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The Keyword Difficulty Myth

​If you've spent much time doing keyword research, you've probably come across a metric called "Keyword Difficulty". ​But... what exactly is it? Why is it so hard to understand? And how should SEOs and Content Marketers actually be using these metrics effectively?
🦸 Contributors: Kane Jamison
📅 Last Updated:
⏱ 50 min read
Table of Contents:

The following are slides and the recording of my presentation today with the TOFU marketing community:

▶️ Webinar Recording

💻 Presentation Slides

🎙 YouTube Transcript

We'll try to clean this up properly someday. In the meantime, here's the full YouTube transcript for lazy SEO purposes:


okay hey how's it going hey everybody hey Tyler hey man so I'm so glad to have you on uh


as I said I think this is such an interesting topic to me because I think it's one of those things that people just sort of take it at face value you


know especially when you're learning the tools and you know it kind of feels like a a magic thing that you don't really know how it works so I'm excited to


unpack this topic and really learn a little bit more of the nuance and the the Wizardry that goes into it totally


yeah keyword difficulty KD it's it's like this magical column inside the keyword difficult inside the keyword


tools we all use and uh the magic part of it makes it really easy to ignore how it actually works but um yeah


there's a lot going on there awesome awesome uh real quick just uh


before you kick off uh Kane one thing I just want to mention for the audience here I forgot to say uh if you have questions as uh Kane's going through his


um his Workshop today please pop those in the chat uh also just say hi to us in the chat so we know uh who's here and


where you all are from and uh and yeah we'll either get to the questions during the discussion today or we'll have some time at the end uh to go through


questions so feel free to drop those in the chat sweet


all right is that my cue time to hop here yeah all


right by all means yeah let's uh let's let's get into it sweet well thanks for the intro Tyler uh I'm Kane uh you know


the presentation Title Here Today is the keyword difficulty myth but um really I think keyword difficulties


kind of this portal into the question of can I rank and so we're actually going


to be talking about a few different things today other than just keyword difficulty um how to actually


replace keyword difficulty because I think it's a concept that is sort of broken especially how it's integrated in


a lot of tools now and so we'll talk about why current keyword difficulty methods are broken uh we'll get into how


search intent is part of what's actually determining true keyword difficulty and then we'll switch into kind of more of


the actionable stuff of how your team should actually be assessing ranking potential and then how I think you can


actually make keyword difficulty irrelevant to your site to the point where for the topics that really matter


for your brand you can start to ignore keyword difficulty even if you're that small site that doesn't think you can


rank for the big difficulty keywords and things like that um so that's sort of the promise


um you are you're not going to walk out of here with a a new single fancy keyword difficulty so this is my stupid


Photoshop to go along with that please don't sue me Columbia Records but um I don't think it's possible to


replace keyword difficulty with like one simple number that you should be looking at


um but I do think it's possible to make keyword difficulty better still use it in different ways part of that's going


to be me showing you how we do content Harmony uh keyword difficulty a little bit differently inside of content


Harmony um I'll show you a few content Harmony screenshots mostly for convenience but the stuff I'm talking about even if you


don't use content Harmony you can apply it to the process you're already doing with the tools you already have so


um not just of a big old pitch for what we're doing for metrics um


so yeah let's jump in um I'm gonna jump in the way back machine for a minute and go back in time


uh any of the old school seos on the call may remember this thing called toolbar pagerank and so if you were


doing publishing on the web in 2004 2008 the closest thing we had to keyword


difficulty was logging in doing a Google Search and then clicking on each result and seeing how long that little green


bar was inside of the Google Toolbar and so like the original keyword difficulty is everybody ranking has a page rank of


four to seven and my page rank is three I gotta get my page rank up before I deserve to rank on page one so keyword


difficulty there's a there's a long history that leads up to the tools that we use today and call keyword difficulty


there was never to my knowledge a single metric that was like average page rank of what's ranking although I think a


couple of toolbars might have tried to show it all on the search results but this was there for a while and if you


were still using it in 2016 when it shut down you've got bigger problems with your SEO approach but it was around for


a long time where you could still look up toolbar page rank um and thank you to search engine land


for documenting the history because they're like one of the only people that has a decent image of pagerank and how it used to look


um and so that was there and you know that was the Dark Ages and eventually I think one of the first ones I ever saw


was Moz coming along with the keyword difficulty report and it was after they'd established domain Authority page


Authority as metrics and and linkscape and this is kind of a throwback report uh it's I this one's from 2013 but I


think the tool was around for a few years before that and what's what was really cool about this butterfly chart just to get nostalgic for a minute is


you could kind of look at the orange arrows and be like I've got a domain Authority a 20. I think I should be able


to fit somewhere in the bottom half of this page and this was back when links on the page actually were kind of the


main linking uh you know ranking factor in play and so this is kind of a cool approach it allowed you to get a feel


for like what the landscape for a keyword was like and this in my mind kind of set the groundwork for what


keyword difficulty has become um now let's fast forward to what we've been on using for the past five or ten


years um I break down the current keyword landscape or keyword difficulty landscape into two groups Blended Factor


metrics and single Factor metrics Moz and semrush are here on the screen Moz


and semrush use what I call Blended Factor keyword difficulty metrics they both have a difficulty column they both


have a number 0 to 100 that represents keyword difficulty if you look at their documentation they


are both based on a variety of factors so on the left Moz basis keyword difficulty on page Authority domain


Authority click-through rate their keyword difficulty puts a weight on higher ranking versus lower ranking less


visible pages and then they like factor in a few other modifiers and things so


there's that on the semra side I can find less documentation but from what I can tell there's a similar it takes into


account competitors and Link metrics content quality search intent backlinks domain Authority


that's what the Blended Factor metrics look like on the other side of the market hrefs


uses what I call a single Factor metric what I think is magical about this and


the reason I think a lot of seos have treated as treated it as kind of like the um


I don't know Best in Class whatever keyword difficulty for a long time is we Advanced seos know exactly what it is


telling us it's based on a single Factor they say right there in the documentation we calculate hrefs KD by


taking a trimmed mean of the number of linking domains to the current top 10. they take the referring domains to the


site's ranking on page one they drop the highest links they drop the lowest links they take the stuff in the middle average it out put it on a scale of zero


to 100 it doesn't take into account any other variables whatsoever and for me as an SEO that knows what I'm doing that's


magical because I know what this number means um it's telling me how bad is the link


building going to be to rank on this search result so 0 to 100 how many links am I going to have to build and you know


slap a number on there for how you figure out your cost per link and like cost of content promotion or whatever


it's kind of a cost to rank for some people that depending on the type of Niche you're in so that's the hrefs


approach and the single Factor single Factor keyword difficulty approach


I think keyword difficulty the way we're using it here in the popular tools falls apart in a few ways so I'm going to walk


through those um on the first hand we've got the Blended Factor metrics my problem with Blended


Factor metrics is I don't understand why a keyword diff is hard to rank for so on


the left you'll see five keywords and hrefs that are big brand names or like big queries keyword difficulties 90 plus


which means they've got hundreds of referring domains on average to the stuff on page one on the right you see


the same keywords in Moz and the difficulty here are in the 60s that's great I'm not saying it should


necessarily be 60 or b90 but when I look at the single Factor metrics in hrefs I


know exactly why the keyword difficulty is 90. when I look at the Blended Factor metrics and this is not to to pick on


Moz because theirs may be more accurate for some level of that serp but I I


can't tell what it means like it says 60 but I can't actually rank for Six Flags I can't actually rank for BMW and I'm


sure not ranking for the stock market as long as Google Finance exists and takes up a few search results right so


what does keyword difficulty mean and so for my purposes and for training my team on how to think about keyword difficulty


I have to throw it out the window because I can't tell them what to do with that so that's my problem with Blended Factor


metrics even though there's some really smart seos working on those metrics and there's some really cool stuff Blended in I don't understand how to use it


oftentimes which is not to say that the single Factor metrics fix it all single Factor


metrics only work if that factor is actually a ranking Factor so here's a cherry-picked list of keywords that's


low keyword difficulty and super high volume in ahrefs if you look at the keyword volume this is a million monthly


down to 400 000 monthly searches like these are Big queries and they're all brand names or local intent queries you


will not rank for any of these if you're Yelp sure you can rank for it if you're the brand itself you can rank for it


the problem with this is not when you're looking at a single keyword at a time obviously you can look at Noodles and


Company and know like all right guys we're just not ranking for this pull that keyword out the problem is when you're looking at 10 000 keywords in a


spreadsheet and you're trying to filter them off keyword difficulty and you're like man look at all this volume we can


go after and you tell a client or your stakeholder I think we can get a good few hundred thousand sessions off the


keywords inside of this spreadsheet because nobody pulled Noodles and Company out of there with a low keyword


difficulty because it's like yeah it's 10 we can do that that's it feels like a little bit of


like a contrived or strained example but that's the reality of how keyword difficulty gets used by a lot of teams


and so in a case like this with heavily local intent heavy branded intent queries they're actually truly High


difficulty queries most sites do not deserve to rank for this keyword difficulty leads you to believe


you can and it muddies up your data because it's just sitting there inside your spreadsheets full of keywords you


think you can rank for on the flip side there are other problems with keyword


difficulty that are not actually a result of keyword difficulty one of them is keyword difficulty can't or won't


clearly tell you if you're in a low click-through rate or a low traffic opportunity environment that is not a


problem with keyword difficulty that is a problem with how teams use keyword difficulty so when we get into a


situation where teams are treating keyword difficulty as one of the only value filters like imagine I only showed


you three columns on this table you see the keyword you see the difficulty and you see the volume and maybe if you're a


homework or a science website you scroll down to the middle and you see Iron II oxide formula keyword difficulty one


2500 volume we're going to clean up on that like getting into the content


calendar publish something about this formula thing let's get it out there because we're going to earn some traffic and you might miss the sneaky little


column on the right that's clicks per search where hrefs kudos to them for giving out this data in a sensible way


tells you only one in 10 people ever actually click on that serve so you might get the featured snip and on the


serp and maybe best case scenario you get 250 visits off that head term


and so seos will pull in volume the pollen keyword difficulty and they'll put together a really awesome editorial


calendar of titles to approve stuff they should publish on and they'll ignore


these other factors because it's hard to fit into their process and so keyword difficulty is deceptive because it leads


you into thinking yeah you can rank for it but you may not get the value you think you're getting


here's another example and this one doesn't show up on CPS so I'm kind of taking this further but let's say you're


a fashion site and you spot the keyword how to tie a tie that seems like a


fantastic opportunity for a fashion site 360k volume keyword difficulty 62 but


you know maybe we're a medium big site we we rank for other keywords that are in that range I think we've got a shot 70 000 traffic potential let's say we


are checking that clicks per search and we see 0.6 60 of people click on something that's pretty good that's


better than like a 30 click-through rate type of model right so we put this in our editorial calendar


the right you know we build a brief the writer starts working on it and at some point maybe while it's being worked on


or a month after it's published somebody Googles the keyword and says hey um there's a really big video at the top of


the page and I don't think we're ever actually going to get 70 000 visits from writing an article about how to tie a


tie and that's because nobody stopped and checked search intent to tell you that


there's a giant video featured snippet followed by a big video pack they've both been there for multiple years and


even if you scroll two or three click you know Scrolls down the fold and go into the deeper into search results you


have to be brooksbrothers or ties.com to rank in the number one or two organic slots they're hiding way further down on


the page so you're thinking this is a big win and you're missing out on the fact that you


have to approach this content entirely different than the rest of your editorial calendar and this has to be part of your YouTube and your video


strategy even if you want a shot at ranking organically but if you want a shot at showing up in these video serves


and so keyword difficulty leads you to think that you can basically Escape search intent and you can't


on the flip side keyword difficulty also hides opportunities to punch above your weight


this is a syrup overview for protein benefits that's a big keyword I forgot to look at the volume but I I know it's


in the many thousands right keyword difficulty 82 super hard all the


sites ranking WebMD Healthline myplate.gov have domain ranks and hrefs


in the 70s 80s 90s and then right at the bottom of the serp somebody chwb online


it's like a local Health Clinic is showing up in number 10. now granted not the highest click-through rate slot on


the page but this site domain rank 29 19 referring domains has no business on


Earth ranking for this keyword according to keyword keyword difficulty and what most of us seos know it should take to


rank on this type of query I'm not saying this is going to rank here forever but keyword difficulty


hides these type of opportunities because even if this number 10 page is getting tested on this head term and


even if they don't rank number one and get the traffic for protein benefits they probably get some secondary and


tertiary keyword visibility and some actual traffic to that page that they may not have tried to produce content


about if they were just leaning on keyword difficulty to prioritize opportunities


so that's one thing it's hiding these great opportunities from you there is a flip side to that and I forgot to put a


slide in the deck but keyword difficulty looks like difficulty because it's in


the name it looks like it's gonna be hard to rank for this thing if you're thinking about it as an SEO


that's trying to skate by and rank for the easiest stuff keyword difficulty is something to avoid


if you're thinking about an SEO who wants to clean up on a bunch of links without sending a bunch of emails keyword difficulty actually means this


is super linkable content tons of sites are linking to high keyword difficulty search results if you go you know you


read the the cool blog posts in the SEO space about you should do statistics content you should do proprietary


research they have huge keyword difficulties on those keywords it's not necessarily because the link building's


hard it's actually because the linked link building is easy you can clean up on links because it is highly linkable


content so you're over here prioritizing low keyword difficulty content and actually hampering your ability to build


your domain Authority and earn more links because you're avoiding all the content that's worth linking to


I should have put a slide in about that I'll go back and do it later that's a big Point you're ignoring some of the


best link acquisition opportunities so your team doesn't have to send another thousand emails right


all right this one I shouldn't I should have skipped this slide I think it's a lighter point but I think keyword


difficulty can actually lure big sites into thinking they can get away with weak content so here's an example and


you know WebMD they've got two ranking slots on this serve this is for fish oil benefits it's one I refer to often


because it's kind of a fascinating search to watch they're getting the feature snippet


right now sometimes Healthline gets it sometimes it's a double featured snippet their content score in the this is a


Content Harmony screenshot is eight they are very lowly optimized very short word count on this piece of content


but they've got 674 domains they've got webmd's domain Authority so they're not


really worried about that they might be looking at this keyword and saying we've got the feature snippet we've got the links to stay in competition and they


might be thinking skip that serp we've got other opportunities for new content to publish other content to refresh and I think it


can lures sites into thinking that they don't have a bigger opportunity to improve their content or that they can


keep getting away with weaker content just because it's performing currently and if so if you're doing a Content uh


refresh analysis and you're looking at pages that are performing that you don't have to refresh this might show up in


the list of like nah we're good to go there we're cleaning up on traffic Google likes us and so it's not


necessarily fully a keyword difficulty problem but if you're looking at how this page is performing in this serp you


might be thinking we're doing all right we've got the links to compete the page is doing fine when in reality this this


page is only ranking there because there's some latent intent for high blood pressure related official benefits


and this page just happens to serve it right now but they should be matching that intent


on the page that's actually keyword optimized for fish oil benefits so I could go a few different directions


with that but I think even big sites are affected by thinking keyword difficulty has them safe when it really doesn't


right content the expertise of the topic still matters


cure difficulty can also trick you into thinking that you can brute force your way past search intent so we looked at


this a little bit with those uh HRS keyword difficulty examples for the big brand names here's a here's a more clear


example this is uh or more day-to-day example of a keyword you might go after best sublimation printer pretty classic


affiliate keyword pretty classic keyword if you're you know Best Buy or office space and you sell sublimation printers


so a lot of different sites are competing on this stuff now if you type best sublimation printer singular


and you look at down this Earth all 10 links say printers there's some list intent whether or not you type printer


or printers in your query Google thinks most users seem to want a list of printers to look at and with the


exception of this one green example in the middle of the page all the other stuff ranking for the singular search


are plural printers articles and that might feel like it's just a


coincidence or Google's rewriting the title but if I actually throw a modifier on the search to remove anything with


printers plural in the title you see a bunch of really highly optimized content that these sites think they've done a


great job of optimizing for not visible on page one they're meeting a different intent they're talking about the best


sublimation printer instead of the best printers by subcategory or whatever and now there's a couple that do have a


little list intent in here it's not a perfect example up and down the board but we see a lot of great content pieces


not ranking simply because the search intent got ignored that people are looking for a list and you know I'm


guilty as charged we've done this on content Harmony stuff too where we we look at something and we write the


singular article there's a list intent it's it's a pretty common type of mistake and keyword difficulty would


lead you to think we can rank for it we've got the links and even content optimization tools like


content Harmony and others would tell you hey you're optimized for this but you ignored the step in the beginning to look at search intent and so that's not


necessarily a keyword difficulty problem again but it's how teams use keyword difficulty to think they're in the clear


and they've skipped over a critical step like search and tap


the flip side of that is that keyword difficulty also ignores how your site can perform for a keyword so let's back


up two slides A to Z of sublimation.com ranking number third for best


sublimation printer this site is less than a year old hrefs


gives a domain rank of 0.1 they have less than 150 referring domains and they're getting 10 000 visits a month


from 2000 keywords I assure you they have far less domain Authority I mean at point one everybody


has more domain Authority but I assure you that crafting spree Jennifer maker


color me crafty these other sites not showing up on page one that didn't meet the intent probably have way higher


domain Authority and for all intents and purposes for looking at keyword difficulty they deserve to rank more


but this site's got something they don't and that's topical Authority because all they've written for the past year that


they've existed is a hundred articles about sublimation and so if you write you know it's not even an exact match or


partial match domain thing if you write 100 articles about sublimation and you're going up against a craft site


with five or ten articles on the topic you have something they don't that keyword difficulty can't show you and


that's an incredible amount of expertise and Authority even if you know I don't know this site I don't know who owns it


I wouldn't be surprised if they were getting like classic affiliate content written by one of the uh the content


marketplaces like they might not have true expertise but they've demonstrated through their editorial calendar that


this is all they talk about so something's going on there where they've established enough expertise to be


cleaning it up on an affiliate keyword like best sublimation printer and I think these things cost like a thousand or thousands of dollars I don't think


they're like an inkjet right so if you're getting an estimated six hundred thousand two thousand sessions a month


you're probably making some decent affiliate money without building any links or having any domain Authority and so what point is it to track keyword


difficulty when a site with more topical Authority than you can just ignore keyword difficulty altogether


so there's a trend here a couple of them the first one is that keyword difficulty


is mostly relevant in a world with 10 Blue Links those serps do still exist but we generally live in this world


where there are top 24 laptops widgets showing up above your affiliate review where there are news stories video packs


video feature Snippets local business packs you can find search results with 10 Blue


Links and those are the search results where perfectly optimized on-page content plus links is still the ranking


equation that you need to solve but a lot more search nowadays look like this an Organics ranking slots are not


necessarily the only ones or the primary ones you need to be optimizing for keyword difficulty hides this from you


also keyword difficulty matters in a world where e doesn't exist this is a screenshot taken by Lily Ray and she has


an amazing presentation or had an amazing presentation at mozcon this summer I've got the link to the


SlideShare there I recommend looking through the examples and some of the more technical Google things she


references um and finding the video whenever you can get your hands on it but she shows a


great example here of some big notable Publishers parents I assume that's parents.com Psychology today medicine


net I would look at these domains and be like oh yeah High Authority High expertise like they know what they're


talking about and this is a five-year traffic Trend I don't know cystrix or whatever she's using for this since 2017


and you can see just a clear downward trend on the site-wide traffic estimates to


these sites and then you flip over to who's replacing them and you see sites like Cleveland Clinic Mayo Clinic the FDA the


CDC medical space not necessarily the most perfect example for all of us in spaces where that you know your money


your life trust factor is not quite the same but what what she's showing in this


screenshot she gives a bunch of others and other topics that are less medically oriented is sites with true expertise


and authority and Trust are replacing the ones that just happen to publish a little bit about a piece of content


[Music] um we are in a world where you cannot rely on a single metric for ranking


visibility feasibility if you look at keyword difficulty it's simply trying to answer the question can I rank or how


hard will it be to rank and keyword difficulty is not the metric that you can use for that anymore and most teams are still using it that way and so of


course we've got our classic Square Wheels where we're too busy to improve our process because we're working so hard and cure difficulties a


little bit like that because you throw these keywords with low keyword difficulty through your process and then you're wondering why traffic's not


taking off on them and it's because you skipped other checks along the way in your process that could have helped you focus on the


keywords that would have produced results for you okay that's that's sort of the end of my


taking your medicine on keyword difficulty section of the presentation now I get to focus on the fun part which is how do you actually do better what


what can your team actually be doing um the first thing is introducing better


metrics this is one part where I show you how we do things differently in content Harmony but even if you don't


use content Harmony you can still figure out some of these same Concepts in your current tools because we're transparent


about what we're doing to calculate these things there's a lot on the screen so let me guide your vision to the


purple column uh linking domains on the serp rolling up into a link difficulty


score this is content Harmony's version of what hrefs calls keyword difficulty the average number of referring domains


to Pages ranking averaged out into a zero to 100 score of how bad is the link


building going to be we use Moz as our underlying link database but we still see comparable scoring patterns to when


we compare it to hrefs keyword difficulty so we've renamed it link difficulty because in my opinion that's


a more specific version of it is of what it is how hard will the link building be in this case we're looking at a keyword


report for how to cook bacon so you can imagine some of the content written is fairly good these Pages have some links


but not necessarily the most on the internet and they come from reasonably large like food Publishers but not like


you know the FDA or something like that and so we have two other metrics on the


left and right on the right side you'll see what we call domain difficulty domain difficulty is the average domain


Authority for page one results that is actually domain Authority from Moz


um and they're credited inside the tool again there are link Source we average out their domain Authority metric and


roll it up into what we call domain difficulty the reason we do that is because that is one of the areas that we


see uh link difficulty fall apart is when you have a low number of links to a page but very high average domain


Authority if you look back at those examples I shared earlier with like the the fast food names like Noodles and


Company low keyword difficulty in hrefs if there is a domain difficulty next to


it it would be very high 70s 80s 90s and that's because the sites that rank for Branded queries tend to be Facebook


Instagram Twitter profiles for that brand they are big domains therefore you


see domain difficulty go up you need to be a big site to rank for those keywords on the left side you'll see what we call


content difficulty and this one's a little less simple to calculate because it's based off of our content score down


here and that's basically assessing how hard are these Pages trying to rank for the keyword how to cook bacon and in


this case these are actually relatively high scores for the way content Harmony currently does these content scores this


number two result is almost an exact match result for how to cook bacon and it shows up throughout the content the


contents optimized really well and so what we're trying to show with content difficulty is regardless of the link


building challenge regardless of the domain Authority challenge how good does your content need to be and so if you


see a one of those 10 Blue Links results where every single result is very well optimized for the keyword you tend to


see a higher content difficulty score you need to really come with your best content to compete on this sir


on the flip side when you see a keyword where sites really aren't trying to rank for it maybe they're tangentially


related and this is a new developing keyword and there's not a lot of content for it you see content difficulty scaled


down and that's because these key these sites are not necessarily targeting that keyword they're targeting another topic and they happen to be ranking for this


one and so that allows us to uncover opportunities of basically content weakness where these Pages might be


optimized for some keyword but they're not optimized for this keyword and there's a chance for you to come in with the best optimized piece of content and


maybe skip over the link style keyword difficulty metrics because your content's better


um so when you actually back this out into a set of keywords on the top I have a list of Home Improvement keywords on the


bottom I have a list of nutrition and health style keywords you can start to see some cool Trends where we can pick


out content link and domain difficulty and start to cherry pick opportunities to win these search results in different


ways maybe I look at build a deck on the top row and I say content's really well optimized here but you know we're Home


Depot so we probably stand a really good chance as long as our content's good and we've got some links to that page I'm


not worried about it or maybe I'm a new publishing site and I see the load domain difficulty and I think my my


domain can play in that result I just have to build some links or something if you go to all the way down the bottom result blood oxygen level more of a


medical query you see domain difficulty rise into the 80s and that's because you know the FDA and some big news


Publishers are the ones ranking for that site and so the content is not as well optimized especially with some of the


fresh news intent happening on that query so we see content score go down compared to the other keywords in this


set but domain difficulty Rises and what that's telling me is simply that you know freshness is going to be a factor


domain Authority is going to be a factor I need to be a big publisher but and there's some trust factors in play


so we can start to figure out a little bit more clearly why a keyword set might


be difficult to rank for and look for little different Trends in a set of keywords that we're going after


the second thing that your process needs to account for is introducing a search intent check and what I mean by that is


you need to be introducing search intent reviews checkpoints earlier in your process


content Harmony has what I think is one of the best search intent classification systems out there we're always trying to


make it better but um I could spend another hour telling you why informational navigational and


transactional is a stupid and broken way of assessing search intent it's not meant for seos to use it's meant for


search engines to use to figure out what a user wants and your job is not to figure out what the user wants it's to


figure out what the user wants and what Google wants to show them and so what our system allows you to do is basically


get a clear idea for what type of results appear in this case we've got a query for weighted blankets and this


actually has some split intent to it you see a bunch of green check marks there but our system goes in and looks for 80


different footprints in the serps and highlights hey there's shopping pack results there's e-commerce category or


product pages ranking there are some fresh news types of results could be actually news stories or could be more


qdf recently updated content types of factors there are some local factors going on there's a local shopping pack


because Bed Bath and Beyond has weighted blankets in stock and there's a little bit of research intent there like this


is clearly a head term somebody searching for weighted blankets doesn't necessarily know what kind they want and stuff and so we're seeing some paas or


maybe a you know something suggesting research intent so there's a lot of different intent but the predominant one


is transactional that tells me that maybe I want to come at this with a very even though it's a head term with split


intent maybe I want to rank in the transactional slots and go after that intent maybe that's the direction that this keyword is going to head long term


and so again when you back this out across a set of keywords you can start to pick out cool Trends now these these


keywords are slightly contrived health benefits of pumpkin seeds is a lot different than the keyword just pumpkin seeds pumpkin carving tools but all of


these are pumpkin related and so if I you know you can imagine the keyword research you'd go through for your gardening website client where you drop


a whole bunch of pumpkin keywords into a list if you run all of them through something like this and you can see


search intent pulled out so that the transactional keywords don't get mixed in with your article suggestions for the


client's editorial calendar that's the type of intent check that we need at the top of our process to make


sure that we don't write an article about pumpkin seeds based on a volume estimate for that keyword because that's


a big keyword and you are not ranking for it with an article about you know 10 places to buy pumpkin seeds or how to


plant pumpkin seeds that is a different intent than the one showing on the head term


um as I'm looking at keyword difficulty one


of the things I want to walk away with is to stop treating keyword difficulty as a metric and start treating it as a


process keyword difficulty is a set of things you need to check not one number this is not necessarily the only process


you can go through but if I'm teaching a junior SEO how to think about uh keyword difficulty I'd be telling


them first off for the keyword you're looking at or for the cluster of keywords you want to Target with this page what's the primary search intent


and then the corollary to that is what's the right page type for that search intent you know if we're getting a big


transactional search result we need to comment we need a category page or an affiliate review page or a product page


not a blog post on what is from there we can decide is on-page


optimization a dominant Factor if you have a bunch of e-commerce category Pages ranking they might not have any on-page content they might just have a


list of in-stock products and that might be the ranking Factor aside from just raw domain Authority and so secondly


then is this topic relevant for us can we produce the right page type on the type of site we're running maybe your


affiliate review site can't produce an e-commerce category page right now so this keyword might be closed off to you


at the moment I then put do we have authority on this topic and I scratched it out and left it


on screen because I want to emphasize have we established Authority on this topic is a different question as an SEO


I can say yeah I've got Authority on SEO I've got Authority on cro link building marketing but have I gone through and


done the work to establish that Authority with Google and with my audience to the point where


I'm I I've established that I know as much about it as anybody else writing about the topic on the internet and so


we're going to hit on that more in a second but the very last thing I have here is what are the link acquisition requirements and so if I showed this to


myself five or ten years ago the mind-blowing thing for me talking to my former self would have been links are


the last Factor I'm looking at and deciding whether or not I should publish content about this topic


it still it still surprises me to hear myself say it out loud because you know I like I like link building links often


win right like it still works sometimes but links are the last factor that I would consider and whether I should


write about this topic and here's why links are telling you whether or not you can rank now for a topic they're not


telling you whether or not your brand should be writing about the topic and they're not telling you whether or


not your brand might be that little site that can rank for protein benefits and become the big site that's the authority


on protein or whatever the topic might be because you went through the work to write the topics that you can't rank for


now now I understand you know agency and like stakeholder requirements we got to drive some traffic put some numbers on


the board but if you're skipping over a bunch of high keyword difficulty things ignoring the fact that you could be


building links from them you are skipping the fact of this that you haven't established topical Authority on


that topic you're skipping over the fact that you understand protein benefits better than


anyone else on the internet and forget whether or not you're going to rank for it right now are you going to rank for it in five years and does that content


help you establish topical Authority for your other protein content that does have low keyword difficulty in the


classic sense that you can rank for now so


links might tell you what your short-term performance is going to look like but it's not telling you what you


should actually publish as a company as a brand


all right I've got this chart I want to pause here this to me this table is like an SEO Rorschach test


I've got six keywords on here how to grow pumpkins pumpkin companion plants pumpkin seeds pumpkin pie recipes


pumpkin carving tools health benefits of pumpkin seeds that same set of keywords you can imagine pumpkin keywords coming


out of like a keyword a topic research process for a client I think I can show you this table and


how do you tell me which factors matter most and tell me which keywords a site should try to rank for and I can tell


you how you think as an SEO in regards to content in regards to Links in regards to search intent in regards to topical relevance and probably a few


other things um so let's pretend I'm running a gardening site right we might have


dozens of articles on pumpkins we have dozens of growing guides we have like breeds of pumpkins we're covering and we


certainly have content about pumpkin seeds but maybe we don't cover the health benefits of pumpkin seeds maybe


we don't cover pumpkin seed recipes and so we might have some gardening lifestyle content about pumpkin carving


but we're certainly not like the people talking about best pumpkin carving across the board that's not our area of


authority so we're not experts on recipes carving some of this other stuff and so looking at this I think it's easy


to Dive Right In and you start staring at these metrics and searching volume and intent and it's easy to forget that


three of these three or four of these keywords are just topics you have no business ranking for whatsoever they look like keywords that you're kind of


like yeah we could fit that in our editorial calendar you have no business ranking for them and you are not gonna suddenly rank for pumpkin pie recipes


compared to you know so and so's recipe site that has 52 ways to cook pumpkin pie


I assume there's 52 ways like Curry pumpkin pie and stuff right um it's easy as an SEO to get lost in


the metrics and forget that like this should not be something our brand is covering and maybe eventually we come


back and we establish Authority around pumpkin seeds or health benefits but at


that point we should be doing health benefits of chia seeds health benefits of other stuff coming out of your garden


right cardamom or something and that kind of brings me to one of the other takeaways I have for you which is that


the best way to render keyword difficulty completely irrelevant for your site is to be focused on building


this overwhelming Authority for the topics that matter most to you the best way


for keyword difficulty to not matter is for Google to have to look at you and say like all right well we have to rank


this site because they're the overwhelming Authority on how to grow pumpkins but then we're going to look at link metrics for the rest of these


people that haven't established that Authority so my fourth tip for you is to build


overwhelming topical Authority uh my example another example that I have for


you here this is a site called insteading I own this site it's about gardening and homesteading topics which is like you know sort of passion project


stuff for me it's also like an SEO playground for the type of stuff that I want to play with and we cover all


things homesteading right we cover how to grow pumpkins uh we might even get


into like health benefits of pumpkin seeds it's a little outside our purview but we'll also cover raising chickens


raising Ducks DIY chicken coops stuff like that and we have a section here on beekeeping you can see it in like the


middle column underneath animals we've published a decent amount of posts I think there's nine or ten pages on


that content Hub about beekeeping like we we're not we're not nothing on the topic when I actually look at how we are


performing across B and honey and pollinator related topics uh we're sucking it up pretty hard


we have one page that's performing and it's DIY beehive plans and that actually has nothing to do with beekeeping that


has it that has to do with building your own DIY beehive plans and if you look at the rest of our site we have a lot of


great building topics on our site so DIY beehive plans we have some Authority


there across the site on building DIY stuff for whatever reason if I look down the


middle of the page we don't we have an established Authority on how to catch a bee swarm even though we have a decent article on there we're ranking on page


four for it and if I look at who is ranking it's be built honey flow horizontal Hive


Carolina honeybees it's sites that don't have nine articles about beekeeping it's


sites that have 900 articles about beekeeping it's the overwhelming authorities in this space and a couple


of them are probably in the same domain Authority domain rank range but a couple of them are probably smaller but they


are experts and so if we go back even if you think eat is just Google PR speak


it's showing up in the search results whether you like it or not even if you can't quantify or qualify eat as a score


it doesn't mean it's not killing off rankings that you thought you used to deserve that you don't anymore because


you haven't established the expertise and Authority on the topic the way these people have


so it's not enough to cover a topic a few times now this is an example where we really we have to go really deep on


beekeeping and probably have a hundred articles on the topic to really perform well on it not just five or ten


um but even if you're working on smaller sites as we get into the actionable stuff I think you can be building


topical Authority faster for your site one of the tips I have for you on how to do that is to go all in on structures


like content hubs and this is we have this post on different ways to structure content hubs which is kind of a cool


adjacent topic but the reason I'm referencing it today is because if you can build an editorial and


promotion calendar around a structure like this you know this is about kites but pretend it's about bees or protein


go all in on that topic for a quarter or for a year or whatever it is that's


going to allow you to focus your content creation efforts for a period of time on a core set of related topics it's going


to allow you to recruit writers around that expertise area and give them 20 projects not one it's going to allow


your team to do a better job of interlinking building these Pages out to support each other when you do them all in the same work Sprint like protein or


kites or whatever is going to be top of mind for them your promotion efforts are going to go further we can actually


align Outreach and all your social media and stuff to this larger overall campaign push


and you're going to be able to demonstrate to Google that you you know instead of doing this random active


keyword selection every three to six months that like you really know what the hell you're talking about you're going to see better traffic growth when


you can go all in on topic and get to this topical Authority in six months instead of six years because you know


you're just picking off things and you're like oh yeah we never covered kite festivals let's do that so


that's a little bit of a hack on how you can do this if you're an agency it actually makes for a pretty cool like


you can you can really sell a client on a vision of like we're going to be the dominant Authority on this subtopic


first forget all that other stuff you want to publish or if you're working with a stakeholder like hey we've got


this product coming out we're going to be let's be the overwhelming Authority on that area of the product and we'll get to the other stuff later but that's


going to allow us to really like carve out some space that we own and all of that work together is going to build on


top of each other the second thing is you're not stuck doing this once you can do this over and


over again it looks like all my little q1 Q2 Q3 indicators on this actually got


turned into white text so sorry but the idea here is q1 do your guide to kites


Q2 do your guide to I don't know DIY crafts protein fish oil benefits


whatever that topic is you can align your editorial account around it again


and again and when you get a year or two years into a calendar like this you've built up topical Authority in all the


areas that you wanted to but you did it in a way that got results potentially faster


this doesn't mean that the the left white box is just supposed to say q1 Q2


Q3 Q4 q1 again this doesn't mean that the only thing you publish on for three


three months has to be that topic right so here's an example of how maybe you know imagine orange subtopic is what I'm


focused on in q1 the dark gray subtopic is what I'm focused on in Q2 the green one is what I'm focused on in Q3 and I'm


teasing out the next upcoming topic this quarter but next quarter is when five out of 10 pieces on publishing are about


that topic that I'm trying to build Authority on so you start to introduce basically themes to your editorial


calendar but you're doing it in a way where the SEO implications are we're getting results faster we're building up


the authority we want this is how small sites can compete and


ignore keyword difficulty this is how small sites can prove that they're an authority even though they have zero


worthwhile links they're just going overboard for a year and Publishing sublimation sublimation sublimation


sublimation so a lot of the sites thinking about keyword difficulty are inherently small sites who think a


keyword is too difficult so you know if you're the big players you might not be thinking about keyword difficulty as much you might not even be watching this


presentation but if you're a small site this is how you break through a keyword difficulty and ignore it all together


because Google has to rank you you're just such a darn good authority on it keyword difficulty becomes irrelevant to


you this is also how the big sites become relevant though this is an example of customer success


content published on hubspot.com on the bottom right you can see on May 10 2018


HubSpot launches service Hub to transform the Way businesses Delight their customers on the left hand side an


ahrefs content Explorer you can see a big old burst of content on customer success one month prior on the pubspot


blog so you know that somewhere in December January February March the HubSpot editorial team you know got the


note from on high like hey we got a new product coming out we'd really like to be relevant for customer success and 11


articles later at the end of April headed into their product launch they've got some stuff to share about customer


success and they kept it going at the half the Cadence for May and June and obviously they're still publishing in


the years to come as they come up with new topics but right out of the gate biggest orientative uh content about


customer success they've got blog posts to link to from the landing page this is how big multi-thousand person SAS


companies launch products and Thai content marketing into their product marketing roadmap as well and when you


can tell your stakeholders we're now visible for a thousand queries a month related to customer success


that's really nice when it's the same quarter that you launched the customer success product


this is not like groundbreaking content like it's good you know HubSpot does good content but it's how to turn a case


study into a customer success study top 15 customer success metrics that matter eight customer success strategy like


it's just your bread and butter customer success content and you can easily see how they could dedicate a quarter to


going all in on customer success and then afterwards it just becomes one of their standard editorial silos that they


do one or two pieces a month so my point here is you can ignore


keyword difficulty if you can break through these link types of metrics if you can analyze the intent and


understand what it actually takes to show up for that keyword aside from just links so the trick to making keyword


difficulty Irrelevant for your brand it's getting better metrics into your process introducing search intent early


in your workflow treating keyword difficulty as a process not a metric and then alighting your overall content


editorial efforts to actually build the authority that you need to ignore the


metrics that other people have to worry about building topic Authority faster in your editorial calendar by double down


and repeating that process um that's it


that was awesome wow uh okay well I'm sure we'll have some questions so first


of all folks again if you have questions for for Kane uh I want to chat about uh


keyword difficulty and some of these topics drop them in the chat here um I definitely somebody mentioned this


and I wanted to bring it up so Casey was was talking about content velocity yeah uh which I think you're you're sort of


touching a little bit here is more you know focused on focusing


around key clusters rather than velocity being kind of a key metric but I'd love to get your take on that


two ways to build hubs there's the intentional way where you build out 10 pages at a time in a classic Hub and spoke and then there's the backing into


it because you've covered it 20 times already and like hey we should throw a hub together instead of just a weak category page


um so I mean if you've already done the work to be relevant on a topic do I think it makes sense to build a hub to


Cluster all of that relevance into one nice landing page on the head term like heck yeah but going forward as you're


trying to be relevant for new topics I think thinking through the thinking


through an initial content velocity that kind of does a hard push into a topic and then


it becomes just your normal once in a while editorial thing is uh it's a great


way to get over some of the topical Authority challenges that I see happening and so like you know as an


example content Harmony has this blog post from years ago on branding guidelines and we give you 30 examples of PDFs of brand guidelines it's just


it's just a list we cleaned up on traffic for that for years we are not experts on branding but we had just a


darn good post with better formatting and then we slipped against sites like


HubSpot that have 200 posts about branding who caught on that we were winning a lot of traffic on a big head


turn for brand guidelines and they did a post you know like you know not copying us but like they did their own version


of the post that was good but they have the topical authority to really power through and content Harmony slaved on


brand guidelines and we didn't care because you know it was kind of weird that we were getting all this traffic and you know the links were nice but it


wasn't our that's not what we care about ranking for as a brand so we didn't try and build up the topical authority to


beat it but when I look at what happened from when we published that in 2014 to how we've sloped off over eight years


we just abandoned the topic like it was kind of a one-off thing where we were like that's cool blog post let's publish it


if I look at the stuff we do care about like search intent keyword difficulty content hubs content briefs that's where


I'm like all right we need to keep building authority on these because that's what we care about that that's that's where our software helps you do


is build briefs and build better content and then you know align it into good clusters things like that so


um that's a little tangential from the original question but thinking about content velocity I think you can I think


content velocity overall matters but I think you can look at topical Authority from a velocity lens too build it


quickly establish it get some links promote it and it's not it's not necessarily a check box but like I feel


like you you've now passed the hurdle a lot faster to have the authority there right right


yeah and I think too that's such a good tool like internally you know if you need to get buy-in or you get you know


you want to improve to your client that's working or whatever you know if you can can sort of batch in and publish it quickly around us around a core topic


uh and sort of establish that Authority early show progress and then you know get more investment or whatever you need


to do to keep the program running and to that point I'm sitting here talking about the SEO stuff I'm the type of SEO


that just likes to talk shop with other seos I'm completely skipping over the fact that like that's a hell of a lot better Vision to sell the people that


don't care about SEO yeah we we're visible for 10 000 sessions a month about con


uh customer success that that's a vision that a c-suite hears and you know it's traffic based


but like it meets brand goals they don't care about topical Authority they care about the part where you're winning for


a topic that they care about and so there's a lot of this that can paint one big vision for a Content program and get


better buy-in and better resources to execute a bigger content Vision than just random acts of content even if


you've got an editorial calendar that's like on brand and things like that love that love that


uh Mark had a question about reverse silos versus content hubs what's the


reverse silo yeah I'm I'm also curious about that yeah you might know Mark oh


okay there's a couple SEO sites publishing on it um


typically silos are a product of the site architecture I don't know there's some worksheet here I'm gonna learn along with you


[Laughter] everybody wants to chat me yeah maybe


it's maybe it's like an article that is not in the navigation but acts as a Content Hub page and interlinks like a


like a Gateway sort of page in a way I don't know sounds cool interesting so do I have an opinion no it to me it just


sounds like a different way of structuring content hubs in the site architecture that content hubs post


there's a bunch of drawings I made and some of them are like here's how to do a classic Hub and spoke but some of them are here's how to do what I call a topic


Gateway page which is really just a category a Blog category page that isn't sucky


um so I think there's a lot of cool ways to integrate content hubs and really it boils down to does it sit in the navigation how does the inner linking


work and how do users interact with um


interact with that page in order to find other related content is it an article where they read through and there's lots


of internal links whereas an index or a database where they do a search filter in order to find content appearing in a


database underneath there so different types of content hubs and how they're integrated get differently and I care more about following that pattern in a


way that users expect and having a lot of good internal links make sense yeah but I'll Google it


reverse sounds cool sounds sophisticated I don't know what it is I'm a sucker for a good tactic


let's do it uh what's the top three things Ecom sites should look at to establish topical Authority oh that's an


interesting one um I mean REI is my evergreen Playbook on how sites should establish Authority


around a topic and tie it back to their product pages how to start hiking ultra light hiking ultralight hiking packing


guide you have to link to your e-commerce category Pages like it's just a no-brainer and so


um back the questions out I really like brainstorming worksheets or brainstorming grids like imagine a grid


where the top row is REI selling bikes commuter Bikes mountain bikes electric


bikes road bikes and then imagine a row of beginner intermediate Advanced expert


and now do a brainstorming across your product silos and across your buyer types in each category and think what


questions does this person have about the bike they're about to buy about the accessory they're about to buy


and all of a sudden you have a beginner question about commuter biking that's a lot more uh differentiated from an


advanced bike commuter looking for a better Helmet or whatever and so that to me is the best way to do that


brainstorming and it's impossible you know you set up one of these little brainstorming grids and it's impossible


not to have 64 content ideas and I think the topical Authority will come with executing on those q a fillers whatever


whatever it is yeah yeah I love that that's that's sort of kind of how we do it as well we we


use sort of our jobs to be done driven model but it's kind of the same thing right we're trying to build topical Authority around you know a specific


feature or something use case for a product or whatever and yeah it's kind of working backwards to say okay what


are the questions people have about this topic you know broadly and how do we sort of build around around that that sense of theme


the other thing I think about too is like we treat like a feature page or you know a product page like eCommerce site


we think of that as like basically it's like a middle of the funnel page and so how do we sort of build out a ramp from around that and sort of incorporate that


into you know our funnel model and a hub and spoke model Etc


yeah the one dangerous thing I've seen is we have clients in e-commerce spaces that are authoritative sites that create


these you know pretend they're the manufacturer and not the retailer they create these beautiful pages to meet the


category uh keyword of you know type of product or whatever


and they lose out to shitty sites that have a classic e-commerce category page because Google can tell it's an e-commerce category page with 12


products and a grid yeah so that's that's kind of where I go back to the intent figuring out like is


on-page optimization and a beautiful customer experience the core ranking factor or do you just need an ugly grid


of products and then you know you've got some higher FAQs and my other my other


go-to for all things e-commerce category pages is look at the FAQ content on the bottom of any Home Depot category page


it's awesome it's the exact questions that users have about the product they're about to buy so that's one of


the we show you a big old list of paas and quora threads and Reddit questions inside of content Harmony reports and


that's one of the ways we teach teams to use it for e-commerce category pages is you're not using content Harmony because


you need a perfectly optimized e-commerce category page you need a bunch of products in stock and then


here's a list of questions you should answer about buying the product and that's that's how you win on-page


content optimization on a category page it's not about having twenty thousand words it's about answering the questions buyers actually have on those products


uh and Home Depot just cleans up on it love that love that


well that's awesome man well uh first of all uh thank you again Kane uh we're at our hour here so I want to be respectful


of your time um yeah folks uh real quick do you want to pull up that last slide one more time


just so folks see your yeah I think this link is actually 404 tofu Harmony it's gonna like take you to a vegan


restaurant or something um that link will work within the next hour so I think the page is going up


soon but we'll have a landing page for the tofu community and we'll leave that up long term for just you know member


benefits for people that are in the tofu Community already um but we give you uh give you free


credits to to try out content Harmony if you DM me and slack on the tofu Community I'm there happy to get you set


up email you a link uh when you activate uh when you activate a subscription that's when we give you the two months


of free bonus credits at whatever plan level you're at but if you're if your team is building content and your content brief process could be better


your optimization could be better that's where content Harmony really shines and we'd love to show you the cool stuff you can do


that's awesome man well thank you so much for for that offer um again you know definitely if you


haven't already hit the link uh it should be in the description below to check out content Harmony and as Kane mentioned join us here in uh in top of


the funnel yes aftermath.com tofu you can connect with him directly and and of course uh take them up on this awesome


offer for uh some free contact Harmony credits sweet thanks everybody I'm on Twitter thank you for this if uh if


there's immediate questions and stuff too


right there thank you thanks again thanks all for


joining and have a great day cheers

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Kane Jamison

Kane is the founder of Content Harmony, a content marketing platform that helps you build better content briefs. Schedule a demo to chat with him personally about your team's content workflow.

Website: https://www.kanejamison.com

Twitter: @kanejamison

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