Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin Frustrations

Pretty much any of the people or places I go to for reliable WordPress website tips recommend the Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin as the plugin to resolve your basic onsite SEO needs. So I was surprised to find that when I needed to update several blog posts for a client in a target niche that I was so handicapped by the way that the plugin was set up.

It’s not that there is a lack of options. If you use the built-in plugin tour or use any number of YouTube videos or blog post guides out there, you will find that there are TONS of settings. But a lot of them seem to just be there for show. Sometimes they even write a comment next to an option indicating as much.

yoast seo wordpress options

An example of an option that Yoast doesn’t even think you need

This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time that a plugin has unnecessary options that clutter up the Settings. But what really gets me riled up is the core of the Plugin itself, it’s on-page optimization. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to use it properly when creating several posts or pages with a very specific target.

If we take for example a website of a business in Akron, Ohio, that specializes in picture framing, our target search phrases might look something like this:

  • picture frames in akron
  • picture framing akron
  • best picture frames akron
  • akron, ohio picture frame

and so on.

How to Target Those Phrases

The Yoast WordPress plugin will optimize for only a short-tail lemur

Long-Tail? Or Short-Tail?

The problem is that while these phrases are something that a person would naturally type into a search engine, not all of them are natural phrases of text to read nor write. Try to compose a sentence that includes the exact phrase “best picture frames akron” (even if you capitalize properly). Good luck. The key here is exact phrase, because that is what the Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin is optimizing for.

Although Google search bots can understand that a website containing text like “the best picture frames in Akron” is a good match for a search like “best picture frames akron”, the Yoast SEO Plugin is not. If the SEO Title you have entered in this example is not an exact match, it will tell you that your focus keyword was not found. The same goes for content inside your post or page, meta description, and so on. In other words, it’s impossible to get the endorphin rush of seeing the green light unless you are working with certain complete phrases, or short-tail keywords.

The Problem With Short-Tail

The problem with optimizing only for short-tail keywords, such as “picture frames” in our example, is twofold. Not only will a user searching for “picture frames” potentially be located in Pheonix, Arizona, and therefore very uninterested in getting a search result from a picture framing store located in Akron, Ohio, but it is also going to be impossible for this one little store to compete with all of the picture framing stores everywhere who are competing for this search term. If they compete only in their local market, their job becomes much easier. And this translates into monetary savings too when you are talking about paid advertising such as PPC ads targeting specific search terms.

Joe White at whenbluedogssmile.com summarizes the point very nicely, and adds that Google probably actually penalizes posts that are overtly targeting specific phrases.

I mean, how many times can you write “best picture frames akron” without your website looking spammy?

Looking for Answers

With all of the rave reviews for the Yoast Plugin, I feel like I must be missing something big. What is it that I’m not seeing? Is there another plugin you can recommend that doesn’t present this problem?

Oh yeah, and this post got only a yellow light.

Leave a comment


7 years ago

I actually use Yoast only for inputting a meta description. The green light doesn’t mean you have an optimized page, as you have indicated, and Google doesn’t even like when you use keywords in your meta description. But the plugin is great for manually entering the meta description without having to resort to – gasp – code.


7 years ago

I am big fan of Yoast’s SEO because it has some amazing features. Like the ability to easily “no index” a particular page/post.
I used to use to make sure I was using a keyword “properly” in the way you describe and it was satisfying to see that green check mark.
However, since SEO is moving away from exact match and keyword density and it can even be risky (as you point out), I don’t use that feature of the plugin anymore. I just ignore it and use my common sense for the keywords. I would never put in a nonsense keyword more than once, no matter what Yoast’s plugin has to say about it. I don’t think I’d use such a keyword verbatim even once.
if you really want to use your keywords carefully, you could try the Scribe plugin. But it costs.

Ilana Herring

7 years ago

Thanks for the article. I wish I had another plugin to recommend. I run into the exact same situation with target search phrases that you describe here. Maybe Yoast will make some changes in their next update. Until then, I’m still trying to balance getting that green light and picking the best long tail phrases.

Mark Ginsberg

7 years ago

There is so much more to onsite optimization and proper seo configuration than keyword stuffing and making sure your various keywords that are all targeting pretty much the same thing get used in your post and in your relevant meta info. The Yoast plugin is incredible at dealing with complex issues, such as canonicalization, indexation, redirects, areas to be included in search results and areas to block, sitemap creation and unparalleled control over what shows up in the sitemap, etc etc. There are lots of advanced config options that you get with this free plugin, and that’s why it receives accolades, not because it tries to create an artificial score for how well optimized your page is for a certain keyword. Try controlling a complex site in WordPress without the plugin, setting up proper onsite SEO, and then do it with the plugin, and it’s a world of difference, especially for SEOs who aren’t also developers and can easily hack the code to present proper canonical tags and meta index tags.


7 years ago

Thanks. Those are all good points. It’s interesting though that any review I’ve come across for the Plugin focuses on the on-page SEO aspect and much less on the powerful features that you mention. I think my point still stands that the whole “green light” aspect indicates that your SEO is no good unless it meets those artificial requirements.
I am interested in exploring and writing more about the indexing and canonicalization tools of the Plugin that you mention.


6 years ago

If you know what you are doing it’s a great tool, but if you are just some person with a website, you can get the green light on Yoast with a keyword no one is searching for or that is too generic to be of much help.

And one other thing – sometimes Yoast doesn’t recognize that a keyword is in the url when it clearly is.

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