Understanding Keyword Ranking Difficulty in SEO
Ranking difficulty varies depending on the keywords being targeted. Some keywords are more difficult than others to rank for because of factors like online competition, supply and demand, and keyword length. Here I will explain the basics of keyword difficulty so you can understand what you’re up against when time comes to do SEO for your website.
What are generic keywords?
You can look at generic keywords as the core-level keywords that everyone is ultimately trying to rank for. For example: car loans, home mortgage, credit cards, insurance, pizza, phones, etc.. Generic keywords receive the most traffic online because they get searched the most.
As you can imagine, these high-in-demand keywords would be very difficult to rank for on the first page of any major search engine. For this reason, SEO companies typically do not target generic keywords in the beginning of a campaign because it would take them years to achieve. If you wanted to, you could ask an SEO company to target generic keywords of your choosing, but do not expect any significant changes in the short term.
What are long-tail keywords?
Long-tail keywords are just as it sounds – long keywords or keyword phrases. Long-tails are basically generic keywords with additional descriptive words attached to it. So for example, a long-tail keyword could be: “0% balance transfer credit cards” or “best pizza in Los Angeles.” As you can see, these types of keywords are more descriptive versions of generic/core keywords. The rule of thumb is: the longer a keyword, the less competition there is.
The justification as to why long-tails have less competition is because there are less people trying to rank for those keywords. For this reason, most SEO companies will target long-tails in the beginning of a campaign because it is much easier and faster to rank for.
Location of your target customers
The location you are targeting also plays a large role in determining ranking difficulty. Let’s think about this… targeting customers within a certain state is a lot easier than targeting customers worldwide. Why? Well, it’s common sense. If the entire world is your target customer, then you’re talking about doing SEO at the generic keyword level. However, if your target customer is located within a certain state or country, your competition greatly reduces because you’re having to deal with less competitors. In addition, when doing SEO at the local level, you can use long-tail keywords so it makes it easier to rank. For example, you can use geo-specific long-tail keywords like: “Los Angeles pizza,” “Los Angeles Honda dealership” or “Chinese restaurant + zip code.”
How keyword difficulty applies to on-site SEO or website content
If you are writing blog posts or creating content for a very competitive keyword, it will be difficult for your content to get top rankings. The reason for this is because there are many other websites trying to target the same keywords as you are. Unless your content is special or unique in some way, you probably won’t get top rankings without the help of content marketing, social media, or link building.
But, don’t get discouraged. You can still compete against the bigger sites. You just have to work harder and smarter. If the bigger sites write 1,000 words, you may have to write 1,500 words. If the bigger sites are publishing “how-to” articles, you do the same, but add more to it. In order to compete with the big boys, you have to do a little more – whether it’s more words, images, or whatever it may be. Try to stand out. Create content that people want to talk about and link to.
How keyword difficulty applies to link building
For generic keywords, you may have to build hundreds or thousands of quality links in order to achieve top rankings. If you do a search for “credit cards” or “insurance”, how many links do you think most of those top sites have? Chances are, those highly ranked sites will have thousands to millions of backlinks to their site.
For long-tail keywords, an 800-word blog post alone may be enough to get you ranked on page one. And if you’re on page two or three, a few quality links may help boost your rankings to the front page.
SEO is not black and white
There are many gray areas in SEO. There is no magic formula that says if you have an X number of words or links, then you will rank in spot 1, 2 or 3. There are many variables and millions of paths to take. That’s why having experience is so important. Experienced SEOs know what it takes to get a site ranked, and they usually have realistic expectations.