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How to choose the perfect focus keyword

How to choose the perfect focus keyword

May 03rd, 2016 – 29 Comments

Adding quality content to your website on a regular basis is a very good SEO tactic. Google sees that your website is active because new pieces of information are added. On top of that, you increase the volume of your content. If your keyword strategy has been crafted properly and your content is nicely optimized for the right keywords, adding content will increase your findability. But how to choose the perfect focus keyword? Especially when you’re blogging and focussing on long tail keywords, it can be quite hard to decide which keywords to optimize for. In our view, there are at least three things you should do before writing an amazing (high quality) text.

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What is the focus keyword?

The focus keyword is the keyword that you want your page to rank for, so when people search for that keyword, they’ll find you. In Yoast SEO it has its own input field. The plugin evaluates the page’s content and provides feedback on how to improve the content for that focus keyword.

focus keyword input field

Choose a focus keyword that is used to search

Your keyword strategy should have given you some idea what you want to write about. For blog posts, you will usually aim for a long tail keyword (containing multiple words). In our Yoast SEO plugin you will find a drop down menu which supplements your entry with suggestions. These suggestions are actually based on Google Suggest. This is exactly the same as what you’d see when you type the search term into a Google search box.

Update August 2015: unfortunately we had to drop the suggestion drop down of our Yoast plugin, since Google shut down the autocomplete API that was needed for this feature.

The terms you will find in the suggest drop down menu are thus terms and combinations of words that are logical and used by actual people to search on the web. This tool can be very helpful in giving you some first ideas about the search behavior of people in the area you want to write about. Our Yoast Suggest tool uses the same data to find the first 10 keywords and then expands on that. Also, Marieke has recently written about more keyword research tools.

When we searched for the term “focus keyword” in February of last year, this was the suggest output:

The suggest results for Focus keyword in Google Suggest

Right now, the output shows this:

focus keyword search november 2014

Suggest changes based on the problems people have, so monitoring it for important keywords makes sense. This particular new result gave us some extra input for this post.

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Discover some information about search volume

Once you have found a long tail search term you would like to start ranking for, you should put some effort into discovering whether or not the search volume of your chosen focus keyword is high. We will be the first to admit, Google has made this really hard. The only way to know ‘for sure’ how often a search term is used, is by having an active and alive AdWords account and by bidding on the search term of your choice. We understand this is a bit too difficult and expensive for most of you (we honestly hardly ever do this).

Not to worry, using Google Trends should give at least some idea, in a creative way, about search volume. Google Trends allows you to compare the search volume between two search terms over time. This will give some insights in the volume of the search terms people use (always relative to another term).

Check posts that already rank

If you already have some (blog)posts that rank well for good terms, you will know how many visitors these posts attract. Using Google Trends to compare the focus keywords of older posts (of which at least the number of visitors to your website is known) with the focus keyword you have in mind for your new post, could give you some idea about the potential of traffic this new focus keyword could have. Make sure to choose older posts that are most similar to the post you’re planning to write: if you’re planning to choose a long tail keyword, compare posts with long tail focus keywords as well.

For instance, this post about focus keywords could be compared to a post about snippet previews, a very related feature of the WordPress SEO plugin we wrote about before:

Comparing "focus keyword" and "snippet preview" in Google Trends

As you can see the traffic is comparable, we know the search traffic to our snippet preview post is reasonably good, so we know it’s worth optimizing for.

Using Google Trends to compare between your old focus keywords and the one you would like to choose will give you some insights about the prospects for your focus keyword.

Another way to use Google Trends is when you are doubting between a number of (long tail) focus keywords. Google Trends will easily show you what search term will have the highest search volume (compared to another). Google Trends will help you decide which long tail keyword is most common in the search engines.

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Google your proposed focus keyword!

Apart from knowing which search terms are actually used by people, you need to know whether or not your idea for your post or page fits the desires and expectations of the people who use the search terms. The best way to find out whether or not your content fits these desires is to Google your proposed (sets of) keywords yourself.

Take the time to look at the first two result pages. Are the articles Google shows of the same character that your article will be like? Does your website fit between the results shown in these result pages? If you decide to write your blogpost or page, while optimizing for this exact focus keyword, you are aiming for a display of your page amongst these.

For instance, when we wrote this post and Googled our chosen focus keyword, we saw we’d be competing with ourselves:

a search for "focus keyword" in Google

We also saw lots of questions on the WordPress forums, giving us all the more reason to write this post.

Note that we looked at the old post and decided it wasn’t good and complete enough, so we decided we would delete it and replace it with this one.

Make sure to use the content of the result pages as an inspiration for your blog post. Are there any useful ideas (we are NOT encouraging to copy content, merely to see whether you perhaps missed some information or arguments for your own blog post)? But more importantly: how can you make sure your post will stand out? In what way could your post be better, funnier, more original than the post presently displayed in the result pages. Try to think of content that will make the audience click and share!

Should every page have a focus keyword?

We often get this question: should our about page or our contact page have a focus keyword? What should it be?

The answer is easy: not every page needs a focus keyword. Your contact page should be easily reachable, it might for instance need to rank for “<company name> address”. That probably doesn’t make sense as a focus keyword though and it’s perfectly fine to leave it empty.

Conclusion: picking a focus keyword is not easy

Choosing a perfect focus keyword is not an exact science. You should aim for a combination of words that are actually used by a search audience. Aim for a focus keyword that is relatively high on volume and aim for one that will fit your audience.

Want to read more?

We have quite a bit more content: you can read about keyword research, content writing and improving your site structure. We’ve also combined all of these different topics into one eBook on Content SEO. If you want a specific post, your best next is Marieke’s post:

Read more: ‘SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

29 Responses to How to choose the perfect focus keyword

  1. Simon Rohde Nielsen
    By Simon Rohde Nielsen on 25 November, 2014

    Another great guide from you! You’re my favorite dutch man!

  2. jilciou
    By jilciou on 25 November, 2014

    hola yoast yo uso su pluin y me gusta peor hay algo que no entiendo una pregunta cuando me indica la notificacion en color rojo La densidad de palabras clave es 0%, es una cifra un poco baja, la palabra clave se encontró 0 veces. eso de que se encontro 0 veces es malo verdad si la palabra clave se encuentra vastante o vastantes veces eso es bueno par ami entrada par ami optimisacion seo o no como funciona me podria explicar porfavor

  3. Achilles
    By Achilles on 25 November, 2014

    sorry guys but the page analysis does not work! I have read numerus other cases on the net that have the same problem as me! Obviusly something is wrong with the keywords counting….

  4. ismail
    By ismail on 23 November, 2014

    Very useful post. I am also using the SEO Yoast Plugin

  5. ismail
    By ismail on 22 November, 2014

    Yoast SEO plugin is the best, thank you so much .

  6. TidyMom
    By TidyMom on 22 November, 2014

    today I keep getting the red light message “The keyword density is 0%, which is a bit low, the keyword was found times.”

    when the exact keyword phrase is used several times, even in the title, which I’m also getting the red light warning on

  7. Aleks
    By Aleks on 21 November, 2014


    I’am having troubles with focus keyword because the language is different on url and on post and pages.

    But thats it! :)

  8. Bear
    By Bear on 19 November, 2014

    First time at trying a seo on our wordpress site and yoast has made it as easy as it gets for people with zero experience, my only niggle is since the update it does not find my focus word and shows a density of 0%…slightly irritating as i can not find a solution, there must be one but i just cant find it yet!

  9. Bill
    By Bill on 18 November, 2014

    Thanks for coining ‘focus keyword’ in your post Joost, as many are not aware of this. And good approach too. It’s pretty difficult to come up with ideal keywords to compete for, and sometimes, you end up making wrong choices. Your article could be a good guide for all digital marketers.

  10. Immer Manalu
    By Immer Manalu on 17 November, 2014

    Most articles on this useful website help me learn much how to apply SEO on my new website. I really appreciate to Yoast who shares this. Thank you for the great share here.

  11. Justin
    By Justin on 17 November, 2014

    Hi Joost,
    Love your site and your plug in for WordPress, so thanks!
    I have a question, though. I am able to use Yoast Suggest to find actual search terms, but when I put those into Google Trends it tells me there’s “not enough search volume to show graphs”. So does that mean it’s not a great focus keyword or just that when someone is searching for it then I should rank highly and–hopefully–have good enough content?

  12. Sandeep
    By Sandeep on 17 November, 2014

    Thanks for the information. Nice article. I use this plugin for my website.

  13. Robert Broley
    By Robert Broley on 17 November, 2014

    Very interesting post. Ive never heard of a focus keyword but I may give it a try

  14. Hans Cudilla
    By Hans Cudilla on 16 November, 2014

    I wondering if I should use the same focus keyword on all of our sites post. What got me wondering is why should we need to retype a focus keyword on every post that we make when I need to focus on one keyword for my site.

    Does this mean, I should target variations of my focus keywords as well?

  15. Alan Monaghan
    By Alan Monaghan on 15 November, 2014

    Competing with yourself is a good problem to have. I try not to use a focus keyword on every-single-post, but might sprinkle a few LSI keywords in for some variation.

  16. Mohammad kher
    By Mohammad kher on 15 November, 2014

    Incredible article, thanks, yoast for this article and your amazing plugin

  17. Buka Info
    By Buka Info on 14 November, 2014

    I’ve been using focused keywords as suggested above, and the results are remarkable, almost all of the keywords in my posts are on the search page. thanks Yoast

  18. Grue
    By Grue on 14 November, 2014

    Yoast is the best plugin for sure! I use it for all of my sites, and this is the first one I always install. Really like the fact that is constantly updated and improved.
    When I login to my WordPress site and see that one plugin have to be updated, I’m 100% sure that it is Yoast :)
    Keep it up with the great work! Thank you!

  19. Mike Devaney
    By Mike Devaney on 13 November, 2014

    Hi Joost,

    I noticed you’re always eating or drinking in your cartoons.

    Any reason for that? Are you constantly fighting against your sweet tooth?

    Love your newsletter.

  20. Azizul Yusof
    By Azizul Yusof on 13 November, 2014

    Great Stuff guys!

    Really helpful in finding the right focus keyword.

    Keep it up.

  21. Lou Vanacore
    By Lou Vanacore on 12 November, 2014

    The Yoast SEO Plugin is a great tool. Thanks for this article as well. Very informative!!

  22. muhammad latif
    By muhammad latif on 12 November, 2014

    Yoast SEO plugin is the best, thank you so much , I ‘ve been using in some of my websites

  23. Chris Bunting
    By Chris Bunting on 12 November, 2014

    One thing to consider,

    1.You need Optimized Sites / Server / Page Load times!
    2. Don’t use your Domain / Business Name in your homepage title.. EG: My Bus – Web Design or My Bus | Web Design.

    It’s not really a focus keyword, but more of a descriptive one. If your website sells products or services, it’s sometimes easier to rank higher focusing on your location instead of offering a product or service world wide!

    Home page titles will always be the most important, especially if you are using, google business ads, merchant circle ETC to get your name out there.. Home page titles should simply get to the point!

    Professional Web Design Austin Texas, or Bobs Plumbing 24 Hour Service.. There are a lot of ways to do it. But you need to consider your market, not only your competition. Search engines no longer care about all the meta tags.. Simple Add Meta Tags does the job, and we get top 5 rankings all over the world just using Attracta.. No need for xml site-maps or anything else..

  24. Coupons India
    By Coupons India on 12 November, 2014

    Really Very useful post. I am using the SEO Yoast Plugin for my start up. Thinking to buy Premium Version :)

  25. Edinburgh Web Design
    By Edinburgh Web Design on 12 November, 2014

    I suggest when you’re writing your ebook you consider how Market Samurai does it – I’ve tried all the varieties of keyword research (as outlined here – but Market Samurai does it best.

    It’s not any propriety stuff either, they’re using a combination of the Google Keyword Tool to generate keywords, then they’re using a combination of Majestic competition rankings and Bing search results to find out how much traffic and/or competition each keyword has.

    It’s a fine balancing act choosing the right keywords with the most traffic and low enough competition level for your own website/sector.

    I look forward to reading your ebook.

  26. mhmmdcn
    By mhmmdcn on 11 November, 2014

    Nice long tail… i love yoast:)

  27. AstroGremlin
    By AstroGremlin on 11 November, 2014

    My post on Swiss Army knives used to do really well. Then it stopped. Have been confused ever since.

  28. hotbiee
    By hotbiee on 11 November, 2014


    My website is selling T-Shirt, its quite easy for homepage that I have selected T-Shirt (???????? in my language) as focus keyword. But the problem are in my product pages do I need to use T-Shirt same as homepage or I need to use different keywords for each page?

    Anyway, thank you all for the good articles and great plugin :)

  29. Gorakhnath Sirsikar
    By Gorakhnath Sirsikar on 11 November, 2014

    One supporting indicator for choosing an easy to rank focus keyword up for grabs is google’s keyword research tool results showing competition as “low”. It’s not an exact but a fair representation of how many others are already there in the market trying to rank for that particular keyword. Just a confirmation of one’s choice.

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