “this is me!” in your code helps.
As well, Yoast helps control some social media integrations to make your content look better when shared on social channels.
Link your website to your social profiles for SEO
You’ll find a tab with blanks for your social profiles in the Accounts tab. This adds a bit of code to your site that humans can’t see that says “hey, these social accounts belong to this site!”
Simply copy the entire URL of your social media profiles, including the http(s):// into each blank and click save.
Integrate with Facebook Open Graph for Sharing with Yoast
Facebook changed how they allow websites to manipulate what their content looks like when shared so this now must be done in the code of the website, not on Facebook itself.
Yoast has controls for individual content as well as site-wide settings that make your content look prettier in Facebook when shared.
You want to enable Open Graph unless you’re using another plugin for this and set a default image that will be shared if your post doesn’t have one. Helps you look a bit more professional on Facebook!
The Facebook App ID in Yoast helps to properly attribute content in Facebook to your website. You can get your own Facebook App ID without having to be a developer! You get access to better Analytics with Facebook this way as well as all kinds of extras. However, a Facebook App ID is not required so you can skip this step!
Integrate with Twitter Sharing with Yoast
As with Facebook, Twitter also has integrations with Open Graph that make it easier to share your content. You can enable a Card on Twitter which shares an image with the preview of your post.
I use the Summary with Large image always.
Verify your website with Pinterest with Yoast
Pinterest asks that you verify your website to get access to all kinds of helpful analytics with a business account. You can do this by copying the code and pasting it into the blank field on the Pinterest tab in Yoast. Then go back to Pinterest and click verify & you’re all set!
Use Yoast’s SEO tools to get more done
Yoast also provides some great tools for taking care of SEO tasks in their Tools menu. These are more advanced tools so I won’t cover them extensively in this Yoast SEO tutorial but for my fellow SEO pros, these are super handy!
Import and Export
You can import other SEO tool’s info here and export Yoast settings if you ever want to change to another plugin. (But you don’t… Yoast is the best SEO plugin!)
Allows you to edit your robots.txt and .htaccess files. Generally, you’re gonna leave these alone! I recommend using individual page controls for controling robots meta data and using a 301 Redirect plugin instead of .htaccess.
You can easily edit meta titles and descriptions for all your content here. Great if you’ve never done SEO before to cut down on time spent clicking between pages!
Text Link Counter
Click the button and it’ll count the number of links in and out in your articles to other content on your site. Helps with keeping track of internal linking structure!
Using Yoast to Optimize for Search Engines on Individual Pages
Now that you have your site-wide settings complete, it’s time to start using Yoast on your individual pages and posts to help you create better SEO focused content.
Setting Your Focus Keyword in Yoast
The first step is to set your focus keyword for your post, even though it’s not the first thing on this pane of options. This is where you’ve done your SEO keyword research and found the best keyword for your post.
Yoast will help guide you through using your keyword in your post—but keep in mind it’s not very smart. It doesn’t understand synonyms or variations, only exact matches to what you put in.
This is the part I like the least about Yoast because it can accidentally lead to keyword stuffing! As an SEO pro, I often don’t use this feature.
Setting Your SEO Title & Description
Below your post you’ll see a snippet preview, or what your website is recommending to search engines to use in search results. Search engines don’t have to use this information, but it’s a good way to control how your website appears in search results.
You can read more about best practices to meta data. Generally, you want this to attract clicks from search engines—so think about why someone would want to read your content and customize from there.
Remember, meta descriptions don’t directly impact search rankings but instead attract clicks to your site. Make your descriptions enticing!
Readability doesn’t have a direct impact on SEO but can indirectly affect what happens to your rankings based on how people interact with your content. Better written content can help you get more links, shares, and engagement!
Setting Social Shares Settings
You can also set individual post share settings in this tab for Facebook and Twitter by customizing the image shared as well as the preview text. Pretty straight forward!
Advanced SEO Settings in Yoast for Individual Content
In the advanced tab, you’ll find settings for controlling information only search engines see. This is how you can exclude an individual page or post from search results.
Even as a pro, I don’t change the other settings very often.
You want Google to crawl a web page that is excluded from search results so it can see the code to exclude it. If you block robots from a page, it may still appear in search results even if you changed the meta data! In other words, don’t touch meta robots unless you have a great reason and know what you’re doing.
Canonical links are a way of saying “Hey, this is a repost! The original content is over here at this link.” If you reshare posts from some one else’s website (with permission of course!), this is how to make sure you’ve taken care of SEO so you don’t hurt yours or theirs.
Next Steps for getting the most from the Yoast SEO Plugin
Now that you’ve learned how the tool works, the next step is to figure out your own SEO strategy so you can use the Yoast SEO plugin well.
After all, Yoast is just a tool, although a great one!
Take the next step by learning SEO or handing it off to a pro like me to help you implement it.
And if you liked the post, be sure to sign up for my newsletter where I share more actionable tips on SEO and digital marketing.