Keyword difficulty is an important part of SEO, describing how difficult it would be to target a specific keyword.
While this might sound relatively straightforward at first, using keyword difficulty effectively is vital for making sure that you target the right keywords in the right ways.
But what does keyword difficulty actually mean, and how should the keyword difficulty score of a specific target keyword help you make informed decisions properly?
If you want top-ranking pages, then you need to understand how keyword difficulty comes into play.
Table of Contents
What is Keyword Difficulty?
Keyword difficulty is a general measurement of how hard it would be to rank for a specific keyword.
A keyword’s difficulty score is based on a few different factors, mostly things that would have a direct impact on your overall SEO results, such as domain authority and content quality.
High-difficulty keywords have more competition, making them harder to rank for but also potentially meaning that they are more valuable.
Low-difficulty keywords have less competition but are usually low-difficulty because they are not as desirable or widely useful.
Overall, the more broad a given keyword is, the harder it will be to rank for.
This is because more businesses will want to use that keyword themselves, sometimes spread across multiple industries that are not even related to one another.
Why is Keyword Difficulty Important?
While there are a lot of keyword research tool options that can provide a list of keywords a mile long, this makes no real difference if you do not know which ones are worth targeting.
While there are other ways to find keywords that have high value or great SEO potential, keyword difficulty still matters.
Why Keyword Difficulty Matters
Assessing keyword difficulty score is an easy way to figure out if a particular keyword is worth chasing and how much effort it would take to actually capture that keyword within your own SEO efforts.
If you do not check keyword difficulty, you have no idea how hard a specific keyword would be to rank for.
In other words, keyword difficulty helps you understand which keywords are actually a plausible target.
When used alongside other factors like organic search volume, it becomes an important part of finding a good keyword that you know you can reasonably target.
Where Does Keyword Difficulty Score Come From?
Keyword difficulty is calculated through a range of factors, including things like the keyword’s search intent and the backlink profile of your own site.
In general, keyword difficulty score refers to how difficult your site would find ranking for a particular keyword – but other sites may have a completely different difficulty score, even if they are targeting the same keyword in the same way.
Overall, one of the most notable factors involved in calculating keyword difficulty is the competition.
Highly competitive keywords (usually meaning ones with more search volume and high relevance to a lot of niches) are going to be fought over by more businesses and sites, and that makes it harder for you to take it for yourself.
In a lot of cases, the most common or obvious keywords are so competitive that it is not even worth trying to capture them.
For example, the first page of Google search results for something like “furniture” will all be major international brands that have spent thousands of dollars on keeping those keywords.
Keyword competition can make or break your SEO plans.
If a particular keyword is being fought over by multiple major companies, it is almost impossible to get into the top 10, no matter how badly you want to rank for it.
Usually, lesser-used or less-profitable keywords have lower difficulty scores to match since they are low-competition.
This means that they are easier to rank for and can be a major part of many smaller businesses’ SEO projects.
Remember that you will always have competitors, and they may be trying to rank for the same keywords as you.
Just because a keyword is low-competition does not mean that you will not have to fight for it, and certain good-for-SEO keywords may still be hard to get into the top 10 for.
You can only get into a decent spot on a search engine results page if you are actually taking the time to create worthwhile content, and this becomes a major part of SEO keyword difficulty, too.
Bad content means that even basic keywords are going to be harder to rank for.
Google (and most other search engines) want to put high-quality content at the forefront in every situation.
This means that they want organic search results that are useful, valuable, and relevant results to whatever the user’s search intent is.
If your content is not a good fit for those kinds of keywords or is not even a good piece of content at its core, then you are going to see worse results.
If you want to use your target keyword properly, then you need content that actually matches up to the end goal you are aiming for.
Search intent is the reason behind a user making a search on search engines.
When somebody makes a Google search, there is always an intent behind it, and this factors into keyword difficulty in a number of different ways.
Generally, users are searching for one of four reasons: to gain information, to research their purchasing options, to complete a specific action/purchase, or to find a certain page.
These are informational, commercial, transactional, and navigational intents, respectively.
You need to make sure that your content lines up with these intents, especially if you are aiming to get within the top 10 results for that keyword.
If you are using the keyword but not meeting the intent that your audiences are putting behind it, then you are going to appear less often on search engine results pages.
This means that you need to understand your audience if you want to see proper SEO success.
A good keyword difficulty score means nothing if you are creating a completely unrelated piece of content that does not even match with your audience’s reasons for looking up that term in the first place.
Backlink profiles are a major part of how Google and other search engines rank sites, and this makes a big difference when you are trying to target certain keywords.
Overall, sites with more high-quality links are going to rank higher and better since search engines put more trust in your website overall.
Having better backlinks (meaning a backlink profile with more relevant and high-quality links from trustworthy sites) means that you will rank higher for related topics.
This naturally makes it easier to succeed when dealing with a higher difficulty score.
Overall, your site should have better backlinks if you want to succeed at SEO in general.
More Backlinks = More Success
This is simply another case where it matters a lot – having a lot of well-respected referring domains means greater ranking potential, whereas having nothing but spam-referring domains does the exact opposite.
Good backlinks boost authority and ranking potential and can even help guide you towards being more relevant for certain search intents or keywords. This is why it is so important to have a range of good referring domains in your link profile whenever possible.
Checking Keyword Difficulty
It is not too difficult to check keyword difficulty as long as you have the right SEO-related tools.
A lot of popular keyword explorer tools can provide keyword reports that include this as part of their rating, and there are also standalone tools to help calculate it from raw data.
For many keyword tools, you simply have to either type the keyword into a field or use a keyword research check, then read the keyword difficulty that you are presented with.
The tools you use will change the process ever so slightly, but the end result is always the same.
Keyword Difficulty Scores
The actual difficulty scores of a keyword come in a range from 0-100. These numbers represent the general difficulty of successfully targeting that keyword, taking into account any factors that might influence this general metric.
In general, the scores can be broken down into six different sections, each of which becomes increasingly harder to target regardless of your business’ size.
- 0-14 are very easy keywords to target, often because the search volume is very low. However, there may be a few hidden gems with more organic search traffic than you would expect.
- 15-29 are easy to target, especially for new domains. These are low-competition keywords that will require some good content to get the best results out of them.
- 30-49 are slightly tougher and need the content to be properly useful and high-value if you want to target them effectively. They tend to have a bit more competition since their high search volume makes them valuable.
- 50-69 are even harder to target. Greater competition means that you will be fighting against other sites with good content of their own, so you will need to work hard to produce content that can outpace theirs.
- 70-84 is much harder content. These take a lot of effort and are often only achievable based on how many websites are actually fighting for them. These are usually very high-traffic keywords that many different sites want to have full control over.
- 85-100 is the hardest of the hard. These are either so popular and high-value that you would need thousands of extremely high-quality backlinks to even rank anywhere decent or are dominated by larger companies that have the money and resources to keep a tight grip on Google’s algorithm. In either case, they are often impossible to reach for newer businesses.
As you can see, the higher the keyword difficulty scores, the more effort it would take to actually rank for that keyword.
A higher keyword difficulty means more time and effort spent on ranking for that keyword but also a lower chance that you will actually reach any kind of worthwhile rankings with it.
Working with Difficulty Score
Difficulty score is not your enemy.
Knowing things like search volume and keyword difficulty can be important for a range of SEO tasks, and getting back results that you do not like only means that you have potential areas for growth or improvement.
It is important to understand keyword difficulty and its place in SEO.
It is meant to help guide you to target keywords that you can reasonably rank for and to help you figure out which target keywords are actually worth your time and money.
However, like many parts of SEO, difficulty score is an SEO tool and metric that you need to learn to work with.
If you want to optimize the keywords that you target, then it can be an essential part of picking the best options out of a much larger keyword list.
Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty
Search volume and keyword difficulty are not inherently connected.
While there might be many cases in keyword research where a popular keyword is harder to rank for, the two are completely separate – they just happen to correlate quite a lot.
This means that it is entirely possible to find high-traffic but low-difficulty keywords, usually because they are names of products that are highly specific or tied to niches that barely any other sites use.
The opposite is also true. Some keywords might be high-difficulty but low-volume, often if two competing sites in a small niche are fighting over the few keywords that are still available to them.
Quality and Number of Referring Domains Matters
On its own, keyword difficulty is a measurement of how well your site will rank for a keyword.
This means that the quality, relevance, and number of referring domains in your backlinks also apply and will influence how difficult a keyword actually is.
You need to remember that difficulty is not a hard measurement. Low keyword difficulty does not make it easy to rank for that keyword if you are in a completely different niche, for example.
When using a keyword difficulty checker, make sure that you take into account things like domain ratings, inbound links in your websites’ link profiles, the amount of competition on the first page, and a range of other relevant factors.
Keyword Research is Important
Do not neglect keyword research in favor of keyword difficulty. There are always new keywords to find, and sometimes it just takes another period of research to find keywords that you would not have considered before.
This is quite common with long-tail keywords since most long-tail keywords can get quite specific. If you do not keep researching new keywords, you will barely ever find them.
It might even be worth trying different SEO tools if you are struggling to figure out where to look next.
Different keywords explorer tools can sometimes make different suggestions, especially if they are all using different algorithms or sources of keyword data (such as other search platforms).
Remember the Top 10
While it is obviously desirable to be in the top 3 spots on search engine results, the top 10 is just as important.
You will not always be able to rank within the big three on Google search results, no matter your domain authority and page authority. Sometimes, settling for a lower rank is actually worth it in the long term.
This is especially true for any sites that have only just managed to raise their domain authority and individual page authority and are expecting to push their rankings even further in the near future.
A small victory early on can snowball into greater success further down the line.
Keyword difficulty is a vital metric, sometimes being even more important than domain authority, page authority, or even the relevance of the keyword itself.
Of course, like any piece of your site’s SEO puzzle, you need to use some common sense and approach the issue carefully. There is no perfect way to handle SEO, especially not when it comes to difficult keywords.
Searcharoo is a Link Building & Content Marketing company run by SEO’s based in the UK.
Our goal from the start has been to provide premium links and content services, at fair and affordable prices.