Focus Keyword Guide: Definition, Research, and Optimization Tips

Focus keywords are an essential part of any successful SEO strategy, playing a crucial role in drawing traffic to your blog or website.

But why are focus keywords so important? How should you choose focus keywords for your own pages? And how can you maximize your content’s ability to rank for your chosen phrase?

We’ll address each of these questions in turn throughout the blog post, but let’s start with some basics.

What Is a Focus Keyword? 

A focus keyword (or ‘focus keyphrase’) is the main term you want your web page to rank for in Google. The idea is to build your content around your focus keyword so that when someone searches for that term, they find your page.

The term ‘focus keyword’ is often associated with the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, which lets users see how well-optimized their content is for a specific keyphrase. But SEO practitioners and content marketers use it more generally to refer to the primary keyphrase targeted on a given page.

How Focus Keywords Affect SEO

Making sure that content is centered around a specific keyphrase has long been a fundamental part of SEO. 

Focus keywords benefit your SEO efforts primarily by signaling to Google that your page is a relevant match for related search queries. 

Suppose search engines can’t tell that your content is associated with a particular keyphrase. In that case, they won’t surface your content for any related searches, and you’ll miss out on the corresponding traffic gains. 

So to maximize organic traffic, it’s essential to ensure that you’ve identified a suitable focus keyword when you create a new piece of content for your site.

But how should you go about finding the right keyword for your page?

How to Find and Choose Your Focus Keyphrase

While it’s possible to retrofit content with a specific keyphrase after it’s been written, you should always aim to pick your focus keyword before putting pen to paper. This will eliminate the risk of creating content that comes across as awkward or incomplete.

Here are the basic steps you should follow when selecting your focus keyword.

Target Long-Tail Keywords

Before racking your brains for keyphrase ideas, you should be clear on the fact that it’s best to limit your search to long-tail keywords.

In contrast to short-tail (or ‘generic’) keyphrases, long-tail keyphrases are lengthier, more specific terms that generally have a lower search volume. As a result, long-tail keyphrases tend to be less competitive and easier to rank for. 

Although long-tail keyphrases have a lower traffic potential than their generic counterparts, they allow you to create a highly relevant piece of content that’s perfectly tailored to the needs of your particular audience. 

What’s more, longer search terms are often used by people who are further along the buyer’s journey and looking for something specific. This makes using long-tail keyphrases a smart way to attract high-converting visitors.

For example, suppose you own a vegan cooking school in NYC and want to attract more students via organic search. Targeting an impossibly competitive, generic keyphrase like ‘cooking school’ would be a waste of time. Instead, you would do much better to select a highly-specific keyphrase that will attract more conversion-ready visitors, such as ‘vegan cooking school in Manhattan for beginners.’

Gather Your Keyphrase Ideas

You’ll need to conduct some keyphrase research to identify the right focus keyword for your page or blog post. And while there are many paid-for keyword research tools out there that can help you, we’ll only focus on free methods in this section.

If you don’t already have a topic in mind, the first thing to do is brainstorm topics that are both related to your brand and relevant to your target audience. To help with this task, you could reflect on what type of content has performed best for you in the past, check out what topics your competitors are covering in their content, and look to see what issues members of your target audience are addressing in their favorite discussion forums and social media groups.

Once you have a list of potential topics, the next step is to create a list of keyphrases for each topic area. One of the easiest ways to come up with different keyphrase variations around a given topic is simply to use Google. 

Start typing a topic-related phrase into the search bar, and you’ll notice that Google provides a list of suggested searches. Sticking with our vegan cooking school example, here are some suggested searches around the topic ‘how to make vegan chocolate’:

suggested search example

After you hit search, you’ll also find a list of related searches at the bottom of the results page:

related search example

You can also use YouTube for the same purpose. As the world’s second biggest search engine (also owned by Google), you’ll find a treasure trove of keyphrase ideas using the YouTube search function:

youtube search suggestion example

You can also use some free keyphrase-generating tools to bulk your keyphrase lists further. Here’s an example from the Answer the Public:

answer the public results example

Once you’ve added all your keyphrase variations to a list, it’s time to find out which ones have the best monthly search volume.

Find Out Your Keyphrase Search Volume

Finding reliable search volume data for predefined keyphrase sets without signing up for a paid tool can be tricky, but there are a few ways around it.

The first option is to use the Ahrefs Free Keyword Generator tool. Even though there is no option to find the search volume for all your keyphrases at once, the tool will give you a list of keyphrase variations based on your input and the associated search volumes:

ahrefs free keyword generator example

Other tools and browser extensions such as Keyword Tool and Keyword Surfer also provide similar search volume data for free.

Another useful, albeit less rigorous, way to estimate the traffic potential of a keyphrase is to use Google Trends, which lets you compare the popularity of different keyphrases over time. 

Let’s suppose you already have a piece of content that ranks well for a particular search term, like ‘vegan chocolate brownies.’ You’ll know how much organic traffic this post receives by checking Google Analytics. Armed with that knowledge, you can then use Google Trends to compare the popularity of your old keyphrase with whatever search term you have in mind for your new piece of content. 

Let’s assume that this new search term you’re considering is ‘vegan chocolate cupcakes.’ Your Google Trends comparison would look like this:

google trends example

As the chart shows, the interest for ‘vegan chocolate cupcakes’ is similar, if not marginally greater, than for ‘vegan chocolate brownies.’ From this, you can make the reasonable assumption that targeting ‘vegan chocolate cupcakes’ could bring at least as much traffic as your ‘vegan chocolate brownies’ content did.

Assess Your Keyphrase Difficulty 

The final step to take before settling on a focus keyword is to make sure that your site has the domain authority (DA) to compete for that term. 

Put simply, if every result on page one of Google comes from a website with a 70+ domain authority, while yours currently sits at 46, your chances of ranking for your chosen keyphrase are pretty slim.

You can use the free MozBar Chrome Extension to see the DA of your competitors directly within the search results page:

mozbar chrome extension example

The goal is to pick a search term with significant volume and for which the competition has either a lower or similar DA as you. And if you combine that with high-quality, fully-optimized content, you’ll be onto a winner. 

How to Optimize Your Content for its Focus Keyword

Now that you’ve identified a focus keyword that is relevant to your target audience, has non-trivial search demand, and isn’t too competitive for you to rank for, it’s time to create your content. 

Note that it isn’t necessary for every page on your site to have a focus keyword. For example, your about page or contact page should be easy to find on your website but don’t need to rank for any competitive terms.

Here are some SEO writing best practices you should follow to ensure your content is as optimized as possible for your focus keyword.

Improve On What’s Already Out There

You’ll want to outshine your competitors’ content to give your page the best chance of ranking well for your focus keyword. 

This means your content should cover all the vital information covered in your competitors’ posts and provide additional value to your readers wherever possible. 

It also means you should try to emulate the style of posts that currently rank highest. If the top five results for your chosen keyphrase are all long-form ultimate guides, it means that Google has determined that this style of post best meets the user’s search intent. In this case, a 500-word blog post just won’t cut it.

Optimize Your On-Page Elements

Make sure you include your focus keyword in your page’s title tag (towards the beginning of the title), URL (as far left as possible), meta description, and image alt text. 

The content itself should also contain a healthy smattering of your focus keyword, especially in your header tags, introduction, and conclusion. You should also include variations of your focus keyword throughout your copy as a way of signaling to Google that your content provides thorough coverage of your chosen topic.

Remember, while keyword density is an integral part of SEO writing, it’s essential that you avoid overusing your target keyword. Keyword stuffing hampers the reading experience and, if detected by Google, could seriously damage your ability to rank.

Get Linking!

Finally, you should ensure that your content contains contextual links to other relevant content on your site and external resources wherever it may improve the user experience.

Optional SEO Keyword Research Tools 

As we’ve already mentioned, there are various free and paid-for tools on the market that can help you in your search for focus keyword ideas, search volume data, and keyword difficulty information.

Here’s a short list of our top picks.

Free Tools:

Paid Tools:

It’s Time to Find Your Focus! 

Optimizing your content for focus keywords plays a fundamental role in driving organic traffic to your site. 

But identifying the right focus keyword is no cakewalk. You can find the sweet spot in long-tail keyphrases that are relevant to your audience, have significant search volume, and that you have a realistic chance of being able to rank for.

Even then, finding the right focus keyword alone isn’t enough. You also need to ensure the quality of your content rivals that of your competitors, and your on-page keyword optimization has to be on point.

We hope this post has given you new ideas about implementing your own focus keyword strategy. 

But did we miss anything? If so, please let us know in the comments!

Vincent D'Eletto

Vincent D'Eletto

Hey, I'm Vin. Founder and CEO of I create content that ranks really well on search engines for our clients. I'm also deeply involved with the SEO community; maintaining a portfolio of successful, profitable affiliate websites. You can find me playing guitar, drinking scotch, and hanging out with my German Shorthaired Pointer when I'm not working!