Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.
Three Free Keyword Research Tools
One of the hardest things to do in keyword research is to uncover related keywords. With that in mind, the tools I’m reviewing today all help identify related keywords that you may want to search in more detail.
These tools are not a substitute for detailed keyword research like I talked about in my first series of articles. Rather, they may help to either identify those keywords that are most important to your competitors, or help find obscure opportunities where there may be little search volume, but there is also little competition.
All of the tools I reviewed for this article are free to the public. Some have paid options, but I’ve only covered the free features.
This tool defaults to Google UK since it’s developed by a UK team, so if you’re using it in the US, you’ll have to change it to Google US. The nice thing is that it also has options for several other countries and returns results in language.
The free version of this tool does limit you to 100 keywords, so while it’s useful for high level ideas, it’s not a keyword research substitute.
Another nice feature is the ability to order the cloud visualization it returns – by Adwords competition or by search volume. Since the cloud already “orders” the data by showing high volume words in larger font, I generally choose to order by Adwords competition.
Here’s a screen shot of “backpacks” in Google DE ordered by ascending Adwords competition:
As you can see, this is an easy way to surface a lot of related keywords that don’t necessarily contain the word “backpack”. It’s also a better strategy for translation/localization on the cheap, since “deuter rucksack” is likely to be the most searched phrase.
It will save you from making a big mistake like using the literal translation of “to backpack”, which is “trampen”, or being too specific like “hiking backpack”, which is “wanderrucksack”.
Keyword Spy allows you to quite literally “spy” on keywords. It’s a great name.
There are several features of the free version of this tool, but the one I like the best is the Domain spy tool.
Just type any domain into the search box, make sure the radio button for “domains” is selected, and you can get reasonably accurate data on how much that site is spending in paid search, who their competitors are, what keywords they spend the most money on, and more:
Those tabs across the top work too, and while with a free trial, you can only get 10-20 results in each tab, the information is still really useful.
The “Ads” page for example shows you Geico’s top ad copies with some key information about them. You can even click on this little “KW” button to get more keywords that are in that ad group:
Plus, you can export any of the lists into Excel, CSV, or Google Spreadsheets. Bonus! Export capability is usually not offered in free products.
The competitors tab is also pretty neat; you can see both organic and paid competitors side by side:
The Top Lists page is mostly just fun info to know with no direct application, but one of these lists is the keywords with the largest cost per click change. This information, which is not readily available in other tools, can be quite useful in detecting trends as they are happening.
Notice that every one of these keywords is for a different industry/vertical, so you get a good cross-section. It’s worth checking back on occasionally.
But in terms of real world application, the Keyword Spy add on has got to be the best feature. Their website link doesn’t seem to work all that well, but I downloaded the add-on for Chrome, and basically what it does is allow you to open the domain report on any website where it’s applicable.
You can find out some interesting and useful information this way. For example, did you know that the most profitable keyword Facebook bids on (according to Keyword Spy’s calculation) is “advertise myspace”? Think of what you could learn about your competitors.
This tool is also a paid tool with a free option, but unlike other free options, I think this tool provides just enough data in its free application to be useful. One element that I like in SEMRush that I haven’t seen elsewhere is the metric for the number of results in Google. That’s this number for any given search:
The number of results is useful because it essentially shows you how big the competitive field is for a keyword. Instead of showing you just the number of competitors, or who wants to pay for it and how much, it shows you that there are (in this case) 145 million other pages that use this term in a way that Google feels may be relevant.
Here’s where you see this metric on SEMRush:
Another area that SEMRush provides something you just don’t see everywhere else is “related keywords”.
Staying with the example of “backpack”, you can see below that SEMRush points out a couple of important keywords that are not relevant to a site selling bags that you carry stuff in and sling over your shoulders:
These keywords all refer to an application named “backpack”, which was created by 37Signals and is a companion to BaseCamp, which is a project management system.
This is an important piece of information, and something I need to make sure I put in the negatives of my PPC campaign. Sure, I would find it eventually anyway if I’m optimizing my account well, but this way, I don’t have to pay for keywords like this up front.
So there are just a few free opportunities to get more keyword data. There are so many more I could cover, but after reviewing more than two dozen free keyword tools, these are my favorites. One other toolset that merits mention is the one from SEOBook, which is only partially keyword research, but between the tools and the browser extensions, will make your life so much easier.
It’s important to note, there’s definitely something to be said for paying for great data. I’ve previously had the benefit of subscriptions to SpyFu, Wordtracker, Adgooroo, Compete.com, and KeywordDiscovery, and I wouldn’t hesitate a minute to buy those again if my budget allowed.
What’s your favorite tool? Are there other features of the ones I covered that you couldn’t live without? Tell me in the comments!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.