Digital Marketing, Professional Development

Why The Checklist Approach to SEO Doesn’t Quite Cut It

Yoast SEO for Bloggers

There’s a reason bloggers receive emails from “shady” SEO agencies offering their services to get you to number 1 on Google. It’s because SEO is much more than using a plugin and getting a green light. 

I’m not saying you should suddenly run to the next company that emails you and take them up on their offer. There’s a few black hat SEO agencies out there that can and will use your blog for their own gain.

However, after working for an SEO agency for over four years, and being a blogger myself, I’ve learnt one or two things. The biggest being that if you want to succeed as a blogger, you really do need to learn at least the basic SEO techniques, and if you want to truly make it, SEO has to be involved with every blog post you write.

The Yoast traffic light system is designed for site owners who don’t have an SEO expert to hand, but it is too formulaic, as well as often outdated (Google’s ever-changing algorithm springs to mind), and is based on Artificial Intelligence which makes it less effective than some may think. The basic SEO checklist that Yoast uses is too short, as what is actually needed for a page to become successful in terms of organic ranking authority is long, complex and in most cases requires a large amount of human insight and experience to realise.

This checklist-based approach to SEO used to be the general approach completed by everyone. However, SEO is much more about deep understanding of topics and user intent, leading to the creation of excellent content. 

Most available digital marketing resources provide advice on deciding page titles, meta descriptions and making sure the copy has a certain amount of mentions of the “target keyword”. However, all SEO experts know that it is becoming a lot more than that, which is why plugins that suggest they may lead to success should not always be trusted for that advice.

If your content is researched well, while being well-written and created with the right user intent in mind (while having well-conceived metadata), it will be rewarded by search engines. However, this type of content might see you get a red light through Yoast or other similar SEO plugins such as Rank Math.

What can be seen is bloggers too focused on making every light green, but this can be counter-productive. Too many bloggers exclaim in surprise when a blog post they’ve written hits page 1 for their search term, but they’ve got red or yellow lights on their checklist.

As a company behind the SEO plugins they do know what they are doing. Their site is an excellent hub for extremely useful SEO content, and generally speaking they have the best people working for them and they have their finger on the pulse of SEO best practice. 

The plugins have a great aim – helping new website owners with understanding the basics. Increasingly though, search engine algorithms get more and more complicated, and the basics only have a very small impact on how a search engine will view the page.

The tools themselves are free, but doing what it tells you to will take time, which could be better spent researching best SEO practices from the latest and most trustworthy sources.

The plugin recommendations are basically in a way what I do at work, without hours of research and the context of a page fitting into an entire site structure. “Optimising” content means working out exactly who it’s for, how those users will reach the page, and what they want to find when they get there.

Page titles and meta descriptions are only a small part of what our work entails. Several different types of research, including keyword research, user profiles, A/B testing, UX testing, can be completed and often combinations of all are, but the method of optimisation all depends on the user being targeted. 

Full success for a page also involves link profiling, internal linking structure, authority gained through promotion and social media, and all the ways these fit into an entire digital marketing strategy. Yoast itself can’t accommodate for every step of the way, despite how well-intended it’s efforts are. 

The “SEO Checklist” used to look something like this:

  • Keyword in page title
  • Keyword in meta description
  • Keyword in copy as many times as possible
  • Keyword in URL
  • Keyword hidden on-page
  • Keyword in alt text for images
  • As many backlinks as possible
  • More words – the longer the wordcount, the better

Blogging is different to running a website, but you should focus more on the content and the user intent, as Google’s algorithms are updated far too regularly for a tool to keep up. I thoroughly enjoy Yoast for updating the page titles and meta descriptions of a page, but ensure it’s a part of your SEO efforts, not the plan in it’s entirety.

When writing your blog post, you should take into consideration what other people would like to read and their search terms. While keywords are key, you should also think about how they would fit into what someone would type into Google.

Questions to ask yourself are:

What would I search if I was looking for this content myself?

If I were to read this myself, what would I want to know?

What questions am I answering here?

Where will people go once they’ve read my post?

It may be that you consider planning your internal linking structure for the post once you’ve planned the content out, as well as writing the <title> tags and <meta description>. 

A thing to remember about custom meta descriptions are that they are beneficial for your site. It’s important to ensure you have no duplicate meta descriptions as this can confuse a user, it’s better to have none than copies. However, if Google (or other search engines) finds a sentence that would fit user intent and the search engine results page more than what you’ve provided, they will use that instead.

There are also many other things to take into consideration when trying to get to number one on Google search results. 

  • Code weight: Does your blog have heavy code weight? Large chunks of code can slow page speed down and these can have implications on your ranking.
  • Keyword relevancy: Is this the correct keyword for your post, and is it relevant to other content on your site? It can be harder to rank for keywords which may not fit in with what content you produce.
  • Synonyms: Google is developing and evolving in a way that it can understand synonyms. This means a users search query or your keywords may not even need to be as heavily relied upon as they used to be, so make sure your content is as natural sounding as possible.

Search engine optimisation is a lot more than just a checklist. For more information on how to optimise your content for Google, I recommend you take a look at and potentially get in contact with those in the industry rather than relying on a green light.

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