What is Keyword Difficulty?

In the world of SEO, Keyword Difficulty is a handy metric which helps you understand how hard it would be to rank for a particular search query.

People who are new to SEO may confuse ‘Keyword Difficulty’ with ‘Competition’ in the Google Keyword Planner. ‘Competition’ only refers to paid search results while ‘Keyword Difficulty’ applies to organic search results.

Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty metric

Google says that links and content relevance are the top ranking metrics for your site's placement in search results. The results of our own study of two million keywords confirm this statement. We see a strong correlation between the number of referring domains a web page has and its position in Google search results.

That is why, to calculate Keyword Difficulty, we analyze the search results for a keyword and look at the number of referring domains the top 10 ranking pages have. In simple terms, the more referring domains across the top ranking pages, the higher the Keyword Difficulty.

Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty metric

Our metric is widely considered the most accurate one. Keyword Difficulty doesn't take into account any on-page factors.

Keyword Difficulty evaluates the chances of getting into top 10 of search results (not top 3 or top 1). Apart from backlink profiles and content relevancy, many additional ranking factors come into play among the results of the first page of any search.

Keyword Difficulty scale

We measure Keyword Difficulty on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest.

Keyword Difficulty scale

The scale is not linear. Each value on it corresponds to the estimated number of referring domains (RDs) a page needs in order to get to the first page of search results.

Here’s the relation between the Keyword Difficulty and the number of RDs needed:

Keyword difficulty 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90
Referring domains 0 10 22 36 56 84 129 202 353 756

If you’re aiming for a keyword with KD 40, you’re likely to need approximately 56 RDs to get into the top 10 search results.

Find easy-to-rank keywords from millions of ideas

Ahrefs' keyword database has over 7.4 billion keywords from more than 170 countries. It is already the biggest database on the web, and it’s growing steadily.

Whether you are analyzing your own list of keywords or looking at the suggestions in Keywords Explorer, our Keyword Difficulty metric shows you the opportunities you can easily rank for.

Find easy-to-rank keywords among millions of ideas

Combined with Search Volume, this metric will help you find keywords that can bring you very good organic traffic but don’t require much effort to rank for.

However, despite its value, Keyword Difficulty should not be the only factor affecting your keyword choice. We recommend that you use it as the first filter to sort through the massive number of possible keywords.

The further choice of keywords must be based on a complete and detailed SERP analysis. No SEO tool can do this work for you, because every case is unique. But you will find all the necessary data for analysis in the SERP overview Ahrefs provides.

Integration with other Ahrefs tools

The Keyword Difficulty metric integrates across all keyword reports in Ahrefs tools. Look into keyword suggestions, analyze your competitors' organic traffic, track your own keyword rankings - Keyword Difficulty will always be at hand.

Keywords Explorer — Keyword Difficulty checker has a prominent place in this tool. It helps you make informed decisions about the keywords to go after, whether you’re analyzing individual keywords, sorting through your keyword list or looking at keyword suggestions.

Site Explorer — Discover keywords that bring organic traffic to any page of your competitors' websites and use the Keyword Difficulty metric to see if you will be able to rank in the top 10 for those keywords.

Content Explorer — This potent tool finds the most popular content on any topic for you. It also shows you the list of keywords a content page ranks for, along with their Keyword Difficulty.

Rank Tracker — This tool tracks your website ranking positions changes for any given keyword. Keyword Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty are not static numbers, so we update them regularly for each of your projects.

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