Aim for the Best Keywords You Can Reach

You know the old SEO saying, “if you can’t rank on the keyword you want, rank on a related one that isn’t as cut-throat.” No? Never heard that one? Alright, it was worth a shot. The sentiment works, though.

Some keywords are too far out of reach. You can tell by a gut check in many cases, but we’ve taken an objective look at the factors that go into ranking on keywords in Google SERPs. After breaking them apart, one by one, we came up with a measurement that simplifies the work. The Keyword Ranking Difficulty score helps you compare keywords against each other so you can prioritize the ones to conquer and the ones that would take far more effort and authority.

Where’s the Low Hanging Fruit?

Every keyword in SpyFu gets a Ranking Difficulty score out of 100.   We consider this a measurement of low-hanging fruit—the eventual reward easily justifies the amount of effort required.

  • Reward: Qualified traffic and valuable clicks
  • Effort: Authoritative content, incredible SEO acrobatics, link juice, possible naming rights of future children…

The idea is to help you weigh your chances (and how much work is required) on keywords. The bigger the number, the tougher it is to rank on it. Let’s take it a step further. If you do find yourself drooling over tempting grape-shaped keywords that are hanging just a big too high, there’s an option that’s still pretty sweet.

Let’s start with this example: Disney vacations

It’s incredibly competitive.  The base domain “” (as in “”) owns 3 of the top 10 organic results.  Thirty-three of Fifty!  They’ve dominated the results with subdomains like and Then spots 5-15 go to Titans like Expedia, Orbitz, and Wikipedia. Translation: This one is tough to crack.

SpyFu showing how many times a domain shows on a keyword

Getting a first page ranking here is what we shall now understate as “hard.” The Keyword Ranking Difficulty score for “Disney vacations” is 64.  Ranking difficulty takes into account the strength of the domains, on-page signals like “keyword in title,” and the number of .gov and .edu domains because Google seems to adore these and heap high-rankings upon them.

So about that option…

Look for keywords that are similar to “Disney vacations,” but have a lower ranking difficulty score. (p.s. It goes without saying that these keywords have to still deliver, too. )

Finding them starts right there on the results page.

After you type a keyword into the SpyFu search bar, scroll down to see its Profitable Related Keywords.

SpyFu ranking difficulty showing how difficult

These new keyword ideas come from domains that rank on and buy that same original keyword.   Taken further, these are trusted, competitive keywords that deliver traffic to the domains.

Find new keyword ideas when you start with just one.

This is your starting set of terms you’ll filter down. Relevant, related terms are listed in order of the most profitable first. You’ll recognize this top result—as well as its stats as a reminder of why it’s so competitive.

Ranking difficulty headers in SpyFu

Next, aim for lower difficulty ratings.

You are looking for similar keywords that don’t bring “scaling Mount Everest” to mind. At the bottom of the Profitable Related Keywords section, you’ll find a “view more” that opens an expanded view in Keyword SmartSearch. Here, the Keyword Difficulty Ranking (Column: SEO Diff) is sortable.

Skim through the list and look for the scores to start dropping. There doesn’t have to be an exact score to target. The idea is to sift past the high-competitive keywords and into moderate scores, but review stats like search volume and click-through rate to make sure that these keywords match your targets.

Sorting keywords by their SEO difficulty

Remember, things are relative. Look at your difficulty score like a spending budget. Some people have power, link juice and SEO tactics behind them to attack tough-to-rank-on keywords the same way that some people don’t think twice about a $75 theme park admission. Even though $60 is still a steep price, someone might call it a great deal. It’s up to you to decide which ranking scores are the deals you want.

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