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Why keyphrase length matters for SEO

Optimizing your posts and pages with a keyphrase makes it easier for people to find your content. Here, we’ll dive into a particular aspect of the keyphrase – its length. We’ll tell you how the length of your keyphrases relates to SEO. And, you’ll get a few essential tips on when to use short or long keyphrases.

Table of contents

Did you get a red or orange bullet for the keyphrase length in Yoast SEO? Jump straight to reading what the keyphrase length assessment in Yoast SEO does. Or read about what you need to do to stop seeing the orange or red bullets for your keyphrase length.

What is a focus keyphrase?

The focus keyphrase is the phrase that you want your post or page to be found for in search engines. Sometimes, it is a single word, but it usually consists of a few words. That’s why we call it a keyphrase. For example, if you want your blog post to rank for ‘healthy snacks’, then optimize your post for that term. Your focus keyphrase can also be longer. For instance, you could write an article about healthy snacks specifically made for kids and optimize for ‘healthy snacks for kids’. Or a post about healthy snacks to eat after a workout, and optimize for ‘healthy snacks after workout’. 

Why is the keyphrase length important for SEO?

There are different approaches to choosing a keyphrase for your posts or pages. You can choose to optimize your article for a short, generic keyword. These are the more common keywords that get a lot of search traffic. But, they also have a great deal of competition. Like, ‘snacks’, for example. A lot of people will search for this term. However, there will be many companies optimizing for it. In the image below, the body of the mouse represents these less specific keyphrases.

Long tail graphic

You can also choose to optimize for a longer, more specific keyphrase, represented by the tail in the image above. These longer keyphrases are also called long-tail keyphrases. They get less search traffic, but they usually have a higher conversion value. That is because they focus more on a specific product or topic. For example, a lot of people would probably search for the generic term ‘snacks’. And, fewer people would search for the long tail keyphrase – ‘healthy snacks for children’. Still, there’s a higher chance that the people who use the long tail keyphrase will find what they are looking for because they used a more specific term. 

Longer keyphrases make it harder to optimize your post. Since you’ll need to repeatedly use a large number of words close to each other, it will be hard to keep your copy readable. Of course, Yoast SEO Premium can help you solve that puzzle. It recognizes word forms and lets you optimize for synonyms and related keyphrases as well. It’s also the other way around: using a single focus keyword might make it easier to optimize the post. But it will be harder for that post to rank. The competition will be fiercer.

What does the keyphrase length assessment in Yoast SEO do?

The keyphrase length assessment checks whether the focus keyphrase is present and whether it is not too long. You can try to target a rather short keyphrase in a cornerstone article, like “mountain biking”. Or, you can target a rather long one like – “mountain biking in South France”. For languages with function word support, the optimum length for a keyphrase is up to 4 content words. If your language doesn’t have function word support, the plugin allows up to 6 words for your keyphrase.

How to improve your focus keyphrase

The Yoast SEO plugin provides you with feedback on the length of your focus keyphrase. If you get an orange or red bullet for the length of your focus keyphrase, it might be too long. It might even be missing. We’ll give you a few basic tips on how to improve your focus keyphrase.

  1. Don’t forget to set a focus keyphrase
    If you don’t set a focus keyphrase, Yoast SEO can’t calculate the SEO score of your page or post. So, if you want to know if your post or page is well-optimized for the keyphrase you want to rank for, you should make sure to add it in the Yoast SEO meta box.
  2. Decide what you want to rank for
    Choosing what you want to rank for is hard. That’s where keyword research comes in. It will help you find out what words people use to describe the product or service you’re offering. Then, you will need to decide if you want your page to rank for a short, generic keyword or a longer, more specific keyphrase. If you want to learn more about choosing the right keywords, our Keyword research training might be of help!
  3. Make sure it’s not too long
    Last but not least, it’s perfectly fine if you decide to go for a longer tail keyphrase. However, make sure it’s not too long. We recommend a maximum of four content words for your focus keyphrase. If your keyphrase is longer, it’s harder to optimize your post or page.


Keywords or keyphrases help you rank. So, you need to use them wisely. After you’ve done your research and you’ve decided on the keyphrase you want to use, Yoast SEO will help you. One of the things it does is check the length of your keyphrases. It warns you when your keyphrase is missing, or when it is too long. And, it gives you a green bullet if you get it right. So use it, optimize your posts and pages, and make it easier for people to find you!

Read more: Keyword research for SEO: the ultimate guide »

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