How To Gauge Keyword Difficulty And Find The Easiest Keywords To Rank For

Tim Soulo

Tim is the guy responsible for marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the chief evangelist of the company. Learn more about Tim

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  • Organic traffic 214
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    It’s not really that hard to come up with a big list of keywords you want to rank for.

    The hard part is figuring out what it takes to rank #1 for each keyword and use that information to prioritise your list and plan your SEO strategy.

    Many keyword tools (Ahrefs included) try to solve that problem by showing you a “keyword difficulty” or “keyword competitiveness” metric – but can you rely on their judgement?

    Well, the goal of this article is to give you the definitive answer to this question.

    No one really knows how Google ranks pages

    Basically, the entire SEO industry is nothing but hundreds of thousands of people using trial and error to figure out how Google ranks pages.

    In a nutshell, all we know today is that Google uses over 200 different ranking factors, with the 3 most important being Links, Content and RankBrain (not necessarily in that order).

    We also know that Google is experimenting a lot with machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, which should completely revolutionize “search” in the next few years.

    So where am I going with this?

    If you want to determine keyword difficulty with 100% accuracy, you need to use exactly the same algorithms that Google uses to rank pages.

    So does any third-party tool have access to Google’s ranking algorithms?


    Could they develop information-processing algorithms that could boast the same level of sophistication as Google?

    Very unlikely.

    That’s why no keyword difficulty checker is perfect and each tool can only give you their best estimate.

    But even an estimate is better than nothing, right? And besides, certain tools are much more accurate than others (wink).

    Important: a lot of people who are new to SEO mistakenly rely on the “Competition” metric that they see in Google Keyword Tool. Please be advised that this metric has nothing to do with ranking difficulty and only shows how many advertisers are bidding to show their ads in the search results for a given keyword.

    How to determine the ranking difficulty of a keyword

    The only way to learn how difficult it would be to rank on top of Google for a specific keyword is by carefully analysing the pages that already rank there.

    Ideally, you’d want to vet these pages for all of Google’s 200+ ranking factors. But since no one (except Google) really knows how much each individual factor contributes to the resulting ranking of a page, it makes sense to focus on the biggest ones: links and content.


    Let’s use one of the keywords we’re targeting in the Ahrefs Blog as an example: “anchor text”

    The quickest way to see the number of backlinks the Top10 ranking pages for this keyword have is to put it into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer tool and scroll down to the “SERP overview” report:

    The “Domains” column shows how many unique websites link to a given page. And it’s not that hard to see a general pattern: the more sites link to a page, the higher it ranks in Google.

    In fact, we’ve studied the correlation between a page’s number of referring domains to its position in Google across 2 million keywords, and it turned out to be a strong ranking factor:

    One other interesting takeaway from the above graph is that the number of referring domains to a page has a better correlation with Google rankings than just a raw number of backlinks. So, as a general rule, it’s better to get one link from 10 different websites than 10 links from a single website.

    But apart from the sheer quantity, there’s also a quality factor in place: a small number of high-quality links may trump a larger number of lower quality ones.

    For that we have a metric called URL Rating (or “UR”).

    You can see from the graph above that UR correlates with Google ranking much better than the raw number of linking domains. That’s because Ahrefs’ URL Rating takes into account the quality of backlinks (to a certain extent) and was specifically designed to reflect the ability of a page to rank well in Google (read more about Ahrefs’ metrics here).

    And yet, even with UR (which is the highest correlated metric in the SEO industry) we’re only scratching the surface of how Google would process backlink factors.

    There’s just too much to consider:

    • Where is the link located on the page?
    • Is that link likely to be noticed and/or send traffic?
    • What is the anchor text of that link?
    • What is the surrounding text of that link?
    • How many other backlinks are on the page?
    • At what pace is the page acquiring new backlinks?
    • & so on.

    Authority of a domain

    A lot of SEOs believe that the so-called “domain authority” (or “domain rating”) has a big influence on a page’s ability to rank.

    But at the same time many SEO professionals are convinced that such a thing as “domain authority” does not exist.

    So who’s right and who’s wrong?

    Well, here at Ahrefs, we’ve studied the correlation of domain-level backlink factors across 2 million keyword searches and plotted them alongside some key page-level factors:

    As you can tell from our data above, domain-level factors have significantly smaller correlation with rankings than page-level factors. And yet that correlation is still quite solid.

    Does this mean that Domain Rating helps you rank higher?

    I’m afraid we can’t confirm that based only on this correlation. Correlation ≠ causation.

    But what our data suggests is that you should be able outrank high-DR websites if you have more links coming to your page.

    And this wraps up my very brief overview of how to approach keyword difficulty from a backlinks standpoint.

    Usually SEOs won’t go too deep in reviewing a given SERP: they will just look at the number of linking domains and UR/DR of the top-ranking pages and settle with that information. But for some important keywords you may want to go as far as reviewing the actual backlinks, where they come from and what would it take to replicate them.


    It is true that you can easily outrank pages with vastly more backlinks if they’re lacking relevance to the search query.

    Here’s a keyword that perfectly illustrates what I mean: “chocolate lab”

    Looks like the pages with only 6–20 referring domains are outranking the pages with 900‑1000 referring domains.

    How is that possible?

    Well, if you open that Wikipedia page with over a thousand referring domains, you’ll see that “chocolate Labrador” is only a small sub-section of a very big article:

    Meanwhile, the articles ranking above that Wikipedia page are entirely dedicated to this specific breed:

    This is a perfect illustration of how relevant content can outrank even the strongest backlink profile.

    But don’t get too excited about it just yet.

    What we see in this example is called “lack of relevant content.” The top-ranking results are targeting a broader search query (Labrador retriever), rather than a very specific one that people are searching for (chocolate lab).

    That is a massive opportunity for relevant content to shine, and that’s how those two articles got to the top without a lot of backlinks.

    But you don’t see this kind of thing very often.

    Usually what you get in the SERP is “slightly imperfect content” (at best). The top-ranking results are 100% relevant to a search query, but they could do a slightly better job of giving visitors what they’re looking for.

    This kind of SERP won’t give you the same level of competitive advantage as “lack of relevant content,” where you can rank without backlinks.

    So how do you know if the search results for your keyword are lacking relevant content, giving you a good chance to beat them without links?

    And how do you make your own page 100% relevant to a given keyword in the eyes of Google?

    Let me try to address these two things.

    Conventional on-page SEO” vs topical relevance

    Imagine you put your target keyword in Google and see that the top-ranking pages don’t use that keyword in their Title/URL/Headline.

    This indicates that you can easily outrank them if you just use the keyword in your page’s Title/URL/Headline, right?


    The best practices of on-page SEO in 2017 are not as straightforward as they were back in 2010.

    Back then, Google didn’t have fancy things like Hummingbird and RankBrain, so it needed some very strong clues to understand what your page was about. Putting your exact-match keyword in the Title/URL/Headline of your page gave a strong competitive edge over the pages that weren’t doing that.

    But this trick doesn’t work anymore. Today, Google is smart enough to understand what your page is about even when a target keyword is never mentioned on the page.

    In fact, by studying 2 Million keyword searches we have discovered that almost 75% of the pages that rank in Google’s Top10 don’t have a single mention of an exact-match keyword in their content.

    Check out the SERP for the keyword “guest writing” to see what I’m talking about:

    Clearly, Google understands that things like “guest writing,” “guest blogging” and “guest posting” are closely related. So if you perfectly optimize your page for the keyword “guest writing” in accordance with these old-school on-page SEO best practices, that won’t give you any competitive edge at all.

    How to make your page relevant

    Or should I re-phrase that as “how to make your page MORE relevant than the pages that currently rank in the Top10, so Google will rank your page higher even with fewer backlinks”?

    Well, I’m afraid there’s no easy and straightforward way to do it.

    In order to make your page perfectly relevant to Google, you first need to understand how Google interprets search queries and matches them to topics and entities that it extracts from web pages.

    Sounds complicated, right? That’s because it is.

    You can try studying things like latent semantic indexing (LSI), latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) and other topic modeling algorithms, but most people obviously won’t go that deep.

    And why should they?

    Since Google is getting so smart that it almost “reads” the pages of your website, why should you even bother adjusting your pages to meet some complex criteria of its algorithms and not just “write for humans”?

    Well, the important word here is “almost.” Despite its impressive complexity, Google is still a machine, and if you understand how it works and can adjust your pages accordingly, you’ll be one step ahead of everyone else.

    We’re going to properly cover the topic of “new on-page SEO” in one of our upcoming articles, so now I’ll leave you with 2 quick tips:

    1. Use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool to analyse top-ranking pages for your target keyword and see what other keywords they also rank for. This will give you some clues as to what topics Google thinks they’re relevant to.
    2. Open the Top10 pages that rank for your target keyword and use one very sophisticated tool to extract topics from them – your brain. If you Google around and study all the pages related to your topic, you’ll naturally build a good thesaurus of words and topics that will help Google identify your own page as perfectly relevant.

    User Intent

    In most cases “relevance” and “user intent” go hand in hand. But sometimes a perfectly relevant search result might not give the user what he’s looking for.

    In this case, Google will always favour “user intent” over “relevance.”

    Sounds confusing? I have a great example for you.

    If you search for “online survey” from the United States, you get search results that look like this:

    Nine search results suggest tools for creating online surveys and 1 search result offers work-from-home “online survey jobs.”

    But what happens when we search for exactly the same keyword from the United Kingdom?

    This time only 5 of the search results offer tools for online surveys, while the other 5 offer “online survey jobs.”

    This example shows that people might be looking for different things when they search for a general keyword that may have multiple meanings.

    And Google has somehow identified that most people in the US are looking for an online survey tool, while a lot of people in the UK are also interested in making some money by participating in online surveys.

    But how does Google know what people are looking for?

    It hasn’t been officially confirmed, but the rumours are they might be looking at things like:

    • how long people stay on the page after clicking on it in the search results (a metric known as dwell time);
    • whether people click on any other search results or just settle with the one they picked first;
    • whether people get what they were looking for from their first search or if they will keep refining it and clicking on more search results.

    And these kinds of things can sometimes outweigh the topical relevancy of a page.

    I mean, if more people in the UK started clicking on search results related to “online survey jobs,” Google would see that and drop a bunch of “online survey tools” results from the front page – even if they were perfectly relevant to the keyword “online survey” and had tons of backlinks.

    SERP history

    A good way to learn whether Google is happy with the search results or if it’s still figuring out what’s best for users is to look at the SERP history.

    Here’s SERP position history that Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer tool shows for the keyword “search engine optimization”:

    The same 5 pages have been ranking at the top for quite a while, with only small shifts in their positions.

    And here’s the SERP ranking history for the keyword “twitter marketing”:

    The pages have jumped on and off the Top10 for almost a year. And only recently, Google seems to have figured what kind of search results satisfy people the most.

    In other words, SERP position history can be somewhat indicative of Google’s own level of satisfaction with their search results and thus reflect your chances of squeezing your own page onto the Top10.

    And that winds up our discussion of the factors you should review when assessing a keyword’s difficulty.

    Now let’s discuss Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty metric and how it can make things easier for you.

    Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty

    Once you put your keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer tool, the first metric you’ll see will be the Keyword Difficulty score:

    We measure KD on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest to rank for.

    But that doesn’t really help you understand what KD 15 or KD 65 means, right?

    I figured it would be best to use a Q&A format to explain Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty score and how to use it:

    1. What does Ahrefs’ KD score mean?

    Our keyword difficulty metric gives you an estimate of how hard it would be to rank in the Top10 search results for a given keyword.

    Attention: I didn’t say, “Rank #1 for a given keyword.” I said, “Rank in Top10 for a given keyword.”

    This little nuance causes a lot of confusion: People see an insanely strong page ranking #1 and decide that our KD score is not accurate. But if you look at pages #2–10, they may be a lot weaker and thus easier to outrank.

    Why Top10?

    Here at Ahrefs, we believe Google relies heavily on backlinks to identify the pages that deserve to rank in the Top10.

    But once your page reaches the front page of Google, all sorts of other important factors kick in:

    And let’s not forget about those sophisticated topic modeling algorithms that I mentioned earlier.

    In other words, creating a keyword difficulty score that accurately predicts the #1 is as easy as building our own Google here at Ahrefs.

    That’s why for now we’ve settled with predicting the chances of ranking in the Top10, which we do quite accurately.

    2. How do you calculate KD?

    We look at how many referring domains (RDs) the Top10 ranking pages for a given keyword have.

    We don’t take into account things like: domain rating, the age of the website, usage of the keyword in the Title/URL/H1, etc (I’ll explain why below).

    We also don’t differentiate between dofollow and nofollow links, because the SEO community still has not decided if nofollow backlinks help you rank or not.

    3. Why don’t you take into account any “on-page SEO” factors?

    First of all, let’s define the “on-page SEO factors” we’re talking about.

    Most likely, you’re referring to things like:

    • Using exact match keyword in the Title/URL/Headline;
    • Keyword density of your target keyword in content;
    • Length of content;
    • Number of social shares;
    • Outgoing links to authority sites;
    • Page load time;
    • etc.

    Well, numerous studies (ours included) have confirmed that these kinds of things have a minuscule correlation with rankings compared to backlink factors.

    So even if we were to include them in our KD calculation, they would change the resulting KD score by no more than +/- 3 points. That’s not significant enough to bother spending CPU resources on it.

    But if we’re talking about the advanced on-page SEO concepts I’ve mentioned above – topic modeling, TF-IDF, entity salience, etc. – we’re obviously working in this direction. We’re just not ready yet to apply what we have to our KD formula.

    To the best of my knowledge, there’s no keyword difficulty tool on the market today that would process the “advanced on-page SEO factors.” Most of them just take into account such basic things as “keyword in title,” which worked 5 years ago but makes zero sense today.

    4. How accurate is your Keyword Difficulty score?

    Given that Ahrefs boasts the world’s best database of live backlinks, our Keyword Difficulty score represents the most accurate picture of how competitive a SERP is backlink-wise.

    The accuracy of our metric was confirmed by a third-party test of existing keyword difficulty tools, where Ahrefs won the first prize:

    But even though Ahrefs is more accurate than any other tool, we don’t recommend that you blindly base your SEO decisions on our KD score alone.

    It can be a great “first filter” to weed out the keywords that would require way too many backlinks to rank, but then you’ll have to look at the actual SERP and vet the top-ranking pages manually in the way I explained above.

    5. How do I read your KD scale?

    Because Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty metric is tied to the number of referring domains and nothing else, the scale is pretty straightforward.

    Each KD score translates into an average number of referring domains that Top10 ranking results have:

    KD 0 = 0 Ref. Domains
    KD 10 = 10 Ref. Domains
    KD 20 = 22 Ref. Domains
    KD 30 = 36 Ref. Domains
    KD 40 = 56 Ref. Domains
    KD 50 = 84 Ref. Domains
    KD 60 = 129 Ref. Domains
    KD 70 = 202 Ref. Domains
    KD 80 = 353 Ref. Domains
    KD 90 = 756 Ref. Domains

    From the above graph you can see that our KD scale is exponential, so there’s a vastly bigger difference in referring domains between KD 80 and KD 90 than between KD 20 and KD 30.

    6. What range of KD can be considered “easy”?

    This question is tricky, because what seems to be “easy” for one person might turn out to be “insanely hard” for someone else.

    And yet, based on conversations with many of our customers, we figured that a universally accepted KD scale should look like this:

    Even for us at Ahrefs, getting ~40 websites to link to our page is pretty hard to do.

    7. What KD range can I safely target with my website?

    You can easily identify your “safe” KD range by looking at the keywords you currently rank for.

    Put your website into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool, go to the “Organic Keywords” report and apply “Position” and “Volume” filters to find your best keywords that rank in the Top5:

    In the screenshot above, I filtered all keywords with Volume over 500 searches per month where ranks in Positions 1–5.

    That resulted in 26 keywords (many of which are duplicated because they rank in SERP features).

    Then I exported that report and copy/pasted these 26 keywords into Keywords Explorer.

    It automatically removed the duplicates and showed me aggregated data for the 16 keywords that were left:

    As you can see from the “Difficulty distribution” graph, most of the keywords in my list fall into the KD 40–60 bucket.

    This means that we can safely target any keywords with KD up to 60.

    Replicate the same steps for your own website and you’ll see the maximum possible KD that you can target.

    8. Why are a lot of KDs in my report gray?

    Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:

    We have 2 types of Keyword Difficulty in Keywords Explorer:

    • Cached — we regularly process SERPs for millions of keywords and calculate the KD score based on the pages we see ranking there at this time. Some keywords are updated every day, while others might take up to a month to renew. We show cached KD in gray to illustrate that it’s not up to date;
    • Fresh — once you click the “Get metrics” button next to any keyword, we’ll get the fresh SERP and calculate a KD based on the pages that rank there at this very moment. The resulting number will be assigned a color in accordance with our scale above.

    Cached KD might not be very accurate, because SERPs are subject to change, but it can be extremely handy when you need to filter a huge list with a couple thousand keyword ideas to just a few that don’t require many RDs to rank for:

    Time to find some easy keywords to rank for!

    So now you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to accurately gauge the ranking difficulty of a keyword.

    Ahrefs KD score is a good starting point for your research, but please make sure you always check the SERP manually before making a decision to put your time and money into some keyword.

    See you on the front page of Google 😉

    Tim Soulo

    Tim is the guy responsible for marketing and product strategy at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the chief evangelist of the company. Learn more about Tim

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    • Tao Schencks

      Great article Tim and I guess it is in part a response to the post on Authority Hacker this week.

      I think the days of relying on the GWP are done for and tools such as yours are definitely a step in the right direction.

      • yep, it’s Perrin’s article that made us investigate what KD means in terms of referring domains 🙂

        • Matheus

          PLEASE!!! KD FOR BRAZIL!!!

        • Saulo

          PLEASE!!! KD FOR BRAZIL!!! (2)

    • guitermo

      I’m really in love with this feature. Perfect explanation and guide.

    • Volantis Lojistik

      That is great work Tim thanks from Turkey 😀

    • I’m having trouble increasing organic traffic, is there a way for it? Thank you and success always for you.

    • Wayne Cassidy Links

      Interesting article Tim. I see the post refers to referring domains, does the KD accounts for the quality of the referring domains?

    • Mohammed Asif

      is absolutely right ‚but in some cases huge number of volumes keywords will be rank ‚lemme know is there another tricks to get high trick .

    • This is the best website i have found.And the explanation was great TIM keep it up Bro.

    • You guys provide very effective information that will help to all the webmaster analyst. I am very glad to read this article and very thankful for sharing this..

    • Bent Oak Marketing

      I was shocked to read that you felt that there was no correlation between on-page SEO and Google ranking. Is that what you meant to write? Surely you don’t mean that?

      • I want to see that case study too 🙂

      • all the proof is on it’s way 🙂

        • Bent Oak Marketing

          So that IS what you’re saying. Wow. I greatly look forward to learning more. Thanks for the reply Tim.

    • Hey Tim,

      just made myself a part of your experiment. Hope more people pitch in to help 😉


    • Very cool tool, Tim!

      I am just wondering that if Amazon shows up #1 and #2 for a certain kw and has thousands of links pointing to their pages, wouldn’t that warp the results, since all the other results could just be your typical competitor.…

      • hey David, we look at the links of all top10 results and we do this on a very big scale.. so this should be evened out.

        But if you see any discrepancies — please ping me 😉

    • ( I CAN NOT CLEAR) KD “59” means that we need at least 120 websites to link to this article in order to put it on the front page of Google.CAN YOU HELP ME?

      • Not necessarily. This is taken from data across a wide set of keywords and is meant as an indication. 5 really strong links could be worth more than 200 low/medium quality. The main takeaway should be that as keyword difficulty increases it is likely that a higher number of links will be required to rank.

        • Or you could also say that as keyword difficulty increases it is likely that you need to have higher quality backlinks, not necessarily more backlinks. Is that about right?

    • A really nice feature, glad to see that ahrefs is improving itself!!

    • Martin Hayman

      Can’t wait to see the results of this. In terms of ecommerce, some people use content marketing to earn links and then they link from content to products to help give those pages a boost. How do you think internal links affect this test? If you had a great content piece with loads of high quality linking domains and that piece linked to a product with a reseaonably high KD.… ??

      • That’s a strategy i have found to be effective. One variable here is that product pages tend to be ‘weaker’ and not attract so many natural links, so the competition (at least in terms of link volume) should be less. Notwithstanding this, that’s a great strategy for getting visitors into a sales funnel, so it’s definitely good practice. After all, if people land on the content page, then click through to the product and buy… job done 🙂

        • agree to that!

          it’s super hard to get people to link to product or category pages, but hey — we’re all in the same boat

          so linkbait + internal linking is better than nothing 🙂

    • Awesome Post Tim. I discovered bloggerjet, Agrefs blog and started a trial of ahrefs all in the past few days. My mind is blown with the simplicity and speed I can do my research on Afrefs!

      I am waiting for the on-page case study to be published! Sounds exciting.

      • thanks, Yuvraj! glad you’re enjoying our tools and our learning materials 🙂

    • Hi Tim,

      Regarding what you said here, I think I can explain it:
      “With only 5 referring domains I’m outranking powerful websites, that have hundreds of referring domains pointing to their pages.

      How to explain that?

      Well, my guess is that for long tail keywords with such a low search volume, Google feels comfortable putting the most relevant result on the top of the big guys. Even if that result doesn’t have many links.”

      At this point (ranks 1–10 ish), I learned from Neil Patel that Google checks CTR, so the result with much less domains and back links probably has a better headline and therefore, CTR compared to the others.

      17 Polls” sounds better than results #2 and #3 — those are generic.

      • yeah.. but in order to get people to click your result, you must rank on the front page of Google FIRST, right? 🙂

        so how do you think my page with no links ranked in top10 in the first place ? 🙂

        • No you’re ABSOLUTELY right. I LOVE the Ahref’s Keyword Difficulty Metric, I use it myself.

          The next question is, what seperates rank 1 from rank 2 or 3, especially if #1 is a newer domain with less referring domains than #2 and #3?

    • Thanks for your article Tim, it was really helpful.

      I’ve been playing around with the Keyword Difficulty tool. It’s a great feature. Does your Domain Rating affect the number of referring domains you might need to rank for a particular Keyword Difficulty?

      • hey Clement!

        Thanks for the great question!

        We’ve studied the correlation of Domain Rating with Google rankings, and it’s very very low (compared to correlation of Ref. Domains for example).

        This is why we believe DR doesn’t help you much. Backlinks matter a lot more.

    • Kees Beckeringh

      Hi Tim, I’m wondering how I could import a list of keywords to get the KD-score?

      • right now that is not possible, but we’ll soon add that feature 😉

        • Ray

          Hi Tim,

          Is this feature available yet to import keywords? If not, is there a planned release date yet as I’ve been hanging out for this feature.


    • Roman Dobronovsky

      Tim, I greatly appreciate your opinion but it seems to me that on-page factors still matter more than you may think.
      Actually you’ve already managed to achieve your goal for “keyword difficulty” keyword without dozens of links: just 5 ref. domains and 48 links according your own tool.
      Also your DA is also very high and I think this must have helped a lot.

      • hey Roman! I’m very glad you were following the experiment 🙂

        A few things I wanted to point out:

        #1 We now rank in top20, that’s not the same as ranking in top5. So we didn’t reach our goal yet.

        #2 The reason we went so high with just a few backlinks is not because on page seo works. It’s because we found a small issue in our KD score.

        Take a look at this screenshot:

        Looks like 3 of 10 search results have TONS of ref. domains, while others barely reach 20.

        These “outliers” push KD up, but this very experiment suggests that we should not take “outliers” into account while the rest of the search results have low RD numbers.

        We’re already tweaking our KD algo to take care of such situations.

        #3 I’m pretty sure that “On Page SEO” doesn’t work. Hopefully I’ll finish the study within a week from now and I’ll be happy to discuss the takeaways 😉

    • finally! ill do case studies too according to this article

      • looking forward to that, mate! please ping me once you publish your case study!

    • Zangelbert Dimbledank

      So when’s this “on-page factors don’t correlate study” due?

    • yes, the one with most backlinks wins.. domain authority has less weight

      I’ll soon publish the “backlink factors” study too 😉

    • Sara Lindsay

      Hi Tim,

      Great post. Definitely a lot of interesting information here, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from you!

      Is there is any estimated time for when the ability to import a list of keywords to get the KD will be available?

      • thanks a lot Sara!

        We’re still working on the option to import custom keywords into the tool. Have no ETA for it unfortunately

    • Great overview. I’ve been playing with this over the past couple of days and it’s had a change in just our preparation of data. I’m looking forward to seeing results from the new changes — and the article regarding the on-site items you mentioned.

      Great article — more of these with real-world examples are always appreciated!!

    • Ngoc Nguyen

      I’m wondering that why you choose the keywords which have KD from 0–30 (and better is 0–15) after you observe your Page Best by links ranging from 20–40 ? what’s the rule here? Thanks in advanced

      • I had the same exact question. Most of his pages are above KD 30, but then he says to stay below KD 30, with KD 15 being ideal. Why < 30 and why 15? Seems arbitrary.

        • Ngoc Nguyen

          Ahrefs is good but I am gradually losing trust in their experiment post..

          • Well, at least it’s a starting point to get a feel for what kind of difficulty there MIGHT be with a keyword. Obviously there’s much more to it than just getting a specific number of referring domains, and the quality of your competitors also has to be taken into account.

      • hey @ngockon:disqus and @Paul__Newcomb:disqus !

        Sorry if I wasn’t clear with my thought process.

        The “Best by links” report is a very bad way to calculate your “easy” range of KD.


        Because those are your “BEST” pages!

        If you think that all future pages that you’re going to publish on your website will outperform your BEST pages — then go ahead and pick a higher KD score for yourself.

        But to stay safe, I would look at how many referring domains my best pages have generated and go 30%-40% lower for ideal KD score for my website.

        Hope that answers your question

    • Hi Tim, Thanks for the great article. Can you shed some light on the need for focus on Reffering Domains and not Backlinks. We found a key word that we liked but we were going to abandon it due to the number of backlinks to our biggest competitor (2620 next is 200), but reading your article it seems there is hope if we focus on RD, which is 56 (we have a tool like product that can get a lot of RDs).

      • Hey Chris,

        We focus on RDs because when building models for KD we saw that it was the best metric to rely on.

        At the end of the day, one sitewide link accounts for 1 RD and thousands of backlinks

    • Jerome Bourgois

      Hi Tim,
      Thanks so much for the guide, simply awesome!
      However, I have a question: I played according to your guide and found keywords with a KD from 0 to 3 which are already in my website but I do not rank for it. Is it because of not enough Referring domains?

      • there could be many reasons why your website doesn’t rank for low KD keyword… Just look at the sites at top10 and think of why your website is not one of them 😉

    • That is great work Tim thanks

    • Tim, can you please elaborate on your claim about on-page SEO not being important? Are you implying that the quality, length and relevance of the content doesn’t matter? That seem extremely counter-intuitive and contrary to what google seems to favor these days. Or maybe I’m just misunderstanding you. When will you be publishing the study you referred to?

    • Dear all, How to SEO difficult keywords, I have SEO them for 4 months but I have got no result in top 10 of Google?

    • Jaime Young

      This is great. Love the potential for this feature but sadly you guys do not include south east asian countries like Philippines and Indonesia. I’d become a brand evangelist in the region the moment you guys include it!

      • hey Jaime, hopefully we’ll get to including these countries sooner or later.. at the end of the day our HQ are in Singapore 🙂

    • Hey Roman!

      How are you? 🙂

      I was just revisiting this article and checked your Quora example.

      It ranks #10 with their 0 RDs.

      And we rank #2–3 with 26 RDs.

      And after fixing the “outlier” problem in our KD formula, the real KD score of “keyword difficulty” is 22.

      So everything looks good with this particular case

    • Zara

      Hi Tim, amazing work! Thanks for this article. I didn’t understand why you are only taking into account the RD of pages of your site, excluding homepage. I am trying to rank my homepage up for a particular keyword, should I focus on increasing the RD of my homepage?

    • Cynthia Meyer

      Awesome, Tim! This was so helpful as a reference.

    • Hi Tim.
      An excellent post.
      Just wanted to ask a little question.
      In above article you said that for 50KD keyword, one should have at least 84 referring domains to his page. But should all of that links be dofollow ? What I am trying to say is that can nofollow links help you achieve ranking for high competition keywords??
      Thank you

    • I’m really like this feature, very helpful

    • hey Joe! thanks a lot for letting me know, because this looks like a bug actually. According to the number of referring domains of top10 pages, the difficulty of this keyword should be around 5 or so. See screenshot. I will investigate with the team why we only show 2 there.

      • Great, glad to hear the team fixes bugs fast as we rely on the best data for our work! Nothing matches the speed of Ahrefs, so would love to see the KD be the best it can be!

    • Benyahia

      hey Tim,

      thank you for this superb article.

      Plesase could you answer these questions:

      you are talking about referring domains to get ranked. KD 10 / you need at least 15 RD?

      what about the DR of this severals RD. So is your keyword difficulty reliable?
      Because i think it is not about quantity but quality? (as you said many times)

      thank you for your kind response.

      Cheers from France

    • The referring domains metric is purely about the links to that particular page?

    • Another amazing article from ahrefs — you guys really are the leaders in the field now. I look forward to all of your new articles

    • Daniel Morales

      Fantastic article.

      Have you got an experience in using tools such as long tail pro to do keyword research in bulk?


    • great article, its amazing to see things that can be achieved with ahref tool.

    • Nina Greaves

      There’s still a wide opinion that backlinks are the be all and end all of successful SEO and it drives me mad that I’m arguing with my clients all the time telling them to focus on their own websites content and stop looking at their competitor’s backlinks and wanting to copy them.

      I’m going to use this article as my next blog post — crediting the URL of course — I really need to persuade a large proportion of my clients to concentrate on choosing the right keywords and creating relevant content. This is a brilliant explanation on why, thank you,

    • Ahrefs has really been improving the Keyword Explorer and adding new research value to the SEO tools. This is a another great Post Tim, thanks for empowering Agencies to do more accurate keyword targeting in less time.

      • thanks @chrislabbate:disqus ! glad I can help 🙂

    • Hello, very awesome article, i’m a always read your posts, and always get useful information about service Ahrefs. Thank you and good luck.

    • Matt Hagens

      The problem that I see with your keyword difficulty scores (not just your tool, but all keyword tools) is the fact that sites that use PBNs to rank are most likely hiding their PBNs from your crawler. If that’s the case, you can’t see the number of links they have, thus your keyword score is going to be lower than it should be. This is especially true for “best xxx” and “xxx review” keywords where lots of the top 10 is dominated by affiliate sites that have a high probability of using a PBN.

      • true, but in many industries people don’t risk their businesses by using links from PBNs. And I’m sure in the coming years Google will get much smarter about finding PBNs.. at least they could use the fact that a site blocks famous backlink tools as a red flag, right? 🙂

        • Matt Hagens

          My point is many affiliate marketers use keyword difficulty scores to determine if a niche is worth entering. I think there is much higher chance that an affiliate site will use a PBN for buyer intent type keywords vs informational type keywords that aren’t dominated by affiliates. That all aside, I think the ahrefs KW score is the best in the biz and your toolset only continues to get better.

          • thanks, Matt! totally agree that PBNs are very common in affiliate marketing space.

    • Thanks a lot for this great article. Really by reading your this one article just the learn points about keywords research. Honestly as a newbie blogger before read your this article i was just trying to target only the high search volume keywords and i never check anything like this That’s why i never rank with keywords.

    • Thanks for yet another detailed explanation, Tim. I was actually using Ahrefs two days ago and was trying to figure out what KD range I could reasonably target on our site. Then WHAM! I see your post pop up on my Facebook feed. Excellent post… and excellent timing!

      • thanks, Matthew! I have a few other interesting posts in queue, I wonder if the timing on them will be just as good 🙂

    • Nice. Now i must translate this article to my language 🙂 Thx

    • Rick

      One thing I don’t see you mention is looking at the type of sites that are ranking. In your study did you see information type sites ranking in eCommerce related searches. In my experience it looks like we should steer away from search terms where our site would not match the intent of the user. Do you see that in your data or do you see multiple types of sites ranking for most of the terms that you looked at in the study?

    • stockypotty

      IMO it would be great to include internal links to that page as part of the score somehow. IMO internal links to targeted pages can have a big impact on rankings, so it would be good to see the strength of inbound internal links (based on the page score where the internal link is).

      Good guide though thanks

      • internal links are already a part of KD 😉

        • Can you explain how so because it wasn’t mentioned in the article!

    • Hello Guys!
      So I will present you my two project working!
      I am working on 2 project on the same “street” and alwais I am work with by monitoring it with ahrefs, witch is the best I find in more then 7 years!

      First Project: is the site that I am “buiding” links and some linkexchange with other webmasters and not
      just. — seven months from first day online, it grow up, and then it had a slight
      decline, after that four months was constant. All this time I gain links from more then 300 unique domains with C class ips and almost all have good DA! The site has now 4k organic k, and 37 UR and 52 DR 28k indexed pages and just 500 daily visitors!

      Second Project: The site gain itself 18 links and I did 2 partnership links. 14 mount ago the site goes online, and 7 months it
      grous up constantly, then goes down with 47%, after that, for 4 months was constant,
      with an increase that reach like the beginning of the first decreases so it recovered that 47%.
      these 4 months I have a surge of 58% followed by a decrease of 35%
      compared to the surge, and it lasts for 5 months, until now.
      want to mention that from the first day online, the site is daily
      updated with an average of 55 posts (420 days online = more then 23.000
      posts and 62k, G indexed pages), the writers publish on it, between 40 and
      80 posts daily. The site is about streaming posts, and all the titles,
      descriptions and kw are new created, with the correct action, according
      to the videos.
      Am I doing something whrong on those projects?
      Are the sites to new, and would need to wait some time?

    • Awesome tutorial and explanation!

    • Thanks for updating this article! What a great explanation. This is the only keyword difficulty tool I use because it’s the best by far.

      Side note, I love all the “SEO experts” in the comments who think they have analyzed more data than Ahrefs lol

    • A perfect explanation and solution to Keyword analysis and difficulty.
      I appreciate Tim 🙂 for sharing such a in-depth concept.

    • Thanks for providing such a thorough explanation. Excited to start using the Keyword Explorer!

    • This can’t get any better. Perfect guide 😉

    • Wow!

      Learned some new things for SEO.

      Thanks man…

    • Thanks for explanation and lot of useful information!

    • Charlene Walker

      great article. sure explained alot of things. Can I ask what you think of services such as Outbrain that boost articles. I have tried it for an article on my blog and notice google analytics records outbrain as a refer, would this penalize the page?

    • There is one disturbing point in all of this, and that relates to — Google’s machine learning and artificial intelligence. The fallacy is that the creators expect to retain control in the end-game. Well, most parents lose control as the baby learns more about the world around it and many become rebellious at an early age. What’s your thoughts on this Tim?

    • Imran Patel

      Very detailed article, Thanx.
      I was following ahrefs blog after i read perrin’s article and unsubscribed all other keyword tools. The reason was the same, most of them gave me misleading KD score. And i read almost 5–6 articles on keyword tool recommendations, almost all of the internet marketers suggested to opt for semrush(ofcourse with a affiliate link 😉 ) and i later observed that ahrefs doesn’t have any affiliate progrom :D. That may be a reason not may are recommending ahrefs (but all of them uses it). Anyway… opting for ahrefs now. 🙂

    • I just followed the steps in #7 and AHREFs confirmed what I already suspected — that I’d better stick with keywords with low difficulty!

    • Lizzy James

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    • Finding a list of keywords can be a difficult task though you gave tips that could simplify the process. Perfect explanation. Thanks.

    • Chad Westby

      There is never a shortage of advice on topics like this. So many competing viewpoints. This article stands out and is very helpful.

    • An eye opener especially in terms page authority vs domain authority.

    • Hi!
      Thanks for this awesome article. I like the tools which are offering by ahrefs. Because rhey give 100% result but 90% are exact. I have checked all tools. Thanks and keep sharing.

    • Thanks for the information I use long. It was nice to have this feature.

    • Albert Tan

      Key takeaways from Tim’s excellent post:
      1. Nobody except Google knows exactly what factors and how the factors affect the ranking of keywords in SERPS.
      2. Three (3) known factors are Links, Content and RankBrain. First two could be “controlled” by website owners.
      3. All keyword research tools are just tools and not 100% accurate in the eyes of Google.
      4. Use results provided by these tools as A STARTING POINT in deciding which keyword to go into with your time, effort and resources.
      5. Manually check each of the top 10 results to evaluate and determine whether it is worthwhile to chase that particular keyword.

      My recipe to determine keyword difficulty:
      A. Use various tools such as Ahrefs, Moz, Majectic, etc. to do a preliminary research
      B. Compare the results from various tools; pick only those which are marked “easy to moderately easy” rank by all the tools.
      C. Manually inspect each of the top 10 sites to see whether that site (position) is the weakest kid (in terms of content quality, link quality and quantity, relevancy and user intent)
      D. Identify the weakest site(s) and determine whether is it practical and cost effective to outrank them in terms of producing better quality content, earning MORE quality backlinks (not spammy backlinks)?

      My questions for Tim:
      a. In arriving the KD for Ahrefs, do you take into consideration of the quality of backlinks (links from authority sites vs spammy sites)?
      b. How does Ahrefs determine whether the backlinks are spammy or of good quality?


    • Thanks for the information provided, It has a grate value and strategically perfect.

    • Hello Tim Soulo ,
      “Keyword Difficulty And Find The Easiest Keywords To Rank” this post is very effective and your explain is just blowing .
      Feeling satisfied after seeing your stunning post here guy and always i find such informative . Hope that everyone will benefited from this post .

    • Thanks for this, I have got something new to learn. 🙂

    • Looking at SERP history for volatility is one thing I’ve never thought of before. That’s awesome and should be helpful in figuring out which keywords to pursue next.

    • Well explain thanks for sharing excellent info.

    • samiul

      Thanks for your Article post..Good share

    • samiul

      Excellent article share.Very good help for seo

    • Great piece of writing, there are lots of takeaways from this post. I believe if you follow the instructions and plan a strategy then there is a lot to be achieved.

    • We’re going to properly cover the topic of “new on-page SEO” in one of our upcoming articles, so now I’ll leave you with 2 quick tips:

      I am waiting for your new article on the topic of “new on-page SEO”. When it will be published @timsoulo:disqus

    • Kim Omdahl

      I just want to thank you for this article. I havent used Ahref that much, but people always talk about Ahref, so I keep coming back to it. And this article make me understand the tool abit more. So I have used it more lately in my research.

      But I have a question Tim, if I was suppose to find a Guestpost (GP) and do keyword research for the article in hope for that keyword would rank for that term. Would I need to measure it by the UR or DR ?? For the GP to rank easier ???

    • Kim Omdahl

      Im just answering in a general answer, because there are a lot things that comes into play here. If you had a website with a lot of power (many links going to your website) and you were going to rank for a keyword with KD 5. You would probably rank for it automcatically because of your ranking power of your domain.

      But if your website started last month, or 2 years ago (but almost have no links to your domain or the innerpage you want to rank) you probably need to have 5–10 backlinks which in this case will be 5 KD 🙂

    • Good to know that the keyword competition has been compiled into a single number to get a rough comparison among two different keywords in a specific geography. I also found the section where you shared two SERP history graphs to share how Google is not happy with the top 10 and is still working around for the best set of top 10 which the users love. However, there is a possibility that a specific keyword has more competition in terms of link building, where most(or all) of the websites top 10 SERP results are in fact building links fast enough to beat each other in ranks. In such a case too, we can expect to see a highly turbulent top 10 in the SERP history. Isn’t it?

    • Hi’
      Just go through your article and then my understinding really its a ideal guideline no doubt about it, waiting for next one…

    • Twitechy

      Heaven knows where we’re going .… we’ll sure get there. Ahref has done it again. It’s not perfect but greatest among it’s peers.

    • Bowen Khong

      Hi Tim, would you mind sharing why is KD based on Ref. Domains and not UR? Since the according to the chart the latter has the highest correlation.

    • I do not mind this blog, I read a lot of wonderful writings with great enthusiasm

    • i still think that KD is way too misleading on it’s own.

    • why is KD based on Ref. Domains and not UR?

    • harika bir iş çıkarmışsınız blogunuzu yeni farkettim hevesle yazılarınızı okumaktan çok mutluyum.

    • Superb read.

      I really appreciate your efforts for writing in-depth content. I learned a lot and it will definitely help me in my future work.

      However, I’ve some questions. As you said, we need to build specific numbers of links for a Keyword having specific difficulty level. For instance, 40 KD = 56 Ref domains.

      Okay…! My question is,

      Should I build 56 links from only top level domains? If so, then what is the criteria to judge which one is good to get link? What metrics should I consider while building links?

      I mean should I rely on TF, CF, or PA,DA when building links for specific keyword or all links should be DoFollow or mixture of links?


    • Excellent tools for SEO learner. I like to use it because it gives exact result most of the time.

    • Nice article I love this.

    • Good research about to choose the best possible SEO keywords for your website.

    • A perfect and accurate guidance on choosing of keyword. The in-depth research is explained here, in a very simple way. Thanks