Learning how to use the Yoast SEO Plugin can be super helpful when you’re new to SEO. It does a great job of walking users through SEO best practices and every time you complete one of these tasks, you get a little green light saying that you’re doing a great job.

If you’re not familiar with Yoast, it’s the most popular SEO plugin. In a way, Yoast has become synonymous with SEO. People will hear “Yoast” and say, “Oh yeah, that’s the thing with the green lights!

The SEO best practices that Yoast encourages include:

  • Choosing one target keyword or phrase per page
  • Including that phrase in specific locations throughout the content
  • Encouraging a long word count
  • Recommending relevant links

Yoast is like a big fuzzy friend, giving me a big SEO hug & telling me I’m doing great.

But there comes a point where you end up relying on Yoast, when all you’re doing is trying to please that green light – even if it means you’re not focusing on the content and actual SEO.

Lemme tell ya – the green lights don’t matter.

Yoast is an SEO tool, not a strategy

Yoast has somewhat oversimplified SEO into this traffic light framework that may not actually be the best way to produce content that works for you and your customers.

Yoast doesn’t know your strategy

I think the biggest way that Yoast has confused their users is the fact that it has a space for you to fill out one target or primary keyword for every post or page or project on your website and then makes all of its recommendations based on the keyword that you select.

And I think that the trouble that can come out of this is twofold.

First of all, it has no idea why you’re selecting that keyword or what the strategy is behind it.

You may choose a keyword that’s not appropriate for what you’re putting onto that page and then Yoast will actually make that blog post worse because it has no way of validating whether or not that keyword is a good choice for you and what you want people to do when they get to that page. Essentially, it’s not taking into consideration the quality of the keyword.

Search has evolved beyond one target keyword

The second problem with having one target keyword associated with each page is that it’s just not the best way to create content. Google has evolved past the point of expecting there to be one target keyword per page.

So, yes – Yoast can be a really good reminder and checklist – but by putting one phrase into all of the places that Yoast tells you to, you’re making your content sound more robotic. Think about it – you’re shoving those same words in the same order into multiple places on the page, which is awkward to read. Plus you’re limiting the number of ideas or concepts that the blog post can rank for.

Now, this approach used to work about 10/15 years ago. The way that you’d get a page to rank was based on a factor called keyword density (which is the percentage of words on your website that include that word/phrase).

But that’s just not true of what Google is looking for in content anymore. We don’t say the same phrase over and over again, even in a very conversational way; We find different ways to say the same things when we’re talking, and Google’s algorithm reflects that.

Yoast has two huge blind spots: technical factors & keyword quality.

Yoast doesn’t review any site-wide technical factors in their green light checklist.

There are 3 HUGE indicators of how trustworthy Google considers your page that massively impact your SEO:

  • Your site loads quickly (3 seconds or less is best)
  • Your site is secure (has an SSL certificate)
  • Your site is mobile responsive (looks great on phones & tablets)

If you’re not sure if you can check off those boxes (fast, secure, mobile responsive), here’s how to find out:

1. How to check your page speed:

If you’re not sure of your page speed, use Pingdom Tools’ speed test. If your page loads in less than 3 seconds, you’re good to go. If it’s 3-5 seconds, there are a few things you can do yourself to speed it up, like decreasing image file sizes or

2. How to know if your website is secure:

Open your website in a browser. Does your URL start with https:// or https://?

If it starts with https://, that means your site is secure and Google knows that you can safely collect e-mail addresses and even payments without as much fear of being hacked. If it starts with https://, you need an SSL certificate. You can purchase it from your hosting company and ask for help installing it on your site.

3. How to know if your site is mobile-responsive

The easiest way to check is to open your website on your phone or tablet; if it looks good, you’re probably ok. (If you want to be super sure, check it on different devices in different browsers.)

But a more thorough solution is to use the Google Mobile Friendly Test Tool, which looks at the code behind the site to make sure that it will look great on phones & tablets using different browsers and software systems.

Yoast doesn’t tell you how good your keyword is

You could be wasting time using a crappy keyword, and still think you’re golden

Here’s an embarrassing story: A few years ago, before I really understood SEO, I wrote this post: WordPress or Squarespace: Which is a Better Fit for My Business?

It breaks down how the two platforms are different and who would benefit from each, by the metaphors of playing with Legos or Crayons to explain why your business would work with either of these options. And I chose the word “legos” for my focus keyword.

Guys … “Legos” is a TERRIBLE keyword.
Not only is it an internationally recognized brand, and searching for “legos” results in 140 million results … but it’s not even a little bit relevant to my topic. If somebody were actually searching for Legos and found this page? They’d be annoyed, and they’d click away immediately.

And yet: Yoast gave me a green light for it! It guided me to include the word “legos” more frequently and to include it in my title and URL.

Looking back now, I wince at the missed opportunity to get this post found for what it’s really about.

Once I changed the target keyword to what the post is REALLY about — “Wordpress or Squarespace” — more traffic started rolling in. And because those people wanted to hear more about my website design recommendations, they joined my list. Because they were searching for “Wordpress or Squarespace” — they didn’t care about LEGOS.

It’s okay to break the Yoast green light streak

Let’s say that you’re a dog trainer and you’re writing a blog post for your potential clients whose dogs keep barking all the time. You might think that the keyword for that post would be something like, “How to stop dog barking”. Yoast would probably think, “Okay, cool. That’s a great keyword.”

And although it’s a great keyword, the problem with Yoast (and this is true for most SEO plugins) is that it wants you to take those same five words in the same order, and put them into all the places that they’ve identified in that post. And the reality is, people may not be searching for that exact same phrase. People may search for, “How to stop your dog from barking” – and Yoast is going to see that and think that it’s entirely different.

So I give you permission to not feel the need to use the exact phrase in the same order, even if it breaks your green light streak.

Know Your Audience

Think to yourself: “If I were looking for this information, what would I search?”

I know, I know, it seems obvious … but sometimes we get so caught up in a title that sounds catchy or clickable that we forget the whole point of SEO: to be found by people that are searching for our content.

So put yourself in your ideal client’s shoes: What would she be searching for if this were the blog post she wanted to read? And work backwards from there to choose your keyword.

Use H2 headings to segment & add other keywords

Another great way to optimize your posts for a variety of keywords and keyphrases is to include them as subheadings. You mayyyyy get a bit of pushback from these SEO plugins, but we’re trying to make our content reflect what people actually search. Give it the opportunity to rank for as many keywords as you want.

If you include more keywords in one post, Google is going to recognize the value of that and they’re going to send more people to that post.

If diversifying your content means that you miss out on that green light stamp of approval from Yoast or other SEO plugins, that’s totally okay.

Research Great Keywords

I use SEMRush to look at the keyword data: How many people are searching for that phrase? How competitive are the search results? Are there any other relevant phrases that are a better fit?

(Note: I use SEMRush for pretty much everrrrything I do, which is why I included it as an affiliate link — because I think it’s an awesome tool for a million reasons. Even if you don’t have the budget for a monthly subscription, you can still use it for some keyword research, you’re just limited in the number of search results & related keywords you can see.)

Your Yoast score is not a performance metric

Remember that your Yoast score is an indication of how often you include a certain phrase in your post. It’s a checklist. It’s not a strategy

Need some help getting your SEO strategy started? Book a call with me & I’ll give you customized advice to get your website found more easily!