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How does keyword prominence affect search engine rankings?

How does keyword prominence affect search engine rankings?

Keyword prominence refers to using the main keywords early on a web page. It also includes using keywords strategically and in “hot spots” that Google search engine crawlers and ranking algorithms might prioritize. 

For example, using the primary keyword phrase in the “lede” or intro of the article instead of using it once at, say, when half the article is done.

This concept of keyword prominence isn’t new. Many SEOs have been using keyword prominence for years now. However, does it actually work? And is it still relevant?

In this post, we are going to shed some light on keyword prominence, if the concept is still valid, and how the evolution of search engines might affect this in the future.

The evidence of keyword prominence influencing search rankings

The first evidence of keyword prominence influencing search rankings came from former Google employee Matt Cutts. In 2011, Matt shared a video in which he discussed how Google search crawlers identify keywords on a page and influence search rankings of that page.

“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,” said Matt Cutts.

However, Matt also cautioned against overdoing keywords because “there are diminishing returns.”

“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,” Matt added.

But that was back in 2011, ten years ago.

What about now?

The latest evidence that keyword prominence still influences search rankings came by John Mueller during a recent Q&A session.

“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,” John recommended.

John especially focused on thinking of keyword prominence from a user perspective. He said:

“You really need to make sure that the information that tells 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.”

How Google BERT contextualizes search results

Google has constantly been improving its search algorithm for a long time now.  The improvements attempt to reduce spam and phishing sites. Quality and a more human experience are now priorities. 

They strive to enhance user experience and search results’ relevance. Google BERT is one of the recent attempts by Google to better understand the content even without the excessive use of keywords.

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder and Recognition Tool) helps Google comprehend search query context and improve search results by showing more contextually relevant web pages.

The importance of semantically related keywords

As we just learned, keyword prominence is still an important factor — both for search engines as well as website visitors. However, in the context of Google BERT, content marketers and SEOs need to be smarter with keyword prominence.

The use of semantically related keywords can help improve your search visibility and rankings. This practice will also be in line with what Matt Cutts recommended in 2011 — to avoid overdoing the same keywords over and over again as there are no incremental benefits past a certain point.

You can learn more semantic SEO here:

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