Importance of Keywords as a Google Ranking Factor


Keyword prominence is a good SEO practice that involves using a page’s target keyword early on in order to send a strong signal to Google about what the page needs to rank for.

It is a concept comparable to the journalistic norm never to bury the leader. “Burying the lede†means hiding the main focus of a story under information less relevant to the reader.

This is considered a mistake in journalism because it sends a confusing message about the most important details of a given story.

Burying the lede in an element of web content, with “lede” being the target keyword, is considered bad SEO practice because it sends confusing signals regarding the topic of the page.

At least that’s the consensus within the SEO industry. But is this an unsubstantiated theory or has Google confirmed that keyword importance is a ranking factor?

Here is more information on the keyword prominence claim, followed by supporting evidence.


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The Claim: Keyword Prominence is a Ranking Factor

Where a keyword appears on a page is believed to play a role in search rankings.

SEO professionals advise using a page’s target keyword early in order to benefit from a ranking signal known as keyword prominence.

The prominence of keywords is positively correlated with higher rankings. The closer a keyword appears to the beginning of titles and text, the more visible it is.

Using a less visible keyword would reduce the chances of ranking for that keyword.

When you do a Google search, it’s common to see results where the exact keyword you entered appears at the beginning of the page titles.

For the record, it can be argued that keyword prominence is a ranking factor.

Is this confirmed by Google?

Let’s take a look at the supporting evidence.

The importance of keywords as a ranking factor: the evidence

Early proof

The evidence supporting the importance of keywords as a ranking factor dates back to 2011 where it is mentioned in a video with former Googler Matt Cutts.


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It explains how Google detects the use of keywords when crawling the web and that the first few uses of a keyword will send signals to Google about the main objective of a page.

Cutts, however, cautions site owners not to overuse their keywords because more isn’t necessarily better.

“The way 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 say that word, [Google thinks] “Oh OK, it’s still that word.” And once you start to mention it a lot, it really doesn’t help much anymore. There are diminishing returns. It’s just an added benefit, but it’s really not that important.

… So the first or two times you mention a word that might help you rank, absolutely. But just because you can say it seven or eight times doesn’t necessarily mean it will help your rankings.

Recent testimonials

A lot has changed in SEO since 2011, but Google’s advice on keyword prominence remains the same.

Here is more recent evidence from Google’s John Mueller bringing up the topic in 2021 during one of his weekly question-and-answer sessions (at the 6:43 mark):

“I would recommend, if you want to tell us something about your page, to make it as visible as possible. So don’t put that just as a one-word mention at the bottom.

But rather, use it in your headings, use it in your headings, use it in your subtitles, use it in your captions from images, all of those things to make it as clear as possible to users and for Google when they visit your page that this page deals with this topic.

So that’s kind of the direction I would take there. I wouldn’t care if Google can get the word number 20,000 or not. Because if you talk about the word 20,000 and say that is the most important keyword for my page, then you are 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 got to the right page, I’m going to read what is in this page. page to tell me. “


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Mueller insists on thinking about keyword prominence from a user experience perspective.

Going back to our burying the lede analogy, when you use the most important keyword early on, you end up optimizing for readers and Google at the same time.

Other considerations for keyword prominence

We’ve covered the impact of keyword prominence on SEO, its impact on user experience, and now we’ll discuss its potential impact on click-through rate.

Mueller strongly recommends making your most important keyword obvious in headlines, headers, captions, and the main copy.

Page titles are not only a factor for SEO, they can influence click-through rates from organic search results as well. This is another reason why keyword placement is especially important because rankings mean nothing without traffic.

In English we read from left to right, so a page title with the keyword closest to the beginning will grab a searcher’s attention because it matches what they typed in the search bar.


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The goal of SEO isn’t just to appear at the top of search results, it’s to get people to click on your page rather than others. Strategically placed keywords can help achieve this.

Now think about what your visitors are going to do when they land on the page. They will most likely scan the content rather than read verbatim.

With that in mind, you want to use the keyword as early as possible in an article. You want to make sure the reader will see it as it hovers over it.

Use the keyword around the first paragraph, or even in the first sentence if you can. You want to immediately show the reader that they have found the right article to help them with their search. Otherwise, they will leave.

As you continue to write the content, be sure to use the keyword again in the headers, and anywhere else the reader’s eyes are likely to jump as they scroll through a page. .


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The importance of keywords as a ranking factor: our verdict

The prominence of keywords is a confirmed ranking factor.

Google has said time and again that it’s better to use a keyword near the start of a copy, from an SEO perspective, than if it first appears lower down a page.

If you want to maximize your chances of ranking for a particular keyword, include it in your introductory paragraph. Use the keyword early, but don’t use it too often, or you might run into keyword stuffing issues.


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To learn more about how often a keyword should appear on a page, see our chapter on keyword density.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita / SearchEngineJournal


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