Quick Guide for Setting Up the Yoast SEO Plugin

Yoast (Joost de Valk) recently released a new SEO Plugin, called “WordPress SEO By Yoast”. Yoast is one of my favorite WordPress Plugin developers: I find him to be knowledgeable, thorough, logical, and best of all, he reliably supports the plugins he releases! His SEO Plugin has quickly trumped the former players in the SEO Plugin market (All in One SEO, Headspace, and Platinum SEO Pack to name a few). Yoast’s plugin combines a number of key SEO tasks and features into one plugin (better one plugin than 3 to achieve the same end!)

Steps to Optimize a WordPress Post for a Target Keyword Phrase with the help of Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin

This post outlines the step-by-step approach to keyword phrase targeting and optimization that I recommend to my clients who publish their own posts. It assumes that you have installed the WordPress SEO Plugin By Yoast on your site so that you have the general and advanced admin interfaces in your ‘Edit Post’ area of your WordPress Admin. Please note that this is NOT a how-to post for configuring Yoast’s SEO plugin settings, nor is it an exhaustive outline of everything you need to do to SEO an entire website, but it IS a good primer for site owners who self-publish and want to hit the high points of keyword phrase targeting for a specific page or post on their WordPress website.

***This procedure is for NEW POSTS that you are drafting and that have not yet been published. There are additional steps and considerations needed if you are RETROFITTING an already published post or article.

Step 1: Create a new post , give it a “working title”, and compose your article for your READER.
Compose your content at first for ONLY your audience, with attention to best conveying your message. Writing this way as a first step is my personal recommendation to my clients, to help them to avoid going overboard in their SEO efforts, which can get them penalized for keyword stuffing. Write fluently and clearly for your reader, and resist the urge to unnaturally insert keywords multiple times and in certain places in your article just to convince the search engines to rank you higher. [I promise you will get to go back to your article and “SEO Copy edit” (where it makes sense and in moderation!) after you have done your keyword research step.] Give your article a “working title” — it will likely change when we come back and edit the page URL, Page Title, and Article Title later after the keyword research step — and save your work as a DRAFT.

Step 2: Determine 1-3 target Keyword Phrases for your article by doing some basic Keyword Research via Google Adwords Keywords Tool

a) Go to http://adwords.google.com, click on “Get Keyword Ideas”
b) Enter one or two 2-5 word phrases that are relevant to the article you have just written. These are just “seed terms” at this point, because what YOU may think to search via could be quite difference from what your audience might actually be searching by. It’s possible that you might have pegged the highest volume keyword phrase with your initial gut feeling, but the whole point of doing keyword research is to know that you are targeting phrases that people are actually searching for, so let the numbers adwords provides help you to decide!
c) Select the Match Type=”Phrase” (this is important)
d) Click Search

Now review the Keyword Ideas that have returned. Use the LOCAL MONTHLY SEARCH volume numbers (by local, they mean “USA” vs. “Worldwide”) to gauge the potential amount of search traffic that you might see if your site ranks for a given keyword phrase. Select between 1 and 3 phrases (you would probably only target 3 if you had a long post) that you want to rank for, that are relevant / representative of your article topic, and that you feel you will be able to integrate into your content naturally. Determine which phrase will be your Top Target (the other phrases will be support/alternate target phrases).

NOTE: If you feel comfortable that doing your keyword research and selecting your target keyword phrases PRIOR to writing your article will not adversely affect the natural-ness of your writing, then feel free to reverse Steps 1 and 2, as it can save you a little time :0)

Step 3: Use the options on the WordPress SEO by Yoast General Admin Tab Interface to “frame” your content with appropriate keywords
The Page Title and Meta Description are the only two elements that are seen by a searcher prior to actually visiting your site, and are therefore “prime conversion real estate” from a marketing perspective. So you need to take care to balance both marketing and SEO objectives when assigning these two page elements.

a) Create an “SEO Title” (this is the PAGE title) that includes your Top Target Keyword Phrase, ideally as the first words in the title, and with as natural language as possible. If you are able to work in one or both of your alternate target phrases (not necessarily in exact word order), that is also fine, but keep the title under 70 characters in length (Yoast’s plugin counts your characters for you!)

b) Populate the “Meta Description” with a 155 character (or less) blurb designed to meet the following 2 objectives:
– naturally include all of your target keyword phrases (in word order, if possible); place your top target keyword phrase as close to the beginning of the blurb as you can.
– relay a message that will engage a searcher and entice them to click on YOUR site link out of all the other search engine results that rank for your targeted phrase

It’s totally fine to repurpose some text from your article to be your meta description (you won’t get penalized for duplicate content on this element) — just make sure that whatever text you are using meets the 2 criteria above. If you neglect to populate the Meta Description element, most search engines will auto-populate a blurb with either random or the first available text on your page. In general the default text chosen is not the most relevant or click-enticing, so just do your site an SEO favour and define your own Meta Description!

Step 4: Perform an SEO Copy Edit of your Article
Go back through your article now looking for natural opportunities to insert your top target and support/alternate keyword phrases. Often I find that I replace some previously used verbiage with my phrases, and sometimes I will add a short sentence to the first or second paragraph that flows with my previously written work in order to leverage my top target keyword phrase at the copy level. Beware of “keyword stuffing”!! There is no specifically defined “keyword density” that is accepted or approved by search engines that you can go by — so you need to use good judgement and moderation. If you stick to keeping your writing so that it flows “naturally” when read aloud then you should be okay. Preventing high keyword density is one of the reasons why I recommend selecting 1-3 different, but related, keyword phrases as opposed to only attempting to target one phrase per post.

Try to work your phrases into the earlier paragraphs of your post -the closer to the beginning of the text on your page is said to be better. If your article is longer, and utilizes sub-headings, be sure to utilize the appropriate < h1 > / < h2> HTML heading tags and definitely try to include your keyword phrases in some of your heading text.

Step 5: Modify Page URL and Article Title to include Top Target Keyword Phrase
Your page URL (also known as the “page slug”) is an SEO element that is often overlooked from an optimization standpoint. This you can edit from within your WordPress Post Edit page (not part of Yoast’s plugin because it is already handled by WordPress). Basically, use your top level keyword phrase as your page slug, plus maybe add a word or two from your alternate phrases (but only if they make a little sense).

Try not to include any “stop words” unless you consider them to be important for an exact match to your keyword phrase. There are also WordPress plugins (see Better SEO Slugs plugin or Clean SEO Slugs Plugin, plus others) that strip stop words from your page slugs for you, but most only do it if the page slug is created by default from your post title, or if you assign a page slug prior to saving your post for the first time. If you are manually editing your page slug after-the-fact, the slug will usually retain your desired stop word.

If you have the right plugins installed, your ARTICLE TITLE (sometimes called Article Heading) is different than your PAGE TITLE (which you defined in Step 3). The default installation of WordPress just pulls the page title from whatever you type into the Post/Page Title field. It is one of the beautiful things about using Yoast’s SEO Plugin is the additional control you have over optimization of these two page elements separately.

Step 6: Use the Focus Keyword option in the WordPress SEO by Yoast General Admin Tab to check your SEO elements
Under the General Admin tab for the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin is a field labeled: Focus Keyword. Once you have completed all of the above steps, enter your top target keyword phrase into the “Focus Keyword” field, then click anywhere else on your admin page. This feature gives you a quick way to double check your work and see how many instances of your target keyword phrase will be seen by the search engine crawlers. Using this check tool, you may find an unoptimized element that you overlooked. As of the time of writing, this check tool appears to find only exact phrase matches (i.e. if you are optimizing for “4th of July”, it will not recognize “4<sup>th</sup> of July” due to the formatting tags; nor will it recognize “4 th of July” due to the additional space. I believe that Googles ability to match and see phrases may be a little more forgiving)
Optimal results might be

  • Article Heading: 1-2 (the Article Title is considered a heading, but so are other sub-headings with < h1> and < h2> HTML tags)
  • Page Title: 1
  • Page URL: 1
  • Content: 2-4 (depending on length of article)
  • Meta Description: 1

Then rinse and repeat with your support/alternate target keyword phrases. Understand that certain page elements (like Page and Article Title) might only have room or sound natural if they contain only one of your target keyword phrases, and that’s okay! So some of your support/alternate keyword phrases might have “0″ for those elements.

There is some “page flow” optimization that can be done under the “Advanced” Tab, but it is unrelated to keyword phrase and page element optimization, so is the subject for a different lesson…:0)

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