Keyword Difficulty

Date created: Nov 21, 2023  •   Last updated: Dec 24, 2023

What is Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty is an SEO metric that predicts the effort required to rank on the first page of search engine results for a specific keyword. This metric is crucial for anyone involved in SEO as it influences the strategic direction of content plans and marketing campaigns—the higher the keyword "difficulty," the more challenging it is to rank for that keyword.

Keyword Difficulty Formula

ƒ Average (Keyword Difficulty)

How to calculate Keyword Difficulty

KD= a×log(SV) + b×DA(CW) + c×CQ(CW) + d×BL(CW) + e×KR ? f×SF Where: KD represents the Keyword Difficulty. log(SV) is the logarithm of the Search Volume, which helps moderate the impact of very high search volumes. DA(CW) is the average Domain Authority of Competing Websites, indicating the strength of competition. CQ(CW) stands for the Content Quality of Competing Websites, reflecting the standard of content you're competing against. BL(CW) refers to the Backlink Profile of Competing Websites, indicating the link strength of competitors. KR is the Keyword Relevance, measuring how closely the keyword matches user intent. SF represents SERP Features that might impact visibility negatively in this context, hence the negative weight. a, b, c, d, e, f are weights assigned to each factor, reflecting their relative importance in determining keyword difficulty. This formula is a conceptual model for understanding Keyword Difficulty and is not a standard or universally used calculation. In real-world applications, the exact methodology for calculating KD would likely be more complex and could involve additional factors and machine learning algorithms.

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More about Keyword Difficulty

As search engines become more sophisticated, it has become more challenging to get your content to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs). Knowing this, marketers must do their due diligence and put a lot of thought into keyword research.

Businesses must always understand how competitive a particular keyword is before creating and optimizing content around it. Called keyword difficulty, this factor can help you create content that your target audience would actually get to see.

How Important is Keyword Difficulty?

Understanding the concept of keyword difficulty allows you to gauge the competitiveness of a keyword and assess whether it's within your site's capability to rank for it. Through this, you can prioritize your efforts and focus on keywords that offer the best return on investment with less difficulty.

Targeting keywords with an appropriate difficulty level for your site can lead to improved rankings and more organic traffic. Ultimately, the more people land on your site, the more opportunities you have to convert them into customers.

Keyword Difficulty Score

The keyword difficulty score is a number, typically ranging from 0 to 100, assigned to a keyword. This score reflects the competitiveness of a keyword in the context of SEO. A higher score indicates a higher level of difficulty in achieving a top-ranking position on search engines like Google and Bing.

What is a good difficulty number to target?

The right keyword difficulty number to target can vary. For new websites or those with lower domain authority, it's advisable to aim for keywords with a difficulty score of 30 or less.

As your site gains authority and your SEO strategies mature, you can start targeting keywords with higher difficulty scores. It's all about finding the sweet spot where the search volume is decent, and the competition is not too overwhelming for your site's current standing.

How do different tools measure keyword difficulty?

There are three popular tools used to measure keyword difficulty: Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMRush.

Moz calculates Keyword Difficulty based on the Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) of the websites appearing in the top 10 positions on the SERPs for a given keyword. For instance, if the top-ranked websites have high DA and PA, the keyword will likely have a high difficulty score on their keyword difficulty checker.

Ahrefs, on the other hand, calculates Keyword Difficulty depending on the number of referring domains to the top 10 search results. It believes that backlinks are one of the most substantial factors influencing ranking.

SEMRush measures Keyword Difficulty based on the competition between the websites ranking in the top 20 results on the SERPs. They consider various factors like the number of referring domains, site traffic, and SERP features.

Factors That Make Up a Keyword's Difficulty Score

A keyword's difficulty score is not just a random number; it's calculated based on several key factors. These include the following:

Search Volume

Search volume is the number of searches a keyword has during a given period. Generally, the higher the search volume, the higher the competition and difficulty. For many, this is the first consideration when looking at keyword difficulty.

Domain Authority

This measures the strength of a website's domain. Sites with high domain authority are tough competitors and can make a keyword more difficult to rank for. For example, websites like Wikipedia, Amazon, and CNN have very high domain authority, making it difficult for smaller websites to outrank them in search results. Domain authority is typically by the age of the website and the traffic it generates for certain topics, among others.

Page Authority

Page authority is similar to domain authority but for individual pages. Pages with high authority are often well-established, with quality content and strong backlink profiles. While not as influential as domain authority, page authority can still have a significant impact on a keyword's difficulty.

Content Quality

Search engines favor content that provides value to the user, more so now with Google's Helpful Content update. That's why it's all the more crucial to produce well-researched, informative, and engaging content for your target audience.

Backlink Profile

The number and quality of backlinks pointing to a page can significantly impact its authority and, thus, the keyword difficulty. Also known as external links, these can be seen as a vote of confidence in your content. The more high-value backlinks you get from reputable sources, the more weight search engines give to your site. As a result, it becomes more difficult for others to outrank you in the search results.

Finding The Right Keywords To Target for Your Site

Now that you know the factors that come into play with keyword difficulty let's discuss how to find the right keywords to target for your site. Here are a few steps to help you in this process:

Step 1: Understand your audience

As with anything related to SEO and content marketing, understanding your audience is the first step. Have buyer personas and dive deep into their pain points and how you can address them.

Look at the language they use and the questions they ask. The better you understand your audience, the better you can tailor your keyword strategy to attract and engage them.

Step 2: Maximize SEO tools for data-driven insights

To start, tap into SEO tools such as SEMrush or Ahrefs. These platforms are equipped to give you a detailed look at keywords, including their difficulty scores and search volumes. Use these tools to gather data on which keywords are within your reach.

Step 3: Analyze keyword difficulty scores

Once you have a list of potential keywords, examine their difficulty scores. These scores help you understand the difficulty you'll face in ranking for each keyword.

Aim for those with a lower score if you're just starting out, as they are typically easier to rank for. Nonetheless, check the search volume as well. The perfect keywords to target are those with high search volume and low keyword difficulty.

Step 4: Evaluate the competition

Check who currently ranks for your chosen keywords. Visit their pages to see what kind of content they're offering. This can give you insights into what Google considers valuable and relevant for those terms.

Step 5: Align keywords with search intent

Make sure the keywords you target match the intent behind the search queries. Keywords should align with what your audience is looking for. If your content meets their needs, they're more likely to visit your site.

Step 6: Prioritize content relevance

Choose keywords that are closely related to the content on your site. Relevant keywords will help you attract the right audience and improve your chances of ranking well with less difficulty.

Step 7: Create a list of target keywords

With all this information, do some keyword research and create a prioritized list of search terms. Focus on those that are most relevant to your content. Additionally, look for those that have an attainable difficulty score and align with the user's search intent.

Step 8: Implement the keywords strategically in your content

Once you've finalized your list of target keywords, it's time to add them to your content. Use the keywords naturally throughout your articles, blog posts, product descriptions, and website copy. Make sure to add them to other page sections, such as your title tags, meta descriptions, and header tags as well. But remember, while using keywords is important for ranking, don't overdo it.

By the way, keyword stuffing can actually harm your SEO efforts, so always aim for a balance between SEO and creating quality content that provides value to your readers.

Step 9: Monitor keyword performance

After implementing your target keywords into your content, you must keep track of your keyword performance. Use SEO tools to monitor your keyword rankings over time. Keeping tabs on this will help you understand if your SEO efforts are paying off or if changes need to be made.

Step 10: Optimize and update your content regularly

Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving, affecting your keyword rankings. Reviewing and updating your content regularly can help maintain or even improve your search engine rankings. This includes optimizing your meta elements and including relevant internal and external links.

Advanced Techniques for Assessing Keyword Difficulty

When you're trying to figure out how hard it will be to rank for a keyword, there's more to consider than just the difficulty score and doing keyword research. The layout of the search results and the type of content that's already ranking can tell you a lot about what you're up against. 

Let's break down some advanced techniques that can give you a clearer picture of keyword difficulty.

Analyzing SERP layout

Take a close look at the search results for your keyword. Special boxes or panels like "People also ask" or featured snippets can make it harder to get noticed, even if you're on the first page. This is because these features often take up a significant amount of visual real estate on the screen, potentially drawing attention away from the traditional, organic search results.

Additionally, check the number and types of ads present. Many ads can indicate a highly competitive keyword since businesses are willing to pay more to be featured for these terms.

Evaluating rich snippets

Rich snippets — or those extra bits of information like star ratings or images — can draw attention away from your listing. If these are common for your keyword, you'll need to work harder to stand out.

Also, consider whether your own content is optimized to be featured as a rich snippet. Structuring your content to be snippet-friendly can improve your chances of standing out in a crowded SERP.

Content type ranking

Do some keyword research and check what kind of content is taking the top spots. Is it mostly videos, images, or news articles? If your content is different, you might have a tougher time ranking.

It's also wise to note the freshness of the content. If the top results are frequently updated, it suggests a need for you to refresh your content regularly to stay competitive.

Competitor domain strength

Look at who you're competing with. Are the top spots taken by big-name websites with lots of authority? If so, you'll need a strong strategy to compete.

Aside from analyzing their domain strength, you should also check the specificity of their content. Niches within your industry might have less competition, offering you a better chance to rank.

Explore long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are phrases containing three or more words. These can be a great way to narrow down competition and target more specific search intents. Long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volumes since they're more specific. However, these can lead to higher conversion rates as they are usually more relevant to the searcher's needs.

Long-tail search terms are also valuable in this age of voice search. As voice-activated devices like Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant become more prevalent, more people are using conversational phrases in their searches. Conducting keyword research and optimizing for long-tail keywords can, therefore, help you attract this growing segment of voice search users.

Consider search trends

Trends can significantly impact keyword difficulty. A keyword might be easy to rank for one month but become highly competitive the next due to seasonal trends or a sudden surge in popularity. Make use of keyword trend tools, Ahrefs and Google Keyword Planner, to stay informed about the changing landscape and adapt your strategy accordingly.

Future-Proofing Your SEO Against Changes in Keyword Difficulty

SEO is ever-changing, and so is keyword difficulty. To make sure your site keeps doing well in search results, you need a strategy that can handle these changes. Here's how you can protect your site's rankings over time.

Diversify your keyword strategy

When conducting keyword research, don't just focus on one. Make sure you have a good mix of keywords, both those easy and hard to rank for. This way, if one becomes too competitive, you've got others to fall back on. This approach also helps you capture a broader audience, as users may search for the same topic using different terms.

For example, one way to diversify is by using synonyms or related terms in your content. Another is by optimizing for semantic search, considering how users actually search and the various ways they phrase their queries.

Strengthen your backlink profile

Get links from other trustworthy sites. This shows search engines that your site is a reliable source of information, which can help your rankings stay strong.

You can earn backlinks by creating high-quality content that others want to link to. Guest posting on reputable websites is another effective strategy. Additionally, consider reaching out to influencers in your industry for collaborations that could lead to valuable backlinks.

Remember, the quality of backlinks often outweighs quantity. A few high-quality backlinks are more beneficial than many low-quality ones.

Build topical authority

Strive to become the go-to site for information on a specific topic. When search engines see you as an authority, your site is more likely to keep its good rankings, even when keyword difficulty changes. This involves creating comprehensive content that covers a topic in depth, which can establish your site as a resource hub.

Knowing your brand persona and tailoring your content to match that persona is also crucial. This improves your relevancy to a specific audience and also builds trust and loyalty. As a result, your users are more likely to engage with your brand and share your content.

Regularly update your content

Keep your content fresh and up-to-date. This not only helps with rankings but also shows that you're keeping up with changes in your field. Search engines favor content that is current and relevant, so revisiting and revising your older ones can give it a new lease of life in the SERPs.

Keyword Difficulty Is The Key To Effective Content Optimization

Keyword difficulty is a dynamic, ever-evolving element that requires constant monitoring and adjustment in your SEO strategy. When you understand the different factors that influence it, you can choose the best search terms in your keyword research and optimize your content to improve your chances of ranking high in SERPs.

Remember, SEO isn't just about stuffing your site with keywords. It's about delivering quality, valuable content that meets the needs of your audience and aligns with their search intent.

Keyword Difficulty Frequently Asked Questions

Is higher keyword difficulty better?

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Not necessarily. Higher keyword difficulty means more competition, making it harder to rank, especially for newer or less authoritative sites. It's also important to consider that high-difficulty keywords can bring more traffic, but they don't guarantee better conversion rates.

It's often more strategic to target lower-difficulty terms in your keyword research that are more aligned with your content and audience for better content engagement. This way, you can gradually build your site's authority and visibility in the SERPs.

What are high-quality keywords?

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High-quality keywords are those that have a good balance of high search volume, commercial intent, and a practical level of competition for your site. They are also closely related to your content and make sure that the traffic they bring is relevant and more likely to convert.

Identifying high-quality search terms in your keyword research involves understanding your audience's needs and how they search for solutions online. For instance, you may consider their common search queries, the language they use, and their behaviors and preferences on different platforms. This kind of audience analysis can help you create a list of potential high-quality keywords that are relevant to both your brand persona and your target audience.

How do I find my best keywords?

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Your brand's best keywords can be found using SEO tools that analyze keyword difficulty, search volume, and relevance to your content and audience. You must also consider your own website's ability to compete for these keywords. Look for terms that are specific to your niche and have a clear search intent that matches what your site offers.

Use tools like Google Keyword Planner, Moz, SEMrush, or Ahrefs to research and identify potential keywords. These tools provide you with detailed data on a keyword's search volume and competition and even suggest other related keywords that you might not have thought of.

Can I rely solely on search volume data to determine keyword difficulty?

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No, search volume is just one aspect. Keyword difficulty also considers the strength of the competition and the quality of the content currently ranking.

Additionally, you must check whether the search intent of a keyword matches the intent of your content. This can greatly affect your ability to rank and convert visitors into customers.

Search volume data can give you an idea of how many people are looking for a specific term, but it doesn't necessarily mean that these people are your target audience or that they will engage with your content. Therefore, it's just one part of the puzzle when it comes to keyword research and SEO strategy.

How long does it take to see results from targeting low-difficulty keywords?

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Results can vary, but targeting low-difficulty keywords can typically yield quicker results. Some websites see improvements in their rankings in as little as a few weeks, while others may take several months. It depends on factors like the quality of your content, your site's authority, and the overall competitiveness of your niche.

One strategy to go for is creating a mix of content that targets both high-difficulty and low-difficulty keywords. This approach allows you to make immediate gains while also working towards ranking for more competitive terms in the long run. The key is to be patient and consistent in your efforts.

Remember, SEO is a continuous process that involves constant monitoring, testing, and tweaking. Always keep an eye on your analytics data to understand how your keywords are performing and to identify opportunities for improvement.

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