How to Use WordPress SEO by Yoast’s Focus Keyword

by | Last updated Jun 21, 2022 | Digital Marketing, SEO

Read Time: 4 min read

Summary: TL;DR: WordPress SEO by Yoast is a valuable tool for optimizing webpages and blog posts, with features like the "focus keyword" to enhance SEO. The plugin's color-coded system helps users gauge optimization levels, but it's important to understand that the focus keyword alone doesn't impact rankings. While striving for green is ideal, targeting multiple keywords and phrases can broaden audience reach. Semantic keywords and keyword density are key considerations, as overusing a focus keyword can lead to penalties. By utilizing variations and expanding keyword focus, users can enhance SEO effectiveness. Ultimately, while WordPress SEO by Yoast offers essential insights, it's beneficial to adapt strategies and not strictly adhere to its guidelines for optimal results.

At Hurrdat, we’re big fans of WordPress SEO by Yoast. This simple plugin allows our teams to quickly update critical search engine optimization (SEO) fields on webpages and blog posts across our site, and it’s something our SEO and content marketing teams use on a daily basis. In addition, this plugin makes filling out SEO fields simple for our clients who manage their own blogs. We’re also big fans of one of the features this plugin includes: the “focus keyword.”

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The focus keyword is a field where you can insert a keyword or phrase. Once the keyword or phrase has been added, the plugin evaluates the page or post—including the SEO title, H1 tag, body copy, and other elements—to let you know how well you’ve optimized for your keyword or phrase. It’s a real lifesaver, especially when trying to avoid harmful practices like keyword stuffing.

Snippet Editor for SEO by Yoast

That being said, there are some things that you should know about the focus keyword, including which rules to follow and which you can stray from to achieve greater results.

If you’re new to SEO, you’ll want to follow the advice below closely. That’s because, until you really get your bearings, the focus keyword will be your friend. It’s a great tool for learning how to appropriately use keywords and phrases, as well as ensuring your content has the appropriate keyword density to avoid search engine penalties.

The Focus Keyword Doesn’t Have Ranking Influence on Its Own

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand that the text within the focus keyword field doesn’t actually get pulled into the code that search engines read, so on its own, it doesn’t provide any true value for search engine rank. Its sole purpose is to help you focus on a keyword or phrase that you’re targeting by showing you how you’ve implemented that keyword or phrase throughout the post.

Green Means Go, Yellow Means Slow Down, and Red Means Stop

Many WordPress SEO by Yoast users follow the color-coded system the plugin uses to tell if a page or post is fully optimized or not (You can find this under Page Analysis). This system acts like a stoplight. Green means the page or post is good. Yellow (also orange) means you should slow down and reevaluate your optimization. Red, however, means the page or post isn’t optimized.

SEO Check in Publish box from SEO by Yoast

The focus keyword plays a major role in the color grade given to a page or post. Over time, the plugin may even dock a page or post’s color grade if you use the same focus keyword as other pages or posts. In some instances, this can be really good advice because it helps you identify other ways to word your keywords or phrases. But if you’re being docked for keywords or phrases that really matter for your strategy, you can ignore it. Most industries have to use the same keywords and phrases because of their relevancy to the audience anyway.

Though you’ll be tempted to always strive for green, it’s perfectly fine to “run a yellow” (with the plugin, that is…not driving). The biggest reason for this is that a page or post shouldn’t be designed to target a single keyword or phrase. In fact, it should target multiple keywords and phrases to reach a wider audience who will undoubtedly word things differently, which is why you need to anticipate as many keyword and phrase variations as possible.

Page Analysis Results in SEO by Yoast Plugin

Especially in today’s modern search landscape, which values the use of semantic keywords more than ever, using variations of keywords and phrases in the more potent SEO fields can be a better option that just targeting one. For example, two of the major fields the plugin evaluates—page title/H1 and SEO title—are as follows for this post:

  • Page Title/H1 Tag – How to Use WordPress SEO by Yoast’s Focus Keyword
  • SEO Title – SEO Yoast Tutorial: Effectively Using the Focus Keyword

So we’ve included important keywords for this post including:

  • WordPress SEO by Yoast
  • SEO Yoast Tutorial
  • Focus Keyword

Rather than zeroing in on one keyword or phrase, we’ve expanded our chances of reaching people who are interested in this topic. This strategy won’t always result in a green rating from SEO Yoast, but it’s an SEO best practice you should follow.

Keyword Density Is Something You Should Never Ignore

Now that you know that it isn’t necessary to follow the SEO Yoast grading system to a T, why not use this SEO plugin to evaluate all of the keywords you’ve mentioned in your content? Within seconds, you can figure out your keyword density for multiple keywords and phrases. It’s as easy as swapping out the focus keyword, saving the post as a draft, and watching the density count in the “Analysis Results” section of the plugin.

If WordPress by SEO Yoast tells you in its Page Analysis section that you’ve used the focus keyword too much, though, you’ll want to switch out some of the keywords or phrases with variations to avoid keyword stuffing. Remember: Keyword stuffing is a spam technique and can contribute to lower rankings for the post and your site as a whole.

Keyword density check from SEO by Yoast Plugin

WordPress SEO by Yoast really is a great plugin, and the 15 million+ times it has been downloaded is the proof. Just don’t limit yourself by following its guidelines exactly. Sometimes, it’s better to break the rules!

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