SEO KEYWORD DIFFICULTY

Matthew Carter
Hello friends, my name is Matthew Carter. I’m a professional link builder for a large SEO agency in New York City.

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Google says that links and content relevance are the top ranking metrics for your site’s placement in search results. The results of our own study of two million keywords confirm this statement. We see a strong correlation between the number of referring domains a web page has and its position in Google search results.

That is why, to calculate Keyword Difficulty, we analyze the search results for a keyword and look at the number of referring domains the top 10 ranking pages have. In simple terms, the more referring domains across the top ranking pages, the higher the Keyword Difficulty.

The Keyword Difficulty metric integrates across all keyword reports in Ahrefs tools. Look into keyword suggestions, analyze your competitors’ organic traffic, track your own keyword rankings – Keyword Difficulty will always be at hand.

What is Keyword Difficulty?

Our metric is widely considered the most accurate one. Keyword Difficulty doesn’t take into account any on-page factors.

The further choice of keywords must be based on a complete and detailed SERP analysis. No SEO tool can do this work for you, because every case is unique. But you will find all the necessary data for analysis in the SERP overview Ahrefs provides.

If you’re aiming for a keyword with KD 40, you’re likely to need approximately 56 RDs to get into the top 10 search results.

Ahrefs’ keyword database has 12 billion keywords in 229 countries. It is already the biggest database on the web, and it’s growing steadily.

Keywords Explorer — Keyword Difficulty Checker has a prominent place in this tool. It helps you make informed decisions about the keywords to go after, whether you’re analyzing individual keywords, sorting through your keyword list or looking at keyword suggestions.

See how hard it will be to get into top 10 search results for any keyword.

Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty metric.

Site Explorer — Discover keywords that bring organic traffic to any page of your competitors’ websites and use the Keyword Difficulty metric to see if you will be able to rank in the top 10 for those keywords.

In the world of SEO, Keyword Difficulty is a handy metric which helps you understand how hard it would be to rank for a particular search query.

Combined with Search Volume, this metric will help you find keywords that can bring you very good organic traffic but don’t require much effort to rank for.

The scale is not linear. Each value on it corresponds to the estimated number of referring domains (RDs) a page needs in order to get to the first page of search results.

Integration with other Ahrefs tools.

Whether you are analyzing your own list of keywords or looking at the suggestions in Keywords Explorer, our Keyword Difficulty metric shows you the opportunities you can easily rank for.

Here’s the relation between the Keyword Difficulty and the number of RDs needed:

People who are new to SEO may confuse ‘Keyword Difficulty’ with ‘Competition’ in the Google Keyword Planner. ‘Competition’ only refers to paid search results while ‘Keyword Difficulty’ applies to organic search results.

Content Explorer — This potent tool finds the most popular content on any topic for you. It also shows you the list of keywords a content page ranks for, along with their Keyword Difficulty.

Rank Tracker — This tool tracks your website ranking positions changes for any given keyword. Keyword Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty are not static numbers, so we update them regularly for each of your projects.

Do you have access to subject-matter experts who can write? Or would you need to pay for them? If you’d have to pay, do you have the budget?

To find domain authority, download Moz’s chrome extension (easiest), or use their free domain authority checker tool to input URLs manually.

Keyword difficulty is a score or percent (between 0-100) used by SEO tools to predict how difficult it will be to rank a certain keyword at the top of organic search results. It’s a critical step in the keyword research process.

What’s the most common mistake beginner SEO specialists make?

Simple: the last thing you want to do is pursue keywords you have no chance of ranking for organically. But it happens all the time.

Content requirements and search intent.

Keyword difficulty doesn’t account for situational factors that contribute to difficulty:

Budget.

Bottom line: if you’re not prepared to satisfy the visitors’ and Google’s content expectations, no matter how deep, long, or thorough, you’re not going to rank high. And some content expectations are easier to satisfy than others.

Don’t fear competitive keywords. But don’t blindly pursue them either.

Like we mentioned earlier, most keyword difficulty tools use backlinks as their sole metric when predicting difficulty. But not all of them are free.

DA isn’t everything. But results with high PA and DA tend to be hyper-competitive.

Note: Free Mozbar doesn’t tell you the number of referring domains. It just tells you total links. This means it’s highly likely that more than one domain is linking to the website more than once.

For example, Google rates “content marketing” competition as “low.” That doesn’t mean it’s easy to rank organically. It means fewer people are currently bidding on the keyword with paid ads. Big difference.

Keyword difficulty is predicted based on several factors, including quantity and quality of backlinks , content quality, domain authority , and page authority.

Do you have an internal link-building team? Or do you outsource it to an agency?

Tools to determine keyword difficulty.

We call it wrongful pursuit .

For example, Ahrefs gives the keyword “search engine optimization” a 95/100 (super hard), and the keyword “barnacle SEO” a 19/100 (medium).

For example, the search term “keyword tools” produces mostly tools (surprise) on page one. That’s because Google has identified the intent of the search (i.e. what the searcher expects to find), and determined that a tool is what they’re looking for.

The best keywords are the most rankable keywords.

The first rule of any strategy (especially an SEO strategy) is to devise a plan capable of winning given the resources available.

So whichever tool you use, know that keyword difficulty is mostly linked to backlink difficulty.

Though referring domains may influence rankings as much or more as any other factor, it’s still just one piece of the puzzle.

What is keyword difficulty?

Most page one results include long-form guides, like Backlinko’s (#1):

Keyword difficulty predicts how many resources you’ll need if you expect to rank on page one. That way you can determine whether or not it’s worth your investment before you get started.

Whatever your restraints (and no two businesses are created equal), account for them ahead of time. Limited restraints will make ranking more difficult. Unlimited restraints will make ranking easier.

With their extension installed, you can scroll page one results and see DA directly within SERPs.

The more links a page has acquired on the right (DA 50+), the harder it will be to outrank.

Do you have a creative team that can produce videos, create user-friendly guides, or turn data into easily digestible infographics?

Start using keyword difficulty to influence your SEO strategy and to prioritize keywords with low difficulty.

As for true difficulty: not so much.

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