The Yoast SEO plugin is undeniably one of the most popular plugins for WordPress. Its “SEO for everyone” slogan is accurate as it allows many WordPress users to have a near set-it-and-forget-it attitude for most of the settings. However, one of the plugin’s most useful features can also be misleading if you’re not careful.
The gist of Yoast’s on-page analysis is simple: the writer simply adds their target or focus keyword phrase, and lo-and-behold, dozens of metrics are provided to guide the user how to improve their content to rank better. Generally, these are pretty good guidelines, but inherent problems may arise following each one.
Generally, the Yoast SEO metrics and formulas are not considerate of the writer’s intended audience, goals, and style, but is merely there to guide one to rank well in the search engines. Additionally, following each and every metric can force a writer of lesser SEO strength to produce a formulaic and soulless writing style to appease an algorithm and not a user.
This article will focus on Yoast SEO’s on-page analysis tools, opposed to the broader settings.
Yoast SEO’s snippet preview is simple to use and easy to understand. This is where the plugin truly shines for users of all levels. A live feedback monitor helps the writer get an understanding of the role the page title and meta description plays in search engine result pages. There’s no criticism here. Just praise!
- Reading ease
- Passive voice
- Transition words
- Consecutive sentences
- Paragraph length
- Sentence length
- Subheading distribution
- SEO Title (page title) width
- Meta description length
- Keyphrase in title
- Keyphrase in slug (URL)
- Keyphrase in introduction
- Keyphrase in subheadings
- Keyphrase density
- Previously used keyphrase
- Internal links
- Outbound links
- Text length
- Image alt attribute
These really are excellent areas to focus one, but if one person spent all their time making sure each area turned green, I’m not sure if the user’s content would attract and convert an audience. In fact, I think following each of these areas could lead to formulaic and soulless content. It might rank well, but would it really engage the reader?
Yoast SEO Metric Breakdown
Flesch Reading Ease
This is a formula devised in 1948 by Rudolph Flesch. The lower the score, the more difficult to read. However, you need to know your audience. If you’re writing scientific analysis, your article might be more complicated than an article about beauty tips. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I personally tend to write stronger articles, and I prefer that. I’m not interested in a broad audience. I wanted a focused audience. I generally skip this Yoast SEO metric when writing and optimizing my own articles.
There is nothing wrong with passive voice. If I wanted to have a stronger emphasis on my own opinions and really stress my ego, I would use passive voice less frequently. My goal is to educate with wisdom, facts, and metaphors, and an active voice may does not fit my own personal style.
Again, the writer should know how to deliver their thoughts to their intended audience.
I don’t have much negativity towards using transition words, as they can naturally help guide the narrative the writer is intending.
I recently wrote a post titled “What if Search Engines Didn’t Exist.” In that article, I started several sentences with the same phrase. I did so as a stylistic choice to grab the reader and develop a point. Again, the intent of the writer is not considered in Yoast’s on-page analysis.
Again, this comes down to style. It does make sense since websites are generally a vertical medium, paragraphs should be short. Paragraphs should contain a singular theme. It may not make sense if the theme is broken into multiple paragraphs in order to comply with Yoast SEO’s metric.
Another stylistic choice. However, the writer should be cognizant (I’m sure this word will decrease my reading ease) of their intended audience. There’s value in having short, concise sentences. There’s also value in crafting well-written sentences that deliver a point. Short. Long. What matters is that the writer is connecting with the reader.
I think this is generally fair. Using headings can help users quickly find points with supportive paragraphs.
SEO Title (page title) width
This is strictly an SEO aspect. Page titles or in Yoast’s world, SEO Title, should generally be ~70 characters including spaces. This is a fair metric.
Meta description length
Google has been known to test longer meta descriptions, but generally 160 characters tends to be the go-to. This is plenty of space to quickly write an accurate description with the keyword phrase and deliver a reasonable call-to-action. I think this a fair metric.
Keyphrase in title
This is fair. Don’t overdue it.
Keyphrase in slug (URL)
Keyphrase in introduction
Keyphrase in subheadings
Absolutely. Don’t over do it.
Another potentially misleading formulaic metric. It is true that the frequency of a keyword phrase can assist with rankings, but sticking to a specific amount of times it should be is an awful metric.
Previously used keyphrase
If you’re writing about a specific topic often, it might be difficult to avoid. News and recent events may require you to use a specific phrase more than once as a blog post’s target or focus keyword phrase. Don’t stress it.
The idea is that you do not cannibalize the keyword phrase; meaning that you don’t have multiple page vying for the same keyword phrase.
Any time it is reasonable, linking to another page on your website is helpful to users and search engines. I’ve done it a few times in this article.
Citing sources like I’ve done in this article helps provide users with additional information and may keep you honest.
I’ll always say it: write exactly what needs to be said, and not a word more. If it’s a few hundred words. Awesome. Do you have an endless diatribe with dozens of supportive paragraphs? That’s great too.
You should know your intended audience. Don’t let a plugin tell you how much or how little to write. Seth Godin’s blog articles tend to be short and concise.
Image alt attribute
The issue isn’t that Yoast SEO is recommending you to add an ALT attribute that describes an image for those who use screen readers to access the web. Accessibility is a great way to increase your website’s reach and be more inclusive to users who may be marginalized by other sources.
This metric assumes and insinuates that you have to have an image. You don’t. The insistence to have an image might have credence, but managing images technically and the complicated world of copyrights can be frustrating.
Images can be great if you have an excellent illustration to match a point. However, ensuring that you have the necessary copyrights and bandwidth can be difficult. My day job requires me to be diligent about our clients providing copyrights for all images, and it’s made me personally more proactive about copyright when it comes to my personal website.
If you don’t have an image, that’s okay.
Technical Issues with Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO cannot take into account how dynamic content is used on the page. This includes page-specific widgets, shortcodes. Yoast SEO can only analyze the title, meta description, and the text within the text editor.
For example, on my homepage, I use a widget that displays the hero banner. Because that content is outside of the actual page, but is rendered and displayed, it is not considered in Yoast’s analysis.
What I do like about Yoast SEO
Regardless of the nitpicking within this article, Yoast SEO is a fantastic plugin, and the value it provides as a free plugin is insurmountable. Unless you’re a massive website that needs urgent SEO attention, the free version will be fine.
Additionally, I enjoy how some of the descriptions for the many various settings are geared to entry-level users, and highly accessible to advanced SEOs like myself.
In general, the on-page analysis tool keeps writers who are untrained aware of writing enticing meta descriptions and provide feedback on keyword proximity and frequency.
If you read this article in full, the primary points are clear: Know your audience, be confident in your style, and say what you need to say, the way you need to say it. Yoast SEO’s analysis is a checklist designed around general best practices, not what is best for your unique case. If every blog post ticked every check box in Yoast SEO, the web would more boring and formulaic than it already is with listicles and click-bait.
Following each checkbox might increase the optimization for that page to rank better, it may not connect with your audience. You’ll be writing for robots and not people. Too much emphasis on technical aspects when the writer might be more conscious of emotional connection. There is a balance between art and science, and Yoast SEO leans far too much on the science.