If you have a WordPress website, you have access to a nifty free tool that can help improve your website content as well as your SEO. The Yoast SEO plugin can provide valuable insights about the quality of your writing and help you to focus your content for maximum SEO benefit.
Start With Content Analysis to Improve Readability
Your website visitors come to your site with certain expectations. They expect a site that loads quickly, structure that’s easy to navigate, and content that is simple to understand. Unfortunately, that last thing can be difficult to achieve if you’re not naturally a writer. (Or, conversely, if you are a writer, and you’ve developed a particular set of writing habits. Ahem.) Look at some of the pages on your website and see how easy they are to read. Show your website to your friends and get their honest opinion. Look at it on your phones to see the content from that perspective.
What the Yoast Plugin Does
The Yoast plugin analyzes your content and provides you with a guide to improving your writing based on their formula. This formula assesses your content on six areas:
- Sentence length – Short sentences are preferred; that is, sentences less than 20 words in length. Yoast caps the presence of longer sentences at 25% of the overall content.
- Paragraph length – Short paragraphs are more pleasing to the eye, since readers skim the entire block of content before actually reading it. Long paragraphs can be intimidating. Breaking your content up into more manageable short paragraphs will help your content to be better understood.
- Subheads – In addition to short paragraphs, using subheads can help to break up your content visually. Subheads also lead skimmers into a basic understanding of your content before they actually read it.
- Passive voice – Active voice produces stronger, better-understood writing overall. Still, there are times when passive voice is acceptable and necessary, and the Yoast tool caps this at 10% of the content overall. And as a bonus, sentences using active voice tend to be shorter than their passive counterparts.
- Transition words – The purpose of content is to lead your reader through a series of ideas toward a conclusion. Words that guide by way of sequence, comparison, result, and other methods are transition words.
- Flesch score – The Flesch Reading Ease Scale calculates on a scale from 0-100 how easy a piece of text is to read. Yoast provides this score to help you assess how well your content will be understood by your readers.
First Comes Readability, Then Comes SEO
The companion to readability in the Yoast tool is SEO. Here is where things may feel a little tricky. Ideally, you’ve done keyword research in advance of sitting down to write, and your writing employs the focus keyword you want to rank for.
If you’ve written a well-structured, easy-to-read post, and that is reflected in the Readability analysis portion of the Yoast tool, turn your attention to the SEO tab. The SEO analysis tab provides insight on a number of SEO considerations, including:
- Keyword density – how many times your keyword is found in the content
- Keyword placement – how many times your keyword is found in any of your subheadings, your URL, or in the alt attributes for your images
- Links – the number of nofollow and outbound links
- Length of text – Yoast suggests a word count of 300 or more words
- Images – use images to improve layout as well as provide additional information about your topic
- Page title – aim for a length of between 35-65 characters
The tricky part of the SEO tab can be if your content doesn’t quite stack up in terms of keywords. It can be tempting to make big changes to your content in order to satisfy the SEO criteria. Sometimes changes you make for the sake of SEO have the effect of damaging your readability. Tread carefully. Both elements of the Yoast SEO Tool exist to help you improve your website content, but your first order of business should be to produce content that is easy to read.
Tips and Tricks
I have to admit, when the Yoast Readability/SEO plugin started showing up on my WordPress draft screen, I cast a wary eye on it.
After all, I’ve been stringing nouns and verbs together for a long time. And there is a distinct difference between constructive criticism offered up by a human being and an algorithm designed to pick out specific style violations. But I also learned a long time ago to put my ego in my back pocket and sit on it. So I (cautiously) embraced the Yoast plugin for what it might have to teach me, and I learned a few things:
- Long sentences – Sentence length is important. My natural inclination is to write long sentences. The 20-word rule used by the plugin has caused me to work harder on shortened sentences. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.
- Ten-dollar words – You know what I mean. As a self-proclaimed word nerd, I tend to use bigger words than might be absolutely necessary. What can you expect from someone who read the thesaurus for fun as a kid? But those big words usually have a simpler equivalent and Yoast would rather I use those. My old friend the thesaurus gets a workout these days.
- KISS principle – As one of my old professors said, “Keep it simple, stupid.” It’s easy for me to get off on a sidebar when I’m writing. The keyword density measurement in the Yoast tool reminds me to stick with a single thought and work with that thought.
- Contractions – I prefer to use contractions in my writing because they feel more conversational to me. But Yoast’s plugin doesn’t always see it that way. Changing “doesn’t” to “does not” feels awkward to me, but sometimes it’s the difference between a low Flesch score and a higher one.
Track your Improvements in Google Analytics
It’s worth the effort to consider readability while putting fresh content on your website. Increased search traffic means increased traffic and distribution for very little cash. Track the effects of change on your site with Google Analytics after you have installed the Yoast SEO Plugin on your WordPress site and see if readability makes a difference. You can also look around on our site for more tips on using WordPress to help your business or give us a call with specific questions. We use what we sell. The screen shots in this article were taken straight from this article as we worked on it.