6 Essential Keyword Metrics

Jake Sheridan
May 5

What makes a keyword valuable?

As Google and other search engines grow more complex, that question is getting a lot harder to answer.

It’s necessary to look at a lot of different data to determine if a keyword is relevant, or worth the cost of competing against other sites.

If you want to choose keywords that will pay off, you need to know what keyword metrics matter the most.

In this guide, you’re going to be introduced to 6 metrics for choosing keywords. After that, we’ll take you through some of the top free and paid tools you can use to get data on each of these metrics.

Ready? Lets go.

Keyword Metrics for SEO

Let’s start with a rundown of the metrics that will make the biggest difference. Good keyword research needs to cover all of the following:

  1. Search volume
  2. Trends
  3. Search value over time
  4. Difficulty
  5. CPC
  6. SERP features

Let’s examine each of these in more detail.

1) Search volume

Search volume has been a vital metric from the earliest days of SEO. It’s a measure of how many searches are made for a given set of keywords.

Researching the search volume will help you find out if your keyword is even worth pursuing. If you discover a low search volume, it may be a clue that there’s no market, or that you’re using the wrong terms.

Many SEO tools provide search volume as part of their data. You can also get it directly from Google’s Keyword Planner.

Below, you can see the traffic rundown for the search “SEO services” :

This search shows that there’s a healthy interest in this term, but on its own, that’s not a good metric. We need to know a lot more. Looking at trends will help us get a better picture.

2) Trends

Trends refers to a set of data you can collect from Google Trends, though some SEO tools have their own ways of calculating this kind of information.

For each keyword, you want to consider the trends of:

  • Interest over time
  • Interest by region
  • Related queries

All of these come up with a simple search on the Google Trends home page. Here’s what we see if we look for “SEO Services”:

Now we know that the term has some staying power, at least over the year provided here. We also know where the term gets the most attention.

The combination of the first and second metrics can tell you a lot, but you’re still a long way from being able to confidently act on a keyword. In a bit, you’ll learn why our example keyword of “SEO services” is probably not the term you want to fight for, even if you offer those services.

For now, let’s add some more depth to our understanding of the keyword over time.

3) Search volume over time

Search volume over time is another metric that you can source from Google Trends. The records go back to 2004 when the search engine first began collecting data.

That’s farther than you’ll need to look for most keywords. All you need to do with this metric is to make sure that your keyword isn’t on a downward trend. Let’s look at the last 5 years of “SEO services.”

After a hyperactive period in 2016, we see a large drop off—followed by years of steady growth as the market matures. That’s a good sign. Let’s look at a collapsed trend, though. As an example, let’s look at a dead craze from years past like “fidget spinner.”

 

Pretty hard to misinterpret this data, right? If you see this kind of trend, you know there’s not a lot of potential for ranking for these keywords.

There’s another metric that can tell you if a keyword isn’t worth your time. Let’s look at what it means to measure keywords difficulty.

4) Difficulty

The difficulty is a metric for how difficult it is to rank for top positions in SERPs. Many tools (including several we’ll cover at the end) have their own way of calculating difficulty. Most of them will build a score after analyzing search results to determine:

  • The domain authority of competitive domains
  • The number of strong links held by top pages
  • How often the top positions change

Here’s an example of how the Ahrefs tool interprets the difficulty of our example.

That is a lot of backlinks.

It would require a big initial investment and probably a few years of link building. Rushing link building will attract scrutiny from search engines, and possibly penalties.

This isn’t a keyword you can rank for unless you’re in it for the long haul.

Links are only one way to measure difficulty, though. If a search reveals a high difficulty score often means that the top pages will be hard (expensive) to dislodge for many reasons.

For example, the difficulty may reflect that top sites are well-aged, busy, or loaded with high-quality content.

5) CPC

Cost-per-click is another metric that you should check before you try to rank for a keyword. Even if you aren’t running ads, you need to know what it’s worth to the competition to jump the line in SERPs.

We can find this information in the Keyword Planner.

The right side columns to the original search that we performed show the competition level, along with the price that advertisers are paying to get a click on an ad.

$10.43 is quite a bit to pay just to get one pair of eyes on a page.

Remember, that’s just a visit, not a guaranteed conversion. Unless you have incredibly compelling content, you are likely paying hundreds of dollars for each person who takes the next step.

A high CPC reflects that there is a large pool of advertisers who are working to beat the organic results.

You’re going to have a harder time getting organic results to rank if the market is influenced by a lot of advertising.

6) SERP features

SERP features have played a far more prominent role in recent years as Google has begun to focus on the searcher intent of each keyword (more on that in a bit).

Ads blocks were the first feature to appear above organic results, but now searchers may be accompanied by a snack pack of local businesses, a series of FAQs, structured content, or other information that lets the searcher collect their answer without leaving the SERPs page.

As you can see, a search for SEO services turns up 2 ads, and a map of nearby businesses that offer these services.

For different searches, you may see far more ads, Q&As, shopping results, or other features. You need to know what features dominate a search.

You’ll need to compete for the features in addition to your other organic work.

What data can you get from keyword research tools?

So far, most of the examples have come from free Google suite tools.

However, there are SEO tools out there that can elaborate on the raw data that you’re receiving. The following tools can provide more data about the metrics that we’ve covered.

For each one, we’ll tell which metrics it can help you measure and how it sets itself apart.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs has several tools, but the Keywords Explorer Tool is going to provide most of the metrics that we’re researching. Using that tool, you can check:

  • Search volume and trends: Every search in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer tool will show you the search volume (including the search volume over time and the trends)
  • Keyword Difficulty (KD): Ahrefs has its own proprietary difficulty calculation that they refer to as KD. It takes a weighted average of the number of linking domains to the current top pages
  • CPC data: Ahrefs includes CPC data in Keywords Explorer results, including the percentage of traffic that is paid and organic

SEMrush

SEMrush draws insights out of raw data that you search. The metrics that we’re looking for can be found as part of their Keyword Magic tool. This tool produces:

  • Search volume and trends: Every search can be organized by the volume of monthly searches and the trendlines
  • Total Volume (TV): TV is a measure of the average monthly searches for the term. It can be a more effective measure of value than the last month of volume
  • Average Keyword Difficulty (AKD): AKD is SEMRush’s own calculation of how difficult it will be to rank
  • CPC data: like other tools, this one has CPC data as part of the standard keyword search

Moz

Moz’s keyword metrics tool is called Keyword Explorer. The analysis returned by the report includes many of the metrics that were covered here, along with some more advanced ones. Each search includes:

  • Standard volume data: Moz provides reliable traffic data for any standard search
  • Predictive keyword projections: Moz takes a stab at estimating how much traffic a keyword will see in the coming months. If you trust their numbers, you can use this to elaborate on your trends searches
  • Keyword difficulty scores: Like the first two services, Moz has its own score to reflect keyword difficulty that is used by many

KWFinder

KWFinder is a tool that is narrowly focused on helping you find keywords that are low competition. They have many familiar features, but there are used here in a slightly different way:

  • Volume with historical data: In addition to standard volume data, this tool attempts to isolate keywords that are hot or seasonal. It’s an elaboration on standard traffic data that may help a lot in certain niches
  • Proprietary difficulty score and refined searches: This tool has its own difficulty score feature, but it also helps you narrow down your search to the lowest-competition keywords

H3 – KeywordKeg

KeywordKeg combines data together to produce several proprietary keyword metrics that may be helpful to you. The following scores are unique to this tool:

  • On-page difficulty: a measure of several factors that estimates the difficulty of ranking based on a target page’s content
  • Off-page difficulty: a combination of backlink-related data sets that demonstrate the difficulty of overcoming the top-ranking pages
  • SEO difficulty: A combination of the other two measures that may help you choose easier keywords at a glance.

Side note: don’t forget search intent!

Search intent can’t be ignored when you’re doing keyword research.

It’s not a metric in itself, but Google will deliver very different results for similar keywords if it determines that the searchers have a different intent.

Let’s use a simple example: hot water tank vs hot water tank maintenance tips.

If you simply enter these two terms into a Google search, you’ll see very different types results:

Page type #1 – Results for hot water tank

The first result is a mixed SERP, including definitions, service/product pages, and links to local HVAC companies.

Page type #2 – Results for hot water tank maintenance tips

The second one will show you guides and information almost exclusively – aka results that lend themselves more to informational articles.

Keep this in mind when assigning keywords to pages.

Grab the Right Keyword Metrics

Now you’ve got a good idea of what metrics you need to understand. If you prioritize volume, trends, difficulty, and how they are captured by SERP features, you’ll be able to choose strong keywords that pay off.

You also know what tools to use to find the metrics that you’re looking for. Experiment to find the ones that best meet your needs.

Written by Jake Sheridan on May 5, 2020

Founder of Sheets for Marketers, I nerd out on automating parts of my work using Google Sheets. At Loganix I build products, and content marketing. There’s nothing like a well deserved drink after a busy day spreadsheeting.

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