What is keyword difficulty and can you use an average keyword and seo difficulty score to target keywords?
What is keyword difficulty ?
Keyword difficulty is a metric that keyword research tools and companies use to estimate how easy or hard it will be for you to rank on page 1 in Google’s organic search results for a given search query.
Since no-one other than Google knows how or why pages rank on page , keyword difficulty is simply a tool to help you refine or choose which keywords to target.
The keyword difficulty scores are usually between 1 and 100; where one is the easiest keyword difficulty score and 100 is the hardest.
My website ranks and earns traffic from difficult and easy keywords.
And the keywords with the highest search volumes typically have the highest difficulty score and those with the lowest search volume have the lowest keyword difficulty score.
I would love to target and rank on page 1 for a query with 10,000 searches a month but with a keyword difficulty of 38 I’m not able to without earning a huge number of links to my page.
So here’s how 3 popular keyword research tools measure keyword difficulty.
Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty
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; then need around 5 links to your page to rank in the top 10 results.
SEMRush Keyword Difficulty
To calculate keyword difficulty, SEMrush takes into consideration 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.
- Above 80% = High Difficulty
- 60-80% = Medium Difficulty
- Below 60% = Low Difficulty
Ubersuggest SEO Difficulty
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 actually tell you how they calculate keyword difficulty.
But look, a top page ranks for many keywords with varied keyword difficulty scores.
My page ranks for 94 different, but similar, keywords that vary in difficulty from 3 to 63.
Use Average Keyword Difficulty to choose keywords
Here’s a recommendation; use the average keyword difficulty of keywords you rank in the top 20 results in Google.
Simply export your keyword report from Ubersuggest or Ahrefs and average the difficulty score and the search volume score.
- Average Search Volume = 272
- Average Difficulty = 21
- Average Search Volume = 161
- Average Difficulty = 17
So the next time I decide to do keyword research I have a difficulty score in my head to use as selection criteria.
For example, I’ve just filtered the seed keyword that is “keyword” by a keyword difficulty score of 0 to 20 and found 781 keywords.
These are keywords and topics I’ve never explored before.
Keyword Difficulty and Brand New Websites
But using average keyword difficulty is useless for a brand new website because the site doesn’t rank for any keywords at all.
So what do you do then ?
Choose topical content
I would still target low competition keywords for a brand new website because you need to provide information that is relevant for your audience.
Go ahead and create pages that describe your core services or products regardless of how difficult these keywords are to rank.
People will still discover your website directly, through advertising or social media.
Whilst you may have a new website today, in the future you will have a more authoritative website that can rank for these more difficulty search queries.
So, for example, I targeted “what is a keyword” with 350 monthly UK searches and a keyword difficulty of 75.
I am never going to rank on page 1.
But all of the top pages earn traffic and some could be outranked in the future.
And it’s important to my content hub that I have a web page that explains what keywords are.
Target search intent
You should choose keywords for each stage of the buying process.
I’ve explained the buying process in detail here.
Ideally you want to target keywords with low difficulty at each of the 4 stages of the buying process.
- Those searching to solve a problem
- Those looking for information about services, products or brands that could solve this problem
- Those comparing or reviewing products and services
- And those looking for a prompt before they purchase.
SEO Scout has a cool feature that enables you to find intent keywords.
Just enter a seed keyword, run the report and then look at the question, comparison, research and shopping tabs.
This will give you initial ideas; thereafter you’ll need to find the keyword difficulty, searh and traffic potential with another research tool
Keyword difficulty is a useless metric when your content does not answer the user intent
What true SEO experts are able to do is to understand the users’ intention behind the search query, write page content to address that intent and get the page ranking on page 1.
That’s the real skill.
And it’s hard, it’s time consuming and it’s expensive.