Keyword Difficulty : find & check keywords you can rank for

Written By Fraser McCulloch

Traditional marketer specialising in keyword research, SEO content plans, and content briefs. Has-been Scottish golfer. 

Discover how to use keyword difficulty to find and check keywords you can rank for with these 3 leading keyword research tools.

Key Action Points

  • A successful page 1 ranking strategy involves targeting relevant low-difficulty keywords.
  • Most keyword research tools score keywords on a level of difficulty
  • After choosing keywords to target, you must create better content than competitors and match what the user is looking for.

Your business goal is to earn traffic from Google.

Using a keyword difficulty metric can help you identify lower competition keywords that are easier to rank for and help you make an informed decision about your search strategy.

What is keyword difficulty?

A way to determine how difficult it is to rank in the organic search results for a specific term is “Keyword Difficulty”.

Several factors, including domain rating, page rating, and content quality, are used to determine the difficulty of a keyword. 

The keyword difficulty scores are usually between 1 and 100, with one being the easiest and 100 being the hardest.

Step 1: Start with your target keywords.

Your keyword research process should use an SEO tool to help generate a massive list of keywords.

These tools will provide comprehensive keyword analysis and keyword metrics such as :

  • Keyword search volume
  • Ranking difficulty, e.g., highlight high-difficulty keywords and low-difficulty keywords.
  • Organic traffic
  • Backlink profile of top sites
  • External links to pages

Start your process with a target keyword or head terms related to your business or industry.

These target keywords will provide you with the most keyword suggestions before you filter down in the next step.

Step 2: Filter with Keyword Difficulty

Tools such as Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Ubersuggest have a keyword difficulty metric to help you narrow down your lists of keywords.

Depending on the age and authority of the website I’m working on, I’ll filter the main keyword with a different keyword difficulty level.

Understanding keyword difficulty scores

This chart concisely explains the concept of keyword difficulty rating.

I choose easy and medium keywords for low to medium authority websites.

  • 0-10 Easy keywords
  • 11-30 Medium keywords
  • 31-70 Hard keywords
  • 71-100 Super hard keywords

Step 3: Prioritise traffic, not search volume

So now you have a list of keywords you’ve filtered by difficulty.

Most keyword tools will show you the keyword traffic potential or traffic to the top-ranked pages.

Step 4: Look at links to pages (page authority)

Next, look at the links to the top pages.

Google ranks web pages, not websites; that’s an important distinction.

Look at this example of a low authority website ranking on page 1.

The authority of a web page is the most crucial factor in a page’s ability to rank in search. 

A good measurement of page authority is the Ahrefs UR number.

Keep an eye out for low UR pages or those with a few or no backlinks.

Pages can be outranked with a great piece of content and a few high-quality backlinks.

Step 5:  Review domain authority (DR)

Search results filled with high (DR) domain rating sites are extremely high-competition keywords and hard to rank for. 

Ideally, there should be some low DR sites in the SERP.

Those are the opportunities where you can break into the top 10 results.

Step 6: Check SERP for user intent and content quality

In a recent keyword research project, I found low keyword difficulty, high-volume, high-intent keywords, and people looking to purchase golf equipment.

I manually checked the 1st SERP result, and the content they produced was excellent.

The top page was a high-quality article with research findings, charts, graphs and product reviews I would have difficulty replicating.

Always check the content of the top pages before adding opportunities to your keyword lists or website plan.

Step 7: Manage your keyword lists, plan your content

During my initial research phase, I’ll put the biggest keyword opportunities into a keyword list.

I’ve created a tool that exports the batch of keywords chosen into a content planning tool.

From here, clients or their team can select the types of search intent around each keyword and plan their content and copywriting. 

Keyword Difficulty Measurement Tools

A few keyword research tools have created their keyword difficulty metric.

Ahrefs keyword difficulty metric explained.

Ahrefs keyword difficulty is calculated as follows :

“It’s calculated by taking a weighted average of the number of linking domains to the current top-ranking pages.

The result is then plotted on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 (low difficulty to high).”

So if keyword difficulty is 5, you need around 5 links to your page to rank in the top 10 results.

Ahrefs does not factor content into their keyword difficulty metric.

SEMRush keyword difficulty tool

To calculate keyword difficulty, SEMrush considers the authority of the domains that are showing up on the results page and then estimates how hard it would be for a new website to outrank its current competitors on the SERP.

  • Very hard – 85-100%
  • Hard – 70-84%
  • Difficult – 50-69%
  • Possible – 30-49%
  • Easy – 15-29%
  • Very easy – 0-14%

Ubersuggest keyword difficulty scale

Ubersuggest refers to keyword difficulty as SEO difficulty.

To quote them, estimated competition in organic search; the higher the number, the more competitive.

  • Low competition is shown in light green; 0 to 35
  •  Medium competition is shown in light yellow; 36 to 70
  •  High competition is shown in pink; 71 to 100

However, they don’t tell you how they calculate keyword difficulty.


Ideally, you want to identify and target :

  • Keywords with low difficulty
  • Relevant keywords
  • Keywords with high search and click volume

Keyword difficulty is one part of the SEO puzzle

After deciding what keywords to target, create better content than competitors and match what the user is looking for.