SEO: How to Assess Keyword Difficulty

For example, take the query “best email client for windows 10”:
Remember to create content for humans, not Google. A search query represents a need. Address it regardless of whether it would rank.
There’s no universal formula for keyword difficulty. None of the four tools above consider internal links or on-page SEO — a critical weakness. Keyword difficulty metrics merely help estimate the time and effort to achieve a page 1 Google ranking. There’s no reason to avoid competitive terms.

Keyword Difficulty

Moreover, Semrush includes “SERP-related qualities” for each keyword when calculating its difficulty. For example, a keyword that generates a featured snippet is relatively more difficult, per Semrush.
Identifying keywords for organic search rankings is easier now than a decade ago owing to advanced tools. A key factor in choosing a keyword is competition — the number and quality of sites already ranking for that term.
Semrush suggests selecting keywords with difficulty below “14” as they are the easiest to rank for. Semrush uses multiple factors for that metric but most are likely related to backlinks — the number and authority of linking pages.

Screenshot of Semrush dashboard showing keyword difficulty metrics
Screenshot of Semrush dashboard showing keyword difficulty metrics Semrush suggests keywords with a metric of 14 or below. Keywords that produce featured snippets are relatively more difficult. Click image to enlarge.

WebCEO has a more transparent approach for identifying keywords with higher demand and lower competition: the “Keyword Effectiveness Index.” It’s calculated by dividing the search volume (demand) by the number of Google search results (supply).
This will produce search results for all the pages with your query in the title. Likely these are competitors who are optimizing for your keyword. Comparing the number of results of various keywords provides an estimate of how many sites are optimizing for each.

Screenshot of SE Rankings' keyword difficulty dashboard
Screenshot of SE Rankings' keyword difficulty dashboard

I appreciate the openness in calculating KEI — no hidden formulas. But double-check KEI’s conclusions on other platforms nonetheless.

All leading search-engine-optimization platforms offer a competition metric — a method of filtering keyword lists according to the difficulty of ranking on page 1 of Google.
How can we know if a keyword is worth the effort?
I’ll address that question in this post.
Searching Google for “allintitle:best email client for windows 10” produces 27 results. Click image to enlarge.

  • Ahrefs: 58 (difficult)
  • Semrush: 73 (difficult)
  • SE Rankings: 48 (doable)
  • WebCEO: 6.93 (difficult)

For example, Google’s allintitle: search results:

  • Ahrefs: 54 (difficult)
  • Semrush: 87 (difficult)
  • SE Rankings: 46 (doable)
  • WebCEO: 9.9 (difficult)

Google allintitle: Search

On SE Ranking, keywords below a “9” difficulty are “Surefire” and “10-19” are “Effortless.” Hence both should be doable for newer sites. SE Ranking relies on its internal evaluation of ranking pages’ domain authority when calculating keyword difficulty.
Ahrefs, another platform, recommends keywords with a difficulty below “10.”
To calculate, Ahrefs counts the number of referring domains linking to the top-ranking pages. No other calculation is needed, Ahrefs asserts.
Or “mozilla thunderbird email”:

  • “best email client for windows 10”: 27 (doable)
  • “mozilla thunderbird email”: 6,630 (difficult)
Screenshot of Google search results for "allintitle:best email client for windows 10"
Screenshot of Google search results for "allintitle:best email client for windows 10" A query with a relatively higher KEI has a higher demand and lower supply and is thus easier to rank for.

Optimize for Humans

On SE Ranking, keywords with a difficulty below “9” are “Surefire” and “10-19” are “Effortless.”
Finally, another tactic for assessing keyword competition is searching Google for [allintitle:keyword], as in allintitle:best email client for windows 10.