Keyphrase distribution: What it is and how to balance it

Ever heard of keyphrase distribution? The SEO analysis in the Yoast SEO plugins provides feedback on your keyphrase distribution. But what does this entail? Why does it matter? And how can you balance your keyphrase distribution? That’s what you’ll find out in this post!

Having an orange or red traffic light for the keyphrase distribution check in Yoast SEO? Here’s what this check does and how to improve your keyphrase distribution.

What is keyphrase distribution?

You write an article thinking of an idea that you want to put into words. Based on that subject, you decide on the focus keyphrase you want the post to rank for. For Google to understand that, you need to use the keyphrase throughout the text. Keyphrase distribution is about that: have you used your keyphrase (and/or synonyms and related keyphrases) throughout the whole text, in a balanced way?

In Yoast SEO for WordPress and Yoast SEO for Shopify you can enter your focus keyphrase. The plugin will check several aspects related to your focus keyword, including how evenly your keyword or keyphrase is distributed throughout the text. If you’re seeing an orange or red traffic light for this check, you need to work on the use of your keyphrase throughout your text.

Why is keyphrase distribution important?

At Yoast, we believe in holistic SEO. We believe that your website as a whole should be awesome, and optimized for search engines and users. This also goes for keyphrase distribution. Here’s an example of a text that could do with better distribution of the focus keyphrase.

Example of an article with unbalanced keyphrase distribution
The keyphrase distribution of this article is unbalanced

If the focus keyword for this text were “dog”, a few things can be deduced from this overview. Most importantly: the focus keyword is only being mentioned in the first paragraph, and quite often too, and only once in a later paragraph. Using your focus keyphrase enough is definitely important, which is why Yoast SEO also offers a keyphrase density check. But just mentioning it an X amount of times isn’t going to cut it. You need a good balance throughout your text. Why does that matter to search engines and users? We’ll explain.

Keyphrase distribution and search engines

First off: search engines. Why do they mind how you distribute your focus keyword throughout a text? Well, if you want Google to know what you want a page to rank for, you need to make it clear. If your focus keyphrase is well-represented in a part of the page but nearly non-existent in the rest, that confuses Google. If a page is aiming to rank for a specific term, you would expect the term to be mentioned throughout the whole text. The same goes for search engines. If you’re not using your keyphrase throughout the text, they won’t know if the text actually covers the subject. Google wants to serve its users the best possible result or answer. If it’s unclear whether your content lives up to that, it will not rank as high as it would otherwise.

Keyphrase distribution and users

User experience is also an important aspect of SEO. If your users don’t enjoy the look, feel, and content of your website, that’s not good for your ranking. Google takes user signals like bounce rate and click-through rate seriously. Part of a good user experience is offering clear, readable texts to your users. Using your focus keyphrase too many times within a relatively short piece of text makes that text hard to read. It could be repetitive, which can be annoying for your users. It also makes it harder to find your answer to their question. That doesn’t serve you, your user, or Google well.

The keyphrase distribution check in Yoast SEO

If you have Yoast SEO Premium or Yoast SEO for Shopify, the keyphrase distribution check assesses whether you’ve distributed your focus keyphrase evenly over the copy you’ve written. It also takes the synonyms you’ve entered and morphological forms of the words of your keyphrase (only in a limited number of languages for now) into account. The check scans your copy and determines where you’ve used the words from your keyphrase in your text.

If you stay on topic throughout your text and use synonyms now and then, you’ll get a green traffic light. If, for instance, you use the words from your focus keyphrase or its synonyms a lot in the beginning, but you don’t mention them at the end, you’ll get an orange or red traffic light. Clicking on the highlight button will reveal which parts of the text already contain your keyphrase. That way, you’ll see which parts of your text need improvement.

Example of a red bullet for keyphrase distribution in the Yoast SEO plugin
Keyphrase distribution feedback in Yoast SEO

How to improve your keyphrase distribution

If you get an orange or even a red traffic light for keyphrase distribution, you can quite easily fix that. It might sound a bit obvious, but the key is finding a good balance in using your focus keyphrase throughout the page. Don’t use it too often within a shorter piece of text. Keep it easy to read. But also: don’t forget to consistently use the keyphrase throughout the page. By using it in several places in the whole text, you show that you’re still talking about the subject there and that you haven’t strayed from the topic at hand.

Want to know more about SEO copywriting and how to use your keyphrase while writing a text that flows naturally? Then our SEO Copywriting and other SEO courses can help you out with that. You can get access to all of our courses with Yoast SEO Premium, which also gives you extra features in the Yoast SEO plugin.

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Synonyms can help

And here’s a great tip: make use of synonyms. Yoast SEO Premium and Yoast SEO for Shopify let you add synonyms and related keyphrases. It’s probably easier anyway, to write a text without repeating the same term all the time. Also, using different versions of your keyphrase makes your content easier to read for people. You don’t have to worry about Google, as it understands context and synonyms better and better. Let’s go back to the example we just discussed, in which the focus keyword “dog” was used a lot, all in the first paragraph of the text.

Example of improved keyphrase distribution
Example of improved keyphrase distribution

The score for keyphrase distribution is better in this version, worthy of a green traffic light even. The word “dog” has been used less and spread more over the rest of the text. Also, synonyms of the word “dog” have been used to increase readability.

Yoast SEO Premium and synonyms

The keyphrase distribution check can handle synonyms. Enter synonyms for your focus keyphrase and the check will recognize them as such. The previous image shows the keyphrase distribution check highlighting not only the word “dog” but the synonyms we’ve entered. They are “tail-wagger”, “mutt”, “pooch”, “man’s best friend”, and “doggy”. By using synonyms you improve the readability of your text by using different terms while doing the right thing for your SEO! Using this tool in Yoast SEO shows you, at a glance, how well-distributed your keyphrase is. So check the distribution and work on it. Remove some mentions, rewrite some sentences, and make use of synonyms.

Keep reading: SEO copywriting: The ultimate guide

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