Establishing a Keyword Difficulty Baseline

Establishing a website’s current keyword difficulty baseline is a vitally important step when building out a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. Knowing one’s baseline will allow them to target keywords that they have a realistic chance of ranking organically for in search results. 

In this post, we will look at what keyword difficulty is, the importance of knowing it, and exactly how to calculate keyword difficulty using a popular  SEO tool.

What is Keyword Difficulty?

Keyword difficulty is an estimate of how hard it will be to rank on the first page of search results organically for your targeted keyword. There are many metrics used to calculate difficulty, including domain authority and page authority. Each major SEO tool uses its own unique set of variables to provide difficulty assessments. Because of this, you will often see slight differences between tools.

keyword difficulty dashboard.

There are a few different SEO tools available to assist you in assessing keyword difficulty, including  Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMRush. They each have their own unique user interfaces and differ somewhat in functionality and approach. However, a major commonality between these SEO tools is the use of a zero to 100 scale to rank difficulty. With zero being the least difficult and 100 being the most difficult.

The Importance of Knowing Your Keyword Difficulty Baseline

It’s important to check keyword difficulty to eliminate the guesswork as you choose what keywords to invest time and resources for. Targeting keywords that are too challenging to obtain is the most common error we see in organic search strategies. As a result, these overly ambitious organizations often become discouraged when months pass, and they receive little to no positive results for their investment. It is important that you focus on keywords that your website has a realistic opportunity to rank for.

How to calculate keyword difficulty using the Aherfs Tool

Now that we have a better understanding of what keyword difficulty is and why it’s important. Let’s figure out how to find it using the Ahrefs SEO tool

your website url in search bar

First, place your website’s URL into the Ahrefs search bar located in the top left-hand corner and hit enter.

click on organic keywords

Next, click on “Organic Keywords,” located in the menu on the left-hand side under organic search.

filter by top 5

Then, we want to filter our results by position. When looking for our keyword difficulty baseline, we only want to see the terms we are currently ranking for on the first page, in positions one through five. 

Click on the position tab dropdown. You want to filter from “1” to “5” and click the apply button.

export to CSV

Ahrefs will then filter your organic keywords. Only showing results for terms your website currently ranks inside the top five positions. Now click export.

You will then be prompted to export to a CSV file, click Start export

keyword and difficultly highlighted on spreadsheet

Open the CSV file, you will see a bunch of different metrics. We are only going to be interested in two metrics “Keyword” and “Difficulty”. Open up another new spreadsheet, then copy and paste both columns into the new spreadsheet. For this example, we are using Google Sheets, but use what works best for your team.

keyword and difficulty

After we have pasted both the “keyword” and “difficulty” columns into the new spreadsheet, we need to create a frequency formula to see where all current keywords fall inside the zero to 100 difficulty ranking scale.

difficulty and frequency

Now, you create two new bins of data for the frequency formula. The first bin will be named “Difficulty”. In this bin, add the numbers zero to 100, by fives. This will represent the ranking scale.

The second bin will be named “Density”. This will represent the number of keywords that fall inside each five-point difficulty bucket you just created. This is where the frequency formula will be added. Click inside the cell directly under your density heading and start adding the frequency formula provided here: =FREQUENCY ( 

create formula

Now, click inside the first cell under difficulty. Then drag your mouse down the page until you have highlighted all the numbers inside the column. (As seen above in yellow). This will automatically populate the next part of the formula inside the parenthesis section. Your formula will now look something like this: =FREQUENCY (B2:B61

Next, place a comma. This will allow you to add a second set of variables. Your formula should now look like this: =FREQUENCY (B2:B61,

To complete the formula, click inside the first cell under density. Again, drag your mouse down the page until you have highlighted all the numbers inside the column from zero to 100. (As seen above in purple). This will automatically populate the next part of the formula inside the parenthesis section after your comma. Your formula will now look something like this: =FREQUENCY (B2:B6, D4:D24

Finally, close the section with a final parenthesis  =FREQUENCY (B2:B6, D4:D24) and hit enter. Your keyword density will now be populated per difficulty level.

density populated

Now you are able to see the density of your keywords in each difficulty bucket. To make this data easy to see and understand, in the final step, we will be pushing this data into a column chart.

highlight click insert chart

Highlight the difficulty and density columns together and click the “Insert Chart” button located in the menu bar.

select column chart

By default, Google Sheets will produce a scatter chart. Click on Setup –> Chart Type –> and choose Column Chart.

baseline chart highlighted

You can now easily see your website’s keyword difficulty baseline. For this website, the baseline sits between a difficulty level of 55 to 65.

highlighted baseline chart

Armed with this information, you can now target keywords that have a realistic chance of ranking quickly in search results. Starting at the bottom end of your baseline, move backward 10 to 15 points. Since the baseline for this website is between 55 and 65, I would target keywords with a difficulty between 40 and 55.


Knowing your website’s keyword difficulty baseline will allow you to set realistic goals and provide you with the greatest opportunity to increase organic traffic. Remember, this is just half the battle. You still need to create great content that uses proper on-page SEO techniques. 

If you need to sharpen up on the latest on-page SEO trends, Unleashed Technologies has created a comprehensive 32-Point On-Page SEO checklist to guide you step-by-step for a perfectly optimized webpage in 2023.