Keyword Difficulty in SEO Guide: Everything You Need to Know

keyword difficulty in seo

Here is an overview of what keyword difficulty entails, how the score is determined, and some useful tips for leveraging it to achieve better outcomes. 

While keyword difficulty may not be one of the trendiest or most talked-about topics in SEO, it remains a powerful metric with significant potential when you fully grasp its implications.

Keyword difficulty can assist you in making informed decisions regarding your chances of ranking for specific terms. This knowledge empowers you to make strategic choices that form the foundation of your SEO strategy.

Let’s explore what keyword difficulty entails, how it is measured, and discover tips for leveraging it to achieve better results.

What is Keyword Difficulty?

Keyword difficulty is a term that computes the level of competition associated with a keyword and indicates the level of difficulty in achieving a high ranking for that particular keyword. Keyword difficulty is typically presented as a numerical value ranging from 1 (indicating low competition) to 100 (representing extremely high competition).

What Does the Score Tell you?

Keyword difficulty in SEO provides insight into the anticipated level of challenge in achieving a high ranking for a specific keyword, taking into account the strength and competitiveness of the competition. However, there is no universally standardized method for calculating the difficulty or competition level of ranking for a specific keyword.

Different tools employ diverse methodologies to measure keyword difficulty, leading to significant variations in scores depending on the specific tool used.

Most tools consider the strength and quantity of referring domains that point to the top-ranking results in search engines as part of their calculation for keyword difficulty. However, many tools also incorporate additional metrics into their assessment.

Where Do You Find it?

A multitude of SEO tools are available that offer a keyword difficulty checker feature. Typically, the keyword difficulty metric can be found within the keyword research function of a tool, often displayed alongside the search volume metric. It may be labeled as “difficulty,” “competition,” or “KD” (Keyword Difficulty).

Tools to Check Keyword Difficulty

To assess keyword competition at a larger scale, a paid keyword research tool is usually necessary. Here are some of the most renowned tools in this category:

1. Ahrefs

To initiate your search, navigate to the Keywords Explorer tool. Once there, you can explore keywords and find the associated difficulty score. The difficulty score is prominently displayed and color-coded, accompanied by descriptive text to provide a clear understanding of the level of difficulty.

How is it calculated?

Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo explains in detail: 

“Here at Ahrefs, we use a simple method for calculating KD. We pull the top 10 ranking pages for your keyword and look up how many websites link to each of them. The more links the top-ranking pages for your keyword have, the higher its KD score. Very simple and very actionable.”

2. Semrush

In the Keyword Overview section of Semrush, you can access their difficulty metrics for keywords. Additionally, keyword reports within Semrush include a dedicated KD (Keyword Difficulty) column, providing further insights into the level of difficulty associated with each keyword.

How is it calculated?

Semrush employs a combination of SERP (Search Engine Results Page) analysis, keyword analysis, and a score weighting system that takes locality into account to determine keyword difficulty.

3. Moz

Moz Keyword Explorer offers a readily available and easily interpretable score for keyword difficulty. 

How is it calculated?

In their help section, Moz explains: 

“Keyword Difficulty in Keyword Explorer takes into account the Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) scores of the results ranking on the first page of Google for the given query, as well as modifying intelligently for projected click-through rate (CTR) of a given page. Keyword Difficulty puts more weight on higher-ranking, more visible pages, and less weight on lower-ranking, less visible pages. The formula also accounts for newer pages on powerful domains that may have DA scores but have not yet been assigned PA values. The scores roughly correspond to a weighted average of the PA of the top 10, and the other inputs (DA, homepages, query term use, etc.) modify that weighted average.”

4. Sistrix

To access the keyword explorer, simply click on the “Keywords” option in the top navigation menu. This will take you directly to the keyword exploration feature. Enter a seed term or a list of terms into the keyword explorer tool. If you use a seed term, you will be directed to an overview page where the difficulty score for that specific term is displayed prominently. By drilling down into this list, you can explore detailed information about the competition level and keyword difficulty for each keyword.

How is it calculated?

Sistrix states they use “a number of values” to calculate their difficulty score. They go on to say:

“Around 15 values ​​for each keyword are regularly analysed and summarized in this key figure. These are quite intuitive metrics such as the number of searches, but also more complex observations such as the number of start pages (not sub-pages) in the top 10.

The value has a logarithmic structure. In practice, this means that an increase in the competition key figure by 10 points represents roughly twice as intense competition in the SERPs for this keyword.” 

As expected, each tool keeps the specifics of its calculation under wraps. The unique methodologies used by each tool contribute to the differences in scores, resulting in varying keyword difficulty assessments. 

Quick tip: Select a specific tool for each project and remain consistent with it. Avoid mixing data from different tools, as comparing keyword difficulty won’t be accurate or consistent if you’re not using the same source for measurement.

Is Keyword Difficulty Good or Bad?

Keyword difficulty, in and of itself, is neither inherently good nor bad. It is simply a piece of information that provides insight into the level of competition for a particular keyword. Indeed, if you have a brand new site to launch with a limited budget and all the relevant keywords you want to target have extremely high competition, it can be challenging. However, this situation highlights the importance of strategic business planning, including conducting thorough keyword research and considering alternative keyword opportunities that may have lower competition but still align with your goals.

Having a clear understanding of keyword competitiveness is definitely advantageous. Recognizing how it can work in your favor provides you with a head start over your competitors.

What is High/Low Keyword Difficulty?

Simply put, a high-difficulty keyword indicates intense competition, which presents greater difficulties in achieving a top ranking in organic search results. It is not uncommon to see recognizable brand names ranking for high-difficulty terms. 

For instance, let’s consider the keyword “iPhone 14.” According to Sistrix, it has a competition score of 67% in the U.S. 

The SERPs look like this:

When we analyze the competition for the keyword “iPhone 14” and observe the presence of brands like Apple, CNN, and Wikipedia in the top 10 search results, it becomes evident that smaller brands would face significant challenges in ranking among these established entities.

In general, a low difficulty score indicates less intense competition. You may come across less relevant results and potentially discover niche websites that are not widely recognized or popular.

Now, let’s consider a term with significantly lower difficulty, such as “how to turn off iPhone 14.”

The competition level for this term is only 33%. While you still have some notable competitors, you will also come across lesser-known names in the search results.

This demonstrates that if you produce highly valuable and pertinent content, you have a chance of achieving a favorable ranking.

When assessing keyword competition, it’s important to remember that everything is relative.

Color scales are an excellent tool for reviewing a keyword list as they provide a visual representation of the highs and lows in relation to the dataset you’re working with, which makes it easier to assess keyword competition.

After creating a list of keywords that you are interested in for a new page or piece of content, it is important to analyze the distribution of difficulty scores throughout the entire list.

What is a Good Keyword Difficulty?

This is where things become challenging. Determining a “good” keyword difficulty requires finding a sweet spot that aligns with your specific considerations and goals. The optimal approach is to gather all the pertinent information, including competition scores, and leverage this data to make informed and strategic decisions. 

It’s undoubtedly a challenging task, but the more you engage in it, the more insights and knowledge you gain.

Factors to Consider When Looking for a Good Keyword

When evaluating the feasibility of a keyword, there are several factors to consider, striking a balance between the following aspects:

  • Search volume.
  • Your site’s current strength in the market. 
  • The strength of your backlink profile.
  • How competitive a term is in relation to other terms you could target (difficulty).
  • How well your content can fulfill search intent.

You will arrive at your decisions by carefully considering and evaluating these factors.

How Do I Choose Keyword Difficulty?

When you assess difficulty scores, it’s not about selecting a number or a particular difficulty level. Instead, it serves as a valuable metric to aid your comprehension of the challenge at hand.

Difficulty scores play a vital role in the selection of keywords for SEO, despite their relatively small size. Here’s the step-by-step process I follow:

  • Begin by inputting your seed keyword into an SEO tool that offers metrics such as search volume and keyword competition or difficulty.
  • Choose all the pertinent keyword alternatives and compile them into a list for future reference.
  • Export the list to Google Sheets or Excel.
  • Sort by search volume (highest first).
  • Apply color scales to format the search volume and keyword difficulty columns, enhancing their visual representation.
  • Utilize the color scales as visual indicators to identify keywords with higher search volumes and lower difficulty scores.
  • Select one or two primary keywords and a few secondary keywords that capture your highest level of interest.
  • Examine the search intent for the refined keyword list and assess the existing ranking content. Be objective and determine if you intend to create a page that effectively satisfies that search intent.
  • Eliminate any keywords from your refined list that do not align with the intended search purpose or user intent.
  • Always consider the domain you are working on. If you have a prominent brand with a high authority website, you may not need to prioritize keyword competition as much as a small to medium-sized business that needs to capitalize on every opportunity to improve its position in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • At this stage, you should have a refined and qualified list of target keywords that will assist you in concentrating your content efforts.

Allow me to provide an illustration of how color scales can be employed to visualize the opportunities:

In this example, the keyword “wall stickers for kids” appears to be a captivating opportunity, displaying a relatively high search volume (within my current dataset) and a comparatively low difficulty level.

Had I not conducted keyword research, I might have mistakenly assumed that “wall stickers” was the ideal term to pursue. However, upon analysis, I discovered that it is significantly more competitive and has a slightly lower search volume.

Considering my target audience is kids, I have identified a potential target keyword in this context.

But… are Keywords Still Important for SEO?

Presently, there is a notable emphasis on AI, machine learning, natural language processing, and voice search. Furthermore, Google Analytics has obscured a significant portion of its keyword data, leading to limited visibility in this regard (referred to as “not provided”).

You might be curious as to why investing time and effort into considering a keyword difficulty score is worthwhile.

Nevertheless, keywords remain crucially important. This kind of research provides valuable insights into the preferences and search behavior of your target market, helping you understand what they are seeking and how they go about searching for it.

Engaging in this process can be fascinating, occasionally revealing unexpected and even amusing findings. When we search, we often enjoy a level of anonymity that encourages direct and honest inquiries, resulting in a wide range of queries and responses.

Additionally, conducting keyword research provides insights into what your competitors perceive as important. This knowledge can help you devise strategies to outsmart them or identify untapped opportunities they may have overlooked.

Keyword research can serve as a valuable tool for discovering new opportunities in terms of products, product ranges, or content. 

Failing to consistently monitor what people are searching for may cause you to overlook emerging trends that initially have lower difficulty due to the lack of competition. By staying vigilant and regularly conducting keyword research, you can seize these opportunities before competitors catch up.

The process of creating good, helpful, and authoritative content to meet these queries is a separate question altogether. However, comprehending your marketplace within the search engine results pages (SERPs) is a crucial step that should never be overlooked.

Having a focused keyword list enables you to stay attentive to the available opportunities and serves as the fundamental pillar of your overall strategy.

How to Find Low-Difficulty Keywords?

By filtering or sorting any dataset based on keyword difficulty, you can easily identify low-competition keywords. 

If your intention is to commence your search by focusing on keywords that are relatively easier to rank for, here are a few alternative methods you can consider:

1. Adding search qualifiers

To refine your broad search and target keywords that are easier to rank for, consider adding qualifiers to your search. By including words like “for,” “to,” or “vs,” you can narrow down the options and generate more specific phrases.

2. Looking for the long tail

Long-tail queries naturally exhibit more specificity, detail, and lower competition. Due to their relatively lower search volumes, long-tail keywords often offer untapped opportunities that can be easily capitalized on. In essence, there is typically low-hanging fruit available when targeting long-tail keywords.

3. Getting ahead of trends

Employing tools such as Google Trends, Pinterest Trends, TikTok Trends, and Exploding Topics, remain vigilant for emerging areas of interest within your niche. 

Identifying these emerging trends early on often results in lower competition. However, it’s important to note that there is always an element of uncertainty involved. 

It is challenging to predict which trends will endure and how rapidly the competition will adapt, which could potentially jeopardize your position in the search engine results pages (SERPs). 

Why is Keyword Difficulty Important?

Keyword difficulty is an indispensable metric in SEO for several compelling reasons:

1. It’s strategic

Keyword difficulty holds significant importance as it enables us to think strategically. As SEO professionals with limited time, we aim to maximize the impact of our efforts. By considering keyword difficulty, we can prioritize our work and focus on opportunities where we have the greatest potential to achieve meaningful results.

Efficiently and swiftly understanding the competition within the search engine results pages (SERPs) offers immense assistance in achieving our goals.

2. It helps us make decisions – lots of them

By assessing the level of competition, we can determine the extent of effort required for new content creation. This evaluation helps us make informed decisions on how much time, resources, and energy to allocate to different content initiatives.

In certain cases, we may choose not to allocate resources towards attaining high rankings for particularly competitive keywords or gaining recognition for highly contested product ranges. Instead, we can explore alternative means such as PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising, email marketing, or other forms of advertising to achieve our objectives.

We have the flexibility to determine whether to focus our efforts on-page or off-page optimization strategies. 

3. It helps us to be smarter with our limited resources

When incorporated into our strategy, keyword difficulty allows us to work smarter rather than harder. It serves as a metric that enables us to swiftly narrow down vast amounts of data and gain a rapid understanding of our opportunities. 

4. It can help you manage expectations

Sharing the keyword difficulty metric with stakeholders can enhance our communication effectiveness. Possessing a quantifiable metric that showcases the need for additional effort or resource allocation can strengthen your case when seeking the necessary provisions. Initiating a discussion about keyword difficulty from the outset can greatly aid understanding, particularly for managers or business owners. By explaining this measure upfront, you can help them visualize why achieving high rankings for certain keywords is more challenging and may require a longer time frame. 

Managing Keyword Competition in Your SEO Campaigns

While I strongly advocate for the collection and review of keyword difficulty metrics, it is equally important not to become overly fixated on them.

As we have observed, different tools measure the concept of keyword competition in varying ways. Keyword competition is more of a concept rather than an exact science with standardized measurements.

I prefer to view this data as a signpost rather than a strict instruction.

Keyword difficulty metrics are designed to assist us in making informed decisions on a larger scale. They provide valuable guidance, allowing us to assess the landscape and navigate strategically. 

For instance, if a particular keyword appears to be highly challenging in terms of competition, but it holds significant importance as a key component of your product range or service provision, I encourage you to pursue it regardless. 

While pursuing challenging keywords may require additional time and effort, it can still lead you to the desired destination. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hyyy Wait....
GET 50% OFF..!!