Why you should use a focus keyphrase only once

Your focus keyphrase is the keyword(s) you want your post or page to rank for. If you’re particularly eager to rank for a specific keyword, you’ll probably be tempted to optimize many articles on your site for that keyphrase. But, that’s not what a focus keyphrase is for! You should only ever use a focus keyphrase once. But why? And what do you do if you desperately want to rank for that one particular keyphrase? Don’t despair: I’ll tell you all about it in this post.

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Having an orange or red bullet for the previously used keyphrase check in Yoast SEO? Here’s what this check does and how to turn that bullet green.

Don’t compete with your own articles

The main reason why you shouldn’t use your focus keyphrase more than once is that you don’t want to compete with yourself for a position in Google. This phenomenon is called keyword cannibilization. If you optimize two different articles for the same focus keyphrase, you’re telling Google that both are suitable for people searching for that keyword, and you want both of them to appear in the search results. While that’s not necessarily impossible to do, you’ll find it very hard. 

You need to have a site with quite a lot of authority to rank two articles in the top ten search results for the same query. If one of your articles already ranks with that term in the search results, you may have enough authority to try and rank with a second one. If you’re not already ranking for a focus keyword, never use it twice! Update and improve your original article and write another post that covers a slight variation of the keyword.

Ranking for your desired keyphrase

What do you do if you want to rank for that particular keyphrase you’ve set your heart on? Imagine you’re starting an online store for horse feed. You probably want to rank for [horse feed], but as you’re just starting, that’ll be pretty hard. Optimizing all of your posts for [horse feed] is not the right strategy. So what should you do? Your keyword research will give you some ideas about which other terms to target.

Content for your blog

If you have a blog – which we’d advise! – you could write an awesome, long cornerstone article about all different aspects of feeding your horse well and optimize it for the term [feeding your horse] using our Yoast SEO plugin. Then mark this article as cornerstone content in our plugin.

Adding the focus keyphrase and marking as cornerstone content in Yoast SEO
This is where you’ll enter your focus keyphrase and where you can mark an article as cornerstone content in Yoast SEO

You’ll need to write a lot of posts, each covering a different aspect of your ‘head’ term. For instance, you could write articles and optimize them for focus keyphrases like [best type of hay for your horse], [pasture management], [feeding thin horses], [feeding sport horses] and so on. These focus keywords are called long tail keywords. If you link from these long tail articles to your ‘head term’ article, you’ll be telling Google which of your articles is the most important, and that’ll help with the ranking of your most valuable article. At the same time, you’ll also be attracting traffic for those long tail articles.

Content for your store

So, what if you have lots of product pages for a type of horse feed? Let’s say you have a big assortment: feeds for thin horses, feeds for fat horses, feeds for sport horses etc. Should you optimize all your product pages with feeds for thin horses for [feeds for thin horses]? In this case, it makes more sense to optimize your category page for this term instead of all those individual product pages!

Can you use a focus keyphrase more than once?

Ranking for a focus keyphrase is possible if you write an awesome cornerstone article about that particular focus keyphrase. And, don’t forget you’ll need a kickass site structure around it to make sure that the article will start ranking! But, unless you’re a high authority site and already ranking well for a particular keyphrase, you should never use a focus keyphrase more than once.

What does the previously used focus keyphrase check in Yoast SEO do?

One of the assessments of the SEO analysis in the Yoast SEO plugin is the previously used focus keyphrase check. This assessment checks if the words from the keyphrase were previously used in a keyphrase for other posts or pages on your site. If you’ve used it for another post or page you’ll get a red bullet as you should optimize only one page for one keyphrase.

If you want to optimize your posts for synonyms and related keyphrases, use Yoast SEO Premium! You can add multiple keyphrases, so you can optimize your articles for different terms.

What to do if you already used your keyphrase more than once?

If you just found out you’re aiming the same keyword or keyphrase with multiple articles, it might pay off to audit your content to find possible cannibalization issues. Fortunately, Joost has written a step-by-step guide on how to find and fix keyword cannibalism on your website!

Want to learn how to choose your focus keyphrase well?

A solid keyword strategy is indispensable if you’re aiming for your website to rank high. You should investigate which keywords you’d like to rank for, research what the competition is doing and write excellent copy about your focus keywords at the very least. If you want to learn how to thoroughly perform keyword research for your website, read our Ultimate guide to keyword research, or try our Keyword research training that’s one of the many courses that you’ll get access to with Yoast SEO Premium.

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Read more: Why and how to export your focus keyphrases with Yoast SEO Premium »

21 Responses to Why you should use a focus keyphrase only once

  1. Karen
    Karen  • 2 years ago

    This is very timely, as I’m working on a three part series. I’ll need to rework some things to make them focus on different keyphrases, but I think I can do that… make the first work for the main phrase and the next ones for more specific ones. Thanks!!

  2. Shadab khan
    Shadab khan  • 2 years ago

    yoast notification showing “You’re linking to another page with the focus keyword you want this page to rank for. Consider changing that if you truly want this page to rank”
    but in my page, I did not link to other with focus keyword
    But Notification Still Showing same. can you tell me how to solve this

  3. Robert Archibald
    Robert Archibald  • 2 years ago

    What if the keyword/keyphrase is used for posts on two different websites? Although the posts are nearly identical, the websites each have a different focus.

  4. nolyn
    nolyn  • 2 years ago

    I have been using Yoast SEO is basically of my websites, I even had to use it in the most recent one emisprescription.com. This plugin has been very helpful in my work of website building due to the most advanced SEO feature the plugin posses

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 years ago

      Thanks for your nice words, Nolyn!

  5. Allison Klein
    Allison Klein  • 2 years ago

    What if you have written several articles for one key word, I did not know. It’s been a while now. How do I restructure these articles or tell if they are being cannibalized. I rank pretty good in google maps but would like to rank higher organically. Fort Collins Real Estate and variations of this.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 years ago

      Hi Allison, What you can do is this: 1. Make a list of these articles on the same topic. 2) Evaluate the content: is it really very similar or have you written it from a different angle, for instance. 3) If you think they’re very similar, look at how these articles perform in the search engines: you can Google them (incognito) and use GA/GSC data for this. 4) Then decide if you want to keep the articles or if you want to merge some of the content. Here you’ll find detailed instructions for this: https://yoast.com/content-maintenance/

  6. table tennis coach
    table tennis coach  • 2 years ago

    Thank you. I’m a table tennis coach, and I need to rank for several related keywords like: forehand topspin, forehand loop, and forehand techniques, and so on. The problem is: google just try to shows 1 of these posts on the top page. I also used the cornerstone content, but it won’t help. Maybe, I should change the keyword slightly.

  7. Aron
    Aron  • 2 years ago

    If I used the keyword for example Gorilla Trek in one post and Gorilla Trekking in other post.
    will this be a duplication?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 years ago

      Hi Aron, Google recognizes word forms and probably sees this as the same topic. If you’re unsure about it, you can Google both terms and see which results Google returns. If you do this for these two keyphrases, you’ll see more or less the same results, so better use other (more long tail) focus keyphrases.

  8. Hannah
    Hannah  • 2 years ago

    Is this still true for a series on my blog that is the same subject week after week? For example “best sci-fi book recommendations this week” with the keyword sci-fi?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 years ago

      Hi Hannah, you could see these post more as a way to keep, for instance, your newsletter readers or followers informed, not so much to improve your rankings. As the content probably is different each week those posts won’t harm your rankings anyhow. You might want to pick a different – more long tail – focus keyphrase for your content though, as sci-fi is a very competitive term! https://yoast.com/focus-on-long-tail-keywords/

  9. Brett Tudor
    Brett Tudor  • 2 years ago

    Sound advice. Not just for posts but also for pages. One little known problem is when the wrong page ends up ranking for the keyword and it’s the page with less authority. It can result in a fall of several places in the search rankings which can look like a penalty but it’s really just over optimising. This can be quickly resolved by following your steps.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 years ago

      Thanks, Brett!

  10. Anecia Hero
    Anecia Hero  • 2 years ago

    If you’re a food blogger, the post and recipe page often have the same focus keywords… this makes sense, so why penalize in these situations? I’m confused ?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 years ago

      Hi Anecia, In this case the angle probably is different. If you create a recipe for, let’s say, vegetarian lasagne, you could use the focus keyphrase “recipe vegetarian lasagna with eggplant”. You can also optimize you recipe with schema.org data, and Google will surely know it’s a recipe. If you write a blog post about it, you probably have a different angle – less focused on the recipe – and different content therefore, so that won’t confuse Google. Hope this helps!

  11. Aaron Pulley
    Aaron Pulley  • 2 years ago

    I see it is bad to optimize two pages for the same keyphrase hoping they will both rank well. But is it not valid to optimize multiple pages for the same keyphrase hoping just one will rank well?

    This makes me think of the Olympics, where if a country sends 5 good javelin throwers, it is more likely to have one medal than if it only sends 2 good javelin throwers.

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 2 years ago

      Hi Aaron, Thanks for your question. You could try this approach, but as we explained it’s more likely that you’ll confuse Google, because it won’t know which article it should rank. However, what you could do is evaluate which of these articles performs best and then merge the others into the best performing one.

  12. Alan Brain
    Alan Brain  • 2 years ago

    Thank you for a crisp and clear explanation. I can now see why hammering a key phrase with more and more posts with that phrase dilutes rather than adds to the potency of that phrase.

    I expected to read about canonical links and was pleasantly surprised when I found no references . I have to say I’ve still not really understood how to use them even after reading lots of explanations.

    Cheers, Alan

  13. Lee
    Lee  • 2 years ago

    A good post Marieke and I find the Yoast app very useful so keep up the good work and thank you.

    Whilst I agree that for most small business websites on a modest budget, using one (exact) focus keyword is probably best practice, I would add a caveat.

    For businesses that have a little more budget and the right help, getting two or more url’s in top 10 does give the business a better chance of the end user selecting their url (all things being equal), particularly if both urls are in the top 5.