Guide to SEO Keyword Research Ranking Difficulty

Keyword research is a crucial part of the SEO process. It’s the first step in deciding which keywords to prioritize with your campaigns. Keyword ranking difficulty is one of the criteria for selecting high ROI search terms and probably the trickiest criterion to determine. It measures how difficult or easy it will be to achieve high search engine rankings when targeting a particular keyword. SEO keyword research ranking difficulty is often a great way to determine which keyword should be prioritized during an SEO campaign. 

The premise behind keyword difficulty is that keywords with high difficulty scores are highly competitive and challenging to rank for. SEO experts must publish quality content, build high domain authority and establish a strong link profile to rank for these keywords.

Keyword Difficulty is an essential tool that marketers can incorporate into their strategy to determine whether or not to target a particular keyword. This guide discusses everything you need to know about SEO keyword research ranking difficulty.

Criteria for Selecting Profitable Keywords

Every SEO professional wants their websites to rank high on Google’s organic search results for their chosen keyword. But with so many factors to consider, it can be challenging to choose profitable keywords. When selecting high ROI keywords, search volume, user intent, and keyword difficulty are the most significant criteria.

Search volume tells you how many searches a given keyword received in a month. Keyword difficulty lets you know the level of competition for a given keyword. Striking a balance between search volume and keyword difficulty is key to breaking the top rankings in Google. 

An equally important criterion for choosing profitable keywords is the term’s intent. A keyword that doesn’t meet your marketing objective will be useless to your audience, whether or not it has low difficulty. It’s essential to understand the purpose behind your audience’s search query. And you must target keywords that apply to your business and align with the possible customer intent. 

What Is Keyword Ranking Difficulty?

Keyword ranking difficulty is an SEO metric that measures how difficult it is to rank a keyword in Google’s organic search results. Evaluating keyword difficulty can help you determine whether or not to target a key term. It also helps you estimate the effort and time required to attain a good ranking on SERPs for a specific keyword. 

Keyword difficulty measures the quantity and quality of backlinks to the top ten ranking pages in SERPs for a keyword. SEO keyword tools measure the competitiveness of a keyword by looking at domain authority and page authority of indexed pages. Different keyword tools use different methodologies to gauge keyword difficulty. While some tools display a percentage, others provide a numeric value.

Keyword Difficulty Vs. Keyword Competition

Keyword competition assesses the bidding competition for a particular keyword, and it is considered for paid search campaigns. Keyword difficulty, on the other hand, evaluates the organic competition of a keyword and is considered in organic search.

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Why Is SEO Keyword Research Ranking Difficulty Important?

Keyword difficulty is one of the criteria for choosing profitable keywords. Keyword difficulty measures competition and audience preferences to determine how hard it is to rank for a keyword. It evaluates your chances and how much effort you’ll have to put in to hit the top spots on SERPs.

SEO keyword research ranking difficulty helps you measure the market trends and competition capabilities of a specific keyword. Paying attention to keyword difficulty to see which keywords are worth your effort and resources is essential. Using keyword difficulty to your advantage will help you understand what keywords will be worth investing in for SEO. 

Keyword difficulty research gives you an idea of what keywords have a lot of competition. This way, you save time and resources by targeting keywords that can drive relevant traffic to your website.

Typically, a keyword with a low difficulty score is a good choice. You can rank for such keywords with little effort. Targeting a keyword with greater difficulty will require more specificity, more content pieces, and links, so you’ll have a lot more work.

How to Assess Keyword Difficulty

Almost all keyword research tools use the same criteria to assess keyword difficulty. Some of these criteria are:

1. Backlink Quality

Google’s considerations of authenticity, reliability of sites, and pages that link to the site are a way it provides searchers with top-quality content. Link profiles are one of the methods Google uses to evaluate the quality of a website. Attaining a high link profile is quite difficult; it requires demonstrating authority in a field and proving your worthiness.

A keyword might be challenging to rank for if the top-ranking pages targeting it has a strong link profile. MozBar lets you know how many backlinks your competitor page has, but it doesn’t tell you the quality of these backlinks. Ahrefs’ Site Explorer can provide you with more information on your competitors’ backlinks. This includes where the page with the No. 1 ranking is getting its inbound links. Using Ahref, you’ll also see how many referring domains you’ll need to accrue to rank for a particular keyword.

2. Domain Authority

The domain authority is a ranking score that measures how successful a website is when it comes to search engine results. A website’s domain authority describes its relevance for a specific topic area or industry; this relevance directly impacts the website’s ranking.

A website that frequently publishes highly relevant and informative content on a subject area is considered an expert or an authority in the industry. And thus has high domain authority.

It takes time, effort, and publishing lots of quality content on your core topic to build domain authority. 

Evaluating the domain authority of your competitor’s websites can give you an idea of how hard it will be to outrank them. Using MozBar, you can easily estimate the strength of your competitor’s websites. Add the MozBar extension to your web browser, turn it on and enter your keyword into Google. Then, review the Domain Authority on page 1 of the SERPs. If your domain authority is below that of the results on page 1, the keyword might be too competitive for you. However, you’ll want to consider other criteria before making a decision.

3. Content Quality

Content quality refers to the relevance or usefulness of a webpage in satisfying the user’s intent. It is a prerequisite for domain authority and allows for a strong link profile. If there are no sites with authority yet, and no quality backlinks, pages with the highest quality content rank highest. You have a higher chance of ranking for a keyword if the content on competitor websites is of low quality. All you need to do is create stellar and valuable content on the topic. 

If your website is new, with no domain authority and backlinks, your best bet at attaining a high ranking is creating relevant content. Your chances of becoming an authority are considerably higher if you continuously publish quality, insightful and relevant content on your topic area.

To determine how well current search engine results answered a specific search query, search for the keyword on Google. Click on a few top-ranking pages and consider the following:

  • Is the content properly written?
  • Does the content fully cover the topic and accurately answer the search query?
  • Does the page contain multiple content forms, e.g., images, videos, charts, or graphs?
  • Does the keyword appear multiple times on the page?

If a webpage fulfills three or all of the questions above, it is properly optimized for the keyword. Outranking these websites will take a lot of work.

How to Check Keyword Difficulty

Almost all keyword research tools provide keyword difficulty scores. While some display a percentage, others show a numerical score. 

Although they use similar criteria, two different SEO tools may provide a different difficulty level for the same keyword. This is because these tools might analyze different data. Each tool has its sources and data collection methods on which the keyword difficulty calculation is based. If the data collected by an SEO tool is inaccurate or incomplete, the score becomes questionable. Simply, the accuracy of the keyword difficulty score depends on how accurate the data it relies on is.

Some of the best tools known for sourcing quality data are:

1. Ahrefs

Ahrefs is an excellent keyword research tool that provides users with comprehensive and reliable keyword data. It provides an accurate keyword difficulty score, indicating the competitiveness of a particular keyword.

The tool calculates Keyword Difficulty by analyzing search results for a keyword. It also looks at the quantity of referring domains the top 10 ranking pages have. The more referring domains across the top-ranking pages, the higher the keyword difficulty. Ahrefs assesses keyword difficulty on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the hardest.

2. Moz Keyword Difficulty Checker

Moz is another exceptional tool for analyzing how hard or easy it is to rank on SERPs for a given keyword. To provide keyword difficulty scores, Moz considers the Page Authority and Domain Authority scores of top-ranking results on Google.

Moz’s metrics use data from multiple reliable sources to give users an accurate keyword difficulty score.

3. SEMrush

SEMrush keyword tool is great for assessing keyword difficulty. It provides keyword difficulty analysis and organic traffic insight for a given keyword. It measures keyword difficulty as a percentage value.

Access the tool and navigate to Keyword Overview. Enter a keyword in the search bar and locate the keyword difficulty widget. There, you’ll see the keyword difficulty in percentage.

Users can check up to 100 keywords at once in the Keyword Overview. You can also filter keyword reports by KD% range.

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Considering Search Volume and Intent

The three criteria for choosing high ROI keywords are keyword difficulty, search volume, and intent. We’ve looked at keyword difficulty; now, let’s see how it relates to search volume and intent.

1. Search Volume

Keyword search volume means the number of searches a particular keyword receives in a month. A high search volume has a high traffic potential and competition level, so ranking for such keywords is challenging. Low search volume keywords are less popular and less competitive. Ranking for these keywords is easier.

2. Search Intent

User or search intent is the “why” behind a search query. It is the purpose for which an Internet user begins a search. Your content must be relevant to the targeted keyword and satisfy the search intent. 

The four types of search intents identified by Google are:

  • Informational. The searcher seeks information on a subject, e.g., “what is keyword research.”
  • Commercial. The searcher is typically looking for information about a product, so they can choose the specific one to purchase, e.g., “best keyword research tools.”
  • Transactional. The searcher wants to make a purchase. They already know what to buy, but they’re just looking for where to get the item, e.g., “buy laptop online.”
  • Navigational. The searcher is looking for a specific site on the Internet, i.e., INKforall.

You want to ensure that the intent behind the search query matches the intent of the piece of content you want searchers to find. An easy way to do this is to search Google for the keywords you’re considering and look through the results on the first page. 

  • Observe if the results are mostly informational, commercial, or navigational. 
  • Check if there are businesses similar to yours. 
  • Do the search results contain multimedia like videos and PDFs?

If the majority of the results on the first page are similar to what you’re working on, you’re likely on track.

When to Target Low-Difficulty Keywords

If your website is new, you probably have no domain authority, little to no backlinks, and less content. Targeting low-difficulty keywords during this phase can lead to significant SEO gains. This is the best way to drive traffic quickly to your site, get your audience’s attention and rank on search engines. 

With some SEO knowledge and website growth, you will likely be able to target moderate-difficulty keywords. After establishing your website with more backlinks and content, you can target more difficult keywords. Targeting long-tail keywords related to your core topic is an excellent way to transition from low to high-difficulty keywords. Long-tail keywords with a moderate difficulty level give you a better chance of driving more traffic to your website. These keywords are more specific, so they drive targeted traffic and valuable audience who are likely to convert to your website.

Ensure that the low-difficulty keywords you’re targeting have a moderate search volume. You don’t want to produce content on a keyword no one is searching for. This will lead to low website visits, even if you rank at no. 1 for that keyword.

When to Target High-Difficulty Keywords

A good SEO strategy includes a few high-difficulty keywords. Well-established websites with strong domain authority, excellent content, and quality link profiles can easily rank for these challenging keywords.

Hitting the top spots of SERP requires time, effort, and continuous publishing of stellar content. Holding the top spot isn’t any easier; it requires extensive keyword research and content optimization efforts. 

So whether you’re a new website or an established domain, you want to continue publishing excellent content that remains relevant over time. You should also link your pages and keep optimizing and updating your content. This way, you build a higher domain authority and position yourself as an authority in your industry.

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Striking a Balance

The majority of websites on the Internet want to rank for high search volume keywords. While this is great for the website owner, ranking for these keywords can take time and effort. The key is striking a balance between search volume, keyword difficulty, and search intent. 

Find and target keywords with a relatively high-volume, high intent (i.e., intent that matches your business goals), and low keyword difficulty. Doing so will help you easily rank on SERPs and attract massive traffic to your website while targeting an audience likely to convert.

To Wrap Up

Keyword difficulty measures how hard or easy it will be to rank on Google’s organic search results for a particular keyword. The higher the difficulty score of a keyword, the more challenging it will be to rank for that keyword. Keyword difficulty depends on several factors, including domain authority, backlink profiles, and content quality.

Striking a balance between keyword difficulty, search intent, and search volume is essential for improving SERP rankings. Targeting a high-volume, low-difficulty keyword that fits your business objective will help a website stay relevant in the SERPs for years. Keyword research is vital for SEO efforts – it is the foundation of every successful marketing strategy. Keyword research is the only way to identify the most profitable keywords to target in your campaigns.

This guide discussed everything you need to know about SEO keyword research ranking difficulty. It’s time to connect the dots and create a strategy that works effortlessly, consistently, and effectively. 

Co-Founder of INK, Alexander crafts magical tools for web marketing. SEO and AI expert. He is a smart creative, a builder of amazing things. He loves to study “how” and “why” humans and AI make decisions.

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