One Million Installs & Counting
I’ve been using WordPress for nearly ten years, with the last six as an avid user of the Yoast SEO plugin. So it was very exciting when WPSFO announced Joost de Valk as the June MeetUp speaker. Joost has been a trailblazer, and his plugin now has over one million active installs. He covered a lot of ground in his presentation. In this post I’ll focus on his presentation that relates to the plugin’s two sections: optimization and readability.
Thoughts on SEO & Optimization
Here are a few highlights from his slide presentation and what he shared in the Q&A section of the Meet Up:
- Joost supports sustainable SEO. What a surprise to hear that early in his career he was on the agency team that caused Google to ban KLM (and other clients) for using Grey Hat SEO techniques such as cloaking. Obviously, he’s changed his ways. The Yoast SEO plugin strives to help marketers create content that is readable and SEO-friendly.
- There are many aspects to Holistic SEO. Joost shared examples of how SEO moved from technical execution to being more marketing focused. I think a better explanation is “audience-focused.” When a website’s structure is technically sound with a good UX (experience) and UI (interface), flawless security and an admirable PR and social presence, it sends all the right “quality” signals to search engines.
- Google wants more than keywords in content. Thankfully gone are the days of keyword stuffing. With algorithm updates such as Hummingbird and RankBrain, Google can discern if content follows grammatical rules, contains valuable information, and comes from a reputable source.
SEO aside, Joost reiterated that for content to be successful, your audience must understand your message. Otherwise, it’s just technical SEO and not marketing to fill your sales funnel. When your content fulfills its mission of helping your audience, it leads to a lower bounce rate, creates more trust, and hopefully cultivates more attention on social media. So what does the plugin do to help marketers do just that?
Behind the Plugin
From the humble beginnings of a one-man show, Yoast is now one of the biggest plugin shops boasting 50 or so employees. If you’re a WordPress and Yoast plugin user, you are most likely very familiar with the SEO part of the plugin. First, you identify a keyword. Then the plugin makes sure you’ve placed it in:
- The page’s URL
- The body of your page/post, especially in the first paragraph (*)
- At least one subheading
- Title and meta description
- The alt attributes of an image
*Note: If you put images at the top of the page (like we do on our website), the plugin can’t detect that it’s actually in the first paragraph. That’s why we counsel clients not to be a slave to this plugin. Use common sense. If you disagree with Yoast’s grade, trust yourself as you know what will work with your audience.
Your content is also graded on other technical aspects, such as content length, outbound links, and if you’ve used the keyword before. Yoast does a nice job of guiding you through the general content optimization process. It’s important to remember that Yoast’s plugin is software and not Google’s ranking algorithm. There are many aspects of optimization that SEOs infer from Google official announcements, quotes in the press, and forum commentary. SEO is not an exact science. That’s why we use multiple tools to cross-check optimization and content performance.
A Word About Readability
The section of Joost’s presentation that most intrigued me related to the “Readability” section to the plugin. Joost has a linguistics expert on staff; the plugin now uses metrics to analyze various content elements, making your copy easier to read and understand. At a glance, your page is reviewed for:
- Passive voice – the percentage of sentences grammatically constructed where the noun or noun phrase is an object rather than a subject. Wish you’d paid attention to diagramming sentences in English class, eh? Here’s a quick tip: avoid using the word “by.” Rather than “the search results were presented by Google,” the active alternative is: “Google presented the search results.”
- Flesch Reading Ease – this metric is often used in government or education sectors. Complex, long sentences which contain college-level vocabulary is often labeled as “difficult to read.” For more information on Flesch and SEO writing (and view an example of how I tried to dumb down a paragraph to get a better score), here’s an old blog post circa 2013. You probably guessed it… Flesch and I don’t get along. Yoast often penalizes me for using polysyllabic words. My advice: know your audience and write to their level.
- Number of Words Following a Heading. Yoast thinks the magical number is 300. While I’m a fan of chunking out content so it’s easy to scan, sometimes longer content is necessary in order to adequately illuminate a concept. [Note another flagrant use of above-average vocabulary.]
- Short Paragraphs. Yoast likes short paragraphs. Nothing much to add here. And I want to keep this paragraph short.
- Sentences with no more than 20 words. Shorter sentences are easier to read and scan. However, I suggest that you don’t stoop to absurdly simplistic sentences to get a good grade.
- Transition Words. Also known as signal words, transitions help your reader make connections between concepts, sentences, and paragraphs. Using words like “first,” “as a result” and “consequently” guide your audience to your conclusions.
We recently upgraded to the premium version of Yoast. I’m still kicking the tires and will let you know if its worth the extra $69 a year.
What’s your favorite part of the plugin? What metrics drive you crazy?
How can we help?
What do your links and content say about your site’s SEO? What does your data say in Search Console?
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