Sign up for our daily recaps of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.
Keyword Research Tool Review: Google AdWords
Keywords are important. I’ve heard from several potential clients recently who have talked to other “professionals” who told them keywords are no longer important for SEO, and that good content is all you really need.
Here’s the thing. Keywords are language. They’ll always be important because words are how we communicate with each other.
So until someone invents the microchip that can be implanted in your brain and read your thoughts without using words, you’ll need to think about language in marketing. And I can only hope that those potential clients were told this by one seriously misguided vendor.
With the ubiquitous need for keywords, there are a lot of tools out there that claim to do keyword research better. So I present to you, a series on Free Keyword Tools!
Let’s start with the Google Keyword Tool. This is what we all use, and like it or not, it’s the best free tool available. It’s tied directly into Adwords, and it uses search frequency from Google (although that’s debatable, see below). If you don’t sign in with an Adwords account, you’ll have to enter the captcha every time you want to do a search.
Lately, I’ve been seeing the captcha show up even when I’m logged in though, so you may not be completely free of this annoyance. By the way, it’s free to set up an Adwords account, and you don’t have to have anything live in it to be able to use the keyword tool.
Cool Features Of The Google Keyword Tool
- The ability to switch from broad to exact or phrase match volumes. This can really help identify which keywords you want to set on which match types, and for SEO, it can help to hint at which keyword phrase has the overall highest volume in a niche.
- The tool has lots of options for information about the keywords, which is somewhat hidden in the “columns” drop down menu – shown below. These are primarily designed for paid search, but they have some value in regular research as well.
- Global vs. Local Monthly search volumes. The difference here is that one shows you only the local area you set up (defaulted to United States) and the other shows you volume for the entire world.
- Be cautious using Global when you really mean Local, otherwise you’ll get keywords like “handy” instead of “mobile phone” showing as they have a lot of volume, even though only Germans call it a “handy”. Adjust your local settings here:
- Approximate CPC and Competition are both useful for seeing what the competition is like for these keywords in the paid arena. It logically follows that those keywords would also be competitive organically or in any other context, and it can be a good way (along with volume) to make relative decisions.
- Local Search Trends is also pretty cool, as it takes data from Google Insights and displays it directly in the keyword tool. The bars that are shown represent the previous 12 months’ search trend. Here’s an example for “summer olympics 2012” which clearly shows that interest in this topic has been increasing, just as we would expect.
- Search Share and Extracted from Webpage seem like they’d be an SEO’s dream, but I’ve been unable to get this feature to work properly, even with an active Adwords account. In theory, these two data points would show you (respectively) when your site showed up in organic search for a given keyword and what webpages on your site already match this keyword. We can continue to dream, but I think it’s likely this feature will only work when you have an active Adwords account live – so you can decide whether or not to bid on a keyword in paid.
- The ad group ideas (beta) is really pretty cool. While I would never advocate using it to set up your ad groups, it can be very useful for categorizing keywords into niches. The fact that it saves your “ideas” and that you can check all keywords in a “group” at the same time makes me have to use those complicated excel formulas a bit less often.
- Include/Exclude terms allows you to really narrow things down. An example from real life – I was searching for “estate planning” terms, and didn’t want anything associated with real estate. By adding the word “real” into the exclude terms box, I got a nicely filtered list of just what I needed.
- The category drop down can also be useful, particularly when you’re doing work for a niche within a larger context. For example, I was doing some work for an attorney who helps with adoptions. By narrowing the category to “Law and Government”, I was able to take out all those keywords like “teenage pregnancy adoption” that aren’t relevant enough to the attorney trying to sell services.
- The “only show ideas closely related to my search terms” box is unchecked by default, but you may want to check it if you are working with some really general search terms. Basically, what this box does is require that the keywords the tool returns have at least one of your keywords in it. If you leave this box unchecked, you may get keywords like “car quote” when you search “car insurance”. If you leave the box checked, you won’t get keywords like “insure car”, so think carefully about whether you want to check this or not.
- Finally, the “Locations and Languages” feature under “Advanced Options and Filters” is a must for anyone doing international research. Maybe someday they’ll allow us to filter by region or state of the US too. That would be helpful.
Things To Watch Out For With The Google Keyword Tool
- Search volume is really just a suggestion. Lots of studies have shown that the numbers here aren’t entirely accurate. But it’s useful to compare volumes to find out what term is searched more often. Here’s a personal favorite example: “CRM solutions” vs. “CRM software”:
You can see a few things from this screenshot. Obviously, “software” is a more popular keyword. But I can also see that there are a lot of additional permutations of this keyword… the broad match of “crm software” for example shows almost five times more volume than the exact match (the one in brackets). This tells me that I need to dig pretty deep on the research for this one to get all those possible permutations. Probably a good time to use the ad group ideas tab.
The other thing this shows me is that while “solutions” is a more unpopular term overall, it’s gaining ground in the US. This might be something to look into in more detail in regional markets. I’ll probably want to use the keyword insights tool to find out where solutions is more commonly used.
- If you include or exclude terms or save “ideas”, those will be there for the rest of your session. So if you move on to another keyword niche, make sure you delete those and start with a clean slate.
- This tool is tied to Adwords. Google’s goal is to get you to spend more money on Adwords. While they offer the tool for free, Adwords is what it’s really designed for. So be careful not to click on things that say “add to account”. If you’re new to this, I recommend creating a separate research account that doesn’t have any active campaigns in it. Otherwise you run the risk of adding something by mistake and costing yourself a lot of money.
So my analysis is that, as usual, Google’s got the right idea. And they’re making a lot of data available for free. There are certainly paid tools that give more insights, but for a free tool, I’m not sure this one can be beat. Next time, I’ll look at a couple of other tools. If you have something specific you want me to review, leave it in the comments, but remember, it has to be free to the public.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.