Yoast’s SEO plugin provides a massive amount of SEO control over your WordPress site. When you install it, you’ll find SEO options popping up in several areas of your Dashboard (as we’ve already seen).
If you don’t have Yoast go to plugins → add new → search Yoast SEO → install/activate.
The ‘Global’ settings are found in the SEO menu of the WP Dashboard:
When you first install and activate the plugin, you may only see this:
That’s because, for some strange reason, the plugin turns off most of the useful features by default. It’s easy enough to fix.
Click on Dashboard and select the Features tab across the top:
On this page, there are three options. The top option (Advanced settings pages) is the one that is responsible for hiding most of the plugin options.
Enable it and save the options. All of the SEO menu items will appear.
I recommend you enable all three options on this page.
OK, with all of the SEO plugin options now visible, let’s look at them all.
Be aware that any changes you make inside these “global” settings, will apply across your whole site.
Changes making the category pages noindex will mean ALL category pages on the site will be noindex.
For category and tag pages, you can override global settings by going in and editing the category or tag, after its initial creation.
For posts and pages, you’ll find the global override settings on the ‘Edit Post’ and ‘Edit Page’ screens. Those settings look like this:
The options are on three tabs in the top left position – we’ve seen that already.
In my screenshot, there is a “focus” keyword section at the bottom. That is something you may or may not have, depending on your settings within the SEO plugin. I personally will turn this off (I’ll show you how later), as I don’t optimize content for specific keywords. That’s the old way of doing SEO, and can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing (or basing your SEO on advice from a plugin).
Changes made in these settings will only affect the page or post you are editing. In other words, these settings will override the global settings for this post or page.
OK, let’s look at the ‘Global Settings‘.
Click on SEO -> Dashboard. Across the top, you’ll see several tabs that give you access to various settings. You are currently on the Dashboard tab. This is used to notify you of problems, or other notifications. For example, in the Notifications section, you can see one that offers to help you configure the plugin:
We are going to go through the configuration wizard so you can see what it covers. This is not essential as we will go through all of the settings manually. Therefore, you can skip this if you want.
If you want to go through the wizard, be aware that it will try to connect the SEO plugin to your Google Search Console account, so make sure you have your site added and authenticated inside GSC before running the wizard.
OK, let’s start. Click on the “plugin” link to start the configuration wizard.
Step 1 will ask you to sign up for their newsletter. If you want to sign up, do. If you don’t want to, click Next. You’ll be taken to the “environment” screen:
Select the option that applies (probably “production”), and click Next. You’ll be asked what type of site you are setting up:
Select the most appropriate option, and click next.
Note that you can change these settings later, so don’t worry too much if you are unsure of any settings.
The next screen is asking whether you are a company or a person:
It will ask you for the name of the company or person. If you chose company, it will also ask if you want to upload a company logo. Click Next when you have filled in the form. You’ll be taken to the social profiles section:
I’ve only shown a small part of that screen. There are a lot more options. This screen asks you for the URLs of your social channels. These include Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace, Pinterest, Youtube, and Google+.
Enter any that you have. You can always go in manually later and add these too. Click Next when you are finished. You’ll now be taken to the post type visibility settings:
I recommend you leave these as they are for now. We will go in manually later and consider changing the “pages” visibility, but I want to discuss that with you before making the change. Click Next when ready and you’ll be taken to the “multiple authors” screen:
Make your selection and click Next. You’ll be taken to the Google Search Console screen. This allows the plugin to see your search console information. Note that you need to have your website already set up and authenticated in your GSC account:
Click the Get Google Authorization Code and a window opens up, asking you to login to your search console. Once logged in, you’ll then be asked for permission:
Click the Allow button to proceed.
You’ll be given an authentication code. Paste it into the form in the SEO plugin settings, and click Authenticate.
You will then be asked to choose which profile represents the site you are setting up:
Select your profile from your GSC account. If you do not see the site listed, then you haven’t set it up in your GSC account. You can just click Next to skip this step if you don’t want to do that now.
On the next screen, you’ll be asked to choose a title separator character:
When someone visits your website, WordPress creates the page on-the-fly. It builds the title of the page according to the settings you have in the SEO plugin. By default, the title may include the post title and site name.
What you are choosing in these settings is the character that would appear between post title and site name in the title. Make your choice and click Next.
That completes the wizard. Scroll to the bottom of the “Success” page, and click the link to “Go back to the Yoast SEO dashboard”.
We are now back where we started in the Dashboard settings. Some of the settings in the plugin will have been updated, depending on your choices, but we can go in and manually change anything.
Let’s work out way through the settings.
Click the General tab across the top:
NOTE: There is a help center link in that screenshot. Clicking that link will provide context-sensitive help, which is great if you get stuck.
On the General tab, you can re-run the configuration wizard if you want to. You can also reset the plugin settings to their defaults.
Click on the Features tab. There are three settings on this screen.
- Advanced settings pages – hides/unhides some of the more useful settings of the plugin. This should be enabled.
- Onpage.org – This is a service that can check your site is online and available. You can enable this if you want.
- Admin bar menu – The admin bar is a really useful bar that appears across the top of your site when you are logged in. It’s great when you are browsing your website. It looks like this:
With the menu bar visible, you can quickly add/edit posts/pages as you browse your site and get quick access to important areas of your WordPress Dashboard. Make sure this one is enabled.
- Click on the Company Info tab.
If you went through the wizard, you will see your information is already in this form. You can edit that information here.
This screen allows you to change the name of your site, company, company logo, or personal name.
- Click on the Webmaster Tools tab.
This screen allows you to verify your site with various webmaster tools. If you went through the wizard, you may already have verified with Google Search Console. This screen also allows you to verify with Bing Webmaster Tools and Yandex Webmaster Tools if you use them.
- Click on the Security tab.
This tab has one setting. If you have multiple authors on your site, and you don’t 100% trust them, then disable this option. That will prevent anyone but yourself from changing the indexable status of posts.
OK, we’ve finished going through the Dashboard settings of the SEO plugin. Let’s move to the next set of settings.
- Click on Titles & Metas in the sidebar menu.
Titles & Metas
The ‘Titles’ and ‘Metas’ section has a lot of options, spread over several tabs.
On the General tab, you can see the title separator option at the top. We saw this option in the configuration wizard, but you can manually change it here if you want.
Underneath you’ll find two other settings in the “Enabled analysis” section.
Readability analysis checks your content and makes suggestions. You’ll find these suggestions on the edit post screen, inside the Yoast SEO box. Here is the readability analysis for one of my articles:
If this is useful to you, keep that option checked in the SEO plugin settings.
The keyword analysis option, in my view, is a little dangerous. It gets you focusing on specific keywords. In the previous screenshot, you can see there is a tab at the top to enter a focus keyword. The idea is that the plugin will tell you how well your content is optimized for that keyword. Here is an analysis for my web page:
Some of that information is useful, like the fact my meta description is a little long. However, advice on article length, keyword density, and positioning of the keyword in the elements on the page are dangerous.
Focusing on a single keyword when optimizing a web page is dangerous and could get your site penalized.
If you’ve made any changes to the General tab, save them. Then click on the Homepage tab.
If you are using your recent posts as the homepage, you will see this:
This allows you to set a template for the title and description of your homepage.
You can see some variable being used. If you click on the help link, you can find a full list of basic and advanced variables for use in your templates.
Essentially these variable as swapped out for the specific piece of data when the page is rendered in a web browser. For example, %%sitename%% will be replaced with the actual site name, %%sep%% will be replaced with the separator character you chose. But you don’t have to use variables.
We could define the title template as:
%%sitename%% :: How to Start and Grow a Successful Blog
If your site name was ‘Trunk.Ly’, then when the homepage was loaded in a browser, the homepage title would display as:
Trunk.Ly :: How to Start and Grow a Successful Blog
We could, of course, use a variable to insert the tagline of the site into the title:
%%sitename%% :: %%sitesdesc%%
The title would then pull the site name and tagline from the ‘General Settings‘ tab of your WP Dashboard, and create the title from those.
Now, you might ask why bother using variables for the homepage title when you can just type in the exact title you want. The main reason is in case you ever update the site title or tagline in your settings. By using variables, our titles will automatically get updated, without us having to remember to go in and manually change them.
The plugin sets the default homepage title as follows:
%%sitename%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitedesc%%
By looking at the variable list on the ‘Help‘ tab, you can decode this to see that the homepage title would be the site name, followed by a separator, and then the site description (tagline).
The %%page%% variable is not relevant to the homepage so it will be blank (I personally remove that variable from the homepage title template).
The default homepage title is OK and I would leave it as it is if I were you. For the description, you can use variables if you want, or just type in the description as you want it to appear on the homepage.
If you are using a static page as your homepage, you will see this:
If you want to make changes to title or description of the homepage, go in and make them on the edit page screen.
Click on the Post Types tab. This is where you can define the title and description templates to posts, pages, and media items. You can also control the meta robots settings.
Since I like my websites to be ‘branded’ by the site’s name, I always include the %%sitename%% variable in the title of my posts, usually at the end of the title template. The template that is used by default is actually quite good because it uses the posts title and the site name.
For the post description, I use %%excerpt%%. This will then use whatever excerpt I have entered for a post as the Meta Description tag.
Here is my completed posts section:
- The Meta Robots should be set to index. That will ensure the search engines include the posts in the search results.
- The Date in Snippet Preview is up to you. The snippet is what Google shows in the search results. If your content is time-sensitive, maybe you want this enabled. If, like me, your content is timeless 😉 leave this as hide. We don’t want searchers to be alerted to the fact that our post is 2 years old!
- The Yoast SEO Meta Box should be left to Show. This means the SEO settings will be available to us on the edit post screen.
- For pages, I use the same title & meta description templates as for posts.
However, the I only use pages for my legal pages. These are pages like contact, privacy, terms, etc. I don’t want these being indexed in Google. I only want Google to index my money pages. Therefore, I set the Meta Robots to noindex.
Here are my page settings:
If I have a page that I want to be indexed, I can override this global setting by going in and editing the SEO settings on the edit page screen.
“Media” are special posts created by WordPress to hold information about the media you upload. I don’t want mine indexed as separate pages, so here are the settings I use:
You can see a new variable there. Guess what %%caption%% is?
We’ve finished with the Post Types settings. Let’s move on to the Taxonomies.
Under the Taxonomies tab, we can set up the global options for Categories, Tags, and Format.
For categories, the title template is fine. I do change mine a little. Here is one that I might use:
Category :: %%term_title%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%
Notice that the word category is not a variable.
The %%term_title%% variable will be replaced by the category title/name.
A typical category page title from that template might look like this:
This title tells my visitors and search engines that the page is the “blogging tips” category page, on the website.
Here are my settings for Categories:
A common template for the meta description is to use the %%category_description%% variable. This will be replaced by the description we entered for the category. I recommend you don’t do this, as we are using that description as the category page introduction. We don’t want the entire introduction also included in the HTML as the meta description.
For that reason, leave the meta description template empty.
IMPORTANT REMINDER: I have my category pages set globally to be indexed. That is because I set them up to include an introduction at the top, followed by post excerpts. If you do not use an introduction & post excerpts on your category pages, set the Meta Robots to noindex.
My tag page settings are similar to my category page settings. The only slight difference is the in the title. My tag page title template is usually something like:
Articles about %%term_title%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%
Here are my Tags settings:
Again, I have my tag pages set to be indexed. That is only because I have an introduction on all of my tag pages, followed by excerpts of the posts using that tag. If you do not have introductory text on your tag pages, set the Meta Robots to noindex.
The Format options under the ‘Taxonomies’ tab can be left unchanged.
Click on the Archives tab. This is where you control the settings for some special pages on your site:
- Author archives are pages set up for each author on a site, which lists their posts.
- Date archives are pages set up to list all posts made on a given date.
- Special pages are the search page and 404 error pages.
Here are my settings for author archives:
Note that I have set these pages to noindex, even though I have author archives enabled. That is because I don’t want the author archive pages to get into the search engines, as it would only add to the duplicate content problem. However, with these setting, Google can still follow the links on the page to help with the spidering of the site.
Since I have this set as noindex, there is no need to enter a Meta Description here.
For ‘Date Archives‘, I use these settings:
Again, this is noindex to reduce the duplicate content in Google.
The last couple of options are for the ‘Special Pages’. You can leave the default settings for these two.
Make sure you click Save Changes if you’ve made any.
Now click on the Other tab. This page gives us a few more options. The only change I would recommend is to noindex subpages of archives. Click Save Changes when you’ve done that, and we’ll move onto the Social options.
Click on the Social link in the SEO menu located left of the WP Dashboard. The social settings are spread over several tabs:
On the Accounts tab, you can connect your site to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social media channels. If you went through the configuration wizard, you may already have these populated. However, this screen allows you to come in and manually update/edit/add social URLs.
Once you are done, click on the Facebook tab.
Facebook’s Open Graph is used by a lot of search engines and social websites to tell them information about your site and about the pages they are visiting.
On the Facebook tab, check the box at the top to Add Open Graph Data. Note that there are a number of plugins that offer to add this data to your pages. Only enable it in one plugin (this SEO plugin).
With this checked, the plugin will add Facebook Open Graph Meta Tags to your pages:
Under the Open Graph settings, you can upload a default image. This will be used when someone shares content on your site to Facebook, but the post doesn’t have any of its own images that can be used. I highly recommend you upload a default image.
What you do next depends on how you have your Facebook set up. Personally, I have a Facebook ‘page’ for each of my websites, and I recommend you do the same. You can then ‘Add a Facebook Admin’ by clicking the button, and following the instructions on the screen. Once you have connected your site to your Facebook profile, you can then add the Facebook Page URL in the settings. This will link the content on your site to your Facebook page and more meta data will be added to your page.
OK, that’s all we are doing on the Facebook tab. Let’s move over to the Twitter tab.
You can leave these settings on the default. This will add Twitter meta data to your web pages.
When anyone tweets with a link to your site, the tweet will contain the usual stuff, but Twitter also scrapes the card data. When viewing the Tweet, the default view is the summary of the tweet (140 characters), but that can now be expanded to show the full Twitter card data.
For more information on Twitter cards, I suggest you read this post on the Twitter website:
The next tab is the Pinterest options.
This screen lets you confirm your site with Pinterest. Just follow the instruction on this page.
Finally, we have the Google + settings.
If you have set up a business page on Google Plus for your website, add the URL of the page here. You should also provide a link to your site from your Google+ about page.
XML Sitemap Settings
From the SEO menu on the left of the WP Dashboard, select XML Sitemaps. Again, these settings are spread across multiple tabs:
First things first, at the very top, make sure the XML sitemap functionality is enabled.
Having an XML sitemap for your site is really important. While it’s not much use to visitors, it’s a big help to search engines, as they use it to find your site’s content.
With good navigation on your site, a search box, and a well-designed homepage, your visitors should not need a sitemap in order to find your content!
The settings on the General tab can be left at the default values.
- Click on the User sitemap tab.
- This has one option. I recommend you disable author/user sitemap. It’s not needed as all links will be found in the main posts sitemap generated by this plugin.
- On the Post Types tab, we have three options.
Here is how I set them up:
I have pages excluded from my sitemap because they are not important. All of my visitor-focused stuff is in posts. If you use pages differently, you will want to include them in the sitemap. However, remember that all global settings can be overridden. If there are one or two pages you want in the sitemap, you can set this on the edit page screen inside the Yoast SEO settings:
On the Excluded Posts tab, you can specify specific posts or pages to exclude from the sitemap. Just enter in the post ID (a number) in the box. Separate post IDs with a comma if you have several.
You can find the post ID by visiting the Posts -> All Posts screen and moving your mouse over the post titles. The Post ID is shown in the bottom left of your browser window:
In the above example, the Post ID is 226. It’s the number after the post= bit of the URL.
On the Taxonomies tab, you can define whether sitemaps are created for categories, tags, and format. You can leave these at their default values.
When you have finished, click the ‘Save Settings’ button.
You can grab the URL of your sitemap and submit them to Google. You can find the sitemap on the general tab of the XML Sitemaps screen:
This opens the sitemap in your default web browser.
You can see three sitemaps listed in that screenshot. Yoast SEO creates separate sitemaps for posts, pages, categories, tags, etc. In that list, each of those is a separate sitemap and you can click the link to see what is contained in each sitemap.
Submitting Your Sitemap(s) to Google
Earlier in the guide, I recommended you sign up for Google Search Console (GSC). One of the reasons was to submit your sitemap(s) to Google so that your site would be spidered and indexed quicker. By submitting your sitemap to Google, you are telling them directly that these are the important URLs for them to consider.
The first step is to login to GSC and select the site you are working on. Then, in the side menu, go to Crawl -> Sitemaps.
In the top right of the sitemaps screen, you’ll see a button to Add/Test Sitemap. Click it now.
Complete the URL of your sitemap, and then click on the Submit button.
NOTE: If you prefer, you can click the Test button first to make sure you are using the correct URL, and that Google can crawl the sitemap properly. If you do that, just repeat the steps above to submit it once you are sure your sitemap status is okay.
Your newly submitted sitemap will be shown as pending.
It usually takes a minute or two for Google to visit the sitemap and report back, so just wait a couple of minutes, and then refresh your browser. You should then see confirmation that Google processed your sitemap. As Google spiders your site, this table will populate to give you more details:
NOTE: If you have the ‘Google XML Sitemap for Videos‘ plugin installed, you can also submit your video sitemap in the same way.
Click on the Advanced menu in the sidebar. These settings are spread across three tabs:
On the Breadcrumb tab, you can use the SEO plugin to insert breadcrumbs navigation in your web pages. This is beyond the scope of the book so I recommend you check out the instructions provided if you want to do this. Most themes come with breadcrumb navigation anyway, so chances are you won’t need to manually insert them.
On the Permalinks tab, you have a few options. Permalinks are the URLs of your web pages.
Remember when we set up the permalinks, I told you that category page URLs included the word ‘category’ in them? We had the opportunity to change that word to anything we chose, by entering a ‘category base word’. Yoast’s plugin also allows you to remove the word ‘category’ altogether from all the category pages.
This is the first option on the Permalinks settings screen.
Personally, I think the word ‘category’ helps both the search engines and site visitors, to know exactly where they are. Therefore, these are the settings I recommend:
The next options offer to clean up the permalinks. For example, you can get the plugin to automatically strip out stop words (small insignificant words) from the URLs as they are created. This is a good idea. Therefore, these are my recommended settings for permalinks:
On the RSS tab, we have the option of inserting content into the RSS feeds:
An RSS feed is made up of a number of posts. These two boxes allow us to insert content before and after each post in the feed. You can leave these with the default settings. You can see that Yoast SEO automatically inserts a link back to your site. If you want specific things inserted before and after feed items, this is where you add them. The plugin offers you a few variables you can use.
That’s it for the Advanced tab settings.
There are three tools included with this plugin. We won’t go into detail, other than to summarize what they do.
The bulk editor allows you to save time with multiple title and description changes. Instead of having to go into the edit screen for each post and page, you can use this bulk edit tool. It looks like this:
The two tabs across the top give you access to title and description data. The last but one column allows you to quickly type in a new “SEO Title” (and “SEO Description” on the description tab).
The file editor tool gives you quick access to two important files – the robots.txt and .htaccess. If you need to change these, you can do that here.
The import and export tools let you import and export settings from one SEO plugin to another, and from one website to another. We won’t be looking at them here.
The final menu in the SEO settings is the Search Console. Clicking on that takes you to a screen that allows you to connect the site to your Google Search Console account. If you followed the configuration wizard earlier, you’d have already done this.
However, if you couldn’t do it then (because you hadn’t added your site to your GSC account), you can do it on this screen. Just click the Get Google Authorization Code button and follow the instructions.
OK, those are the global settings for Yoast’s excellent SEO plugin. This plugin gives us tremendous power and control over the ‘SEO settings’ for our site, and the content it hosts.