What is SEO difficulty and why is it important to consider in your content?

SEO difficulty (also known as keyword difficulty) is how difficult (or easy!) it is to rank for certain keywords on Google. It’s different to the paid difficulty of keywords for ads, and that’s important to note if your business is hitting 2024 hoping to create some high-ranking SEO content.

Your ultimate goal with SEO content is to be seen in Google (or Bing). So, in order for that to happen, you gotta get familiar with your keyword difficulty so that you don’t waste your time creating content that’s never going to rank well.

It’s also important for helping you to plan your content clusters and create relevant content for your audience. It’s not just about ranking you know, it’s also got to be useful for your reader and match their intent.

SEO Difficulty

SEO difficulty is determined by many factors including backlinks, internal linking, your domain authority, page authority etc etc.

So, if you’re creating organic SEO content and you’ve been wondering why it isn’t ranking well for its chosen keywords and key phrases, this could well be why.

It’s not as simple as finding/thinking of your keyword and optimising it (I wish it was). If the keywords you’ve chosen are hugely competitive, you won’t stand a chance ranking well for it.

Before you go creating your content, you need to have a look at the likelihood of ranking well for it because that’s what’s going to drive more people towards your site.

Why is SEO difficulty important to know?

I’ve already touched upon why it’s worth knowing if you can rank for certain keywords as a small business.

You’ve got much better chance of ranking well if you can find lower SEO difficulty keywords because you won’t have the domain authority/backlinks/page authority etc. to compete with bigger brands and businesses without paying £££ for it via paid ads.

It’s also essential in helping you identify potential traffic streams for your website – people searching for what you offer. Without it, you could be missing out on a lot of business, particularly local business. People searching with local intent make up nearly half of all Google searches, with “near me” searches growing by 136% last year (2022).

Once you’ve identified these traffic streams, they’re pivotal in directing your content strategy and your content clusters. You can shape your content around the keywords you’ve identified to direct people towards your site and, hopefully, convert them into a customer.

Take this as an example:

If someone is looking for an electrician in Southampton, they might (they almost certainly will…) open up Google and type “electrician Southampton” into their search bar.

Now, ideally as a business, I want to rank on the first page, and preferably in the number one spot. When I take a look at the SEO difficulty of these keywords? They are absolutely ripe for you to dominate and appear at that number one spot easily. The SEO difficulty is showing as 13. There’s hardly any competition. There’s a fantastic search volume around these keywords for a local business – between 200-500 each month. What could that do to your enquiry rates if you could get on that first page? They’d go through the roof.

SEO difficulty and why it's important

Using SEO difficulty to determine content clusters

So how might you then create your content clusters from this information to keep a steady stream of people coming to your site? You want to start thinking about all the other relevant search terms that people might be searching for where you have an opportunity to rank AND add value. I’m not talking about “Southampton electrician”, “electrician in Southampton” or “domestic electrician in Southampton” on all your other pages. These won’t add any additional value to your customers – it’s just spammy.

So, in this instance, you might want to look at re-wiring – it’s a service that domestic customers will be looking for and a service that you (probably) provide. You could choose to do this as a case study, showing a recent project you’ve done, as a “When is rewiring a house important?” blog or article, or as a “re-wiring a house” service page.

The search volume is good, and the difficulty is fairly low. This is how you can begin to build content clusters that add value to your customers by using SEO difficulty to show you opportunities. But remember, it has to be relevant. Don’t just start targeting keywords willy-nilly because there’s an opportunity there. It needs to be useful to your customer and you need to be offering what they’re looking for.

Check out my LinkedIn rant on what happens when this isn’t prioritised…

How can I find out the difficulty of the keywords I want to target?

There are plenty of tools out there that can help you to find out the SEO difficulty of the keywords you want to target.

And they’ll also show you opportunities to rank for other keywords, that you might not have thought of, and relevant keywords to help you build out your content clusters.

Helpfully, (not really…) they all have their own way of ranking the SEO difficulty of keywords, so you can get varying results. But, they will at least give you a steer on what you can consider ranking for before you start diving deep into your creating content for your website.





Keyword Tool

What does it mean if the difficulty is high?

If the SEO difficulty is high, then your competition for ranking is much higher, and it will take a lot more effort than simply writing content that’s optimised to get you ranking for it. You need a stonking domain authority (think Amazon, or Nike), a shit-tonne of backlinks, a serious internal linking strategy, and some magic (only joking) – you need a great SEO team behind you, basically.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t include those search terms in your content, but don’t expect to be ranking well for them (yet).

Should I start using only low SEO difficulty keywords?

Here’s where you need to approach low SEO difficulty keywords with caution. Some low difficulty keywords are low because there’s hardly anyone searching for them. So, you need to factor in how valuable that is for your business.

If you’re a niche or small business selling a high-ticket product or service, or your target customers are fairly local, then 10 people searching for your keywords with high user could become loyal, and profitable, clients.

But if your business market is saturated, your product or service lower value and your audience country-wide or worldwide, then targeting lower difficulty keywords, without checking the volume of traffic searching for them, is absolutely not worth your time.

Long-tail keywords and SEO difficulty

Long-tail keywords offer you the best opportunities for lower SEO difficulty. What are long-tail keywords? They’re searches that look like this:

Instead of this:

They contain more words and can be very niche. And they are absolutely worth targeting because while they generally have lower traffic volumes (less people searching for them), they have a much higher buying intent (people that use them are closer to buying than people using short-tail keywords) and 70% of page views come from long-tail keywords so you’ll drive more traffic to your site by using them.

Less people searching for them means lower difficulty and more opportunity for you to rank for them.

Long-tail keywords are your friend when it comes to ranking opportunities.

Learning to use SEO difficulty as part of your content strategy is important.

Need help getting your SEO content off the ground, or want some help understanding how to use SEO difficulty to shape your SEO content strategy?

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