Yoast SEO Secrets of the WordPress Elves

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Our fantastic webmaster, Barb Drozdowich of Bakerview Consulting, put a Yoast SEO plug-in on this blog when she rescued us several years ago. (After my disastrous attempt at turning this into a “monetized” blog. Note: Author blogs shouldn’t be monetized.)

Like most things about WordPress, I found the Yoast SEO secrets stuff daunting at first.

Some judgmental algorithms I call the “elves” wouldn’t give me a “green light” to publish my posts unless I passed muster with them. And they can be pretty fierce in enforcing their rules.

The elves have two tribes: the “readability” elves and the “SEO” elves. (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.) That means getting Google and other search engines to notice you, and hopefully put your post on the SERP. (First Search Engine Results Page.)

Both tribes can drive a creative writer batty.

On the other hand, our blog keeps getting Google love and our Alexa rating is down in the 120K range. It was up in the 600K range before we started using the plug-in. (Most author blogs can feel good about being in the 1 million range.)

So the elves know what Google likes, and if Google likes you, your traffic goes up.

. . . .

Yoast SEO was originally called “WordPress SEO.” A man named Joost de Valk developed it as a WordPress plugin in 2010. In 2012, WordPress renamed it Yoast SEO. (I assume “Yoast” is a phonetic spelling of Joost’s Dutch name.)

The “readability” rules are based on Flesch Reading Ease Test and Flesch-Kincaid reading grade level. The Reading Ease formula was invented by Rudolph Flesch in 1948 to help people write readable military training manuals.

Yeah. Military training manuals. Not fiction. Or creative nonfiction. Or fun, punchy blogposts.

Which is why when I put up a blogpost every week it almost always involves a battle with the elves.

. . . .

With the Yoast plug-in, you don’t get a list of rules. You discover each one when the elves give you a red, amber or green light on your copy. If you get a red or amber light, you must scroll down and find out what you’ve done “wrong” according to the Yoast rules.

This is probably wonderful for training manuals, but I do find some of the rules are less than helpful.

The problem is that the elves will red-light a lot of poetic writing. I do worry about what that is going to do our language in the long run. Online content is 90% of what most people read these days, and if it’s always aimed at a 7th grade level, will we lose the ability to write and  read more complex thoughts?

. . . .

Here are the things the readability elves will ding you on.

Repetition

They give you an automatic red light if you start three sentences in a row with the same word. So never quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom…”

Bad Mr. Dickens would never get a readability green light.

Long sentences

Any sentence longer than 20 words is considered too long.

Big paragraphs

Break up your paragraphs into two or three skimmable sentences.

A dearth of “transition” words

The elves love them some transition words. These are words and phrases like “And, But, Moreover, On the other hand, Therefore, Hence, Besides, Consequently,” or “In Summary.” They are the words a military training officer might use to make a point.

However, these are not words and phrases I use often, so I get the most scolding from the elves on my lack of transition words.

. . . .

The passive voice

If any more than 10% of your copy is written in the passive voice, you are on the elf poop list.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG tried Yoast a very long time ago when it was still WordPress SEO, but removed the plugin for reasons he doesn’t remember now.

Perhaps he’ll try it again if he can get over its bias towards the passive voice.

1 thought on “Yoast SEO Secrets of the WordPress Elves”

Comments are closed.