Keyword Research Part 3: Understanding Ranking Difficulty

This article will explain the process of determining the difficulty level of ranking on search engines for a target keyword. A recent academic article has highlighted the importance of keywords in the process of SEO. When it comes to the process of trying to rank for a keyword it is important to understand who a business will be competing with before they start to target a keyword. From an SEO perspective a competitor is a page or website that ranks at the top of search engines for targeted keywords. 

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Understanding Ranking Difficulty

There are three primary considerations when deciding whether to attempt to rank highly on search engines for a desired keyword. These considerations are: search intent, the metrics of the top ranking pages and websites and the topical authority of the top ranking pages. In order to be able to see the necessary metrics for this process an SEO tool is required. There are many SEO tools available online and many of these tools are available for free. 

The first step of the process for determining ranking difficulty is to look at the top ranking pages for a desired keyword and determine whether some of these pages fail to match the search intent of the keyword. To make this determination, an individual can use the three C’s of search intent which have been mentioned in a previous article. These are content type, content format and content angle. It is also important to look at the URLs of the top ranking pages. If the URLs include the keyword then that likely means that those pages are targeting the keyword for which they are ranking. 

The second step of the process is to look at the metrics of the top ranking pages. The first metric which is important to this process is the number of websites which are linking to the page that is appearing on the top of the search results. As was previously mentioned, backlinks are one of the most prominent ranking signals which search engines use to determine a page’s authority on a subject. If a page has a high number of quality links to it then it will be more competitive to rank for that keyword. Before choosing a keyword it is important to determine whether it is possible to acquire more quality backlinks than the top ranking pages. 

The second metric to consider is the domain rating of a website. This is the overall strength of a website’s backlink profile. Generally speaking a website should consider ranking for keywords which have a top ranking page that is in the same ballpark in terms of domain rating as the website. Or at the bare minimum one of the top ranking pages should be in the same range of domain rating as the website which is trying to rank. To find out what the domain rating of a website is, an SEO tool should be able to provide this information. 

The third step of the process is the topical authority of the top ranking websites for a keyword. Search engines like Google want to provide users with results from authoritative sources. A website owner should be asking themselves whether their website is equally or more authoritative than the top ranking results for a keyword. The best way to find this out is to look at the domain names which are ranking for a keyword and use common sense to determine whether these pages have authority on a topic. For domains that are not immediately obvious it is recommended to visit the website and read the about page to determine whether the site is an authority on the topic. 

There are four questions which a website owner should be asking themselves when determining the difficulty of ranking for a keyword. These questions are: do any of the top ranking pages fail to match search intent?, can I get more quality backlinks than the top ranking pages?, is my website in a similar domain rating range to the top ranking websites? and is my website equally or more authoritative than the top ranking websites? These questions are quite general and the more yes answers a website owner has to these questions the more likely they are to be able to rank highly for a targeted keyword. However, the process of SEO is nuanced and this will not always be the case. It is also important to weigh up other factors which have been discussed such as traffic potential and business value. 

Final Thoughts 

Understanding how difficult it is to rank for certain keywords is a core skill for success in the process of SEO. This is the first step to getting predictable results for work in SEO. If a website owner knows what it takes to rank ahead of the competition then the results will all come down to how well they can execute this process. The following articles will be about on-page SEO to help create content that ranks well on search engines.