We are all familiar with the traffic light system on the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin. We equally have the desire to get that precious green light or bullet point.
Since it has been introduced as clever gamification, this tool has helped to encourage many of us to ensure our content is optimised for search engines.
It has helped to make our lives so much easier, not just for those who are in the SEO industry and are considered to be experts, but also for those who are more in the beginner or intermediate stages and want to have a checklist.
And to be honest, I use it myself too as it allows me to keep myself accountable for what I need to do.
However, there is also a dangerous part of Yoast SEO as it can make you “cheat” your way around it to get that green light, which can eventually be detrimental to the quality of your content.
As clever as the traffic system is, it can easily get you paranoid (we’ve all been there) and you end up frantically trying to fix it. But attempting to fix it can also be detrimental to your content too.
So what the hell do you do?!
Well, let’s start off by looking at what could be affecting the green bullet and we’ll also look at a few myths.
And if you prefer the video version, you can view that below:
Your Choice of Focus Keyword Might Affect the Green Bullet
The first mistake that many people make is to pick the wrong focus keywords.
This section can determine whether you will get the green bullet or not, and also whether it’s correctly optimised or not.
Yoast defines focus keyword as:
“…the search term that you most want your page to rank for, so when people search for that keyword or phrase, they should find you.”
So do you think you may have chosen a keyword which is not relevant or too broad? Could you be more specific, and with your audience in mind?
For example, if you have a product page focused on ‘organic handmade woollen jumper’, then choose that as your focus keyword. Because choosing ‘jumper’ or even ‘woollen jumper’ is too broad.
And choosing ‘wool’ is completely irrelevant and a waste of time too.
For every page you create, imagine what you expect your audience to type into search engines to find your content. That can give you a starting point of what your focus keyword could be.
Ideally, you’d also want to do some keyword research to get more insights and data around it, but on most occasions, you should be able to get an idea of the keywords by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes.
Adding Focus Keywords in the “Right Places” Does Not Mean Your Content is 100% Optimised
This is a mistake that many people make.
By getting the green bullet, your content is “perfectly optimised”. However, there is no such thing as a “perfectly optimised page”.
There are so many variables to look at when it comes to SEO and using Yoast alone will not achieve it all.
Sure, it can help to make sure that you have keywords in the right places, like the title, headlines, meta descriptions, body, URL, etc. But that’s only part of what SEO is about.
For now, you can use Yoast to help make sure that you cover as many areas as possible when it comes to on-page SEO.
Green Light Does Not Equal a High Google Ranking
And another mistake that many people make is that the green light on Yoast will enable them to rank 1st, or at least very high, on Google.
And I can tell you right now that that this is definitely not true.
For one thing, there is no such thing as a ranking guarantee, and nobody in the world can guarantee you that. And if anyone utters anything like that, you should run away…fast.
Just like I’ve mentioned above, there is no such thing as a perfectly optimised page. You just try your best by following the best practices that Yoast advises and by keeping up-to-date with other SEO tips and news from reputable sources.
But the most important thing is to make sure that your content is the best that it can be. If it’s not the best version out there, then what can you do to make it so?
Some Recommendations Make Sense & Are Advisable to Follow
It’s not possible to follow everything, but there are times where you should accept that it makes sense to follow recommendations.
One example would be to be as detailed as you need. If your page is thin and doesn’t have a lot of words, then you can’t expect Google to understand what your page is about, nor can you expect your audience to engage with what little content you have.
There is no special number of words and no target you must reach. Write (or create) however much content you need to write in order to answer the question or address the problem.
Another big recommendation is to link to another page which has the same focus keyword. That makes sense.
If you have one page which is about ‘best chocolate cake recipes’, why would you have another which has the same focus keyword? You will end up competing against yourself and risk having both pages ranking low because you are making Google confused.
But there are other times it might not suit you.
For example, it is suggested that you put your focus keyword at the beginning, in the first paragraph. But perhaps you want to set the scene and create a story, which means that you are not able to add the keyword at the beginning.
It’s up to you to decide what makes sense for you, as there are too many variables to consider.
Which brings us to our next point…
You Know Better Than Any Tool, Bots & Machines
Yoast SEO plugin is a fantastic tool and a very powerful one. But it is not there to replace your knowledge about your own market.
It is there to guide you.
You know how your audience speaks better than the tools.
You know the language you want to use better than the bots.
You know your market better than the machines.
So let the traffic light system on Yoast be there as your guide, not as a tool that you must follow by heart.
So what should you do about Yoast and how you should you treat it next time? Below are a few suggestions on what you could do.
Write Without Thinking About the Green Light
Instead of obsessing about the Yoast’s green light, don’t think about it. Ignore it. Be free.
It is possible that you are restraining yourself from being creative because of your obsession with the traffic light system.
If you are struggling to do that, write your content away from WordPress, like in Microsoft Word, Text Editor or Evernote.
And then, when you place it in your WordPress editor, follow the advice provided by Yoast, but also trust in yourself and your ability to create content that your audience can resonate with.
Because that way, the content, tone of voice and language will flow and it will sound like a human wrote it, not a robotic Yoast-like machine.
Never Change Your Focus Keyword Just to Get a Green Bullet
This is an easy and a quick way to fix the problem – just change the focus keyword.
But this can end up having a negative impact on your site.
Let’s use the ‘best chocolate cake recipe’ as an example again. If you couldn’t get the green bullet for that keyword query but changing it to ‘chocolate cake’ does, step back and think about what that means for you (or whatever relevant keywords for you).
For example, when people search for ‘chocolate cake’, what is their search intent? Do they want recipes or do they want to buy a cake at a local bakery? Are they looking for nutritional info or perhaps inspiration for cake designs?
On the other hand, you know exactly what their intent is when searching for ‘best chocolate cake recipe’.
Changing your focus keyword might solve the problem, but it will not help you in the long-run when it comes to optimising your content.
(Also, does anyone else suddenly have cravings for chocolate cake?)
Do Your Keyword Research
You should always think about doing your keyword research before writing your content.
How else will you know what keywords your audience is using and whether it’s trending, has good search volume and will also give you good ranking opportunities?
For example, as an optician, you might think that “black framed glasses” is a good, adequate keyword to target. But some quick keyword researches will show that “black frame glasses” and “black rimmed glasses” are better options for you.
Even though you might pick the top keyword, that’s not to say that Google won’t attribute your content to the other synonyms. The algorithm is clever enough to understand that.
But you can still make it easier for Google to understand your content by stating your intention and creating the content that matches your audience’s search intent, and they can do the rest.
Think About the Readability of Your Content Too
SEO is not just about how good your content is, but also about how engaging and easy to read your content is.
When Yoast has added the readability analysis alongside their content analysis, their reasons are because of the increase in growth and focus of voice search, and also because the Google algorithm is becoming more “human-like”.
Gone are the days where you can spam the hell out of your content so that you can rank high on Google by stuffing it with keywords. Even though it worked in the past, it’s not readable.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since those days, and there is a larger focus on my making sure that your content is not only relevant to your audience, but also easy to consume.
And it ranges from the length of your sentences and paragraphs to the more complex issues like the Flesch test.
Your Industry Might Require Intellectual Content Which Means No Green Bullet. And That’s OK!
Yes, I have stated that you need to keep your content clear, structured and simple to understand so that you pass the “readability test” and your audience understands it.
However, for certain industries, making it simple to understand for everyone might not always work.
If you are in an industry where there is a lot of highly intellectual or jargon-filled content, like being a scientist or a mathematician or a PhD engineer professor, there is a good chance that the average audience will not understand you.
Which will also mean that you will not pass the readability test, and you will not get the green bullet.
Well, guess what? That’s OK!
Just like I’ve mentioned before about using Yoast to guide you, you should also trust your knowledge of your field and your audience.
If they understand, then you are doing the right thing.
You should still think about the use of correct keywords, creating structure and providing value to your audience, so the same principle applies to any other content creator.
But just because your content is understandable, it doesn’t always mean that your audience will understand.
In the interest of transparency, even I don’t have (nor do I deliberately aim for) the green bullet on this site for every single page and blog post.
There could be a variety of reasons, but I’m comfortable knowing that not getting the green bullet on every single page on this site will not necessarily mean that I’ll lose ranking on Google.
There are too many factors to take into consideration, not to mention hundreds of Google ranking factors.
And one final thing, even Yoast themselves admitted that you should not always aim for the green light. They claim that “This is merely an indication, not a necessity.”
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