The Flaws in Blindly Following Yoast Guidelines

If you have been using WordPress for a while now and you care about SEO (search engine optimization), then you have almost certainly heard of Yoast. This is a very user-friendly and convenient-to-use WordPress plugin. It is designed to optimize both the “readability” of your article, and its SEO.

Yoast is a great tool that has made life easier for all of us, at times providing invaluable assistance to all content writers. However, at the end of the day, Yoast is just a tool that can point you in the right direction.

Blindly following Yoast guidelines is almost never a good idea. Think of it as an assistant that can (and will) help you, but will also make mistakes in the process.

Yoast Readability Guidelines

As I said, Yoast offers both a readability analysis of your article, as well as an SEO analysis. Both can be equally important, but I’ll begin by focusing on its readability-checking function. Of course, this article can be useful to you even if you are using another, similar plugin. While I strongly believe that WordPress is your best choice for SEO, I respect the readers’ choice to use a different content management system and can gladly inform them that the principles are similar, when it comes to the flaws in blindly following Yoast guidelines.

On The Importance Of Good Readability

To almost everyone who is writing an article, information should come first. Excluding the articles whose primary purpose is to be entertaining, most articles’ value is determined by the quality of the information that is conveyed and the expertise of the writer in the given field. After all, people are reading your article because they are interested in specific facts. They want to learn something and/or become better at whatever it is that they’re interested in.

However, this doesn’t mean that the writer’s style and the “flow” of an article are not important. On the contrary, a good article is easy to read and, if possible, entertaining as well.

A dictionary entry of the word 'grammar'

If the readers are struggling with reading your sentences, they’ll soon give up and look for another article on the same topic. Of course, most of us aren’t English Language majors or trained/experienced writers. And good readability comes both from experience (practice) and understanding of the syntax and grammatical rules of the English language.

How Can Yoast Help

That’s when Yoast comes in! This tool analyses your article as you write it and it looks for mistakes that degrade the article’s readability.

The Length Of The Sentences

For the most part, Yoast does this in a satisfactory manner. For example, it keeps track of the length of your sentences. If 25 percent or more of your sentences contain more than 20 words, Yoast guidelines will show a red warning light and advise you to shorten your sentences. Only when there is less than 20 percent of such sentences will Yoast be entirely satisfied and display a green light of approval.

An example of the way Yoast analyzes readability.

Of course, if you are an inexperienced writer, you should definitely listen to Yoast guidelines and try to keep your sentences short. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, it’s best to keep it simple.

Active Versus Passive Voice

Similarly, Yoast also analyses your use of voice. In the English language, there are two voices: active and passive. The basic difference is that when one is using the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs an action on the object. On the other hand, when one is using the passive voice, the subject is the one upon which an action is performed.

Often, using the active voice makes better sentences that seem more logical in the mind of a reader. For instance – “The team won the match on Saturday” sounds much better than “The match was won by the team on Saturday”. To put it simply, this actually makes logical sense, as it is more important that the team won the match, than that the match was won by (some) team. The difference is subtle, but it does exist.

Active Versus Passive Voice

Therefore, Yoast will inform you when too many (10 percent) of your sentences contain the passive voice. Again, if you are an inexperienced writer, it’s a good idea to pay heed to its warnings.

Flaws In Blindly Following Readability Guidelines

However, even if you are not a skillful writer, it is always wrong to blindly follow Yoast guidelines. Use your head instead and try to decide if its suggestions are applicable.

Trouble With Yoast And The Passive Voice

Sometimes, it will be obvious to anyone that, for example, changing the sentence so as to use the active voice instead of the passive one is simply wrong. Using the passive voice shouldn’t always be frowned upon. After all, it exists for a reason.

Among other things, sometimes, it is not important who the person that is performing the action is. For example (as Yoast has kindly informed me), I have just written a sentence in the passive voice: “Using the passive voice shouldn’t always be frowned upon.” This sentence is true regardless of who is frowning upon using the passive voice. And it sounds and flows better (meaning that it’s easier to read) than “People shouldn’t always frown upon using the passive voice.”

While writing articles, in an effort to please Yoast guidelines and my editors, I sometimes had to change the voice and, with a tear in my eye, settle for a harder-to-read sentence. What’s more, from time to time, Yoast will incorrectly recognize the sentence as being written using the passive voice, when it is actually written using the active voice.

Trouble With Yoast And Consecutive Sentences

Another feature that you should be careful about, in terms of Yoast readability guidelines, has to do with a warning that will appear when you begin three consecutive sentences with the same word. Of course, doing so is almost always wrong. However, sometimes it can simply be a stylistic choice that will make your article more interesting to read.

What Yoast Readability Analysis (Almost) Always Gets Right

Luckily, some aspects of Yoast’s readability analysis are regularly spot-on. Namely, Yoast will warn you when your paragraphs are too long and when you are not using enough transition words. Gigantic paragraphs make the article harder to read. What’s more, they also make it harder for the reader to “scan” the article for gist. Before actually reading the article, most people love to scan it first, see how long it is and, while doing so, read a sentence here and there. And that’s hard to do if your paragraphs are long.

An example of an overlong paragraph.

On the other hand, transition words (such as “therefore”, “however”, “namely”, and so on) greatly improve the flow of your article and make it more “melodic”. Generally, transition words usually don’t contribute much to the meaning of a sentence. However, they do have a “decorative” purpose that will definitely make your article easier to read. At the same time, the huge majority of people won’t even notice (nor do they care) that the meaning of a sentence or the information that it conveys won’t change if these words were to be excluded. So, if Yoast suggests introducing more transition words and shortening your paragraphs, it is most likely okay to “blindly” follow these guidelines.

Yoast SEO Guidelines

Now it’s time to talk about the SEO aspect of Yoast. Generally, Yoast does a great job at helping you optimize your search engine visibility. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should follow all of its guidelines without thinking if they would actually be beneficial. It is still up to you to develop a proper content strategy. You’ll still have to do all the link building and keyword and marketing research on your own. Yoast will definitely have some useful advice for you, but you should only implement it if you understand why is Yoast suggesting it.

The Benefits Of Using Yoast In Terms Of SEO

Yoast can help you with SEO in several important ways. It allows you to insert a keyphrase, and then it scans the article in order to determine if you have used the given keyphrase properly. It will remind you to use the keyphrase in the first paragraph. It will determine if you’ve used the specific keyphrase before and if the keyphrase is of sufficient length. It will also check if the keyphrase is featured in the slug, and if you’ve used it enough times in the article.

An example of the way Yoast analyzes SEO.

(By the way, remember what I said about Yoast and consecutive sentences? Yoast is definitely not pleased with the way I’ve written the previous paragraph, but it doesn’t matter, as I am.)

Flaws In Blindly Following SEO Guidelines

All of that is usually very useful. However, it is important to remember that these are just guidelines. Taking the time to learn the ways of SEO will make these guidelines a lot more useful. And in the mean time, here are some commonly made beginner mistakes.

Understanding Intent

The first common mistake happens when you trust Yoast’s keyword suggestions too much. Over time, Google has learned to recognize the intent behind the query. When you are using Google, it is irrelevant whether you’ve written something like “recipe for strawberry pie” or “strawberry pie recipe”.


Unfortunately, Yoast doesn’t understand intent the same way that Google does. You may have carefully inserted keyword variations, but it can so happen that Yoast only gives you points for the exact focus keyword match. Luckily, Yoast and WordPress in general are frequently getting new updates and are constantly improving. Whether you’ll be updating your website with some assistance, or you’ll be doing it on your own, always make sure to have the latest version installed. Of course, even if you are regularly updating your WordPress and Yoast, you should still do proper research on your keyword and its variations. Don’t rely too much on Yoast in this aspect, as doing so may bring more harm than good.

Keyword And Alt Attributes

A useful feature of Yoast in terms of SEO is that it analyzes image alt attributes, and it checks whether you’ve used your keyword while writing alt text. However, you definitely shouldn’t always trust Yoast guidelines on this point. If you’re not sure how to properly incorporate the keyword in alt attributes, you might overstuff the article as a whole with the given keyword. And that will only hurt your SEO.

Yoast And Links

What’s more, Yoast also demands a sufficient amount of internal or outbound links. This may tempt you to simply insert as many links as you can. Of course, doing so is wrong. All links should be relevant and actually contribute to the content of the article. Nowadays, Google’s bots are pretty clever. They know how to spot the links that were inserted in a (most likely futile) attempt to improve one’s SEO.

To Conclude

As I said, Yoast guidelines are just that – guidelines. Yoast doesn’t know who your audience is and what is your content strategy. Of course, Yoast can be (and is) very useful for both the beginners and experts. When I was first starting out, Yoast often had me baffled with some of its suggestions in terms of SEO. As I didn’t understand what was the point of these suggestions, it made me read more and become more familiar with SEO. And only when you’re more familiar with SEO will you be able to make the right decisions on whether to listen to Yoast or to disregard its advice.

Luckily for me, I already knew a lot about writing before becoming involved in this business. That’s why Yoast readability suggestions were only helpful to me. Even if you don’t have much faith in your writing skills, if what Yoast is suggesting seems wrong to you – then it probably is. There’s no need to butcher your perfectly good sentences just to please the standards of a computer program.

And that is also true when it comes to using Yoast guidelines in general. Remember – you’re optimizing your content for your readers, not for Yoast. Just keep improving and, eventually, you’ll be able to get the most out of this, undoubtedly, very useful plugin. Good luck!

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