With the release of Google algorithm updates such as Panda and Penguin, writing quality content has never been so important. Keyword Research is one of the main techniques you can use to ensure there is a high enough volume of searches for what you are writing about and that competition levels are acceptably low for these keywords. The problem with Keyword Research Tools in 2012 is that there does not seem to be a tool that does everything and comes at a reasonable price. This post identifies several of the cheap or free 2012 Keyword Research tools to add to your keyword research arsenal.
Broad vs Exact Search
Before we go any further, it is important to note that keyword research tools can use different matching options to estimate the volume of traffic that those keywords will generate. Generally speaking, the broader the keyword matching option, the better traffic potential that keyword has. Conversely, the narrower the keyword matching option, the greater relevancy that keyword will be to a particular search. It is also valuable to define a ‘broad’ and ‘exact’ match search. A broad search is defined by the Google Adwords Keyword Tool as the “sum of the search volumes for the keyword idea, related grammatical forms, synonyms and related variants”. An exact match on the other hand, is “an exact term and close variants of that exact term”. Note that even an exact match has scope for some variance in the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
Keyword Research Tools List
Here are the tools we are going to look at in this article:
• Google Adwords Keyword Tool
• Market Samurai
• Keyword Blaze
Google Adwords Keyword Tool
The Google Adwords Keyword Tool is a free and fairly quick tool and the results come straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak.
There are some things to watch out for however. For starters, the competition values are more relevant to Google Adwords advertisers and this figure may not accurately reflect the competition in the organic results. Now, as there is probably a strong correlation between Adwords and organic competition for a particular keyword, the results could well be accurate most of the time. The point is that they cannot be relied upon.
Previously, Google Keyword Tool search volume figures included metrics from Google and from Google search partners. Search partners included Shopping.com, Ask.com, Froogle.com, Earthlink, Compuserve and thousands of less well-known sites. The problem for Adwords customers using the search partner network is that their ads might be showing up on websites that they do not want them to show on and subsequently conversion rates and return on investment could be lower than expected. The problem for SEO practitioners conducting keyword research using the Google Keyword Tool previously was that the search volume figures were inflated due to the inclusion of search partner data.
An update to the tool was pushed out in August 2011 and one of the significant features was a change to where the Google Adwords Keyword Tool gets it data. The updated tool gets its search volume for keywords from only Google Search now. This has positive implications for those conducting organic SEO using the tool, as it is more reflective of the actual searches that take place on the search engine. Keep in mind though that the number of searches is an average over a 12 month period. If there are seasonal trends or your keyword has suddenly and permanently lost or gained popularity, the search volume may not reflect the actual current searches.
A sample search may look as follows:
Another thing to watch out for regarding volume of searches is that the default search in the Google Keyword Tool is based on a broad match. You should always do an exact match search (look for the checkboxes on the left of tool) before completing your analysis so that you get a better idea of the exact searches for the particular keyword.
With the Google Adwords Keyword Tool you can order your results by relevance. This gives you an idea of the keywords that Google thinks are strongly related to the keyword you searched for. This is very important as Google is using more and more word relationship technologies such as Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) in its search algorithm to help determine how well a page should rank. As well as trying to rank for your main keyword or keywords, you can then sprinkle these relevant keywords throughout the content you wish to rank for (where appropriate) and this could help your page rank higher.
• Results returned are from the definitive source – Google.
• Useful for generating keyword ideas based on a seed keyword
• Can order results by relevance – important for LSI
• Cannot rely on the competition data for organic keyword research
• The search volume is useful. Use it with care and bear in mind it’s averaged over a 12 month period
KeywordXP is an extremely fast tool that runs on both PC and Mac (via Adobe Air) and it uses Google’s Keyword Suggest as the engine rather than the Adwords Keywords Tool engine. So what is the difference? Generally with the Suggests tool, the “volume” of searches returned can fluctuate a lot during the month (due to popularity and trends) whereas the Adwords Keyword tool does not as it is based on past averages – it must be accurate historically as people use this tool to determine their advertising spend.
KeywordXP uses the broad match and the user does not have the ability to specify an exact match. For this reason, it is advisable not to use KeywordXP in isolation. It is very quick at returning a broad match and it seems to give a very good idea of what the competition is. But from there, you should try and determine the PBR – Phrase-to-Broad Ratio – The percentage of phrase-match searches out of broad-match searches for this keyword. Market Samurai (see below) can identify this figure for you. Also, use the Google Adwords Keyword tool to check the number of Exact Matches for any keywords you are interested in.
So unlike Market Samurai and other such tools, KeywordXP is quite useful by taking the Suggests data (incorporating new and trending keywords) that people are searching for ‘right now’.
One disadvantage with KeywordXP is that it does not solve captchas automatically when determining competition levels. This is generally not a problem though as only relevant and high volume search results will need to have their competition levels checked. Even then, unless you are checking more that half a dozen, you will not be prompted to solve a captcha.
• Extremely Fast
• Uses the Google Keyword Suggest engine for more accurate (new and trending) results
• Broad Match only – Useful to identify broad phrases quickly. Follow up with Exact Match check to verify
• Manual Captcha Solving
• Cheap ($47 normally, but get it here for a ridiculously cheap price.)
Market Samurai is another great tool and it is free. So what does it bring to the table?
Market Samurai assumes that first place on the first page of Google results will get you 42% of search results sources. Market Samurai delivers the following key metrics:
SEOT: The SEO Traffic (SEOT) is based on the Google Adwords number of broad match searches (lets say for 1900 per month for example). It finds 42% of this figure (798) and displays this as the SEOT (the max number of clicks per month for a number 1 position in Google). Market Samurai presumes 30.69 days in a month. This is nice that it estimates the number of clicks that a number one position will get. Take it with a pinch of salt however as the 42% click through rate seems to be based on historic results carried out by AOL in 2006 [http://searchengineland.com/organic-click-thru-rates-tumbling-study-97338] and more recent surveys suggest that the number one position in Google will get substantially lower than this.
PBR: The Market Samurai website defines Phrase-To-Broad-Ratio (PBR) as “The percentage of phrase-match searches out of broad-match searches for this keyword. Low values indicate there may be other word orderings which are being searched for more”. Basically this means, the lower the PBR then the lower the traffic potential. In order to roughly estimate the potential traffic, you should multiply the SEOT by the PBR (using the example above, this would be 798 /100 *46 = 367)
SEOC: SEO Competition (SEOC) is based on number of keywords globally in the same phrase word order in Microsoft Bing’s search engine index. As Bing does not seem to index as many pages as Google, I am apprehensive about this figure. Still, it’s always good to have an alternative source as a crosscheck to Google’s results.
• Displays the maximum number of clicks per month for a number 1 position.
• Phrase-To-Broad-Ratio is a very useful statistic.
• Bing for used for Competition Data
Wordtracker is another popular Keyword Analysis tool with one immediate difference to the other tools mentioned so far… cost. It currently weighs in at $449 per year… ouch! There is a free 7-day trial so at least you can try it out and gauge for yourself if it is any better than the cheaper alternatives.
Wordtracker is a browser-based tool (the rest of the tools here are desktop) and therefore it is slower. It has recently been updated and the latest version contains a keyword tracker where you can enter the keywords you wish to track along with a domain. As well as tracking the keyword positions in the SERPs against your domain, it can also track up to 3 of your competitor’s websites. This is great as it can alert you to an event (such as a Google algorithm update) which is impacting your competitor’s sites as well as your own.
It has a new layout called the “Keyword Map”, where each niche idea sits at a different level (up to 8 levels).
Within each niche you can see a list of suggested keywords that have search volume, competition and KEI. You can also apply filters similar to the old tool.
Wordtracker uses both Google and it’s own data that it gathers from metacrawlers, which are services that query all the main search engines simultaneously. It sources data from Metacrawler and Dogpile.
If you perform a search using Wordtracker’s database you have the option of a broad, phrase or keyword match.
Wordtracker gives the following metrics:
Volume: If looking at Google’s statistics, then these are the same as Google’s Broad Match figures as per the Google Adword Keyword Tool above.
Looking at Wordtracker’s own data yields the following:
What is really strange is that the “volume” figure in the example above is meant to represent “the number of times each keyword appears in Wordtracker’s UK database of 57, 909 searches over the last 2,205 days.” That would mean 76 searches for “Web Design Northern Ireland” in the last 6 years. This seems extremely low and there is a huge mismatch between these figures and the Google Adword Keyword Tool.
Competition: In previous versions of Wordtracker, the competition metric was “In Anchor and Title”. This used to be a good way to measure competition. As Google has moved on and become a lot more focused on quality, a competition metric now needs to be based around Relevancy, Strength and Trust [http://www.wordtracker.com/node/3860]. Wordtracker has modified their keyword research tool to reflect this.
KEI: The Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) gives an indication of effective a particular keyword is. It is calculated using search volume and competition and is shown on a scale of 1 to 100.
• The Keyword Map is a great way to organize niche levels
• The Wordtracker database seems to differ vastly to Google’s API
• Competition checker seems to be based on sound principles
Keyword Blaze is another free tool (with an optional ‘pro’ upgrade). It has got a “desktop style” interface that is nice to use and helps you stay organized. One of the key features is that it is a server-side tool. This means that there is no possibility of having your IP address blocked by Google, as any requests through the Google API do not come directly from your machine.
A really nice feature of Keyword Blaze is the “Magic Keyword Tagging” functionality. This works automatically in the background identifying keywords winners based on parameters that you set. The tool organizes these keywords into different tabs with the following default tabs: “Enough Searches”, “Winners”, “Longtail with high CPC”, “Shopping” and “Tagged as Green”.
Keyword Blaze can also help you identify Google AdSense (filter on low competition with high Cost-Per-Click (CPC) and AdWords opportunities (filter on high search volume with low Cost-Per-Click)
Conducting keyword research is easy. You just enter the seed keyword and the tool generates pages of related keywords. The “Monthly Searches” column in the table below represents the number of ‘Exact Match’ monthly searches and this figure is grabbed directly from the Google Adwords Keyword Tool API.
You can then select the keyword and request that the Keyword Difficulty is calculated (its quite slow and you can only do two keywords simultaneously). If you then double click on the keyword, you are taken into a colour-coded (green – easy, red – avoid) competition matrix that shows you exactly how the Keyword Difficulty was calculated. Page Authority, Domain Authority, Domain Age, External Links, Total Links, mozRank, Tweets, Facebook Shares & Likes, and Google +1’s are all used and this would seem to be a very good way to calculate the keyword difficulty.
There are however some problems with Keyword Blaze and you can read about them in detail on the Warriors Special Offers page. In a nutshell, they had a lot of problems with server capacity at product launch of the Pro version, and these problems do not seem to have completely gone away. Quite often the competition checker can be slow as even the Pro version only allows 2 competition checks simultaneously. A further point to note is the competition matrix seems to cache previous results. In other words, if you are checking the same keywords several months after a previous check, the competition matrix will show you the domains that used to be in the top 10 but may not be now. Other than this few issues, it is a great tool and the free version is definitely worth having.
• Fantastic modern desktop style interface
• Server-side tool
• Magic Keyword Tagging
• Configurable filtering
• Detailed Competition Matrix
• Can be unreliable
• Can be slow (Competition Checker)
Which Keyword Research Tools Should I Use?
Now it is time to decide which of these tools you should invest in. This may sound like a difficult task, but in fact it’s a “no brainer”. You can get 4 out of 5 of these tools for very little and they all have their part to play. The 5th tool (Wordtracker) is just too expensive and does not seem to add any significant extra to the mix so I would avoid it.
Click on the links below to go straight to the download page for each tool:
• Google Adwords Keywords Tool (The authority figure)
• KeywordXP (uses Google Suggest for more accurate current results)
• Market Samurai (Calculates projected traffic, Phrase to Broad Ratio)
• Keyword Blaze (Great interface, Colour-coded Competition Matrix)