Update or delete? Cleaning up old content on your site

Sometimes, content on your website becomes irrelevant or out of date, and you need to decide whether to update it or delete it. It’s part of your regular content maintenance activities. There are several ways to go about this and this article helps you decide what’s the best solution for your old content!

Update old content that is still valid

Let’s start with an example: On our blog, we have an article on meta descriptions that needs constant updating to keep it relevant. We just have to make sure it stays up to date with all the changes Google keeps making to the way it handles meta descriptions. Sometimes it seems they can be a bit longer and sometimes they seem to go back to the old length again.

Our post helps writers and editors to write meta descriptions, even though the advice changes over time. Although the article itself might be what we call cornerstone content, its content must be updated to keep up with the latest standards – constantly.

You can easily create new, valuable content from your old posts if you update it and make it current again: old wine in new bottles, as the saying goes. You could, for example, replace older parts of that content with updates, or you could merge three old blog posts about the same subject into one new post. If you do this, please remember to redirect the old post URLs to the new post, using a 301 Redirect. More on that later.

Read more: Keep your content fresh and up to date »

Delete irrelevant posts or pages

It’s likely that you have old posts or pages on your site that you don’t need anymore. Think along the lines of a blog post about a product you stopped selling a while ago and have no intention of ever selling again, an announcement of an event that took place a long time ago or old pages with little or no content – so-called thin content pages.

These are just some examples, but I’m sure you know which posts and/or pages I’m talking about. This old content adds no value anymore, now or for the foreseeable future. In that case, you need to either tell Google to forget about these old posts or pages or give the URL another purpose.

When I talk about deleting old content, I don’t mean just pressing “delete” and then forgetting about it. If you do that, the content might show up in Google for weeks after deletion. The URL might actually have some link value as well, which would be a shame to waste.

So, what should you do? Here are two options:

“301 Redirect” the old post to a related one

When a URL still holds value because, say, you have a number of quality links pointing to that page, you want to leverage that value by redirecting the URL to a related one. With a 301 Redirect you’ll tell search engines and visitors there’s a better or newer version of this content elsewhere on your site. The 301 redirect automatically sends people and Google to this page.

Say you have an old post on a specific dog breed. You need to delete it, so the logical next step would be to redirect that post to a newer post about this dog breed. If you don’t have that post, choose a post about the closest breed possible. If that post isn’t available, you could redirect it to the category page for these posts (e.g. “dog breeds”) and if that is also not an option, redirect to the homepage. That last one might be about “pets”, for example. It’s a bit of a last resort though, there probably are better options on your site.

Creating a 301 Redirect (for instance in WordPress) isn’t hard, but doing it with Yoast SEO Premium is easy as pie. If you don’t have it yet, find out about all the extras that are in Yoast SEO Premium here.

Tell search engines the content is intentionally gone

If there isn’t a relevant page on your site you can redirect to, it’s wise to tell Google to forget about your old post entirely by serving a “410 Deleted” status to Google. This status code will tell Google and visitors the content didn’t just disappear; you’ve deleted it with a reason.

When Google can’t find a post, the server will usually return a “404 Not Found” status to the search engine’s bot. You’ll also find a 404 crawl error in your Google Search Console for that page. Eventually, Google will work it out and the URL will gradually vanish from the search result pages. But this takes time.

The 410 is more powerful in the sense that it tells Google that the page is gone forever, never to return. You deleted it on purpose, period. Google will act on that faster than with a 404. Read up about the server status codes if this is all gibberish to you.

Keep reading: How to properly delete a page from your site »

Do you have old content to deal with?

Cleaning up old content should be part of your content maintenance routine. If you don’t go through your old posts regularly, you’re bound to run into issues sooner or later. You might show incorrect information to visitors or hurt your own rankings by having too many pages about the same topic, increasing chances of keyword cannibalization, which is a lot of work to fix later on. Therefore, go through your old posts, and decide what to do: update, merge or delete!

Good luck cleaning up your site.

Read on: Should you keep old content? »

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Yoast SEO: don’t just set it and forget it!

Some of the things Yoast SEO does are pure magic. Lots of things are just taken care of after you’ve installed the plugin. You don’t have to do anything about that. Simply installing Yoast SEO will fix a lot of important technical SEO things for you. The content side of SEO, though, is something you should always do yourself. Yoast SEO will help you, but you’ll need to make an effort. So there’s a lot of work in it for you. In this post, I’m going to tell you about the things you need to do yourself, in order to make your SEO strategy successful.

Configure Yoast SEO properly

First of all, you need to configure Yoast SEO correctly. You should be aware that the plugin can’t perform to its full potential if the settings of Yoast SEO aren’t optimal for your specific website. So, make sure that the configuration of Yoast SEO is, in fact, in line with your website. The configuration wizard helps you take care of a lot of these settings.

Keyword research – always

The second thing you need to make sure of is doing your keyword research right. You need to know that you’re focusing on the words that people actually search for. If you’re optimizing for a term nobody uses, you can rank number one, but you still won’t have any traffic. And, if you’re optimizing for a term that’s so competitive that you won’t ever be able to rank for it, then you won’t get any traffic as well.

Doing your keyword research means that you need to get inside the heads of your audience. It also means that you should know your competition and estimate your chances to rank for a certain keyword. Yoast SEO will help you optimize your content for your keywords, but figuring out what the right keywords are, is your job.

Read more: How to choose keywords that’ll attract traffic »

Write awesome content

The third thing you need to do yourself is to write awesome content. And that’s something you have to do manually. Of course, you can outsource this, but it’s something somebody has to do. Yoast SEO actually helps you to write both SEO-friendly, as well as readable texts with the content and SEO analysis. So, make sure you use this feature in order to make your text well-optimized for the search engines. But adding great content is still something you need to do yourself; it won’t happen magically.

Internal linking

Another thing you’ll need to do yourself is to take care of your internal linking structure. This is very important because a proper internal linking structure will make sure that Google understands your website. And, you want Google to understand your website. Otherwise, you will be competing with your own content for a place in the search results.

Yoast SEO (Premium) will help you to do that, with our internal linking feature. But it’s still something you need to be actually doing yourself. Yoast SEO will make suggestions for articles you could link to, but you still have to put them in your article.

Social previews and redirects

Social previews and redirects are features in Yoast SEO that’ll help you improve your SEO. Your effort is needed in order to gain an SEO advantage from these features. Part of your SEO strategy will be a strategy on social media, so Facebook and Twitter. And Yoast SEO can help you make those posts on Facebook, but you still have to hit that button and write the content. Same goes for the redirects. If a page is outdated, you want to redirect it to another page. But it won’t happen just magically; you have to create those redirects yourself.

Don’t forget your competition

Even if they’ve done all the things I talked about, some people are unable to rank for a specific term. Why is that? Well, I think a lot of it has to do with competition. Some search terms are so competitive and dominated by high-authority brands that it’s terribly hard for a starting out blog to rank between them. If you want to rank for ‘holiday home Florida’ and you’re just starting out as a blog, you’re probably not going to rank right away. You need to have a whole strategy, in which you focus on long-tail search terms first. So, part of why you’re not ranking has to do with the competition.

On top of that, SEO sometimes takes a long time. Don’t despair if you’re not ranking overnight. It can take a little while before you start ranking for specific search terms. It’s a process that requires a strategy, and it takes some time before you see the results.

Conclusion

SEO is a lot of work. Yoast SEO takes care of most of the technical SEO stuff. The content side of SEO is a different story, though. You’ll need to make an effort to set up a successful content SEO strategy. There are a lot of things you should work on, in which Yoast SEO can actually help you and take you by the hand. And don’t forget: whether or not you rank for specific terms also depends on your competition in your specific niche. 

Keep reading: What does Yoast SEO do? »

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How to become a better writer

Content is essential for SEO. As Google reads and understands content. And, reading and understanding content is easier when a text is well written. Both for humans and Google. Some people are blessed with great writing skills. Others are struggling a bit more. However, if you’re bad at writing now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get better! There are many aspects of a good blog post that you can learn to do well.

In this blog post, I’ll share 5 tips that’ll help you become a better writer. 

1. Preparation is everything

Especially if you’re not an experienced writer, you should always start with proper preparation. And, proper preparation means that you have to think a lot. Think about questions like: why am I writing this article? Who are my readers? What do I want my readers to know, understand, or do after they have read my article? What’s the topic of the article? What is the main message I want to send to your audience?

Read more: Preparing your blog post »

2. Structure, structure, structure

Always make sure your text has a good structure. That’ll make all the difference for your audience (and for Google for that matter). If paragraphs follow each other in a logical order, it will be much easier to grasp the main message. Think about the different things you want to discuss in an article. Think about what order you should address these issues. And, then write that down. Write a few words about every paragraph you’d like to write.

Structuring your text means helping your reader grasp what your text is about. Help your reading by adding subheadings and images. Make sure paragraphs aren’t too long. And, make sure that you use transition words.

Keep reading: Practical tips for setting up a clear text structure »

3. Write short sentences

Don’t write sentences that are longer than 20-25 words. If you’re not the best writer (yet!), make sure that you write short sentences. Longer sentences are just so much harder to read. People are capable of handling 20 to 25 words in their minds. If you write sentences longer than that, people need much more cognitive power to digest it. In order to truly understand, your audience will need to reread sentences or read at a much slower pace. Above that, writers tend to make more grammar mistakes as sentences become longer. For every writer that is starting, my advice would be: make those sentences short and sweet.

Short sentences are just one aspect of readability. There are some other things you can do in order to make a text easy to read. Try to limit your use of passive voice, write short paragraphs, and make sure to use transition words.

Read on: 5 tips to write readable blog posts »

4. Add examples and little stories

Adding examples, fun facts, and little stories to your article will make it much more appealing for your reader. Using stories in an article may sound daunting for many writers because it might seem like next-level writing. But adding examples is an excellent way to make an article nicer to read. If you’re writing about a product, make sure to add some user stories or give examples on how people use the product. Examples help people to understand what you mean and make your text more fun to read.

Keep on reading: What is storytelling and why should you use it? »

5. Round things up!

Try to get back to the main message of your text in your conclusion. That’s a way of rounding your text up. It’ll make it more probable that the message of your text will resonate with your audience.  If you use an example in your introduction, try to use that same example (slightly different is the best) in your conclusion. 

Read more: Obtain an attractive writing style! »

Conclusion

Everybody can learn how to write better. Everyone can improve their writing skills. You just need a little practice. Start with making sure to write readable texts. The Yoast SEO readability analysis will help you to achieve that. We’ll give feedback and make sure your sentences aren’t too long, that you’re using transition words and you’re not using too much passive voice. The feedback will improve your writing for sure! Combine our plugin with some effort on preparation and structuring your text and you’ll be drafting great content in no time. Good luck!

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to content SEO »

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How to use the readability analysis

Everybody knows the colored bullets in Yoast SEO. Two parts of the plugin use this traffic light system: the content analysis and the readability analysis. The first checks whether your post is SEO-proof, while the latter checks if it is readable for a general audience. Of course, these two are interconnected, as readable content is incredibly important if you want your site to do well in the search results. Here, I’ll show you how to use the readability analysis.

What does the readability analysis in Yoast SEO do?

The readability analysis uses an algorithm to determine how readable your post is. We’ve carefully crafted this algorithm to make it as accurate as possible without being too strict. It features several checks that’ll give you advice when you write your post. In other words, by following the advice, you can make your text easier to read and understand.

It has been said that Yoast SEO suggests to dumb down your writing. Of course, that’s not the case. We merely want to help people write easy to understand content. I always come back to this quote by content designer Sarah Richards about making your content as readable for humans as possible:

“You’re not dumbing down, you’re opening up.”

By simplifying content, you’re automatically growing your audience, as more people grasp the message of your content. Also, you’re not writing your content just for people anymore. Virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri have to be able to work with it as well. And even Google increasingly uses well-written pieces of content for rich results like featured snippets.

That being said, while the advice in the readability section is not the be-all and end-all advice, it does give you important clues to the perceived difficulty of your text. It is crucial to write with readability in mind, as we think readability ranks!

Current readability checks

At the moment, Yoast SEO uses the following checks:

  • Transition words: Do you use transition words like ‘most importantly’, ‘because’, ‘therefore’, or ‘besides that’ to tie your text together? Using these words improves the flow of your article as they provide hints to the reader about what is coming next.
  • Sentence beginnings: Do any of your consecutive sentences start with the same word? This might feel repetitive to your reader, and that can be annoying. Always keep your sentences varied, so your article is readable and free of obstacles. Unless you want to prove something or use it as a writing style, of course.
  • Flesch reading ease: This world-famous test analyzes texts and grades them on a scale from 1-100. The lower the score, the more difficult to read the text is. Texts with a very high Flesch reading ease score (about 100) are very easy to read. They have short sentences and no words of more than two syllables. Usually, a reading ease score of 60-70 is believed to be acceptable/normal for web copy.
  • Paragraph length: Some people tend to use extremely long paragraphs. Doing so makes your text look daunting as it becomes just one big blob of text. Break it up, use shorter paragraphs and don’t forget to give your core sentences some thought.
  • Subheading distribution: Similarly to long paragraphs, texts without subheadings are difficult to scan, which makes them rather daunting. So, we check if you use enough subheadings to guide your readers through the text and help them find what they’re looking for.
  • Sentence length: Sentence length is one of the core aspects that can make a text hard to read. If most of your sentences are too long – over 20 words – people lose track of your point. Readers often have to jump back a few words to find out what you mean. This very tiring and inefficient. Try to keep the number of words in a sentence in check. Shorten your sentences. Aim for easy understanding, not a complex literary masterpiece.
  • Passive voice: Using a lot of passive voice in your text makes it appear distant, and your message will be less clear. Your sentences become wordy and difficult because the sentence structure is harder to understand. Whenever you use the passive voice, always consider whether a better, active alternative is available.

Supported languages

The readability analysis is available in English and several languages, such as German, French, Spanish, and Russian. Check out the features per language for an overview. We’re continually working on adding new languages.

How to use the readability analysis in Yoast SEO

It’s very easy to use the readability analysis in Yoast SEO to improve your content. Personally, I just start writing the article I want to write. I keep the audience I’m writing for in the back of my head and try to use the words they would use. Although the readability score is calculated in real time, I won’t look at the score during the writing process. Only after (the draft of) my article is finished, I’ll check the readability score and see if I have to fix anything. If I get an orange or red bullet, I can click on the eye icon to jump to the spot where improvements can be made. Easy peasy!

Everyone has their own writing and editing process, and my way isn’t necessarily how you should use it. For instance, you might be targeting a Flesch level of 80. If so, you have to find out what works gradually. When using the readability tool for a while, you’ll notice that you’ll automatically get a feel for the text level you are aiming for. Practice makes perfect!

The readability checks in Yoast sEO

Should all bullets be green?

This is a question we often get and no, not every bullet has to be green. What you should aim for, though, is a green, happy bullet overall – the one in the tab that reads “Readability”. Having an orange bullet for one of the checks, like in the screenshot above, is ok. It’s not that your article won’t be able to rank if it doesn’t pass all of the tests. This is merely an indication, not a necessity.

We want everyone to be able to read and understand content, but we also know that there are industries where the language used is totally different from what ordinary people would use. That’s perfectly fine. Find out what works in your case. Need help? Please read our ultimate guide to SEO copywriting.

Try it out!

The readability and content analyses of Yoast SEO help you to write excellent, SEO-proof articles that are easy to grasp for anyone. In doing so, you make sure that every piece of content you write is ready to start ranking in search engines, while staying enjoyable for readers. Don’t have Yoast SEO yet, or want to take advantage of the awesome additional features our Premium plugin offers? What are you waiting for?

Read more: How to use the content & SEO analysis of Yoast SEO »

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How to Yoast your post

Do you want your articles to be as well optimized as possible? Do you aim for that number 1 position in the search results? And do you madly chase traffic and clicks? It’s not easy to achieve all these things entirely on your own, but luckily, Yoast is here to help. In this post, we’ll talk you to the process of optimizing your post in the best possible way. We’ll explain the five steps on how to Yoast your post.

Writing comes first, Yoast comes second

Optimizing your post is important, but should never come first. Writing has three phases. It doesn’t really matter if you’re writing a blog post or an article, or a novel even. First, you prepare, then you write and finally you edit. In that final editing phase, you will be able to Yoast your post.

Preparation is key

Before you start writing an article you should ask yourself some questions: What will be the main message of your post? What do you want to tell people? And: who are my readers? What search terms do I want to be found for?

You need to know who you are writing for and what their goal, or search intent is. What does that mean for the keywords you should use to be found in the search engines? You should take some time to think about what you want to tell your audience and what the structure of your text will look like. Preparing your blog post is crucial. If you do not think about these questions long and hard, you’ll make mistakes like addressing the wrong audience, focusing on the wrong keywords or writing an article that’s badly structured and unfocused.

Write your content

After you’ve thoroughly prepared your blog post or article, you can start the writing phase. Make sure to start with filling out your focus key phrases and synonyms. What are the terms you want to be found for?

Writing should be something you just do. In the preparing-phase you have thought about what you’re going to write, so, in the writing phase, you should just go with the flow. Don’t overthink. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You’ll have the third – and most important phase- to correct and Yoast your post.

Editing: let’s Yoast it!

In the final phase, the editing phase, you’ll be able to really Yoast your post. So, let’s look at the five steps you should take in order to optimize your post to the max.

  1. Make sure your text is readable

    The first step on how to Yoast your post is to check out our readability analysis. You could keep an eye on our readability analysis during your writing phase too, if you like. If your overall readability analysis is green, you’re good to go. But, perhaps, you use sentences that are a little bit too long. Or, you have been using the passive voice too often. Correct those readability issues and make your text nice and easy to read. Check out our article about the readability analysis for more tips.

  2. Check out your snippet preview

    You want people to click on your results in the search result pages. In order to make your result stand out, you need to write a kickass meta description. Let people know they’ll find what they’re looking for on your site! So make an effort and choose a title and a meta description that really stands out. Read our article on how to use Yoast SEO to write an awesome meta description if you want more practical tips.

  3. Which SEO bullets need improvement?

    The third step on how to Yoast your post is to check out the SEO analysis. Which aspects of your SEO need improvement? Perhaps you should use your keyword or its synonym a bit more often? Or maybe you’re already overdoing it? What about headings and images?

    Check out the problems and improvements the Yoast SEO analysis indicates. Usually, you can easily make some tweaks that’ll make your copy a little better optimized for the search engines. But don’t overdo it! You do not need all green bullets. If your overall SEO bullet is green, you’re good to go!

  4. Add those internal links

    To really Yoast your post, we would advise you to take some time to think about your internal linking structure and to work on improving it. Are you linking to your most important articles? Are you linking to the articles that are most closely related to the article you’re currently writing? Make sure your site structure is tip-top. This will pay off in terms of rankings. Read more about the power of internal linking in our article about why you should use Yoast internal linking.

  5. Read and reread!

    Our SEO analysis is a tool. It is not just any tool, we’ve thoroughly evaluated all of the checks in a recent recalibration project. That being said, it remains a tool. You should always think for yourself. Read your blog post after you’re done editing and optimizing. Reread it. Let other people read it. That’s the final step to get your blog post to that next level.

Yoast your post

Writing is hard. Optimizing your post is hard. Yoast tries to make it a bit more easy for you. We’ll check things and make suggestions for improvements. We’ll help you to Yoast your post. But in the end, it’ll always remain hard work.

Good luck! Let’s Yoast it!

The post How to Yoast your post appeared first on Yoast.

The ultimate guide to content SEO

Content SEO is a key part of any SEO strategy. Without content, it’s impossible for your site to rank in search engines. It’s, therefore, crucial to write and structure quality content! This ultimate guide covers the most important areas of content SEO. Read on if you want to learn how to create content that ranks.

What is content SEO?

Content SEO refers to creating content that helps your web pages to rank high in the search engines. It includes everything to do with the writing and structuring of content on your website. There are three major elements you need to consider to produce content that will make your website rank well: keyword strategy, site structure and copywriting.

Content SEO is important because search engines, such as Google, read your website, so the words you use on your site determine whether or not your site will rank in their results pages. Of course, your website should be well-designed, with a great user interface, and all the technical stuff that makes your site rank in Google should also be covered. But without good quality content, your site does not stand a chance in the search engines.

1. Keyword research

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is basically the steps you take to create an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Every content SEO strategy should begin with keyword research, because you have to know what your audience is searching for if you want to generate traffic. Keyword research helps you to discover the terms you should be aiming to rank for.

Keyword research has four steps:

  • First, you write down the mission of your business;
  • Next, you make a list of all the keywords you want to be found for;
  • Look at search intent
  • Finally, you create landing pages for all these keywords.

If you do your keyword research right, you should have a clear overview of the terms people use and the terms for which you want the pages on your site to be found. This overview will serve as a guide for writing content on your website.

Read more: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »

Why is keyword research so important for SEO content?

Proper keyword research will make clear which search terms your audience uses. This is crucial. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients who use particular words when talking about their products, while their customers use entirely different words. Optimizing SEO content for words that people do not use doesn’t make any sense. Doing proper keyword research makes sure that you are using the same words as your target audience and therefore makes the whole effort of optimizing your website worthwhile.

Some terms we use in keyword research

Keywords and keyphrases

We tend to use the word ‘keyword‘ all the time, but we don’t necessarily mean it has to be just one word. ‘WordPress SEO’ is a keyword, as is ‘Google Analytics plugin.’ So you can have keywords containing multiple words!

Long tail keywords

The longer (and more specific) a search term is, the easier it will be to rank for that term. Keywords that are more specific (and usually longer) are usually referred to as long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific and focus more on a niche.

How many keywords?

It is very hard to give an exact number of keywords you should focus on. And then again, it’s very simple: You just need to have a lot – as many as you can come up with. More than 1,000 keywords is probably too many though!

Even if you’re a reasonably small business, you’ll probably end up with a couple of hundred keywords. But you don’t have to create pages for all of these immediately. The great thing about having a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is that you can gradually add content. Think about what keywords you would like to rank for right away, and which ones aren’t immediately important. Determine what your priorities are and plan the creation of your content.

Head or tail?

Classifying your keywords is essential. Some keywords are very common and competitive (head), while others are long-tail. Decide which are your most critical, high-level keywords – the ones that generate sufficient traffic for your website and best fit your business. You will probably only have a few of these general keywords for your business, the rest of them will be more down the tail. In the next section, we will give more in-depth information on long tail keywords (and the importance of these keywords).

SEO content focusing on the most common keywords should be on the top level pages on your website (homepage and the pages one level beneath your homepage), whereas content focusing on long tail keywords should be more on the tail end of your site.

Keyword intent and search intent

As you’re doing keyword research, it really pays off to think about the search intent of users. Would they be looking for information when they enter your keyword as a search term? Or is their goal to buy something? Keyword intent is clear in keywords like [buy leather sofa], or [how to train your puppy]. But it’s not always that simple.

There are four types of intent:

  • Navigational intent: People want to visit a specific website, but rather than entering the URL, they’re entering a term into a search engine.
  • Informational intent: People are trying to find an answer to a particular question or information on a specific topic.
  • Commercial intent: People want to buy something in the near future and are doing research before making a purchase.
  • Transactional intent: People are looking to buy something after doing their commercial intent searches.

Search engines are always trying to answer to the exact needs people have, and they’re getting better and better at guessing people’s intent. So, put simply, if 95% of the people searching for ‘change car tire’ have informational intent, and you’re optimizing for transactional intent to sell tires, you’re probably not going to rank most of the time.

You can get a wealth of information from the results pages when you’re doing keyword research. If you want to find out what the intent is of people using your keywords, simply google those keywords and take a good look at the search results. Try to create your content so that it answers the specific need that you distill from the results for each keyword.

Keep reading: What is search intent? »

Tools you can use

There are multiple free tools available to help you with your keyword research. Check out our article about keyword research tools if you want to find out more about practical tools.

Adapting your keyword strategy

Your keyword strategy isn’t static. It should change and evolve alongside your company and your website. It should evolve and grow with you. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.

You should be on top of the changes in your company and adapt your strategy simultaneously. If your online shop starts selling new products, extend your list with more keywords. If you’re aiming for new markets, it’s vital that your keywords are aimed at these new markets as well.

There are several keyword strategies to adopt. One of them is to start off trying to rank for long tail keywords and then aim at more general keywords afterwards, but you could also start by focusing on general ones then aim for more long tail keywords after. You can zoom in and pursue more niche activities, broaden your approach, adding more content on different things, or you can do both simultaneously.

2. Site structure

The second important aspect of content SEO is the structure of your site. First I will explain why site structure is critical, then I’ll show you what an ideal site structure looks like. I will also give tips on how to (quickly) improve your site structure without completely disrupting the core of your website.

Why is site structure important for content SEO?

There are two main reasons why site structure is an important ranking factor and therefore imparative for SEO content:

a. Good structure helps Google to ‘understand’ your site

The way your site is structured gives Google significant clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent. A good site structure will, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.

By creating such a structure, you can use existing content that has attracted links from others to help other pages rank as well. Your site’s structure will help spread some of that link juice to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, that means that you can use quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too.

b. Good structure makes sure you are not competing with your own SEO content

On your website, you will probably have multiple articles about similar topics. At Yoast, for example, we write about SEO. If we wrote eight articles about SEO, Google wouldn’t know which of these is most important. If we didn’t clarify this with our site structure, we’d be competing with our own articles for Google’s top spot. So, solving problems like this using a sound internal linking structure will result in higher rankings overall.

The ideal structure of a site

Ideally, you should structure your site like a pyramid. On top of the pyramid is your homepage and on the homepage are links to some other pages (such as category pages). These pages, in turn, link to even more pages.

In an effective content SEO strategy, your keyword strategy and the way you structure your site work together. In a proper keyword strategy, you’ll have thought about common, competitive keywords as well as more long tail niche search terms. You should make a similar dichotomy in your site structure. Pages focusing on more common search terms should appear high in your pyramid, while pages optimized for more long tail keywords should appear in a lower part of your site structure. These long tail pages at the bottom of the pyramid must link correctly to the pages higher in the pyramid.

Read on: The ultimate guide to site structure »

Practical tips on improving your site structure

If you’re serious about content SEO, you’ll most likely already have a live website. So it may be a bit late to set up your site’s structure in an ideal pyramid-like way. Don’t despair – there are still plenty of things you can do to improve your site’s structure and your SEO content.

Decide upon cornerstone content

You should focus your efforts on cornerstone articles. These are the articles you’re most proud of, that fit the mission of your website best. This ultimate guide is, in fact, one of our cornerstones. You want to rank for these articles the most. If you haven’t decided which of your articles are the most important yet, start thinking about that now. Make these articles the best ones on your site. Give them extra TLC and update them regularly.

Keep on reading: What is cornerstone content »

Link from tail to head

Once you’ve decided upon your precious cornerstones, make sure you link from all your ‘tail’ articles to those cornerstones. That way, Google will know which articles to rank highest. Read all about this in our article about incorporating cornerstones into your site structure.

Use tags (but not too many)

Your site will also benefit from adding tags. Tags and taxonomies will give your site more structure – or at least, Google will understand it better. They group your articles about similar topics. Don’t overdo it, though. Some people have more tags than articles. Using too many tags will lead to a confusing, poorly-structured website.

Avoid duplicate content

The same SEO content can turn up at multiple places on your site. As a reader, you don’t mind: you still get the content you came for. But a search engine has to choose something to show in the search results, as it doesn’t want to show the same content twice.

Moreover, when other websites link to your product, chances are some of them link to the first URL, while others link to the second URL. But if these duplicates all link to the same URL, your chance of ranking top 10 for the relevant keyword would be much higher. Canonicalization is the solution to duplicate content. You can configure the canonical URL in the advanced tab of Yoast SEO.

Remove old SEO content

If the content on a page is outdated, remove it! However, you may have had some valuable links to that page. You want to make sure you still benefit from these links, even though the page doesn’t exist any longer, so you should redirect the URL.

Redirecting pages is not difficult if you have our Yoast SEO Premium plugin, which can help you to take care of redirects. Preferably, you redirect the old URL (301) to the page or product that replaced the old page or product, or a related page if there is no replacement. That could be the category page of the specific product, or, as a very last resort, your homepage. This way the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.

Deal with orphaned content

The term ‘orphaned content’ refers to articles that don’t have any links from your other articles or posts. Because of that, these articles are hard to find, both by Google and by users of your site. Google will consider this type of content less important. So, if an article is important to you, make that clear to Google (and your visitors) by linking to that particular article from other (related) content. Read more about solving the problem of orphaned articles in our article about orphaned content.

Check out our article on how to improve your site structure in 4 simple steps for more tips and practical input.

3. Copywriting

The third and final aspect of a successful content SEO strategy is copywriting. You should write articles that are attractive to read, and that makes your audience want to stay on your website. At the same time, you want to make your SEO content attractive for Google. But some people go too far and optimize their content so overtly that they become terrible to read. At Yoast, we suggest optimizing your text for search without adversely affecting the originality of your idea or the readability of your text.

Read more: The ultimate guide to SEO copywriting »

Copywriting starts with an original idea

The first requirement for high-quality copywriting is to write original content. Your blog post or your article should be ‘fresh,’ new and original. It has to be different from all the other blog posts and articles that are already on the internet. It should be content that people will want to read.

If you did your keyword research well, you ended up with a long list of terms you want to be found for. This list can be a guide for you to choose from. A keyword is not yet a topic, though. You should make sure to come up with an original idea for your blog post – an idea in which the desired focus keyword has a prominent place.

Original SEO content doesn’t necessarily mean brand new content. Of course, if your story is completely new, that’ll automatically mean it’s original. However, giving your (professional) opinion on a particular topic also counts as original content. Your own personal angle to a story will make your content unique and original.

Think about your audience

If you want to write original content, you should think about your audience and who they are. Also, ask yourself:

  • What do you want to tell your audience?
  • What will be the main message of your article?
  • What is the purpose of your article?
  • What do you want your audience to do after they’ve read your article? (Do you want them to engage, to buy your stuff, to read more posts?)

Thinking about these questions will help you to come up with an original idea for your post or article.

Content design

Content design is a process that helps you produce content based on actual user needs. It doesn’t just help you figure out what your user wants, but it focuses more on what the user actually needs. Thinking about your content in this way will help your user to get that content when they need it, in the language and format they need it.

Content design isn’t just a technique to help you produce better content – it’s a new way of thinking about content. If you want to know more about content design, read our post on content design: a great way to make user-centered content.

Copywriting requires readable SEO content

A key requirement for writing high-quality content is to write content that’s easily readable. Readability is important both for your audience and for Google. After all, not only do people read your articles, but Google does too.

If your text is well structured and clearly written, readers will understand your message, but perhaps, more importantly, it will also help Google understand better too. If your main message is clearer to Google, your post is far more likely to rank well in the search engines.

Readability is about many factors, including text structure, sentence length and writing clear paragraphs. Read all about the importance of readability in this post. For more tips on readability, you can read our post on how to make an article more readable.

Content, context and search intent

As Google is getting smarter, it starts to understand content on sites better. It doesn’t just see if a keyword pops up a certain number of times on a page. It also takes into account the context of those keywords, like co-occurring terms and phrases, related words and synonyms. On top of that, as mentioned before, Google is able to understand queries of users better: it tries to determine what the search intent of the user is. Is he or she looking for a product or just information? Which pages fit that intent best?

All these developments mean that you should focus on more than just using your keyword often enough. It means you should also think about the words you use around it: do they make clear what topic you’re discussing? And, do you have the purpose in mind of the post or page you’re creating? Does it just provide information or are you trying to sell something, and does that align with what your users are actuall looking for? Yoast SEO Premium lets you optimize your SEO content with synonyms, making it even easier to add context to your articles.

Content should be optimized for search engines

The final requirement for writing high-quality content is to make sure the content is optimized for search engines. You want your SEO content to be easily found. Findability has to do with increasing the likelihood Google will pick up your content for the result pages. It’s important that you take this final step after you’ve written an original and readable post.

Yoast SEO helps you tweak your text just a little bit more. If you’ve written your article, focused on that original idea, and optimized the readability of your post, you should take a look at the SEO analysis in Yoast SEO. Red and orange bullets indicate which aspects of your findability need a little bit more attention. You don’t need a green bullet for every aspect though, as long as your overall score is good.

Yoast SEO will help you to optimize your snippet preview as well. These tweaks can vastly improve your chances to be picked up by the search engines. Read more about optimizing your post in our article on how to use the content and SEO analysis.

Conclusion on Content SEO

Content SEO is such a huge part of SEO. It encompasses all the aspects of writing and structuring content on your website. Content SEO is essential. Google reads and scans your website text. Google’s algorithm decides the ranking of your site largely based on the content you publish. And we all know content is king. So, you need to write awesome SEO content, focus on the right keywords and structure your website in such a way Google understands it. It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off in the long run.

Keep reading: Blogging: the ultimate guide »

The post The ultimate guide to content SEO appeared first on Yoast.

How to build a structured data-powered FAQ page using Yoast SEO

Many, many sites have an FAQ page. This is a page where a lot of frequently asked questions get the appropriate answer. It is often a single page filled to the brim with questions and answers. While it’s easy to add one, it’s good to keep in mind that not all sites need an FAQ. Most of the times all you need is good content targeted at the users’ needs. Here, I’ll discuss the use of FAQ pages and show you how to make one yourself with Yoast SEOs new structured data content blocks for the WordPress block editor. You won’t believe how easy it is.

For more information on our Schema structured data implementation, please read our Schema documentation.

What is an FAQ?

FAQ stands for frequently asked questions. It is a single page collecting a series of question and its answers on a specific subject, product or company. An FAQ is often seen as a tool to reduce the workload of the customer support team. It is also used to show that you are aware of the issues a customer might have and to provide an answer to that.

But first: Do you really, really, really need an FAQ?

Usually, if you need to answer a lot of questions from users in an FAQ, that means that your content is not providing these answers and that you should work on that. Or maybe it is your product or service itself that’s not clear enough? One of the main criticisms of FAQs is that they hardly ever answer the questions consumers really have. They are also lazy: instead of figuring out how to truly answer a question with formidable content — using content design, for instance –, people rather throw some random stuff on a page and call it an FAQ.

That’s not to say you should never use an FAQ. Numerous sites successfully apply them — even we use them sparingly. In some cases, they do provide value. Users understand how an FAQ works and are quick to find what they are looking for — if the makers of the page know what they are doing. So don’t make endless lists of loosely related ‘How can I…’ or ‘How to…’ questions, because people will struggle to filter out what they need.

It has to be a page that’s easy to digest and has to have real answers to real questions by users. You can find scores of these if you search for them: ask your support team for instance! Collect and analyze the issues that come up frequently to see if you’re not missing some pain points in your products or if your content is targeting the wrong questions.

So don’t hide answers to pressings questions away on an FAQ page if you want to answer these in-depth: make an article out of it. This is what SEO deals with: provide an answer that matches your content to the search intent.

Questions and answers spoken out loud?

Google is trying to match a question from a searcher to an answer from a source. If you mark up your questions and answers with FAQ structured data, you tell search engines that this little sentence is a question and that this paragraph is its answer. And all these questions and answers are related to the main topic of the page.

Paragraph-based content is all the rage. One of the reasons? The advent of voice search. Google is looking for easy to understand, block-based content that it can use to answer searchers questions right in the search engine — or by speaking it out loud. Using the Schema property speakable might even speed up this content discovery by determining which part of the content is fit for text-to-speech conversion.

How to build an FAQ page in WordPress via Yoast SEO content blocks

The best way to set up a findable, readable and understandable FAQ page on a WordPress site is by using the structured data content blocks in Yoast SEO. These blocks for the new block editor — formally known as Gutenberg –, make building an FAQ page a piece of cake.

All the generated structured data for the FAQ will be added to the graph Yoast SEO generates for every page. This makes it even easier for search engines to understand your content. Yoast SEO automatically adds the necessary structured data so search engines like Google can do cool stuff with it. But, if nothing else, it might even give you an edge over your competitor. So, let’s get to it!

  1. Open WordPress’ new block editor

    Make a page in WordPress, add a title and an introductory paragraph. Now add the FAQ structured data content block. You can find the Yoast SEO structured data content blocks inside the Add Block modal. Scroll all the way down to find them or type ‘FAQ’ in the search bar, which I’ve highlighted in the screenshot below.yoast seo structured data content blocks FAQ

  2. Add questions and answers

    After you’ve added the FAQ block, you can start to add questions and answers to it. Keep in mind that these questions live inside the FAQ block. It’s advisable to keep the content related to each other so you can keep the page clean and focused. So no throwing in random questions.yoast seo structured data content blocks faq add question

  3. Keep filling, check and publish

    After adding the first question and answering it well, keep adding the rest of your questions and answers until you’ve filled your FAQ page. In the screenshot below you see two questions filled in. I’ve highlighted two buttons, the Add Image button and the Add Question. These speak for themselves.

    Once you are done, you’ll have a well-structured FAQ page with valid structured data. Go to the front-end of your site and check if everything is in order. If not, make the necessary changes.

What does an FAQ rich result look like?

We have an FAQ page for our Yoast Diversity Fund and that page was awarded an FAQ rich result by Google after we added an FAQ structured data content block. So, wondering what an FAQ looks like in Google? Wonder no more:

An example FAQ rich result for a Yoast page

Keep in mind that an FAQ rich result like this might influence the CTR to that page. It might even lead to a decrease in traffic to your site since you are giving away answers instantly. It is a good idea, therefore, to use it only for information that you don’t mind giving away like this. Or you have to find a way to make people click to your site. Do experiment with it, of course, to see the effects. Maybe it works brilliantly for you, who knows?

What does this look like under the hood?

Run your new FAQ page through Structured Data Testing Tool to see what it looks like for Google. Yoast SEO automatically generates valid structured data for your FAQ page. Here’s a piece of the Yoast Diversity Fund page, showing one particular question and its answer:

The first question and answer from the structured data graph

It’s basically built up like this. The context surrounding the questions is an FAQPage Schema graph. Every question gets a Question type and an acceptedAnswer with an answer type. That sounds hard, but it’s not. All you have to do is fill in the Question and the Answer and you’re good to go!

This translates to the code below as generated automatically by the Yoast SEO structured data content blocks. Now, Google will immediately see that this piece of content contains a question with an accepted answer. It will also see how this FAQ fits in with the rest of the page and the entities within your site. If you’re lucky, this might eventually lead to a featured snippet or another type of rich result.

<script type='application/ld+json' class='yoast-schema-graph yoast-schema-graph--main'> {
    "@context":"https://schema.org",
    "@graph":[ {
        "@type": "Organization", "@id": "https://yoast.com/#organization", "name": "Yoast", "url": "https://yoast.com/", "sameAs": ["https://www.facebook.com/yoast", "https://www.instagram.com/yoast/", "https://www.linkedin.com/company/1414157/", "https://www.youtube.com/yoast", "https://www.pinterest.com/yoast/", "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoast", "https://twitter.com/yoast"]
    }
    ,
    {
        "@type":"WebSite",
        "@id":"https://yoast.com/#website",
        "url":"https://yoast.com/",
        "name":"Yoast",
        "publisher": {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/#organization"
        }
        ,
        "potentialAction": {
            "@type":"SearchAction",
            "target":"https://yoast.com/?s={search_term_string}",
            "query-input": "required name=search_term_string"
        }
    }
    ,
    {
        "@type": ["WebPage", "FAQPage"], "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#webpage", "url": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/", "inLanguage": "en-US", "name": "How to Apply for the Yoast Diversity Fund • Yoast", "isPartOf": {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/#website"
        }
        ,
        "image": {
            "@type": "ImageObject", "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#primaryimage", "url": "https://yoast.com/app/uploads/2018/03/Yoast_diversity_fund_FI__1_-1.jpg", "width": 1200, "height": 628
        }
        ,
        "primaryImageOfPage": {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#primaryimage"
        }
        ,
        "datePublished":"2019-05-03T11:12:29+00:00",
        "dateModified":"2019-06-07T09:51:36+00:00",
        "breadcrumb": {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#breadcrumb"
        }
    }
    ,
    {
        "@type":"BreadcrumbList",
        "@id":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#breadcrumb",
        "itemListElement":[ {
            "@type":"ListItem",
            "position":1,
            "item": {
                "@type": "WebPage", "@id": "https://yoast.com/", "url": "https://yoast.com/", "name": "Home"
            }
        }
        ,
        {
            "@type":"ListItem",
            "position":2,
            "item": {
                "@type": "WebPage", "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/", "url": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/", "name": "Yoast Diversity Fund"
            }
        }
        ,
        {
            "@type":"ListItem",
            "position":3,
            "item": {
                "@type": "WebPage", "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/", "url": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/", "name": "How to Apply for the Yoast Diversity Fund"
            }
        }
        ]
    }
    ,
    [ {
        "@type":"ItemList",
        "mainEntityOfPage": {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#webpage"
        }
        ,
        "numberOfItems":5,
        "itemListElement":[ {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800785311"
        }
        ,
        {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800831879"
        }
        ,
        {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800847830"
        }
        ,
        {
            "@id": "https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800862202"
        }
        ]
    }
    ],
    {
        "@type":"Question",
        "@id":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800785311",
        "position":0,
        "url":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800785311",
        "name":"What type of costs are reimbursed?",
        "answerCount":1,
        "acceptedAnswer": {
            "@type": "Answer", "text": "Our goal is to reimburse those costs that would keep you from speaking at tech conferences. If you, for whatever reason, have costs, such as child-care or specialized transport, for example, we invite you to share those with us and we'll look at those on a per-case scenario. Examples of costs we're happy to reimburse are:\u2013 Travel and transportation, e.g. gas, car rental, taxis or flights.\u2013 Accommodation, hotel, AirBNB or similar. \u2013 Child-care costs.\u2013 Sign language interpreter.\u2013 Visa costs."
        }
    }
    ,
    {
        "@type":"Question",
        "@id":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800831879",
        "position":1,
        "url":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800831879",
        "name":"How many times can I apply for the Yoast Diversity Fund?",
        "answerCount":1,
        "acceptedAnswer": {
            "@type": "Answer", "text": "Our goal is to assist in increasing speaker diversity as much as possible. This means we'll focus on first-time applications mostly. However, there is no limit to the number of times you can apply."
        }
    }
    ,
    {
        "@type":"Question",
        "@id":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800847830",
        "position":2,
        "url":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800847830",
        "name":"Is the fund available to all?",
        "answerCount":1,
        "acceptedAnswer": {
            "@type": "Answer", "text": "Yes. With the exception of Yoast employees, former Yoast employees, and contractors."
        }
    }
    ,
    {
        "@type":"Question",
        "@id":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800862202",
        "position":3,
        "url":"https://yoast.com/yoast-diversity-fund/apply/#faq-question-1556800862202",
        "name":"When should I apply?",
        "answerCount":1,
        "acceptedAnswer": {
            "@type": "Answer", "text": "Applicants should apply at least one month before the event."
        }
    }
    ]
}

</script>

Structured data is so cool

Structured data is hot. It is one of the foundations on which the web is built today and its importance will only increase with time. In this post, I’ve shown you one of the newest Schema additions, and you’ll increasingly see this pop up in the search results.

For more information on our Schema structured data implementation, please read our Schema documentation.

The post How to build a structured data-powered FAQ page using Yoast SEO appeared first on Yoast.

“Yoast SEO hates my writing style!”

This is just one of the many misconceptions about the Yoast SEO readability feedback we’re happy to set straight. We’ve often been telling you to go chase those green bullets – or green lights as some are calling them. The bullets are a key part of the Yoast SEO plugin. The Yoast SEO bullets serve to give intuitive feedback on your text and gamify the Yoast SEO experience.

Trying to get all green bullets can be addictive, but it isn’t necessarily the best way of creating great copy. Over the years, we’ve seen all kinds of misconceptions about the green bullets on social media and in our support channels. Let’s discuss some of them to get a feel for how to approach the bullets feedback.

Our completely overhauled SEO copywriting training teaches you how to write copy that ranks. And you’ll get an exclusive 14% discount to boot, only in this first week! So don’t wait too long!

1. I have some red and orange bullets, so I will never rank!

Generally, the more green bullets, the more SEO fit your text is, as we’ve told you in other posts on this site. But not every bullet has to be green. The bullets indicate strengths and weaknesses in your text. They can help you easily identify some elements you could improve on. Don’t take them as gospel. They are tools, not commandments.

Also, and this is most important: never try to cheat the game by tinkering with your text until your red and amber bullets turn green. Use the plugin feedback to your advantage, and use common sense to determine whether you can make improvements to your text. Therefore, we always advise you to write the text first, and only check the feedback once you feel the text is finished.

2. All my bullets are green, but I still don’t rank!

It goes the other way around as well: if all your bullets are green, that doesn’t mean you’ll rank. First of all, green bullets don’t equal a great text. If your text has great readability but doesn’t have good information, you won’t be the best result. Moreover, if you base your text too much on the bullets’ feedback, your text may actually even be worse than it may have been otherwise.

Don’t become a slave of the green bullet. Of course, it’s also perfectly possible that you’ve written a great text but your competition is stiff and all of them have also written great texts. Or you may have SEO issues in other areas.

3. Every post should be optimized!

Not all posts have to be optimized. You have to consider whether your post will be part of your SEO strategy. Some posts will suffer if you optimize them. Others, like announcements, don’t make sense to optimize for. Consider whether your post fits your SEO strategy and make a conscious decision of whether to optimize it.

4. If I paste Hemingway into the readability analysis, all I see is red and orange, so you can’t trust the Yoast SEO feedback!

The Yoast SEO readability analysis is aimed at optimizing for online content. Hemingway (or Shakespeare or any other great literary artist, for that matter) wasn’t looking to sell pens, or maintain a mom blog, or anything like that. Most online authors are not trying to write the Great American Novel, and they shouldn’t. They should write readable online content. That’s the goal, so that’s what the plugin measures.

5. Yoast SEO hates my writing style!

We don’t hate your writing style, so the Yoast SEO plugin doesn’t either. It merely provides you with readability feedback. Your writing style may not fit the guidelines for good SEO copy that is easy to understand.

Research has shown that overusing passive voice leads to worse readability. It has also shown that using too many long sentences makes your text difficult to read. This is especially important when it comes to online copy. We don’t think that’s a question of style. You can decide for yourself whether you agree. If you don’t, ignore the feedback at your own risk!

6. Yoast SEO wants me to dumb down my text!

We want your text to be as clear as possible. And you should aim to write as clearly as possible. Most of you are trying to reach a broad audience. Many of you are trying to reach non-native speakers. Using simple vocab and short sentences does not equal dumbing down your text. It’s the other way around: it opens your copy up to a broader audience. This is especially important when writing online copy.

The longer it takes for your audience to grasp what you are trying to say, the bigger the chances of them bouncing. Attention spans are short, so cater to them. And of course, sometimes you have to use jargon in a technical text. But generally, you should keep things simple. Writing clearly and concisely is an art, not a shortcoming.

Read more: Readability ranks! »

The post “Yoast SEO hates my writing style!” appeared first on Yoast.

Why you should actively avoid the passive voice

Are you aware of the risks of overusing the passive voice in your writing? In the readability analysis in our Yoast SEO plugin, we recommend using the passive voice in a maximum of 10% of your sentences. But why? In this post, I will discuss a couple of key questions about the passive voice. I’ll start by explaining what it is. Then, I’ll explain why it is usually best to avoid using the passive voice in your writing. To cap it off, I’ll describe some situations in which using the passive voice makes perfect sense. 

Our completely overhauled SEO copywriting training teaches you how to write copy that ranks. And you’ll get an exclusive 14% discount to boot, only in this first week! So don’t wait too long!

What is the passive voice?

The passive voice is a grammatical construction. The easiest way to explain the passive voice is by contrasting it with the active voice. The active voice is the standard English sentence structure. The simplest possible sentences feature an actor (the subject), who does (the verb) something to either a person, animal or thing (the receiver).

WordMomhuggedme
Semantic functionactordirect verb receiver

In the passive voice, the actor and receiver are switched around. The receiver becomes the grammatical subject. Note that the meaning of the sentence stays exactly the same. The only difference is the word order.

WordIwas huggedby mom
Semantic functionreceiverdirect verbactor

In some passive sentences, you can omit the actor. ‘I was hugged’, for example, is a perfectly sensible passive sentence, although it provides less information.

Why should I avoid the passive voice?

Let’s cut to the chase: using the passive voice almost always makes your writing more distant and your message less clear. There are two main reasons for this.

Wordy

First of all, the passive voice is wordy. The passive alternative to an active sentence is simply longer. Consider these two sentences:

1. The passive voice almost always makes your message less clear.

2. Your message is almost always made less clear by using the passive voice.

You convey the same message by using the passive but add three words. When overusing the passive voice in your text, this can really add up.

Sentence structure

In addition, the passive voice uses a sentence structure which requires more cognitive effort. Your reader will spend valuable working memory on making sense of the sentence. This decreases the likelihood of you getting your message across.

Let’s explore why the passive voice demands more effort. As I told you before, the basic active sentence structure is quite consistent and logical in English. The passive voice turns this all the way around. You first read what was affected. Then you read what happened to it. Lastly, you learn how it was affected. You discover who or what was responsible only at the very end. This sequence differs from how we usually make sense of events.

Moreover, we expect the actor to be in the subject position, so we are slightly disoriented. This means constructing an image of what happens takes a tiny moment longer. Again, these moments can easily add up if you overuse the passive voice.

In the example I gave, there is no added benefit to using the passive: the active sentence conveys the same information. Whenever you use passive voice, always consider whether a better, active alternative is available.

What are the exceptions?

Sometimes, using the passive voice can be the only logical way to word a sentence. Mostly, this occurs when the actor is unknown or irrelevant. Let’s look at an example I used in the first paragraph of this very text:

In the passive voice, the actor and receiver are switched around.

There is no identifiable actor here, nor would he or she be relevant. After all, we’re talking about a general action here, not a specific one. Any alternative active sentence would be less clear and concise than the passive sentence I wrote, so it’s the best option available.

Alternatively, you may want to use a passive sentence to focus on the receiver. This works when the object is more central to the topic than the actor:

J.F. Kennedy was killed in 1963 in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald.

This means that we’re not here to tell you to avoid the passive voice like the plague. If it beats the active alternative, by all means: use it! Rules about style are hardly ever set in stone, so don’t make the mistake of following the rule of thumb too strictly. Do what seems right to you and what makes your text flow nicely. A maximum of 10% generally suffices. You should be able to achieve numbers even lower than that by following our advice.

Conclusion

Using the passive voice is generally a bad idea. After writing your text, scan it for passive voice constructions. Always ask yourself: is a better, active alternative available? If there is, use it. If not, use the passive voice.

Read more: SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide »

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All-new and improved: the SEO copywriting training!

As of today, you can get your hands on a completely overhauled version of the SEO copywriting training. We’re very proud to present a much more hands-on training, which will really take you by the hand, and guide you through every step of writing an SEO-friendly blog post. It’s chock-full of real-life examples and practical exercises, so you can get the skills and confidence to write excellent content yourself!

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Why should I be excited about the new SEO copywriting training?

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What will I learn?

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1. Preparing your text

It’s important to prepare your text thoroughly. We’ll teach you how to consider your message, audience, angle, and purpose to tailor your copy to your audience.

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The fun part: the actual writing! You’ll learn why readability is so important and how to write texts that are a breeze to read. Paragraphs, transition words, subheadings – these terms will no longer hold secrets for you.

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A big part of the actual work lies in editing your text. In this module, we’ll teach you how to craft your text to capture the hearts of your visitors and the search engines. You’ll learn how to rewrite passive sentences and how to avoid spelling and grammar errors.

Get personal feedback on your blog post

The assignments in this course offer you a step-by-step template to write the optimal SEO blog post. When you’ve completed your blog post, you may want to confirm you’re on the right track. If so, you can look to our experts for advice. If you choose the feedback package, a Yoast expert will check your blog post and provide feedback on your copy. We’ll point out missed opportunities and give you ideas to improve your text!

Start writing copy that ranks before the offer expires!

The SEO copywriting training teaches you how to write awesome copy that ranks, so you’ll attract more visitors. And like every other Yoast Academy training course, the SEO copywriting training is online and on-demand. This means you can do this course whenever you want, wherever you want. It’s all up to you!

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