Sep 17, 2021

Keyword Difficulty Explained: What is it and how to measure it?

Suman Samal, Asst. Marketing Manager
Suman Samal
Keyword Difficulty Explained: What is it and how to measure it?
Suman Samal, Asst. Marketing Manager
Suman Samal
Sep 17, 2021

Keyword Difficulty Explained: What is it and how to measure it?

Keyword difficulty is an important part of SEO. But, what is it, and how to measure it? This article will give you every detail about keyword difficulty & its importance.
Keyword Difficulty Explained: What is it and how to measure it?

Table of contents

For any SEO campaign, keyword research is one of the cornerstones as it tells about the total monthly search volume and the potential traffic that a particular keyword would give.  

You want to have the best keywords to include in your content yet you miss the trick somewhere. Well, most SEOs ignore this metric but even regards it as an important part of keyword research.

The word is- Keyword Difficulty.

Keyword difficulty score is an essential factor that helps marketing managers and content creators identify ideal search terms to improve their SERP ranking.

Do not confuse keyword difficulty with keyword competition found in Google keyword planner. Keyword competition is a measure of paid search results, whereas keyword difficulty measures the organic search results.

Content relevance and the number of referring domains are two of the most crucial ranking metrics. For instance, the best player in a football team gets the most number of passes.

Similarly, the best content on the internet gets a higher number of backlinks from other pages.

What is Keyword Difficulty?

In the current era of content, it’s important for a creator to get keyword difficulty. Keyword difficulty (or SEO difficulty) is a measure of the amount of effort it may take for your content or website to rank for that keyword.

To calculate the keyword difficulty for any given search term, one has to analyze the search result for that keyword phrase and quantify the number of websites that link to the top 10 pages.

Keyword difficulty metric lets you choose and filter the SEO keywords that are easy to rank. Thus, keyword difficulty is an important metric to be used in the keyword research process.

Keyword Difficulty vs Keyword Competition

Many people confuse keyword difficulty with keyword competition. Keyword competition shows how competitive a keyword can be if it were to be used in PPC and ad placement campaigns.

In the keyword research process, keyword competition is used by the marketers to check for competition in a specific location and the search network targeting options that you have selected.

On the other hand, keyword difficulty is a metric that tells how easy or hard it is easy to rank a keyword.

Keyword Difficulty Scale

Now, how to check keyword difficulty precisely?

Keyword difficulty is measured on a scale ranging from 0 to 100, where,

  • 0-10 is easy (less than 10 referring domains)
  • 11-30 is medium (11-36 referring domains)
  • 31-70 is hard (37-200 referring domains)
  • 71-100 is extremely difficult (200+ referring domains)

For instance, if you want to rank for a search term with a keyword difficulty measure of 30, you require more than 36 websites to link to your content. 

How to find the right keyword using keyword difficulty?

To find easy-to-rank keywords, analyze your list and identify those with less keyword difficulty but high search volume. We have also shared this tip in our keyword research guide. A keyword’s difficulty is based on various factors.

The more the keyword difficulty is, the more competitive keyword it will be and the harder it is to rank in SERPs.

Keywords with moderate difficulty but considerable search volume are ideal targets. Marketers and entrepreneurs starting to build an online presence can find tangible targets using this trick.

However, keyword difficulty should not be your sole decision-making factor.

It would be best to use keyword difficulty to filter through the numerous keywords and conduct a detailed SERP analysis.

How to conduct a SERP analysis?

The search engine results page (SERP) consists of the best content available for a keyword. Besides that, it also offers valuable information such as ‘featured snippets’, ‘people also ask for’, 'locations', 'images', and 'related searches'. SERP analysis is the process of using this information and optimizing your website to rank better. 

Here is a five-step process to conduct SERP analysis:

Keyword Research

Analyze the top results for your search term and identify additional keywords. Once you start analyzing the pages, you will find alternate keywords users search with to find similar content. 

Search Intent

Read the top content to gauge the user intent for searching a particular term.

For instance, if you target ‘build a WordPress website’, read the content and understand whether the user is seeking a technical guide or an overview of the process. There are three types of search intents:

  • Transactional: When a user searches a term to purchase something; for instance, with “hire content writers,” the search intent is transactional.  
  • Navigational: When a user searches for a term to get to that web page, the search intent is navigational. For instance, “Scalenut SEO Assistant.”
  • Informational: When a user is looking to understand a particular topic, the search intent is informational. For example, “how to hire the best freelancers.”

Competitive Analysis

Once you have found additional keywords and understood the search intent, the next step is to conduct a comparative analysis. Identify the difference between your content and the top results.

Are they using infographics, audio, video content, etc., to add value? Or are they covering a topic you weren’t going to?

Find Ranking Opportunities

A good thing about SERP analysis is the ability to identify ranking opportunities. Through your analysis, you will find the similarity between top results.

Use this information to modify your approach to the concept.

Optimize Existing Content

Now that you know alternate keywords and understand the existing SERP content, it’s time to optimize your content. Find keyword topics that you already have on your website and expand them according to your SERP analysis.

Create new topic clusters to target new keywords.

A detailed SERP analysis acts as the true north guiding all your content creation efforts in the right direction.

Keyword difficulty helps your filter through the noise, and SERP analysis enables you to find topics.

Another valuable piece of information is the list of referring domains that you may reach out to once you have published your content.

Understanding what contributes to a keyword ranking difficulty

A keyword's difficulty is the combination of content relevance, referring links, and other SEO factors such as domain authority and page authority.

Content relevance is the value addition that your content provides to its readers. Referring links are the domains that link to your content.

Keyword difficulty considers other ranking factors such as Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) to ensure that the top results for a keyword are from credible sources.

What is Domain Authority?

Domain authority is the measure of the likelihood of a website to rank among the top SERPs. A high domain authority means that the website is a regular member of the SERP.

Many SEO tools apply Machine Learning algorithms to predict how often a web page will be on the search results page.

What is Page Authority?

While domain authority talks about the website as a single unit, page authority refers to the ability of an individual page to rank among the top results. One of the factors in ranking on SERPs is the authority of the page.

A blog post with high page authority means that the content on that page is of excellent quality. Marketers can use this to edit existing content and add topics to increase visibility.

Keyword difficulty, domain authority, and page authority are not Google-sanctioned metrics. These metrics are a product of the years of experience of SEO-focused software companies.

Top Tools for Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty is an ever-changing metric. What is fairly easy to rank today may become hard to rank in a few days. There are many tools that help you identify the keyword difficulty of particular search terms.

These tools consider the quality of backlinks pointing to the search query, competing page's authority, and the content quality to give a final value; i.e. keyword difficulty score.


Moz is an ideal place to start your keyword difficulty search. It analyzes real-time data to calculate the keyword difficulty for search terms.

The Mozbar extension is also a rich source of information, including domain authority and page authority.


SEMRush is another tool that helps marketers identify the keyword difficulty for search terms. It is best suited for the marketers who are willing to run Google ads.

The SEO analytics tool uses factors for determining the keyword difficulty like backlinks, the number of high authority sites ranking for that keyword, the number of advertisers, and others.


Ahrefs is everyone's favorite keyword difficulty checker tool. It analyzes a keyword's difficulty by considering the link profile, PPC competition, CPC (Cost-per-click) to give a keyword difficulty score.

The higher the score, the more difficult it s to rank for the target keyword. But, that doesn't mean that it is impossible to rank. Great content along with high-quality backlinks would certainly boost the page authority and search engine ranking.

It comes last in this list due to its exorbitant pricing. However, Ahrefs does much more than help you with keyword difficulty.

It also shares valuable information, such as backlink analysis that helps marketers identify ideal websites to generate links to their content.

How to create content using keyword difficulty?

Now that we understand what is keyword difficulty let’s get into how to create content using keyword difficulty.

The main reason for creating content is to attract, engage, and delight a target audience. Keywords are an essential part of creating successful content that brings visitors.

If you publish content with an ideal mix of general and LSI keywords, your web page will get more exposure to people searching for those keywords.

Keyword difficulty helps you identify valuable search terms that will bring target traffic to your website. In a layperson’s terms, it informs you of the amount of effort it will take to rank for a search term.

Once you have conducted a SERP analysis and identified content gaps and ideal difficulty keywords, the next step is to create content. Here are a few vital steps to remember in this regard:

Integrate ‘People also ask for’

When you search for a keyword, Google also displays similar questions that users search with.

The ‘People Also Ask For’ section is a valuable piece of information while creating content. Including these topics enriches your content, making it a one-stop knowledge resource.

Introduce Unique Variations

It does not matter if you’re targeting a decade-old keyword that thousands of websites have covered. What matters is you present a unique variation of the topic.

Read and understand the currently available content from the SERPs and create a unique interpretation of those concepts.

You may do this by changing examples or expanding on left-out topics.

Do not Stuff

Whatever you do, do not add content to make it lengthy.

With continuous updates, search algorithms can understand the difference between good content and keyword stuffing.

So, keep it crisp and to the point. If you wish to increase the length of your content, find additional sub-topics.

Add Insightful Statistics

In a highly competitive world, numbers speak louder than words. Add statistics wherever possible.

Your content must engage the audience with insights that they will not find anywhere else. From the introduction to the conclusion, sprinkle numbers throughout your piece.

Share Actionable Information

Actionable information gives your reader instant gratification. Content creators and marketing managers must ensure they include actionable information.

The steps to do something and direct links to free tools are ideal examples of such information.


Understanding and implementing the steps mentioned above and the concepts are ideal to start planning your SEO keyword difficulty combination strategy.

From discovery to the final piece, everything targets producing tangible outcomes.

Use keyword difficulty to find the list of keywords that you can easily rank for, and that will attract your target audience. Once you have an SEO strategy, the next step is to create content.

Do not forget that the quality of your content is paramount. Even if your keyword is easy or moderate, you can't crack into the first page until you have quality content.

After creating your content, it’s time to publish it.

While publishing content, remember to include relevant images with alt-texts. Apart from this, you should also regularly monitor your competitors’ content.

Update your blog, article, or how-to guide regularly to increase your search engine rankings.

If you are an entrepreneur or a marketing manager looking to hire premium SEO resources, Scalenut is a highly efficient managed content marketplace with the top 2% of freelancers.

Small, medium and large organizations can easily find the right talent from our comprehensive list of experienced professionals.

Suman Samal
Asst. Marketing Manager
ABout the AUTHOR
Suman Samal
Asst. Marketing Manager

Suman Samal is a Asst. Marketing Manager at Scalenut. She is a technology enthusiast with a keen interest in content marketing and SEO. She truly believes that with the right set of tools every organization can improve the ROI of their content marketing campaigns. She spends her time managing content operations at Scalenut and ensuring that everything we publish is of the highest quality.

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