It’s almost the default SEO plugin to add on to WordPress websites. Millions of websites are using it and it’s being developed and updated all the time. But does adding Yoast actually do anything?

Yoast is a plugin used on WordPress that claims to assist you to rank better on search engines by making you choose a range of keywords to focus on, then mark your blog posts and pages against those keywords to see how well you have matched your content to your desire to rank on search for that topic. It then goes a bit further by adding a site map XML file to your website which Google then picks up to check on what you have on your site, and where to check next time for updates. And finally, it will mark your pages and articles on how readable it is for the average page viewer and give you a list of things you can do to improve your chances of ranking better.

That all seems pretty good on paper. A more readable article will be read for longer, meaning that the viewer will dwell for longer on your website. Makes sense, right? And if your titles and opening paragraphs are chock full of mentions of the things you want to be found for on Google, even better, right?

Search Engine Optimisation is important. So it’s important that you get SEO tools that actually work (Image: Canva)

The trouble with Yoast and SEO plugins

The main problem with SEO plugins like Yoast, All In One SEO and SmartCrawler, is that they tend only look at one slice of the Search Engine Optimisation pie. And that is what we call On Page SEO. This is also probably the easiest part of SEO to address on a website, because you don’t really need any technical knowledge, server access or even CPanel access to make it happen.

Search Engine Optimisation as a discipline involves technical changes, mobile optimisation, efficient code use, the popularity of your website, and a strange term called Domain Authority which Google denies is a thing, but everyone kinda assumes is a thing because more trusted websites seem to rank better in search. Yoast doesn’t really address any of this. The biggest factors of SEO are Trust and Popularity, followed then by Backlinks, which are the number of relevant places online that are linking back to your page, article or website address. Yoast can’t do anything about any of these things. So plugins like it can lull you into a false sense of comfort that you have “done your SEO.” You’ve ticked that box, so now you can move on.

Yoast actually does nothing technical to help your rank on Google. It concentrates on On-Page SEO which is essentially things you could do without Yoast. (Image: Canva)

What Yoast does well

I’ll give Yoast and these other similar plugins some credit. They actually do the On Page SEO stuff pretty well. The readability scores and recommendations on how to use your target keywords better in your titles and paragraphs does help you to become a better writer for humans, which in turn helps to make you’re a better writer for search engines.

It puts all this at the bottom of your page or posts backend view so you can see a live look at how your changes are helping you get a better score.

The trouble is that none of this will help you if your website is slow to load, full of half a dozen different kinds of tracking code, full of large images that take a while to load or full of dishonest information that doesn’t match what your Yoast settings are saying that your page contains. Yoast does perhaps make you a better writer, but it won’t make you a better Google Search Ranker. And doing some work on your pages and posts with Yoast doesn’t mean that you web developer has “done your SEO.”

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Dante St James is the founder of Clickstarter, a digital trainer and advisor with the ASBAS Digital Solutions Program and a Facebook AU/NZ Community Lead Trainer.