Stopwords in your focus keywords?

Stopwords (a, the, of, for) are usually filtered out by Google in a search query. Up until now, the Yoast SEO plugin would advice you to filter the stopwords from your focus keyword as well (and optimize your post or page with a focus keyword without stopwords). In the next major release of Yoast SEO, 3.1, stopwords in your focus keyword will no longer result in an orange bullet. In this post, we’ll explain why we came to this change.

yoast seo - use stopwords in your focus keyword or not


As Google has become much more apt in dealing with stopwords in the last few years, it simply doesn’t matter that much whether or not there are stopwords between the words you want to be found for. Google is very capable of handling longer search phrases, in fact, Hummingbird was aimed specifically at that. And a keyphrase (including stopwords) is usually much easier to optimize your text for. Often it’s more like a short sentence and it will make the text much more readable than an optimized text for a keyword without stopwords. From a readability point-of-view, you’d definitely want to optimize texts with focus keywords containing stopwords.

Although Google is more capable of handling stopwords in queries, you should really take some time to think about your focus keyword or focus keyphrase. We’re not making things easier, by allowing stopwords. We’re so sorry!

Take the following two steps before deciding on the exact formulation of your focus keyword or keyphrase:

Step 1: Google your focus keyword

The first step in deciding the exact formulation of your focus keyphrase is to Google the two (or three) options you’re considering. Are the results similar? Then it won’t matter much which keyphrase you choose. In some cases, results will really differ. For instance: searching for [notebook], will get you results containing all kinds of portable computers. Searching for [the notebook], however, will get you… Ryan Gossling.

Step 2: decide upon your focus keyword using Google Trends

The second step in deciding whether or not to put a stopword in the focus keyword you’re optimizing for, should be to look at search volume in Google Trends. Check the two (or three) formulations you’re considering and see which one receives the most traffic. For instance, if you’re choosing between [shoes for kids] or [shoes kids], you’ll instantly see that the search volume of shoes kids is much higher. That would be the focus keyword to optimize for. Or… you could optimize for both! That is… if you have Yoast SEO Premium.

Keyphrases versus keywords

Shorter search queries are often the more popular ones, but your competition knows that too! Search volume for keywords without stopwords seems higher than the search volume for keywords containing stopwords. So, in many cases, it could pay off to optimize your text in the way you have always done it (without stopwords). But, search volume for the keyphrases with stopwords seems to be growing. It could therefore really pay off to optimize for both keywords!

In our research on how Google handles stopwords, we found that a search term like [shoes kids] is handled in exactly the same manner as [kids shoes]. The order of the words is irrelevant to Google. However, for [shoes for kids], Google tries to find the exact match (and the order of the word is important). So, search queries with stopwords are handled a bit different by Google. This is also true for how Google shows traffic in Google Trends: [shoes kids] and [kids shoes] have exactly the same volume because Google treats them as the same thing there. You shouldn’t add them up when comparing to your keyphrase with a stopword. Be aware of that!


You should really look into the differences in result pages and in search volume and then make up your mind on how to optimize your post. And, if you cannot decide which focus keyword to choose, just optimize for both keywords using Yoast SEO Premium!