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How to Use Keyword Difficulty in Your Content Strategy Proven techniques to help assess a keyword difficulty score correctly and use it effectively in overall SEO efforts.

By Nick Chernets Edited by Matt Scanlon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Targeting proper keywords is as crucial to successfully operate a website as creating eye-catching images or coming up with a winning URL. To assess which keywords are or are not worth targeting, webmasters use various tools and techniques — by far the most popular the keyword difficulty score. It's important that you opt for low-scoring keywords only, as the higher the rating, the more difficult that given keyword is to target and exploit properly.

What is it, and why should you care about it

Keyword difficulty is one of the most basic SEO metrics — a rating that tells you how hard it would be to target a given keyword and optimize your webpage. The higher the score, the more difficult it would be to achieve decent results while focusing on a given keyword, which also means that it would be harder for you to win against the competition and invite new customers to try out your products. So, when conducting an SEO process, you should try to use lowest-ranking keywords.

But why?

A high-ranking keyword means more of your competitors are actively trying to rank for that keyword, and that means achieving decent results would be difficult for a smaller, independent website, because competition is tough, and opponents may very well have better SEO teams. Ranking for a highly-rated keyword might be beneficial in the future, after you have built domain authority and your site appears in a decent position in the Google Search Results rankings, but beginners should avoid it. Instead, try to rank for lower-rated alternatives, which provide decent capabilities and can rank you for longer periods of time. Patience is a virtue: In due course, you'll be able to focus on more advanced, higher-rated keywords, and then, if everything goes smoothly, join the big league and try to rank for the highest, most currently sought-after ones.

Related: 7 Steps to Creating a Winning Keyword Database

There are various ways to use keyword difficulty to your benefit, but I'll focus on the five most important.

1. Settle for long-tail keywords

Start out with lower-ranking, longer keywords that potentially have the shorter one within them. Such long-tail keywords, despite having a lower number of searches, can still turn out to be extremely beneficial, especially for niche businesses or websites targeting a single and clear user group. They also have far lower keyword difficulty, meaning that it will be easier to rank for them.

Until your website builds the necessary authority, it'll be tough to just rank for popular, "hot" keywords. You can, however, find success if you try to rank for the long-tail keywords which contain higher-rated phrases within them. This will result in a much larger chance of converting people randomly visiting your website into loyal customers.

2. Start with lower-volume options

At first, aim for keywords with difficulty scores lower than 50. Try to make your approach a little bit more paced and nuanced, and only try to rank for the higher-rated ones when you are sure the quality of the site content matches the quality offered by the websites typically targeting the big keywords.

Of course, each site is different, but nowadays the Internet is so densely populated by websites on pretty much any given topic that you simply can't expect yours to explode with popularity just because you targeted a popular keyword. On the contrary, the sheer number of more recognizable alternatives would most likely just cause users to completely ignore your site. So, spend the first few months developing its crucial elements, make sure that it matches your vision and don't act too aggressively when selecting new keywords to target. It's far better to achieve slow but steady growth than to completely disappear in the endless void of never-discovered locations.

Related: How to Pick Your First SEO Keywords

3. Keep user intent in mind

Before you try to rank for any given keyword, it's crucial to understand your website's audience and its needs — well enough to be pretty much convinced that you know what they are looking for, even if their intent is not exactly clear. One great method of doing this is targeting low-difficulty keywords that are also highly relevant to your chosen group of customers.

For example, let's assume a user searched for "dog snacks." At first glance, that seems too broad and hard to target. In that case, you can try to guess the user intent behind the query but, once again, you should know your customers well enough to do this confidently. Let's say your company makes treats perfect for smaller breeds of dogs. Wouldn't it be better to opt for a long-tail keyword, such as "snacks for small dogs," even if it's lower-rated? The owners of Chihuahuas, Yorks and other smaller breeds (aka your potential customer base) would have fewer problems finding your site, while the owners of German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, etc. probably wouldn't be interested in your services no matter the keyword you chose.

4. Hub for difficult keywords

Is there a particular high-ranking keyword that you wish to try and target, no matter what? Then consider creating a hub page on your site, which will help organize and gather the necessary information which you will be able to offer users searching for a given high-rated keyword in the future. Make sure to fill the hub page with as many details as you can, and at the same time offer outbound links to other, more authoritative sources. You should, of course, also create inbound linking to your own sub-pages, which might be of interest to anyone searching for a given keyword.

Related: Market-Defining Keywords: Find Out Where They're Being Used & How To Use Them Yourself

5. Don't forget other aspects of SEO

Keyword difficulty is a vital consideration, to be sure, but there are other things to take into account before deciding if a given keyword is worth targeting. Perhaps, even if the keyword difficulty is high, targeting it is worth a shot if the ROI is attractive enough and the potential conversion rate is satisfactory. Or, on the other hand, even if a given keyword has a low difficulty rating, is it really worth targeting if the ROI indicates there's not much opportunity for profit and it is seldom searched for?

One last thing to remember: Proper SEO optimization is a marathon; it will take time to unfold its full potential.

Nick Chernets

CEO of DataForSEO

Nick Chernets is the founder and CEO of DataForSEO, the leading provider of marketing data. While he's passionate about data analysis and SEO, he also enjoys sharing the experience from the business side of the industry.

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