Stop words (a, the, of, for) are usually filtered out by Google in a search query. The Yoast SEO plugin would advise you to filter the stop words from your focus keyword as well (and optimize your post or page with a focus keyword without stop words). Since the release of Yoast SEO 3.1, stop words in your focus keyword no longer result in an orange bullet. In this post, we’ll explain why we came to this change.
For a full list of words which Yoast SEO considers to be stop words, check this article.
As Google has become much more apt in dealing with stop words in the last few years, it simply doesn’t matter that much whether or not there are stop words between the words you want to be found for. Google is very capable of handling longer search phrases, in fact, Hummingbird was aimed specifically at that. And a keyphrase (including stop words) is usually much easier to optimize your text for. Often it’s more like a short sentence and it will make the text much more readable than an optimized text for a keyword without stop words. From a readability point-of-view, you’d definitely want to optimize texts with focus keywords containing stop words.
Although Google is more capable of handling stop words in queries, you should really take some time to think about your focus keyword or focus keyphrase. Our keyword research training helps in this, but we’re aware that we’re not making things easier by allowing stop words. We’re so sorry!
Take the following two steps before deciding on the exact formulation of your focus keyword or keyphrase:
Step 1: Google your focus keyword
The first step in deciding the exact formulation of your focus keyphrase is to Google the two (or three) options you’re considering. Are the results similar? Then it won’t matter much which keyphrase you choose. In some cases, results will really differ. For instance: searching for [notebook], will get you results containing all kinds of portable computers. Searching for [the notebook], however, will get you… Ryan Gosling.
Step 2: decide upon your focus keyword using Google Trends
The second step in deciding whether or not to put a stop word in the focus keyword you’re optimizing for, should be to look at search volume in Google Trends. Check the two (or three) formulations you’re considering and see which one receives the most traffic. For instance, if you’re choosing between [shoes for kids] or [shoes kids], you’ll instantly see that the search volume of [shoes kids] is much higher. That would be the focus keyword to optimize for. Or… you could optimize for both! That is… if you have Yoast SEO Premium.
Keyphrases versus keywords
Shorter search queries are often the more popular ones, but your competition knows that too! Search volume for keywords without stop words seems higher than the search volume for keywords containing stop words. So, in many cases, it could pay off to optimize your text in the way you have always done it (without stop words). But, search volume for the keyphrases with stop words seems to be growing. It could therefore really pay off to optimize for both keywords!
In our research on how Google handles stop words, we found that a search term like [shoes kids] is handled in exactly the same manner as [kids shoes]. The order of the words is irrelevant to Google. However, for [shoes for kids], Google tries to find the exact match (and the order of the word is important). So, search queries with stop words are handled a bit different by Google. This is also true for how Google shows traffic in Google Trends: [shoes kids] and [kids shoes] have exactly the same volume because Google treats them as the same thing there. You shouldn’t add them up when comparing to your keyphrase with a stop word. Be aware of that!
You should really look into the differences in result pages and in search volume and then make up your mind on how to optimize your post. Doing at least a basic bit of keyword research is really important. And, if you cannot decide which focus keyword to choose, just optimize for both keywords using Yoast SEO Premium!