Should I be using Yoast SEO?
Struggling to understand Yoast SEO? Here’s why prioritising tech over genuine copywriting skills can lead you nowhere.
By Jade Zienkiewicz
A prospective client approached me a few months back about Yoast SEO. He wanted to have his business website rewritten. He wasn’t interested in anything else except that the copy reached 100% readability on the plugin.
The inspiration came from his friend, a client actually, who had achieved a page 1 Google ranking for a particular search term by using it.
This intrigued me. I already knew the company was using Yoast SEO. His colleague informed me previously that their marketing team was using it in-house. They had achieved little success.
Asking to be ranked number 1 on Google is a request I am very familiar with. The belligerence accompanying the request never fails to surprise me. The context is always:
1) I have tried and can’t do it myself.
2) I have paid a freelancer on Fiverr who has failed.
3) I know it can be done, I just need the small matter of finding someone who knows how.
4) I don’t want to pay that much money for the service.
Everybody wants a bargain I guess.
Why Yoast is great
I’m often asked how effective Yoast SEO is. It’s a really good question. We know that AI is quickly catching up with human writing abilities. This is not what Yoast does. Instead it makes suggestions that improve your chances of landing search engine results. It’s simple to use and works a bit like a writing assistant – Grammarly and the like.
Let’s face it, even really good copywriters could do with a tip or two on how to improve rankings, so this can only be a good thing. It takes some of the work out of it, so you can focus on the content.
The truth is that this software can give a powerful boost to your copy, and actually, can get it in front of the right eyes. Mostly it encourages us to keep things in mind that we can lose sight of in the drafting process. It’s worth bearing in mind that the ‘on page readability’ was created with humans in mind and how we like to consume information.
So it’s absolutely a useful tool.
As in the classic case above, many try to optimise their sites themselves, and because Yoast is a piece of software, it can seem like the be all and end all. It’s easy to think it’s the only indicator of how good your copy is.
This is a mistake. I’ll get to why in a minute.
So, what is SEO Yoast?
Starting with the basics, Yoast is a programme that measures the effectiveness of your SEO. It’s an intelligent programme that gives you an indication on all the things that make for good SEO. Not just your keyword terms and phrases, but other things that indicate good readability. Sentence length, the amount of paragraphs, distribution of headings, passive voice.
Even now, as I write, the score is changing. It’s very useful.
Another powerful part of Yoast’s toolkit is how it attempts to mimic the way Google chops up search terms to give results related to your search term, even if they’re not in the same order as your word sequence.
Yoast works the same way by making suggestions around your key search terms. It offers related phrases in different sequences, which helps ensure your copy doesn’t sound repetitive. This is actually important if you want to please readers over computers. And that’s the crux of the matter.
Why we need more than Yoast SEO
The problem experienced by the prospect at the start of this blog, and of that by other businesses I have talked to is this: they are using software to maximise SEO impact. Where they fall down on achieving the success they require is because they aren’t using skilled writers.
At the moment Yoast’s limitations mean it can’t tell you how to weave a story, or how to crack a joke. And it can’t tell you how to sell.
You might get success after a lot of time input, but writers crunch out blogs and web pages on the daily. That’s what they’re paid for – their expertise.
Just like in every other field, a client might know it can be done, but they will have to pay to use an expert. Not everyone can tell a story that people want to read. A marketing team you might have, but that doesn’t equate a team of copywriters trained in sales and conversion copy.
Yoast SEO will help you reach more people, but it won’t necessarily mean those people will want to buy from you.
Can these sales copy skills be learnt? Absolutely. It takes time and investment though. So you pay either way.
The downsides to SEO Yoast are well documented. The most obvious is that some of the most effective tools are on the paid version.
Second, you have to get pretty nifty with the paid version of the software to understand how to use it well. Some functions aren’t consistently useful, and it’s software, so it will behave ‘pedantically’.
That’s a characteristic ascribed to it all over the internet. Not following the recommendations will downgrade your readability, even when the suggestions aren’t appropriate.
I believe this is why people who aren’t professional copywriters struggle with it. They don’t realise that all software is fallible in some way. Thank god – I still have a job because of this.
Yoast SEO can’t assess intent
Something that is absolutely key, and has been published in a number of sources, including the Quora link above, is that Yoast “doesn’t understand intent”. Think about that in the context that nonsense articles even get a pass from Google sometimes.
This is why my prospect was on dangerous territory when he said he only wants articles that get 100% on Yoast SEO. Anyone could give him that. It wouldn’t necessarily sell or convert customers, and in fact, it could have been utter garbage.
100% on page readability doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of the copy. And let me repeat: the software can very often make irrelevant suggestions, ruining good quality copy for the sake of that 100% readability score.
SEO is a multi-layered strategy
As a copywriter I am naturally protective of my craft, and I have always been sceptical about software taking precedence over human writers. I was suspicious of SEO to begin with, let alone when it became something that could be automated.
I was wrong to have those suspicions, but we should never place computers at the heart of our writing when it’s humans we’re trying to convince. They are who we have to persuade when our copy is in front of their eyes, not machines.
If you’re concerned about your SEO ranking, then Yoast is a useful software indeed, in conjunction with a quality writer.
Experts should make the decisions when software fails. Beyond this, a good SEO strategy forms the backbone of any website copy, with each page having its own dedicated search term. A great copywriter will be able to assess this and give you a strategy that works in harmony with your overall goals. Software can’t do that.
SEO should be employed across a number components, from your reviews, to your picture labelling, your backlinks, to the items and services you list for sale in Google My Business. It’s more than what exists on the actual page and it’s a narrow view to suggest otherwise.
It’s how I got my husband’s website to get a page 1 Google ranking in our locality.
Trust me, I am a copywriter – if I thought it was copy alone, I’d say.
Yoast doesn’t know everything about writing
Let’s not speak of the fact that Yoast also downgrades complex writing. Long words, long sentence structures and paragraphs. The software is designed to maximise writing that sells, which means using simple language that educates, resonates and converts.
That won’t work for every market and audience though, so Yoast isn’t a one size fits all kind of tech either.
Last of all, passive voice is a conversational tool. It can inject personality into a piece. It can help to reduce accusatory statements. It’s a useful style to employ at the appropriate times, and it should be humans who make the final assessment on that.
You have to love Yoast though. The advice offered by the tech itself says to “use common sense when optimising.” Yoast also states that “not every bullet has to be green” and that the passive voice check can even occasionally give false positives.
That’s because the creators know that technology also has limitations.
Is it useful? Yes. Is it the be all and end all? No.
When you combine the tech with the best copywriter you can find in your field, you’ll get the best results. Find a copywriter who cares about what you do and resonates with your goals.
They should make the decisions when your “computer says no”.
Written by Jade Zienkiewicz, Content and Services Director at Phlashweb.
Jade is a copywriter and communications professional with a background in the creative industries and digital content.