As any content marketing agency or SEO services firm that offers keyword research
services will tell you, a critical component of keyword analysis is assessing keyword
difficulty. Keyword difficulty basically boils down to three things: authority, relevancy,
and competition. Authority refers to the ranking strength of a webpage (typically
ascertained by the number of incoming links to a specific page in conjunction with the
overall domain authority). Competition refers to the number of pages that have been
indexed by a search engine for a specific query. Relevancy refers to how well a webpage
that ranks for a query matches a specific search query using both on-page and off-page
factors. Therefore, in order to ascertain keyword difficulty accurately, you will need to
consider the following metrics:
The number of competing pages: In order to understand how competitive a
keyword is, it helps to have an understanding of how many pages are relevant for
a given query. There is a number of ways to measure this, but it tends to be easiest
just to run a quick Google search for a keyword and see how many results come
The top 10 search results: Understanding competition alone by looking at the
top 10 search results isn’t necessarily going to get you anywhere. Even if
competition is numerically low, it only takes 10 sites with better authority and
relevance to keep you off the first page. Therefore, it is always a good idea to take
a look at the top ranking sites.
The number of external links and domains pointing to each ranking page: A
top ranking page will have a solid amount of external links, which will make that
top ranking page’s keyword hard to rank for. However, keep in mind that link
authority is based on both quality and quantity. You’ll need to look at the link
profile, if possible, and not just the numbers, as they don’t always tell the whole
story (although it is a good starting point).
The domain authority of each ranking page: SEOmoz offers a numerical
ranking for the domain authority of web pages, and this can shed light onto the
overall authority of a webpage.
The ranking page’s overall level of on-page optimization: You will want to do
some research to see how well pages are optimized overall, looking at image alt
text, H1 tags, keyword placement, etc.
Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to do all of this work manually. You can use one of
the many different keyword research tools out there in order to check keyword difficulty.
This includes SEOmoz’s keyword difficulty tool.
Why It Matters: Using Keyword Difficulty to Set Targets
Once you have a comprehensive understanding of keyword difficulty, you can use this
keyword analysis to set appropriate targets. Easy keywords, or those with low
competition, low authority, and low relevance, should be identified as immediate, short-
term targets. Keywords with a medium or average difficulty, or those with high
competition but low authority and relevance, should be viewed as medium-term growth
targets. Lastly, difficult keywords, or those with low to medium competition and high
authority and relevance, should be viewed as long-term growth targets that will require a
sustained effort. If a keyword ranks high in all three variables, it may be an unreasonable
target. And remember, if you need help checking keyword difficulty and planning
accordingly, you may want to seek out professional keyword analysis services.