Yoast

How to choose the perfect focus keyword

Regularly adding quality content to your website in a blog is a very good SEO strategy. Google sees that your website is active because new information is added and you increase the volume of your content. If you have crafted your keyword strategy properly and your content is nicely optimized for the right keywords, adding content will increase your findability. But how do you choose the perfect focus keyword? Especially when you’re blogging and focusing on long tail keywords, it can be difficult 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) blog post.

What is the focus keyword?

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

Choose a focus keyword that is used to search

Your keyword strategy should have given you some idea what you want to write about. Please read our ultimate guide to keyword research if you need help find your perfect keywords. For blog posts, you will usually aim for a long tail keyword (containing multiple words) as explained in this guide on content SEO.

Our Yoast SEO plugin helps you to optimize your post for your chosen keyword. 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’ll 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 before. When we searched for the term “focus keyword” sometime last year, this was the suggest output:

Right now, the output shows this:

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.

Research the search volume for your keyword

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).

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 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 (which you can view the statistics for) with the focus keyword you have in mind for your new post, could give you some idea about the potential traffic this new focus keyword 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 focus keywords as well.

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

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 want to use will give you some insights about the prospects for your focus keyword.

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

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. The best way to find out whether or not your content meets their needs is to Google your proposed (sets of) keywords yourself.

Take the time to look at the first two result pages. Are the articles in the Google results similar in character to your article? Could your article fit between 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.

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

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.

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 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 come up with content that will make the audience click and share!

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 one that will suit your audience.

Want to find out more?

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. If you want a specific post, your best choice is Marieke’s post:

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