UPDATED June 25, 2019: please note while the content is still the same, the screenshots are from an older version of Yoast so they may appear different.
Yoast is one of the most popular SEO tools today for WordPress – and for good reason, it really does make the whole SEO thing so much easier.
But the Yoast Focus Keyword Tool with their green, orange and red dots seem to be causing grief for some users in understanding why they are or are not ranking. We wanted to showcase why we believe the Yoast focus keyword tool should not be a primary method for your optimization process or determining your post/page SEO.
It is a nice overview – but that green dot obsession may hurt you more than help you.
While we do love Yoast – personally, we do not use the Keyword Focus tool……and probably never will.
But the green light is on why do I not rank for my keyword?
That was a real question from a real web development client. This client does their own SEO and lives and dies by that green dot – even though we have reminded them that it is not an indicator of SEO success.
Clearly it is not working for them since for most of the terms they are optimizing for they are no where to be found. They were growing increasingly more frustrated and finally contacted us for a consult on why it “was not working” for them.
We reassured them that Yoast was working fine, but how they were using it was not. Before you can even begin to look at the green dot, you need to ensure you are using the right keywords.
The problem lies in the keywords being selected and Yoast giving the FALSE security that because you are optimized for that keyword you will rank. We are going to take you through an actual post example on our own website to try and help you understand how to better use the Focus Keyword tool.
EXAMPLE 1: Post where we did not use the Yoast focus keyword tool
One of the most visited pages on our website from organic search is: What is an SEO Audit
Here is a screenshot from our admin showing it is not at all optimized using the Yoast set-up – it never was.
Below you can see just a partial list of the over 190 keywords we rank for for this post.
The interesting thing in this list is that we are outranking some serious pages like Hubspot and even Quicksprout for this term and it has over 1 million search results – so although little traffic comes from this term, it is pretty competitive.
And yet Yoast is telling us it is not optimized – although granted we did not feed it a keyword.
Now, just to have some fun I took one of the top phrases we are ranking for, “what is web audit” and entered that as our Yoast Keyword Focus Tool for that post – just to see what Yoast tells us.
Here is what we got. Notice we do NOT have this exact term in our page title, our meta description and even on page it was not found per Yoast.
So by Yoast’s standards – we really did a crappy job and should not rank at all for this term. But yet, there we are on page 1 beating out some great competition.
EXAMPLE 2: Post where we did use the focus tool
We actually do have 1 post we did optimize using the focus keyword tool (yes , only 1), so let’s take a peek at how that worked out for us.
Here is the post: Free SEO Tools
Here is what is in our admin for the focus keyword tool area – you can see we were focusing on “Free SEO Tools” for our key phrase to rank for. We do have the green light but it is not perfectly optimized by Yoast’s standards since we have a few red dots in there.
Now, let’s take a look at what we rank for for this post.
As you can see we are no where to be found in the top 100 for “Free SEO Tools” which Yoast says we are well optimized for – this is why we always tell clients not to be too attached to this feature.
There is a LOT more to ranking well and while Yoast is a great guide to understanding your post and the keywords you think you should rank for – you need to consider so many other elements.
So How Can I Use Yoast SEO To Help Me?
1. Keyword Research
Before you even use the tool you need to do your keyword research for your post. If you have limited time, use Google Auto complete to generate some ideas – or you can use Google Keyword Planner for more in depth research. But this is where it is tricky because your post should have SEVERAL keyword/phrase variations and no just focus on ONE!
2. Write Great Content
And do not write for SEO or for bots – write for your READERS! Write your content without thinking of SEO at all – just concentrate on being educational, engaging and easy to read.
3. Use Yoast’s Page Analysis Tab
After your content is written jump down to the Page Analysis tab and enter your chosen keyword in the Focus Keyword area then save your post as a draft so it can update the information.
Now you can review the output – here are our recommendations for understanding what you are reading. It will always default to the red icons at the top and the green at the bottom so you can see what you need to work on.
Our list below is in no particular order:
KEYWORD IN FIRST PARAGRAPH: We do recommend having your keyword in the opening paragraph – the closer to the top of the post the better, but it has to make sense. Do not add it just to have it there – the sentence should be useful and make sense to the reader.
KEYWORD IN SUBHEADING (H2): We totally ignore this and suggest you do to. Subheading tags offer minimal value and if you have the keyword in your post title (h1) it can actually make your post look like you are keyword stuffing.
KEYWORD IN PAGE TITLE: Your page title should be your H1 tag – and this is still important for SEO and for your readers. This is what will show in the search results as well so it needs to be enticing to get readers to click. If you can use the keyword as it is and it makes sense, then include it – but if you need to modify it to make it read well then that is preferred.
For example if you want to rank for the keyword: “seo free tool” – you can clearly see that really does not make sense to a reader, but change it to “free seo tool” and it will make sense to the reader. You may not get the green light, but that is OK! It is recommended to have it at the start of the title, but just having it in the title is good.
KEYWORD DENSITY IS .xx%: Density is an old way of doing SEO. There was a day we would diligently put in keywords multiple times to meet a goal of say “5%” of our content having that keyword. This should not really be used anymore. By having your keyword in the first paragraph and VARIATIONS of that keyword a couple of more times, that is enough. There is no “density” that needs to be met.
KEYWORD IN META DESCRIPTION: If there is one thing we can say for sure that you should spend time on is crafting a well written Meta Description! Users will determine whether your page is worth clicking based on this and your Page Title – so take time to craft them well – and you SHOULD include your keyword here as well!
KEYWORD IN ALT TAGS: If you are not including image alts for your images – you should! Make sure you use an appropriate alt tag on your images with your keyword and variations of it. Even better – name your images with your keywords as well! If you look at the alt tags in this post you can see different variations of “yoast focus keyword” and other related terms.
KEYWORD IN URL SLUG: Your keyword should be in your URL – but in a nice clean way that is short and easy to read.
KEYWORD IN URL SLUG HAS STOP WORDS: Yoast recommends not using Stop Words – like – for, why, how etc. We prefer to use them since for some posts it makes sense. We have never seen any decrease in rank for using these words. Again, this is about writing for readers not search engines. Google is smart enough to know the stop words are not important.
FLESH READING EASE: Never used it – never will. we know my market and write for them, not for a reading test.
LINKS: This will tell you how many links are on the page. It tells you all links are outbound even though some may be internal. We do not use this at all – if we need to have an outbound link we do – there is no “required” amount you need to have. We do try to link out to other sites that offer value to our readers – and internal links if we have relevant information else where on the website we think they can use. There is no right or wrong amount of links so this is irrelevant. YOU SHOULD be using this to ensure your links are do follow or not if you are doing sponsored posts though!
TEXT AMOUNT: This too is fairly irrelevant. If you are doing a post with a video or slide share for example – you will have minimal content. Although it has been shown that posts with more content do well in the search engines, it is related to the content you are delivering. There are plenty of posts ranking very will with little content – and if your post does not NEED to have more than 300 words, do not just stuff it with useless words to get there.
YOU NEVER/HAVE USED THIS FOCUS KEYWORD BEFORE: This is one you may find conflicting view on. We do not care if we use a keyword multiple times in different posts. We may do several posts on the same “keyword” topic but with several different angles. When that happens we do try to use different long tail keywords – but do not see using the same keyword multiple times as an issue from a blogging perspective. (Sites with pages are different, then you should have one landing page per keyword to work with for optimization).
PAGE TITLE LENGTH: This is a good tool so you can understand how your Page Title will look in the search engines. Having your title show in full is optimal. If you add too many characters you will see your post title truncated which can affect your CTR.
CAN THE META DESCRIPTION BE MADE MORE APPEALING: If you have entered a proper meta description you may see this line. It may be worthwhile to take a peak at the competition for the keyword you are targeting to see how your description compares to theirs and if it is enticing enough to generate clicks. This green dot item is NOT TELLING YOU your meta description is good agains your competitors – it is just telling you it is a good length and has the keyword phrase in it.
Yoast is a great plugin – but we really do not recommend getting too caught up in the keyword focus tool.
For those less skilled in SEO – it is useful to use the Keyword Focus Tool to ensure you did create proper titles and meta descriptions with your keywords in them, it is good to know that these 2 factors are done well and look good in the search engines.
It is good to be reminded to add alt tags in your images as well – but other than that do not get too hung up on the details.
There is absolutely NO automated software or tool that can help you improve SEO or give you a valid look at how well your site is doing. They are great guides, but SEO is a MANUAL process that has too many differentials as to how well your site is doing.
Oh – and for fun we DID optimize this post for the keyword “yoast focus keyword tool” – we got a green! Let’s see what happens.
Update June 25 2019: as we said above we did test this post in Yoast with the term “Yoast Focus Keyword Tool” and we got a green – as of today, we have never ranked for that term.
So, are you “green dot obsessed” – and has this post changed your mind? Have questions? Let’s chat!