Adding quality content to your website on a regular basis is a very good SEO tactic. Google sees that your website is active because new pieces of information are added. On top of that, you increase the volume of your content. If your keyword strategy has been crafted properly and your content is nicely optimized for the right keywords, adding content will increase your findability. But how to choose the perfect focus keyword? Especially when you’re blogging and focussing on long tail keywords, it can be quite hard to decide which keywords to optimize for. In our view, there are at least three things you should do before writing an amazing (high quality) text.

New Yoast SEO

What is the focus keyword?

The focus keyword is the keyword that you want your page to rank for. When people search for that keyword, you want them to find you. You set it in the focus keyword input field. Once you’ve done that, the plugin evaluates the page’s content and provides feedback on how to improve the page for that keyword.

a focus keyword shown in its input field

Choose a focus keyword that is used to search

Your keyword strategy should have given you some idea what you want to write about. For blog posts, you will usually aim for a long tail keyword (containing multiple words). In our Yoast SEO plugin you will find a drop down menu which supplements your entry with suggestions. These suggestions are actually based on Google Suggest. This is exactly the same as what you’d see when you type the search term into a Google search box.

Update August 2015: unfortunately we had to drop the suggestion drop down of our Yoast plugin, since Google shut down the autocomplete API that was needed for this feature.

The terms you will find in the suggest drop down menu are thus terms and combinations of words that are logical and used by actual people to search on the web. This tool can be very helpful in giving you some first ideas about the search behavior of people in the area you want to write about. Our Yoast Suggest tool uses the same data to find the first 10 keywords and then expands on that. Also, Marieke has recently written about more keyword research tools.

When we searched for the term “focus keyword” in February of last year, this was the suggest output:

The suggest results for Focus keyword in Google Suggest

Right now, the output shows this:

focus keyword search november 2014

Suggest changes based on the problems people have, so monitoring it for important keywords makes sense. This particular new result gave us some extra input for this post.

Discover some information about search volume

Once you have found a long tail search term you would like to start ranking for, you should put some effort into discovering whether or not the search volume of your chosen focus keyword is high. We will be the first to admit, Google has made this really hard. The only way to know ‘for sure’ how often a search term is used, is by having an active and alive AdWords account and by bidding on the search term of your choice. We understand this is a bit too difficult and expensive for most of you (we honestly hardly ever do this).

Not to worry, using Google Trends should give at least some idea, in a creative way, about search volume. Google Trends allows you to compare the search volume between two search terms over time. This will give some insights in the volume of the search terms people use (always relative to another term).

If you already have some (blog)posts that rank well for good terms, you will know how many visitors these posts attract. Using Google Trends to compare the focus keywords of older posts (of which at least the number of visitors to your website is known) with the focus keyword you have in mind for your new post, could give you some idea about the potential of traffic this new focus keyword could have. Make sure to choose older posts that are most similar to the post you’re planning to write: if you’re planning to choose a long tail keyword, compare posts with long tail focus keywords as well.

For instance, this post about focus keywords could be compared to a post about snippet previews, a very related feature of the WordPress SEO plugin we wrote about before:

As you can see the traffic is comparable, we know the search traffic to our snippet preview post is reasonably good, so we know it’s worth optimizing for.

Using Google Trends to compare between your old focus keywords and the one you would like to choose will give you some insights about the prospects for your focus keyword.

Another way to use Google Trends is when you are doubting between a number of (long tail) focus keywords. Google Trends will easily show you what search term will have the highest search volume (compared to another). Google Trends will help you decide which long tail keyword is most common in the search engines.

Google your proposed focus keyword!

Apart from knowing which search terms are actually used by people, you need to know whether or not your idea for your post or page fits the desires and expectations of the people who use the search terms. The best way to find out whether or not your content fits these desires is to Google your proposed (sets of) keywords yourself.

Take the time to look at the first two result pages. Are the articles Google shows of the same character that your article will be like? Does your website fit between the results shown in these result pages? If you decide to write your blogpost or page, while optimizing for this exact focus keyword, you are aiming for a display of your page amongst these.

For instance, when we wrote this post and Googled our chosen focus keyword, we saw we’d be competing with ourselves:

We also saw lots of questions on the WordPress forums, giving us all the more reason to write this post.

Note that we looked at the old post and decided it wasn’t good and complete enough, so we decided we would delete it and replace it with this one.

Make sure to use the content of the result pages as an inspiration for your blogpost. Are there any useful ideas (we are NOT encouraging to copy content, merely to see whether you perhaps missed some information or arguments for your own blogpost)? But more importantly: how can you make sure your post will stand out? In what way could your post be better, funnier, more original than the post presently displayed in the result pages. Try to think of content that will make the audience click and share!

 “Should every page have a focus keyword?”

We often get this question: should our about page or our contact page have a focus keyword? What should it be?

The answer is easy: not every page needs a focus keyword. Your contact page should be easily reachable, it might for instance need to rank for “ address”. That probably doesn’t make sense as a focus keyword though and it’s perfectly fine to leave it empty.

Conclusion: picking a focus keyword is not easy

Choosing a perfect focus keyword is not an exact science. You should aim for a combination of words that are actually used by a search audience. Aim for a focus keyword that is relatively high on volume and aim for one that will fit your audience.

Want to read more?

We have quite a bit more content: you can read about keyword research, content writing and improving your site structure. We’ve also combined all of these different topics into one eBook on Content SEO. If you want a specific post, your best next is Marieke’s post:

Read more: ‘SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

View @ joostdevalk

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