A core competency in search engine marketing is understanding what keywords will bring the most quality traffic to your website and what keywords end up resonating with your audience. In addition to the strategies we use for determining this, there are tools available for any website owner or manager that assist in determining if the keywords desired are more competitive and what projected search volumes will be.
This post offers some pros and cons on four keyword research tools that I have had the experience of using:
- Overture Free Keyword Research Tool
- Keyword Discovery from Trellian
- Google’s Adwords Program Tools
Overture’s Free Keyword Research Tool
Free is always a nice feature of a product, service or tool and it’s no exception here. At last check, Yahoo’s search volume represented approximately 23% of total US search and the overture tool gives you the actual search volume of a keyword in their search engine for the previous month. In terms of tracking and projecting from real data, a 23% sample size is the most accurate to draw support from. In addition, Overture offers additional keyword suggestions in the results, with search volume data. (Note, Overture was acquired by Yahoo in 2003)
Disadvantages of the Overture Tool
The biggest disadvantage of the tool is that you can only enter one word at a time. If you are researching hundreds of keywords, this could be very time consuming, but if you are in a select market (such as Cape Cod), it may not matter. Another drawback is that you cannot distinguish between plural and singular keywords, capitalization and special syntax. There are occasions where a keyword suggestion is lumped into one major keyword group, so it is not possible to realize specific search volumes. Finally, the tools is prone to heavy use, and I’ve seen many occasions where it is down or temporarily out of service.
It should be pointed out that this tool may be discontinued in the near future, as Yahoo’s Search Marketing Program is transitioning to the new Panama Program. While currently online, it remains to be seen how long this will be, or if a new keyword research tool will replace it.
- Overture’s Free Keyword Research Tool
- Digital Point has a great keyword research interface using the Overture Keyword Tool that actually lets you search by international market. Ideal if you are in the business of international keyword research
WordTracker is a good tool at a reasonable cost. A one year subscription currently runs for around $25/month ($274 Total) and there are monthly, weekly and even one-time subscription prices (I don’t recommend anything less than a monthly subscription however, unless you are incredibly disciplined and already familiar with the interface). The key benefit to the WordTracker tool is that the results will be broken up by plural and singular variations, as well as capitalization, misspellings and additional variances in search. In addition, you can bulk load a list of keywords, segment your searches for exact matches, general terms etc, and can save and export your results. They also have a fairly extensive support section and documentation available.
WordTracker gives you two key numbers for search results:
- Count: Which gives the total amount of times that the search was made and recorded in their database through the WordTracker search partner network
- Predict: WordTracker uses a formula to predict the amount of search volume from all Internet users per day, based on the market share of their search network.
The main drawback to the WordTracker tool is that their database of search volumes is relatively low. Their search partner network receives around 6 Million searches/day, which they admit is a reasonably small sample set to work with. Also, their total database of terms is around 300 million searches, which is also small (in comparison, Google receives over 200 million search queries per day, as detailed in Wikipedia).
Another commercial tool to consider is Keyword Discovery (KD) from Trellian. The standard monthly subscription is $69.95/month, but if you pay for it up front, you save yourself around $240 dollars on an annual basis. There are also enterprise level subscriptions, but that is not what this particular posts deals with, and the costs are probably out of most small business’s budget ranges.
The tool’s global database collects data from a variety of sources including over 180 search engines worldwide, including search statistics from Google, Yahoo, MSN, Teoma and others. In addition, KD now offers a premium database that is derived from user panel information and the toolbars of over 3.5-million users. From a complete data perspective, KD claims to have around 580 million search results in their traditional database, and nearly 200 million in the premium database. That represents nearly 100% more volume than WordTracker.
The main disadvantage with this tool is the cost, as the features of singular/plural word variations, misspellings and the ability to save and export information, are all available with this tool. I recommend using the free evaluation to test results, as this option gives you similar access as found in the Overture tool.
Note on the data you will see.
Keyword Discovery breaks the results into four columns of information: Searches, Occurrences, KEI and Predicted Daily Volume. If you are using the free tool, you only get to see “searches”.
- Searches represent how many times that particular term was searched for, in the last 12 months, in the KD database. (Note that similar to WordTracker, this is a sample set in comparison to total search)
- Occurrences and KEI help website owners determine how effective keywords will be. High KEI scores usually mean that a keyword is searched more, but fewer web pages actually use that keyword.
- Predicted Daily Volume is KD’s projection of how many searches/day actually happen in the total search space. This is similar to WordTracker’s “Predict” value. In my opinion, the key here is that we are working with a larger dataset, ideally making predictions more reliable.
Google Adwords Keyword Research Tools
The advantage of using Google’s keyword tools are just that – they are Google’s keyword tools and Google represents 50% of the entire search market. A while back, they realized how valuable the specific search volumes of keywords really were and instituted a “bar graph” system, which gives the website owner a relative measure of how much search volume is out there for a given keyword in the previous month. In addition, Google provides tools to measure the trend of a phrase (for seasonality or brand strength), competitive strength or weakness and approximate costs if you were to use their PPC program (which of course they want you to do).
I do find the comparison between actual volume and the advertiser competition for a keyword valuable, as it helps allow you to gauge how much your market will be a factor in long-term SEO growth and development. This can play a huge role in local and regional search.
However, the biggest downside is that you do not get specific numbers on search volumes. Google does give you an estimated range for potential clicks, assuming you were bidding in the most favorable spots, but this is highly subjective data and is not very effective in forecasting actual search traffic. The primary reasons are that searchers tend to click organic results 70% of the time, but that does not take into account better advertising copy in your ads, or the type of keyword searches you are optimizing for. In addition, ad copy can also sway click thru rates in PPC dramatically, based on how effective your message is and how well it relates to your landing pages (a lesson for another post). There are two places to find the Google Tools for keyword research:
- If you do not have a Google PPC Account, you can use this link: Google’s External Keyword Research Tool
- Google Adwords account holders can select the “Tools” link in the top navigation of their account, when they login. The “Traffic Estimator” is the fourth link on the left-hand side of the page.
Any of the four keyword research tools above, could be sufficient for obtaining reasonable projections on traffic. In my opinion, I like to use Google data (given that 50% of the market is controlled by Google) and Keyword Discovery. Occasionally, I will use the Yahoo/Overture tool as well, especially when I see disparities in my results between the other two. For small businesses, especially with a limited number of keyword possibilities, the free tools provided by Yahoo and Google can be more than sufficient. If research is needed for e-commerce sites, or websites with a variety of topics and categories, you may want to consider a commercial tool such as WordTracker or Keyword Discovery, which provide bulk load interfaces and specific volumes/search projections, and allow you to easily save and export your work.
Additional Resources and Reviews of Note
There are other commercial keyword research tools available (such as Hitwise) but costs and fees tend to appreciate beyond the small business budget. Here are two additional reviews on Keyword Discovery and WordTracker respectfully:
- Next-Gen Keyword Research Tools – By Christine Churchill in SearchEngineWatch.com
- A WordTracker Review From Mike’s Marketing Tools
Finally, SEOBook.com has a free keyword research tool that combines projected data from Google, Yahoo and MSN (built off of the Overture data), hyperlinks to WordTracker and Keyword Discovery search volumes and important data from Google Trends, Google’s Keyword Suggestion, Synonym and Traffic Tools.
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