When you do keyword research to prepare for drafting a new blog or webpage, you may see a tab or category labeled “difficulty.” If you are still new to keyword research, you may not know exactly what this means. But many marketers actually choose their keywords with no regard for the difficulty of that keyword. It’s important to understand what keyword difficulty is so that you know how to measure it and how to leverage it for your SEO marketing.
Keyword difficulty describes how difficult it may be to rank in a Google search for a particular keyword. Some keyword searches are oversaturated, making it difficult for a new page using that keyword to find its way up the ranks. But keyword difficulty is more nuanced than that. It factors in things like domain and page authority, as well as the quality of the content.
There are plenty of apps and tools that measure keyword difficulty. However, they all measure it differently, which means you could receive many different results. They can at least give you an approximate idea. You may even be able to find some of these for free, although their results are often limited. You can also consider the factors that impact keyword difficulty to understand the difficulty yourself.
The first thing to consider is how many searches that keyword appears in. The more often the keyword is used, the more search page results you’ll fight against. The less often it’s used, the fewer searches you’ll have to compete with, though it may mean the term is searched far less often.
How often is that search term actually entered by users who want information? It’s possible that “Why can’t my cat sing the alphabet?” does not have much competition, but it’s also far less likely that it will be searched than “Why does my cat knead my blankets?” Being on the top of a search that no one actually uses won’t help you much at the end of the day.
Google tends to rank the authority of pages with higher priority than the authority of websites as a whole. Webpages with niche, long-form content covering timely and relevant issues tend to rank as high authority, and thus, they are given a higher ranking than low-authority webpages. Backlinks and things like case studies and webinars also tend to set webpages apart as authoritative.
The authority of a domain is the authority of that website as a whole. This can impact page authority since if other pages under that domain tend to be low authority, Google might deprioritize the webpage. Likewise, if the domain has already established itself as a priority, Google will be more likely to see the page as high authority.
So, what does all this mean for keyword difficulty? Well, the more high authority pages are already in a search for a particular keyword, the more difficult that keyword will be to rank in. On the other hand, search results that list mostly low-quality content or low page authority could work in your favor. If your page has more authority and your content is of higher quality, search engines will rank it above those lower-quality results.
As we’ve mentioned above, high-quality content is one of the main things that boosts page authority. Content should be well-written, long-form, informative, relevant, and backed by a wealth of experience and expertise. When Google sees content like this, it tends to rank it higher. If the keyword has a lot of use, but most of the quality is pretty low, you may have a shot at making the first page on the search results.
If you can make it to the first page of a search result for a keyword with high search and usage density, your web traffic is certain to skyrocket. Unfortunately, you might not be able to do so for every keyword. Keyword difficulty gives you a sense of how likely it is that you can find a place in that search result.
It may be that you need to deliver high-quality, authoritative content using that keyword in order to be ranked. Simply using the keyword as much as possible won’t cut it — and could actually get you penalized. Searching for keyword difficulty can also give you a sense of some keywords that have as yet untapped potential. You could corner the market there and watch your traffic begin to grow slowly but surely.