What is keyword difficulty and how to measure it? 

Claire Sy

In search engine optimization and content marketing, keywords are the terms and phrases that people use in search engines to find information. That’s why understanding keyword difficulty is crucial. It helps you choose the right words to focus on, so your website has a better chance of showing up in search results. 

This article will help you understand keyword difficulty and its impact on your search ranking . By the end, you’ll gain valuable insights to enhance your SEO strategies and climb the ranks in the search engine results. Read on and arm yourself against the online competition. 

What is keyword difficulty? 

Keyword difficulty measures how challenging it is to rank for a particular keyword in search engine results. It’s an indicator of the effort and resources needed to achieve a high ranking for a particular term. 

Search engines, like Google, use complex algorithms to decide which websites rank for which keywords. These algorithms consider various factors like: 

  • the quality and relevance of your content 
  • the user experience your site provides 
  • the number and quality of backlinks your site has 

In your SEO strategy, primary keywords are your main content focus. They’re the terms most closely related to your topic or product. Secondary keywords, on the other hand, support and add context to your primary keywords. They help search engines understand the breadth and depth of your content. 

Factors that influence keyword difficulty score 

Keywords are given scores for comparison to determine their ranking. A variety of factors play a critical role in determining how challenging it will be to rank for a particular keyword. 

Understanding these factors help you make more informed decisions in your SEO strategy. Let’s dive into the key elements that impact keyword difficulty. 


The number and authority of pages already ranking for a keyword significantly impact its difficulty. If high-authority sites dominate the first page of search results, the climb to the top becomes much steeper. 

Well-written, comprehensive, and user-friendly content on competing pages can also increase the keyword difficulty. Google aims to rank high-quality content, so the better the content you’re competing against, the harder it is to outrank them. 

Search volume 

Keywords with high search volumes are attractive because they promise more traffic, but they’re often more competitive. Seasonal trends or sudden spikes in popularity can temporarily increase the difficulty of keywords. For example, “holiday gifts” may become highly competitive during the winter season. 

The goal is to find keywords with enough search volume and relevance to your content to drive traffic, but not so much competition that ranking becomes an uphill battle. This balance is key to effective target keyword selection. 

Search intent 

Keywords can be informational, transactional, or navigational. Search intent is about understanding why someone is using a specific keyword in a search engine, whether it’s informational, transactional, or navigational. 

If your content doesn’t align with the user’s search intent for a particular keyword, it will be harder to rank. For example, if someone searches for “how to tie a tie”, they’re probably not looking to buy a tie, so a shopping site won’t rank as well as an instructional article or video. Understanding and matching the right intent with your content is key to improving its visibility in search results. 

It’s important to note if a keyword has multiple intents behind it, it might be harder to rank because the search engine results page (SERP) will feature a variety of content types. 

SERP features 

SERP features, such as featured snippets, knowledge panels, or local packs, are special boxes or areas on a search engine results page that can display information in a unique and eye-catching way. These features often get a lot of clicks and attention, making it more challenging for organic search results to stand out, even if they’re on the first page. 

For certain keywords, particularly those related to shopping or business, ads can take up a prominent position on the page, pushing down the organic (non-paid) results and making them less likely to show up. This can make it more difficult to get your website noticed in search results. 

Keyword length and specificity 

Keyword length and specificity refer to how detailed and specific a keyword is. Longer, more specific keywords, known as long-tail keywords, usually have lower competition and are easier to rank for because they target a more specific audience or topic. 

On the other hand, broad and general keywords face higher competition and are harder to rank for due to their wide appeal and the large number of websites trying to rank for them. For example, it’s easier to rank for a specific keyword like “best organic dog food for small breeds” than for a broad one like “dog food.” 

Backlink profile 

The backlink profile of a webpage refers to the quantity and quality of external links pointing to it. It’s a vital factor in SEO, as a strong backlink profile often indicates higher keyword difficulty. 

Essentially, if a page that ranks for a specific keyword has many links from reputable and authoritative websites, it suggests that the keyword is competitive. This is because search engines view these backlinks as endorsements of the page’s content, so it’s more challenging for other pages to compete and rank for the same keyword without a similarly robust backlink profile. 

Domain authority and page authority 

Domain authority and page authority are metrics that estimate the strength and credibility of a website and its individual pages in the eyes of search engines. Factors like the number and quality of backlinks influence these metrics. 

If your website has a high domain authority, you probably have a stronger handle on SEO. When your high-authority site ranks for a keyword, it suggests that the keyword is more difficult to rank for other web pages. Your strong backlink profile and established trust make you a formidable opponent in the search engine rankings, making it a challenge for websites with lower authority to outrank you. 

7 key strategies to check keyword difficulty 

Navigating the complexities of keyword difficulty can be overwhelming, especially for those new to SEO. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you analyze keyword difficulty with ease. 

Step 1: Brainstorm potential keywords 

Initiating your keyword research begins by clearly understanding your niche. Ask yourself, “What are the main topics or ideas here?” This is your niche, and it’s important to guide your SEO plan.  

Next, think about what your potential customers might be typing into Google. What are they curious about? What problems do they need solutions for? Getting into their heads help pinpoint the right keywords. 

Don’t overlook the value of using keyword research tools. They take your initial keyword ideas and expand on them, offering a wider range of options you may not have initially considered. 

Step 2: Use SEO tools for initial assessment 

Moving to the second step, it’s essential to select an SEO tool that will help assess the potential of your chosen keywords. Keyword difficulty checkers like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Moz offer insights, helping you make informed decisions. They provide metrics like search volume, keyword difficulty scores, and the number of competing pages, which are invaluable to your SEO strategy. 

Once you’ve chosen your tool, the next step is to input the keywords you’ve brainstormed. This is a crucial phase where you start integrating your ideas with concrete data. Simply enter each keyword into the tool and prepare to delve into the insights it provides. 

This step focuses on the diligent analysis of various metrics. Pay special attention to the keyword difficulty score – a crucial indicator of the competitiveness associated with each keyword. Also, keep an eye on the search volume metric. This sheds light on how many people are actively searching for these terms. 

Step 3: Evaluate search volume and competition 

Focus on two important things: how popular each keyword is and how tough the competition is. 

First, look at the search volume. This tells you how many people are searching for that keyword each month. A higher search volume means more people are interested, but it also might mean it’s harder to rank high in search results. 

Then, check out the competition. See how many sites are using the same keyword and, more importantly, look at the top pages that come up in search results. If these pages belong to well-known and authoritative websites, the competition is strong. It may be tougher for your site to get noticed, especially if you’re just starting out online. 

Step 4: Analyze competitor strategies 

Next, dive into analyzing your competitors’ strategies. It’s crucial to understand what you’re up against and what you can do to stand out. 

You can start by studying the top-ranked pages for your target keywords. Look closely at their content and how it’s structured. Are they using long-form articles, lists, infographics, or videos? Notice the tone they use and the type of information they provide. Is it detailed and in-depth, or more surface-level? 

Next, check out these pages’ backlink profiles. Backlink profiles can tell you a lot about a page’s authority and credibility. Use SEO tools to see where their backlinks are coming from. Are they getting linked by big-name sites or more niche, industry-specific sources? 

Finally, pay attention to how these competitors use the keywords in their content. Look at where the keyword appears – is it in the headlines, subheadings, opening paragraphs, or throughout the article?  

Also, consider the context and frequency of the keyword usage. This can give you insights into how to effectively incorporate keywords into your own content. 

Step 5: Identify long-tail keyword opportunities 

Start by looking for specific phrases that extend to your primary keywords. These long-tail keywords are usually more detailed and often less competitive than broader terms. 

Once you’ve identified potential long-tail keywords, assess their difficulty and relevance. Use SEO tools to check their difficulty scores. Ideally, these should be lower than more generic keywords so they’re easier to rank for.  

But it’s not just about ease.  Ensure these keywords are also relevant to your content. They should align with the topics you cover and your target audience’s interests. 

Step 6: Shortlist and prioritize keywords 

In this step, the goal is to find a sweet spot between the difficulty of ranking for a keyword and its relevance to your audience. 

First, aim for a balance between difficulty and relevance. Look for keywords that are not too hard to rank for (lower difficulty) but are still relevant to what your audience is searching for. 

Then, prioritize your keywords based on your specific goals. Think about what you want to achieve with your content and overall business objectives.  

Are you looking to increase brand awareness, drive sales, or establish thought leadership in your industry? Choose keywords that align with these goals. For instance, if you’re focusing on driving sales, more transactional keywords might be appropriate. 

Step 7: Continuous monitoring and adaptation 

Your SEO strategy is an ongoing process. So, it’s crucial to keep track of how well your pages are performing in search rankings for your chosen keywords. Regular SEO monitoring allows you to see the effectiveness of your efforts and identify areas for improvement. 

Staying updated on SEO is also key. The world of search engine optimization is always evolving, with frequent algorithm updates and shifts in trends. Keeping abreast of these changes ensures your strategies remain relevant and effective. 

Finally, be prepared to adjust your strategy as needed. Based on the performance data you gather and the latest SEO trends, refine your keyword list and tweak your content strategy. This could mean targeting new keywords, updating existing content, or changing your approach to backlinks. 

What is a good keyword difficulty score? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what constitutes a good keyword difficulty ranking. It largely depends on the strength and authority of your website and your specific niche. Generally, keyword difficulty is measured on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher numbers indicating greater difficulty. 

Generally, a low keyword difficulty score is below 30, a medium between 30 and 60, and a high above 60. Beginners should aim for lower difficulty scores, gradually targeting more competitive keywords as their site grows. 

Overall, a “good” keyword difficulty score aligns with your website’s current SEO strength and your specific goals, balancing the potential for traffic against the level of competition. 

Strategies for managing high keyword difficulty 

1. Focus on long-tail keywords 

Long-tail keywords are more specific and less competitive. They’re low-difficulty keywords so they often have lower search volumes but can attract a more targeted audience, leading to better conversion rates. Find niche topics within your industry that have not been extensively covered by competitors. 

Utilize keyword research tools to uncover long-tail keywords. Think from your audience’s perspective. What specific queries might they have? Tailoring your content to these specific queries can help you capture a niche audience. 

2. Enhance content quality 

High-quality, optimized content is vital, especially for competitive keywords. Your content should include your target keywords but offer engaging and valuable information to your audience. This can include: 

  • detailed guides 
  • how-to articles 
  • comprehensive case studies 

Create content that engages users, encouraging them to spend more time on your page, which can signal quality to search engines. Focus on answering specific questions that users might have regarding the keyword. 

Incorporate your keywords naturally in your content, including headings and meta tags. Ensure your website provides a good user experience with fast load times and mobile-friendly design. Engaging and relevant content increases the likelihood of your audience staying longer on your site, which is a positive signal to search engines. 

3. Build a strong backlink profile 

Backlinks from good, relevant websites are key in SEO. They tell search engines your content is valuable. To get these links, create great content like detailed articles or engaging infographics that others want to share. 

Also, get involved in your industry community, like joining forums or commenting on blogs. This can help you get backlinks naturally. Writing guest posts for related websites is another great way to get backlinks and show your expertise. 

Finally, use social media and newsletters to promote your content. The more people see it, the more likely they’ll link back to it. 

4. Optimize on-page SEO 

Optimizing your on-page SEO is all about making your page friendly for both search engines and readers. 

Include your main keyword in important places like the title, headings, and content body. But remember, don’t overdo it. Keyword stuffing can hurt your SEO efforts.  

Make your content reader-friendly too. Use clear headings, keep your paragraphs short, and use bullet points to break down information. This makes it easier for people to read and for search engines to understand what your page is about. 

Lastly, pay attention to your meta title and description – these are the short texts that show up in search results. Aside from inserting your keyword, try to write something that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to click on your link. This step is about making a good first impression in search results. 

5. Utilize internal linking 

Internal linking is about connecting different pages of your website together. When you link to other relevant pages on your site, you distribute the value of links across your pages, which is good for SEO. It also keeps visitors on your site longer because they can easily find more of your content that interests them. 

When you create these internal links, use a descriptive anchor text. This means the clickable text in the link should clearly describe what the linked page is about. It helps search engines understand the content of both the page you’re linking from and the page you’re linking to, making them more relevant in search results. 

6. Target featured snippets and other SERP features 

To boost your content’s visibility in search results, it’s smart to tailor it for Featured Snippets and other unique search result formats. 

When you neatly answer questions or organize information into bullet points, you’re playing right into Google’s hands for Featured Snippets, which often get prime real estate at the top of the search page. 

If your content is locally oriented, optimize it for Google’s Local Pack by sprinkling in location-specific keywords and keeping your online business profiles polished and current. While landing a spot in Knowledge Panels is more challenging, a well-crafted, informative website can work wonders. 

7. Monitor and adapt for a successful SEO strategy 

Regularly check how your keywords are ranking and how your content is performing. This helps you see what’s working and what might need tweaking. 

SEO is constantly changing, so staying updated on the latest trends and algorithm updates is crucial. This knowledge can help you adjust your strategies to stay ahead. 

Remember, dealing with high keyword difficulty is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience and ongoing effort. Stick with your long-term strategy and keep working at it consistently for the best results. Web.com has experts to assist you in your endeavors through our SEO services.  

Clinch your victory in the keyword competition 

Understanding keyword difficulty helps gauge how challenging it will be to rank for specific keywords in search engine results. Knowing this allows you to strategically choose keywords that are attainable for your site’s current authority level, balancing potential traffic against competitiveness. Now, you can better allocate your SEO efforts, focusing on keywords that offer the best chance of driving traffic and achieving higher rankings. 

Remember that the SEO landscape is always changing. Stay adaptable, keep learning, and continuously refine your strategies. You can use a keyword difficulty checker to assist you. But if this whole SEO business is just too much of a hassle, let Web.com’s SEO professionals do the heavy lifting instead. 

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments. Let this guide and Web.com’s online reliable solutions shed light on the path to your SEO success. 

  • Claire Sy

    Claire is a Content Marketing Writer at Web.com. Although she’s just started her content marketing journey, she’s eager to write compelling articles while learning more about the SEO and marketing world. Growing up, Claire had always loved reading, but she started taking an interest in writing through poetry and stories. She also likes playing chess in her spare time.

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