Keyword prominence is an SEO best practice that entails using a page’s target keyword early on in order to send a strong signal to Google about what the page should rank for.
It’s similar to the journalistic principle of never burying the lede. To “bury the lede” is to bury the main point of a story beneath less important information to the reader.
This is considered a mistake in journalism because it sends a mixed message about what the most important details are in a given story.
Burying the lede in web content with the target keyword as the “lede” is considered bad SEO practice because it sends mixed signals about what the page is about.
At least, that is the general consensus in the SEO industry. Is this, however, a wild guess, or has Google confirmed that keyword prominence is a ranking factor?
Here’s more information about the keyword prominence claim, followed by evidence to back it up.
The Claim: Keyword Visibility Is A Ranking Factor
The placement of a keyword on a page is said to have an impact on search rankings.
SEO experts advise using a page’s target keyword early on in order to benefit from a ranking signal known as keyword prominence.
Keyword prominence correlates positively with higher rankings. The closer a keyword appears to the beginning of titles and text, the more prominent it is.
It is said that using a keyword less prominently decreases the likelihood of ranking for that keyword.
When you conduct a Google search, you are likely to see results that include the exact keyword you entered at the beginning of page titles.
According to anecdotal evidence, keyword prominence is a ranking factor.
Is Google endorsing it?
Let’s look at the supporting evidence now.
The Evidence for Keyword Prominence as a Ranking Factor
Keyword prominence as a ranking factor was first mentioned in a video with former Google employee Matt Cutts in 2011.
He explains how Google detects keyword usage while crawling the web, and how the first few uses of a keyword send signals to Google about the primary focus of a page.
Cutts, on the other hand, cautions website owners not to overuse keywords because more isn’t always better.
“The way that modern search engines, or at least Google, are built is that the first time you mention a word — [Google thinks] “Hey that’s pretty interesting, it’s about that word.”
The next time you mention that word, [Google thinks] “Oh OK, it’s still about that word.” And once you start to mention it a whole lot, it really doesn’t help that much more. There are diminishing returns. It’s just an incremental benefit, but it’s really not that large.
… So the first one or two times you mention a word than that might help with your ranking, absolutely. But just because you can say it seven or eight times that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily help your ranking.”
Evidence from the Present
Much has changed in SEO since 2011, but Google’s advice on keyword prominence has remained consistent.
Here’s some more recent evidence, this time from Google’s John Mueller, who addressed the issue during one of his weekly Q&A sessions in 2021 (at the 6:43 mark):
“I would recommend, if there’s something that you want to tell us that your page is about, to make that as visible as possible. So don’t just put that as a one word mention on the bottom.
But rather, use it in your titles, use it in your headings, use it in your subheadings, use it in your captions from images, all of these things to make it as clear as possible for users and for Google when they go to your page that this page is about this topic.
So that’s kind of the direction I would take there. I would not worry about like, can Google get to the word number 20,000 or not. Because if you’re talking about the word 20,000, and you’re saying this is the most important keyword for my page, then you’re already doing things wrong.
You really need to make sure that the information that tells us what this page is about is as obvious as possible so that when users go there they’re like “Yes, I made it to the right page, I will read what this page has to tell me.”
To return to our analogy of burying the lede, using the most important keyword as early as possible optimizes for both readers and Google.
Other Considerations for Keyword Prominence
We’ve discussed how keyword prominence affects SEO and user experience, and now we’ll discuss how it may affect click-through rate.
Mueller recommends emphasizing your main keyword in titles, headings, subheadings, and body copy.
Page titles are not only important for SEO, but they can also influence click-through rates in organic search results. Another reason why keyword location is critical is that rankings are meaningless without traffic.
Because we read in English from left to right, a page title with the keyword near the beginning will catch a searcher’s attention because it matches what they typed into the search bar.
The goal of SEO is to persuade searchers to choose your page over others, not just to appear at the top of search results. Keywords strategically placed can help with this.
Think about what your visitors will do once they arrive at the page. They are more likely to skim rather than read the content word for word.
Keeping this in mind, you should incorporate the keyword as soon as possible into your article. You want the reader to notice it while they’re skimming.
Use the keyword near the beginning of the first paragraph, if possible, or even in the first sentence. You want to demonstrate to the reader right away that they have found the correct article to assist them with their search query. If you don’t leave, they will.
Use the keyword again in headings and anywhere else the reader’s eyes are likely to jump to while skimming a page as you continue to write the content.
Our Opinion on Keyword Prominence as a Ranking Factor
The prominence of keywords is a well-known ranking factor.
Google has stated numerous times that putting a keyword near the beginning of a piece of copy is better for SEO than putting it further down a page.
Include a specific keyword in your introduction paragraph if you want to improve your chances of ranking for it. Use the keyword early, but not too frequently, or you risk keyword stuffing.
For more information on how frequently a keyword should appear on a page, see our keyword density chapter.
Learn more from SEO and read An Introduction To Python & Machine Learning For Technical SEO.