The Problem with Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty Tool and How to Solve It

February 8, 2022
The Problem with Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty Tool and How to Solve It

Deciding which keywords you want to rank for is only the beginning of the process, and even that can end up with you making grave errors. It is often believed that the lower the keyword difficulty, the easier it will be to rank for that term; the higher the keyword difficulty, then the harder it will be for you to rank in SERPs.

But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Specific tools, like Ahrefs, claim to have cracked the process of finding which keywords will provide you with the easiest wins. While this tool can be a good starting point in analyzing your chosen keywords, there are some other steps you should carry out to ensure those keywords will help your site instead of hindering it.

In this article, that’s what we plan on exploring.



The Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty Tool

Keyword difficulty is measured from zero, as the easiest to rank for, to 100, which is the toughest to rank for. These measurements correspond to the number of backlinks, or referring domains, that the page will need to appear on the first page on search. We believe that a keyword difficulty of 10 or below could be considered a “soft target.”

According to Ahrefs, their tool calculates the keyword difficulty as it can analyze “the search results of a keyword and look at the number of referring domains the top ten ranking pages have.” In short, the more backlinks of the pages in the search results, the higher the keyword difficulty will be.



Issues with Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty

Although this online tool can be a great aid in deciding your chosen keywords, it cannot be trusted fully. As previously stated, it takes the top ten results of the keyword and determines from the URL Rating (UR) of the webpage. This means that Ahrefs only looks at the number and quality of links incoming to the page, not the Domain Rating (DR) of the entire site. For a new webpage with a low DR and UR, this can be a difficult hurdle to overcome as it will likely have fewer incoming links.

Factors such as on-page optimization and the number of sites targeting your chosen keyword are not included in Ahrefs calculation of keyword difficulty.

Below, we have provided an example of where the Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty tool has been incorrect. This should open your eyes to the issues this tool has and how following it blindly can waste your budget and hurt your campaign.

Dyson Airwrap Warranty Keyword Difficulty analysis
The Ahrefs tool has determined the keyword difficulty of the keyword “dyson airwrap warranty” to be one.

In this image, you can clearly see that Ahrefs has deemed the keyword difficulty of “dyson airwrap warranty” as “easy” due to the score of one. It states that Ahrefs “estimate that you’ll need backlinks from ~2 websites to rank in the top 10 for this keyword”.

But, if you take a look at the image below, you will be able to find issues with Ahrefs findings.

Dyson Airwrap Warranty SERP on Ahrefs
The search results for “dyson airwrap warranty” lists high DR pages on the first page.

Understandably, as it is one of their products, and are the top two results. The rest of the results come from YouTube, Boots, etc. The DR of these sites, which range between 74 and 100, shows how difficult it would be to rank for the term “dyson airwrap warranty.”

Why is coming up against high DR but low UR pages an issue? This is problematic because a high DR domain has a considerable amount of link authority elsewhere on its site to pass onto the page Ahrefs is analyzing.

Internal links and a good site architecture make sure that the overall domain’s link equity is passed down to individual pages, even if they themselves are not heavily linked from external sources.

Target Domain Rating Ref Domains Ref domains Dofollow 74 6886 5280 78 14780 11799 98 21703619 12715709 100 26841428 23714429 95 1218013 1005459 83 53210 46658 83 57418 52093
Average 87 7127908 5,364,490

The average dofollow linking domains to the competing domains is over five million, as shown from the table above. However, Ahrefs is saying that this is keyword difficulty one out of 100, which if you know even basic SEO, then it’s obvious this isn’t the case.



How to Overcome Issues with Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty

As our Dyson example has shown, Ahrefs does not have the keyword difficulty measurement perfected, but there is a solution you can use to make the most informed decision. It is important to note that you shouldn’t avoid the Ahrefs keyword difficulty tool; it is a great starting point for finding which keywords you could possibly rank for.

So, if you have found a specific keyword that Ahrefs has deemed easy to rank for, which can be dubbed a “soft target,” then you should look at the SERP. Here, you want to look for at least three or four sites with a similar DR or below to your own site; having a similar DR to the majority or higher would be ideal, though. This will be a relatively easy win for you and your site, especially as the competitors appear to be on the same level as you or below you.

For example, if your site has a DR of 30, you should aim to rank for a keyword that sites below DR 30 have successfully ranked for. This can be seen in the image below, which shows four sites below DR 30.

Ahrefs SERPs showing lower Domain Ratings
Ahrefs SERPs results for “diy repair for a broken dyson vacuum cleaner” shows some lower DR sites.

However, if the SERP shows the first page with very high DR websites, you should avoid using that keyword. The Dyson example showed this.

Keyword difficulty is an essential aspect to investigate when you plan to rank in SERPs, but you must be aware of how to use the available tools to analyze this metric. While Ahrefs has provided a valuable tool to determine keyword difficulty partially, you should not rely solely on it.

Instead, it would be best to use the Ahrefs keyword difficulty tool at the beginning of the process to find keywords. If you use this to find possible easy-win keywords by checking the SERPs, you can look further to verify it is the best choice for your site.