in SEO by Jeffrey_Smith

Something every webmaster wants to know is how competitive their keyword terms are in the bigger scheme of things. Especially if you spend hundreds if not thousands with Google’s Adwords advertising tool.


How Accurate is the SEO Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool?

Let’s say you are building a niche site on the topic of “personal loans.” With a keyword this competitive it would be very hard to outrank your competition with a few simple on-page tweaks and some well-placed backlinks if you opted for organic SEO. I’m sure you agree that this keyword will take a healthy amount of work, to compete with the top ranking websites in Google’s search engine.

What the Pros Do That You Don’t

Many old-timers use crafty tools and software to simplify their research in order to uncover the real kick-ass niches in the process. To them it makes sense to spend a healthy portion of their profits on time-saving tools. Some of the best SEO tools can be had for free. Regardless what tool you prefer, once you decide on one you should stick with it – especially if it works.

This Brings Me to My Qualm About the SEOmoz Difficulty Tool

I have worked with the popular SEOmoz Difficulty Tool for some time now to help me find the best keywords for my clients. Trouble is, it seems the tool is faulty. But before I go into the details of my research you need to understand what this tool claims to be/do.

Features & Functionality of the SEOmoz DT

According to SEOmoz you can do the following with this tool:

  • See the top 10 rankings for any keyword with competitive analysis metrics
  • Export keyword data to CSV for individual results and your complete keyword list
  • Get data on any keyword term / phrase including Keyword Difficulty scores & Google AdWords search volume
  • Store up to 300 keywords with your PRO membership accounts

So far so good.

But here is where it gets tricky…

Not so long ago I did some research (once again) on some niches. I started with the highly competitive keyword: office furniture. In true DT fashion I plugged the keyword into the tool, chose as the preferred search engine and then let it run its magic.

The result is shown below.

After a few click, whir, clack moments (OK, I’m making this up for dramatic effects) I got the following results.

For Google Adwords Broad Match:

  • 673,000 Local Search Volume (Dec)
  • 1,220,000 Global Monthly Search Volume

For Google Adwords Exact Match:

  • 60,500 Local Search Volume (Dec)
  • 165,000 Global Monthly Search Volume

… with an overall Difficulty Score of 62%, making this keyword highly competitive. No real surprises there. But, the next search puzzled me.

As you can see in the above screenshot I typed a very long keyword into the tool to see how it would react. I chose: What is the best chat tool for customer support?
After some more clicking and whirring the result stunned me into disbelief.

For both the broad and exact Google Adwords searches it returned no monthly records (not that I was surprised to see this, since this is a really loooong-tail keyword). So no surprises again.


The Difficulty Score was HIGHER than with the previous keyword (which made no sense). It clocked in at a whopping 65%. WT? How can a keyword that no one is actually looking for (except me) outrank a very popular keyword by percentages like these?

You tell me!

This guest post was written by Lior Levin. Lior is an advisor to one of the largest online neon signs shops as well as multiple online start-ups. 

About Jeffrey_Smith

In 2006, Jeffrey Smith founded SEO Design Solutions (An SEO Provider who now develops SEO Software for WordPress).

Jeffrey has actively been involved in internet marketing since 1995 and brings a wealth of collective experiences and marketing strategies to increase rankings, revenue and reach.

12 thoughts on “An Obvious Fault in the SEOmoz Difficulty Tool
  1. Mike says:

    Very good post. I have seen the same discrepancy with other long tail terms in adwords keyword tool. Not sure whats up seomoz keyword difficulty tool though.


  2. @ Mike:

    Like any tool, you need to test multiple arrays and conditions prior to launch. Then make revisions and communicate to your core users.

    Although this was not my post (it was from Lior), I concur and would suggest they take it off the menu or at least tweak the long-tail barrier to entry rules in the engine to avoid additional disparity and inconsistencies.

  3. Hi Leon – appreciate the post. I think you’ve definitely ID’d a good weakness in the tool. Since the formula is based primarily on the strength of the top ranking results, when a less competitive keyword phrase brings up very strong sites/page (in the example you showed, there’s lots of powerful homepages and interior pages with loads of good links, anchor text, etc).

    This is an issue we’ll have to think through as we work to update the tool this Spring.

    All the best,

  4. Hi Rand:

    Hope you don’t think we were trying to poke fun at SEOMoz, we have nothing but respect from SDS team for you and for your contributions to the SEO space as a whole.

    It was merely constructive feedback, as we know well when dealing with the bugs in developing any SEO tool or in our case a WordPress plugins such as SEO Ultimate (which can under adverse circumstances conflict with certain settings, other plugins, etc.).

    In general, the amount of testing and variables can be staggering when trying to break something or find room for improvement.

    I admire your tact and demeanor for welcoming the opportunity to “take the feedback” and use it for the next granular tweak.

    Thanks for taking the time to drop by and comment…

  5. I almost always RT your posts because I have the WP plugin, and love it. Anyhow – too funny about the tool.

    No matter what, common sense comes into play and that can’t easily be coded. Hopefully the next tweak will see the SEOMoz difficulty return more accurate results, but I did want to remark…

    Wow. Rand has class. (OK, not really a shocker. But still – that was classy.)

  6. Hey James:

    Thanks for breezing through. Glad you like the plugin as well as caught the hint of this post.

    Even Seth Godin tweeted it (which blew me away)…

    Regarding your site –

    I found myself reading your stuff for a couple of hours the other day (I got sucked in to the sarcasm blended with brilliant puns; not to mention the content was stellar.

    Let me know if you have time for some projects to collaborate on, I have a few ideas I would like to pass your way.

    The comment above that common sense can’t easily be coded is the real deal.

    Just after your 3,000 lines of code in, you realize you forgot something and have to go back and touch the code again…

    Although it’s not uncommon, the way Rand dealt with the critique was like getting killed with the kindness “Rand is a stand up guy, no doubt”!

    All the best.

  7. Lior says:

    Rand – I am really looking forward to a more accurate keyword difficulty tool and I am sure you’ll be able to nail it.

    Thanks for the comment

  8. Dev Basu says:

    I’m an SEOMoz Pro subscriber and use the keyword difficulty tool quite often. As indicated in this post, it’s not perfect but it does give me the sort of information and relative competition I need to know before getting started on a campaign. That said, kudos to Lior for pointing out a potential flaw that will only make the tool better in the long run.

  9. kev grant says:

    Yo Jeffrey & SDS.

    I just wanted to say this (the top one) is possibly my favourite all of your funky funky graphics, like ever :)

    and Yes Rand is a PR genius, I remember being equally blown away by his PR skills and well, just niceness, when he showed up one night (on Digitalpoint!) to answer my question about Linkscape vs Majestic in 2008.

  10. Ricky Shah says:

    Have they resolved the issue? I know this is almost a 2 year old posts and things may have changed for good. I have been hunting for reliable keyword competition analysis or keyword difficulty tool. I came across SERPIQ, but it seems a costly affair for the people like me.
    SEOMoz has a huge reputation and is a trusted company. It would be great if you can help me out in choosing the best tool.

  11. Good question, I have moved on from using their tools, so, not quite sure. With so many additional metric making their way into the Google algorithm it really depends on your approach. You can make a viral video that can rank in hours or days instead of content that may take months to rank. In other words blended search is your friend, so, think about other mediums to breach the barrier to entry.

    I will also take a look at the tool you suggested, personally, I use the Krakken and DWS for this type of thing in addition to some in-house algos.

  12. I had also noticed that issue. On the whole I suppose no tool is perfect, but I just ran a study that suggests Google Exact Match Traffic maybe a better predictor of this SEO’s ability to move rank. Thought you might be interested.

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