A question I’ve been asked quite a few times (especially in relation to SiteBuilder Elite) is “What’s the best tool for doing keyword research?”

Well, it’s really six of one and half a dozen of the other.

The best tool is the one that best suits your way of working. But, having said that, here are a few pros and cons for the more popular tools

Free Keyword Tools:

Not everyone has money to spend on keyword tools so, for those in that position, there are a few few research tools available:

Google’s Keyword Planner
– Shows 12 months of historical search trends; can analyze a page or site for automatically recommending keywords; they have the largest search userbase and thus can offer great keyword depth; easy to export your keyword list as an Excel spreadsheet or text file. You can expect to get 100-300 keywords with this tool. Make sure you select the “Phrase” Match Type for more accurate results.

Pros: Quick and free.

Cons: Requires entering a captcha. Only provides search results from Google.

Wordtracker Free Keywords
– gives you up to 100 keywords, from a seed keyword.

Pros: Quick and free. Provides “Search” link beside each keyword so you can drill down further.

Cons: only provides up to 100 keywords per search. Multiple searches will invoke a captcha screen. Problematic importing the keyword list into any other application. Only provides results from Wordtracker’s database.

Digital Point Solutions Keyword Suggestion Tool (now defunct) – This was a handy little tool that will show you the results of your query from both Wordtracker and Overture for determining which phrases are searched for most often.

Pros: Quick and free.

Cons: Overture no longer works. You only get a subset of the keywords provided by Wordtracker’s free keyword research tool.

Keyword Research Tools That Are Not Free:

There are two routes to go here – a subscription based service or a one-time fee for some PC-based software.

[Update: May 11, 2010]: Micro Niche Finder: This is a desktop (PC) application rather than a web-based tool which provides information on keywords. Feed it a seed keyword and it will return a list of related keywords that people are searching for. It takes a different approach to keyword research by providing metrics on the bid price for Adsense ads targeted at the keywords returned by its search. So it’s a great tool for determining if a niche is worth going into. It can also provide indicators of how likely visitors are to buy a product, if you’re looking at building a product-based site rather than an Adsense based site. Another tool tells you how competitive a keyword is, so it’s another way to determine if a niche is worth getting into. Lastly, it can tell you if domain names for the returned keywords are available to register or not. There’s a bit more information on Micro Niche Finder here, along with a webinar showing off the capabilities of the latest version of the software.

Pros: One time fee of $99.99. A great tool for picking/finding high-paying niches to go into. The sales page provides several videos on how to construct various income streams using the software.

Cons: It only uses Google’s database for search data so results are skewed to what people are searching for on Google alone.

Keyword Elite 2.0 (now defunct): The best-known software-based tool. It’s a bit of software that runs on your PC (but needs an active internet connection for querying and retrieving data). There’s a one-time purchase fee of $197. Keyword Elite does a lot more than keyword research so you’ll have to decide if you want those extra features.

Pros: One time fee. Great piece of software.

Cons: it polls a number of keyword databases and, in order not to get blocked out of any of them, has to obey some data request rules which means searches can take a long time to run. If you’re doing deep searches (i.e. searching for keywords using a keyword from the results of a previous search), times will increase significantly for building your final list. When you buy, you’re automatically enrolled in the Search Marketing Elite club (at $39 per month). You have to actively unsubscribe from this to stop being re-billed each month.

WordTracker: Probably the best-known online tool, it’s used for keyword research exclusively.

Pros: Results come back very fast. Each keyword has a “Search” link beside it for to allow you to dig deeper for more keywords. Up to 1,000 keywords will be returned per search. Easy to export keyword lists and results to Excel or other spreadsheets apps. You can select what keywords you want to keep or delete. They also have a tool for finding keywords related to your search term which allows for some lateral thinking in building keyword lists. Searches can be saved in projects so that you can return to a search and its results at a later date. You can try the service out free for 7 days.

Cons: Subscription-based service ($59 per month or $329 per year). They change the tools a lot so just as you get used to one, it’s rejigged to something else. Their latest change results in annual counts being returned rather than monthly counts and those annual counts look way too low. Can only fetch data from its US or UK databases.

There’s a more comprehensive review of Wordtracker here (though this review is for an earlier incarnation of the tool).

Keyword Discovery
: Something of a pretender to Wordtracker’s throne, this tool compiles results from 200 search engines round the globe so it has a better grasp of world-wide search trends than Wordtracker. It provides more features than WordTracker and returns a larger keyword list. It’s also better aimed at people building Adsense sites than Wortracker.

Pros: Results are fast. Has a number of keyword analysis tools including historical trends, competitors, keyword effectiveness and Pay Per Click bid values. You can see who your keyword competitors are and which ones get the most traffic for a keyword. Keyword searches can be orgainised into projects. Additional keyword databases can be searched, including news sources, Q&A sources, adult, eBay and shopping databases. It can also provide a number of reports (e.g. top search terms on a search engine) and other tools for retrieving keywords (e.g. from the metatags of a URL). Keywords can be translated into a number of other languages. free trial available.

Cons: Subscription-based service ($69.95 per month or $599.40 per year for the Standard Edition). The Professional and Enterprise subscriptions are substantially more expensive. Some keyword tools are only available to Professional or Enterprise subscribers.

Keyword Country: This online service targets three areas: Adsense, SEO and PPC. It’s designed to maximize AdSense earnings with the first ever AdSense Keyword Search Engine allowing predictions of Adsense earnings before targeting a keyword.

Pros: Results are fast. Aimed almost exclusively at Adsense sites (or the converse side: Adwords). Has tools to reverse engineer high ranking websites to find out the keywords that makes them rank high, and pinpoint high-paying keywords and optimize Adsense content for more earnings-per-click. For programmers, they provide an API to interface with their system. The site provides a number of tutorial videos. Free trial for 7 days available.

Cons: Subscription-based service ($49 per month, $99 per 3-months, $299 per year).


Final Comments:

I started out using Keyword Elite (V1.3) as my research tool. I was very happy with what it did but ultimately I found the length of time it look to return results to be too limiting (I haven’t used V2.0 and maybe that’s faster). At that point I switched to using Wordtracker which I was initially happy with. But they’ve changed the tools a couple of times since I joined and I’m not happy with the counts that are coming back in searches. As I mentioned above, they’re annual figures which look way too low and leave me feeling that the figures aren’t terribly accurate. So when my Wordtracker subscription runs out in a few months, I’ll switch back to either Keyword Discovery or Keyword Country (half the price of Keyword Discovery and till cheaper than Wordtracker).

There are other keyword research tools out there (such as Market Samurai and Jaaxy), which I’ve just started using. Maybe you’d like to comment on your favorite keyword tool?

All the best,

Gary Nugent

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