Every savvy marketer should have a strong keyword tool in their arsenal.

Not so long ago, your success in search marketing didn’t take much up-front keyword research. You could brainstorm some search terms for your site, mix them into your on-site content (or advertising copy), and then test your ideas to see what stuck.  When you found a winner, you would simply scale your success by trying long tails and related terms.

These days — unless you’re very lucky — a seat-of-the-pants method won’t produce many successful search campaigns.

mouse is hiding from confused cat with caption you can't rely on luck foreverNow that there’s increased competition you have to start with careful planning up front.  If you don’t target the right keywords in the beginning, you might as well hand over your money.  Sure you  could stumble upon profitable search terms. (Though you’d be incredibly lucky if you did.) You’d also have to double that luck to know exactly what to invest in them from the start.

Instead, make your own luck. Ensure some big wins with some smart decisions.

The best keyword tools help you get those wins.

Good keyword research means that you can develop a profitable advertising and content marketing strategy that won’t rely upon luck. With the right tools, you’ll enjoy stronger (and faster) results if you work the findings into your content strategy.

You can be confident about the keywords for your ads and your content from the start. Since you know how valuable each of these terms are, you can also make better investment decisions.

How Do Keyword Research Tools Help You Strategize?

The right keyword tools can open a window for you into your customers’ search habits.  The most productive way to get there is to learn how your competitors are profiting with search terms:

A good tool can be like a fresh set of eyes

  • You know too much. A “curse of knowledge” makes it hard to see your product or solution from a new visitor’s viewpoint. You might not use the keywords and phrases that your customers will use when they are ready to buy.
  • The best keyword tool can reveal the terms that buyers use and that your competitors might target.

It expands your field of knowledge

  • Without the right tool, you cannot really guess how common or how competitive keywords will be on Google and other major search engines. The top keyword tools will give you  keyword metrics to help you choose the right terms to target.
  • You need to budget for your search marketing campaign, and a tool can help you estimate costs.

Why Can’t You Just Rely Upon Google’s Free Keyword Tool?

This question pops up all the time. It’s not surprising considering this keyword tool is free and easily available.

However, Google has its restrictions.

If you’ve done any keyword research for either paid ads or organic search, you’ve probably experimented with Google’s free keyword research tool, Keyword Planner. Even though Google developed this platform to support paying advertisers, many have discovered its uses for both for paid ads and for organic search terms.

It’s widely used, but Google limits the insights to strictly neutral data. They know which keywords work best for a competitor and which ones didn’t fare well. They’re never going to let you see that information as sharing it would be a conflict of interest.

Google with a zipped mouth not telling
That’s where 3rd party tools give you an advantage.  However, to understand what you’re getting from the best keyword tools, it’s still important to know how things work through Google.

Google’s Limitations in its Free Keyword Tool

Basically, according to the Keyword Planner introduction, you can begin your search with a domain name and search phrase or term. In return, the tool will offer you lists of keywords (single term and long tail phrases) that have been included in paid ads. The list also estimates the popularity and price for each term on the list.

You do need an AdWords account to use Google’s research tool; however, you don’t have to spend any money first.

Recently, this tool has been rebranded as Keyword Planner and more closely integrated with AdWords. In the process, Google removed some of the functions and limited the information it displays.

The tool is still helpful to come up with keyword ideas and gain some idea about search popularity and competition. However, you should be aware of some limitation you will face if you rely upon this tool:

  • The most obvious limitation is that Google controls the flow of information.  You won’t see terms from other search engines or even those that haven’t been used in paid ads.
  • Some information for monthly searches could be based upon seasonal results or temporary spikes. These variations may throw off your estimates by a considerable amount. Look for tools that include historical data.
  • You may get hints about pricing and competition, but you won’t know which of your own competitors have used the search terms in the list. Yes, you can enter a competitor’s URL; however, you won’t get any guarantees that the terms came from that site.
  • Google doesn’t do a good job of guessing customer intentions for your site when they show you results. Also, you only see a very limited selection of keywords. The better job that you can do of using interest and intent as the basis for your search terms, the better you can attract the right visitors. As illustrated in the following example, Google Keyword Planner might not help you much with that task.

Limited Search Results From Keyword Planner

It might help to explore that last point in more depth to understand it.

Let’s say you have a website that offers people plans, supplies, materials, and kits to help your customers build their own wooden shed. You don’t sell wooden sheds, but you do sell everything that a DIY-builder would need to make one of their own.

If you just type wooden sheds or something similar into Keyword Planner, you’re likely to get a list like the one that you see here (below). The tool may think the keywords are relevant to your search term; however, they’re either very general or more related to selling completed sheds than to building them.

Those keywords are fine, but here’s the snag. You have no way to target your direct competitors. Without some knowledge of the phrases people use to seek products like yours, you’re a step behind. It seems that the tool leaves out more than it actually tells you.

Maybe you will sell a few shed kits to people who had originally searched for a place to buy a shed. You might even tailor some pages an ads towards convincing potential shed buyers that they should become shed builders.

Still, it’s likely that you already know that your returns are likely to be higher if you directly target customers who want to build their own wooden shed in the first place.

You don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that Google can’t accommodate you with better search terms for your website with both paid ads and organic searches. For instance, seeding the tool with building wooden sheds or a related phrase might reveal some fairly modestly priced and popular terms that you could target. You can see some of these in the screenshot here.

If you saw this second set of results, you might decide that building a wood shed or* shed plans* would send the right people to your page. The problem is that you need to already know that or you may never uncover those terms in the first place.  You really need a tool that can analyze websites and search terms to generate valuable search terms.

Why Use Keyword Tools outside of Google?

It’s not as though Google limits your information because they want to hurt your chances to succeed. More likely, they’ve got to be careful to protect the interests of all of their customers. If they sell ads to you and your direct competitors, they certainly can’t reveal the exact search strategy that has worked for any of you to the others.

When you understand Google’s business model, it’s easy to understand the reasons why search providers may limit the information that they show you:

**Protecting customers: **Nobody wants their advertising platform to reveal the advertiser’s valuable intellectual property to competitors.

  • If your results appear vague or lacking, it’s possible to argue that Google keeps them that way to protect you and other advertising customers. You will always face that problem when you seek keyword information from a search provider.

Protecting their bottom line: Google may offer you keyword tools to help you get started with your own ads.

  • At the same time, Google’s not really in the business of providing the best keyword tool; they are in business to generate as much revenue as possible with their platform.

As a marketer, you might find these free keyword tools useful for some basic research. Still, keep this caveat in mind.

Google’s main goal is not to drive down your advertising costs but to improve their own revenue.

If the information that they provide hides the whole story, that may cost you money. It won’t hurt the search engine’s bottom line and may even improve it. Google’s Keyword Planner is a powerful, insightful tool. You have every reason to rely on it. Just don’t rely on it exclusively.

Work 3rd party keyword tools into your research

What’s the best reason to try a premium, third-party keyword research tool? Mainly, you can finally see what you’ve been missing by relying upon your search ad provider’s tools. You can use an entire suite of tested and smart online tools to learn exactly what you need to know to jump-start your own paid or organic search marketing efforts.

What makes a good keyword tool?

It should have depth.

Getting just a slice of keywords will paint a misleading picture. It’s important to find a tool that searches millions of keywords across diverse industries.

It should be consistent.

Be sure that your keywords are searched regularly. Small pop-up shops can offer you bulk data, so be sure that the tool you use gets consistent updates on every keyword. That way you can catch market shifts (like when advertisers drop a keyword or a category).

It should have history

Even if it doesn’t seem like a “need” right now, you’ll notice how much you come to rely on history once you work it into your keyword research.

It should be unbiased

As stated earlier, Google calls the shots on everything from the entire organic placement algorithm to the ongoing changes in what will or won’t trigger an ad.

Their keyword tool shares the data that they want shared, and that won’t take your competitors’ habits into account. Leaning on a 3rd party could help you understand a truer picture of what works and what falls flat.

It should reveal opportunities

Your competition is testing terms on the same audience you’re trying to reach. If these keywords work well enough to make their lineup each week (or month), take notice.

You will need keyword tools that let you see your competitors’ keywords and marketing habits, not just an aggregate of results.

Also, look for keyword tools that help you catch keywords that you should be negative matching against. Dropping dead weight is a good opportunity on its own.

It should marry SEO and AdWords insights

You make SEO keyword decisions with reliable SEO metrics. However, there’s still much to glean from the PPC side. Competition in AdWords will be a faster, more recent reflection of the market.

Top Keyword Tools Available

No keyword tool covers the exact features of another. Most of these have a limited free version, but you should look for caps on the number of results you get or the number of searches you can run before you have to upgrade to the paid version.

You can augment your keyword research with any of these top 3rd party keyword tools.

1. SpyFu

With a blend of historical data and thorough competitive data, SpyFu focuses on keyword opportunities. Think “keywords you don’t buy, but your competitors do.” You can filter your results to keywords that are more likely to pay off for you in either SEO or AdWords.

2. Ahrefs

We like their Content Explorer for finding the most shared content for a particular keyword. This angle takes the focus off of the SERP ranking and inspires content that gets its traffic heavily from social networks.

3. Wordstream 

This tool offers keyword suggestions specific to the industry you name so that results are more relevant. Their Opportunity Score for each keyword highlights areas you can leverage.

4. SEMRush

They have done an excellent job of sharing deep data on millions of keywords from international markets. If your keyword research takes you outside of English words, this tool might be a must-add to your toolkit.

5. Moz Keyword Explorer

Specific to SEO metrics, this tool assures high accuracy on its monthly search volume stat and includes domain and page authority on its SERP overview.

6. Yoast Suggest 

It’s bare boned, but if you just need quantity over everything else, this tool delivers. It builds on your root keyword to give you an export-ready list of long tail versions of that term.

7. CanIRank.com

This tool pulls from a few others on this list to recommend action you should take. That might include targeting a keyword with a page you already have. However, with limits to the number of keywords you can search, It’s not for ongoing keyword research.

8. Wordtracker

Reveals Amazon and YouTube data in addition to Google insights. Their premium version allows you to access keyword data from other countries.

9. Raven Tools

Focuses on SEO keyword research and can alert you to issues that might harm your rankings. It’s helpful to grab keyword rankings data here if you are primarily relying on Raven Tools’ robust link data.

10. Keyword Tool.io

Like many others, this tool offers searches on Google, YouTube, Bing, and Amazon. It seeks to differentiate itself with a mobile angle by serving a mobile-focused keyword tool with searches from the App Store.

11. Majestic

With an emphasis on links more than anything, Majestic’s keyword tool seems to be a background feature with the tool itself available only in the second-level paid plan.

We kept it on the list because the full reach you get through Majestic is helpful for your overall ranking goals. If you’re locking into this tool for its link insights, then look at this keyword tool as an added bonus.

How Can You Profit From a Keyword Tool Like SpyFu?

Consider these examples of keyword insights you can gain within seconds of testing out SpyFu:

  • You can see the top domains and exact URLs that rank for keywords you would like to target. This information can help you decide if the keywords are relevant to your own website. If they are, you will also know how your competitors use them.
  • Some examples of helpful metrics include click volume, search volume, and estimated click value. Some of your most promising keywords could be the most expensive ones to target. Using these metrics, you can weigh your decision. Of course, you’ll also be able to better estimate your costs.
  • These metrics also help you gauge how difficult specific keywords will be to rank for. This helps you prioritize your work.

SpyFu also delivers related keywords to help build your keyword research. These yet-to-be-discovered gems can enhance your content or paid search strategy.

Your search campaign’s profitability could largely depend upon finding intent-driven keywords that may not seem obvious at first. For example, your customers might not think about buying garage door springs; they might simply start by researching how to fix their broken garage door. Give them the content that educates your visitors and then sells them springs.

Quick-Start Suggestions to Use SpyFu to Uncover Strong Keywords

SpyFu offers a suite of powerful tools to help search marketers with many different tasks. Try tackling a couple of different angles, all from one tool:

Find Your Competitors’ Best Keywords

We believe strongly in the wisdom of the crowd. Other advertisers are in the same boat that you are. They are making their best attempts to connect with the same audience. They don’t necessarily have a magic formula, but they are certainly working toward one.

If you can follow their tests and best results, that gives you a peek at what’s working. Your competitors are unwittingly turning their insights over to you.

Just get started by entering a competitor’s URL in the search box. These instructions will explain how to best use SpyFu to learn your competitors’ keywords. With this information, you can profit by emulating what other companies do well and avoiding what they could do better.

Generate Profitable Keyword Ideas

If you’ve been marketing your site for some time, you may already have your own ideas about the keywords that have proven successful for your SEO and ads. You can scale your success by entering your keywords into SpyFu to see a list of proven, related terms that you can consider.

You can also find related terms that your competitors are already paying for, so you can profit from their experiences too. Learn more about mining for related keywords with SpyFu here.

Try SpyFu’s Free Keyword Research Options Today

You can try SpyFu out for free, and you don’t even have to enter any personal or credit card information to get started. The free version shows you a partial set of the very top results. It’s designed to show you how the tool works and what kind of insights you get. However, you will find fuller, more meaningful results when you remove all limits.

You will know exactly which keywords similar businesses target, how well those search terms perform, and exactly what you need to do in order to attract more paying customers to your website.

Search engines profit from selling you advertising, so they don’t always offer the tools that you can use to minimize your ad spend. SpyFu customers rely upon this suite of keyword research tools to give them the intelligence they need to outperform their competition.