SEO Yoast Tutorial

28 Jan How to Use WordPress SEO by Yoast’s Focus Keyword

By Aaron Mackel, Content Director, B² Interactive

At B² Interactive, 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.”

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.

wordpress seo by YOAST image

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

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.

yoast color coded system

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 “Focus Keyword Usage” section of the plugin.

focus keyword density

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.

yoast page analysis

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!


B² Interactive is a web design, SEO, and local search optimization firm based in Omaha, Neb., that serves clients throughout the U.S. B² Interactive works with businesses of all sizes, from small companies looking to create their first website to Fortune 500 organizations requiring complete integrated digital marketing and web development solutions. B² Interactive operates digital marketing agency Hurrdat and video production company Hurrdat Films based in Lincoln, Neb.

  • Jenifer Comegys

    Thank you so much! I’m still fairly new to this, and I’ve been getting mixed reviews about the importance of the focus keyword. I feel much better after reading this article!

  • AaronMackel

    Glad you enjoyed it Jenifer! What was your biggest takeaway?

  • Jenifer Comegys

    Just knowing that it’s there to help and not part of SEO on it’s own and that it’s ok to be in the yellow makes it a lot less stressful!

  • Good! Definitely don’t limit yourself to targeting one keyword phrase. That’s one of the most important elements of this piece to me. Thanks for reading!

  • Taimoor Khan

    Very Informative and I just learn we can use more keywords which was great, till today date I use only one keyword in a niche

  • jd

    You don’t give an adequate definition of a focus keyword. By reading this article, I know it’s important for some reason, but I still don’t know exactly what it IS. Is it, for example, you want coffee drinkers to find your article, so you put the word “coffee” 100 times in your 300-word article?

  • The focus keyword is a functionality built into SEO Yoast that allows you to choose a keyword you want to focus on and rank for. As is shown in the last graphic in this post, by selecting a focus keyword, SEO Yoast will tell you how much you’ve used that term within a page or post, and will let you know if it’s too high or too low. 100 times in a 300 word-article would definitely raise a red flag and the plugin would show that you’re keyword stuffing. It will want you to fall somewhere between 1.5 and 3%.

  • beefnation

    “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”

    This is confusing. So what IS the true value for search engine rank? Youre saying the keywords in the post matter but in the Yoast fields the keywords dont matter?

  • Just the “Focus Keyword” field doesn’t matter to Google. The other Yoast fields like “SEO Title” do matter.

    Basically, that Focus Keyword field is a tool for you to make sure that you get your important phrase in the areas of the post that do matter to Google like the SEO title and within the body copy.

  • huntergatherer

    Thanks Aaron. Nice article. I like how you cleared up the proper use of Yoast’s focus keyword. I’ve been stumped before when a page or post has multiple keywords that are not the ones in “focus”. The technique of checking out various terms using drafts is great. I’ve often wondered what Yoast meant for this field. Knowing it’s a guideline for my eyes, not a directive to Google, or enhancement control, is a positive. Thanks for taking the time to write this one up.

    HG – Still hunting and gathering….

  • It’s definitely something that isn’t perfectly clear right when you start using SEO Yoast. Glad the article was helpful!

  • Jason Macuha

    The remark of SEO Yoast that I used the Focus Keyboard in another page bothers me a lot. I have two pages, one is an Artist Profile and another is Artist Collection. I used the artist name as the focus keyword since most of the art collectors are searching in google by the artist name. The SEO Yoast recommends to change if I want the page to rank. Is this truly happening?

    Hope somebody gives me an insight so I can be confident on my site.

    Thanks in advance.

    jason @

  • I have the same question as the first comment (which you may not have seen bc you didn’t answer). Anyway, when Yoast says that you are in the red bc you have “used the same keyword X times before,” are you really hurting your website for those keywords? In my case, the home page, and a second page (about page) are the same focus keywords. Yoast has a blog post saying that you shouldn’t try to rank the home page for keywords other than branding. But I am very hesitant to strip away the home page keyword focus.

    Is having two pages focus on one keyword phrase a negative for either of those pages? I mean, wouldn’t they either just rank well, or not, on their own? Who cares if they compete? I mean, maybe both would compete well independently. If you think having two pages with one keyword phrase focus is a problem, could you please explain how & why? Thank you!

  • You aren’t hurting your website by having two pages with the same focus keyword. I’d just make sure not to have identical or close to identical SEO titles, and that each page serves a unique purpose. Search engines don’t check to see what your “focus keyword” is, they identify the topic the page discusses. If the pages are going to have very similar purpose/content, that’s where I’d recommend consolidating the topic into just one page.

    Some websites have a very narrow focus, and having multiple pages dedicated to that focus makes sense. Just for example, a website dedicated to grocery delivery services would have several pages focusing on that term or close variations of it. The homepage would focus on grocery delivery, they might have a page for “FAQs About Our Grocery Delivery Services,” and a page for “areas we deliver groceries to.” The concept/phrase crosses the entire site, but the pages serve their own unique, important purposes.

  • Thank you. I will definitely keep those concepts in mind.

    I’m just wondering if you could explain why, even if they had the same focus / purpose, there would be a problem? I just don’t understand that issue. I mean, let’s say you have 5 pages focused on grocery delivery, using your example. And let’s say they have the same purpose but unique information. I’m being hypothetical but just trying to understand.

    Anyway, if all of the information is good, then what’s the problem?

    Let me use another example. Let’s say I write an article on the five best places to eat dinner in Orlando. Then I write another post, same title, same purpose, 5 best places to eat in Orlando, but the next article has 5 completely different restaurants, or even the same restaurants but new info. E.g., in the first article I talk about the great ambiance in all five restaurants, or the views on the patio decks, with a little sprinkling of how good the food tastes, and what to order. Next article I talk mostly about the food, but with a little sprinkling of the ambiance.

    I just don’t understand the problem of competing if you might have 2 pages that do very well for exactly the same purpose, and even same title (although I will stay away from same title, for sure, based on your recommendation, despite not understanding it completely).

    I’ve really been wondering about this because Yoast gives this warning so clearly, in red. Thankfully I don’t get that warning too often but I am concerned because, for my most targeted keywords, I definitely have a couple of pages.

    Another issue is that I want to re-write some older content. Some of those pages rank well, but I think the content could be better. And I don’t just mean a slight revision. I mean I would rather write something completely different for those exact same keywords. So I’m left with either: (1) redirecting old content that might have good value to some people, even though I think it could be different; (2) re-writing and deleting old content; (3) adding to old content to just make the page much longer (which is where I’m leaning at the moment, but could get messy).

    Anyway, lots of questions. I do appreciate your feedback. I’m just wondering if you could explain why you think two pages on a single site couldn’t or shouldn’t compete for the same purpose / title / keyword focus, etc. I mean, what is the reason? What part of the algorithm would this offend, specifically? That’s kind of my question. I’m surprised Yoast doesn’t have a post explaining the WHY behind what I have to believe is a very common problem, considering most businesses are pretty focused on whatever they sell.

    Thanks again!

  • Also just a quick extra thought. I understand that, in the above example, I could title “5 Orlando Restaurants With Best Ambiance,” And “Five Orlando Restaurants With Most Delicious Food,” So that might not have been the best example.

    But, let’s say a dentist was competing for “dentist, X city.” We know lots of people will type exactly that keyword combo into search. I realize there are long tail opportunities. But for city / geo, obviously he wants ongoing opportunities to rank for that specific combo. And I realize he can make other pages link to best page, and use things like cosmetic dentists, root canals, etc. But still he is going to want repeatedly to rank for the same, probably small, core group of geo + keywords.

    So I just don’t see the problem if you have a couple of pages that all might rank well for exactly the same purpose / focus.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  • Looking at your last example with the dentist, they should probably target dentist/location keywords across the site like you mentioned. The different pages will still have a unique purpose, though. So if your home, about, services pages, etc. all target “[city name] dentist” to some extent, that’s perfectly fine.

    What I meant by purpose was purpose to the user. A root canals page or cosmetic dentistry services page provides unique value from the other pages. In the case that there are two pages with very similar purpose to the reader, combining the info to make a stronger page/post makes more sense. The updated page will get the benefit of freshness and be a more comprehensive resource that will likely drive more traffic, and users get all the info they need in one place.

    So the short answer is that multiple pages can target the same keyword phrases, but every page on a website should have it’s own unique purpose to the reader. So going back to the grocery delivery example, if your five main pages were:

    Grocery Delivery Services | Brand Name
    About Brand Name | Grocery Delivery Services
    FAQs About Our Grocery Delivery Services | Brand Name
    Sign Up for Grocery Delivery Services | Brand Name
    Grocery Delivery Prices | Brand Name

    you’d be targeting the same short-tail phrases in all five pages, but they all have a unique purpose with completely different information for the visitor. In this instance, I think you’re building out your topical relevancy across the site, which is a good thing. There definitely isn’t a problem doing this. Yoast is an awesome tool, and in this instance it’s probably trying to stop people from being spammy, but it isn’t perfect and I wouldn’t worry about getting a warning for it if your situation is similar to the one above.

  • TradeMyAd FreeClassifieds

    This is an amazing article about Yoast. But are there methos to manually do seo of a wordpress blog.

  • Jason,

    This is going to happen from time to time, where you have similar keywords on pages. The purpose of this is to remind you that each page should have something unique you are trying to tell the search engines your page is most authoritative about. In this case your 2 pages are still probably not most authoritative about the Artist but rather one might be most authoritative about the author him/herself and the other would be most authoritative about the artist’s work. If you can’t find enough to differentiate between two pages then you might want to think about why the content isn’t all on one page. If you can easily say it doesn’t belong on one page you are likely to have your answer as to what the primary keyword for each page should be about. Don’t just use the yellow/red SEO indicator circles in Yoast as a guide to whether SEO is done correctly from a technical standpoint but also to be a guide as to whether maybe you need to think deeper about the page and what makes it unique and more authoritative than any other out there online.

  • You are absolutely right. Yoast is merely a guide or checklist of items that serve as reminders of some technical pieces you may want to consider. True SEO is a well thought out plan for what your site should rank for, why it should rank (or even if it should because lets face it not every site should for keywords site owners think it should) and what the competitive edge of your page is. Does your page have information people need/want that nobody else does? Are you the first to present what your page is about online? Is your site viewed as an overall authority already in the same or relatively close and relevant niche? SEO isn’t a tool or plug-in, but good plug-ins and tools can help you be sure many of the important boxes are checked before you push a page/post live.

  • Shaharea Azmir

    Awesome post.And more useful for new wordpress blogger.These all things are common but you explain very well with step-by-step.


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