In our last blog post, There’ s A Better Way To Classify Search Intent , we explained how Content Harmony’ s i9000 new software for SEOs and content marketers is detecting lookup intent as part of the keyword research process.
However understanding search intent is just one factor in understanding how to get your content to rank well for a specific query in Google search engine results.
One of the features we’ re really excited about is how we’ re approaching the concept of Keyword Difficulty in our new toolset.
TLDR – We’ ve released a new three-part keyword difficulty scoring design that factors in Content Difficulty , Link Difficulty , and Domain Difficulty as distinct concepts that will help you quickly understand why a keyword is easy or difficult.
This might not matter when you’ re analyzing 10, 500 keywords at a time, but when you’ re working your end off to produce content for one important keyword (the problem our software is trying to solve), knowing everything you may about that keyword quickly is certainly super important.
So – why release a new approach to keyword difficulty? What’ s not working to solutions already out there?
A Short History of Keyword Difficulty Metrics
SEOs have a long history of trying to measure keyword difficulty.
One of the earlier well-used examples was Moz’ s original keyword problems rating. This forum post from 2012 explains how it was assessed , but to estimate Nick’ s reply on that page, it factored in “ everything from upon page scores, links metrics, and rank to calculate the difficulty of a KW. ”
Do you men remember how awesome those butterfly charts were?? I might stare at them such as they were magic. I was usually that tiny DA twelve site at #8 trying to puzzle out how that DA 25 site at #5 obtained there. I shoulda spent that time building links, however I digress. [ screenshot via old Q&A thread ]
It was a pretty good start plus better than any other options available, but , it didn’ capital t always produce results that will SEOs could rely on to know how hard it would be for them to position for a given keyword. Flanke himself wrote an assessment of the good and bad points of this keyword difficulty score in a 2017 write-up on the Moz Community Forums .
Still, it had been better than other solutions on the market aside from building your own keyword difficulty models in Exceed that accounted for the rank factors you cared regarding most.
Fast forward a few years….
Enter Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty Scores
Ahrefs’ Keyword Problems was quite awesome when it launched since it focused exclusively on links to the URLs on page 1 of a SERP for the keyword that you’ re examining. I like this because it’ s very clear how the rating is calculated, and from the practical perspective, it gives us a decent idea of how hard it can be to rank without positive link building efforts.
Because of that, it’ s currently the score we use most frequently when doing keyword research for clients.
But , we’ ve encountered gaps in this links-only approach. It often flags very difficult keywords as easy, because it doesn’ t factor in SERPs which are extremely difficult to rank just for due to non-link reasons. This can be a search intent problem most often, where links are not the particular dominant ranking factor.
Take these samples of high volume keywords with KD under 10 and you can see this in effect:
As you can see, there are some search concerns in here that only a handful of sites could reasonably rank for.
I guarantee you that you’ re not going to position in the top 4 results for “ Buy Purchase Baby” (against buybuybaby. com , tweets. com, yelp. com, and retailmenot. com) just by creating more links and making a well targeted page. A Keyword Difficulty score of 9 can be deceptive here.
But , these types of keywords frequently slip into your keyword study when you’ re dealing with thousands of keywords at a time, and so they require lots of manual blocking to remove them from a spreadsheet of good opportunities.
As I said above, we really like the Ahrefs KD score and employ it frequently. But these examples really are a big part of the reason we’ ve been considering more complex ways to measure keyword problems across all types of SERPs – not just link-driven ones.
Moz’ s Brand new Keyword Difficulty Score
Moz’ s relaunched their Keyword Difficulty scores in 2017. From the things i can see, Moz has made a lot of improvements to their old rating system. Their link data quality has improved drastically, and their use of clickstream data allows them to realize click-through rate of a key word that may or may not be beneficial to try and target
But – it’ ersus really difficult for me to get on panel with using it because of the fundamental concept in how it’ s created: it blends a large number of elements together in a manner that hides the reason the key word earned a particular score. To me this is a deal killer since it just doesn’ t describe why a keyword is hard to rank for. What happens if it’ s hard to rank for because there are lots of high authority domains, but I’ m publishing on a web site that’ s DA 80?
This isn’ t a knock against the Moz team. They have multiple team members working on this product which are incredibly smart and have every been working on internet-wide keyword research 10x longer than I have. And, they are building for a much different audience – they’ re looking to provide 100k to 1 million marketing experts – I’ m searching for data that will serve 1k in order to 2k top-of-their-field SEOs and content marketers who have different needs.
Various other attempts from SEO toolsets that I’ ve observed of measuring keyword difficulty just haven’ t trapped, mostly due to prioritizing the things i believe are the wrong data inputs, using datasets which are unreliable or not comprehensive sufficient, or overly favoring factors that in my experience don’ capital t make much of a difference. Basically can’ t trust your own underlying data, I can’ t trust your metrics.
The issue with looking at Keyword Difficulty as a single number in between 0-100 is that it doesn’ capital t clearly tell you *why* the keyword is hard to rank for. Using one-metric-to-explain-it-all for keyword difficulty creates more confusion for the analyst or marketer looking to understand a given search outcome.
I believe that the answer to fixing this really is to divide Keyword Problems into multiple metrics – different types of difficulty, specifically.
We’ ve completed this in our new toolset by splitting Keyword Trouble into a set of 3 sorts of difficulty, each on a size of 0-100:
- Content Difficulty – exactly how keyword-targeted and optimized the very best ranking pages are.
- Link Trouble – how many links the average page one result has to that exact web page.
- Area Difficulty – the average Domain Authority/Rating the particular page one results have.
By doing so we’ re able to give customers a clear picture for whether or not they’ re up against big sites, whether they’ re up against highly linked web pages, and whether they’ lso are up against highly targeted pages. You should be capable to look at our 3 metrics and know why a keyword is going to be easy or hard to rank for.
A live screenshot of what these Difficulty scores look like side by side in the Content Harmony toolset. With this example, we’ re taking a look at a SERP that is dominated by large sites (high Domain Difficulty) with moderately well-targeted pages of content (medium Content Difficulty), yet low-to-medium Link Difficulty. I would approach this keyword in different ways if I was a new site versus a big established area.
Let’ s jump in to how we’ re calculating each of these scores:
Content material Difficulty
This is probably the most complex of the three difficulty scores, however in essence, we’ re grading the page one results of a SERP for a basic on-page SEO grade.
We look at a “ brute force keyword match” analysis of each page ranking upon page 1, and then score them.
- Is the keyword (or an in depth variant) in the title label?
- Is the key word (or a close variant) in the URL?
- May be the keyword (or a close variant) in the H1?
- Is the keyword on the page multiple times?
We’ re also looking at the following rough content quality metrics, though at a slightly lower weight than keyword concentrating on:
- Very best average word count?
- Are there photos/images over the page?
- Exist videos on the page?
A lot of people might suggest that such a basic take a look at keyword targeting and things such as content length is too simplistic. I fully expect this particular difficulty score to be the one which earns the most pushback and disagreement. But , even though we all intend to evolve this rating over time, we believe that keeping this rating simplistic is perfect for the better.
We want to inform SEOs and content suppliers how closely matched the final results on page 1 are usually. If there are 10 websites with highly optimized webpages for that exact keyword, we would like to know that quickly, and taking a look at top ranking factors like keyword usage throughout the web page is a reliable way to do this.
What Does A High Content Difficulty Look Like?
For example, take a search like [ best small business crms ]:
Highly targeted content for [ best small business crms ]
The like [ best small business crms ] would have a high Content Difficulty score, because the SERP is full of exact-match content which is perfectly optimized to position for this query. These pages are almost all long type, with multiple images/screenshots, plus high focus on keyword utilization throughout the content. We would be prepared to return a Content Difficulty score between 70 to 100 for a search outcome like this.
As the rest of our toolset uses more advanced methods of content topic and entity analysis, we feel a raw partial-match or exact-match approach gifts a clearer picture of Content Difficulty.
Furthermore, if Google is attempting to match user intent over they are trying to rank webpages with exact match keyword targeting, we want that to show up in our reports. Research online result with low specific match keyword targeting *should* score lower on content difficulty, so that you focus a lot more heavily on other factors like search intent.
Simply put, this is an estimate of how much link building or link earning you’ ll need to do to be competitive with the other results on page one.
This really is most closely related to Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty, which is also based on page-level links.
To calculate this rating, we’ ll take the amount of linking domains to each result on the page and average them, then change that on a scale associated with 0-100. We’ re also testing scores where we toss out outliers that would skew the mean.
I actually go into more detail below on link data resources, but our initial program is to use Moz’ s linking domains metric for determining Link Difficulty.
What Does A High Link Difficulty Look Like?
This search outcome for [ time tracking software ] is a good example:
High Link Difficulty from [time tracking software] due to lots of highly linked homepages.
Because it’ t a popular and competitive search phrase, and particularly because most of the results are homepages that are very likely to have lots of links, we would expect to see a fairly higher Link Difficulty score around 70-100 for this keyword.
As a comparison, Ahref’ s Keyword Difficulty (which is also entirely based on page-level links) for [ time tracking software ] is scored as being a 72.
Much like link difficulty analyzes page-level links, with domain difficulty we’ re taking domain-wide link metrics and averaging them over the page one results.
In this case we’ ll roughly be reporting an average Domain name Authority as measured by Moz, since it has already been normalized on a 0-100 scale to represent domain’ s hyperlink authority as compared to all other domain names on the internet. We also display the lowest DA score in the top page of outcomes, which you can also find within the competitor analysis section of our reports.
Upon search results that score low on both link difficulty plus content difficulty, but extremely on domain difficulty, we want to make sure that users understand smaller sized domains still may be facing some tough competitors whenever trying to rank for this key phrase (then again – sometimes SERPs are filled with big domains that poorly target a keyword because nobody else has done a good work of targeting that key phrase yet. That’ s up to you the SEO Strategist to decide).
A good example of low Link & Articles Difficulty but high Area Difficulty? Branded search results (which our intent detection would certainly also flag as branded)
Exactly what does A High Domain Difficulty Look Like?
Let’ s say you look for [ coca cola website ]:
Our reports may accurately rate this keyword’ s search intent as “ Branded”, and you’ ll also see a quite high Domain Difficulty. That’ ersus because the domains ranking for this search phrase, like coca-cola. possuindo, Wikipedia, Linkedin, Facebook, along with other branded sites like https://www.worldofcoca-cola.com , are all highly authoritative.
Those pages may not be extremely targeted to the user’ h query, and they may not have a ton of links by themselves, but that doesn’ big t mean this is an easy keyword to rank for.
Using a phrase such as [ coca cola website ] is an easier example since the intent behind ‘ website’ is definitely clearly branded, but this kind of search result is common along with most branded search results, since Google wants the user to be able to find pages like social information and other official branded web pages. Try searching for a smaller company name like [ content harmony ] and you’ lmost all still see high power results like Facebook, Twitter, Glassdoor, and so on.
We spot this continuously while doing keyword analysis for clients where what appears to be a normal unbranded key word is actually somebody’ s brand name, especially in markets where there a variety of generic names or precise match domains used. Whilst doing keyword research, we all wouldn’ t want that keyword to slip into a list of recommendations for blog posts to prioritize because the keyword looks “ easy” according to page-level link metrics, and has abnormally high search volume (because of individuals searching for the brand name).
Where Are We Getting Our Hyperlink Data?
The main two sources I trust for my own team are Moz’ s newly relaunched link data and Ahrefs. A bunch of SEOs I respect also use Majestic greatly but I’ ve certainly not been able to make it work with the workflow.
Our own plan for Content Harmony’ s toolset is to integrate Moz’ s link data directly into our toolset, and we furthermore plan to allow users to add their own Ahrefs API qualifications if they want to augment the data. Ahrefs doesn’ t enable their data to be marketed directly to other tool suppliers, otherwise we would just pull data from both sources.
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