Heard that Yoast SEO is the best plugin for WordPress success? If you’re like most WordPress website owners, you probably know about this plugin. Maybe you've installed Yoast and are wondering why you're not getting more traffic. Perhaps you've tried making every blog post comply with Yoast's recommendations but nothing has changed in terms of visitors to your website. What's going on here?
Websites from Bloomberg to CreativeCommons use this tool to help improve their content's rankings and visibility in search engines like Google.
Is it the best SEO tool? No. Is it the most popular? Yes.
Yoast was one of the first SEO plugins for WordPress that didn’t suck, and so it has consistently been high on the charts in the WordPress repository.
And this helps perpetuate the idea that Yoast is the best tool.
In a way, it's similar to how the top Google results receive more links from other websites. People link to these websites for no other reason than they are top of the rankings, sometimes without even reading the content. And because backlinks are a Google ranking factor, this increases the likelihood that the website will remain near the top. It's a perpetual cycle.
There are plenty of things I like about the Yoast plugin and it's capable in some regards, but one thing has always bothered me: the Yoast green light. The green dot rating is based on an ‘SEO Score'. WordPress users need to make sure that their content gets a high SEO score, so that the dot turns from red, to orange, and then finally green.
The idea is that you should try to sculpt your article to conform to some arbitrary, ultra-basic algorithm that Yoast has developed and has absolutely nothing to do with Google.
I like to think of it as a form of headlight blinding for bad bloggers. It distracts them from what's important.
Facebook groups for bloggers and content writers are full of posts by people begging for advice on how to get the Yoast SEO traffic light to turn green.
This question on Quora illustrates just how ingrained green dot logic is in people's minds: “Why does Yoast give me the “green light”, but I'm not ranking well?”
Meanwhile, WordPress users who refuse to follow the herd can benefit from Yoast's popularity and approach to search engine optimization.
For example, If know that my competitors have installed the Yoast plugin, then I know they are probably ruining their content in vain attempts to get the green light to show in the SEO panel. While they're doing that, I can spend my time writing great content. They, on the other hand, waste hours twisting and warping content so that it fits into Yoast's ridiculously rigid system for quantifying the “SEO value” of a blog post.
Permission to fail
I have to hand it to the Yoast company. The makers of the world's most popular “SEO” tool are marketing geniuses. They recognize that people prefer instant gratification over long-term results backed by research and common sense.
The green light gives people permission to move on to the next task: “That's it, green light…I'm done. Watch this post get to number 1”.
It's not that simple in reality.
I believe that by chasing the green light, you're probably doing more harm to your blog posts than good.
During the time when I used Yoast on my websites, I had orange lights on the majority of my blog posts. But these posts did just fine. Many posts with a ‘red light' achieved number one spot in the search engine results for the target keyword.
A Yoast red light suggests that a piece of content is not SEO-friendly or that it is doomed to be a failure. This is not the case.
The truth is that the traffic light system is a failure.
Why Yoast SEO's green light doesn't mean you'll rank higher in search results
- Keyword density matters a lot less than you think. Blog posts can be 300 words or 3000 words. Write just enough to cover the topic. No more and no less.
- Yoast can't read the content in many popular page builders like Elementor and Beaver Builder. So if you rely on the SEO strategy of always getting ‘green', the strategy will fail every time you create a piece of content or content topic with a page builder.
- Transition words have no effect on SEO. That's not to say that you should avoid using them. You should use them where it makes sense. But don't do it because Yoast says so.
- Consecutive sentences – Yoast complains when you use the same word at the start of multiple sentences or paragraphs. Google doesn't care and neither should you.
- Sentence length – see above
- Yoast has no relation to Google. Yoast does not have access to the algorithm. Yoast touches on only a few aspects of WordPress SEO. Green dots have nothing to do with the keyword positions you see on Google Search Console.
And there's more…
While the green scores or ‘green bullet' icon staring back at me in the WordPress editor is the biggest issue I have with this plugin, there are several other reasons why I'm not a fan of the product. Here are a few:
- The dashboard is full of ads for upgrading. It's way over the top. Getting nagged to upgrade to the frankly expensive and overrated Yoast SEO Premium version is an annoying distraction.
- Marking content as ‘Cornerstone Content' does absolutely nothing. Another distraction.
- Yoast updates have a notorious reputation for harming website performance and traffic:
- Yoast SEO 19.7 Causes Fatal Error & Crashes Websites
- Yoast SEO update breaks site
- Yoast WordPress Plugin Update Causes Fatal Errors
- The notorious media attachment bug that caused disastrous Google Ranking drops in many sites all over the world.
SEO Analysis results can be misleading, irrelevant, and even harmful.
Let's take some more examples:
- “Keyphrase distribution: Have you evenly distributed your focus keyphrase throughout the whole text? Yoast SEO Premium will tell you!”
- “The focus keyphrase was found 2 times. That's less than the recommended minimum of 4 times for a text of this length”
- “More than 75% of your H2 and H3 subheadings reflect the topic of your copy. That's too much.”
The free version of Yoast has become more and more limited over time. The free plugin no longer includes many pretty basic features like viewing an open graph image on Facebook. It is definitely not worth upgrading for these features.
This post is definitely a swipe at Yoast but to be honest, I am sure developers have good intentions. They've been around for a long time and seem interested in improving SEO and contributing to the company. I just wish they would stop trying to dazzle beginners with bells and whistles and go back to trying to build a less flashy product that actually works.
Having worked with clients for years and heard the same old questions and pushback about Yoast, I grew tired of it all.
Yoast has plenty of good features that make it worthwhile for some WordPress users. The internal linking suggestion tool, the meta tag boxes, and the social media Open Graph editors are useful. But every other SEO plugin also has these tools.
There are several Yoast alternatives worth looking at. One is SEOPress, the SEO plugin for WordPress that I use on most of my portfolio websites (and this website). The second is Squirrly SEO, an AI-powered SEO suite for WordPress. This is a very popular plugin with affiliate marketers and niche website owners. The AI features are particularly relevant today.