What Is Keyword Difficulty?

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What Is Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty is measured by how easy a website can rank in Google’s top 10 organic results for a focus keyword. In search engine results pages (SERPs), keyword difficulty can determine your ranking on the first page of Google’s results.

Keywords, in general, are the most important pillar of search engine optimization, as they are used to capture the searcher’s intent and match their search queries with quality content that provides value for the searcher. When choosing a focus keyword, it’s essential to look at its difficulty, as it determines how the search engine, Google, reacts to your website pages and ranks them in the first results page.

Why Keyword Difficulty Is Important?

To understand how keyword difficulty works, you must be able to make decisions regarding your marketing strategy and content planning. In optimizing your website for search engines, learning keywords difficulty can significantly affect your keyword research process and SEO efforts. It can also impact your SEO campaign, as learning the difficulty of your focus keywords can greatly impact your SEO campaign.

Understanding keyword difficulty can reduce the time and effort that could have been wasted trying to rank for difficult keywords, as this entire process can either increase or decrease your visibility in search engine results.

As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to target keywords that are too difficult or easy to rank for, as keywords that are difficult to rank for may waste time without seeing actual positive results. Ranking for easy keywords may let you miss a great opportunity for keywords that lead to better conversions and more traffic.

Learning keyword difficulty for your focus keywords can let you find the exact keywords that aren’t too difficult or too easy to rank for, finding a sweet spot to optimize your content planning and strategies.

How To Measure Keyword Difficulty?

When determining your keyword strategy, it is crucial to remember how you will approach keyword difficulty. As a pillar of keyword research, you should measure your keyword difficulty and how you will incorporate it into your SEO content planning.
However, it is not hard to research your focus keyword difficulty, as there are plenty of useful ways and tools to measure it without breaking a sweat.

Here are the top methods and tools for accurately measuring keyword difficulty:

Further Reading : What Is Keyword Mapping?

Keyword Popularity Metrics

Search volume indicates how frequently a keyword is searched. Higher numbers reveal stronger demand but also typically more competition. Benchmarking volume metrics helps estimate interest and difficulty. Useful popularity metrics include:

  • Monthly search volume: Monthly Searches, Average Search Volume all of these nomenclatures references the same meaning. Which indicates average monthly searches for a keyword. More searches mean more discovery potential but also more competing pages.
  • Keyword difficulty: Aggregate scores from tools like Moz and Ahrefs that distil multiple difficulty factors into one 0-100 score. Higher = more difficult.
  • Competition: Estimates the number of pages targeting a keyword. More competing pages make rankings harder to crack.

SEO Tools

Like any other branch of SEO, many search engine optimization tools let SEO specialists determine the difficulty of a targeted keyword. However, the advantages of these tools are that they’re so easy to use that even a person with shallow search engine optimization knowledge can research and determine a keyword difficulty. 

Here are the top three tools that our specialists use daily:

These tools are your greatest ally when researching keywords and keyword difficulty, as they provide detailed reports about each targeted focus keyword with analysis and examples. 

It’s worth investing in these tools, as they pay for themselves long-term.

Backlink Analysis

The number and authority of backlinks to competing pages indicate keyword difficulty. More links and links from authoritative domains to rivals indicate greater keyword difficulty score. Use Ahrefs to analyze competitors’ backlink profiles for target keywords.

Page Authority

Authority sites with strong domain and page authority scores rank well. Review the domain and page authority scores of current top results for target keywords to gauge difficulty. If scores are high, it’s a difficult keyword to rank for.

Current Ranking Pages

Look at the types of sites ranking for your target keywords and their trust signals, such as length of the content, social Signals, and other brand mentions. Expect stiffer and more fierece competition if top results are well-established authority publications in your niche.

What Is A Good Keyword Difficulty Score?

When measuring your keyword difficulty, you will encounter percentages, shortened as “KD%”; these are the difficulty of your targeted focus keywords. You can determine whether you will use this keyword or remove completely from that number in your keyword plan.

Here’s a breakdown of what each percentage means after you measure your keyword difficulty:

0-14: Very easy

These are the easiest keywords to rank for, requiring virtually no effort. However, you need to make sure that you double-check the search volume before you decide to target them, as the volume can be quite low.

15-29: Easy

While relatively a little harder to rank for, they’re still an easier option if you want to rank for a targeted keyword without extreme effort. However, you’ll still need to produce high-quality content to ensure you rank higher.

30-49: Possible

You must create high-quality, helpful, useful, structured and well-optimized content to rank for these targeted focus keywords.

50-69: Difficult

You must produce high-quality, useful, structured content and heavily optimize your on-page SEO. You will also need to have a strong backlink profile.

70-84: Hard

At this point, you will have to put in extreme effort. You’ll need more and better quality backlinks to support your content. Your website should also be smooth, driving high traffic and producing excellent content.

85-100: Very hard

While it’s technically not “impossible”, if your website is relatively small or new, it’s not worth wasting your resources on these keywords, as you will have to have a solid website with an already established SEO.

Factors Affecting Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty isn’t an absolute metric to look for when you’re doing your keyword research, as it can be relative to calculating the difficulty of your keywords based on different factors determined by your website.

Ideally, you should analyze the first search engine results page (SERP) to know who’s ranking in the top 10 results. 

After that, you should be looking at the URLs of these websites to see:

  • SERP Features related for each specific keyword
  • Average number of referring domains to those URLs
  • The median ratio of “dofollow/nofollow” links to those URLs
  • Average Authority Score of those URLs

However, there are a lot of “invisible” factors that heavily affect your keyword difficulty research journey. While there aren’t official “rules” on how to deal with them, our SEO specialists at Brandria have put together some of their techniques to ensure efficient usage of your keywords.

Other Factors Affecting Keyword Difficulty and Rankings

Other search engine optimization elements factor in the process of your keyword difficulty research and implementation. Here are the top factors that our SEO specialists at Brandria have uncovered during their years of experience:


Researching your competitors and conducting competitive analysis is a tremendous part of search engine optimization. The same is true for your keyword difficulty research. You will need to know who you are competing with for your targeted keyword, as it will help you to learn about their website’s authority and scores to plan your content to stay on top of the rankings. Conducting competitive analysis is crucial as it lets you learn everything you need to know quickly. 

There are a lot of tools that let you learn about your competitors from a single keyword overview research. A popular tool is SEMrush Keyword Overview, which is both easy to use and provides a detailed analysis of your competitive analysis. 

To use it, you can enter your targeted keyword and head down to the SERP analysis section, as you will learn who’s ranking and who’s competing for your focus keyword. This is also true for all the tools we mentioned before. 

Other tools are dedicated solely to finding and analyzing competition in your field; these tools can let you discover what you need to know about your competitors.

Content Quality, Depth, and Expertise

Content is king. This is true regarding all aspects of digital marketing, especially search engine optimization. What matters most in your marketing and SEO campaigns is content. Suppose your content provides value for your readers and matches searchers’ intent. In that case, it will match the quality signals of Google’s EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness), resulting in higher rankings and increased organic traffic via your readers and search engines.

Your content’s quality is detrimental when using keywords that might be difficult and competitive. So even if you conducted thorough keyword difficulty research and found the right KD%, you will still need to create engaging and quality content.

You need to keep in mind that your SEO copywriting has a lot of factors that should be considered when creating your quality content, such as readability, tone of voice, originality, and search engine optimization. Use tools like Grammarly and SEMrush SEO writing tools to optimize your content for higher rankings.

Search Intent Behind The Keyword

Understanding search intent is necessary to develop an effective SEO strategy and create content that ranks well in search engine results pages. When someone performs a search query, they have a specific goal or “intent” behind their search. Identifying and optimizing your content and website pages for these intents can help websites better meet user needs and signal to search engines that your content satisfies people’s needs.

The searcher’s intent is divided into four categories, each serving a different purpose. The main categories are:

  • Informational intent : indicates that the searcher wants to research a topic in depth or learn something new. Queries like “How does SEO work?” or “Benefits of exercise” have informational intent. Optimizing for informational intent involves creating comprehensive, educational content that provides value for the reader.
  • Commercial intent : means the user has a purchasing need and is likely searching for a product or service. Queries such as “best running shoes” or “new laptop deals” have commercial intent. 
  • Transactional intent : is when the searcher is ready to complete a conversion or transaction on a website. Searches for a specific business name, product, or service indicate transactional intent. Clear calls-to-action, streamlined conversion funnels, and simple ways to contact or purchase from the business help satisfy this intent.
  • Navigational intent : is present when the searcher wants to reach a certain website or webpage directly. For example, queries like “Wikipedia New York” have navigational intent. Optimizing website architecture through site linking, proper URL structure and internal site search helps users easily navigate to key pages.

Identifying the type of intent behind queries and tailoring content accordingly leads to better user experiences and higher rankings in search results. This is a key component of both technical seo and content-focused SEO strategies.

Backlink Profile

Backlinks from authoritative, relevant websites can immensely improve a page’s ability to rank for competitive keywords. Google’s algorithm factors backlink profiles into keyword difficulty scores. Websites with high-quality backlinks tend to perform better for hard keywords than those with fewer or weak ones. 

This is because backlinks help indicate trust, authority, and popularity. As you build citations from industry resources, directories, niche sites and other reputable places, it signals to Google that your content provides value. An expanding backlink profile with contextual anchor text helps improve your site’s domain authority. A diverse, relevant backlink profile is a core ranking factor for difficult keywords.

Keyword Difficulty In SEO Vs Pay Per Click

Keyword difficulty is a metric used in SEO and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) to measure how hard it is to rank for a particular keyword. In SEO, it indicates the competitiveness of ranking organically in search results. For PPC, it refers to the cost and amount of competition for securing a given keyword in ad auctions. Generally, higher keyword difficulty means more effort and cost are required to rank in organic or paid results. However, low keyword difficulty presents opportunities for efficient targeting in SEO and PPC. Evaluating difficulty helps set realistic goals for driving traffic and conversions.

Keyword Difficulty In SEO

The term keyword difficulty has double meanings when it comes to search engine optimization and pay-per-click, as they serve two completely different purposes in general, yet are so similar in concept. 

In search engine optimization, keyword difficulty is impacted by multiple third-party metrics that estimate the competitiveness of ranking for a targeted keyword or a long-tail phrase. 

Keyword difficulty in search engine optimization is segmented as follows:

  • Domain Authority
  • Page Authority
  • Link Quality and Strength

Each of these segments factor in different cases for keyword difficulty, and we will explore each in detail.

What Is Domain Authority?

Domain Authority is a metric developed by Moz that predicts a website’s ranking capability based on analyzing its backlink profile and other public link data. It uses a 1 to 100 scale, with higher scores of hundred indicating a stronger ability to rank against competitive keywords. Domain Authority is a factor in calculating keyword difficulty—websites with higher domain authority tend to have an easier time ranking for high search volume and competitive keywords compared to sites with lower Domain Authority. Building your domain authority helps improve overall keyword difficulty for your site.

What Is Page Authority?

Page Authority is a metric Moz developed that measures a specific page’s relative ranking capability rather than the entire domain. This metric evaluates the page’s link profile, on-page optimization strengths, trust metrics and more to assign a 1 to 100 score. Higher Page Authority indicates a greater ability to rank well, even for difficult keywords. Building Page Authority for strategic pages helps lower keyword difficulty for target terms.

What Is Link Quality and Strength?

The quality and strength of an individual backlink pointing to a page can significantly influence its keyword difficulty score. Links from highly authoritative, relevant sources like .edu or .gov sites rank higher than general directory or low-value links. Even a single contextual backlink from an influential site in the industry can positively impact keyword difficulty. Having diverse backlinks from reputable sources with relevant anchor text is ideal for lowering difficulty. Not all links carry the same weight—a few powerful backlinks can outweigh a large volume of weak links in influencing keyword competitiveness. Link quality and strength are key considerations in evaluating keyword difficulty.

Keyword Difficulty In PPC

Keyword difficulty has a distinct meaning in pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns compared to SEO. PPC refers to the competitiveness and cost efficiency of bidding on and securing a keyword in the ad auction. Keywords with high difficulty in PPC require more effort and budget allocation to win ad placements and drive traffic.

Keywords with lower difficulty cost little per click and face minimal competition from other advertisers. These offer an efficient way to generate clicks and conversions with a minimal budget. On the other hand, keywords with higher keyword difficulty are constantly in high demand, with advertisers bidding aggressively to rank their ads. Their cost per click and competition for top ad spots is substantially higher.

Evaluating keyword difficulty in PPC is paramount for setting realistic expectations on potential traffic, ad position and budget needed. Lower-difficulty keywords give the flexibility to scale campaigns cost-effectively. But hard-to-rank keywords may only be viable for brands with sizable budgets and the ability to test different bidding tactics. Striking the right balance of easy and hard keywords helps maximize your PPC investment.

Monitoring metrics like impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and average position over time clarifies true keyword difficulty in the auction. 

You should regularly optimize to focus on high-performing keywords with acceptable difficulty sustaining positive campaign results.

Final Words

Being the unofficial pillar of keywords in search engine optimization, researching keyword difficulty can give you a metric of what to and what not to incorporate in your content plan for your website. It can make or break your content plan, as trying to rank for difficult can waste your time, effort, and budget in both the short- and long-run. It also might not be a good idea to rank for easier words, as they wouldn’t generate your desired conversions and affect traffic in any positive way. Try to find the sweet spot for your keywords to rank for, and always use the SEO tools our SEO professionals at Brandria recommend!