If you’ve been around SEO and especially SEO content for any length of time, you’ve probably come across the phrase “focus keyword.”
On its face, it sounds pretty self-explanatory, and for the most part, it is.
A focus keyword in SEO refers to the primary keyword for which you want a piece of content to rank.
Anyone who uses the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress is likely familiar with its ability to take in your focus keyphrase and make recommendations on your content based on that.
Here’s a quick example of using a focus keyword: you run a tech-review blog, and you want to write a post called “What’s Behind the Ongoing PS5 Shortage?”
If you performed keyword research and determined that “PS5 shortage” was a term with good search volume, low-enough difficulty, and the right intent (more on all that later), then that’s your focus keyword for the post. That’s how you intend to get your post found when people search that term on Google.
However (and it’s a big “however”), like many things in SEO, there’s a right and a wrong way to choose and implement focus keywords in your content. If you ignore the best practices of SEO, your efforts may fall apart.
So, here is how we think about focus keywords when our experts produce content here at LSEO.
What Is a Focus Keyword?
Put another way, a focus keyword is the target keyword of a piece of content. It’s what you want a page to rank for.
So, you might say to yourself when performing topic research, “I want my home-decor website to rank for ‘best storage ottomans,’ and I’ve researched the keyword, so now I’m going to create a blog post that has a focus keyword of ‘best storage ottomans.’ That post will drive my website to get found for that term.”
The focus keyword of any piece of content is the one that the writer will use most often within the post. It will appear in the H1 heading, a few of the H2s, and the body text.
You can read all about the content-writing process in our Guide to Writing Website Content.
The goal for any SEO-optimized page or post is to get found organically on Google when people search that focus keyword.
Those are the basics on what a focus keyword is, but there’s a lot of work to do before you can start ranking for what you want. Even deciding on the keyword that would make a good focus keyword in SEO takes a lot of research.
Selecting and Using Your Focus Keywords
To the uninitiated, it might seem pretty easy to choose a focus keyword for a post. You just go for the main phrase of your topic and use it everywhere, right?
Not exactly. There’s a strategy to everything in SEO, and content optimization is no exception. Finding your focus keyword involves performing keyword research, doing a SERP analysis to find that keyword’s search intent, and incorporating that keyword naturally throughout your content.
That’s what’s involved with finding and utilizing focus keywords for your content. Now, let’s get into detail on each section.
1.) Performing Keyword Research
Wanting to rank for something is quite different from actually ranking for it. However, the only thing separating those two ideas is the work involved, so let’s get right into keyword research.
There are many ways to do keyword research to determine what would make a good focus keyword and, therefore, a good post for your website.
Note that you’re most likely going to need some SEO tools for this, as you’ll have to look up certain keyword metrics as you go.
Go into Ahrefs or Semrush and just start searching for keywords you’d ideally like to rank for.
Let’s stick with the “PS5 shortage” example from above. Here’s what I see in the Keyword Explorer in Ahrefs:
And this is what I see in Semrush’s Keyword Magic tool:
Now, Semrush and Ahrefs aggregate their data in different ways, so we can disregard the differences in metrics for some of the same keywords.
But the point applies no matter what tool you’re using: finding a strong focus keyword involves looking at the most important metrics for your keyword candidates.
In this case, you’ll want to study the search volumes and keyword difficulties more than anything.
Here are some points on search volume:
- Search volume is fairly easy to interpret. It’s the tools’ estimation of how many people search for that term per month. Everyone wants to rank for keywords with high search volumes, and that’s the problem in itself: everyone wants to rank for those.
- Usually, high search volumes correlate to what are called seed terms, short keyword queries without many descriptors. Think of keywords such as “shoes,” “bulk candy,” or “laptops.”
- It’s incredibly hard to rank for keywords like that. You’d need a ton of good content around those terms, as well as high domain authority built through sustained link building campaigns over a period of years.
- Most websites don’t have that kind of ammo in their arsenal, so they have to stick to lower-volume, longer-tail keywords.
Here’s what you need to know about keyword difficulty:
- High and low search volumes often go hand in hand with keyword difficulty. The higher the volume, the higher the difficulty (definitely not all the time, though).
- Both Ahrefs and Semrush use a 100-point system to determine keyword difficulty. The higher a keyword’s difficulty, the harder it will be to rank for that term.
- The tools determine a keyword’s difficulty primarily by the quality and number of backlinks pointing to the top 10 Google results for the keyword.
Let’s say Nike.com ranks for the seed term “shoes.” Well, Nike is a giant in the athlete-clothing market, and I can see from Semrush it has literally hundreds of millions of backlinks.
You ain’t ranking for “shoes.”
That’s why a keyword like “shoes” wouldn’t make a good focus keyword. I hope you can also see by now how search volume and keyword difficulty play into choosing an SEO focus keyword for your content. To start out, you need a sweet spot between decent volume and low-to-middling keyword difficulty.
From the PS5 example above, I can see in the two tools that the term “PS5 shortage” has a volume between 6,600 and 7,600 per month, with a difficulty between 36 and 50.
Those figures aren’t too bad, actually. The search volumes are great, and the difficulties are decent. The tools tell me I’ll need optimized and structured content, as well as numerous high-quality backlinks, to rank for “PS5 shortage.”
That sounds doable if I work at it! I might not come up for that term tomorrow, but maybe I will in three to six months, if my efforts are good enough.
The other way to do keyword research is to perform a keyword gap analysis using the SEO tools I mentioned. Those analyses simply tell you how your keyword profile stacks up against those of your search competitors.
Here’s what one looks like in Semrush:
The colored circles show the amount of keywords that each domain ranks for. Then, you can see the keyword profiles broken down by the terms themselves:
I’ll respect the privacy of those websites by not sharing their keyword details, but Semrush also breaks down the strong and weak points of these domains’ keyword profiles. You can see where your domain is lacking to identify some potential target keywords, and then check to see their search volumes and difficulties, as well.
But your work to select a good focus keyword is still not done! I still can’t be 100% positive that “PS5 shortage” should be my focus keyword because I haven’t completed all my research steps yet.
Let’s move on.
2.) Doing a SERP Analysis to Find Search Intent
Once you’ve identified a shortlist of keywords you’d like some new post to rank for, you have to understand the search intent of each.
A keyword isn’t immediately suitable as a focus keyphrase just because it has a good search volume and low difficulty. Search intent is what matters here.
Just drill that into your head: intent, intent, intent.
We wrote a post on search intent and SEO awhile back, and that resource has everything you need to know about what search intent is and why it matters for SEO content creation.
While we won’t cover the same amount of information here, you do have to understand search intent to choose a focus keyword for your content.
Search intent refers to what users mean when they search for a keyword phrase on Google. No one searches for something online without knowing what they want to get out of it.
It isn’t always to buy something from a website. It could be to learn something or to go to a certain site.
The four types of search intent are:
|Informational||I want to learn something||“What is social media?”|
|Commercial||I want to investigate product or service options||“Best social media management tools”|
|Transactional||I want to convert in some way, such as by buying something||“Cheap social media management”|
You might have noticed in the screenshot of my keyword research in Semrush that the tool gives you search intent when you look up a keyword. That’s helpful, but it only points you in the right direction; it doesn’t tell you the whole truth.
To see what Google has determined a keyword’s intent to be, you have to go right to Google. You do that by performing a SERP analysis.
That’s when you search your intended keyword on Google to study what comes up. That’s a vital part of doing topic research, because the content you write has to be in the same vein as what Google is already showing.
Does it mean you’re supposed to copy what’s in the SERPs or stick to your competitors’ formulas?
A SERP analysis is meant to determine what Google thinks users want to see when they search for that keyword. All that matters is what Google deems appropriate to show in the top 10.
Pore through those 10 results to see what the content is like.
Is it mostly long-form informational posts?
Is it roundup posts that rank and review products or services?
What about ecommerce pages encouraging users to buy products?
You have to check these things out to see what people are finding useful. If you then create content that’s way out in left field, Google isn’t going to find it relevant, and it won’t show it to people.
To bring things back to focus keywords: the intent of your focus keyword has to match the intent of your content, or it won’t work for you.
3.) Using Your Focus Keyword
After you’ve done your keyword research and determined the intent of your focus keyword, it’s time to incorporate it into your content marketing.
That’s really the easy part. Since your term now matches the intent of your post, you shouldn’t have any trouble using it naturally in your content to send all the right signals to Google when it’s published.
As I mentioned above, the best practices of SEO include using your focus keyword in the title of your content, the H1, some of the H2s, the content body, and your title tag.
You can also research secondary keywords to use alongside and support your focus keyword. You’d perform the same kind of keyword research and SERP analysis for the secondary keywords, but these will tend to be not as “mainstream” as your focus keyword.
Secondary keywords have the same intent as your primary keyword, but often, their search volumes are lower, as well as their difficulties. Including these keywords makes your content richer in SEO value and ideally shows Google that it’s more relevant for its topic.
You will ideally want to do all of this same research for each piece of content in the topic clusters on your website. That’s how you’ll slowly build an organized web of high-quality content that Google can crawl, understand, and rank.
Using the Focus Keyphrase in Yoast SEO Premium
One quick note about Yoast SEO Premium. This is the go-to SEO plugin for WordPress, and it’s where a lot of people know the term “focus keyphrase” or “focus keyword” from.
It’s incredibly easy to enter a focus term into the plugin in your WordPress and get recommendations back from it.
Once you enter it, the plugin will suggest things such as including your focus keyphrase in your content’s intro, using your keyphrase throughout the piece, and using your keyphrase in your meta description.
Basically, if your content isn’t optimized for the focus keyword that you have chosen, Yoast will let you know that and allow you to correct it before publishing.
Let LSEO Help You with Your Focus Keywords
If you’ve been struggling to understand the idea of focus keywords in SEO, LSEO’s digital marketing experts have decades of combined experience creating optimized SEO content that ranks.
Sure, we use tools like a good digital marketing agency should, but getting content right is about so much more than looking in a tool. It’s about understanding the ways humans search and how they like to consume content. That’s what sets us apart.
Get in touch with us today for help with any part of your SEO journey!