If you’re working on SEO for your business, you’ve probably heard a lot of phrases that have been thrown around – like “keyword difficulty” or “search volume”

And as you’re doing your own keyword research, I bet you’re asking yourself, “What level should I be aiming for here? Should I be aiming for a search volume of 10,000/month or 10/month or somewhere in between? How do I know? What is the appropriate level for me to be achieving here?”

This number is going to be different for everyone – it really depends on your business model and how much traffic you need.

But, there are some general rules that my team and I follow when we’re creating content strategy for our clients or giving advice in our Attract & Activate group coaching program. So let’s go through those rules so we can decipher what the appropriate level is for you to target with your keyword research.

The first step: how much traffic do you need?

Now something to consider before we get started with the metrics around search volume and keyword difficulty is what your goal is. How much traffic do you actually need? Figure out the approximate amount of traffic that you need on your website before continuing on!

Alright, so we know that the fewer clients that you need, the fewer people you need to be attracting to your website. And vice versa – if you need more clients, you need to get in front of a larger audience. And if you need to get in front of a large audience, then you need to get bigger search terms.

Search Volume: A look at an example

Connie Holen is a web designer at Pixality Design. Connie’s company specializes in websites built on Squarespace for yoga and fitness businesses, and because she’s gotten so specialized in the audience that she works with, she’s able to dominate search terms that are specific, targeted and relevant to the audience that she’s trying to reach.

Niching down your targeted search terms

So what does that mean? Connie doesn’t need to go after giant search terms. She doesn’t need to be number one for the term “fitness” or “website” or “Squarespace” (All of those three separate terms are way too competitive).

Instead, if you search for “Squarespace fitness website”, you’ll find her as the third search result.

Now, Connie only needs about 5 clients a month – and if we take into consideration the search volume for the term “Squarespace fitness website” in addition to the plural form of this – “Squarespace fitness websiteS” – that’s about 50 searches per month (on average) for those search terms.

So even if those were the only two search terms that she ranked for, she could still potentially have a full pipeline of people. Because she has a higher touch business model where she only needs to get a few clients a month, this could be enough to sustain her business.

Now she does have other keywords that she’s ranking for. Connie knows that fitness studios often use a software called Mindbody, she ranks number one for “mindbody squarespace integration”.

So when people are searching for someone to help with these integrations, she shows up there in the search results, leading that post to convert really well for her. The post has five or six keywords about Mindbody and Squarespace that add up to <100 search volume/month – but that is exactly the search volume she needs in order to bring in one or two clients a month.

Which search terms to target next?

So what keywords should Connie pursue next? That “squarespace fitness website” had a really small search volume of 20 and had a keyword difficulty of 10. But now she’s trying to work her way up the difficulty ladder into “fitness website design”.

This jumps from search volume of 20/month to 210/month, so it’s 10x as many people who are searching for this. The keyword difficulty also jumped up, from 10 to 40.

When Connie goes from being a very comfortable ‘big-fish in a small pond’ into a much more competitive keyword, it’s going to be more difficult to rank for. But the thing to remember is that she doesn’t even need to get all 210 of those people – she just needs a small percentage – enough to keep that pipeline of people coming in finding her.

You don’t always need to have the target goal of your keywords be hundreds and hundreds of thousands. For Connie, a search volume of about 200 a month is more than sustainable. So depending on your business model, you don’t always need to go bigger, sometimes it’s better to go smaller and really own those search terms.

Incorporating Keyword Difficulty

Now let’s talk about that keyword difficulty metric.

Keyword difficulty differs depending on the software

Keyword Difficulty is going to be a very different number based on what tool you’re using (whether that be Google Keyword Planner or Semrush or Ubersuggest, etc.) So as you’re thinking about your keyword difficulty, try to stick to one tool.

Keyword difficulty is tied to your domain authority

If your website is really well-established and has a lot of backlinks and a lot of content, it’ll be easier for you to rank for a higher keyword difficulty term than if you just started your website pretty recently.

If you’re trying to figure out what your appropriate keyword difficulty should be, I suggest that you look up your domain authority in your SEO tool of choice, and then look up the keyword difficulty for the keyword that you’re trying to pursue (in that same tool).

If your domain authority is 10 or 15 below the keyword difficulty, that might be good to pursue. If the keyword difficulty is way higher than your domain authority, then that keyword might not be as easy. The bottom line here is this:

If you see two keywords that are the same search volume and one of them is easier keyword difficulty, pursue that one.

Another thing to keep in mind is that different pages on your site can rank for different keyword difficulties. Your homepage is going to be able to rank for more difficult keywords than a blog post.

I know that there’s no straightforward calculation here about what is good and what is bad when it comes to search volume and keyword difficulty, so if you need more help with this, download our SEO starter kit or book a consulting call with our team and we can help you figure out the right level of difficulty for you.