Focus keyphrases, exact matches, synonyms, words forms and related keywords… In the Yoast SEO assessments, especially since the 9.0 update, you’ll find quite some terms that require a bit of explanation. In this glossary of terms, you’ll find the clarification of our terminology. We’ll explain what we mean by each term and we’ll provide some examples to illustrate the meaning too.

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If you want to know what exactly changed in 9.0 for you as a free or Premium user, please check the release post.

Focus keyphrase

In Yoast SEO you can set a focus keyphrase. This is the phrase you’d like your post to rank for. In the past, we used to call it the focus keyword. But, since the internet grew bigger, and more and more content is out there, it’s getting harder to rank on just one word. You should aim to rank for the long tail, meaning you should try to rank for a keyphrase consisting of multiple words. Especially when you’re just starting out with your website.

Example of a focus keyphrase

Imagine you have a dog training school in Bakersfield, California. Perhaps you think: I’d like to rank for the focus keyword [dogs]. But ranking for this focus keyword will be very hard, or even impossible, as it is a highly competitive term. In this case, you could try to rank for, for instance, [dog-friendly puppy training in Bakersfield]. As you can see, this is a focus keyphrase, consisting of multiple words. It will give you a much higher chance of ranking. Also, people searching for this phrase, are more likely to be searching for your service.

Want to learn how to pick the right focus keyphrase for your business or organization?  Read “How to choose the best focus keyword” by Joost.

Exact match

Exact match means that the plugin recognizes the keyphrase, occurring in the exact same order you’ve entered it in the focus keyphrase field. In case of the example above that means Yoast SEO would be looking for the exact phrase [dog-friendly puppy training in Bakersfield] in your content.

In most cases though, the exact match keyphrase isn’t that important. What is important, is that the most meaningful words, so called content words, like dog, training or puppy, of your keyphrase appear enough times in your copy. Word order and words that don’t carry any instrinsic meaning, aka function words, like have, your or in often don’t matter that much.

Content words

Content words are words that carry an intrinsic meaning, like dog, training, puppy and Bakersfield. These words are essential for Google and users to understand what your content is about. If you just look at the content words in a sentence you should still be able to know what the topic of an article is. You might not understand the exact relationship of the words though, that’s what function words are for.

Function words

Function words are words that express the grammatical relationship between words. They don’t carry intrinsic meaning, but help you build a sentence or express a feeling. Functions words are, for instance, prepositions (in, at, for), auxilary verbs (can, do, have, may), possessive pronouns (your, his, our) or some nouns and verbs with little meaning (thing, regular, become, appear). In most cases, they don’t carry any intrinsic meaning and therefore they won’t help Google or users understand what your article is about. Therefore, in these languages, Yoast SEO strips these words from your keyphrase, and just looks at the occurrence of content words.

Exact match doesn’t matter: example

Let’s look at the above example [dog-friendly dog training in Bakersfield] again. It would be hard to use that exact phrase multiple times in one article. And if you’d use it more often, it would probably even look spammy. If you’d use it in a natural way in a sentence, you could get, for instance: If you’re interested in training your puppy in a dog-friendly way, come visit us in Bakersfield. All words appear in the sentence, but the word order differs and other words are in between. Nevertheless Yoast SEO will recognize this sentence as on-topic, because Google will understand you’re writing about dog-friendly puppy training in Bakersfield too.

Exact match matters: examples

In some cases an exact match does matter. For instance, in case the meaning of a phrase changes, if you change the order of the words. E.g. [dog house] carries a different meaning than [house dog]. Google shows different results for these queries as well. If you want to optimize for [house dog]  you can place your keyphrase between quotation marks: [“house dog”]. Yoast SEO will only count the exact matches for house dog in that case.

In addition to this, sometimes function words do make a difference. Let’s say you want to write two articles: one about the definition of dog-friendly puppy training and a complete guide on dog-friendly puppy training. You want the first to rank for [what is dog-friendly puppy training] and the latter for [dog-friendly puppy training]. If Yoast SEO strips the function words in these cases, it would strip [what is ..]  from your first focus keyphrase. As a result your focus keyword is the same for both articles and this would mean you’re optimizing both for the same keyphrase. So, in that case, you could decide to put quotation marks around the keyphrase [“What is dog-friendly puppy training”]. Yoast SEO will then search for exact matches of your keyphrase in your text, your headings, your image alt text, meta description etc. Because if you use exactly this phrase more often your chance of ranking for the exact query “What is dog-friendly puppy training” will rise.

In some exceptional case, it could even happen that you’re not using any content words in your keyphrase. For instance, if you’d like to rank for [Who is the Who]. In this particular case, Yoast SEO will strip all function words and, as a result, no words are left in your focus keyphrase. Luckily, Yoast SEO will notice this and will advise you to place quotation marks around your focus keyphrase, so it also will treat the function words as normal content words in this case


Synonyms of a word are words or phrases that have the same meaning. A synonym for dog, for instance, is hound, or canine. Using synonyms in your copy can help people understand it better, especially if you’re discussing difficult topics. The synonym of a word might be easier to comprehend than a more technical term. Using synonyms improves the readability of a text as well; if you repeat the same word very often in your copy it looks like you’ve written it for search engines, not humans. This still happens, even though Google has been able to recognize synonyms in a lot of languages for quite a while now.

In Yoast SEO Premium you can indicate which synonyms there are for your keyphrase. You can enter synonyms in the field next to your focus keyphrase and, if you have multiple, separate them by commas.

It will take these synonyms into account in certain checks. For instance, assessments that check if you use your keyphrase in your meta description, a subheading or the introduction will recognize the synonym and turn green for the keyphrase as well as the synonym.  Also the keyphrase distribution assessment recognizes synonyms in your copy. This assessment checks whether you’ve spread your focus keyphrase evenly across your content, to see if you stay on topic throughout your article. Apart from the keyphrase, it will recognize the synonyms and will even reward you for using them instead of your focus keyphrase regularly.

keyword distribution
Using synonyms throughout your text. Example text taken from

Example of using synonyms in Yoast SEO

A synonym that you’d like to use on a page about [puppy training] could be [obedience classes for puppies]. It carries the same meaning, and if you use obedience classes for puppies in one of your subheadings or your meta description Google will recognize this and know you’re talking about puppy training. On top of that, it does make your article a nicer read and, therefore, our keyphrase distribution check will give you bonus points for alternately using your keyphrase and its synonyms.

Related keyphrases are words and phrases that are connected to your focus keyphrase. Google uses these related words to better understand what your text is about and to connect it to your other content on your site. If you have a strong coherence between all the content on your site, it’s more likely you’re a source of high-quality information for people and therefore a good search result.

In Yoast SEO Premium you can set related keyphrases for your post or page, apart from your focus keyphrase. Your focus keyphrase is the most important, of course. That’s why we’re less strict in our analysis of your related keyphrases. You don’t have to use them everywhere, for instance you can leave them out of your subheadings or slug, to get a green bullet!

Related keyphrases on a page about [puppy training] could be [commands], [rewards], [behavior]. Those words don’t carry the same meaning, but it’s very likely you’ll discuss these points in your text. If you’re a good writer, you probably will, even without Yoast SEO! But if you want to make sure you mention these terms often enough, use Yoast SEO Premium. Decide which phrases are also important to bring across your message and for which keyphrases, other than your focus keyphrase, you’d like your post to rank.

related keyphrases yoast seo premium 2

Word form – morphology – recognition

Word forms are the different forms you can create of a word. This means the singular and plural form of a word: dog and dogs. But also, different grammatical tenses, voices, or numbers, for instance; train, trains, was trained or training. If you’ve been writing naturally about your focus keyphrases you’ve probably used these different word forms in your copy already.

Yoast SEO Premium also recognizes these different word forms in English and will take these into account in the SEO analysis. It will recognize different word forms of the words in your keyphrase in:

  • the introduction of your copy,
  • the SEO title,
  • the meta description,
  • the alt text of images,
  • the slug,
  • the subheadings.

Moreover, the keyword density and keyword distribution check will notice these words and recognize them as part of the keyphrase. In the calculation of these two metrics, Yoast SEO Premium will take these occurrences into account.

Example of word form recognition in Yoast SEO Premium

Let’s get back to the post on [puppy training]. You might have written a sentence like: “You’ll learn how to train your puppy in a dog-friendly way.” Yoast SEO Premium will now recognize train as another word form of training. Or, you might have written: “In our training classes, many puppies learn their first commands.” Yoast SEO Premium will also recognize puppies as the plural of puppy. As mentioned above, word order doesn’t influence keyphrase recognition anymore. So in both sentences the Yoast SEO Premium analysis will find the keyphrase you’re optimizing your post for. This will enable you to write in a more natural and free way and still get green bullets from Yoast.

Word form recognition in Yoast SEO Premium. Example text taken from

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