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Key Principles To Follow When Examining Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty and keyword research are among the most common phrases within the SEO industry.

In a way, we can observe keywords as an entrance barrier, allowing or preventing a blogger from competing. Keywords are very similar to real-life products: competition rises as the potential profit goes up.

Here are some of the basic things you need to know when examine keyword difficulty.

What is keyword difficulty?

Every keyword has two main components:

1. Volume (number of monthly searches)
2. Competition (strength and number of competitors for a particular keyword)

We determine difficulty by assessing the competition. In some cases, difficulty will be so high that there will be no point in even trying to rank for it.

As it usually goes, keywords with high difficulty are connected to terms that have high search volumes. In the Internet world, number of searches is connected to exposure and potential profit. That being said, it is obvious why bloggers would be willing to compete for such keywords.

But, there is another thing you have to know about keyword difficulty.

It is also a measure of risk.

Besides the fact it tells us whether or not we can penetrate the market, it also tells us how much of a struggle is required to rank.

There are two main things which can be learned through keyword research:

1. Can a keyword drive enough traffic to justify creation of content?
2. Are you able to reach top positions in Google with that keyword?

Basically, SEO expert needs to find a perfect proportion between keyword volume and competition. Ideally, volume will be much higher than competition. These keywords are perceived as highly lucrative.

How to establish keyword difficulty?

In practice, it is really hard determining the actual difficulty of a keyword.

There are so many factors that go into the equation. As a result, there are very little tools that can provide us valuable insights.

Here are the things that can help you out for when establishing keyword difficulty:

1. The total number of articles
2. Website and page stats for the top 10 competitors (can be established by using Moz Domain Authority, AhRefs Domain Rank and Majestic TrustFlow)
3. The quality of the content (on-page factors, length etc.)
4. The total number of links of the top 10 competitors
5. Moz Keyword Explorer (based on my experience, one of the best tools on the market for this purpose)
As you can see, it is really hard establishing the real difficulty.

In most cases, it will come down to your experience.

But, your competition is not the only issue; you also have to be realistic when determining your own potentials. Just because a query looks easy, that does mean you will be able to optimize for it.

“In the end it all comes down to one question:
Can I beat the top 10 articles?”

Today, SEO is slowly turning towards the users.

Links seem much less important than they were several years ago. That being said, another good (and quick) way of determining whether you can compete for a keyword is by checking the number of shares and likes for the top 10 competitors.

If you can beat that score and attract numerous visitors willing to spent time on your page, share it and like it, there is a good chance your article will go viral. Ultimately, you will even reach the other bloggers who are bound to give you a few links.

Although this isn’t a quantitative method, it is a logical approach to the problem.


Determining keyword difficulty is one of the toughest things in SEO business.

Even if you are an experienced professional, there is no telling whether your article can rank. In some cases, you might notice low-tier blogs positioned in the top 10 results. This might persuade you that the query is easy to rank only to discover otherwise later on.

Like with other things in business, in most cases it is hard avoiding risks. However, with this article, you will at least be able to reduce them.

What is your biggest issue with keyword difficulty? Have you ever severely misjudged a query? Share it in the comment section below!

Author’s bio:

Nikolay Stoyanov is the CEO of NikSto.com – an SEO company that offers blogger outreach, SEO consulting and white hat link building services to clients worldwide. Nikolay is a huge Brian Dean fan and a proud graduate of his SEO That Works course. He’s a regular contributor to many of the most reputable SEO websites in the world.

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