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What is Keyword Difficulty & How Does It Affect Your SEO

By Manick Bhan on Nov 10, 2022 - 10 minute read

What is Keyword Difficulty, and why does it matter in SEO? Learn how this metric is calculated and how you can use it to improve your website’s search visibility.

Most people know what keywords are, but understanding how to choose keywords can be a bit more mysterious. When presented with search volume, cost-per-click, and keyword difficulty, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when you are creating your content strategy. When it comes to keyword metrics, keyword difficulty is often considered the most challenging to understand.

So, what is keyword difficulty, and how does keyword difficulty factor into your SEO content strategy? This article will explain how this metric is calculated and how you can use keyword difficulty to improve your website’s search visibility.

What Is Keyword Difficulty?

Screenshot showing KW Difficulty meter from SearchAtlas with black BG

Keyword difficulty is a metric used in search engine optimization that estimates how much of a challenge it would be to rank for that keyword. Some platforms use the terms SEO difficulty and keyword competition instead of keyword difficulty.

A higher keyword difficulty score indicates how difficult it would be to be displayed on the first page of Google’s search engine results page (SERP). A high score means that there is fierce competition among the websites that are already ranking for that keyword.

Keyword difficulty is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. The closer to 100, the more difficult the keyword would be to rank for. The nearer to 0, the easier the keyword is to rank for.

How Is Keyword Difficulty Calculated?

So, where does this number come from? Most SEO tools use a range of metrics to calculate these metrics. Some of these factors include the competing domains’ ratings and your own domain rating.

At SearchAtlas, we use a weighted formula that takes into account the rating of the domains that rank for the specific keyword, the traffic share that frequents the top-ranking SERPs, and other nuanced factors. Domain rating is calculated by the number and quality of backlinks to that particular website.

Why Does Keyword Difficulty Matter in SEO?

You want to compete in your own weight class. If your competition is a domain rating giant, your content won’t be able to compete–and it will become buried in the SERPs. Keyword difficulty allows you to rank on Google for keywords that you can be discovered for. This, of course, leads to higher traffic and increased conversions.

Furthermore, keyword difficulty allows you to strategically invest your time, money, and other resources in efforts that will pay off. This makes creating an SEO content strategy easier.

How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Website

gif of homer getting punched in a boxing match

Choosing the right keywords is key to SEO success. When selecting what keywords you can rank for, you will want to take into account keyword difficulty, search volume, CPC, and search intent.

1. Evaluate Keyword to Rank & Form a Winning SEO Strategy

The first step to creating a successful SEO content campaign is narrowing down where to focus your efforts. This is part of the beauty of keyword difficulty–it allows you to identify words you can realistically rank for, saving you time, and earning you organic traffic.

Pillar Pages & Cluster Content

Topic cluster structure illustration with pink, purple, and blue circle

Most SEO content specialists suggest starting with pillar pages, then clustering supporting target keywords around them. A pillar page is a long-form guide, landing page, or blog that focuses on a primary or core aspect of your business or website. Cluster content relates to the pillar topic but gives you the opportunity to expand upon smaller details or aspects of the pillar topic.

You should have a handful of pillar pages that relate to your industry. You can add cluster content as needed and as new keyword opportunities arise. 

A pillar structure allows Google’s web crawlers to more easily assess your website’s semantic content and give you kudos for overall topical depth.

topic cluster example with pillar for a spa

For example, if you run a spa, your pillar topics will feature the primary aspects of your business. These may be massage, skincare, acupuncture, hot stone treatments, and waxing. From there, you can expand upon the topic. For example, you can have cluster content pieces for the benefits of each individual type of massage.

Once you’ve defined your pillar topics, you can then begin to create cluster content ideas based on keyword research.

2. Perform Keyword Research

With established pillar topics, you can begin your keyword research for your content clusters. When performing your research, your goal is to find keywords, or search terms, that are the most relevant to your business and that you will be able to rank for. This will require research. 

Often the simplest way to choose keywords is to list subtopics for your pillar pages. Then, plug those topics into a keyword research tool to explore potential keyword choices.

The SearchAtlas SEO suite allows you to quickly perform research and nail down your supporting keywords. With the software suite, the Keyword Discovery tool is an excellent choice for this step.

screenshot of keyword difficulty scale for type of massage

Simply type what keyword you want to research into the search box. Then, explore suggested keywords by viewing all. If you have a brick-and-mortar business or only ship within one geographic zone, you will want to refine your keyword location.

Screenshot of keyword suggestions from SearchAtlas

Review the list of keywords and select keywords by Search Volume (SV) and Pay-Per-Click Difficulty (PPCD)–which is similar to keyword difficulty but takes into account using a paid campaign. 

Select keywords with a difficulty score that is lower than your domain rating or domain authority. Keep in mind the low competition keywords have low difficulty scores. This ensures you have the best chance of appearing in the search results for that keyword. Watch this video for more information on how to use Keyword Difficulty and Domain Authority in your keyword selection.


3. Turn Your Research into Keyword Optimized Content

screenshot from the seo content assistant of marathon training related terms

Once you have a list of keywords you want to create cluster pages around, you can use SEO content creation tools to optimize for those keywords.

In the SearchAtlas suite, navigate to the Content Assistant tool. Then select create a new article. Enter your selected keyword into the Add keyword field. The Content Assistant will run that keyword through our proprietary analyses and display the keyword’s

  • Search Volume (SV)
  • Keyword Difficulty (KD)
  • Cost-Per-Click (CPC)

Screenshot of keyword difficulty of conversion rate graph menu

If you hover over the keyword, you can select the graph icon to display a full report of the keyword’s metrics.

You will also find suggested target keywords you can add to the same article. You can add up to 5 target keywords per piece of content. 

Focus Terms menu screenshot

From there, you will be given a list of focus terms to include that relate to each particular keyword. These terms help improve the value of your content for search engine algorithms.

SearchAtlas’s Keyword Difficulty Scale

With the keyword researcher tool, you will find the keyword difficulty scale prominently displayed below the keyword you are researching. This scale is color-coded by difficulty level and labels the difficulty score of the particular keyword.

KW Difficulty scale screenshot frorm the search term soccer players

KD Difficulty Scale

0-25 = Easy

26-50 = Average

51-75 = Hard

76-100 = Very Hard

Keyword Difficulty Tools

A simple search will result in a wide array of keyword difficulty score tools. While each software will use a slightly different method of calculating keyword difficulty scores or keyword difficulty metrics, you will gain insight from whichever you choose. When comparing competitor software, keep in mind that you want to choose the best for your overall SEO needs. This often includes:

  • An intuitive user interface, including a keyword overview
  • A reliable keyword research tool that displays volume, keyword difficulty (KD), PPC, and KW competitors
  • The ability to change keyword difficulty metrics location to another country or region
  • Page authority for competing URLs and domain authority scores
  • Backlinks profile analysis
  • Which keywords should appear in headings
  • Content idea suggestions based on keywords
  • A keyword mosaic to easily visualize how your competitors use your targeted keywords
  • A content creation tool to ensure your content is optimized for search results potential and content quality

SearchAtlas as a Keyword Difficulty Tool

SearchAtlas offers a full suite of SEO tools, including a range of tools to help users select competitive keywords that they have the highest chance of appearing in the top organic search results for.

In SearchAtlas, you will find:

  • The SEO Content Assistant for optimizing based on the right keywords. 
  • Content Ideas aids you in planning content that engages your target audience. 
  • The Content Researcher displays your ranking potential for keywords, KD, a terms grid, keyword discover, the content score for top-ranking URLs, SV, CPC, readability and word count for your competition, and domain rating.
  • The Keyword Researcher tool streamlines the keyword research process and helps you understand your keywords’ KD.

Free Keyword Difficulty Tools & Free Keyword Checkers

There are a plethora of free keyword difficulty software choices available, including the Keyword Research Tool and the SEO Content Assistant. With a 7-day free trial, you can determine if SearchAtlas is the best keyword tool for you.

Keyword Difficulty & Your Website

With the right keywords, you can take your content from underperforming and undiscoverable to Google’s first page of search results. Become the author of your site’s future by taking the next step toward mastering keyword selection, page authority, and SERP rankings. SearchAtlas makes keyword difficulty metrics easy to understand and guides you through the steps of producing the best content in your niche.

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