Comparing Tools & Methods of Doing Keyword Research

It seems like there are a million tools to do keyword research in 2017. If you’re launching a new site or are just looking at building out more content on your website it can be a little difficult trying to find a starting point with your keyword research. Particularly in niches that aren’t “sexy,” it can be easy to run out of topics or keyword ideas really quickly.

Rather than the hunt and peck method of tossing some high level root keywords into a tool like Google Keyword Planner, I often find that using competitive keyword tools on established competitors or informational sites can turn up a gold mine of information with only a fraction of the time and frustration you’d run into with the aforementioned method.

For example, let’s say I’m starting an online store that sells softball bats. If I wanted to start building out a list of keywords to target here are a few methods and their results.

Build a list and expand it using Google Keyword Planner

This is a tried and true method. I’ll take a short list of keywords that I think would be relevant and add them to the tool and see what I get.

softball bats in GKP

Of course, Google gives me the volume for the terms in my list, but when you get to their keyword ideas they’re painfully off topic. Softball and baseball bats, if you’re not familiar, are very different things. Google’s suggestions mostly relate to baseball, and of the softball items, few of them have anything to do with bats.

gkp irrelevant results

In order to make this work, you have to sift through an inordinate amount of bad data and keep plugging in more and more refined ideas to hopefully build a long list of primary target keywords as well as long tail ideas for content. Yes, this can work and has for many SEOs, but there have to be better tools in the toolbox, right?

Let Google Keyword Planner make suggestions from top ranking pages

Simple enough, we take an informational page on our topic and see what Keyword Planner cranks out for us. After a few searches, I found this resource on selecting a softball bat – It has a ton of content and it’s focused on our subject. Let’s see what Google does with this URL…

softball bat keywords

This provides much better results than our first go around. Still, Google finds there to be a high correlation between baseball and softball (since the page does mention baseball) so there’s still quite a few unwanted baseball and non-bat references in this keyword list. However, it does include a fair amount of primary and long tail keywords that would provide a good starting point for building your site’s information architecture and content calendar.

See what keywords a direct competitor is already ranking for

This is my current favorite method of keyword research. Take sites that have a lot of quality content exclusively about your subject matter and toss them into a tool like SEMrush and let it spit out all the keywords they’ve found these sites ranking for in their database. I found a site that’s all about hitting a softball –, and it discusses bats and techniques. This should have all kinds of useful long tail keywords and be tightly aligned with my very niche subject matter.

semrush softball bats

As I suspected, this site has quite a few very interesting keywords that provide good ideas for content on my softball bats site. For new content ideas, in particular, this technique is fantastic. If I wanted primary keywords for the store side of my site, I would find a site that exclusively sells softball bats and seems to rank well and toss them into SEMrush and then combine my lists.

Cover your bases with Grepwords

See what I did there? Anyway, Grepwords is a very useful tool when you want to get a massive list of very tightly aligned keywords. When using this tool, unlike Google Keyword Planner, it will spit out every single keyword in its database that includes the keywords you specify. So, in short, if I wanted a massive list of keywords that included “softball bat” I’d just have to tell Grepwords to give me that list…and so I did.

grepwords softball bat keywords

For a super niche site, this method is really handy for building a list you can quickly sift through to quickly recognize and organize your primary keywords. Knowing that “softball bat” will be a critical portion of many of my keywords, this will provide a lot of guidance early in your SEO and content strategy. Grepwords also includes a tool that identifies questions containing your keywords, which is also very handy for generating content ideas.

Let the smart tools do some of the work for you…

There are more keyword tools than you can shake a stick at, but I at least wanted to mention a couple other of my favorites before signing off.

The Moz Keyword Explorer takes some major steps towards what many of us really want in a keyword research tool and what Google would probably give us if they cared about us lowly SEOs. Anyhow, the tool allows you to take a keyword and slice and dice their recommendations. Moz is also nice enough to provide relevancy information for each keyword, allowing you to group and ungroup them with various criteria, parse out keywords that are questions, set tolerances for how similar you want the keywords to be and much more. If you really want to get creative with keyword research I strongly suggest giving this tool a try.

moz keyword tool

Last but not least is another tool from SEMrush, their Keyword Magic Tool is still in beta but similar to Moz’s tool. It allows you a lot of freedom to slice, dice and filter keyword data and provides some valuable groupings as well. semrush keyword magic

Using “softball bat” in this tool provides some valuable groupings that would be helpful in figuring out my site’s initial architecture, and I can also filter by word counts if I want to look for interesting long tail ideas for content.

How about you?

What are some of your favorite tools and methods for keyword research? I’m always interested in seeing what the rest of the SEO world is up to so if you’ve got something to share leave a comment.

Adam Henige

Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage Marketing. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and Moz.

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