Help! How to choose the right focus keyword

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Remember walking into a video library and choosing a movie to hire?

I used to spend ages with my husband, trying to find a movie that we’d both be happy to watch. He hates romance movies, I hate sci-fi.

That was the problem- being faced with hundreds of options but knowing which one to pick!

A lot like doing keyword research and sorting through hundreds of keywords, trying to narrow them down to the right focus keyword to use in your client’s copy.

What makes a focus keyword good to use? How do you know if you’ve picked the right ones? And what if your choices lead to nothing?

Keep reading for my tips on how to choose the right focus keywords to use in your copy and content and ways to help you filter out the useless ones.

How to choose the right focus keyword

What I’ve learnt from working on hundreds of keyword research projects!

What is a focus keyword?

A focus keyword, or a primary keyword, is the main keyword you want your page or post to rank for. It’s a word or phrase that describes the overall theme or focus for your page. For example, in this blog, my focus keyword query is “how to choose the right focus keyword”.

A focus keyword is important for on-page optimisation because it’s the word that is the main focus on your page. It should ideally be used in all the places that are important for on-page optimisation.

how to choose the right focus keyword

Picking the right focus keyword

In the early days of my keyword research projects, I would send my clients the list of keywords and it was up to them to pick the focus keyword to use.

But then one of my clients told me she was scared of choosing it as she didn’t know whether she was picking the right one. So I incorporated selection of primary/focus keyword into my services.

I’ve worked on hundreds of keyword research projects for copywriters, content writers, marketers and small business owners, so I know a thing or two about picking keywords.

Think about search intent

Ask yourself, why would someone search the keyword? And does this reason match the content you’re writing?

If it’s informational, such as a “how to” keyword, then the user is searching for information rather than a service (think blogs, instead of service pages).

When writing copy for service pages, look for keywords that indicate the user wants to hire someone to do the service for them rather than do it themselves.

Some examples:

Bathroom plumbing- Searched by someone wanting to know how to do bathroom plumbing themselves, or what it costs, or what’s involved. It’s a very broad keyword.

Bathroom plumber- Searched by someone wanting to hire a bathroom plumber (or someone looking for a career change!).

Look at the websites currently on page 1

One of the best ways to know if a keyword is worth using is to check the websites that are ranking on page 1. This will give you clues about the types of websites Google is ranking highly, so you can decide whether you think your client’s website would be a suitable fit for the keyword.

If you see lots of news websites ranking on page 1, then the chances of your client outranking them would be slim to none. Time to cross that keyword off the list!

The page 1 results will also tell you how Google interprets a keyword query. Sometimes a keyword query can have more than one meaning and while Google is getting better at deciphering what a keyword query means and why someone uses it (via it’s Google BERT update), it still doesn’t always get it right.

Check the page 1 results- are they for businesses that are similar to your client’s business? Or are they for something else entirely? If there aren’t any similar businesses, it could mean that the keyword isn’t suitable, or sometimes it can mean that there aren’t any website pages that match the query and Google has chosen what it thinks is the “best fit”.

Go for a smaller piece of the pie

Fishermen don’t like fishing spots that are busy because there’s a lower chance of catching a fish. It’s better to find a more secluded spot.

The same can be said for keywords. Everyone wants to target the keywords with the highest search volumes, but keyword gold can exist even when the search volume is low.

I will often choose a low volume keyword for my clients over a high volume, so long as it ticks all the right boxes.

Will the keyword attract the right type of user?

This goes hand in hand with working out what the search intent is behind the keyword.

Think about the products or services your client sells, and choose keywords that will attract the right type of user.

Sometimes this means sacrificing a really great keyword because you know that it will attract people who are not your client’s ideal client or customer.

One of my copywriting clients provides editing and proofreading services for those who write their own web content and need some help with fixing errors. I found general keywords relating to proofreading and editing services however I didn’t choose these for her because I knew they may attract people with a manuscript that needs editing, a service she wasn’t offering.

Instead, I found keywords specific to website content editing instead.

Some final advice from me…

Picking the right keywords to use can be a tricky exercise, but it’s something you become better at with experience.

Keywords can be changed over time. If you get to work with a client again in future, review their keyword rankings and see if there’s room for improvement.

As with most things in SEO, there are no guarantees for ranking and traffic, but you can give it your best shot by following the tips in this blog and using your intuition when selecting the right keywords.

And if it all feels like too much time and effort, you can always outsource your keyword research to me!

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Nat Alleblas- SEO Sleuth: helping copywriters, marketers and web developers with their SEO needs. When she's not slaying SEO, Nat can be found with her head buried in a book or is smashing out a spin class. But not at the same time. Loves eggplant lasagna.