We all want to find low competition keywords. Ones we can easily rank for without having to spend countless hours begging for a few backlinks. But to find these diamonds in the rough, we first need to understand what is keyword difficulty.
There’s a lot of noise surrounding keyword difficulty, including the methods different SEO tool suites use to calculate it. Yes, each keyword tool uses a unique approach, complicating the process further.
As a busy marketer, you probably don’t have time to read 20 blog posts to figure out the nuances between tools, especially when that time is better spent applying the SEO basics to your website.
You could end up ignoring keyword difficulty completely, which is a big mistake.
By the end of this article, you’ll what is keyword difficulty, how different tools calculate, and the best way to interpret it.
What is Keyword Difficulty?
Keyword difficulty is a measurement of how much competition there is for a particular keyword. We use keyword difficulty to determine how easy or hard it will be for our website to reach the top spot of the search results (SERPs).
Why should you understand keyword difficulty?
As you don’t have an endless budget or time, we need a metric that makes finding easy-to-rank-for keywords a little more painless. Otherwise, you’ll try to target keywords on a wing and a prayer. Not the best strategy.
You probably don’t have the time to build backlinks to each of your posts to get them to rank for more difficult keywords. So by understanding how difficult a keyword is to rank for, you can create a strategy that targets a mix but is weighted toward keywords with less competition.
By targeting the right keywords, you can ensure your website is visible to your potential clients, which will drive more traffic, better engagement, and higher conversions.
Do all SEO tools use the same difficulty metric?
Unfortunately, each SEO software company uses a unique methodology when deciding how competitive it will be to rank for a particular keyword. That said, they all are trying to mimic Google’s algorithms to make the SEO process more predictable.
In accent web history (back in the early 2000s), the search engine’s algorithms ranked websites by backlinks alone. Some tools decided that is the way to calculate keyword difficulty, and still do to this day.
However, search engines have become more sophisticated and now weigh over 200 different factors when deciding the order of the search results. And so, how we calculate keyword difficulty has also evolved.
As with keyword search data, the difficulty score is, at best, an estimate. We don’t know, in precise detail, the exact algorithm each search engine uses to rank websites. And as their secret source, they’re unlikely to reveal their algorithms any time soon.
So with any metric, including keyword volume and keyword difficulty, you must trust your gut and not rely solely on someone else’s estimate. Over time, you’ll get better at judging keyword difficulty based on the data and your experience.
Can we easily calculate a Keyword’s difficulty?
Even though each keyword tool calculates difficulty using a unique method, they all use a similar set of underlying data points. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Ubersuggest, SEO Powersuite, or Ahrefs, they all consider the following:
- The authority of the domain
- The authority of the page
- The quality of page content
- The trustworthiness of the website
- The number and quality of backlinks that the website has
- Search intent
As each tool uses a different mix of these elements, it’s impossible to tell which factors matter more or less when calculating a keyword difficulty score. Let’s look at these factors in more detail.
The authority of the domain
How long the website has been live. Is it an error-free and authoritative website?
The authority of the page
Are there links pointing to this page from other pages on your website and external sites?
The quality of page content
Is the author an authority on the topic? Have they cited sources (both external and internal) when appropriate?
The trustworthiness of the website
Is the site factual, accurate, and well researched? Are they updating content to correct errors?
The number and quality of backlinks that the website has
You don’t need many backlinks, but you do need quality links.
Is the keyword transactional or informational? The intent behind the search is important when considering how competitive a keyword is. For more: What is search intent and why it matters?
Should you trust the keyword data from any SEO tool?
While every SEO keyword tool estimates how much volume a keyword receives each month and how difficult ranking could be, having some data is better than none.
You might find it best to find a keyword tool that’s easy to work with rather than being overly concerned about the accuracy of the data. Of course, you could use two keyword tools and use the average of the two.
As no tool is perfect, it’s worth every few months updating the data and asking the tool to recalculate the monthly volume and difficulty of each keyword you’re tracking. By doing this, you should be able to refine your strategy further.
Organic difficulty vs Paid difficulty
Most keyword tools measure how difficult it is to rank in organic searches. Google Ads Keyword Planner, on the other hand, measures how difficult it is to rank with paid ads on SERPs. Some tools will even show you both numbers.
Keyword difficulty in organic search is completely different from paid search, and as such, you should treat them as separate data points.
Should I target keywords with a high difficulty?
Most small businesses should avoid targeting keywords with a super high difficulty. Instead, try to stick to keywords with a difficulty score of under 40.
However, if you feel you can better match the search intent of a keyword with medium difficulty, build a page to target that keyword.
Again, go with your gut. If you’re wrong, you can always find another keyword to target and redo your on-page SEO around this new keyword phrase and see these changes help you to rank higher.
If you decide to target a few highly competitive keywords, you’ll need to put in more effort to get it ranking. Here are three pillars you should consider.
Focus on creating a page that offers something unique. It could be a different point of view, new research, or covering the topic in more depth.
Cover a single topic with unparalleled depth and build plenty of internal links. By focusing your website around a narrow topic, you can outrank authoritative websites that cover a range of topics and only rank well due to their overall brand authority.
Having a high number of quality backlinks pointing to a specific page can help you rank for that page even if your overall domain authority is lower.
Taking a holistic view of keywords
It’s so important when doing keyword research to consider search volume, keyword difficulty, and intent. When assessing any keyword, you need to consider all three elements, whether you’re building a paid or organic search campaign.
By understanding how these three work together, you can better find and target keywords that enable you to reach your campaign goals and exceed your KPIs.
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