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What does Keyword Difficulty mean? How to Rank in SERP

When we talk of Keyword difficulty, finding low competition keywords requires knowing your site’s competitive power. All websites do not have an equal chance of ranking on the first page of Google. Focusing on low competition keywords is the secret ingredient to SEO success.

For the unfamiliar, a tool like Link Explorer by Moz is one of the world-class backlink checkers. A tool used to research the link profile of any site on the internet. Whereby, it shows you the quality of inbound links. Using metrics like Page Authority, Domain Authority, and Spam Score.

What does Keyword Difficulty mean?

It’s important to realize, you can do a good amount of backlink research with the free trial version. But, to enjoy all its capabilities you’ll need full access — you can get that access for free with a 30-day trial of Moz Pro.

Related Topic: Backlinks | What are they & How do you implement them?

So, before you proceed with my guide on keyword difficulty, consider learning more about how to find and check backlinks with Moz. And with that in mind, let’s all be honest. There’s no silver bullet with SEO.

In fact, the complexity of SEO is in the overwhelming number of things you “must” do. But, who has time to check all the boxes on the SEO best practices checklist? Well, if there is one thing you cannot skip, it is the keywords search power on SEO.

And like I said earlier on in this article, a ranking of 1 means that you are at the top. And if you are number 11, it means that you are on page 2 of search engines. With most search results having 10 listings per page.

What does Keyword Difficulty mean?

Basically, according to Alexa, the term Keyword Difficulty (or Keyword Competition) is a critical metric when doing Keyword Research in the SERPs. The higher the value, the harder is to compete with others using that keyword.

A keyword difficulty rating is used to help you choose SEO keywords with confidence. Based on which ones are easy enough for your site to compete for. So, in short, a Keyword difficulty means determining the difficulty you will face to rank for a specific keyword.

Related Topic: Search Engine Results Page | How do you Get on SERPs?

Keyword difficulty is one of the most critical metrics for ascertaining your website’s chances to rank on Google. And the rule is quite simple.

If the keyword difficulty is more significant, it will be harder for your website to rank for that specific keyword on the first Search Engine Rank Page. This difficulty is due to the presence of highly competitive ranking websites.

For instance, you are creating content around the keyword “guest posting.” It will help if you see the keyword difficulty through various tools. More so, if you want more accurate results, you can check keyword difficulty here.

How to Know the Keyword Difficulty Score you can Rank for

Knowing what keyword difficulty score you can rank for is an important element of your SEO strategy. Not only does it focus your efforts on getting results, but it also saves you loads of time. From writing content about keyword phrases that might be too competitive for you to rank for.

By targeting keywords within a realistic range of competition for your site you’re only producing content that has the best chance of being seen on the first page of Google. And then clicked on by your target audience. The quick and easy solution is to use Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty Tool.

This tool will tell you the level of keyword competition your site can confidently target as well as provide keyword recommendations. But for this post, I’ll show you the step-by-step manual process to find the keyword difficulty score you should target.

Where to Start: Know the keyword difficulty of terms you’re already ranking for

Finding out what keyword difficulty score you should focus on starts with knowing what you’re already ranking for.

You can use Google Search Central, formerly Google Webmaster Tools to view your position for various keywords that you currently rank in the top 10 for (Page 1 of SERPs).

google websmaster tools dashboard view

Google Search Central is there to help the right people view their content with resources to make their website discoverable to Google Search.

New to SEO? Start by reading this Quickstart to Google Search. And then thereafter, let’s take an example of Alexa listing to elaborate this. From our list below, we can see that Alexa ranks in approximately the 7th spot for SEO best practices.

Alexa Ranked Keywords

Not only that but with 3,205 impressions over the last month. We will use this phrase as an example in determining the keyword difficulty we should target.

What’s Next? Finding The Keyword Difficulty

Next, we will take the keyword SEO best practices and search for it in Alexa’s Keyword Research by Query tool. And then Click on the Paid Traffic tab.

The Paid Traffic tab helps you to view the stat terms such as Popularity, Competition, and the Number of Advertisers for the keyword phrase. And in this case, the most important stat we want to pay attention to is Competition.

Alexa Paid Keyword Stats For SEO

The competition index is an indication of how tough it is to rank for this keyword in SERPs. Whereby, the keyword difficulty of SEO best practices is 23.

And we can use this score as a baseline when doing keyword research and developing great content. Sticking to search phrases at or below this level of competition will improve your chances of ranking on the first page in SERPs. As well as directing more organic traffic to the site.

Related Topic: Organic Search | 7 Steps to Increase Unpaid Site Traffic

Having said that, you can try repeating this search for other keywords you’re ranking well for. And then again, start an excel spreadsheet with the keyword difficulty scores you’ll find. So that you can get a sense of the best range to the target.

This will also help you keep track of changes in the level of keyword competition you can handle over time. And in doing so, your content should be more likely to drive organic traffic.

How to Choose SEO Keywords with Confidence

Always remember, the Keyword research process for SEO is non-negotiable. Simply, because your SEO performance and your website traffic highly depend on it. And even the growth of your business is increasingly tied to it.

But, choosing the right SEO keywords for your website content is exceedingly difficult. Particularly for small to mid-sized businesses whose domain authority is a far cry from the Inc.’s and CNN’s of the world. So, how should you approach keyword research for SEO, given your site’s unique ability to rank?

With that in mind, as you’ll see below, I’ve explained in simple steps how to choose SEO keywords with confidence. Then thereafter, you can utilize each method to see if it works for you later on.

Step One: Know your Competitive Power

In combat sports like boxing and wrestling, weight classes are used to fairly distribute and match competitors. The idea is, for example, that pitting an athlete against an opponent 75 pounds heavier would give the latter an unfair advantage.

Essentially, “punching your weight” is the fairest way to compete, as it ensures both athletes an equal chance at success. One might apply this philosophy to the art of keyword research for SEO. Competing for broad keywords targeted by huge brands with strong domain authority is a lost battle for most from the start.

One way to confidently choose SEO keywords you have the best chance of ranking for is to focus on your Competitive Power. Your Competitive Power is your benchmark for “punching your weight”. It’s the measurement of your site’s ability to rank for competitive keywords, based on your past performance driving organic traffic.

The higher this number, the more easily your site can rank for more competitive keywords. Your Competitive Power will help you confidently choose keywords that your site has a good chance of ranking for.

icon-competitive-power-100pxYou can locate your Competitive Power in Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty Tool. Keywords that are at or below your Competitive Power are in your weight class. You’ll find them flagged with a lightning bolt for quick identification.

Step Two: Focus on Highly Relevant, Low Competition Keywords

Once you know your Competitive Power, your SEO keyword research will be much more focused. Next, you should concentrate your search on highly relevant, low competition (or long-tail) keywords.

Besides being less competitive, there are other valuable reasons to find low competition keywords such as:

  1. Low competition keywords are usually more specific in nature
  2. More specific keyword searches make it easier to craft tailored content that is laser-focused on search intent
  3. A well-crafted, tailored piece of content that answers search intent is usually rewarded with more organic traffic and referrals

Using Alexa’s Keyword Difficulty tool, you can find low competition keywords that are highly relevant to the services, products, or values of your brand. Simply enter a seed word or phrase, and then filter your results to meet your specific criteria.

Along the way, you can also identify semantically similar or like-phrases that you can incorporate into your content. Doing so will help reinforce what your content is about, and send clear signals to search engine crawlers of your valuable message.

Low competition SEO keywords may be less popular, but they can be highly specific to your brand and a great starting point for small to mid-sized businesses focused on growth.

Step Three: Utilize Keywords Already Driving Traffic to Your Site

In doing keyword research for SEO, don’t forget to take advantage of keywords already driving traffic to your site. Whereby, in the Keyword Difficulty tool, you can enter your own site in Step 2.

And then the Alexa tool will generate a list of untapped opportunities related to keywords that already send traffic to your site. Not forgetting, you can choose to filter out those keywords that already drive traffic to your site. In order to get the clearest list of SEO keywords, keywords that you have to work with.

Then, develop content around these keywords to maximize your SEO benefits and leverage your already proven search success. At its very core, Google is a vote collection engine. The more “votes” a page gets (in the form of backlinks), the higher it tends to rank.

Because there are several link analysis tools out there, there’s no shortage of conflicting data about how many links a page has pointed to it.

Step Four: Look at your Domain Authority

I don’t need to tell you that Google loves ranking pages from major authority sites (like Wikipedia and Amazon). And surely, some pages from these sites rank on page authority and the quality of their content.

But, most pages on authority sites get a HUGE bump from the simple fact that they’re on an authoritative domain. This means that – when you evaluate keyword competition — you also want to take a look at the sites you’re competing against (not just pages).

In general, results with high PA and DA are super-competitive. And as you might expect, you want to see a lot of the top 10 results with low PA and DA. These are keywords that you can easily rank for. So, although a page’s authority is most important, you also want to take the Domain Authority into consideration.

If you’ve been in the SEO game for a while you know that link metrics can be VERY misleading. Sites with spammy link profiles sometimes have a high DA and PA. But, because they’re using spam links, they’re not going to stick on the first page over the long run.

So, if there’s a keyword that looks especially competitive, but you have a gut feeling there’s a lot of black hat SEO behind the results, spot check the top 10’s link profile.

Step Five: Check Out Their Content Optimization and Find “Easy Target” Results

You already know that on-page SEO can make or break a site’s ability to rank. That’s why you want to pay attention to the on-page SEO of your would-be competitors in the top 10 results. If the keyword is included in an H1/H2 tag and in the URL, consider the page well optimized.

On the other hand, if a page has lazy on-page SEO, it can be easy to rank above that content. Even if it has decent authority. And when you see one or more Easy Target Results in the top 10, it’s time to celebrate. You just found a low-competition keyword.

As a matter of fact, there are results that tend to indicate a very, very low competition keyword. Such as Pages with Yahoo! Answers, Ehow.com, Buzzle, HubPages, and eBay. As well as Blogspot (or any other free blog) and Press release sites.

Are backlinks and on-page SEO important metrics to look at when sizing up keyword difficulty. Absolutely, Yes! In fact, most SEO tools only look at these two metrics to calculate their keyword difficulty scores. But, don’t forget that the quality of your content is a huge part of your ability to crack the top 10.

Pro Tip: Watch Out For Big Brands

Brand signals are an underrated part of figuring out keyword difficulty. What are the brand signals? They’re signals that indicate to search engines that a site is a large brand. And these signals are becoming more and more important in Google’s algorithm.

This means, when it comes to keyword difficulty, you also want to take a brand’s size into consideration. For example, sites like Amazon, ESPN.com, and YouTube are given an edge over small brand results… even if those smaller brands have similar page authority and domain authority.

You may also want to see if any of the top 10 have links that are going to really, really hard for you to get (for example, media mentions on major news sites). Either way, if you’re going to put a lot of effort behind ranking for a keyword, it makes sense to have a feel for how each site cracked the first page.

How to Find the Best Keywords for Your Website

To emphasize, Keyword research is a must for successful SEO. But, it doesn’t have to be a guessing game. A tool like the Alexa Keyword Difficulty Tool will help you find the best, most relevant keywords for your site. Based on your ability to rank – like your own personal SEO keyword generator!

That said, you can try it out today as part of their advanced plan, and choose keywords with more confidence! Unfortunately, not all sites are created equal in the eyes of search engines like Google. Meaning, some sites have a harder time ranking than others.

So, how do you find the best keywords for your website, given its unique ability to rank? Well, you’ve probably heard the common advice to target low competition keywords. But, the real question is, how low should you go?

Related Topic: How to Improve Your Site Ranking in 5 Simple Methods

In that case, the answer depends on your site’s Competitive Power. Your site competitive power is a new metric first introduced by Alexa. It benchmarks the level of keyword competition your site can target with more confidence of getting results.

With this tool, you can now find easy-to-rank keywords for your site too. And it’s literally as easy as 1-2-3! For more information, in this article, you can read and learn more about how to find easy-to-rank keywords as detailed by the Alexa team.

There’s a free browser toolbar that makes evaluating keyword difficulty faster and easier: The MozBar. You can also try using Free SEO Tools by Moz or even the Free Keyword Difficulty Checker by Ahrefs. As well as The Most Accurate Keyword Difficulty by KWFinder

Takeaway,

Generally, keyword difficulty is a super important part of the keyword research process. Along with monthly search volume and other factors, it helps you choose the best keywords for SEO. The only issue is that every tool measures keyword difficulty differently.

In fact, a recent analysis of popular keyword tools found that their difficulty scores were all over the place. Even for the same exact keyword. So, if you want to get a REAL feel for how hard it will be to rank for a keyword, then you need to dig deeper than the numbers that the tools spit out.

There’s an old SEO adage that goes: “Google doesn’t rank sites…it ranks pages.” And although a site’s domain authority and brand presence play important roles, the #1 factor in a page’s ability to rank in Google is the authority of that page. So there’s a lot of truth to that old adage.

Related Topic: Link Building Tactics | 7 Tips for more Organic rank & traffic

In other words, if you want to rank for a competitive keyword, be prepared to match (or beat) the quality of the top 10 results. Even though this process is subjective, you can usually get a feel for what type of content you’ll have to bring to the table with a minute or two of digging.

But, how? Just search for your keyword and read the content that ranks in the top 10 results. There also other specific things you can do to improve the SEO of your website. For example, if you’ll learn more about How to get your website on Google Search.

Finally, if you’ll need more support, please feel free to Contact Us and let us know how we can help. You can also share your additional thoughts and questions in the comments section. And don’t forget to donate in order to wish us well in whatever we do.

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