Yoast SEO, do you need to be green? Content analysis and importance.

Yoast SEO is not only one of the most popular WordPress plugins, but one of the most popular WordPress plugins overall. One of the reasons WordPress powers a 1/4 of all websites (and growing) is that is has pretty good SEO out-of-the-box. Yoast succeeds in making a good thing better.

If you were just to install the plugin, and forget about it. You’d still see benefit. Yoast rewrites page titles, and creates an XML sitemap for search engines. Beginners often get hung up on Yoast’s mechanism for grading your SEO per post. It works like this. You specify a keyword (only one with the free edition), and then it displays the colors of a stoplight to rank your post; red, yellow and green. It’s tempting to tweak every post until you have all green lights. Like a deserted street at 3am.

Yoast has “live” recommendations, that change with your content. So we can’t cover every recommendation here. Let’s review some of Yoast’s most common content analysis recommendations, and see which are worthy of your time.

Yoast content analysis

Before we start, we do need to address the albatross around the neck of Yoast. All analysis recommendations are based off a single keyword. As Yoast uses the freemium business model, it makes good business sense. An incentive to get users to upgrade. However, there’s rarely a single keyword I want to target, and I find it very crippling. Chances are you can zero on a single word, but take the results as they are, limited.

We’re going to group a bunch of the recommendations, and then explain why:

  • The focus keyword does not appear in the page title.
  • The focus keyword doesn’t appear in the first paragraph of the copy. Make sure the topic is clear immediately.
  • A meta description has been specified, but it does not contain the focus keyword.
  • The keyword density is 0%, which is a bit low; the focus keyword was found 0 times.
  • The images on this page do not have alt tags containing your focus keyword.
  • The focus keyword does not appear in the URL for this page. If you decide to rename the URL be sure to check the old URL 301 redirects to the new one!
  • No subheading tags (like an H2) appear in the copy.

Much of Yoast is based on a well-traveled, and well studied theory that for a page to rank well with search engines, the keyword or keyphrase must be repeated in the following areas:

  • The page title
  • The first paragraph
  • The meta description
  • It must be repeated throughout the copy (keyword density)
  • In the alt tag of an image
  • In the URL of the page
  • In an H1 or H2 tag

While this is still considered an accepted practice, and “basic SEO”, it’s no longer especially relevant with modern search engine algorithms. It may or may not help improve your search engine result positioning. Now, or in the future it may even be considered over-optimized, or spammy. It may be wise to consider using variations of a word or concept.

What happened to make this proven strategy less effective? In a word, RankBrain, Machine learning and artificial intelligence now look at the context of the query, and the topical authority of the result page. Search engines (including Bing with RankNet) have moved beyond simple keyword indexing, to understanding the query, and the pages indexed.

So if the simple formula Yoast uses for content analysis is no longer relevant. Is it worth considering?

Yoast snippet editor

With a grain of salt. I like the snippet editor because it provides an approximation of what Google may display in search results. It’s a good reminder to use descriptive titles of an appropriate length, and edit meta description if needed. Some more content analysis recommendations from Yoast:

  • The page title contains the focus keyword, but it does not appear at the beginning; try and move it to the beginning.

The idea is the earlier the word(s) appears in the title and URL the more important it is. It’s been mostly proven false that order matters in page title. Order does matter in the URL.

  • The copy scores 54.2 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly difficult to read. Try to make shorter sentences to improve readability.

Maybe one of the most controversial recommendations Yoast decided to include. Don’t place much importance on it. Reading level has never been proven to have any effect on SEO. But, it’s always a good reminder to avoid run on sentences. Shorter, easier content is also faster to read. Which is important on the web.

  • This page has 1 outbound link(s).

The internet was built on hyperlinks. If all the links in an article are back to your site, you’re probably going to frustrate the reader. If not search engines.

  • The page title is between the 40 character minimum and the recommended 70 character maximum.

Page title used to one of be the most important ranking factors. Recently Backlinko published a study of 1 million searches, finding it has little correlation. So again, probably a best practice, but of little overall value.

  • You’ve never used this focus keyword before, very good.

Um, okay. Not sure what to say about this one.

  • The text contains 589 words, this is more than the 300 word recommended minimum.

A recommendation of 300 minimum is likely far too few. I’d say 700 a better benchmark. The study of 1 million searches referenced above, found that the number 1 search result had an average of 1,890 words.

So if Yoast’s content analysis isn’t relevant today, what is? Backlinks are as important as ever. The more sites that link, the more authority those sites have. The higher your site will rank in search results. The best way to get backlinks? Long-form, quality, original content that’s topically relevant. Stick to a single topic. Include at least one image. Finally, keep the page light and fast. If your pages load in 2 seconds or less, you’ll be rewarded.