When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), there are several ranking factors that an SEO company considers. The keyword is among these factors, and one of the most important—it sends strong signals to Google about what the page is about and what queries it should rank for.
There are subconcepts to understand when it comes to keywords, like keyword stuffing and keyword prominence. Keyword prominence refers to where the keyword appears on a page. On the other hand, keyword stuffing is defined as
the practice of repeating keywords or adding irrelevant keywords to a page to increase its ranking on results pages; manipulating and going beyond what is natural may result in manual action
[Read more SEO terms and definitions, including other keyword concepts of keyword density and keyword cannibalization.]
The SEO industry is universally agreeing with this definition. Nonetheless, the SEO industry is divided regarding keyword prominence—either agreeing or disagreeing if it is a ranking factor, just a ranking signal, or not affecting ranking at all.
Is keyword prominence a ranking factor?
One word: YES!
Of course, when one claims that keyword prominence is a ranking factor, there should be pieces of evidence to back the claim.
SEO experts often advise putting the target keyword early on in the copy, perhaps in the first paragraph. Or, if this is not possible, put the keywords above the fold. However, you need to place the keywords as organically as possible. The keyword must feel natural to read so that it would benefit as a ranking factor.
Thereby, keyword prominence correlates with ranking. The nearer the keyword in the beginning, the higher the ranking. The more prominent the keyword, the better its performance in search results.
Similarly, the less prominent the keyword, the lower the chance of ranking for the target keyword. So don’t minimize or reduce your chance of appearing in search engine results pages (SERPs) by drowning your target keyword in the copy.
You have surely seen search results with exact keywords appearing at the beginning of the title. Keyword prominence also explains the idea behind this SEO tactic.
As such, there is a strong business case for how and why keyword prominence is considered a ranking factor, not just a signal.
Google’s take on keyword prominence as a ranking signal
Google is not keen on publishing its list of ranking factors. However, the search giant leaves pieces of supporting evidence throughout the years.
The first evidence dates back to 2011, when Matt Cutts discussed how Google bots and crawlers pick up keywords when crawling a page. They look for signals, not exactly crawling the page in its entirety. Crawlers look into the metadata such as title, description, and keyword. That’s long before Google discarded meta keywords due to excessive keyword stuffing. This is at the code level.
Once the crawlers gather enough data about a page, they would stop and send signals about what the page is about. This is how Google can display results based on the keywords used in the keyword—by exact or partial matching.
Aside from keyword prominence, Cutts also hinted at keyword stuffing and keyword density. Here’s the video.
Overdoing keyword use is a no-no. When it comes to SEO, more is not necessarily better. He mentioned diminishing returns, wherein the more you mention your target keyword in the copy and in a not-so-organic way, the lower the benefits ranking-wise.
You want to maximize the incremental benefits of mentioning the target keyword once or twice in the copy. Our rule of thumb then is to indicate the keyword at least once for every 500 words. It means mentioning the exact or partial match in the copy, not just the actual keyword verbatim.
How keyword prominence has changed throughout the years
Cutts’s 2011 statements about keyword prominence, keyword stuffing, and keyword density still apply today. However, a lot has changed since then.
The most recent statements on keywords generally were made in 2021 when John Mueller talked about focus keywords (starting from the 5:15 mark).
The gist of his claims is to figure the target keyword prominently on the page, including the
- Image captions
These are the most useful places if you want to communicate to Google crawlers what the page is about. Thus, putting the target keyword at the bottom of a 2,000-word article or blog post is useless. Then again, Mueller also said that word count should be the least of your worries. For as long as it meets the 300-word requirement—anything below that number is considered thin content—it should be good to go.
Mueller also hinted at user experience (UX). Google prioritizes UX wherein the users must feel that they are on the right page when searching for a keyword and landing on a page about it exactly.
The thing is SEO experts need to perceive keyword prominence from the UX perspective and experience. Nonetheless, do not be afraid to optimize the content for readers and Google spiders.
Other important considerations about keyword prominence
Other than UX, there is another SEO-related factor that keyword prominence impacts: click-through rate (CTR). In SEO, ranking on your target keywords is half the battle won. The other half is encouraging the users to click on the result and land on the actual page. That’s traffic in the simplest term.
Keyword location impacts CTR. This is inherent to human users because we typically process information from left to right—reading, writing, and so on. It makes sense that the focus keyword should be in the beginning or closest to it. In this way, it will catch the users’ attention, considering the match between the said keyword and the query.
Another critical consideration is dwell time. How do you think the users will process the information on your page? Let’s say you have a 3,000-word blog post. Do you think the users will read the text word by word? Not always! They are more likely to skim through it instead of reading the text.
So it helps to have strategically placed keywords throughout the blog post, particularly on stop points such as the sub-headings and bulleted or numbered lists. You want to make sure you have already established what the page is about at the start. You want to assure them that they are reading the suitable material for their purpose. If you cannot, the users will leave your site and probably not return in the future.
Encouraging the users to explore the website from the page it entered can be made more effective by using keywords. But this time, anchor texts, and not necessarily the target keywords. For all that, it pays to know how keywords, in general, affect each page’s search performance and how each page affects the website’s search performance.
Tips for checking keyword prominence
- When writing content for your website, determine how prominent the target keyword is. Your priority should be the highest prominence compared with medium or low (or poor) prominence.
- Put yourself in the users’ position. You will likely scan through the search results, looking at the page titles first. If the result correlates with the search query he used, he will probably click on it.
- Users confirm the results before clicking on them, though they will probably click on up to two results. Or three if the first two fail to deliver.
- Users do not read the descriptions entirely. Their eyes are typically drawn to the bolded words and click on the first result that contains the exact match to their search query.
- Google does not always display the designated meta description. At times, it chooses based on the algorithmic evaluation of the content. However, it typically displays results with copies wherein keywords are mentioned early.
- Follow through with the users’ expectations. If the user lands on your page using the focus keyword but fails to address the topic or parts of it, the user will surely leave your website. This adds up to the bounce rate, so don’t wait for several paragraphs before the actual discussion.
- Put the target keyword in the heading and subheadings. The SEO specialists advise putting it in H1 or H2, where most eyeballs can see it. Again, users scan and stop on sections they think are most relevant to their search query.
All in all, you cannot do without using keywords, but use the focus keywords prominently in the copy. Remember that your target users are looking for it in the first place, so you cannot afford to skip keyword prominence when writing content. As a matter of fact, this SEO concept must be one of your key priorities when writing content.
If writing Google-optimized content is not your strongest point, Optimind is here to help. Our in-house SEO team comprises specialists and content writers adept at keyword research, keyword density, keyword prominence, etc. We clearly understand the reason behind mentioning the keyword early on in the copy. Call us today!