Determining Keyword Difficulty

Determining Keyword DifficultyHow competitive a keyword is, also called “keyword difficulty” will determine your ability to get your website to rank well for that keyword.  By measuring the keyword’s keyword difficulty, you can determine which keywords to target with optimization and which keywords will require link building before you have a chance to rank well.

How Do I Determine Keyword Difficulty?
The most effective way of determining keyword difficulty is by looking at the search results for the keyword and determining the page strength of the pages in those results.  You can do this by looking at the various aspects of keyword competition, page age, inbound links, internal linking, and link reputation of each of those pages.  Then determine the page strength of your own page.

By looking at how competitive the other web pages are that currently rank well for a keyword, you can compare that to how competitive your page is. If your page is about as competitive as the other sites, you should be able to rank well for that keyword after optimizing your page. If the other sites are stronger than your site, then you should choose less competitive keywords until you’ve improved the strength of your web page through link building. If the other sites are weaker, then the keyword is a sitting duck.

Other Ways to Determine Keyword Difficulty:
– Adwords: In addition to evaluating the other web pages competing for the keywords you want, it can be helpful when attempting to determine how competitive a keyword is to look at other sources such as pay-per-click search marketing stats. Google Adwords has a tool that will show you the estimated cost per click to rank well in the paid search results for a keyword. If that cost per click is high, that’s an indication the keyword difficulty is high as well (it’s also an indication that the keyword is valuable).  This is just an indication, however, not a true measurement.  Keep in mind that Adwords is a different playing field than the organic search results and can have different competition levels.

– Keyword Effectiveness Index: Another way some people determine keyword difficulty is the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI). KEI values are usually available with keyword popularity tools. The KEI compares the number of searches a keyword gets to the number of results that keyword brings up in a search engine. If a keyword gets 100 searches a day and a search on Google returns 1000 results, then the Google KEI will be high, indicating the keyword is probably worth targeting. On the other hand if a keyword gets 100 searches a day and a search on Google returns 1,000,000 results, the Google KEI will be much lower, indicating the keyword may not be worth targeting. A lower search popularity will also effect the KEI Keywords with the same number of results in Google will have a higher or lower Google KEI depending on whether the keyword gets searched for more or less, respectively.

Tip: KEI can be used as part of the keyword difficulty research; however, I don’t recommend using solely this information as it isn’t necessarily an accurate indication of how difficult ranking for a keyword will be. After all, just because 100,000 pages are returned as results for a keyword, it doesn’t mean they are strong pages and it doesn’t mean any of the pages are well optimized for that keyword. A keyword could have 100,000 weak sites in the results. So, it could be easy to rank well for that keyword. Similarly, a keyword could have only 1000 sites in the results, but if 100 of them are very strong sites, then ranking well for that keyword could be very difficult.

Photo by sean dreilinger

Next, lets take a look some practical steps for performing keyword research.

About the author

Kurt Steinbrueck

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