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Using the Traffic Light System in Yoast SEO (WordPress plugin)

A popular SEO plugin for WordPress is Yoast. One of its key features is a red, amber and green ‘traffic light system’ which many SEO practitioners mistakenly refer to as a magic guide to improve ranking performance. Although the system can provide some useful indicators to help direct optimisation efforts around a templated set of recommendations, it should not rule all SEO decisions on a page.

The Yoast traffic lights are used for two things:

1. Content analysis – reviewing your content against a focus keyword that you set. (Content can actually be optimised without it getting a green light).

2. Readability – checking if your content is readable for a general audience.

The problem with this approach is that Yoast’s indication of the strength of a page uses a template rule book and is dependent on the focus keyword you insert in the first place. Search engines don’t measure a page’s relevancy based on exact keywords. This is especially true after Google’s major ‘BERT algorithm’ update in late 2019 which improved the search engine understanding of search queries by utilising a language processing technology.

On-page SEO consists of much more than simply including certain keywords within metadata and body content. Nowadays, search engines (especially Google) are able to derive the true meaning of a page, much like a person would. So although Yoast does make it easy to customise metadata and maintain robots.txt content, that’s really all it should be used for. It should not be used as a measurement tool for potential SEO ranking success.

Another significant error is that the green light is not attainable unless the title tag and description tag content fit within a set content, determined by the number of characters that Google is likely to show in the search results. This can be useful but shouldn’t be a hard and fast ‘rule’ for optimisers, since more content can be included without a detriment to actual ranking performance.

So instead of wasting time and effort trying to attain green lights as a ‘magic bullet’, it’s much more important to spend it writing valuable, natural content by researching, outlining, and ensuring it’s highly relevant to the target audience. By doing that the pages would be optimised for SEO as the search engines will analyse them to determine how relevant they are and how much they enhance the User’s search experience when that searching for that content.

You can read more about using this system in Yoast’s own articles: The temptation of the green bullet in Yoast SEO: 3 pitfalls to avoid and and How to use the readability analysis.

If you’d like to know more about how to improve your website’s SEO, please get in touch. We have extensive experience as Google Ads / AdWords consultants since 2002.