Internet search is such an integral part of our lives that “Google” as a verb has been accepted into the Oxford dictionary. People are curious, they have issues that need to be solved, and they often turn to Google to find the answers they’re looking for. This has created a competitive landscape of blogs, websites, and product pages fighting for those coveted top spots on the results page. Many factors contribute to landing those first places. A great place to start is to include a focus keyword on your pages.
What is a focus keyword?
Your focus keyword or keyphrase represents the topic for which you want Google to place your content as high as possible on the search engine results page (aka SERP). It’s the word or combination of words you want to rank for.
Let’s put it into context. Every time someone searches for something online, Google combs through its directory (aka index) to provide the content that best responds to what you’re looking for. First, the user performs an ordinary google search. And then, Google uses the focus keyword in different pieces of content to decide the best match.
This is a very important factor that Google uses to determine whether or not your blog article or product page should appear. For this reason, it’s vital to optimize each page for the focus keyphrase you’re aiming for. It’s the best way to facilitate that your site shows up when your targeted user searches for a particular subject.
“Keyword” or “keyphrase” is a well-established and fundamental concept for all SEO professionals and bloggers alike. But when you add the word “focus,” it references the terminology from the Yoast SEO plugin used in content management systems, like WordPress.
Not all of us are expert web developers. So for the people who want to create a personal blog or launch their company website but aren’t comfortable building a website from scratch, content management systems make the process more streamlined.
You pick your template and start plugging away creating pages with your content.
It’s probably fair to assume, though, that you’ll want people to find your site. When someone searches for a query that is related to one of your webpages, the goal is for it to appear amongst the results that Google provides. To help you achieve that goal, installing a SEO plugin like Yoast SEO will guide you through the optimization process.
Whether you’re using a CMS or building your website all on your own, you should be using the focus keyword to optimize each page. In this article, you can see exactly how it works.
Why are they important?
A focus keyword does just that…it keeps you focused on the topic at hand. So, including them on the pages of your site is a great way to always keep in mind who you’re writing for and what you’re writing about.
One of the most important things to consider when creating content, regardless of what channel it’s for, is responding to what your user wants to know. Provide them with real value. This will make it more desirable, leading to increased traffic, and hopefully, more conversions.
But it also will inevitably make Google happier. At the end of the day, Google wants people to be able to find what they need. It’s what keeps them coming back day after day. Accordingly, they favour the content that best fits the users’ intentions.
Using the focus keyword in the right way throughout your content is a kind of guarantee that you’ll be able to follow through. It gives semantic and visual cues to the user and Google that what you have to offer them is what they’re looking for.
How to find the right focus keyword
You may be tempted to just use your intuition to decide what your focus keyword should be for each one of your pages. It’s understandable. You have your main topic or your product, so why not just directly use that, right?
It would be a lot easier if you’re selling shampoo, for example, to just optimize your page with shampoo as your focus keyword. And that may make sense in specific circumstances, but in others, you may be missing out on opportunities to sell more of your product and/or acquire new customers.
Of course, Intuition is great! But this is a blog for pros so let’s find out how the pros do it.
If you want to be found by your intended user or customer, you should follow an organized methodology. And, it should be backed up by data to figure out the word or phrase you’re targeting.
1. Put yourself in the shoes of your Buyer Persona.
Once you have your topic, your keyword should reflect what your target customer wants. Start with the tools that will help you brainstorm and narrow your research.
Tools: Answer the Public, Quora, social media, and other public forums
For example, you own a beauty salon and have a website with a blog. You decide to write an article about curly hair to transmit your expertise. A great place to start with your focus keyword research is Answer the Public. It allows you to see what people are searching for.
It explores all of the question words:
And don’t stop there. Find out where your target audience hangs out and read about their issues, questions, desires, etc. it will give you a great idea about what to write and how to voice it.
2. Cross-check your initial ideas by typing them into Google.
Take notice of how people actually express their search queries.
Since you’ll want to rank on Google’s SERP, it only stands to reason that you use the intrinsic functionality of Google to your advantage.
Tools: look at Google Autocomplete and Related searches. You can do it in a normal window giving you results conditioned by your location and search history. Or use an incognito window, which will be more unbiased.
For an additional trick of the trade, use the underscore symbol ( _ ), and Google will fill in what users search for in that part of the phrase. Don’t forget to try different versions in singular and plural and change the order when applicable.
Continuing with our beauty salon and curly hair example:
With autocomplete and related searches, you can see the words most frequently associated with your core concept to get good ideas for your focus keyword.
3. Look at the metrics: search volume and keyword difficulty.
Once you have narrowed down your list of potential focus keywords, make sure that users actually search for them, plus how stiff your competition would be.
Tools: start with Google Trends to get a broad idea and then move to the tools that provide you with more information. There are a lot of options available:
- some are free (like Ubersuggest or Wordtracker)
- some are paid (like Google Keyword Planner and Ahrefs)
- some are paid, with a pretty good reduced version for free (like SEMrush).
There are also options that you can add as an extension like Mozbar or Ubersuggest. Every time you search for something, you’ll automatically see suggestions for related keywords and key metrics like search volume and keyword difficulty.
Your goal is to find the right balance: there should be a high enough search volume, but with manageable competition (represented by KD% – Keyword Difficulty). This way, you ensure that people care about the topic and that you’ll have a chance of appearing higher in the SERPs.
The specific numbers will vary depending on the topic and the location of your target customer. So, tailor the method to fit your needs.
It’s a tricky balance to strike. If you need help getting it right, reach out to the SEO wizards at Digitadu.
4. With your chosen focus keyword, take a look at your competition’s content.
You want to place above your competition. Therefore, it’s a helpful exercise to analyze what your competition has produced.
Do they include images? Or videos? Do they have featured snippets with a good list answering a frequently asked question?
It will give you an idea about what you can do to fill in the gaps in what is already available. And what steps you can take to make your content stand out from the pack.
Increase your chances with a long-tail focus keyword.
Not all focus keywords are created equal. There are three main categories:
- Head keywords: 1-2 words, cover a broad topic (i.e. hair). Bring high traffic, but are highly competitive.
- Mid-tail, aka “chunky keywords”: 2-3 words, cover a slightly more specific topic (i.e. curly hair women). Bring medium-high traffic but are competitive (less than head).
- Long-tail keywords: 4-7 words, cover a specific topic (i.e. defrizz products for women with curly hair). Bring lower traffic but aren’t as competitive.
Bigger companies with larger budgets tend to occupy the higher spots in the SERP for more broad head terms. They’re able to spend the time and effort necessary to create super high-quality content that offers tangible value to their users.
That doesn’t mean you should stay away from head keywords altogether. If you know that your user base will indeed get something out of a piece of content optimized for that keyword, go for it. It may take a bit more extra effort, but it’s worth the try.
But that doesn’t always matter. Listen to your customer. Create the content they’re asking you for. And you’ll most likely be rewarded in other ways besides high positions in the SERP.
For the times you want to get a higher ranking, add modifiers to head and mid-tail keywords to create long-tail keywords.
Although you may not get as much traffic, the traffic you’ll get will be much more qualified. Since the topic is narrower, the user will be further along in the buyer’s funnel. And this will make them more likely to convert.
How and where to use your focus keyword
So now you have your focus keyword. But choosing the right one is only the first part of the battle. Next, you have to implement it correctly in the appropriate places.
Break out the thesaurus and use synonyms.
Throughout the years, Google keeps getting smarter and smarter.
At one point, you could just repeat your keyword a bunch of times, and that would be enough to get you on your way to ranking well. But Google keeps updating its algorithm to make itself a better place for people to find what they’re looking for. And, on top of that, keyword stuffing is now penalized.
A big part of that is not only using your focus keyword but also weaving in related keyphrases. Not everyone searches in the same way, so including synonyms of your targeted keyword/keyphrase in your content is an easy way to reach a wider audience.
The variety you employ in your language will help Google better understand what your content is about and who it is for. And the more questions you answer for your user, the higher the likelihood that your content will be triggered in more searches. And the domino effect continues…it’ll get you more traffic and more conversions!
As long as your related keyphrases represent the same search intent as your primary focus keyword, it’s okay to include them. Your primary focus keyword should be the one with the highest probability of ranking well.
Let’s keep going with our curly hair example. If you choose products for curly hair as your main keyword, there are lots of ways you can diversify it to make it appealing to a broader audience:
Location, location, location!
Each one of your pages should target just one primary word or phrase.
You want to try to use your focus keyword in the following locations:
- Page URL: ideally between 50 and 60 characters. Separate each word with a hyphen. Make it easy to understand.
- Title: Both the title and the SEO title (the former is what shows up for Google, although the two can be the same) should use your focus keyword. Put it as close to the beginning as possible. And if you can include a related keyphrase while making it sound natural…even better!
- Meta description: Your meta description can be any length, but Google will only take 150-160 characters. It is not a ranking factor to place it here but it will help entice your user to click on your link.
- Blog section titles (H1, H2, H3): The header titles allow your user and Google to understand the organizational structure of your content. It also will help them skip to the part that most directly answers their question. Don’t include your keyword in every title, or it will sound spammy.
- Body of the content: Sprinkle your focus keyword throughout your text. This applies to product pages as well – include it in your product descriptions. You should aim for a 1-2% keyword density. Just make sure you use it in a natural way.
- Name of multimedia (videos, images, etc.) files: Don’t just name your picture image1.jpg. Use your keyword instead.
- Alt text of multimedia: When your multimedia isn’t loading, the alt text appears, giving your user context of what you should see in the image, video, etc. Include your targeted phrase (without going overboard).
- Link text: Links are a vital part of every webpage. There are multiple ways you can link to an external source. Try including some with your focus keyword.
Be strategic with this. If you’re not sure how, consult Digitadu.
What to avoid – Keyword stuffing
A big part of what determines the quality of your page is the experience you provide the user. To that end, you want to be as conversational as possible. But it’s hard to do that if you feel like you constantly have to force in a specific word or phrase.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the more you use your focus keyword, the better off you’ll be. You want to use it enough so that the topic of your page is clear and natural, it provides the right context, and it helps establish an organizational flow.
However, if you go overboard and use it too often, you’ll be committing one of the biggest SEO bad strategies (aka black hat SEO): keyword stuffing. This is when you cram in your keyword as many times as you possibly can, thinking that it will help you rank higher.
But Google is no dummy. They don’t want you to use the same words over and over again because your user doesn’t either.
So, just make sure you write in a way that sounds natural.
Does every page need to have a focus keyword?
As long as every one of your pages can be crawled, rendered, and indexed by Google’s bots, it’ll be eligible to appear in the SERP. So, technically, you can get away with not optimizing for a specific focus keyword on every page.
In some contexts, this is perfectly acceptable.
You may not need to have your About Me or your Contact page rank for a particular word or phrase. Some people do try to have their address or their brand name rank to gain recognition with their users. But this isn’t always necessary for every business.
All your other pages should contain a focus keyword…including your product pages. Remember: every page should be optimized for a different focus keyword if you want to avoid any instances of cannibalization.
In this case, you want to make sales, so you may think that optimizing for a word or phrase is a waste of your time. But doing so will increase the chances of your product showing up when someone searches for a solution to their problem.
And at the end of the day, that’s what all of this is all about
To do well on Google, business owners and content creators should be focused on what their users want.
When you do the appropriate research and pick the perfect focus keyword for each one of your pages, it establishes a stronger bond between what you have to offer and what the user is looking for.
You have just a few moments to convince your potential user to click on your link. If you are able to persuade someone to do so, there’s nothing worse than building up their expectations that your page is going to resolve their doubts only to find that it meanders around the subject, leaving their questions unanswered.
So, use the tips and tricks we’ve explained to give you a leg up against your competition.
And remember, if you need some help, contact the SEO experts at Digitadu.