Bob Kurtz successfully completed the Yoast SEO for WordPress course!If you’re into certification, you should be happy to know that I just received my Yoast SEO certification in WordPress from Yoast Academy. Launch Me Technologies can now proudly display the badge to the left on our website. We can also help those using the Yoast SEO plugin on their websites to achieve optimal search engine results.

But SEO — that’s Search Engine Optimization in case you recently arrived on the planet — is not about a certificate or badge or what everyone with a website gets spammed about almost daily. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who gets inundated with calls claiming “We can get your website ranked #1 on Google!” I rate these calls on the annoying phone call scale just slightly behind, “Hello, I’m calling from the Windows support department and we’ve noticed suspicious activity on your computer….” Or “This is officer Johnson from the IRS and you are about to be arrested if you don’t send us money right away….” I just received one of those this morning!)

The point being, while Yoast SEO certification is important and I’m glad I went through the training to receive it, it’s only one piece of a very large puzzle. Yoast SEO is a fantastic WordPress plugin, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a WordPress website. I doubt that someone with very little SEO experience will become an SEO expert by taking this course. They should, however, become proficient at using the most important features in the Yoast SEO plugin, which is not nothing.

Why SEO is So Complicated

Most people, in my experience, are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of search engine optimization. At the very least, anyone who has ever used a search engine knows that some websites appear above others in search results. If you or your company is running a website, chances are you’d like yours to be at or near the top of these results for any relevant searches. And that, in a nutshell, is what SEO is all about. Very simple in concept…very, very complex in practice. (Otherwise, we’d all be SEO experts, now wouldn’t we? And we wouldn’t hesitate for a second when we got a call claiming to be able to make us #1 on Google before we replied, “For which search terms exactly?” Try that the next time you get one of those calls and see what happens.)

Part of the problem is that Google is something of a black box, since their algorithm is a closely-guarded secret. But in reality, that is perhaps the least of the issues facing a would-be SEO expert. There’s enough information floating around (much of it from Google itself) to understand how to make your website play nice with Google. The real problem is that, as in everything where money is involved, many people try to cheat the system. Because so many SEO “experts” try to outsmart Google, in order to fulfill their mission of returning useful, relevant results, Google must make it hard to game the system. That means making it hard to (illegitimately) reach the top of the search results.

The Good, the Bad, and the Questionable

This does not mean that it’s hard to get your website listed where it truly belongs in the search results. The trick is deserving to be listed at the top for relevant queries…at least from Google’s perspective. (I could digress here into a deep discussion on how well Google carries out its mission, but I’ll save that for another day.)

In the world of SEO, there are basically three types of optimization: White Hat, Black Hat, and Gray Hat. This should be fairly self-explanatory, but in case it’s not, white hat = good (ethical or in keeping with search engine policies), black hat = bad (unethical or in violation of search engine policies), and gray hat = somewhere between black & white. There is another type, which mostly coincides with the white hat approach, called Holistic SEO.

Yoast, the company from which I just received my certification, tends to favor this last approach. I also primarily follow the holistic approach, as it is the one that generally provides the best long-term results. Yes, many black hat techniques can bump your website up in Google temporarily. But Google learns fast and adapts constantly. In most cases black hat results turn into penalties that trash a website’s ranking or even remove it altogether.

According to the Yoast website, Holistic SEO means that “you focus on it all: good technical SEO; a great user experience; writing quality content; keeping your site secure.”

What is the Yoast SEO Plugin and Why Should I Use it?

The Yoast SEO plugin is a WordPress plugin that assists in managing SEO on a website. It does not do everything (it’s unlikely that any plugin or automated tool could). It does help with the technical aspects and provides expert advice, which can make an admin’s work much easier. Even if you know nothing about SEO, I recommend the plugin. (There’s a reasonably-priced premium version, and a free version that may be adequate depending on your needs). You can either learn how to use it yourself, or hire a (preferably certified 😉 ) expert to help you.

Believe it or not, I first learned of the Yoast SEO plugin while I was marketing a Bed & Breakfast I owned in Hawaii. One of the guests at our B&B told me about it and how much it had helped their website. That was maybe five years ago, and since then the plugin has been improved dramatically. (I found the version at that time somewhat confusing, but I’ve learned a lot since then. The Yoast SEO plugin has improved quite a bit as well.) It’s not a silver bullet that will automatically put your website at the top of every search engine query. What it is is a powerful tool that will help you optimize your website to its fullest potential.

If you run a small, unknown website, it won’t make you #1 on Google for the most popular search terms. Nobody can do that. It will help you put your website in the best position for which it is realistically a viable contender. And it will help you work your way up the ladder to attain the search engine position you envision in your dreams. From here at mission control, I wish you great success and Godspeed.