How To Use the Yoast SEO Plugin

Installing the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin in your WordPress website is a great first step to getting found in Google, Yahoo and Bing. But, installing an SEO plugin is just that - a first step. Now, you need to configure the plugin and customize its settings. Let’s dive into what to do after installing Yoast SEO.

Yoast SEO Setup

After installing and activating the free version of the Yoast SEO plugin, you will see the Yoast menu appear in the left-hand menu in the WordPress Dashboard.

Yoast SEO General Tab

General

We'll start with General. Under General are three tabs:

  • Dashboard
  • Features
  • Webmaster Tools

General – Dashboard

The Dashboard is the place to review Problems and Notifications. From the Dashboard, you can also use the Yoast SEO configuration wizard to set up the plugin. The configuration wizard is a quick and easy way to get things off the ground, but keep reading if you want to fully explore the Yoast SEO plugin.

The types of Problems and Notifications you might receive in your Dashboard relate to whether the Yoast SEO plugin is compatible with your current version of WordPress. Also, if your website is blocking search engine crawlers, then Yoast will notify you of this in the Problems section.

General Yoast SEO

General – Features

Under Features, you can turn plugin features on and off. We say use all plugin features because why not access everything Yoast SEO offers?

Yoast SEO Features

General – Webmaster Tools

Under Webmaster Tools, you can add verification codes for Bing Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console, Baidu Webmaster Tools, and Yandex Webmaster Tools. Prioritize Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. However, if your audience is in China and/or Russia, then you should verify your website with Baidu (China) and Yandex (Russia), too.

Yoast Webmaster Tools Verification

Wondering if you are on the path to SEO success?

Find out using our Small Business SEO Checklist.

Search Appearance

Now, let's explore Search Appearance. Under Search Appearance are seven tabs:

  • General
  • Content Types
  • Media
  • Taxonomies
  • Archives
  • Breadcrumbs
  • RSS

Search Appearance – General

In the Search Appearance – General tab, you can select your title separator or text delimiter. This is the character that appears in your page title.

Search Appearance in Yoast

 

Our favorite title separators are the pipe | and the en dash –.

Page Title Example in Google

Under General, you can also update basic Google Knowledge Graph settings for your website. Definitely take the time to complete the Knowledge Graph section, as it’s an easy way to build your presence in the search engine results pages (SERPs), especially when people search for your brand.

Below is an example of the Google Knowledge Graph in action, showing information on and a logo for Greenpeace.

Google Knowledge Graph Example

Search Appearance – Content Types

For the most part, in Search Appearance – Content Types, you can use the default settings provided by the Yoast SEO plugin. If you do want to make changes, use this question as your guide: Do I want the pages for this content type to appear in the SERPs?

If you want to hide pages for a specific content type from the SERPs, then slide the bar to “No” under the question “Show [Content Type] in search results?”

Show Posts in Yoast

Whether you want to show the date in the snippet preview is your choice. Do you want the blog post date to appear in the SERPs? Showing the date could be useful, especially if what you publish is timely and you think people would find a date stamp helpful.

Google Date in Search Results

In the example above, date snippets are helpful.

Let’s say the date is September 1, 2018, and I’m looking for a new carry-on bag.

As a searcher looking for the most up-to-date information, I’d prefer to visit a website that published an article on carry-on luggage on August 1, 2018 versus an article from November 16, 2017.

Yoast SEO Meta Box

The Yoast SEO Meta Box is helpful, so we recommend showing it for your content types. The Meta Box allows you to easily customize settings for individual pages and posts.

Yoast Metadata

For each content type, you can customize the SEO title and Meta description. Often, Yoast’s default variables in these fields are good to go, as shown in the example below.

Metabox Example

Add custom fields to page analysis:

If you use the Advanced Custom Fields WordPress plugin, then this applies to you. If not, then you can skip this.

Essentially, if you created a custom field type using the Advanced Custom Fields plugin, you can add it here, so that you can extend Yoast SEO plugin features to that field, too.

Search Appearance – Media

The Yoast SEO plugin already gives you the answer for handling media and attachment URLs. The setting should be set to “Yes” already and that is appropriate for most websites.

Media Attachment Settings in Yoast

Search Appearance – Taxonomies

In the Search Appearance – Taxonomies tab, you can update settings for your categories and tags. As with your pages and posts, answer the question, “Do I want people to see this page in the search engines?”

And your answer depends on what your category and tag pages look like.

Visit each of your category and tag pages and ask yourself another question: “Does this category page add value to the user?”

If you decide you want to keep your category and tag pages visible in search results, one thing you can do to boost their value is to add a description.

WordPress Category Description

Now, as noted above, not all WordPress themes show category descriptions. Because of this, make sure your theme shows your description before spending time writing them. You can learn more about getting your description to appear in this article by WPBeginner.

Search Appearance – Archives

Author Archives in Yoast

Archives – Author archives settings
Disable if you’re the only author. Enable if you have multiple blog authors. Why? For multi-author blogs, it’s helpful to have a filtered view of a single author’s blog posts. However, if you’re the only author, then your blog itself is already a collection of a single author’s blog posts.

Archives – Date archives settings
Again, ask yourself, “Do I want date archives to appear in search results?” In most cases, hiding your date archives from search results makes the most sense.

Archives – Special Pages
Under Special Pages, you can set custom page titles for your “Search” pages and 404 pages. The Yoast SEO plugin default, shown above, works fine.

Search Appearance – Breadcrumbs

Now, what are digital breadcrumbs?

Here’s what breadcrumbs look like on a website.

Breadcrumbs in a Website

In the example above, we see three breadcrumbs.

These breadcrumbs help us understand that “Simply Perfect Blueberry Muffins” is organized under “Breakfast”, which is organized under “Home”.

And here’s what breadcrumbs for that same web page look like on a search engine results page.

Breadcrumbs in Search Engine Results

So, what’s the purpose of breadcrumbs?

As their name implies, breadcrumbs mark a path, just as Hansel used breadcrumbs to mark the way back home in Hansel and Gretel. In the digital space, breadcrumbs show site structure and page hierarchy.

And, should you use breadcrumbs?

It depends on whether you think showing breadcrumbs will be useful for your visitors.

Ask yourself, “Do breadcrumbs enhance my website’s user experience?”

Search Appearance – RSS

Content creation takes a lot of time and effort. That’s why the Yoast SEO plugin has built-in RSS settings that help with content scraping, or when people steal your content. The Yoast SEO plugin calls these people “dumb scrapers”, which gives you a pretty clear idea of how they feel about people who steal content.

Yoast SEO RSS Settings

Anyways, Yoast’s default settings are good to go.

However, if you want additional protection against people scraping your content, you can add the same value that’s in the “Content to put after each post in the feed:” field to the “Content to put before each post in the feed:” field.

That wraps up the Search Appearance overview. Let's move on to Google Search Console (GSC) in Yoast.

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Search Console

Yoast SEO connects with the Google Search Console. This allows you to stay up to date with how Google is crawling and indexing your website. First, you'll need to verify your website with the Google Search Console. Then, allow Yoast to sync with the GSC.

Yoast Google Search Console

Our favorite part of syncing with the Google Search Console is being able to view 404 (page not found) errors directly in Yoast.

Yoast GSC Desktop Errors

You can then respond to them with 301 redirects directly in Yoast if you upgrade to Premium (we recommend you do!). Learn more about 301 redirects.

Social

Social Settings in Yoast

Social – Accounts

Now, let’s dial in your social media settings.

In the Social – Accounts tab, you can provide links to your social media accounts. Google uses this information in their Knowledge Graph, which we discussed earlier under Search Appearance – General. If you can help to Google in any way, we say do it!

Here’s an example of a Google SERP that shows social media data from the Google’s Knowledge Graph for Brené Brown.

Social Profiles in Search Engine Results

Social – Facebook

In the Social – Facebook tab, leave the Open Graph meta data enabled. Like Google uses the Knowledge Graph, social networks like Facebook use Open Graph to pull information from your site, which comes in handy when you share content on Facebook.

Under Default settings, you can set an image to use, like your logo, when sharing content on Facebook. This is helpful when the content that you’re sharing doesn’t have an image. To be on the safe side, set a default image, but, more likely than not, you probably won’t need to use it.

Facebook Settings in Yoast

Social – Twitter

You should enable your Twitter card meta data. Here’s what a typical Twitter card summary looks like.

Twitter Yoast Settings

In the Yoast SEO plugin, you can also use the Twitter card setting called “Summary with large image”, which looks like this:

Twitter Large Image SummaryWe recommend that you go with the larger, more engaging, previews.

Social – Pinterest

Like Facebook, Pinterest uses Open Graph, so if you already enabled Open Graph for Facebook, you’re all set in Pinterest, too.

In the Pinterest tab, you can also add the Pinterest confirmation tag to verify your website and get the Pinterest verified badge.

Social Yoast Pinterest Settings

Social – Google+

At the time of writing this, Google+ had been discontinued by Google, but Yoast had still not removed this feature. Since Google+ is no longer a thing,  you can skip this part.

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Tools

Yoast SEO comes with great integrated tools. Let's explore.

Tools – Import and Export

Using the Import and Export tool, you can import and export Yoast SEO plugin settings from one site to another. This means that you can dial in your Yoast SEO settings on one website and easily transfer those settings to another one of your websites.

You can also export all of your keywords, page titles, and meta descriptions to a CSV file, which could come in handy for a bird’s-eye-view of your website’s meta data.

If you are making the shift from another SEO plugin to Yoast, you can also import data. Learn more about importing from other SEO plugins.

Tools – File Editor

In Tools – File Editor, you can create and update your robots.txt file. If you don’t have a robots.txt file, click on the “Create robots.txt file” button. Then, you can view that file at www.yourwebsite.com/robots.txt.

Yoast Robots TXT

Tools – Bulk editor

The Bulk editor is all about being efficient. In Tools – Bulk editor, you can review and update all of your page titles and meta descriptions. The Bulk editor is especially useful if you want to easily implement, in bulk, page titles and meta descriptions across multiple pages.

Tools – Text link counter

Simply click on the button “Count links in your texts” and the Yoast SEO plugin will dive into all of your content to count all of the links in your text. This is helpful information to know, as some of your content may be missing internal and external links altogether. Learn more about this feature and orphaned content.

Also, you won’t be able to see the link count information on the Tools page. Instead, the link count information will appear in the Yoast SEO Meta Box in the page editor.

Tools – Internal linking

The Internal linking tool is similar to the Text link counter, but it focuses solely on counting your internal links. This is helpful information to have so you can review how often you link to other pages within your website. Striking a balance between external and internal links is important.

To activate the Internal linking tool, click on the button “Analyze your content”, and Yoast will start analyzing your content, then noting where you use an internal link.

You can see your internal link count and Yoast’s suggestions on ways to improve your internal linking strategy in the Yoast SEO Meta Box when you’re in the page editor.

Yoast SEO Premium Features

Last, but certainly not least are Yoast SEO Premium features. We highly recommend upgrading to the paid version of the plugin. Why? The Premium version of the plugin extends the free versions functionality.

Our favorite "upgrade" is the redirects module.  A few steps back, we introduced you to syncing Yoast SEO with the Google Search Console. After you do so, you get a list of the errors Google is experiencing when crawling your website. Your job is to respond to these errors - aka, fix them. You can do so with 301 redirects. And Yoast SEO Premium makes that happen with a click of a button.

Yoast 301 Redirects

There are other great reasons why you should upgrade to Yoast SEO Premium including advanced context detection for word forms, social previews, and great support.

Wrapping It Up

Dial in your Yoast SEO settings and get found in Google, Yahoo and Bing. Questions? We’re here to help. Our guided approach to SEO gives you a map, the toolset, and a guide. Learn more.

Lindsay Halsey

Lindsay Halsey

Lindsay started in SEO in 2008 and over the years she's worked with thousands of businesses to help them get found in Google. She enjoys teaching holistic SEO practices with a focus on actionable tactics that create results. Outside of the office, Lindsay spends time with her family and explores the mountains around Basalt, Colorado.