How to Get Started with Yoast SEO Free

Yoast SEO Free is a powerful and effective plugin for ensuring search engine optimization (SEO) on content in WordPress. With so many marketers on WordPress, we want to help do-it-yourself content creators and clients get the most from each post.

Check out this video for the 5-min version, and/or read on for more details.

How search works

To underderstand how Yoast works, it’s important to start first with the basics of search. If you know this already, skip ahead!

The robots are coming

But seriously, ‘bots’ or ‘spiders’ or ‘crawlers’ from Google and others are continually crawling from link to link across the internet discovering new pages and content. All this information including headers, descriptions, images and high-value content are added to the search engine’s massive index.

Links are the lifeblood of this system. Without a link to your site, Google will never find it and likely neither will anyone else! The more links, the better.

Google bots discover the Boileau website

The algorithm

The goal of the search engine is not to bring value to websites or companies, but to bring users to exactly what they want to accomplish. When a user enters their terms, search engines use a complex set of calculations and factors to determine where that user will find success. Nowadays, Google will often present users with this information without even needing to click through to a page (e.g. a search for “weather”).


SERP is short for search engine results page, which is a page we’re all so familiar with that it hardly needs an acronym. Google determines the ranking of information on each SERP based on a very long list of factors with varying priorities. However, there are two basic groupings: on-page and off-page factors.

On-Page Factors Include

  • Website structure
  • Page content
  • Loading speed

Off-Page Factors Include:

  • Inbound links
  • Social media links and activity

Search engines take all of these factors into account when deciding for a user what page is most likely to contain the treasure they seek.

Shameless Plug

If you’re looking for SEO results and need a digital marketing firm, give us a call or send us a message. We’re looking forward to an opportunity to buy you a coffee and listen to your story.

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Yoast SEO Free Plugin Basics

Yoast Free is basically good at doing three things:

  1. Key Phrase Optimization
  2. Customizing your SERP display
  3. Testing Readability

Key Phrase Optimization

To increase your chances of ranking high for your desired searchers, Yoast Free helps you optimize your page around a particular “key phrase.” This reflects an understanding that most users will type in a permutation of that phrase or its synonyms in their search. Unless the user uses quotation marks around a word or phrase in their search, Google takes synonyms into account when matching your site’s content against the search term. Sites with a higher saturation of these keywords or phrases are rewarded by Google as being more beneficial to the user and thus rank higher. 

PRO TIP: If you try to game the system by saying “tacos, tacos, tacos, tacos, tacos” etc to rank higher for tacos, Google will actually penalize your page for being unhelpful to users. This practice is called keyword stuffing and it’s a big no-no.

PRO TIP #2: Yoast SEO Free limits key phrase optimization to one phrase. Yoast Premium offers options for synonyms and alternate phrases. Don’t feel like you have to repeat that exact phrase like a broken record if it ruins your writing, even if that means a less-than-perfect Yoast score. It’s more important that users can read and engage with your content.

How to set your focus keyphrase

When Yoast SEO Free is installed on your site, it will show up at the bottom of your page. This section is called a “metabox.” For WordPress pages, if you’re using a builder theme like Divi, you will need to access the Yoast metabox from the normal editor page and not the visual editor.

There are three tabs at the top of the metabox. The left and default is called SEO and the focus keyphrase is at the top. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and think about the phrases they might search for. Then, pick the strongest 2-4 word phrase and type it in. My example here is actually for this post: “yoast free.”

Yoast SEO Free Focus Key Phrase

SEO Analysis & Improvements

After you type in your focus key phrase, Yoast SEO Free will automatically provide simple, clear instructions for how to improve your content to better compete on SERPs. Follow these instructions as best as you can until you see the green smiley face, and you’re all set to go.

Customizing your SERP display

Ultimately, it’s up to search engines to decide what it wants to preview from your site to its users. But, Yoast SEO Free can help you influence that display by editing the Google preview snippet.

How to customize your Google preview text

Still on the SEO tab of the Yoast metabox, open the section called “Google Preview.” You can preview a faux Google search in its mobile or desktop appearance. If you click “Edit Snippet,” you can change the variables that make up the SEO title (usually fine unless your post title is too long) and update the meta description text. The preview updates in realtime and you’ll notice that it emboldens words from your focus key phrase.

Add a compelling description of the right length to make the bar below it turn green.

Yoast SEO Free Snippet Editor

Testing Your Site’s Readability

The last thing Yoast SEO Free helps you accomplish is to improve the readability of your site. For lovers of the written word, this can amount to disaster because Google wants pages that are good for skimming, not your best Shakespearean prose. That means:

  • Shortish sentences and words at a middle school reading level
  • Tons of transitional words like “However” and “Then…”
  • Bursty paragraphs and many, many headers
  • Active voice (“He walked the dog.” = good “The dog was walked.” = bad)

How to score your readability

Once again, open your post or page and scroll down to the Yoast SEO metabox. Click the Readability tab at the top, read the analysis and follow the instructions until the smiley face turns green.

Yoast SEO Free Readability

Key Takeaways

OK – so here’s the big three things to remember:

  1. Sites that authentically serve the best interests of searchers earn the best long term SEO success. The user will always come first, and if you try to game the system, Google will penalize you.
  2. Yoast SEO Free is best at helping you best position your page content for success with Google’s algorithms.
  3. Yoast is not a replacement for a holistic SEO strategy, which would also include content creation planning, speed and structure optimizations, earning links from other sites and generating buzz on social media.

If you want help getting Yoast installed or need a partner to firm up your total SEO strategy, just drop us a note.

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