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How to Measure Keyword Difficulty and Rank on Google (Part 3/3)

Do you think it’s possible to triple your organic traffic in a few months without building links? In this lesson, we are going to show you exactly how to measure keyword difficulty so that you can pick the right keywords and get more free search traffic to your website.

This is the final lesson in our keyword research series. In the first two lessons, we covered key fundamentals that will help you do effective keyword research and showed you a few cool ways to generate thousands of great keyword ideas.

This lesson is all about measuring keyword difficulty and then targeting the ones you actually have a high chance of ranking for in Google’s top 10 results.

Let’s jump right in.

Example #1

So for our first example, we’ll go to Keywords Explorer and type in “supplements.”


Now, we touched on the keyword difficulty metric in part one of this series, but we didn’t go too in-depth. And that’s because this section is meant to just give you a top-level view of how hard it will be to rank on Google for this target keyword.


And you can see that it has a keyword difficulty score of 77 and it says that we need 291 websites to rank in the top 10 for this keyword.

Does one really need 291 websites to rank in the top 10 for supplements keyword?

mmmm….Not necessarily.

The part, where it says you’ll need 291 links from different websites to rank in the top 10 isn’t a super crazy algorithm. We just take a weighted average of the top 10 Google rankings.

Also, some things that keyword difficulty doesn’t take into consideration are on-page factors, relevance of the topic, and if the backlinks are dofollow or contextual.

What is the best way to gauge the difficulty of a keyword?

So the best way to gauge the difficulty of a keyword is to look at the top 10 Google rankings, manually examine the quality of their backlinks and see what they’re doing. And you can see all of this information by scrolling down to the SERP overview.

Confusing SERPS - how to understand them?

If you look at the top 10 search results, you might be a bit confused.


Vitamin Shoppe ranks quite high with only 4 referring domains, ODS or the office of dietary supplements ranks below that even though they have thousands of referring domains.

And looking even further below that, this page has just less than 20 referring domains, yet keyword difficulty said that we need almost 300 unique linking websites.

So what gives?

One word: relevance!

When you look at the top ranking pages, you’ll see that the majority of them are eCommerce pages, which shows that there’s a good chance that someone searching for the keyword phrase “supplements” is looking to shop.

Looking at the result from ODS, you’ll see that it’s a home page where people have to navigate to find what they’re looking for. In this case, we would suspect this isn’t really what people are looking for.


And even though the page may not perfectly match the searcher’s intent, they still rank quite high because they just have way too many backlinks compared to the other ranking sites.

For the other site down here that has very few unique sites linking to them, you’ll see that they match what we believe is the searcher’s intent for this keyword, which you can see is an eCommerce category page.


Quick keyword difficulty estimation

If you’re new to analyzing keyword difficulty, then that might have been a bit heavy. So let us review this quick keyword difficulty process fast.

First, search for a keyword phrase in Keywords Explorer.


Second, we’ll scroll down to look at the top 10 search results and look at the raw number of referring domains.


And if you notice something like this one that has vastly more referring domains, but ranks lower than ones like these that have less unique linking websites, then look at the titles and visit the pages to get a better understanding of how Google tries to serve the searcher intent.


And we already know that these are eCommerce categories, which shows that there is likely some kind of intent to shop when people search for “supplements.”


And this goes to prove that just using the referring domains alone to gauge keyword difficulty isn’t always the most reliable either.

Example #2

Let’s look at another example. If we look at the top 10 search results for the search query, “how to write a cover letter”, you’ll see these results. And aside from SERP features, the top ranking page has 55 referring domains, and the one from Wikihow has 209 referring domains.


And if we look at the titles, both seem to be perfectly relevant to what a searcher would be looking for.

This is where you would need to take an extra step and research the websites that are linking to these pages.

If we look at Up to Work’s homepage, it looks like they offer a resume building tool which suggests that the rest of the content, and this article on cover letters is going to be closely related to employment.


We won’t even bother going to Wikihow’s homepage since we are sure you know that they write about basically anything on how to topics.

Analyzing backlink profiles of the top-ranking search results

Let’s look at their link profiles. We’ll click on the respective numbers and open the referring domains reports in new tabs.


First, we are going to set this to the “Dofollow” filter to find only the value-passing links.


Finally, we’ll sort the domain rating column in ascending order. This is going to help us to spot potentially spammy links.


And you can see that there’s one here that looks like an IP address and then there’s another Blogspot one here.


But scrolling through the rest of the results, you can see that they come from some pretty relevant websites.

And if we expand the backlink report on something like, you can see that it's a perfectly good editorial link. In fact, the page linking to it is an article about writing a cover letter that gets you hired.


And the same goes for The article is on how to make a standout resume and looking at the anchor and surrounding text, the context of the link says that you need to know how to write a great cover letter.


Now let’s look at WikiHow’s links

Supposing that we have already applied the same Dofollow filter and sorted these in ascending order.

The first 70 or 80 referring domains come from spammy Blogspot sites. And if we go to page 2, you can see that they do have some perfectly good links in here, which is probably why they rank in the top 10, but in our opinion, it looks like the first ranking page has more solid links from other relevant domains in their space.


SERP volatility

The last thing we want to touch on is a bit more of an advanced technique, and that’s SERP volatility.

Even if you’re a complete beginner to keyword research, we are going to give you such vivid examples that should give you a ton of value.

So, if we go back to our first example on the keyword, “supplements,” and scroll down the page, you’ll see the graph called SERP position history.

SERP position history graph


This graph shows you the position history for the pages that currently rank in the top 5 for a given keyword.

Now, when you look at this graph, you can see how volatile the rankings have been particularly for the orange line and the green line.

If we click on the corresponding checkboxes to remove them from the graph, then you’ll see that the other top ranking pages have been more stable as of the past few months.


What’s even more interesting here is that the ones that are jumping from completely invisible to a top 10 ranking are all non-ecommerce category pages.


This is basically telling us how “satisfied” Google is with the current rankings. If they’re consistently promoting and demoting new pages in and out of the top 10 results, there’s likely some kind of indication that the current ranking results aren’t properly serving search intent.


Now, compare the initial graph to our other example on “how to write a cover letter,” and you’ll see that the position history is a lot more stable here aside from the red one, which just looks like they’ve been actively building links and progressively ranking higher in Google.


“Cars” vs. “best cars” - the final example

One final example we want to show you is for the query “cars” vs. “best cars.”

If you look at the query for “cars”, the SERP positions have been SUPER volatile. But look at the different ranking pages.


There’s a few that are clearly about automobiles, but then there’s also top ranking pages from IMDB, Wikipedia and Disney which are talking about the Movie Cars.


So clearly, the searcher’s intent on this query can go either way.

But take a look at the history for the search query, “best cars.”


When someone types this in, they’re clearly looking for reviews or comparisons on different vehicles. And as expected, the SERP results seem to be quite stable, so this tells us that Google seems to be satisfied with the results they’re showing here.

So analyzing the position history of the top 5 rankings is a good extra measure to take before selecting your keywords because it tells you a lot about how Google views the searcher’s intent and you should know right away, whether you can serve that intent or not.


So as you can see, keyword difficulty can’t be summed up into a number. You need to analyze the top 10 ranking pages to get a full view of the quantity and quality of unique backlinks.

You need to understand the searcher’s intent behind a keyword so when you create your piece, you can match the searcher’s intent.

From there, you can pick and choose the keywords that will drive a ton of valuable traffic to your website.

That’s it for this keyword research series. Make sure to pop in for more actionable SEO tutorials and marketing strategies over here.

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