Today we launched a new feature that I’ve been wanting to see in SEO software for nearly 10 years. You probably already know that CanIRank offers an extremely accurate keyword difficulty tool, and we provide you with an estimate of a keyword’s value in the form of search volume, advertiser cost per click, and how much traffic you stand to gain by improving your ranking. But the final step— comparing ranking difficulty to value potential to decide which keywords offer the biggest bang for the buck— has always been a manual process reliant upon more than a little experience and gut feeling. Until now.

Today, we closed the loop.

CanIRank can now automatically calculate for you which keywords offer the best balance between ranking difficulty and value potential, specifically for your website. Here’s a sneak peek:

maximizing the ROI of your SEO activities

The High ROI tab on CanIRank’s Keyword Ideas page identifies which keywords offer the best balance between traffic value (search volume and ad value) and ranking difficulty (Ranking Probability or RP) specifically for your website.

How does it work?

First, CanIRank’s assessment of keyword difficulty relies upon our own proprietary metric called Ranking Probability (the RP column in the screenshot above).  We put over 2 years of research into perfecting Ranking Probability. For any given keyword, it takes into account the top ranking websites’ overall strength, what topics they’re considered authoritative in, their link structure, keyword relevancy and other on-page features, anchor text relevancy, and many other factors (around 200 in all). We then analyze how typical pages on your website compare for all of these factors to assess whether a page on your website would be competitive if it were targeting that specific keyword. The result is a much more accurate and nuanced concept of keyword difficulty which doesn’t just say “hard” or “easy”: it gauges how far a respective website would need to go to become competitive. With refinement, we could stop talking about keyword difficulty and start talking about the much more useful “Cost-to-rank“: how much time and money one would need to put into an SEO campaign to make a website competitive for a given keyword.

For example, and are both hugely authoritative websites with a tremendous amount of ranking power. But SEOBook would have a lot of work to do if they wanted to rank for “home loan”, while “SEO” would be a huge challenge for QuickenLoans. Both keywords have comparable difficulty, but each website would have a very different cost-to-rank. CanIRank’s Ranking Probability captures this difference while traditional keyword difficulty tools do not. So that’s the first half of our calculation.

keyword difficulty tool

Cost-to-rank, as estimated by CanIRank’s Ranking Probability score, is much more actionable than traditional “Keyword Difficulty”

Next, we look at a keyword’s value potential. Keywords that are frequently searched have more traffic-generating potential, but as anyone who’s ever tried to make money off a top ranking for “Paris Hilton” (200,000+ searches) will tell you, not all clicks are valued equally. Assuming that a keyword is relevant to your business, advertiser Cost Per Click serves as an excellent proxy for a keyword’s commercial value. Terms that are likely to generate sales– like “mesothelioma attorney” ($167 CPC) or “serviced office London” ($43 CPC)– have a high Cost Per Click because advertisers (other businesses like yours) know they can make money from people searching those terms.

Finally, we compare Ranking Probability to Keyword Value to come up with a Keyword ROI. In doing this calculation, we have to consider that Ranking Probability is not linear: a $1,000 Keyword Value is exactly twice as valuable as a $500 keyword, but a 40% Ranking Probability is a lot more than twice as difficult as an 80% Ranking Probability (i.e., much more than double the Cost-to-rank).

Don’t forget that ROI numbers will vary depending upon the website– a newer website that lacks the Website Strength to compete for anything but long-tail keywords may have their highest ROI keywords in the 40s, while a big brand website will likely find opportunities with an ROI over 100.

How to use Keyword ROI in your SEO & Content Marketing Campaigns

Let’s take a look at some of CanIRank’s keyword suggestions for my favorite example site,

Some keywords score well because they're "low-hanging fruit", others because they're very high value.

Some keywords score well because they’re “low-hanging fruit”, others because they’re very high value.

Note that keywords have a High ROI for different reasons. Some, like “baby yoga DVD” are low-hanging fruit: keywords that should be very easy for this site to rank for, and thus are worth targeting even if they don’t deliver a ton of traffic. Others, like “pregnancy yoga dvd”, are a bit more competitive, but could be worth the extra difficulty. is a small site that’s doing a lot right, so it has some high Ranking Probability scores within its niche. Don’t be discouraged if your highest ROI keyword opportunities score lower: as your traffic grows and your site improves, you’ll become competitive for more and more valuable terms.

Once you’ve found a keyword that looks to be worth targeting, click on the Ranking Probability score to check out the full Report and better understand how your site compares to the competition. Then check the Issues section of the Report to see what you would need to improve in order to be competitive. If the changes seem doable and consistent with your overall marketing plans,  click “Build an Action Plan” to have CanIRank generate instructions for how you can fix your site’s Issues and improve your competitiveness. That Action Plan then becomes the basis of your promotional campaign once you’ve built a page targeting the keyword. If there’s a lot of work to be done, you can pass on the Action Plan to a freelancer or consultant to complete for you.

SEO Task Manager

Once you’ve chosen a keyword, get a customized Action Plan telling you how to close the gaps with your competition.


Rather than using our gut or simply hoping that the keywords we’re targeting will end up being worth the effort, CanIRank lets us quantify both input (cost-to-rank) and output (traffic value), optimizing our keyword selection and giving our SEO campaigns the best possible shot at achieving a high return on our time and marketing spend.

We hope that this feature will help you improve the productivity and profitability of your SEO and content marketing, bringing those activities one step closer to the kind of accountability available for other marketing channels like PPC or online advertising. While it may seem like this kind of detailed computer analysis and calculation is a bit of overkill for something as messy as SEO, keep in mind that some of the world’s most valuable companies were built on tiny 3% efficiency advantages enabled by new technology (such as Walmart’s innovative electronic inventory control system in the 1970s). Automated ROI estimation won’t replace the role of experience and human judgment in keyword research anytime soon, but we do hope that it will enable you to be at least a little more efficient and productive than you were before. And the cumulative benefits of smarter keyword choices and modest time savings, compounded over hundreds of analyzed keywords, will go a long way towards putting you ahead of your competition.

Happy ranking!

PS: If you’re new to Keyword Research for SEO and would benefit from a walkthrough of the entire Keyword Research process with CanIRank, you may find this tutorial video helpful: