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Do you need to set a focus keyword in WordPress to rank in organic search?

In this article, I’m going to try and provide some clarity on whether or not you need to set a focus keyword in WordPress to rank in organic search. If you’re not sure what I mean by this, you might be newer to SEO (and that’s ok!). To provide some context, some well-known and highly-respected SEO plugins, like Yoast, SEOPress, Rank Math, allow you to set a focus keyword in WordPress, for each page or post. WordPress doesn’t offer this functionality by default, but it is offered through the plugin itself. Setting a focus keyword provides additional analysis and functionality.

Keep in mind, some SEO plugins do not offer this functionality, so you should check your setup before proceeding.

We’ll dive into the reason, but the short answer is no. No, you do not need to set a focus keyword in WordPress to rank in organic search results. Read on if you’re interested in learning more about focus keywords, how they can help, how to use the focus keyword functionality in WordPress, and why you can still rank in organic search without setting a focus keyword.

How the focus keyword functionality helps

Usually, the focus keyword is set so the SEO plugin can analyze the page or post and determine if it’s SEO-friendly. The plugin will analyze the content and make sure the focus keyword is included in page elements that pertain to SEO: the title tag, the meta description, the image alt text, the headings, and other elements that are known on-page SEO factors. Search engines like Google and Bing look at these on-page factors, along with off-page factors, to determine what pages should be served on search engine result pages (SERPs) and what order those pages should be listed. As you might imagine, pages that have excellent on-page and off-page signals will rank at the top of search results, while unoptimized pages are found lower in the list.

If the SEO analysis functionality is turned on, and a keyword is set, the plugin will provide an output of SEO opportunities for that page or post.

Here’s an example of the described output (click on the image to access a high-resolution picture):

Yoast SEO analysis of the Expander Digital home page

How does this benefit you? You’re delivered a clear readout of what you need to improve in order to make your page or post more SEO-friendly.

How to add the focus keyword in WordPress

Depending on which plugin you use, set up steps might vary, but generally, you’d follow the below steps:

  1. Log in to WordPress.
  2. Make sure you have the right options enabled so you can set a focus keyword. For example, Yoast requires you to enable the SEO analysis function to set a focus keyword.
  3. Navigate to and edit the post or page you want to optimize.
  4. Go to the SEO plugin section.
    Note: You can see in the above screenshot, it’s labeled Yoast SEO.
  5. Enter the target keyword in the Focus keyphrase field. At this point, you should be able to see the analysis of the page and if you want, follow the recommendations listed.

If the above doesn’t work, you should be able to find information and instructions on the plugin website.

To get used to how this functionality works and get familiar with it, you may want to try it on some of your essential pages, or most visited pages. We’d recommend trying to set a focus keyword for your home page, about page, or contact page, as these are popular pages for most websites.

Why you don’t need a focus keyword to rank in organic search results

So how can you still rank in organic search if you don’t set a focus keyword? As long as search engines can crawl, render, and index your content, your pages have a chance to show up in search results. It’s that simple. SEO plugins provide incredible functionality. However, you don’t need SEO plugins to make your content accessible to search engines.

Focus keyword FAQs

To round out this article, below I’ll answer questions I’m sometimes asked.

Do I use the focus keyword functionality?

We don’t use this functionality with the Expander Digital website. Although we use Yoast, we keep the SEO analysis disabled.

Do I recommend using focus keyword functionality?

It depends. If you’re newer to SEO, it can be helpful. For newer users, keeping content or SEO analysis enabled might be a good thing to do. Once you’re familiar with SEO, I think it’s up to you if you keep it enabled or disabled.

Do other SEO professionals recommend using this functionality?

Yes! I personally know and respect many SEO professionals who not only use the focus keyword functionality, they recommend it.

Why don’t you use the SEO analysis by Yoast?

If you’ve read our other blog posts, this answer might sound familiar. SEO plugins and search engines aren’t one and the same. Because of this fact, an SEO plugin might sometimes miss the mark on advice. Reading online documentation directly from the search engines is the best way to understand search engines, and to know what you need to optimize in order to get your content highly ranked in search engine result pages.

What plugin doesn’t offer this functionality?

The All in One SEO Pack offers solid SEO functionality but doesn’t offer a content analysis function.

My client wants the SEO analysis function enabled. I don’t think we should keep it enabled. What should I do?

If you’re working with a client who wants the SEO analysis enabled, you should keep it enabled. It will help build trust between you and the client. You should also educate the client about the differences between what content recommendations SEO plugin might give and what search engines recommend.

Any other tips or thoughts?

The last tip I’ll share is although I don’t use the focus keyword functionality, I do use a keyword research spreadsheet. This allows me to map keywords to different pages on a site. I use the keyword research map to create plans for each page that has a target keyword, or keywords.

Wrap up

To recap, no, you do not need to set a focus keyword in WordPress to rank in organic search results. Pages on your website can still rank in search even if you don’t have an SEO plugin, so long as your content is accessible to search engines. However, setting a focus keyword for a page lets you tap into the SEO analysis functions of an SEO plugin. This analysis is helpful for those newer to SEO, as it will outline opportunities and recommendations. Applying the recommendations might help a page rank higher in search engine results.

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I encourage you to reach out to us for a discussion over coffee. I’d love to help you!

Josh Gellock

Josh is the principal SEO consultant at Expander Digital, an SEO studio he founded in 2014. He's been in the SEO space since 2011 and helps businesses manage their SEO through projects, consultations, and campaigns. When he’s not meeting with clients, you can find Josh spending time with his children or on a bike.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I was actually wondering if this would work, after trying it on some few articles, it did work. my post rank number 1 without focus keyword

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