The acronym “KD” in SEO stands for “Keyword Difficulty”. Keyword difficulty refers to how hard or competitive it is to rank for a particular keyword in search engine results pages (SERPs).

What does KD mean in SEO?

Understanding Keyword Difficulty

Keyword difficulty is an important concept in SEO because it helps determine which keywords are realistic targets to try ranking for. The higher the difficulty score, the more competitive the keyword is. Some key things that impact keyword difficulty include:

  • Search volume – How often a keyword is searched. More volume means more competition.
  • Number of competing pages – The number of pages targeting the same keyword. More pages means more difficulty.
  • Authority of ranking pages – The authority (based on links, content etc) of pages already ranking. Higher authority means more difficulty.
  • Commercial intent – Keywords with more buyer intent also tend to be more competitive.

There are a number of keyword research tools SEOs use to assess keyword difficulty, including SEMrush, Ahrefs and Moz. These tools output a score usually on a scale of 0-100 for difficulty.

Why Keyword Difficulty Matters in SEO

Understanding keyword difficulty is crucial for:

  • Setting realistic SEO goals – Checking keyword difficulty helps prevent targeting over-competitive keywords unlikely to rank.
  • Prioritizing easier-to-rank terms – Easier keywords get higher priority because they have higher ROI potential.
  • Gauging SEO progress – Difficulty scores allow tracking progress over time as authority builds.
  • Scaling SEO efforts – You can pursue more difficult keywords later once easier ones start ranking.

Getting keyword difficulty wrong can waste considerable time and effort. However, assessing it upfront and picking the right keywords to match website capability allows for better SEO results.

How to Check Keyword Difficulty

Here are some options for checking keyword difficulty:

  • SEO tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs or Moz – As noted above, these tools give keyword difficulty scores, usually from 0-100.
  • Google Keyword Planner – Gives search volume data to assess commercial intent and competition.
  • Google Autocomplete – More autocomplete suggestions indicates more search volume/interest.
  • Google SERPs – Review page types ranking to gauge competitiveness.

Also conduct queries and review the types of content ranking:

  • Commercial sites – Shopping sites, brands etc indicate buyer keywords.
  • Authority publications – Ranking sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic etc increase difficulty.

Combine data from multiple checks to get an accurate picture before deciding which keywords to target.

Optimizing Target Keyword Difficulty

As an SEO guideline, keywords with difficulty scores below 30 can be considered relatively “easy” while keywords above 60 are very difficult or “expert level”.

The optimal keyword difficulty range for most websites targeting top search results is roughly between 30-50. This focuses SEO priority on more achievable terms while still having a challenge.

Of course every website and competitive situation is different. But assessing keyword difficulty helps avoid being either over or under ambitious with rankings targets.


Checking keyword difficulty reveals how competitive and realistic an SEO keyword actually is to target and try to rank for. While very difficult expert-level keywords should be avoided initially, using keyword research tools to find “just right” targets for a website’s capabilities can help maximize SEO success and return on investment.

Key Takeaways:

  • Keyword difficulty measures how competitive a keyword is to rank for in search.
  • It is measured on a 0-100 scale using SEO tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs and Moz.
  • Keyword difficulty impacts setting realistic goals, prioritizing keywords and scaling SEO efforts.
  • Ideal keyword targets have difficulty between 30-50 – not too hard or easy.
  • Check multiple data sources like search volume, Google results etc.
  • Avoid expert-level keywords over 60 initialy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a good keyword difficulty score?
    For most websites, target keyword difficulty scores between 30-50 for the best chance of ranking success. Scores below 30 are relatively easy while above 60 indicate very competitive “expert-level” keywords.
  2. What does a keyword difficulty of 100 mean?
    A keyword difficulty score of 100 means that keyword is extremely difficult to rank for. It has very high competition, search volume and requires very high domain authority or link equity to have any chance of ranking.
  3. How accurate are keyword difficulty scores?
    Keyword difficulty scores can vary significantly between different SEO tools. But generally they provide a good ballpark estimate, especially for comparing the relative difficulty between keywords. Take any individual score with a grain of salt.
  4. Can you rank for high competition keywords?
    It takes a significant amount of time and authority building to rank for high competition keywords above 60+ difficulty. Most sites should start with easier keywords between 30-50 difficulty.
  5. What is the easiest keyword to rank for?
    There is no definitive “easiest” keyword. Typically more long-tail keywords with lower search volume and less commercial intent have lowest difficulty. But individual site factors also impact difficulty calculations.
  6. Can I just target low competition keywords?
    Exclusively targeting very easy low competition keywords may limit search visibility. It’s best to aim for mid-range difficulty scores between 30-50 which balance ranking potential and search traffic.
  7. How do I track keyword difficulty over time?
    Use keyword tracking in tools like SEMrush and Moz. Setting up ranking reports also allows you to relate difficulty scores to actual Google rankings for that keyword over time.
  8. Why did my keyword difficulty go up?
    Keyword difficulty can fluctuate over time as competing factors like search volume, rankings pages and links change. Don’t worry about small difficulty changes month to month.
  9. How often should I check keyword difficulty?
    Ideally check keyword difficulty scores once when first researching terms, and then occasionally every few months to spot any major changes in competitiveness.
  10. Is there a free keyword difficulty checker?
    Some free keyword research tools like Ubersuggest, Keyword Shitter and Keyword Tool provide basic difficulty estimates. But paid tools like SEMrush offer more accuracy.
  11. Can I just rank for branded keywords?
    Branded keywords with only your brand name may have low difficulty. But they also have low search volume. You still need to rank for non-branded organic keywords most of the time.
  12. What factors decrease keyword difficulty?
    Main factors that can decrease keyword difficulty over time are reduction in search volume or competing domains, as well as increases in your own domain’s authority and trust signals.
  13. How to pick keywords intelligently for SEO?
    Check search volume, keyword difficulty, clickthrough rate and commercial intent when researching keywords. Pick a mix of easier short tails and mid-range difficulty head terms.
  14. How many keywords should I target for SEO?
    Most experts recommend targeting between 20-50 keywords initially. The best number depends on your site content, authority and business model. Start small and expand keywords over time.
  15. What makes a buying keyword?
    Buying or commercial keywords clearly indicate user intent to purchase something. Identifiers include “buy” “order” “price” “discount”. But many non-buying keywords also lead to conversions.
  16. Can I rank number one on Google with high KD keywords?
    With enough time and content quality it is possible, but very difficult. For most sites aiming for position 1-3 with mid difficulty keywords between 30-50 is more realistic.
  17. What is the hardest SEO keyword to rank for?
    The most difficult keywords to rank for are hyper-competitive terms with very high search volume like “insurance”, “loans”, “attorney” etc. Many very broad one or two word keywords have difficulty scores over 80.
  18. How to select SEO keywords?
    Research keywords by brainstorming topics, checking search volume and difficulty scores in paid tools, and identifying buyer keywords based on commercial intent. Prioritize mid-range difficulty scores between 30-50.
  19. What are long tail keywords SEO?
    Long tail keywords are longer and more specific multi-word phrases like “benefits of yoga for seniors” rather than just “yoga”. They are generally less competitive making them good initial SEO targets.

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July 2024


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