Keyword Difficulty: How to Determine the Ranking

Keyword Difficulty

Last updated - July 15, 2022

Having the right keywords is incredibly vital in the world of SEO. They’re basically what gets your website to rank high on Google’s organic search results. And, higher ranking means an increase in visibility, quality traffic, leads, and even sales.

Unfortunately, ranking high for keywords or phrases isn’t always easy. While some terms may boost your search engine optimization efforts, there are others that are just harder to rank. 

So, how would you know which keywords to use in your SEO strategy, and which ones are a no-go? Keyword difficulty.

Check out our video on the best tools to determine domain ranking and traffic:

In this post, you’ll learn what exactly keyword difficulty is, why it’s important, and the different factors to look out for when determining keyword ranking. You might also want to stick around for the bonus part where we offer a few of the best keyword research tools out there.

Ready to start? Let’s go!

What Is Keyword Difficulty?

Also known as SEO difficulty or keyword competition, keyword difficulty is a process that evaluates the difficulty of ranking for a specific keyword on the first page of Google’s search results. The more difficult a keyword is, the slower you’ll see results.

There are several factors that determine a keyword’s difficulty – content quality, domain authority, page authority, and more. We’ll actually be discussing each of them later on.

The fact of the matter is, keyword difficulty is a vital part of the keyword research process. When choosing your target keywords, it’s best to consider both search volume and keyword difficulty. That way, you’ll be able to build a keyword strategy that guarantees a positive outcome. 

Why Does Keyword Difficulty Matter?

So, why should you care about keyword difficulty and make it a part of your overall SEO strategy? 

The answer’s pretty simple: It helps you pick the best keywords to get you to the top of Google and other search engines. It helps you determine how realistic your goal is to rank a new post. Based on those findings, you can map out your content plan confidently, knowing that you’re using effective keywords.

Especially if you’re a small business that’s just starting out, you’ll need to focus more on keyword difficulty and pay less attention to search volume. Your aim is to target low-difficulty keywords, considering that it can be extremely challenging to rank for high-difficulty ones since you’re new. 

Even if the search volume of your keywords is low, you’ll find your domain authority improving over time as long as these keywords have good rankings. 

Factors That Determine Keyword Difficulty Ranking

Again, determining a keyword’s difficulty depends on certain factors. Understanding what these factors are will make it easier for you to learn how you can rank well in Google search results. That being said, take note of the following:

Content Quality

Publishing high-quality and valuable content is key to getting a high ranking. But, what does it take to create such content?

Well, according to Google’s mission statement, any content that delivers the most relevant and reliable information is high-quality content. Other than that, you gotta make sure that your post engages your audience to keep them coming back for more.

Also, since search engine bots have gotten smarter than ever, you shouldn’t forget to optimize your content so they can find, understand and deliver them to your audience. Here’s a quick step-by-step process to help you:

  • Do keyword research to know what your target audience is interested in and how they’re searching for it.
  • Craft an article answering those questions. See to it that it’s clear and easy to understand, and keep it conversational. Include sources from authority websites whenever possible.
  • Optimize your content by using headers and supporting keywords. Doing so will help search engines understand what your copy is all about.
  • Add descriptive alt text to your images so that your article is accessible to all types of mobile devices.

Search Intent

As big of a role quality content plays, it’s usually not enough to elevate your ranking or get people to click on your link. This is where search intent comes into play.

Basically, search intent refers to the type of content someone’s looking for when searching for a keyword. People turn to search engines for any of the four reasons:

  • Buy something (transactional)
  • Research before making a purchase (commercial)
  • Educate themselves on a particular topic (educational)
  • Look for a specific page (navigational)

As you craft your content, make sure that it aligns with the intent behind the keywords you’re using. No matter how engaging it may be, the page will struggle to rank high if it fails to satisfy the need of the searchers. 

To identify a keyword’s search intent, head over to Google, enter the keyword, and go over the results. Are most of the results product pages? Blog posts? Do you notice any SERP features? 

Studying the results gives you a clear idea of how Google interprets the search intent. For instance, if your keyword is “running shoes for women” and Google shows you a list of product pages, then users typing this keyword are most likely planning to make a purchase. 

Domain Authority

Any website with a high domain authority (DA) has a greater chance at ranking for high-difficulty keywords. The same can be said for sites with lower DA; the lower the DA, the slimmer their chances of ranking for keywords of more difficulty. 

Keep in mind that new domains tend to have a hard time ranking for competitive keywords at first. Building up the authority to dominate the SERPs takes time, especially if your competition is already well-established. 

So, if you’re a new business, your best bet is to target low-difficulty keywords. Once your website starts to rank for these terms, your DA should be steadily going up. From that point on, you can freely target keywords of a higher difficulty. 

With a high DA site, keyword difficulty begins to lose its value. Ranking for any keyword, despite of its level of difficulty, becomes more feasible for websites that have high credibility. Because of this, it makes perfect sense to concentrate on keywords with an outstanding search volume. 

Backlink Quality

Google’s ranking factors are constantly changing. However, backlinks continue to play an integral role in SEO.

Quality backlinks, which are inbound links coming from authoritative sources, signal search engines that a certain content is trustworthy. This, in turn, can boost your domain authority.

What does this have to do with keyword difficulty, you wonder? Well, if your top-ranking competitors have strong backlink profiles, dethroning them would be far from possible. 

That’s why you should carefully map out a link-building strategy before creating new content. As for existing content that are already performing well in terms of ranking, one way to ensure that it stays on top is by maintaining a solid backlink profile.

Top Tools for Keyword Difficulty

Analyzing keyword difficulty can get a bit complicated. Thankfully, there are some fantastic tools to help you lessen the burden. Take a look at them below:


Almost all marketers are counting on SEMrush to determine keyword difficulty, and we can see why. 

Its keyword difficulty tool follows an extensive process, using at least 17 different parameters to evaluate the difficulty of a keyword. After a thorough analysis, the platform will provide users with the keyword’s difficulty percentage. 


Another must-have online marketing tool to consider is Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Checker. 

The platform calculates the keyword difficulty score by assessing the domain authority score and page authority score of first-page rankings for a search query. Aside from difficulty scores, users can also evaluate search volumes and estimated click-through rates to look for the top-ranking keywords.


With its sophisticated platform and a keyword database that contains 19.8 billion keywords in 243 countries, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Ahrefs is a top pick among marketers.

To calculate keyword difficulty, the tool analyzes the search results for a certain keyword and looks at the number of referring domains the top 10 ranking pages have. Simply put, the more domains there are, the higher the keyword difficulty.

Wrapping Up

Now that you understand what keyword difficulty is, and the factors that determine it, it’s time to incorporate it into your SEO strategy!

Further reading


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