• SEO & Keyword Analysis

Understanding Keyword Metrics

  • Felix Rose-Collins
  • 10 min read
Understanding Keyword Metrics


When doing keyword research, there is a set of keyword metrics you will encounter regardless of how in-depth you aim it to become. This article aims to take each keyword metric and explore it in detail to the point you will fully understand the context under which they operate. There are 4 main keyword metrics that you would be able to find in RankTracker and Keyword Finder, or most other SEO platforms for that matter:

  1. Keyword Search Volume
  2. Keyword Difficulty
  3. Organic Traffic
  4. Cost per Click (CPC) and Pay per Click (PPC)

Just to briefly explain each term, Keyword Search Volume represents the average number of monthly searches for a keyword in a selected country. Keyword Difficulty estimates how difficult it will be to rank in the top 10 organic Google search results for a given keyword in a given country. Organic Traffic estimates the monthly organic search traffic to the website’s ranking page through the given keyword. Lastly, cost per click (CPC) shows the average price that advertisers pay for a click on their ad in Google’s paid search results for a target keyword in a given country (used for showing an alternative value for organic clicks).

Keyword Search Volume

search volume

As previously stated, RankTravker’s Keyword Search Volume is the average number of monthly searches for a keyword in a selected country. SEO Managers pay attention to the keyword search volume metric when determining how popular a keyword is. This is then used to guide their strategy on what keywords are most likely to garner their users’ interest and drive traffic.

In the wider context of the organic search landscape, it’s important to note that this number represents the actual number of searches as opposed to the number of people searching for it, as the same person might come back and perform the same search again within the same month.

In Google Keyword Planner as well as other SEO tools among which is also the RankTracker, the organic search volume is an annual average value. Unlike RankTracker, it may also be worth noting that Google Keyword Planner may group certain keywords into groups, showing their cumulative search volumes.

When performing keyword research it is important to note that Keyword Search Volume is not equal to the potential traffic you can expect and that is the case for several key reasons:

  1. Search Volumes aren’t totally accurate: Over the years Google Keyword Planner has been widely regarded as the best source of keyword search volume data as it comes directly from Google. It is not a secret that a fair amount of SEO tools pool their keyword search volume data directly from Google Keyword Planner. However, if you were to conduct a mini SEO experiment of your own and compare the Google Keyword Planner data with, for instance, Google Search Console data on a set of keywords you will find that those numbers can vary and do so by a significant-enough margin. More specifically, if your page ranks within the first 10 pages of organic Google search results for a given search query, you should be able to find the organic search volume through the number of impressions shown within Google Search Console. If you were to compare it to the number provided by Google Keyword Planner, you would find that those numbers match only about half the time. You may, of course, say that those numbers show different data because Google Search Console will give you the precise number of impressions for a particular month, while Google Keyword Planner will give you averages for the last year. But even if you go the extra mile and calculate those averages for the last year in Google Search Console and put it against the now comparable data of Google Keyword Planner, you will find that the latter significantly overestimates the search volumes in half the instances and it does so for a number of reasons. Firstly, Google Keyword Planner bundles keywords with similar meanings together and shows their cumulative search volumes. Secondly, impressions in Google Search Console are oftentimes linked directly to local searches of a popular keyword, thus showing lower values.
  2. Search Volumes are annual averages: As you might expect, because search volumes are annual averages, in some cases they do not accurately reflect the actual search volumes for that particular month as the keywords might be on an upward or downward trend or be a seasonal keyword altogether.
  3. Search Volumes do not account for actual clicks: The word on the web is that out of all performed searches, only one in three is followed by a click-through to a landing page, leaving the other ⅔ of performed searches as no-click. Part of the reason this happens is because paid advertisers are still a part of the search traffic which is especially true for commercial search queries. In other cases, search engine users simply don’t find a result worth clicking on because they expect the visible search results to not solve their query. One of the last predominant reasons why some searches receive no clicks is because they find what they’re looking for directly in search results, thanks to Google’s rich snippets.
  4. SERP Real-estate sharing: Regardless of the actual position you occupy in organic search results you compete with other players, meaning that you can only get a fraction of the actual clicks-through to your website. Naturally, the higher your position in organic Google search results - the higher the chances a potential customers will land on your website instead of others.

Based on these insights into organic keyword search volumes there are several best practices you can take advantage of:

  • Apply context to understand search volume: Don’t make organic traffic projections based solely on search volume but rather use these insights to understand the full picture. Your best shot at creating realistic expectations on traffic is to consider things like is this keyword seasonal or is on a downward or upward trend, and what is the share of paid search in SERPs.
  • Look through the lens of potential organic traffic: The former cautions feed directly into estimating your organic traffic potential. If you have search queries that happen to have a third of SERPs occupied by paid listings or are answered directly within SERPs using rich snippets, it makes them significantly less attractive as you’re likely to get less traffic out of them.
  • Avoid chasing high-volume search queries in isolation: Search volume is only one factor in determining how attractive a keyword could be for your website. You should, of course, consider the traffic potential and this can be done by better understanding how likely you are to actually rank for it. Keyword Difficulty, our next keyword metric on the radar, is exactly what you need to better understand your chances of actually ranking for any given keyword. As a general rule, you will find Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty being directly correlated, the higher the search volume - the higher the competition for it. Beginning your journey by selecting the keywords you can actually compete for can go a long way in achieving your organic traffic goals earlier.
  • Keep trends and seasonality in mind: As previously stated trends and seasonality is quite a factor to keep in mind when making decisions on which keywords to target. Seasonality isn’t necessarily a negative factor that should push you to avoid a particular search query, but rather one to guide you when to publish or update your content to get the best exposure. On the other hand, you should avoid topics on a downward trend.

As with any practice, apply common sense when targeting new keywords. For instance, factor the size of your company and your budget into keyword research. If you’re running a large website with a high budget, do not be afraid to go after the head terms in order to maintain your competitive edge while if you’re relatively small begin with longer-tail, low-competition keywords as this might be more likely to bring valuable organic traffic earlier.

The purpose of any SEO Manager doing keyword research is striking a balance between finding high search volume keywords that have relatively low competition, thus filling up market gaps. A high-level conclusion to finding a balance in your keyword research process would be going after the search queries that are just right for your ability to compete for them.

Keyword Difficulty

keyword difficulty

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RankTracker’s Keyword difficulty comes in as a quantifiable source of truth for how difficult it would be to rank for any organic keyword on the first page of Google SERPs. Keyword Difficulty is, of course, only an estimate because Google doesn’t make public most of its ranking factors.

It may also be worth noting that different tools have developed their own processes for calculating Keyword Difficulty, but generally, they’re all focused on how competitive any given search query is. This happens to also be the reason why you will encounter different Keyword Difficulty scores across different platforms. [This is an opportunity to talk more about how the Keyword Difficulty score at RankTracker is actually built]

It may also be worth noting that just like in the case of Keyword Search Volume, Keyword Difficulty isn’t a metric that should be looked at in isolation. In fact, when optimizing a single page you’re encouraged to have a look at the actual SERPs to find a domain with a similar domain rating (DR) to better understand how many backlinks you will need to a particular page to start ranking.

The reason for this is that there are two offsite measures that go into calculating which pages will rank. The most important one is the number of referring domains and backlinks leading to the website as a whole (which constitutes the domain rating score) and only second is the number of backlinks leading to the actual landing page. Thus when you find a website with a comparable domain rating (DR), you put the first part of the equation on the same level, and only then can you get an idea of how strong a backlink profile a particular landing page will require.

This ties in perfectly with how the Keyword Difficulty should be actually used. Namely, Keyword Difficulty is particularly useful when working with a large number of keywords and you need to filter through them based on competitiveness at the early stages of the keyword research process, allowing you to find promising keyword ideas at scale.

If you’ve become an advocate of better understanding the context of Keyword Difficulty, here are a number of factors you should keep in mind when working with Keyword Difficulty on a more granular level:

  • Determine the number of backlinks you will need: Adopting a rather simplistic view of this factor, you should try to accumulate at least the same amount of backlinks as the top-ranking page. However, this approach can be quite flawed for a number of reasons not the least of which being the fact that depending on the referring domain that leads to these landing pages, the backlinks may cast a stronger or weaker vote. So, in order to accurately estimate the strength of the required backlink profile, a good idea might be to visit the top-ranking pages for that particular keyword and inspect all their backlinks and referring domains. Although this may become a rather time-consuming process, it will give you a much better idea of how strong a landing page actually is and how difficult it may be to outrank it.
  • Estimating the authority of your competitors: This can go a long way in better understanding not only the competitiveness within organic SERPs but also your realistic chances of ranking. The reason behind this is that when it comes to establishing a position within organic SERPs, the predominant offsite ranking factor isn’t the number or even the strength of backlinks pointing to the landing page, but rather the authority of the domain that landing page is published under. Although search engines like Google have denied in the past using any sort of website-wide metric for authority, this can come in several forms. Having a website with a high domain authority means there are a large number of strong pages with external backlinks leading to them and it would be safe to assume that a number of those pages with be linking to the landing page in question through internal links, making it a high-authority page as well. Another factor is that when faced with an organic SERP, many users prefer to click on the brands they already know, thus skewing the click-through results in favor of more powerful brands.
  • Understanding Search Intent: Understanding intent can go a long way in better catering to the user's needs. In order to better understand search intent you’re encouraged to visit the top-ranking pages and pay attention to all pages on the first page of organic SERPs so you can understand what expectations the users have in terms of how a particular search query can be solved.
  • Understanding the content quality of your competition: Looking through your competitors’ content in order to find loopholes in accuracy, timeliness, expertise, and uniqueness as well as if the page is designed in an appealing way can similarly go a long way in finding opportunities for writing better content.

These are just a number of questions to confront yourself with when coming up with new content that aims to outrank existing competitors.

Estimated Organic Traffic

Not to be confused with actual organic traffic, the estimated organic traffic is more of a rough calculation of how much of that search volume will turn into actual inbound traffic. It is one of the most difficult things to calculate when it comes to organic keyword metrics and the reasons for that can vary.

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Firstly all things being equal, not all search results get the same amount of clicks. This will largely depend on search features. For instance, search queries that will get answered directly in SERPs will steal away a significant proportion of the organic traffic going to any individual SERP result.

Secondly, particularly true for transactional search queries which have a large number of paid listings organic traffic will also suffer because a significant proportion of the traffic will go to the said paid listings, thus limiting the traffic potential of the organic SERP results.

Lastly, depending on how high in search results any particular SERP result appears, it will have a different entrance rate. It is estimated that the first three results combined would get an entrance rate of about ⅓, but take it with a pinch of salt as these can vary widely depending on the search query.

Cost per Click (CPC) and Pay per Click (PPC)


A rather underestimated strength in determining the commercial value of any organic search query comes in the form of Cost-per-click (CPC) and Pay-per-Click (PPC) metrics. Namely, the Cost per Click is a great indicator of how profitable any given organic search query can be while the Pay per Click metric shows how competitive the paid search market is for that query.


These are the main organic keyword metrics that you would be able to find within RankTracker. The SEO metrics in general would significantly expand that list. One of the main things that you can take out of this article is that Keyword Metrics will contribute best to your Keyword Research strategy when taken in context with one another and with the wider SEO landscape.

Felix Rose-Collins

Felix Rose-Collins


is the Co-founder of Ranktracker, With over 10 years SEO Experience. He's in charge of all content on the SEO Guide & Blog, you will also find him managing the support chat on the Ranktracker App.

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