It’s easy to get overwhelmed by keywords when optimizing a website, but there’s a simple and highly effective strategy for building SEO content: choose a single focus keyphrase for each web page you build. Also known as a focus keyword, this search term ensures there’s a purpose behind every page you add to a site so that you maximize the potential of each keyword you’re trying to capture.
I’m going to explain how to choose a focus keyphrase to anchor individual web pages and build valuable SEO content throughout your site. I’ll also show you how to leverage SEO tools such as Yoast SEO and Rank Math, which test how effectively the focus keywords are used.
What Is a Focus Keyphrase?
A focus keyword or keyphrase is the primary term you want a page or post to rank for on search engines. In the most simple terms: when someone searches for the phrase you are targeting, people find you. It serves as a focal point for the page’s subject matter so you can develop content that matches search intent — satisfying the needs of search engine crawlers and users.
Each page should strategically target a different focus keyphrase so that keywords aren’t randomly distributed throughout the site. This also avoids duplication, which we all know Google doesn’t take kindly to. When two or more web pages are optimized for the same keyphrase, the pages compete for links, authority, and search engine rankings, diluting their effectiveness. Marketers refer to this competition as keyword cannibalization.
Putting Your Focus Keywords to Work
I’ll use the example of a California business that specializes in outdoor activities to illustrate how an SEO focus keyword can be incorporated into website content.
Think of this hypothetical company’s website as a pyramid. The home page sits at the top of the pyramid, leading to category pages for products and services: hiking, rock climbing, scuba diving, and surfing. These category pages then link to detailed sub-category pages with specific information about rentals, tours, and lessons.
Broad keywords are used for pages at the top of the pyramid. At each step down the pyramid, information gets more precise, as do the keywords. Long-tail keywords become especially relevant as you move deeper into the site.
To find a focus keyword, you’ll need to use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs, SEMrush, or even Google Trends. Once you’ve done your research and identified the focus keyword you want to rank for, you can begin optimizing your pages or creating content.
In this focus keyword example, you can see how each page has a keyphrase designed to reach customers with different search intents.
- Homepage keyphrase: California outdoor pursuits
- Category keyphrases: Hiking in California, rock climbing in California, scuba diving in California, surfing in California
- Sub-category keyphrases: Hiking the Lost Coast Trail, rock climbing tours in Joshua Tree National Park, where can I learn to scuba dive in Monterey Bay, how much are surf rentals in Santa Cruz
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- Local SEO Keyword Research & Engaging Customers in Your Area
- Long-Tail Keywords and Why They Matter
- Meta Keywords SEO: What Is It & Why It Doesn’t Matter
- How to Build Keyword Groups for a More Robust SEO Strategy
How to Use Focus Keyphrase Tools
The keyphrases you use for your web pages should be derived from solid keyword research that considers your company’s goals and what your target customer is searching for. Once you’ve identified primary focus keyphrases that are important to your business, use an SEO tool to select related focus keyword phrases for each page and include them at the correct density. These keyword research tools can also be used to optimize a blog post.
Learn more about keyword density and wdf*idf analysis.
Targeting Related Keyphrases
To elevate your content, each page should have a primary focus keyphrase and secondary related keyphrases. These additional long-tail keywords help to:
- Add variation to your writing. Content that focuses on one keyphrase can be repetitive and unnatural.
- Give you more opportunities to rank. You can target related keywords people are searching for with a single piece of content.
- Demonstrate expertise and trustworthiness. Using related keyphrases opens the opportunity to explore a topic in depth while staying focused on one subject. Related keyphrases can also improve the quality of your content, making it much easier for Google to understand.
In the next section, I’ll show you how to use the Yoast and Rank Math, which are WordPress SEO plugins, to find and incorporate primary and secondary focus keyphrases into your content.
Yoast SEO Plugin
The Yoast SEO plugin evaluates how well your chosen keyphrases are used in web copy, SEO titles, metadata, alt tags, and other page elements. It also includes a SEMrush integration that generates related keyphrases.
The Best Way to Choose a Yoast SEO Focus Keyphrase
After installing the plugin, click on the Yoast icon at the top right of your WordPress editor for the page you’re working on. The Yoast interface appears as a sidebar. Alternatively, you scroll down to the bottom of the page.
1. Set Your Focus Keyword in Yoast SEO
In the tool, enter the search term you’re optimizing for in the field labeled “focus keyphrase.” Your page is now ready to be optimized for this focus keyword.
2. Generated Related Keywords
If you have a SEMrush account, you can integrate it with Yoast to find additional terms to target. To do this, click “Get related keyphrase,” then log in to see similar phrases people search for on Google.
3. Review Keywords
Review the related Yoast keywords in WordPress and pick the ones relevant to your page or blog post.
The list of Yoast SEO focus keywords are ordered by search volume and trend. You can see how much traffic the keywords are generating and whether they’re trending upward or downward. Use this information to compare and prioritize the keywords and to help decide if they’re worth targeting in your post.
4. Review Competing Pages
Next, evaluate the type of content that’s rising to the top of SERP for the Yoast SEO focus keyphrases. Simply run a Google search query and examine the pages that already rank well.
- Search intent. What do people who are searching for these words and phrases want to know? Would your page fit within this set of results?
- Content quality. Decide if you can create an outstanding piece of content that can beat the other results based on Google’s E-A-T principles. Make sure your content is unique and demonstrates your expertise.
If you decide to compete for the SEO keyword, look for content angles other pages have missed or opportunities to share a comprehensive treatment of the topic.
5. Set Related Keyphrases
Yoast Premium allows you to select multiple focus keywords. Simply click “Add as related keyphrase” to optimize for any additional terms you’ve chosen. Yoast will now evaluate the primary and related keyphrases you’ve set to ensure optimal SERP impact. Return to the WordPress post editor to begin optimizing.
6. Optimize Yoast SEO Focus Keywords
Once you set a focus keyword in Yoast SEO, Yoast analyzes page content and provides bullet-by-bullet feedback. This includes:
- How often keyphrases are used
- Where they’re used (for example, in subheadings, alt text, and in the meta description)
- Readability and understanding
The premium version also recognizes synonyms and related word forms so you can write more naturally. For example, you can alternate between “surf lessons” and “surfing class” to avoid repetitive writing.
Yoast uses red, orange, and green bullets to signal how well-optimized the content is. Work your way through the feedback list and resolve as many items as possible, aiming for all green bullets.
Similar to Yoast, the Rank Math interface appears as a sidebar on each WordPress page once it’s installed. The tool provides search engine optimization analysis of focus keywords and other features such as backlink analytics. You can also view Google Search Console and Google Analytics information in your WordPress dashboard and more in-depth analytics with a Pro account.
The Best Way to Choose a Focus Keyword in Rank Math
Once you’ve performed keyword research and chosen the search terms you want to target that are important to your business , use Rank Math to optimize content for primary and secondary keywords.
1. Enter a Focus Keyword
To set a focus keyword for a page when creating or editing a post, click on the “General” tab of the Rank Math tool. Enter your chosen keyword into the focus keyword field. Rank Math allows you to target multiple keywords. You can use five keywords in the free version of Rank Math and unlimited keywords in Rank Math Pro.
2. Discover Additional Keywords
As you begin typing a keyword, the field starts to autocomplete. While Rank Math isn’t dedicated to keyword research, you can look at some of the automatic keyword suggestions from Google and pick relevant ones to include as additional keyphrases for the page. Click on any of the autosuggest keywords to add them to the list of keywords you want to rank for.
(For more sophisticated suggestions of related keywords, activate Content AI in the Rank Math tool. I’ll touch on this a little further down.)
3. Compare Focus Keywords in Google Trends
Rank Math PRO is integrated with Google Trends. To use, just click on the Google Trends icon above the focus keyword box. You can now see a graph comparing search interest in the keywords. The most popular search term is indexed to 100 and the others are shown relative to this one. Filter results for a specific geographic region or time frame if needed.
While you should consider other factors such as keyword difficulty when picking your focus keywords, Google Trends can serve as an initial guide. Remove any keywords you decide not to target.
4. Prioritize Focus Keywords
Rank Math uses the first search term in the list of focus keywords as the primary keyphrase for optimization, meaning it looks more thoroughly at this keyword for on-page SEO. Order your keywords according to importance.
You can rearrange the keywords by dragging them if you have Rank Math PRO, but those using the free version will need to remove keywords and add them again in order of importance.
5. Optimize Content With Rank Math
Rank Math runs a series of tests for SEO and readability, using basic color codes (red, yellow, and green) to indicate which tests the content has passed and which ones need work. For example, it looks at how many focus keywords you’ve used compared to content length and whether the focus keyphrase is used in important places such as the SEO title, meta description, URL, headings, and internal and external links.
It also checks the rest of your site to see if you’ve used the focus keyword before so you can avoid keyword cannibalization.
6. Enable Content AI
Rank Math has a new feature, Content AI, that compares how you’re using the focus keyword versus how those words are integrated into top search results. Based on an analysis of other ranking pages using AI technology, Content AI gives suggestions to help you better compete for the focus keyword. This includes feedback about:
- Word count, links, headings, and media such as images and video
- Where specific keywords should be placed for best results (body content, headings, SEO title, etc.)
- Related questions asked by users that you can answer with dedicated headings or as part of an FAQ section
You must enable Content AI from the WordPress admin area to access its features.
From Rank Math, choose “Dashboard” and then “Modules”. Find the Content AI module and click the toggle to activate it.
Now when you edit a page, you’ll see the Content AI icon in the Rank Math interface, above the field where you enter the focus keywords. It costs one credit each time you research a keyword. The number of credits you have depends on your Rank Math membership, but you can still try it even with the free version.
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