Let’s talk blogging. Specifically, let’s talk SEO. Is Yoast SEO good? You’ll hear mixed opinions of that. So I’ll share my personal experience, as someone who blogged without it for a decade.
My best blog posts didn’t need Yoast SEO. But there’s no question the majority of my blog posts do better with it, and I’ve never seen one do worse.
Skepticism with SEO
I’m going to do something no one does, and share real numbers. Admittedly, when I looked at Yoast, I was skeptical. I’d tried other SEO tools and didn’t find they made much difference. SEO used to mean stuffing high-traffic words and phrases into meta tags to game the system. That stopped working once everyone started doing it. I assumed that’s still what people meant. So I disabled my SEO plugins, listened to the mantra that if you write great content, traffic will naturally follow, and for most of 2014, my blog received about 500 visitors per day.
Given that the last two years I’d been receiving about 400 visitors per day, I was in the doldrums. I needed to try something else.
The webmaster at my then-employer mentioned he used Yoast SEO when he asked me to scan the site prior to going live. So I decided to give it a try, based on him telling me he’d done well with it.
My experience with Yoast SEO
That was August 2015. I implemented the free version of Yoast SEO within days of hearing about it, and the impact was surprisingly quick. Even without knowing what I was doing, my traffic immediately increased 20 percent and never dropped back to its previous levels. Some months it went higher still, then retreated back slightly. But my new floor was 20 percent higher than it had been, and the overall trend was upward.
Literally all I did was install Yoast and enter meta descriptions for my most popular posts.
It took several months for me to learn keyword analysis and optimization. Within six months, I’d figured out enough keyword optimization and internal linking to make a difference. My traffic is pretty seasonal, and was even more seasonal in 2015, so I was going to see a big improvement in November through January regardless. But what I found was that my usual spring drop-off wasn’t as severe as usual.
And not only did my traffic grow, but my revenue grew as well. Prior to 2015, I was extremely skeptical of anyone making a living blogging. In 2014, my last full year without Yoast, I made $388 from blog revenue. In 2016, my first full year with Yoast, I made $1,279. Most of that improvement was due to me having Yoast and learning how to use it. My blog wasn’t going to let me quit my day job, but I could see that it’s actually possible to make money from a blog. Today, I think you can go from making pennies to making five figures blogging in about three years.
Why Yoast was good for me even when I didn’t know what I was doing
Yoast helped me in 2015 even though I didn’t know what I was doing, largely because I had tons of existing content. The problem with that content was that it didn’t have any of the metadata that makes content look good in Google search results. And most of it didn’t link to itself either. Search engines concluded that if I didn’t think enough of my own stuff to ever link to it, it must not be very good.
I got my initial boost from Yoast by entering metadata for my posts so Google would know what to do with my content. That alone was good for a 20 percent boost in traffic, and the difference was almost immediate. I think I noticed the difference in less than a week. It was fast.
Linking my related content took longer, and I hit a big snag that slowed me down. But once I got some of my content linked together, I saw several benefits. Your internal links boost your search standing about half as much as someone else linking to your content. That’s still something. Internal links also make your site much stickier. Sure, some people come to my site, get the answer they needed, and they’re gone in 30 seconds. But every once in a while, someone comes along and stays for two hours, reading everything I ever wrote about something they’re interested in. That happens more often now than it did prior to 2015.
Also, once I had enough internal links, Bing started paying attention to me. That was good for about a 15 percent boost in traffic. Today I get almost as much traffic just from Bing and Yahoo as I got in 2014 from all sources.
Is Yoast SEO analysis any good?
Yoast SEO analysis didn’t do much for my best posts. In my case, once every 3-4 years, a friend asks me a really good question. I write a blog post in spite of what Yoast and any other tool says. The best blog posts answer a question before much of anyone thinks to ask it. And when that happens, no keyword tool or any other SEO tool has any idea what to do with it. I put those blog posts out, and hundreds of people read them every day, and it’s great.
Those blog posts are about 1 in 1,000. For the other 999, Yoast helps.
When you find a good keyword, Yoast really helps you to write a blog post that will go somewhere. You still have to know what a keyword is, and usually you have to write a whole lot more than the 300 words it takes to get the green light from Yoast. Not everything I write goes gangbusters, but the majority of it gets enough traffic to make it worth my while. Before Yoast, I don’t think 10 percent of it did.
Yoast SEO analysis is good, but if you optimize for the wrong keywords, it can’t help you. It also doesn’t do much to help you with keywords. The keywords need to come from somewhere else, but then you have a 1-2 punch that works wonders. Yoast on its own is good. Yoast plus a source of keywords is much better.
What are keywords and where do you find them?
My biggest problem with Yoast was that when I started, I couldn’t find anything in the UI that told me what a keyword is. There was just the place in the Yoast UI to tell Yoast what my keyword was. I find it most helpful to think of keywords as phrases that people actually type into search engines. Contrary to what I thought at first, it doesn’t have to be one word. It can be a phrase.
Let’s take an example. Years ago, I used the word “telework” in a few blog posts. My job at the time let me work from home once a week, and they called that “telework.” The problem is, nobody else calls it that. They call it telecommuting, working from home, or remote work, but never “telework.” Google’s AI can figure out that those other three words all mean pretty much the same thing and it tries to compensate. But “telework” seemed to be too obscure for Google’s AI to realize it was the same. When I optimized that content for keywords that people actually use, it started getting some modest traffic.
One way to find keywords is just to type stuff into Google. Try several synonyms. Never seeing the word “telework,” at least in comparison to its synonyms, is a good tip-off.
Here’s a bit more on my journey with keywords and keyphrases.
Keyword tools that make Yoast better
There are tools you can use to find keywords and find out approximately how many people search on them every month. Some of them, like kwfinder.com and wordtracker.com, will let you do a limited number of searches per day for free.
When I find a keyword that a few hundred or a few thousand people search on per month and I write something that covers that subject reasonably well, I can get a reasonable amount of traffic. I used to use a tool called SEMrush that would go a step further and tell me how many words I needed to write to rank well for a given keyword. It wasn’t always right, but it was right more often than not. Yoast’s analysis doesn’t give you that. But SEMrush costs a lot more than Yoast.
If you can afford $100 a month for SEMrush plus $70 a year for Yoast, the two make for a potent 1-2 punch. But for obvious reasons, I recommend you see what you can do with Yoast and less expensive tools for a while first.
What about those Youtube guys?
If you dig into blogging and SEO, it won’t be long before you come across some guys on Youtube who recommend Yoast, but specifically recommend against keyword tools. And they charge you a few hundred bucks for a formula that they promise will let you quit your job in two years.
They argue that the tools don’t really know the search volume. And they have a point: When I search the same keyword in multiple tools, I can get different counts.
But I still find I get better results using keyword tools than I get straight from Google like they suggest. The problem is the threshold to show up in Google’s autocomplete is about 10 searches per month. You don’t want to spend all weekend writing something that only 10 people per month are going to read.
Sure, sometimes the tools are wrong and you write something that gets less traffic than you expected even though it ranked well. But when it comes to low-volume keywords, they’re right much more often than they’re wrong. If a tool says a keyword gets significant traffic, I can be confident I’m not going to spend a lot of time writing something that only gets 10 views a month.
How Yoast helps you write better
Yoast can also help your writing. It’s safe to say Google and my high school English teacher agree more closely today about what good writing is than they did in 2015, but my high school English teacher’s opinion of my writing doesn’t improve my traffic. Google’s does, and Yoast helps me make sure I’m writing how Google wants people to write. If you’re keyword stuffing, Yoast tells you. If you’re not using your keywords enough, Yoast tells you. Yoast also warns you if you’re writing at too high of a level, or if you get too repetitive. It reminds you to use subheadings and keep your paragraphs and sections from being too long or too short.
I brought some posts back from the dead by analyzing them with Yoast and fixing the things it didn’t like. I wrote and formatted my posts the way early bloggers did, because I was one. When I changed those posts that seemed to have untapped potential to accommodate Google, most of them started seeing some traffic.
But if you optimize for the wrong keyword, or if you write about subjects few people search on, Yoast is limited in what it can do for you.
Is Yoast good or overrated?
Some people may say Yoast is overrated. It’s like any tool, I guess. If your site was in reasonably good shape before installing Yoast, you may not get as much benefit as I got from it.
But trying out the free version doesn’t cost you anything. And while I think the major benefit of the paid version is the link analysis, and it takes some work, it’s a lot easier than doing it manually. Before Yoast, sometimes I’d write something, then two years later, write essentially the same blog post again. With Yoast, before I get too far, that post shows up in the list of articles to consider linking to. That saves me wasted effort. And when I’m writing something new, it digs up old content that may relate. Sometimes the match isn’t even close. But other times, it unearths something years old, and both the old and new content benefit from the mutual link.
You’ll get from Yoast what you put into it. And for maximum benefit, you need a keyword tool to help you figure out what keywords to optimize for. The paid version definitely does more for you than the free one. But if you can’t afford to spend any money right now, you can install the free version of Yoast, get some benefit, do a few keyword searches a day to improve that benefit, then start using your increased revenue to pay for the better versions of those tools.
One more thing to keep Yoast good
There’s one more thing you need to do to keep Yoast working well. Google optimization is a moving target, and Yoast is constantly tweaking itself. For example, in September/October 2019, displaying content as snippets became opt-in. If you let your Yoast plugin get out of date, you were inadvertently opting out, when opting in is the better option from an SEO standpoint. If you want to keep Yoast performing well, be sure to keep it up to date.
If Yoast isn’t meeting your expectations, make sure it’s up to date.