If you own a WordPress blog or have a website that is powered by WordPress, you will no doubt have come across the Yoast SEO plugin. If you use the plugin regularly to optimise blog posts you too may have considered that it’s relevance and effectiveness could be waning after the Google Penguin algorithm update.
I have used Yoast as my go-to SEO plugin for a number of years and generally, I have been very happy with its effectiveness. It is functional, easy to use and in it’s latest incarnation covers pretty much every thing you need to get your onsite SEO up to scratch.
The dashboard features an impressive array of tools including XML site-maps, title and meta presets, advanced perma-link functions and some great social features. All of which are very useful in structuring your website/blog into a coherent, easily crawled and efficient domain.
The plugin also offers some in-post tools for optimising your blogs and pages. It is this area of the plugin’s functionality that concerns me after the Google Penguin and Panda updates over the last few years.
Yoast’s on-page optimisation system revolves around picking a focus keyword and then optimising the relevant title, slug, meta-data and content in accordance with that choice. Once this is done the page is then analysed to check that the keyword appears in all of the above areas and in the ‘correct’ density.
Now, don’t get me wrong it’s not that I don’t understand the importance of keywords appearing in the title, slug, meta etc. I just don’t think there is enough flexibility in the Yoast plugin to accommodate the needs of most of today’s bloggers and web masters.
Currently in the UK, over 50% of all searches are over 2 words or above. This means that If you are hoping to capture a broader spectrum of the potential search market you need to be optimising for long-tail keywords, especially if, like me, you write a blog in a highly competitive market of net savvy users.`
The Yoast plugin only offers a very rigid framework for choosing long-tail keywords as a ‘focus’ for the plugin. The words must sit concurrently, there must be no interjecting stop words and there is also no room for misspelling or synonym use.
It’s not that I expect Yoast to produce an update that uses a latent semantic indexing algorithm, which would be rather a lot to ask of a free plugin. Yet some simple recognition of the use of stop words and some basic functionality when recognising basic synonyms and miss-spellings would be a huge help to Yoast users who want to optimise for long-tail phrases.
Let’s take this post as an example. I want to rank for the following long-tail search term:
Yoast post penguin
Now, in order to score well in Yoast’s analysis of my page I would have to use this exact phrase throughout my title, my slug, meta and sparingly in my content.
But lets ay for example I wanted to qualify it a little further in my page title with:
Yoast SEO Plugin – Post Penguin.
Although this phrase still includes all of the keywords that make up my keyphrase, it is ignored by the Yoast page analysis system and I am again encouraged to strip back to my basic keyphrase, without the extra words and hyphen.
This definitely seems a little unnatural to me, and I am sure it does to Google. Google are of course clandestine about how this functionality works, but we can glean the occasionally nugget of information from Matt Cutts Q&A sessions on their Youtube channel.
In the video Matt Cutts clearly lets us know that Google will penalise content that they think is too focused on exact keyword matches.
In reality, we want to be creating great content that uses our chosen long-tail phrases in a natural and non-invasive fashion. The current system that Yoast uses forces users to insert these phrases in an unnatural fashion that could even begin being penalised by Google now and in future updates.
Have you had any negative experiences using The Yoast SEO plugin in this way?
If you have, then let me know in the comments.Joe White