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How to choose the right focus keyword

In the Yoast SEO plugin, you’ll find a focus keyphrase input field for every page on your site. Here, you can enter the keyword or keyphrase you’d like the page to rank for in Google. If you do so, Yoast SEO will run a check on the content of that page to see if search engines will recognize what your page is about. Here, we’ll explain what the purpose of a focus keyphrase is and how to choose it well.

Table of contents

Looking for keyphrase suggestions? Yoast’s Google suggest expander helps you find long-tail variations of your keyphrase. It lists the suggestions Google shows when you type a query in Google. It’s completely free; try it yourself!

What is a focus keyword?

The focus keyword or keyphrase is the search term that you want a page or post to rank for most. When people search for that phrase, they should find you. If you set a focus keyphrase for a page with Yoast SEO, the plugin evaluates the page’s content and provides feedback on how to improve the content to rank higher for that search term.

You’ll find the input field for your focus keyphrase in the Yoast SEO meta box below your post:

Or, in the Yoast SEO sidebar, if you click on the Yoast icon on the top right of your screen:

You’ll find the feedback to improve your content in the SEO analysis tab. If you amend your page with this feedback, it will be easier for search engines to recognize what your post or page is about.

Check out this video to see how it works:

Did you know you can optimize for a focus keyphrase even better with Yoast SEO Premium? It recognizes your keyphrase easier, even when it’s in plural or past tense, and has support for synonyms and for related keywords! Google is smart, get an analysis that’s just as smart!

Why a focus keyphrase?

Regularly adding quality content to your website or blog is a good SEO strategy. Google sees that your website is active because new information is added and you increase the volume of your content.

But randomly adding content to your site isn’t very useful. You have to craft a keyword strategy, and based on that strategy you should create high-quality content your audience is looking for. When you write those articles, it’s important to optimize them for the keyphrases you’re aiming at. And that’s what Yoast SEO helps you with.

How to choose a focus keyphrase

In our view, there are at least three things you should do to determine which keywords or keyphrases you should optimize your blog posts for:

  1. Find a focus keyword people search for
  2. Research the search volume
  3. Google your keyphrase

Let’s elaborate on these steps a bit:

1. Find a focus keyword people search for

As we mentioned above, your keyword strategy should have given you some idea of what you want to write about. If you don’t have a keyword strategy, you should really create one. You can read our ultimate guide to keyword research or take our keyword research training course if you need help to find your perfect keywords.

Long-tail keywords

If you want a post or page to rank, you can increase your chance of succes by aiming for long-tail keywords. On those keywords, there’s less competition and the chances to convert are usually higher. Read all about them in this guide on content SEO.

Tools that help you find keyphrases

Our Yoast SEO plugin helps you to optimize your post for your chosen focus keyphrase. One of the tools you can use to find – related – keywords is our Yoast Suggest tool. This tool uses the same data as Google Suggest to find the first ten keywords and then expands on that. This is the same as what you’d see when you type the search term into a Google search box. For additional tools, see this post by Marieke about keyword research tools.

The terms you will find in Suggest are terms and combinations of words that are logical and used by actual people to search on the web. This tool can be beneficial in giving you some first ideas about the search behavior of people in the area you want to write about. Use Answer the Public to find which questions people have about a particular topic. This will give you loads of new insights and inspiration for new posts.

Remember that these search suggestions change all the time. The suggestions will often be tuned to what you’ve been searching for before. When we searched for the term “focus keyword” some time ago, this was the suggest output:

The suggest results for Focus keyword in Google Suggest

Later on, the output showed this:

focus keyword search november 2014

Suggest changes based on the problems people have, so monitoring it for important keywords makes sense. New results can give you input for your post or other, but related posts.

2. Research the search volume for your keyphrase

Once you have found a long-tail search term you want to rank for, you should put some effort into discovering whether or not there are many searches for that keyword or phrase – the search volume.

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 to have an active AdWords account and bid on the search term of your choice. We understand this is a bit too difficult and expensive for most of you (we hardly ever do this ourselves).

Google Trends

Not to worry, using Google Trends should give you 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 a certain time. This will give some insight into the volume of the search terms people use, relative to other terms.

Check your 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 keyphrases of older posts (which you can view the statistics for) with the focus keyphrase you have in mind for your new post, could give you some idea about the potential traffic this new keyphrase could bring. 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 keywords as well.

For instance, this post about the focus keyphrase could be compared with a post about snippet previews, a related feature of the WordPress SEO plugin we already wrote about:

google trends focus keyword

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 your old focus keyphrase or keyword and the one you want to use will give you some insights about the prospects for your focus keyphrase.

Another good way to use Google Trends is when you are considering a number of (long-tail) focus keywords. Because it will easily show you which search term will have the highest search volume compared to another. Therefore, it will help you decide which long-tail keyword is most commonly used in search.

3. 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 needs and expectations of the people who use these search terms. You need to find out what the search intent is. One way to find out whether your content meets people’s needs is to Google your proposed (sets of) keywords yourself.

Check the search engine result pages

Take the time to look at the search engine result pages (SERPs) Are the articles in the Google results of similar character to your article? Could your article fit the results shown in these search pages? If you decide to write your blog post or page, while optimizing for this exact focus keyword, you are aiming to get your post amongst these results.

The type of content shown on the search results will help you decide on what kind of content to create: does Google show product pages or blog posts? Or perhaps videos, images? If there’s one dominant type, Google probably “thinks” this is the type of content people are looking for, so it’s worth investing time in creating that type of content too. Just remember: you’ll have to beat the other search results, so only do this when you’re sure you can create something truly outstanding and useful for your audience!

Content of the results pages

Be 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 you to copy content, merely to see whether you perhaps missed some information or arguments for your post or page. And, most 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 come up with content that will make the audience click and share!

Check out social media and forums

Another great tip: Check what people ask and have to say about this topic on social media and various online forums. This will probably give you loads of input for your post or page. You can directly address the questions people have and the difficulties they encounter regarding this topic. On top of this, it will help you use the right wording, which is crucial if you want to reach your audience.

Yoast SEO checks the quality of your keyphrase

A good focus keyword for your post is essential if it needs to stand a chance in the search engines. Therefore Yoast SEO checks some aspects of your keyphrase. First of all, we check the length of your keyphrase, to make sure your keyphrase isn’t too long. In addition to this, Yoast SEO checks whether the keyphrase only consists of function words.

The function word check in Yoast SEO

Function words (words such as the, a, and, or, have) carry very little meaning. They don’t help Google figure out the topic of the copy. We warn you if you only have words like these in your keyphrase. Even though it’s not very likely to come up with such a keyphrase yourself, it can happen that you were distracted while typing in your keyphrase. For instance, you could have just typed [the] instead of [the best movies of 2020]. To prevent keeping your focus keyphrase like this, Yoast SEO will show a warning with a grey bullet in the SEO analysis of your post and help you stay focused!

In rare cases, you might actually mean to rank for a phrase that consists of function words only. For instance, if you are writing a post about a meme “Why would you do that?”. In exceptional cases like this, you can avoid getting a red bullet by adding a double quote before and after your keyphrase. Doing so, our tool will just look for the exact match of this phrase and the warning will disappear.

Read more about the function word check in Yoast SEO.

Should every page have a focus keyphrase?

People often ask us whether their about page or contact page should have a focus keyword, and, if so, 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.

Also, ask yourself: Do I want this post to rank in the long term? Some posts, for instance, temporary announcements, are probably not worth optimizing either.

Conclusion and further readings

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

We have lots more articles on this subject: you can read about keyword research, content writing and improving your site structure. We’ve also combined all of these different topics into an SEO copywriting course

Read more: SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide »


19 Responses to How to choose the right focus keyword

  1. Cartechnewz
    Cartechnewz  • 9 months ago

    Does this tool suggest focus keywords, neta description automatically when we create post in wordpress?

  2. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis  • 9 months ago

    Choosing a focus keyword is an essential step when it comes to SEO, but there is an art to finding the best. These strategies will you come up with the best keyword possible.

  3. Kitchen Deal
    Kitchen Deal  • 9 months ago

    Thank for this amazing guide on focus keyword. It really helped me. I generally use Ahrefs to select keyword. Can you tell me about any other its alternative tool?

  4. Muhammad Hassam
    Muhammad Hassam  • 9 months ago

    I have used tools by Yoast SEO and have got amazing results. Thanks a Lot for this Article. Towards the end of article, it is mentioned that is difficult to set up a focus keyword. I think use paid tools helps you more than free tools. I wanna ask Does google itself select the focus keyword or we have to set it up?

  5. Sarka
    Sarka  • 9 months ago

    What is the best free keyword research tool?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 9 months ago

      Hi Sarka, We really like Answer the Public. It provides a lot of information about a keyword and helps you explore a topic thoroughly.

  6. Sammy Belose
    Sammy Belose  • 9 months ago

    I use Ahref to select the best keyword for any blog & those having high volume with low difficulty I focus that keyword in Yoast.

    • Manveesoft
      Manveesoft  • 9 months ago

      Yeah its better option to use paid tool instead of free for keyword research as keyword research not only selecting keywords but also place our website position in first page for that keywords

  7. Komolafe Timileyin
    Komolafe Timileyin  • 9 months ago

    Thank you for this article. Towards the end of this article, it was mentioned that getting a focus keyword can be difficult. Actually this is so true because many at times i face this issue after getting my content ready and i start to optimize it i find it difficult to get the right focus keyword and this reduces the chances of me getting a green colour on my seo.
    Does google itself take these focus keywords we put in yoast or it’s just for us to have an idea of which keyword will perform better in the search results?
    From your expertise, do you think my website is using good focus keywords? Thank you for your help.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 9 months ago

      Thanks for your comment, Komolafe. Finding a focus keyword can be difficult indeed. What I’d advise is to determine your focus keyword before you start writing. It’s something you should think about and research before you jump into the writing process. The advantage will be twofold: It’ll be easier to focus on that particular topic in your copy and, afterwards, it will require less optimization because you’ve written a focused text already! And, Google doesn’t “use” the focus keyword. It’s mainly a tool for yourself to make sure Google will recognize what your text is about. Good luck!

  8. Tyago Rodrigues
    Tyago Rodrigues  • 9 months ago

    Great strategies! I am 4 months working with Yoast SEO on my wordpress blog and I have achieved great results, I will apply these techniques of choosing the best keyword and surely I will have even more success.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 9 months ago

      Thanks, Tyago! Great to hear and good luck with your site!

  9. Katie
    Katie  • 9 months ago

    What else should we do after choosing right focus keyword to get first positions at SERP? Buy links?

  10. Piaff
    Piaff  • 9 months ago

    Thank you very much for this post. It really helps. I have a question about keyword research, please.

    Let’s imagine I have done keyword research and written a post. My post is: How to start blogging. One year later, I decide to update it and realize that it would have been better to use ”How to start a blog”.

    Will I need to do another keyword research to see stats? Another question, please. If I change the title of my post, can it have effects on my rankings for that post?

    Thank you very much for your time!

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 9 months ago

      Hi! The best thing to do would be to first research which of those keyphrases would work best. Does it already rank for one of those search terms? Then I would pick that one! If the title isn’t changed radically, I don’t think it will all of a sudden change your rankings a lot (although it might affect click rate, which might affect your rankings in the end).

  11. weavemaya
    weavemaya  • 9 months ago

    Hi….while we look for a unique key phrase to describe a product on our website, would the SKU# (unique in our case) count as part of a key phrase ?
    Srinath Rao

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 9 months ago

      Hi Srinath, First check if that SKU# is searched for by users! If that’s the case, you could use it in your keyphrase.