What is Keyword Difficulty?

In the world of SEO, Keyword Difficulty is a handy metric, which helps you understand how hard it will be to rank for any search query during your keyword research process.

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

Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty metric

As officially stated by Google, links, along with content relevancy, are one of the top ranking signals. And the results of our own study of 2 million keywords go along with this statement. We saw 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 our Keyword Difficulty, we analyze the search results for a given keyword and look at the number of referring domains the Top10 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 from Ahrefs does not take any on-page factors into account. Today these incorporate a lot more than keyword density, content length, exact keyword matches in titles/URLs/subheaders, etc. That is why it is extremely complicated (if not impossible) to analyze the impact of the on-page SEO factors on Keyword Difficulty in every particular case.

Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty evaluates the chances of getting into Top10 of search results (not Top3 or Top1). Apart from backlink profiles and content relevancy, many additional ranking factors come into play among the results of the first page of 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 a page needs in order to get to the first page of search.

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

So if you’re aiming for a keyword with KD 40, you’ll need approximately 56 referring domains to get into Top10 search results.

Find easy-to-rank keywords among millions of ideas

Ahrefs keyword database has over 4.6 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 will show 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 you to use it as the first filter to sort through the massive amounts of keywords.

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

Integration with other Ahrefs tools

Keyword Difficulty metric integrates across all keyword reports in various 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 got a prominent place inside this tool. It will help you make informed decisions about the keywords to go after, whether you’re analyzing individual keywords, sorting through your list of keywords or looking at keyword suggestions.

Site Explorer — Discover keywords that bring organic traffic to any page of your competitor’s website and use Keyword Difficulty metric to see if you will be able to rank in Top10 for their keywords.

Content Explorer — This potent tool will not only find the most popular content on any topic for you. Among other features, it will also show you the list of keywords a content page ranks for, along with their Keyword Difficulty.

Rank Tracker — This tool does not only track your website ranking positions changes for any given keyword. Keyword Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty are not static numbers as well and will be regularly updated for each of your projects.

Try Ahrefs now

Start using Ahrefs’ Keyword Difficulty metric and see how hard it is to crack the Top10 search results.

Start a 7-day trial for $7