Why Is SEO Difficult (With Information from Ahrefs, SEMRush, Moz, etc)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is difficult to get results if you tried.

The reasons that SEO is difficult are the unpredictable and frequent changes to search engine algorithms with a long feedback loop of over 8 months to 1 year to see actual results. Ahrefs Tim Soulo best said it "Nobody knows the exact formula Google uses to rank web pages"

Search engines are always updating their standards and guidelines to help improve their user experiences based on the best search result.


  • Updates its main algorithm anywhere from 500-600 times a year. That's potential twice a day. 
  • Major updates, like Panda and Penguin, rollout gradually nowadays, giving slow feedback to those who made major changes to their websites. You will have to wait quite a while before realizing the fruits of your efforts and makes it incredibly hard to attribute what was wrong.

To understand how SEO difficulty works, we checked out how paid keyword difficulty research tools that measure organic search difficulty. These keyword difficulty tools measured SEO ranking difficulty tried showing how hard it is ranking page in the 1st-page result using various ranking factors. 

We looked at various paid keyword research tools (Mangools, Ahref, SEMRush, Moz) that calculate their own SEO difficulty in ranking page. The SEO difficulty score mostly used the strength of the existing 1st-page search results based on the backlinks profile or mixing metrics from other tools.

Difficult SEO terms

For example, Mangools.com calculates SEO difficulty by having an overall Link Profile Strength (LPS) for every website that ranks on the 1st Google SERP based on the selected Moz and Majestic metrics. The calculation is based on the selected metrics by Moz, Majestic, and our know-how, namely, Domain Authority, Page Authority, Citation Flow. https://mangools.com/blog/what-is-keyword-seo-difficulty/ 

  1. Each metric has a different weight to make sure the results estimate how the real rankings evolve as much as possible.
  2. Mangools takes into account both high and low LPS values to calculate the overall Keyword SEO Difficulty.
  3. The final value estimates how hard it is to start ranking on the 1st-page search result by taking mostly into consideration websites with low LPS.
  4. It’s absolutely alright when a low-authority website outranks authority sites and that’s exactly what Keyword Difficulty focuses on.

Tim Soulo in Ahref.com blog shared with examples how it essentially boils down to 4 main attributes  https://ahrefs.com/blog/keyword-difficulty/

  1. Content of the page
  2. Searcher intent
  3. Links from other websites
  4. Domain authority authority

I liked the listing as he mentioned about two points (high-quality content of the page and matching the search intent). Keyword research tools cannot help with those and that is well I loved IncomeSchool. Off-topic, IncomeSchool also shared about linkable assets instead of actively building a link profile which is the most efficient way to build a website for a blogger with limited time and budget. 

Ahrefs also shared that Google starts to look at other ranking signals to determine the ranking position of your page. In his 2nd point of searcher intent, he showed how creating a FREE backlink tool was the key to ranking 1st in the backlink tool. It does not matter how good your content is, how much link building you had, or how much domain authority you have if it does not match the search intent. This should give some hope for those who start a new website in a competitive keyword. 

SEMRush also shared how they determined keyword difficulty in their post. It is vague though I really loved their SEOQuake tool. https://www.semrush.com/kb/257-keyword-overview#kdscore

To calculate keyword difficulty, SEMrush takes into consideration the authority of the domains that are showing up on the results page and then estimates how hard it would be for a new website to outrank its current competitors on the SERP.

In general, you can group difficulty scores into 3 levels:

  • Above 80%: High Difficulty
    In order to rank for a keyword with difficulty over 80%, you would need to invest in SEO and link building practices. If you are working with a brand new site, these keyword targets most likely would not be worth your time.
  • From 60%-80%: Medium Difficulty
    Getting on the first page for keywords in this range won't be easy, but it is more realistic to target a keyword in this range compared to a keyword over 80%, especially if your website has some authority in your market.
  • Below 60%: Low Difficulty
    These keywords are the easiest to rank for but the hardest to find. Keywords with difficulty below 60% that also have steady search volume represent your best opportunities for ranking

Moz.com famously known for its Site Explorer shared how difficult a keyword may be to rank for based on many indicating factors. 

Moz takes into account the Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) scores of the results ranking on the first page of Google’s search engine for the given query. It also intelligently modifies for projected click-through-rate (CTR) of a given page (putting more weight on high-ranking, more visible pages, and less on low-ranking, less visible pages). The algorithm also accounts for newer pages on powerful domains that may have DA scores but not yet assigned PA values.  https://moz.com/tools/keyword-difficulty

Besides content, another aspect not mentioned is your web design should look great on a  mobile device. The bottom line is a majority of search traffic is on mobile with responsive design.

Another general rule is the Expertise-Authority-Trust (EAT) aspect of your content. The author should have much authority in the field of the written content and an author photo preferably.

Another aspect that we do badly ourselves is doing internal linking to keep your audience on your site with related fresh content. The link structure is usually the last concern in a blogger but usually a good way to determine how people stay on your web pages.


These summarized how these paid keyword tools ranked SEO difficulties. Site owners must use keyword data and other data points to build a content strategy for their target audience. A major part and important thing are to match the searcher's intent ultimately. 

Of course, it does not work if you are trying to rank in a competitive, mature keyword search with authoritative sites. 

SEO optimization is definitely harder than SEO agencies claimed in ranking pages. Many agencies claimed guaranteed results by doing link acquisition unnaturally or ranking a page in a low competition keyword without authoritative sites.

Even with the number of traffic estimation tools, you still have to optimize your content creation to match your needs and searcher needs. Remember to focus on your content strategy on focusing on content quality and original content. If you build a linkable asset, you don't need to spend time on link acquisition too. 

Efforts have been made to get the information as accurate and updated as possible. If you found any incorrect information with credible source, please send it via the contact us form
Author: Sky Hoon
Website Builder. He has a Bachelor Degree in Computer Science and loved to use technology to solve the world's issue, one at a time. For now, trying to blog for a living.
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