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How To Evaluate Keyword Difficulty (2023)

There are a lot of elements involved in perfecting your SEO strategy. Finding the right keywords is an important one. Using a good keyword difficulty tool can help identify the easiest and most impactful keywords to pursue.

Targeting low-competition keywords can increase your chances of achieving a high ranking on search engine results pages, which allows you to reach a wider audience with your content. Here’s how to get started.

What is keyword difficulty?

Keyword difficulty is a measure of how challenging it is for a webpage to rank on a search engine results page (SERP) for a given keyword or phrase. It’s an essential concept in search engine optimization (SEO), and it helps you assess the feasibility of ranking for relevant keywords.

Keyword difficulty checkers evaluate the competition by assessing the strength of the existing pages targeting a keyword. They assess keyword difficulty metrics like page authority—how well a page is likely to perform in search engines. Many tools generate keyword difficulty scores ranging from zero to 100. Higher scores indicate a more competitive, difficult term. In general, more specific keywords have lower difficulty scores than broader keywords.

How does keyword difficulty impact SEO?

Understanding keyword difficulty helps you determine the potential rewards of targeting a keyword for SEO. Keywords with low difficulty scores may be more aligned with your site’s niche. Targeting them can provide an opportunity to rank on SERPs even if you haven’t built much domain authority—your website’s proven ability to rank. Keywords with high difficulty scores often have high search volume and thus a greater potential to drive traffic to your site. Competition for high-volume keywords is fierce—especially for small and relatively new websites, so it is important to be strategic in the keywords you target.

For example, a small upholstery business offering custom curtains may have difficulty ranking on the first page for the term “curtains.” Targeting a more specific phrase like “custom curtains in Omaha” could increase its chance of reaching the top spot on a SERP. Although the search volume for “custom curtains in Omaha” is smaller than the search volume for “curtains,” targeting the less competitive term can help the company reach a more relevant audience. 

How to assess keyword difficulty

  1. Use keyword research tools
  2. Evaluate your competition
  3. Understand domain authority
  4. Consider search volume

Conducting keyword research can help you get the most out of your content creation efforts. Use SEO tools to understand the competitive landscape and identify opportunities to rank in search. Here’s how to evaluate keyword difficulty: 

1. Use keyword research tools

Many popular keyword research tools, such as the keyword difficulty checker from Moz, generate a score to help you understand keyword difficulty. These scores depend on the number and quality of other pages competing for that particular keyword. The higher the score, the harder it will be to create content that ranks on the first page of the SERP for the keyword. For example, a general term like “swimsuits” is likely already targeted by well-established sites with big marketing budgets, increasing the ranking difficulty for this term.

2. Evaluate your competition

Your competitors on SERPs can be companies with related products, websites with a similar audience, or any other pages vying for your exact keyword. SEO tools can show you a rundown of other pages currently ranking for your targeted keyword. They can also provide a domain authority or domain ranking score that represents the strength of each page. Sites with a lower domain authority score are easier to outrank. 

3. Understand domain authority

Domain authority is an overall measurement of website quality. Trusted, easy-to-access websites with high-quality content have a higher domain authority and receive preferential rankings in search results. Page authority is a related metric assigned to individual pages within a website. 

Lowering your bounce rate, increasing your page speed, and building backlinks are all ways to raise your domain authority. Use a keyword tool or domain authority checker, like the Ahrefs website authority checker, to assess your website’s score.

4. Consider search volume

Aim to find keywords with a low SEO difficulty and a high search volume. It may be easy to rank for a term with low competition, but if the search volume is negligible, it may not generate enough traffic to justify creating content. 

For example, if you notice none of your competitors have pages targeting the search term “where to buy an air conditioner in the Arctic Circle,” you might check the search volume before writing a new blog post. If reviewing the keyword data reveals that only 10 users search this term each month, then a dedicated post is unlikely to generate significant traffic or revenue.

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Keyword difficulty FAQ

How much keyword difficulty should I have?

Aim to strike a balance between targeting niche keywords with a low difficulty score and high-value keywords that could generate significant returns. If your website is well-established, you’ll have a better chance of ranking for competitive keywords.

Can you still rank for high-difficulty keywords?

It’s possible to rank for keywords with a high difficulty score, but it may take time and effort. To reach the first page for a competitive term, you must establish domain authority and create high-quality content bolstered by backlinks.

Is it better to target high or low-difficulty keywords?

High-difficulty and low-difficulty keywords both play a role in a comprehensive SEO strategy. Focusing on low-competition keywords can generate quick wins. Targeting high-difficulty keywords can help increase traffic and brand visibility over time.

How long does it take to rank for a high-difficulty keyword?

The time it takes to rank on the first page of search engine results for competitive SEO keywords varies depending on your website’s domain authority and the quality of your content. It typically takes from three to six months for content to appear on SERPs.

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