Five ways to drive more traffic to your ChicagoNow blog using Yoast

SEO. The name alone is enough to instill fear into the hearts of even the strongest among us. If Social Media is the liberal arts of the internet, SEO is the math. And math is ... well ... math.

But never fear! I’m here to show you a few easy (I promise) things you can do to each and every post to improve your SEO, bump you up in the search rankings, and drive more traffic to your site. Ready? Away we go.

SEO = Search Engine Optimization. This is a fancy way of saying “make Google and Bing (but mostly Google) like your post. The goal is to get your post on the first three pages of a Google search. Most people don’t look past the first three pages, so good SEO is important if you want your posts to pull an audience from search results.

Yoast  = a plugin (read: program) designed to help people using WordPress optimize their posts’ SEO. And it’s made for people like you and me.

With me so far?

Before I tell you how to use Yoast, there are two very important things you need to be doing/not doing in your posts:

1. Make sure your post is at least 300 words long. If it’s not, Google gives it a much lower search ranking. Lower ranking = bad<

2. Don’t embed a photo right at the top of your post. It interferes with Google’s ability to crawl (read: analyze) your post for relevant keywords.  Instead, embed a photo a few paragraphs down and wrap the text around it, or use the featured image function.

The first time you log into your dashboard after Yoast is installed, you should see a little box on the left next to “plugins” that says something like “Congrats! You’ve installed Yoast!” and then invites you to take a tour/tutorial of Yoast. I highly recommend doing this when you have a chance.  However, the tour does get pretty technical, so don’t worry about absorbing everything. A lot of it is geared towards IT and other people techier than us.

That said let’s move on to some simple ways to use Yoast.

Before starting, add your content into your post. Yoast needs to see this to know how best to help you.

When you are in your post you’ll see something below your “Write It” box that looks like this:

Don’t freak out about all the tabs and boxes. The only three that matter are Focus Keyword, SEO Title and Meta Description under the “General” tab. We will explore the other tabs later on.


Note: You need to do the following BEFORE you hit "publish" for the first time.

First thing to fill in: “SEO Title”

Forget everything you learned about titles being a tease, having a “hook,” etc. In blogging today, you need to do everything you can to use “keywords” in your title.

Keywords = Words people would type into Google or Bing to find your post.

The goal is to find a balance between and interesting headline and one that is SEO-friendly (i.e, full of keywords).

For example, if I’m writing about the Bears’ search for a new coach, I don’t want to use a headline that says something like “Waiting for Ditka.” While this headline is kinda cool and literary, it does nothing for my search rankings.

Instead, I want my headline to be something like “Chicago Bears expand search for head coach.” Not as sexy, but it gets the job done SEO-wise. I’ve got “Chicago Bears,” “search,” and “head coach” all in one title. Those are three keywords that someone might put into Google when looking for articles on the Bears’ head coach search.

This is a strong SEO title. It’s also great for social media because it describes what the post is about in a few words. Great for Twitter and Facebook.

That said, the first thing you should do in Yoast is take a look at your headline and make sure it’s SEO-friendly.  You can do this in the “SEO Title” box. The Snippet Preview shows you what your headline will look like when it comes up in search results.

All I did here is type in my SEO-friendly headline into the SEO title box. It changed my Snippet Preview. As you can see, your SEO-friendly headline needs to be 70 characters or less. For simplicity’s sake, make sure your blog title and your SEO title match.

Second thing to fill in: “Focus Keyword”

Think about the ONE word or phrase that best describes your post. In this case, I’ve chosen “Chicago Bears,” but I could have easily gone with “Chicago Bears head coach search.” It’s up to you how detailed you want to be, but, in general, less-detailed is better.

Don’t worry about all the no-yes-no-no stuff it says underneath your focus keyword, unless it all says “no” right before you publish. Ideally, your focus keyword should show up in your meta description, your title, and your content. If your focus keyword doesn’t show up in any of those, you have some adjusting to do.

Third thing to fill in: “Meta Description”

The meta description will be seen by people who find your post through a Google search, so it’s very important that you tell them what it’s about so they will decide to click.

Writing a meta description is (literally) as simple as writing a Tweet that describes what your post is about. Like Twitter, you have 140 (okay, 141) characters to describe your post.

As you can see below, I’ve barely expanded on my title, just added a little more information.  Adding a meta description will result in my Snippet Preview including the meta description.

My post isn’t just about the Chicago Bears, it’s about the Bears head coaching search and the new candidates. That’s information I want to give a potential reader via my meta-description.

See how the answers under my focus keyword changed after I wrote my meta-description? That’s what you should see.

And that’s it! That’s all you have to do for Yoast. Fill out three boxes. It should literally take you about 90 seconds to complete this process. How easy was that?


And, while I have your attention, a few more tips for making your posts as SEO-friendly as possible:

1)    Try to use your focus keyword or keyword phrase in the first sentence of your post. Don’t force it, but work it in if you can.

2)    Go easy on the “tags” on the right rail of your dashboard. Pick 1-2 (definitely no more than 3). For this post, I would use “Chicago Bears” and “head coach.” That’s it. In this case, less is more.

3)    Work your focus keywords into your post where you can, but again, don’t force it. Google will punish you by lowering your ranking if your post looks “over-optimized.” If the keywords fit into the natural flow, great. If not, don’t try to cram them in.