Keyword Difficulty: What it is and why it’s important in SEO
Why Keyword Difficulty is important in SEO? Everybody knows that the search volume of a keyword is a necessary SEO metric. But it’s correspondingly important to know what it takes to rank for that keyword.
That’s why every keyword research tool works with a metric called Keyword Difficulty. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at what it is, how it’s calculated, and why it’s so important when doing keyword research.
What is keyword difficulty?
Keyword difficulty (also known as keyword competition or SEO difficulty) is an SEO metric that estimates how difficult it is to rank for a keyword. The higher is the keyword difficulty, the tougher it is to rank on the 1st SERP due to the high competition of the ranking websites.
There are various factors (both external and internal) that influence the degree of keyword difficulty, including the quality of the competitors’ pages and the quality of your page. The word is usually used with two slightly different meanings:
- Keyword difficulty is a metric on a range from 0 to 100
- Keyword difficulty as a common term taking into account all the aspects (both internal and external)
Keyword difficulty as a metric
Very often, the term keyword difficulty relates to the metric used in SEO tools that scores the ranking difficulty of each keyword on a scale from 0 to 100. It operates pretty simply: the higher the score, the more difficult it is to rank for the keyword.
Note: Google Keyword Planner has a metric named Competition. Please note that this metric estimates the race of paid keywords for PPC campaigns and has nothing to do with organic results and SEO.
How is keyword difficulty calculated?
When quantifying the competition of a keyword into a metric, there’s only one phase of the website quality taken into consideration – the backlink profile. Each website ranking in the 1st SERP is given a specific score based on the quality and quantity of the backlinks.
The authority of your competitors can be measured in various forms. In KWFinder, you can find the Link Profile Strength metric that determines the website’s link profile quality. The estimation is based on the selected metrics by Moz, Majestic, and our know-how, namely:
- Domain Authority
- Page Authority
- Citation Flow
- Trust Flow
Keyword difficulty as a general term
When estimating how hard it will be for you to rank for a particular keyword, you need to consider a couple of internal and external factors. The most important factors are:
SEO is all about outranking your competitors. So looking at the competing websites is one of the best approaches to estimate the difficulty of ranking for a keyword. It would be best if you focused on the quality of their:
- content quality
- on-page optimization
Backlinks are still a significant ranking factor, so they provide a reasonable estimation of how hard it will be to rank for a keyword.
It’s also the only factor that can be covered and put into a metric. That’s why estimating the keyword difficulty is often degraded to finding out how authoritative (in terms of link profile) your competitors are. The more authority the websites ranking for a keyword have, the more difficult it will be for you to outrank them.
Authority of your website
Besides the competitors, your capacity to rank for a keyword is also determined by your website’s authority.
This is particularly important to keep in mind if you have a new website. Even if the competition for a keyword is relatively low and you write an excellent piece of content, you probably won’t rank with your brand new site with zero backlinks.
Remember that they’re not utilized by Google in any way and only serve as a guideline for you. Make sure to compare the prices within one metric.
Quality of your content
There’s another side of the coin – the authority of your website won’t support you if the quality of your content is not able to compete with the pages ranking in the 1st SERP.
It would be best if you requested yourself these questions:
- How hard will it be for me to write content equal or better than the competing pages?
- Can I give the same level of expertise as my competitors?
- Is there any benefit I can give to the readers when compared to the competitors? (Quality, depth of knowledge, unique data, visuals, etc.)
These are subjective parts that contribute to the overall level of keyword difficulty in your specific case.
Last but not least, you should consider the search intent after the search query. In other words – what kind of content are people who practiced a particular keyword expecting? There are four basic types of search intent:
If your keyword is the best air humidifier and all the pages on the 1st SERP are reviews, you most presumably won’t rank for that keyword with your e-commerce landing page. Even if your website was more authoritative and your content would be fully optimized.
Why should you care about keyword difficulty?
Many beginner bloggers prefer a keyword, write great content and optimize the page only to find out that they’re not ranking at all. The most common mind– the competition is too fierce. This is why your keyword research method should always account for keyword difficulty.
By keeping an eye on keyword difficulty:
- You’ll get a reliable overview of what are the hot keywords and big players in your niche
- You’ll be able to know alternative keywords in your niche that you have an actual chance to rank for
- You’ll be able to save a lot of time by concentrating on keywords that can bring you results even if your website does not have much authority yet
How to use keyword difficulty in your SEO tactics
Look at the big picture
Keyword difficulty is only one of the features you should consider when doing keyword research. The other two major aspects are the popularity of the keyword and relevance. If there’s a low difficulty, but the keyword has no search volume, you won’t see any traffic.
On the other hand, you will not rank for the keyword without connection even if the difficulty metric is low because the search intent doesn’t match your type of content.
Analyze the SERP results
Never rely on a unique number given by a keyword tool. The keyword difficulty metric provides you a quick overview – not to replace the competitor research. In other words – SERP analysis is non-negotiable. Besides the difficulty metric, always look at the SERP results and the websites that rank for the keyword.
You may also notice, for instance, that the top positions are considered by big brands (e.g., Amazon, Pinterest, and YouTube) with high authority, which may not be reflected in the 0-100 metric but will affect your ability to rank for the keyword at the top.
Don’t be afraid of high difficulty
The keyword difficulty metric alone shouldn’t deter you from ranking for a keyword with medium or higher difficulty.
It’s more regarding getting a general sense of what you’re up against and determining what you need to do to make your page a viable competitor. Here’s a couple of things that can improve your rank for a highly competitive keyword:
- Outstanding content – you may outrank very authoritative competitors with quality content that shows better expertise and covers the topic in a much deeper way
- Topical relevance – having a narrowly oriented website with quality internal links can help you outrank authoritative websites that cover the topic only sporadically and rank primarily due to their overall brand authority
- Quality backlinks – a high number of quality backlinks to a specific page can help you rank for that page even if your general domain authority is lower
Compare the values within one tool
There are many keyword research tools out there, and each may use a distinctive backlink database or a different way of calculating the keyword difficulty.