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Keyword Difficulty: How to Estimate Your Chances of Ranking

Keyword Difficulty
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It’s not difficult to find keywords that have low keyword difficulty that will bring plenty of visitors to your site. It’s more difficult to determine the likelihood of your website ranking for them.

To solve this issue, SEO tools like Ahrefs provide keywords with a “Keyword difficulty” score from 0 to 100.

The truth is, these scores aren’t foolproof.

In this article, I’ll go over the advantages and drawbacks associated with the Keyword Difficulty measurement and discuss other factors professional SEOs consider in determining the likelihood of being able to rank for a particular keyword.

What is the keyword difficult?

Keyword Difficulty (KD) is an SEO measurement that calculates the difficulty to be ranked at the top on Google for a specific keyword. It is measured using a scale that ranges from 0 to 100 with 100 being the toughest to get on the first page for.

Keywords Explorer overview of "best backpack," which has a KD of 42

However, when SEO experts use the term “keyword difficulty,” they’re referring to the broad idea of ranking difficulty and not an individual metric that is used in a specific SEO tool.

A keyword difficulty as a measure

Every keyword research tool includes a score for the difficulty of keywords. The tools use the same scale of 0-100 however, each calculates it in a different way.

If you examine the difficulty of keywords for the identical keywords using various SEO instruments, you will find that the number can vary quite significantly:

Table showing KD scores for various keywords vary for each tool

That’s why it’s crucial to know how your ranking difficulties are calculated by the SEO tool of your choice. Only then can you make educated decisions based upon it.

At Ahrefs We employ an easy method of calculating KD. We look up the top 10 pages that rank for your specific keyword and then find out how many websites are linked to each. The more links top-ranking pages with your keyword have the better their KD score. Simple and extremely actionable.

SERP overview for "best backpack"

Keyword Difficulty in Ahrefs is based on linking domains to top-ranking pages.

Calculating Keyword Difficulty by using more factors. Keyword Difficulty

Many SEOs that use Ahrefs asked us to look at other factors when calculating our KD measurement:

  • Domain Rating
  • Internal Links
  • Content length
  • Relevance
  • Etc

Let’s say that we choose to add Domain Rating (DR) as part of our calculations. What happens if we use two hypothetical keywords:

  • keyword #1 It has pages that originate from DR more than 80 websites ranked in the top 10 but no backlinks
  • Keyword 2is a keyword that has pages of DR 40 websites within the top 10 but each contains more than 40 backlinks

Which of these words needs to be more popular in terms of KD? How much?

When you request a couple of dozen of SEOs manually evaluate these two keywords using a scale of 100 to 0 their estimations will be different. This is because every SEO professional will assign their “weights” of DR. The page-level backlinks in different ways when mixing them into one KD score.

In addition to one more variable (DR) is leading to a lot of confusion in calculations of KD and rendering it confusing.

I hope that’s the reason we chose not to use a KD measurement as simply as possible. Use only backlinks from the pages with the highest rank to determine it.

This way, you will know precisely what you’re seeing when you apply KD filters to your keyword list. It provides a simple measure of how many backlinks the most popular pages for each keyword possess:

  • KD0-5Top-ranked pages do not have backlinks
  • KD 50The top-ranked pages have about a hundred backlinks
  • KD90+Pages that rank top contains thousands of backlinks

But they’re not the only ranking factor. If you’re looking to accurately determine your chance of ranking for a specific keyword, you must be more specific and perform an in-depth analysis of the search engine results.

Of course…

Keyword difficulty as an idea

We don’t know what exactly Google determines the rank of pages. However, we know the most important factors that are crucial to ranking well. When we look at those “main things,” SEOs will have a decent idea of what is required to be ranked in Google for a particular keyword.

Here’s how they go about it.

1. Determine how many backlinks you’ll require

Backlinks function as votes which inform Google that a website is superior to another site that covers the same subject. Thus, as a general rule when you’re trying to rank among the top 10 results for a particular phrase, you’ll need to build more backlinks than the most popular pages currently have (if there aren’t more).

Within Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer In Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, we actually have a hint of text just below our KD score. It gives you an approximate amount of backlinks you’ll require:

Keywords Explorer overview of "best backpack"; notably, there's a text hint below the KD score

Two crucial caveats:

  1. The adage says “to rank in the top 10,” meaning that acquiring the same number (or as many) backlinks to your competitors will not guarantee that you’ll rank in the top spot. There’s a high possibility that you’ll rank within the top 10.
  2. The sheer number of backlinks could be misleading as certain backlinks have a stronger vote over other backlinks. Therefore, this figure is only an estimate.

To accurately assess the strength of backlink profiles on the top-ranking pages, you’ll need to go through all their backlinks manually, i.e., do an audit of the backlinks for these sites.

Within Keywords Explorer, we’ve developed a convenient shortcut to this, as every number listed in “SERP Overview” links to its own backlink report within Ahrefs’ Site Explorer:

SERP overview for "best backpack"

Click these numbers (in the highlighted columns) to manually review backlinks.

2. Check Your competitor’s “authority” of your competitors

A lot of SEOs think that Google frequently favors websites that are part of large well-known websites. Therefore, if you see a lot of them in a search result They advise that you stay clear of them unless your site is equally popular and big.

We don’t always support this opinion, we believe it’s a good idea to look at how reliable the top websites are.

Google has always denied the use of any type of metric. That measures the authority of a site to determine its rank algorithm. However, I have thought of at least two ways that having a higher authority website could indirectly help in achieving a higher position on Google:

A. Internal hyperlinks

High DR signifies that a site has a lot of solid pages that have excellent authority. Also, the page you find a ranking on Google might be getting many “link juice” from such pages, which makes it a highly-authority site too (even when it is not backed by backlinks from other sites).

B. Familiar brand

If presented with the results for a search, a lot of people choose to visit those websites they are familiar with. Google is believed to be tracking certain “behavioral factors” to determine if users were happy with the results of their searches. This could lead to “familiar websites” getting a ranking preference since that is the type of information that searchers are looking for.

3. Find out the intention behind the search.

Your ability to respond to the intent of the search is of paramount importance to rank well on Google. If you’re not familiar with the concept the term “search intent” is the expectation that users have. Google’s mission is to satisfy the expectations of users when they conduct the search.

A lot of marketers ( including our own Joshua Hardwick) tend to classify the results of all searches into four distinct search-related intent categories: informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial.

However, I’m not a huge advocate of this method.

Let me offer an example. In lieu of trying to determine whether the keyword “backlink checker” is informational or navigational (and what it means for your site in the end), it’s much more efficient to look at the pages that are ranked the highest for that particular keyword and examine what the searchers are getting from the pages.

SERP overview for "backlink checker"

As you can see from the above image All the top-ranked websites for the search term “backlink checker” is free online tools. Therefore, the intent behind the keyword can be described as “a free online tool to check backlinks.”

Therefore, if you attempt to reach this keyword through the help of a blog post or web page. That is a landing point, it will not be effective.

I can confirm this fact since we have actually tested it.

Organic traffic for our "backlink checker" page increased after we nailed search intent

Below is the graphic of the organic traffic on Our Backlink Checker page.

At the time of its closure in 2019, the page was a landing page. That simply explained that Ahrefs provides a backlink checker tool, and invites users to sign up for our free trial. However much we made the page more optimized it did not rank over #8 in the search results for that keyword.

Then, we looked over the pages that outranked us and discovered that they all were web-based tools that were free. When we changed our landing page to an online tool that was free the page jumped to the top spot for the term “backlink checker” and started getting high rankings for other keywords that are relevant to the topic.

Infographic showing the before (landing page) and after (page to use free tool) versions of our "backlink checker" page

4. Assess the quality of content

The well-known Skyscraper method has led many content marketers to believe that an extended and more thorough article is a better one.

However, making your article longer won’t improve its quality. A more valuable article is one that delivers greater value in a shorter amount of time (and without boring your readers until you’re bored to death).

Here are some tips to help you evaluate. Whether content currently is at the top of search results in your search term:

  1. offer current and accurate information?
  2. have the stamp of an expert in the field?
  3. contain unique information?
  4. have a good writing style?
  5. look properly formatted?
  6. look well-designed?

The three first ones are the most crucial three. Google is determined to give its users accurate information that is sourced from reliable sources. We know this for a fact as the latest version of the Guidelines for Search Quality is centered on the concept of E-A-T which means competence, authority, and credibility.

Therefore, instead of making your pages longer than those of your competition, consider investing in E-A-T.

What’s a great Keyword Difficulty that you can target?

Like many other aspects of on-page SEO, it’s dependent:

  • The authority is your site.
  • You standing in the space you are in.
  • In your ability to earn backlinks.
  • If you’re in the position to have the capacity and resources to satisfy search-related needs.
  • Etc.

One good way to assist you in understanding Ahrefs’ KD metric is to research. Your KD scores for the terms your site is currently getting a high rank for.

This can be done by logging in to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and then navigating to the Organic Keywords report:

This will give you a good basis. However, it’s not an alternative to the method I’ve described above. If you’re trying to know the exact probability of being ranked for a particular keyword, make sure you look over the most popular pages and consider your own capabilities and resources.

Organic keywords report for Ahrefs' blog showing KD scores of keywords

Don’t be afraid to refrain from focusing on keywords with high KD. In the case of some keywords, including those KD 70+ terms that we currently rank for we had to go through between four and five rewrites plenty of advertising, and years of perseverance to get there. The sooner that you “attack” a high-KD keyword that you’d like to be ranked for, the faster you’ll reach that goal.

FAQs

  1. What is keyword difficulty?

    Keyword difficulty (or “competition”) is a metric used to determine how difficult it is rank for a keyword. Assessing keyword difficulty can help you determine whether or not it's worth your time and money to either: 1. Optimize an organic page for that keyword, or 2. Bid on that keyword in a Google Ads campaign.

  2. Why is keyword important?

    Keywords are important because they tell search engines about the content of your website's page. “Keyword” is also a term that's used to refer to the words and phrases that people enter into a search engine to find information that they're looking for.

  3. What is a good keyword difficulty?

    KDS Between 30% and 70% – Moderate Difficulty Keywords

    Thus, these are your best best when it comes to selecting the right keywords as you have a realistic chance to compete for these. And, they also have a high search volume, it is worth your time to target these.

  4. What does the keyword difficulty score tell you?

    Keyword difficulty is a metric that measures the effort it would take for your content to rank on the first page of Google for a certain keyword. In other words, if a keyword is difficult, then it would require a lot of time and attention on your part to see results.

  5. What does a high keyword difficulty mean?

    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 harder it is to rank on the 1st SERP due to the high competition of the ranking websites.

  6. How much difficulty is keyword?

    It is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest to rank for. However, when many SEO professionals use the term “keyword difficulty,” they're referring to the broader concept of ranking difficulty—not a particular metric in a particular SEO tool.

  7. What is paid difficulty in SEO?

    It measures how much competition there is for ads targeting a particular search term. When people are paying for ads, it means the keyword is worth money to people and could indicate more competition in organic search too.

  8. What is a good keyword ranking?

    Search engines usually show about 10 results per page, and higher keyword rankings mean being closer to the top of the page (toward spot #1), lower keyword rankings mean being closer to the bottom (spot #10).

  9. How do you rank in difficult keywords?

    Here are the ten steps to rank for a keyword in Google.
    Step 1: Lay the Groundwork. …
    Step 2: Do Your Initial Keyword Research. …
    Step 3: Check Out the Competition. …
    Step 4: Consider Intent. …
    Step 5: Conceptualize the Content. …
    Step 6: Execute. …
    Step 7: Optimize for Your Keyword. …
    Step 8: Publish.

  10. What is KD in keyword difficulty KD?

    KD stands for “Keyword Difficulty” and represents an estimation of how hard it would be to rank on the 1st page of Google (aka the Top 10 search results) for a given keyword. KD is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest to rank for.

  11. How do you know if a keyword is competitive?

    A keyword phrase is highly competitive if the term is popular, with a high SERP/Search Ratio and if the competition has link authority is optimizing for that term.

  12. How do I find low difficult keywords?

    Many keyword research tools have a difficulty score. Ours is called Keyword Difficulty (KD) and it's a numerical representation of how hard it'll be to rank in Google's top 10 for a search query. In the Phrase match report, filter for keywords with a KD score between 0-10 to find “low-competition” keywords.

  13. How can I improve my keyword?

    10 ways to improve Google keyword ranking and overall SEO. …
    Target relevant keywords. …
    Give the page a name with a title tag. …
    Entice visitors with a meta description tag. …
    Add in a header (H1) tag with the target keyword. …
    Include keywords in relevant, comprehensive page content.

  14. What are keywords examples?

    Keywords are the words and phrases that people type into search engines to find what they're looking for. For example, if you were looking to buy a new jacket, you might type something like “mens leather jacket” into Google. Even though that phrase consists of more than one word, it's still a keyword.

  15. How do I choose keywords?

    5 tips for Helping You Choose the right keywords
    Think like a customer. Identify your target audience and put yourself into the shoes of a customer when you create your initial list of keywords. …
    Study the competition. …
    Understand the long tail keyword. …
    Use keyword research tools. …
    Analyze the results.

  16. How do you become #1 on Google?

    How to Get on the first page of Google [recap]
    Create a keyword strategy to target terms your target customers are searching.
    Incorporate the keywords into your website content as well as HTML tags.
    Write for humans (not search engines).
    Target location-based searches.
    Optimize for mobile.
    Focus on user experience.

  17. Is low competition good for keywords?

    Low competition long-tail keywords are the ultimate alternative answer to generic, competitive keywords. While most of the long tail keywords that you find might not have huge volume, the competition is much lower. Less competition means you will most likely rank well on Google and other search engines more easily.

  18. How do you analyze keywords?

    When analyzing keywords, you can usually measure them by two key metrics:
    Search volume: how often the users utilize keywords as a search query on the Internet.
    Level of competition: how many sites rank in search results for a particular keyword.

  19. What is a low difficulty keyword?

    Low competition keywords are those that can rank with little to no link building and little to no domain authority. Performed properly, merely publishing a blog based on a target of low competition keywords can provide (relatively) quick traffic and long-tail rankings.

  20. Does keywords everywhere show keyword difficulty?

    We've finally added the Keyword SEO Difficulty Metrics to Keywords Everywhere! For years customers were confused about the competition score and how it relates to SEO. We now have added new metrics which you can use to gauge how easy or hard it is to rank for any specific keyword on Google.

  21. Which keywords are most popular?

    The Most Popular Google Keywords of 2022
    Ranking
    Keyword
    Global volume
    1
    youtube
    1225900000
    2
    facebook
    1102800000
    3
    whatsapp web
    607900000
    4
    google
    548200000

  22. How do I improve my keywords for SEO?

    To help you with your keyword planning, we've created a list of six keyword optimization tips for your content strategy:
    Audit Your Current On-Page SEO.
    Find Keywords for Your Site.
    Map Your Keywords.
    Add Keywords to Your Site.
    Avoid Keyword Stuffing.
    Don't Forget Your Target Audience.

  23. How many keywords are good for SEO?

    There should be three to four keywords on a homepage at a bare minimum. The homepage is like any other page on your site and should be treated the same way for SEO keyword purposes. So target three to four keywords on the homepage to get the most SEO benefit.

  24. Are keywords important for SEO?

    In 2022, keywords are still important and useful in SEO, but they aren't the most important factor. This is because SEO is far more complex than putting keywords on a page. Also, because SEO is always changing with search engines continuously updating algorithms, marketers need to change how they are using keywords.

  25. What you mean by keywords?

    A keyword is a term used in digital marketing to describe a word or a group of words an Internet user uses to perform a search in a search engine or search bar. In an SEO strategy, keywords are very important and should be the core of any copy written for the web (present in the content, titles and SEO elements).

  26. What are the types of keywords?

    The Four Types of Keywords (and Why They Matter)
    Informational keywords — searchers looking for an answer to a specific question or general information.
    Navigational keywords — searchers intending to find a specific site or page.
    Commercial keywords — searchers looking to investigate brands or services.

  27. Is it hard to rank on Google?

    With Google Panda and Penguin updates, low-quality content, and cheap backlinks fail to achieve higher rankings in Google. SEO is lot like a war: need regular content ammunition and backlinks support. Without these, you can't outsmart your competitors.

  28. What is competitive keyword?

    Competitor keyword analysis is the process of uncovering the keywords your competitors are ranking highly for in an attempt to create content that outranks them in search results. The keywords that you conduct competitor analysis for should be relevant to your business and related to the content you already create.

  29. Which keywords are best to target in SEO?

    The best keywords for your SEO strategy will take into account relevance, authority, and volume. You want to find highly searched keywords that you can reasonably compete for based on: The level of competition you're up against. Your ability to produce content that exceeds in quality what's currently ranking.

  30. What are high volume keywords?

    These keywords are search terms that have a large search volume. In other words, many people are querying these terms on Google, Yahoo and Bing.

  31. How do you evaluate keyword performance?

    You can evaluate your keywords by looking at the following three metrics.
    Interactions. …
    Traffic. …
    – Click-through rate (CTR) …
    – Bounce Rate. …
    – Geographic Location. …
    Auctions. …
    – Quality Score. …
    – Impression Share.

  32. Which keyword is searched more?

    Top Searched Keywords: Lists of the Most Popular Google Search Terms across Categories
    Most Searched Words on Google
    Rank
    Keyword
    Search Volume
    1
    Facebook
    2,147,483,647
    2
    Youtube
    1,680,000,000
    3
    Google
    923,000,000

  33. Where are the most searched keywords?

    Use Google Trends to find the most searched keywords on Google. Go to https://trends.google.com to find the most popular searches around the world. Google Trends also helps you find trending searches for each day, week, month, and year for thousands of keywords and topics.

  34. How do I increase organic keywords?

    6 Strategies to Improve Organic Search Rankings on Google
    Define a Keyword List. …
    Good Content Will Win Out in Organic Rankings. …
    Create Cornerstone Pages. …
    Work Your Keywords and Related Variants in Page Content. …
    Optimize Your Page Titles. …
    Write Meta Descriptions that Drive Clicks.

  35. What is a good keyword density?

    What is good keyword density? While there are no hard and fast rules for keyword density beyond always-relevant “don't keyword stuff” advice, many SEOs recommend using approximately 1-2 keyword for every 100 words of copy. That factors in to about 1-2% keyword density.

Final thoughts

It would be awe-inspiring to have a keyword-related difficulty metric. So, that would accurately predict your odds of ranking for a particular keyword. As you’ll see the metric does not exist.

Therefore, the only way to make the best SEO choices is by looking over the results of a search for the keywords you would like to rank for.

I hope that the procedure I’ve laid out above will be useful to you. So, if you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me in the comments.

Also, See: Robust Content Development: 7 Effective Steps

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