WordPress SEO Plugin By Yoast
The best WordPress SEO plugin, in my opinion, is WordPress SEO by Yoast. I have used most of the other SEO plugins (All-in-One and Headspace2) and Yoast’s is definitely the easiest to use and has the most options.
But first of all, what is SEO and why do you need a plugin for it?
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is usually defined as the act of changing a website’s code so that it improves in organic listings. So, an SEO geek does a couple of tweaks here and a couple of tweaks there and the website miraculously becomes first on Google when you search something.
Right? Not exactly, though there are many server side things you can do to improve a website’s performance, these make negligible difference compared with the two golden rules of search engine dominance. These are
constantly creating unique quality content
having links to that content and the site from other relevant, quality sites
It should be mentioned here that sometimes the term SEO is used to refer to the content building and backlinking as well as the on-site optimization.
Why do we need a plugin for SEO with WordPress?
WordPress installs are consistently described as performing well SEO-wise “out of the box”, so why do we need a plugin? Indeed, Google’s Matt Cutts has argued that with certain themes that are particularly well set up for SEO, like Genesis and Thesis, an SEO plugin is unnecessary.
The primary reason for using an SEO plugin is that it gives you more control over the title and meta description tags than you would otherwise have with an vanilla WordPress install. However, there are so many other cool things Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin does you’ll be amazed. But first let’s get back to basics and learn how to install the plugin.
Installing the WordPress SEO plugin
First of all, go to your Plugins section in the WordPress back-end and search for “WordPress SEO”.
When you have located the plugin, click “Install Now” and, then in the next screen, “Activate”.
If you have had an SEO plugin on your site before, or have used a theme framework like Genesis or Thesis to handle SEO tasks, you can do a data transfer at this stage. I did a data transfer and it copied all my titles and descriptions from Headspace2 with no problems.
The words on a web page that has the most effect on search engine results are those inside title tags. These are the words that appear on the top bar of your browser’s window. SEO plugins give you the ability to control these globally (by putting the page or post title before the blog title) or individually on each page or post.
So head over to the SEO > Titles section to optimize this part of your site. Here is how I’ve filled in this part:
Here you can determine the titles of your pages globally. For example, I have chosen that the pages of the site (the About Us page, the Contact us page, etc., the static pages) should be the page title first followed by the site name (so it will be “About – Widget Corporation” for example). As the most important words of the title are the first words, it makes sense to have those as the page title, followed by the site name which should have keywords in it. This ensures that your general keywords should be on every page but keywords specific to that page should be given the primary importance.
You can do the same for posts (blog articles) if you wish – %%title%% – %%sitename%% – but I prefer to keep them just the title of the post.
You can also specify the titles of category and tag pages as well as meta descriptions when others aren’t specified on the individual page.
Creating meta descriptions
A web page’s meta description is invisible on the page itself but hides in its HTML code. There is very little SEO value in meta descriptions but they are displayed in the search engine results pages and are used to entice the searcher to click on your link.
These meta descriptions should be written mostly individually for each page. All SEO plugins give you the ability to do this. So everything in the SEO Title box above can be over-ridden in the specific post or page.
Before publishing your post or page you must have a look at the “WordPress SEO by Yoast” box beneath the text editor. Here you can specify the title, description, etc.
The great new innovation with Yoast’s plugin is that you can actually preview what the post will look like in Google SERPS before publishing. Even better, you can specify a “focus keyword” and the plugin will automatically scan your post to check if you’ve put this keyword in the right places (title, description, subheads, alt descriptions, etc.) and if you haven’t put it in too much. Click the “Page Analysis” tab for this.
Don’t spent hours fretting about keyword density and this sort of thing. The main priority in the SEO box when editing a page is to write good meta descriptions. The title will usually be the same as the blog post heading, but it is possible to change it here if you wish.
Applying noindex, nofollow or noarchive to pages and posts
If you click the third and final “Advanced” tab in the SEO box you have options to apply noindex, nofollow or noarchive to the particular page or post you’re on. This is particularly useful when you are writing a page that you don’t want the search engines to index. Maybe you don’t want the download page of a paid product to be indexed.
You can make sure all the links from a page are no follow if you’re worried about leaking PageRank from a particular post. You can also make sure a particular page is removed from your archives.
Four plugins in one!
The number of plugins you have on your WordPress site can slow it down severely. That is why Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin is such a godsend as it actually provides the functions of 3 other plugins that are also incredibly useful thus cutting down the number of active plugins.
Here are the 3 other “jobs” that the plugin can do that have previously been done by other plugins in their own right.
Breadcrumbs – Yoast SEO plugin will give you granular control over how your breadcrumbs are displayed. Definition: breadcrumbs are typically display vertically across the top of a web page and provide links back to each previous page the user navigated through to get to the current page.
RSS enhancements – add a piece of content to the beginning or the end of posts in your RSS feed. If you have many people subscribed you can advertise your latest product to them there.
XML Sitemaps – I’ve left the best until last. XML sitemaps are “must-haves” for SEO and have been produced by dedicated plugins up to now. This plugin produces an XML sitemap that is aware of the noindex changes you have made through the SEO box. Yoast’s XML sitemap is called “sitemap_index.xml” rather than “sitemap.xml” – so remember to change this in your robots.txt and through Google Webmaster Tools
Editing of .htaccess and robots.txt files
I’ll be honest, sometimes I just can’t be bothered to do things. Like fire up Filezilla, connect to the server and update a file. Actually, my love of WordPress probably stems from my unbelievable laziness. Writing web pages used to be such a bore in HTML, but WordPress makes it cool. Well, WordPress SEO makes that pain-in-the-butt job of editing your .htaccess file easy!
There are a host of other cool things the plugin can do for you, for example:
.It can strip the /category/ part of the address away from your category pages URLs
.Verifies for Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Tools. (This is .unnecessary if your site is already verified.)
.Sets the correct canonical for tag and category pages
.Gets rid of extraneous code from the <head> section
… and a lot more!
I hope this introduction to Yoast WordPress SEO plugin has helped you. It’s certainly got loads of useful features and demands time and effort to customize. But once you have, you will rest assured that your site it optimized to the max and all you need worry about is creating awesome content!
Do you use this or any other WordPress SEO plugin? What benefits do you get from this plugin or any other? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.