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Keyword Difficulty: What Is It And Why It's Important

Assess keyword difficulty wisely for SEO. Opt for keywords aligning with your content, considering your site’s authority. Utilize a mix of challenging and achievable keywords to optimize your SEO strategy.

Home / Blogs / Keyword Difficulty: What Is It And Why It’s Important
Raghav Tayal

Head Of Operations - Digital Web Solutions

February 26, 2024

Keywords are the linchpin of search engine optimization (SEO), determining a website’s ranking on the search engine results page (SERP). Thus, for any digital marketer or website owner, understanding the concept of keyword difficulty becomes paramount in this ever-growing landscape of online visibility.

Having a clear understanding of keyword difficulty eases the process of picking the right keywords, which skyrockets your search engine rankings and drives more visibility to your website.

What Does Keyword Difficulty Mean in SEO?

Keyword difficulty determines how competitive a specific keyword is and how difficult it can be for you to rank on it. Usually, when you analyze keyword difficulty through any keyword difficulty checker, you receive a score between 1 and 100, where 1 indicates low difficulty and 100 shows extremely high competition.

For example, seed keywords like “digital marketing,” “protein supplements,” or “driving tips” will always have a good keyword difficulty. Meanwhile, more specific and long-tail keywords like “digital marketing services in Arizona,” “protein supplements for vegans,” or “driving tips for hilly areas” would have lower difficulty.

Here are a few points to elucidate keyword difficulty:

  • Competitive Analysis: Keyword Difficulty entails evaluating the competition for a particular keyword. This involves analyzing the number and authority of websites vying for the same keyword, providing insights into the challenges one might face in achieving a higher ranking.
  • Search Volume vs Competition: It involves striking a balance between a keyword’s search volume and the competition level. High search volume may attract more traffic, but it could be challenging to secure a favorable ranking if the keyword competition is intense.
  • SERP Dynamics: The Keyword Difficulty metric considers the dynamics of the SERP for a given keyword. It assesses the types of content and features present in the results, such as featured snippets, videos, or local packs, providing a holistic view of the competitive landscape.
  • Backlink Profile: The strength of a website’s backlink profile is a crucial factor in Keyword Difficulty. Websites with robust, high-quality backlinks are often better positioned to tackle competitive keywords than those with weaker link profiles.
  • Content Relevance And Quality: The relevance and quality of content associated with a keyword contribute to its difficulty. Google prioritizes content that satisfies the search intent of the user, making it essential for websites to create valuable, informative, and user-friendly content to improve their chances of ranking.
  • Long-Tail vs Short-Tail Keywords: Keyword Difficulty varies between long-tail and short-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords, being more specific, might have lower competition, making them easier to rank for, while short-tail keywords often present a higher level of competition.

Keyword difficulty considers different factors shown above to display how tough it is to rank for a specific term, helping you make smart choices about your content and marketing efforts.

How Is Keyword Difficulty Calculated?

Keyword difficulty is calculated based on multiple factors like the ones shared above. But here’s a deep dive into how it is estimated:

  • Backlink Analysis: A fundamental aspect of calculating keyword difficulty is evaluating the backlink profile of websites currently ranking for the keyword. The quantity and quality of backlinks pointing to these websites indicate their authority. Tools and algorithms gauge the quality and number of referring domains pointing to your site to assign a score based on the strength of these backlinks, influencing the overall difficulty of ranking for that specific keyword.
  • Domain Authority And Page Authority: Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) are metrics developed by Moz that quantify the overall strength of a domain and a specific page, respectively. Calculating Keyword Difficulty involves considering these metrics as they provide insights into the potential competitiveness of a keyword. Higher DA and PA suggest a more challenging landscape, necessitating a more robust SEO strategy.
  • Content Relevance And Quality: The quality and relevance of content associated with your target keyword are integral to SEO keyword difficulty calculations. Search engines prioritize content that aligns with search intent and provides value. Tools assess factors such as content length, keyword density, and overall readability to gauge the quality of content, influencing the perceived difficulty of ranking for a particular keyword.
  • Competitor Analysis: Keyword difficulty is intricately tied to the competitive landscape. Analyzing competitors who currently rank for the keyword in question helps understand the challenges one might face. Tools utilize data on competitor websites, including their on-page optimization, content quality, and overall SEO strategies, to estimate the difficulty level associated with a targeted keyword.

Tools for Assessing Keyword Difficulty

Navigating the competitive landscape of SEO requires robust tools to assess keyword difficulty accurately. Following are some of the most helpful free and paid SEO tools to check keyword difficulty:

  • Google Keyword Planner: A staple in keyword research, Google Keyword Planner estimates a keyword’s competitiveness based on its search volume, historical data, and bid competition. Though it is primarily designed to help with your PPC ad campaigns, it still works as a helpful tool for SEO professionals. It provides keywords with a High, Medium, and Low difficulty score, making it easy to pick the right terms for your content.
  • Ubersuggest: Ubersuggest, created by Neil Patel, provides a simple yet effective way to gauge SEO keyword difficulty. It provides an overview of the keywords sharing the search volume, keyword difficulty (ranging between 1 and 100), paid difficulty, cost per click, and other related keywords.
  • Rankwatch: Rankwatch is a comprehensive and user-friendly SEO tool that lets you check keyword difficulty with ease. Just go to their free keyword research tool, enter the keyword you want to analyze difficulty for, and voila. You will see a detailed report with searched and other related keywords’ search volume, competition, and cost per click.
  • Ahrefs: Though Ahrefs is a paid comprehensive SEO suite, it offers a free keyword explorer with a keyword difficulty score between 1 and 100. It also shows the results currently topping the SERP chart for your searched keyword.
  • Moz Keyword Explorer: Moz also comes with a free keyword explorer tool where you just need to enter the keyword and select the region that’s it. You will see the keyword search volume, organic CTR, difficulty, related keywords, and monthly search volumes.
  • SEMrush: SEMrush offers a free keyword research tool called the keyword magic tool. Just go to the tool, sign in, and search for the keyword you want to explore. You will see the keyword difficulty ranging from 1 to 100%. You will also see search volume, search intent, CPC, and more details.

Using a keyword research tool is a must to assess keyword difficulty. Though it is not recommended that you drop a keyword and don’t try to write content on it if it has a very high difficulty score, you can use keywords with variations to ensure you rank on the first page and drive a good amount of traffic.

How to Use Keyword Difficulty to Guide Your SEO Strategy

Leveraging Keyword Difficulty effectively can significantly shape and refine your SEO strategy for optimal results. Here’s how you can incorporate keyword difficulty into your SEO strategy:

  • Strategic Keyword Selection: Focus on keywords with a balanced difficulty score, considering your website’s authority. Prioritize achievable targets to enhance visibility and gradually target more competitive terms as your authority grows.
  • Content Optimization: Tailor your content to align with the difficulty level of targeted keywords. Make sure your content satisfies the user intent while addressing the nuances of the chosen keywords.
  • Backlink Building Strategy: Evaluate the backlink profiles of competitors ranking for high-difficulty keywords. Develop a spot-on link-building strategy to secure as many high-quality backlinks as possible to become an authoritative source for search engines.
  • Monitor And Adjust: Regularly reassess SEO keyword difficulty as the competitive landscape evolves. Keywords do not have a set difficulty for the lifetime. It always changes, and you need to change your strategy to capitalize on the right keywords and avoid highly challenging ones.
  • Diversification And Long-Tail Keywords: Mitigate risk by diversifying your keyword portfolio. Incorporate long-tail keywords with lower Difficulty scores to capture targeted, niche audiences, complementing your strategy for a well-rounded SEO approach.

Strategies for Competing with High-Difficulty Keywords

Competing with high-difficulty keywords demands a strategic and nuanced approach to stand out in the competitive online landscape. Here are some strategies to navigate the challenges associated with targeting high-difficulty keywords:

  • Content Excellence: Produce exceptional, in-depth content that surpasses competitors. Address user intent, i.e., talk about the things the user came to learn about on your page. Keep your content engaging through media elements.
  • Backlink Authority: Prioritize a robust backlink strategy to enhance your website’s authority. Secure high-quality backlinks from reputable sources to increase the number of referring domains toward your page on your target keyword. This will signal to search engines that your content is trustworthy and deserves a top-ranking position.
  • Long-tail Keyword Integration: Supplement your high-difficulty keyword by strategically integrating relevant long-tail keywords. This will diversify your content strategy and make your content more specific and targeted.
  • User Experience Optimization: Improve on-site user experience, focusing on page speed, mobile responsiveness, and intuitive navigation. A seamless user experience not only pleases visitors but can positively influence search engine rankings for high-competition keywords.

Case Study: Success Against High Keyword Difficulty

This case study was published in Moz in 2017, where Dmitry Dragilev was working with Brad Zomick, the former Director of Content Marketing at Pipedrive. They were targeting the #1 spot for a high-difficulty keyword “sales management” that had a search volume of 9900 per month, and online giants like Wikipedia, US News, Apptus, and more were already ranking on it.

Outranking them was not an easy job. However, they followed the skyscraper technique, where they created good old-fashioned content combined with outreach and guest posting. To be precise, they followed an 8-step process.

  • Selected the right topic: They found the right keyword with significant volume and medium difficulty.
  • Created exceptional content for their blog: They created thoroughly researched blogs with high-quality content and engaging visuals.
  • Optimized on-page SEO & engagement metrics: They optimized their meta titles, headers, URLs, and keyword density.
  • Built internal links: They included right and relevant internal links that add value to the blog.
  • Found people who would link to their content: They found the right people and websites (with significant DA) to get external links.
  • Asked people to link to their content: They reached out to tons of people to build the right backlinks.
  • Wrote guest posts on leading blogs: They wrote guest posts from which they could link their blog to build more authority.
  • Fine-tuned content with TF-IDF: Since they over-optimized for their target keyword “sales management,” they re-optimized as per TF-IDF(Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency) to avoid keyword stuffing.

As a result, in 3 months, with a 3-person team, they were on the top for the keyword “sales management,” outranking authoritative brands like Wikipedia, US News, etc.

Balancing Keyword Difficulty and Search Volume

Finding the optimal balance between keyword difficulty and search volume is crucial. There are already many high-authority websites that cover millions of topics. So writing just another piece to outrank them won’t work.

To tackle this situation, brands often start targeting long-tail keywords. While it is a good strategy for new websites, you also need to ensure that you won’t be so specific with your keywords that it doesn’t bring any traffic. Here’s how to find equilibrium:

  • Strategic Selection: Choose keywords with a mix of moderate difficulty and substantial search volume to strike a balance between attainability and visibility.
  • Focus On Niches: Explore niche keywords with lower Difficulty but relevant Search Volume, allowing you to establish authority in specific areas.
  • Prioritize High-Value Keywords: Identify keywords that align with your business goals and customer intent, prioritizing those with a combination of moderate Difficulty and high Search Volume.
  • Adapt And Evolve: Regularly reassess the competitive landscape, adapting your keyword strategy to emerging trends, ensuring a dynamic approach for sustained SEO success.

Adapting To Changes in Keyword Difficulty Over Time

Adapting to changes in keyword difficulty over time is pivotal for a resilient SEO strategy. Here’s how to navigate these fluctuations:

  • Regular Assessments: Continuously monitor keyword difficulty using reliable tools to stay abreast of shifts in the competitive landscape. SEO is an unpredictable market, so revisit the keyword difficulties at set intervals so you can adjust accordingly and avoid any ranking dip.
  • Flexibility In Strategy: Be prepared to adjust your keyword targeting and content optimization strategies based on evolving difficulty scores. Stay flexible to capitalize on emerging trends to keep your site’s traffic high.
  • Competitor Analysis: Regularly analyze competitor tactics and their impact on keyword difficulty. Learn from successful competitors and polish your SEO strategies accordingly, ensuring your strategy stays relevant and effective in the dynamic nature of the search engines.

Conclusion: Making Keyword Difficulty Work for You

So, keyword difficulty is not a threat to your SEO efforts. It is a helpful friend showing you how steep the climb is to rank high on a specific key phrase. Always try to strike the right balance between high and low-difficulty keywords, i.e., medium-difficulty keywords. They are the sweet spot, offering good traffic without strenuous efforts. However, always stay agile, keep tabs on your keyword strategy, and adapt to the changes to avoid any traffic drops. Use tools, strategize, and be patient to rock the SEO game!

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