As a writer and editor, the WordPress plugin Yoast is my guardian angel. It had a facelift, and has come back with some new features. Initially I wasn’t too enamoured with it, but I’m starting to reap the rewards from this new update. But what’s changed? And how can you use it to your advantage?
What is Yoast?
Yoast is a WordPress plugin. It’s a vital tool in every content marketer’s kit. Most would be lost without it. Yoast analyses your content as you upload it in real time, then suggests improvements to make it more SEO friendly. Yoast gives each element a score on a traffic light system; the aim is to get a clean sweep of green lights.
See? It sounds fantastic, and it is (to an extent). The new version is causing our writing team to slightly adjust our style so that we can make sure Yoast (and therefore Google) are impressed by our content.
So what is the ‘new’ Yoast looking for?
This update has introduced a feature called ‘readability’, and it pretty much does what it says on the tin. However, our definition of readable differs from Yoast’s, so we’re having to make a few changes. Here’s what has changed since the last update:
Eliminating the passive voice
Writing in the active voice is good copywriting practice. However, some writers do sometimes accidentally wander off into the land of the passive. However, since this new update, only 10% of your content can be written in the passive voice if it is to receive the coveted green light from Yoast.
“Passive voice occurs if the noun or noun phrase that would be the object of an active sentence (such as Yoast SEO calculates your SEO score) appears as the subject of a sentence with passive voice (The SEO score is calculated by Yoast SEO)”
Definition of the passive voice – Yoast
Yoast’s definition of the passive voice is quite complicated (ironically, for a company that champions readability!) A much simpler explanation is that the passive voice is when the target of the action is used as the subject. So instead of ‘Kate likes cats’ (active voice) it would be ‘cats are liked by Kate’ (passive voice).
This update will help you keep your passive voice in check and sharpen your writing as a whole. Only use the 10% buffer for few instances where you can only convey meaning in the passive voice. Otherwise keep it active and you’ll get the green light, and make it easier for users to engage with your content as well.
Flesch Reading Test
Yoast has been using the Flesch Reading Test as an indicator of readability for a while now, and it is a big contributing factor to your readability score. Yoast generates The score by measuring the textual difficulty of reading each passage.
The lower the score, the more difficult the text, so you want to aim high. Write short sentences and words with few syllables (no more than two where possible) to get a higher Flesch score.
Writing easy-to-read content is an important part of best practice copywriting: as the wise George Orwell once said, “never use a long word where a short one will do.” As a general rule, if a 12-year-old can’t understand your copy, it’s too complicated.
This ties in to your Flesch Reading Score, but we really have to hammer home that long sentences are bad if we’re all going to keep Google happy. Any sentence longer than 20 words will send up a red flag, no matter what punctuation you use (though a bug in the system sometimes thinks that semi-colons are new sentences). 25% of your sentences can be longer than 20 words, but this is the maximum.
I recommend tackling the passive voice first, because converting any passive sentences to their active equivalents generally requires fewer words. Remember: ‘Kate likes cats’ is shorter than ‘cats are liked by Kate’.
“And”, “because”, “due to” and “consequently” are all transition words as they demonstrate how two sentences relate to each other. Using these words in appropriate places will benefit the flow of the piece and help your reader understand the main message of your copy.
Google uses your headings to determine the nature of your content. So use them to your advantage and optimise your post with them. But remember, they must be attractive to your reader too.
Yoast suggests that a maximum of 300 words should follow a subheading. So bear this in mind while writing longer pieces. Can you break up longer sections into shorter ones with subheadings?
New Yoast: my verdict
I have to admit, Yoast is a really handy tool for making sure content is I will probably still grumble about it a bit, as there are a couple of bugs that need sorting out – such the occasional wrongful detection of the passive voice – and sometimes there’s just no way to make the light switch to green, which can be really frustrating! However, these frustrations are a small price to pay for a tool that offers such a neat editorial boost.
As with any automated tool, use a degree of judgement when Yoast is in place to evaluate your copy. Sometimes there’s a trade-off between making everything green but ending up with a very plain piece of content, and accepting a few oranges to maintain the integrity of your piece. A great example is our recent where we chose to ignore the Flesch Reading test, and forgo a few transition words to keep the piece short, snappy and interesting for the reader. We hope you agree that it was for the best!
Overall, I think Yoast is an essential plugin for anyone with a WordPress site. It’s no substitute for a detailed human edit of your content, but it’s a great way to tweak for SEO and user-friendliness post-edit. It’s my guess that the next update will iron out the remaining bugs and Yoast will help copywriters everywhere to improve their writing and create content that both Google and their readers love.