Marieke van de Rakt
Marieke van de Rakt is the founder of Yoast Academy and CEO of Yoast. Her favorite SEO topics are SEO copywriting and site structure.
It can be a great strategy to focus on long-tail keywords. But don’t go overboard! If you make your keyphrase too long and use it often in your copy, the quality of your copy might suffer. That’s why Yoast SEO checks if your focus keyword isn’t too long. How does that work? And, what should be your strategy for those long keywords? Let me tell you all about long focus keywords here.
Focus keywords and focus keyphrases
If you’re using our Yoast SEO plugin to optimize your posts and pages, you’re probably used to filling out your focus keyword or phrase: the word(s) you want that specific post to be found for. A focus keyword hardly ever is a single word though; It usually consists of a few words. Therefore, we renamed it focus keyphrase a while ago.
For instance, if you want your blog post to rank for the term [raspberry flavored green tea], you should enter these words in the focus keyphrase field. The plugin will then give you pointers on how to optimize your post for that term. Choosing what terms you want to be found for is hard – the competition is fierce! – so you’ll need to do some proper keyword research to come up with the right terms.
Read more: How to choose the perfect focus keyphrase »
Why long keyphrases?
Using long keyphrases can be a good SEO strategy. A longer keyphrase means more specificity and less competition in the search engines. That’s why focusing on very specific, long-tail keywords might get you higher rankings and more, high-quality traffic to your website. Combining such a strategy with cornerstone content and a great internal linking structure is very smart.
But why then, do we throw off a warning when your focus keyphrase is too long?
What’s too long?
To answer this question we’ll have to explain a bit what Yoast SEO does with your keyphrase, and which words in the keyphrase we count when assessing your keyphrase length.
Yoast SEO mimics Google
Google is capable of recognizing the separate words from longer search terms, even if the words are not in the exact same order as the query. For instance, if you Google [easy to use and short site structure guide] you’ll get these results:
Google highlights the words (and word forms) of your keyphrase in the search results
You can see that Google highlights the words (and different word forms) of this search term in the search results, even though they’re not in the exact same order as the original query.
Yoast SEO tries to mimic Google’s behavior. It chops your keyphrase into pieces and then uses these words in various SEO assessments. For instance, in our keyphrase density check, we’ll check whether these words appear close to each other somewhere in your copy. We won’t look for an exact match of the focus keyphrase in this check, because if you write naturally you’d probably variate the order of those words in your sentences.
In particular languages, we’re even able to filter out function words like “the” or “and” or “if”. We’ll just keep the so-called “content words“, which carry the most meaning. And, in Yoast SEO Premium, we’re also able to check for different word forms and synonyms of the words in your keyphrase.
The keyphrase length assessment
Back to the length of your keyphrase. In Yoast SEO, we’ll check how long your keyphrase is. And we’ll provide you with feedback if it’s too long. If it’s too long this might jeopardize the readability of your copy. Imagine using [easy to use and short site structure guide] more often in your copy. Even if you don’t have to write those exact words in the same order, this will probably result in a strange and unnatural text.
The boundaries we use for this assessment depend on whether we can take out the function words for your language or not. If we can, the boundary is four words. If we can’t take them out, the boundary is six words. If your keyphrase is longer than that, you’ll find an orange or red bullet in the SEO assessment of your post!
What should you do with those extra words?
If you’re on Yoast SEO you should reduce your focus keyphrase to the most important words you want this post to rank for. Of course, you can use the other words in your copy as well. But in order to be able to see if you use them often enough (and if you could rank for them!), you should use the related keyphrase functionality in Yoast SEO premium.
For example, if you want to rank for the keyphrase [easy to use and short site structure guide], I would advise optimizing your post for [easy site structure guide] and use the related keyphrase field for [short site structure guide]. Of course, you can use this field for more topical keyphrases too. In this case, [internal linking] would be a nice, on-topic example. If you optimize your posts this way, you’ll make sure you’re optimizing for all the specifics of your long-tail focus keyword.
This functionality of Yoast SEO Premium enables you to focus on multiple aspects of a long-tail keyword. The readability of your text will not suffer, and you’ll still make sure you cover all the aspects of a long search term in your writing. Plus, you’ll be able to enter synonyms of your keyphrase too! Read here why you should use synonyms in your text.