Having spent ten years at the Crewe Alexandra Academy, he turned professional with the club in 2002. He spent five months of the 2003–04 season on loan at Conference club Halifax Town, though was released by his parent club at the end of the season, never having made a first team appearance for Crewe. He then spent two season at non-league Leek Town, before he was signed by Morecambe in August 2006. He helped the club win promotion into the English Football League as the Conference's play-off winners in 2007. He played 54 games in 2007–08, though started the 2008–09 season on loan at Conference club Burton Albion. He signed with Port Vale in June 2009, and went on to make the right-back slot his own in the 2009–10, 2010–11 and 2011–12 campaigns. He helped the club to secure promotion out of League Two in 2012–13. He lost his first team place at Port Vale in August 2015 and was loaned out to Northampton Town, and then to Macclesfield Town in August 2017 in order to help him overcome a serious injury which caused him to miss the entire 2016–17 season.
Yates passed up through the ranks of the Crewe Alexandra youth system to become a professional in 2002, and spent five months on loan with Halifax Town during the 2003–04 season. After being released by Crewe Alexandra in May 2004, never having made the first team, he signed for Leek Town.
In February 2005 he had a trial with Port Vale, the team he had supported as a boy, but did not impress manager Martin Foyle and was not signed to a contract. Instead he became an almost permanent presence in the Leek defence during 2005–06, putting in a total of fifty appearances, also scoring once in the Northern Premier League.
After impressing Sammy McIlroy in a pre-season friendly in 2006, he was signed by Morecambe in August 2006. He scored his first goal for Morecambe in their 2–1 victory at Southport on 26 December 2006. His return to the English Football League came at the end of the 2006–07 season as the "Shrimps" achieved promotion from the Conference as play-off winners by beating Exeter City 2–1 in the final at Wembley Stadium.
He made 54 appearances in the 2007–08 campaign, as Morecambe consolidated their Football League status. He was loaned out to Burton Albion in August 2008. On his return to Christie Park in October he went straight back into the first team. After having featuring heavily in the 2008–09 season he was offered a new contract by Morecambe, though he rejected the offer after deciding his future lay elsewhere.
Targeted by manager Dean Glover, Port Vale continued the hunt for his signature even after Glover's departure. Yates decided to wait until a manager was appointed before signing for the club, and after Micky Adams was made manager Yates signed a two-year deal with the "Vale". He was forced to wait until 22 August before he made his competitive debut for the club, as Sam Stockley had impressed in the right-back position in the pre-season and opening few games of the 2009–10 season. He was transfer listed in late September, along with the entire Port Vale squad, after manager Micky Adams saw his team slip to a third consecutive defeat. Following Stockley's retirement in November, Yates was expected to fill the void, though he faced competition for the right wing-back spot from Anthony Griffith. In his first game in almost a month he scored his first professional goal at a senior level, scoring the opener of a 1–1 home draw with Stevenage Borough in the FA Cup First Round. By February 2010 he was managing to hold off the competition, helped by the team's change of formation from 3–4–3 to 4–4–2.
He continued to make the right-back spot his own in the 2010–11 season, and in February 2011 he became the first player to enter new contract negotiations with new manager Jim Gannon. Despite Gannon's swift departure, contract talks continued on a new two-year deal. After playing in all 54 of the club's games that season, he put pen to paper on the deal in May 2011. Micky Adams returned as manager for the 2011–12 campaign, and he continued to name Yates as his first choice right-back. However Adams signed centre-back Liam Chilvers and veteran full-back Robert Kozluk in September, and so Yates lost his first team place to Kozluk, and put in 'extra work' in training to try and force his way back onto the teamsheet. His efforts paid off, as he quickly won his first team place back, and Kozluk was released in December. He scored his first league goal for the club by providing the equalizer in the 2–1 boxing day victory at Hereford United. In February, he picked up knee-ligament damage and was unable to play for several weeks. He hit his third goal for the club on 9 April, in a 1–0 win over Macclesfield Town.
He lost his first team place to Richard Duffy at the start of the 2012–13 season. He was returned to the starting line-up at the end of October, after Duffy was sidelined with a twisted ankle. Duffy returned to the first team line-up after making his recovery, though Yates was preferred in the end of season run-in and was hopeful of winning a new contract in the summer. Vale secured promotion with a third-place finish at the end of the season, with Yates making 32 appearances. He agreed to sign a new two-year contract in the summer. Yates remained a key first team player during the 2013–14 season, and played 41 games as the club posted a ninth-place finish in League One. Swiss youth international Freddie Veseli was brought in on loan to replace him at right-back, but Yates won back his first team place in November after a series of consistent performances. He ended the season with 28 appearances to his name as Veseli eventually won back his first team place. He signed a new one-year contract in June 2015.
Having held the club's number 2 shirt for five seasons he was demoted to number 16 for the 2015–16 season as new right-back Ben Purkiss was handed the number 2 shirt. On 24 August, he joined League Two side Northampton Town on a one-month loan in order to provide "Cobblers" manager Chris Wilder with cover for the suspended Josh Lelan and injured Brendan Moloney. He played three games for the club, including a League Cup defeat to Newcastle United at St James' Park, before his loan spell was ended early by a thigh injury. He then returned to the Vale first team on 14 November as cover for an injured Purkiss, and his performances meant he retained his place once Purkiss returned to fitness. He signed a new one-year contract in June 2016. However the following month he was told by surgeons that he had been playing for months with an ankle cruciate ligament injury and was ruled out of action for the whole of the 2016–17 season to allow the injury to properly heal. He was named as Community Foundation Trust Player of the Year in May 2017, and signed a new one-year contract with the club three months later.
On 5 August 2017, Yates joined National League side Macclesfield Town on a one-month loan in order to help his return to match fitness. He made his debut for the "Silkmen" later that day in a 1–0 victory at Wrexham.
Yates made his England National Game XI debut against the Netherlands in a 4–1 victory on 29 November 2006. Named in a friendly against Northern Ireland in February 2007, he was unable to feature due to injury. He was also named in the 2007 Four Nations Tournament squad for England.
Yates has two younger brothers, Ryan and Dominic; Ryan played for the Crewe Alexandra Academy. Yates was raised in Werrington, Staffordshire and attended Painsley High School in Cheadle. He was in the same year with Port Vale teammate Gareth Owen. Yates left the school with one A*, five Bs and four Cs at GCSE level.
As of June 2011 he is studying to complete a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting at Staffordshire University, alongside teammates Gareth Owen, Justin Richards, and Ritchie Sutton.He graduated in the summer of 2013 achieving a 2:1
Yates and teammate Tom Pope began the 2011–12 season as joint-managers of local amateur Sunday League side Sneyd, fitting their management duties around their professional careers at Vale Park. The pair took the club to the Potteries and District Premier Division title and the final of the Sentinel Sunday Cup in 2012–13.Morecambe
Conference National play-off winner: 2007
League Two third-place promotion: 2012–13