Understanding Keyword Difficulty

How to check, calculate and what is keyword difficulty?

What Does Keyword Difficulty Mean?

When it comes to marketing, search engine optimization is known as the gift that keeps on giving. Articles decades old can continue to bring in traffic for companies, especially if they have been continually updated and optimized to meet Google’s everchanging algorithm. At the heart of search engine optimization is keywords. Keywords are triggers that help to prompt Google to include content in search results.

As various companies target specific keywords, there is a continual overlapping that may make it difficult to rank for a particular search query both organically and through pay-per-click advertising. As a result, SEO analysts and marketers have perfected the art of efficiency by analyzing keyword difficulty and choosing words and phrases that are easiest to rank for.

What is Keyword Difficulty?

If you own a travel blog, the most obvious keyword you may attempt to rank for is travel. However, unless you have the time and money to compete with the marketing machines of Kayak, Travelocity and Expedia, you are unlikely to show up on the first page for the keyword “travel”. Similarly, if you own an independent travel agency, you may wish to rank for “book a flight”. However, Expedia, Kayak and American Airlines would have you beat here as well.

This ability to rank favorably for a keyword — or not — is known as keyword difficulty. At the bare minimum, you want to rank on the first page for the keywords you target. Forbes notes that ideally, you want to rank within the first three unpaid results on that first page. Organic results are always the best, because they are free.

When bidding for keywords on Google and other pay-per-click ad platforms, you may come across the word “Competition.” People who are only just starting out in SEO may confuse this with keyword difficulty, but there is a difference. Competition specifically refers to how difficult it is to rank for a keyword in paid search results. In contrast, keyword difficulty specifically applies to organic search results.

How Do I Check Keyword Difficulty?

Once you understand the basics of search engine optimization and how it works, you may know off the top of your head when a keyword is difficult to rank for. “Travel” and “book a flight,” for instance, are no-brainers. However, when keywords become less generic and more complex in length and word inclusions, it becomes a lot more difficult to predict how well a brand may rank.

One easy way to check is to simply enter the keyword and see what comes up. If the brand is not already on the first or second page, then this may be a difficult keyword for them to rank for. If the keyword occupies a small niche, however, and has not previously been incorporated into the brand’s content, then a more in-depth search may be necessary.

For this, you may need to rely on professional companies. You may be able to hire the services of a marketing company to help you analyze the difficulty of ranking for a particular keyword. Marketing agents usually have access to special software that assist them with this query. If you keep marketing in-house and you’re wondering how to check keyword difficulty on your own, you will need to invest in these software programs. Many of them run in a virtual online environment and will not require installation.

How Do I Calculate Keyword Difficulty?

How to calculate keyword difficulty depends on the software used. The software will rely on its own algorithms to decide what makes a keyword difficult to rank for or not. Most software tools use a ranking of 0 to 100. Some keep the figures as numbers, while others consider them a percentage. Whatever the type of figures used, the general calculation is that 0 is the easiest and 100 is the most difficult.

When it comes down to the details of how to find keyword difficulty, however, software companies may line up numbers with difficulty levels in different ways. Companies that use percentile ranges usually assert that below 60% is low difficulty. These keywords are the easiest to rank for, but may also be hard to find because they belong to very specific niches. Once found, however, a company has struck gold in the SEO market.

Medium levels of difficulty tend to fall between 60% and 80%. For these keywords, it will be difficult to make it to the first page of search engine results, but it is not impossible. This is especially the case if your company or website in general has developed a level of authority in a particular field and has attracted a lot of backlinks from reputable sites over the years. Anything over 80% is considered difficult. These are the keywords that are best left to more established websites who have spent years building up authority in certain areas.

What Makes Keywords Difficult to Rank for?

Different software companies will have their own variables that help them decide what keywords are more difficult than others. One way that companies calculate keyword difficulty is to check the number and quality of referring domains for the top ten results related to a specific keyword. For instance, if the top rankers on the first page average 100 backlinks from top sources, such as government websites and news media, it would be difficult for a small business to compete.

Another metric that some companies may use is the click-through rate. Note that if an article has all the right keywords, it may appear on the first page and even in the top three results. However, it may not be what searchers are looking for, for that particular query. This may happen in instances when a brand uses a common word for a name, or when a word or term has multiple meanings.

Finally, some companies may take into consideration the popularity or volume of a specific keyword. For example, in the case of travel, there are many big companies and small blogs writing about travel every day, making it a popular target. If your SEO strategy expands to social media, then using those keywords as tags may actually not prove fruitful, because there are too many other posts using the same thing. It may just get lost in a sea of social media updates.

What Does Keyword Difficulty Mean for My Brand?

Because keyword difficulty is specifically related to organic search results, many people may see no harm in continuing to pursue difficult keywords. However, it is important to remember that while organically ranking for keywords may not cost you a cent, creating the content that achieves these results do.

Whether you create the content yourself or you hire a marketing company and a team of writers, you will be investing time and money. There is nothing wrong with incorporating hard-to-rank-for keywords into your content. In fact, just by discussing your products and services, many of these are unavoidable inclusions. However, when it comes to your targeted keywords, you should focus on the keywords you can rank for.

Failure to do so will result in the opportunity cost of organic traffic you may have otherwise generated. This in turn translates into lost potential sales, revenue and profit. It may even result in lost media opportunity. How so? When journalists write very specific and niche stories, they may rely on local experts in that field to provide information for which they are credited. However, if you’ve been trying to rank for more difficult keywords, they may not find you.

How Do I Find Easy Keywords to Rank for?

Many marketing experts will tell you that the easiest keywords to rank for are the most difficult ones to find. This is usually true, but not always. If your website has been up and running for a while, and you have been regularly producing content, you may already have organic keywords for which you naturally rank highly.

For example, owners of WordPress websites may be able to go to the Stats tab and select Search Terms to see what search results have brought users to their website over the past week, month, quarter, year or since the site was first created. This is a good starting point for websites that have already built up some traffic.

While checking for easy keywords you may have cornered by accident is helpful, you will also need to find new ones that you can dominate deliberately. This will require creativity and more in-depth software. Many of the tools that can be used to check keyword difficulty may be able to make recommendations for keywords that are similar or more complex that are easier to rank for.

What Other Tools Should I Combine with Keyword Difficulty to Improve Marketing?

Analyzing keyword difficulty is an important aspect of any SEO strategy. Even so, a marketing strategy that relies only on ranking for easy keywords is doomed to fail. This is a one-sided approach to a discipline that is truly multifaceted. There are many other aspects of SEO and marketing that must come together to create a killer strategy.

For example, pay-per-click is a great way to improve the chances of ranking for a particular keyword through bidding. After all, many small businesses hit the ground running with big budgets that can temporarily take on corporate giants in their field. In some instances, the company may be able to spend a third of its annual budget within the first month to make a grand entrance, and then spend less on maintaining the momentum afterward.

Another complementary strategy is simply creating genuine content. Not every piece of content needs to be optimized specifically with search engines in mind. SEO brings new visitors, but it is interesting content that keeps people coming back. Focus on creating content that is informative and entertaining to provide value to your customers.

How Do I Create Genuine Content That Provides Value?

If your marketing strategy has been focused purely on SEO for a long time, it can be difficult to get into the habit of creating genuine content. Many companies do this by posting embarrassingly amateur Facebook Live videos or candid shots on Instagram of poor quality. These are genuine, but they are not informative or entertaining for the right reasons.

An example of genuine content that will provide value to your customers is a tutorial. Going back to the travel example, a travel agency may create SEO content for how to book a cheap flight to Jamaica this summer. In the content, the company would share a few pointers on how people may find cheap flights on their own, and then end with a call to action to seek professional assistance for even better rates.

For this same company, genuine content would look more like a video tutorial on how to pack for a trip to Jamaica. This video could be included on the website or even sent to customers immediately after they book their trip. The sale is already made, but the video nonetheless provides continued value to the customer. If it is not just informative but entertaining, then they may share that video with family and friends, which in turn helps to spread the word about your company organically with no PPC ads.

What’s the Main Takeaway Here?

When marketing on a tight budget, looking up keyword difficulty is one of the best ways to work smart instead of hard. By finding and focusing on the keywords that are much easier to rank for, businesses can cut expenses for not just cold hard cash, but also time. This in turn provides managers and owners with the privilege of investing more in the core aspects of their business.

This can make keyword difficulty a tempting marketing tool to latch on to, but it should not be to the detriment of other techniques. Demographic data, advertising, storytelling, visual branding and customer service are just some of the many other aspects of marketing that should form a part of your overall strategy. Remember, SEO and keywords only get customers through the door. Of equal importance is keeping them coming back.

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