Yoast is a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) plugin for WordPress. Simply put, it sends visitors to your site from search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.
It helps you create those useful little snippets of information that get pulled up when you type in a search query; you know, those one-liners that let you decide which result to pick from the millions that just popped up.
On the technical side of things, it also enables Google to put you somewhere in its universe of article rankings. Basically, it’s a plugin you NEED as a blogger of any kind (after all, who would say “no” to all that extra traffic?!).
Pin me for later!
Getting set up
The free version, which is more than adequate for most food blogs, can be found by clicking Plugins >> Add New and then searching for “Yoast SEO”. Once it has been added, click to activate it and then follow the simple instructions to get it up and running.
The next time you come to write a recipe or blog post, you’ll notice a new box has been added to your writing page (down the bottom, if you can’t find it). This box contains all the information you need to perfect your entry into Google Town.
Use it wisely and you will be rewarded 🙂
Yoast works on a traffic-lights system; basically, green = good, orange = ok and red = bad. As you make improvements to your recipe or post, save the draft – or update if you’ve already published – and you’ll see the traffic lights changing colour in response.
Great! Now I know what it’s for! But I want to know how to use Yoast!
In order to talk you through the process, I’ve set up a new Yoast entry for a new recipe of mine: Tuscan Chicken. As I’ve gone through the various steps, I’ve taken screen shots of each of my changes, to show you how the Yoast traffic lights were affected.
If you take another look at the Yoast box, you’ll see a number of headings: Snippet Preview, Focus Keyword and Analysis. We’re going to start with the most important: the Focus Keyword.
Firstly, you need to set your keyword. Don’t be fooled by the term “word” – it can be a whole phrase (but only one; upgrading to PRO allows you to select more than one word or phrase). I sometimes use the entire title of my recipe as my keyword and sometimes a shortened, simplified version, depending on what I think my audience will search for. So, while I might use “macaroni and cheese” as a keyword, I would never use the full recipe title “classic American macaroni and cheese” because I’m betting no one is searching using that specific a phrase.
By the way there are lots of great online tools you can use to see how many people are searching for any particular term on Google, such as this one. But, if you just quickly want to know how many search results you’re up against, then just Google it yourself!
Anyway, whatever keyword/phrase you choose needs to be used again in your main text so you want to choose something that feels natural. For this example I’m going with just Tuscan Chicken as it has less competition than Garlic Chicken.
The Snippet Preview
Click on >>Edit Snippet and the box will expand to produce three new entries for you to make: SEO Title, Slug and Meta Description.
The SEO title is the recipe or post title that people will see on Google, shown below in blue. Make sure you enter the whole name of your recipe here, then I recommend a symbol such as – or / or | followed by your blog’s name. That helps people know which site the link is sending them to and gets the name of your blog out there a little.
Note: as soon as you enter any draft title when you start to edit your page, Yoast will copy and pre-fill this title for you in its SEO-title box. You might therefore want to re-do it yourself to get more detail in.
I’m entering Tuscan Chicken with Garlic, Tomatoes and Spinach | The Food Brood here.
My SEO bar has turned green because Yoast prefers a longer title like this. If I’d just put Tuscan Chicken it would have turned orange.
The slug is the bit that appears after the / in the exact web page address (which is shown above in green). Again, make it easy and obvious what it is. Lots of people like to put the date too. I don’t, because it doesn’t help with your ranking, only helps you organise yourself. But it’s up to you.
If you look at the example above, you’ll see I’ve entered tuscan-chicken as my slug.
The meta description is your chance to “sell” the recipe to the public. It’s what people will read on Google. You want it to tempt people to click on your recipe, not the other similar entries that turn up. Again, use the keyword in your description in its entirety.
My meta description is:
This Tuscan chicken with garlic, tomatoes and spinach has just six ingredients and brings back fond memories for me as I first ate it on my honeymoon. It’s become a regular fixture at our table and the whole family loves it – even the kids! It can be on your table in just 30 minutes and is great served over pasta.
You can see Yoast liked mine because it was long, and so the meta bar went green. Also, if you look at the top of the screen shot you’ll see it goes bold every time you use the keyword – which is what you want.
Other ways to get green lights
As you write the main text of your post or recipe, try to include the focus keyword. As I mentioned before, you should choose a keyword or phrase that allows you to naturally use it in your discussion so you can mention it three or four times. I usually copy and expand the meta description into my main text – explaining things a little more where necessary. Yoast has a preference for longer posts, so this one you’re reading right now gets the green light for being over 1000 words. My recipes, however, always suffer from not having enough text. If you tick enough of the other boxes though, you’ll find this doesn’t stop you going green.
Yoast likes a large number of images per post, all of which should be given a title and alt text (see below). I make sure to use the keyword here, too. They don’t have to be photographs; the Yoast images in this post qualify. It is good practice to break up pages of text like this and to provide visual resources for your readers to help explain your points. If it’s a recipe you’re writing, then make sure to take photographs of your preparation/cooking process and any technical steps along the way so that you can include them too.
“Alt” stands for “alternative”. It’s the text that would be displayed in any instance where the picture can’t be, e.g. picture of a woman drinking coffee. When I upload a photograph of one of my recipes, I make sure that the alt text matches my keyword so that anyone reading it will know what the recipe is, e.g. picture of Tuscan chicken with garlic, tomatoes and spinach.
Yoast encourages you to link to posts both within your own website (internal) and on other sites (external) as a way of keeping readers informed. If you link to an external site, then I recommend that you tick the “open in new window” box so that you still keep the traffic on your site too.
My final Yoast score
As you can see, I wasn’t able to get a perfect score of green lights, but Yoast thinks that this is good enough to go green overall. I’m never able to solve the first two points anyway; my text is always under 300 words (I have a premium recipe theme template not a standard theme with recipe plugin) and I don’t put subheadings in my text. I could have included some outbound (external) links to other sites, if they were appropriate.
But the lights – and ranking overall – are green, so I’m happy.
Do you have any Yoast tips to share?