This is a very common question among people to new to internet marketing. At some point in the early days, they’ll come across people plugging the use of different keyword research tools, but is it actually a good idea to be using them? Do they add any real value?
All the current top ranking articles for this query just go into reviews on “top 6/top 10” keyword research tools, but that’s not answering the query. Readers want to know whether they should even bother using them in the first place.
This is what we’ll answer in this post. The topic is actually quite a complex one and different bloggers are very successful both using, and not using, keyword research tools.
Here is a bottom line answer on using these tools:
Keyword research tools should only be used a guide, since none them are consistently able to give accurate search volumes. By doing keyword research manually and applying some common sense, you can find excellent keywords that the tools will often miss.
We’ll go into much more detail on this though, to give a balanced view on what keyword research tools can, and cannot, do for the users, so they can make an informed choice. Subscriptions to these tools can be expensive, so we want readers to be able to make an informed decision before using a Premium tool.
Keyword Research Tools: A Quick Intro
Keyword Research Tools are programs or browser add ons which will give you their estimate of search terms per month for certain search phrases you type in or search for on Google.
The idea behind them is that you can target longer tail keyword searches (5 words or more) that the tools tell you have large search volume on Google and write articles on these searches to gain good traffic to your website. In this way they are seen as a tool to research which articles to write (high search volume) and which not to write (low search volume).
In this way the hope is that you can use the tools to see which terms are being searched for most commonly on Google within the topic of your niche site and answer these most common questions in your articles to gain good traffic to your site.
The idea is that you can pick “low hanging fruit” – longer tail searches that have not been covered by the bigger sites but which still have good search volume on Google.
There are a number of problems however with using only Keyword research tools to base your decisions on, which we will cover below.
This is why we prefer the Income School approach of simply using some common sense along with some simple research using the autocomplete search feature on Google to decide which articles to write. Let’s look at the issue in more detail
The Problem With Keyword Research Tools
As we mentioned the fundamental problem with keyword research tools is simply the search volume numbers they give you are not always accurate.
For a start different tools may give you different search volumes for the same search phrase.
Secondly, the numbers in themselves will just be clearly not accurate in some cases, meaning that by themselves they are not a reliable tool to determine whether to write an article or not.
The Income School video below gives some good examples of this. For example, one tool gave a volume of only 1000 searches a month for the term “best jet skis”. This is clearly way off in terms of volume globally; that term will get well over 1000 searches per month around the world.
The opposite can also happen, where a tool will overestimate and tell you there is much more search volume than there actually is for a certain terms. In other words, the reliability is not there in the numbers they give you.
The stark reality when it comes to search engines (and search volumes and user data) is that Google has by far the biggest market share in the Western world, handling upwards of 90% of search queries in most countries (source).
This simply means that Google is the only company that has a real, lifesize dataset in terms of how much each keyword term is searched online every day.
No other company comes close to the data Google has, since no other search engine has anything close to the market share that Google has. This includes keyword research tools, which are extrapolating on the basis of incomplete datasets.
See the video just below for more on this problem with Keyword Tools, plus alternatives
Testing Out The Accuracy of Keyword Research Tools
Many people in blogging and SEO actually disagree with the assessment we have laid out above, and will defend the use of keyword research tools vigorously.
However, once you’ve been in the game a year or two, you can actually test out what the guys at Income School and others are saying.
Here are the steps to do this:
- Once you have an established site with some high traffic articles to choose from, go into your analytics.
- See here for linking Google Analytics to your website.
- Pick some articles that rank top, or at least in the top 3, and then see how much traffic the article has on your website analytics. See here for linking Google Analytics to your website.
- Then look up these keyword searches in the tools. What is the expected volume?
- Does your actual traffic match what the keyword tool said there should be?
- Do this for more search terms – low, medium and high competition – and you will often find the same results – the tools are wrong in the search volumes they give.
- Once you have enough experience doing this and have seen it enough times, you will understand what we mean when we say keyword research tools don’t give accurate volumes.
“We have done this hundreds of times, where we take an article found our way to do search analysis, we will look it up in the tool, and the tool will say almost no one searches this. And then we actually go write the piece of content, because our (method) shows there’s search volume there, and we’ve seen multiple times where it’s bringing in 5000 page views per month, from one article, that the tool tells us has no search volume”
Jim, Income School – see here
None of the Keyword Tools have anything close to the data that Google does on real search volumes
Incidentally, as soon as we realize the inaccuracy of search volumes given by these tools, it also logically follows that the so called Keyword Golden Ratio, used to identify low competition keywords, also falls apart, because it relies on the search volumes being accurate, which they aren’t.
See our article which covers the KGR in more detail.
By themselves they are not a good tool to use to decide whether to write an article. Their numbers will often lead people to write an article when they shouldn’t and not write an article when they should. The misleading numbers they sometimes give can lead bloggers to make the wrong decisions in terms of which content to produce or not.
Added to this is the fact that many of the more premium keyword research tools have a hefty monthly price tag, when it is far from certain they give consistently accurate answers.
Sometimes they may be right, sometimes they will be well off. It is really worth paying for a tool that is hit and miss in terms of reliability?
For sure there may be some good tools out there, but sifting through the minefield of unreliable search volumes so many of them give to find a good one is probably not the most efficient use of time for a new blogger. Let’s look at another strategy for deciding what content to write.
A Better Method to Find Good Keywords
We prefer the more intuitive approach of Income School for deciding which articles to write. See the video above for more on this. It just involves using some good judgement and common sense, and doing some simple searches on Google.
The Google autocomplete search feature is a kind of keyword research tool in itself. Here is how you can use it:
Keyword Research – The Common Sense (Income School) Way:
- Play around with Google Auto-Complete on search terms in your niche. By this, we mean Google automatically completes search phrases as you type.
- Look for search terms which Google completes for you around halfway through you typing them, or at least with a few words left.
- This always indicates search volume, since by completing it for you, Google is already telling you that other people are searching it.
- Assess the competition of the results for that search term. If it’s low quality results at the top (forums, short articles, thin content, not directly answering the query) and you know you can write a better post, then you have something you could rank for.
- If you can tick all these boxes, write the article. Don’t worry if the keyword research tools tell you there is little or no search volume. As we’ve covered, they are often wrong on this because they don’t have enough data.
- Actually perform the searches and analyze the quality of the results
- Low Quality – forums, Reddit, Quora, very thin content, not on point.
- Medium Quality – content from real website, but still thinnish 500-1000 words.
- High Quality – lots of articles from big sites, all exactly on point.
- The quality of the results gives you a good indication of the quality of the content you need to write to rank top for that term. Increase the depth of your content to match the competitiveness of the search term.
This method is completely free and easy and crucially is an indication straight from Google as to what search volume might be.
It is impossible to be sure on exact search volumes as Google does not release this information. We don’t know the exact figures but neither do the keyword research tools! It is largely guesswork. Only Google really knows.
A lot of people will scoff at this method as being “too simple” and “unprofessional”, but there is no escaping the fact that keyword tools don’t give accurate volume.
Moreover, this when these tools give an inaccurate volume on the low side (zero or 10), when in reality there is huge search volume, then by not writing this keyword you are missing out on a huge opportunity, whilst the person that uses the more common sense, manual approach and doesn’t listen to the tools will probably write the article and steal that very valuable keyword for themselves!
Some common sense and intuition is often needed for good keyword research instead of just relying on a tool to give out a “yes” or “no” answer
Use Keyword Research Tools as a Guide Only
This is why we argue that keyword research tools should be used as a guide only, and not taken as a definitive tool as to whether you should write an article or not.
Using them alongside the Google autocomplete method may be a good idea, but it is probably best not to use these tools as your only guide to decide on content. They are not reliable enough in the answers they give.
If the Google Autocomplete and the keyword tools both match and indicate high search volume, then this a very good indication you should write the article. If they don’t match, with one indicating high search volume and the other not or vice versa, then a little more common sense and judgement may be needed.
Are there likely to be a decent amount of people globally searching for this phrase every month? Is the question a sensible and realistic question someone interested in this niche or product might ask?
If the answers to these questions are yes, then it makes sense to write the article. If the keyword research tools back you up on this, then great. Even if they don’t though, it doesn’t mean you should not write the article. It if still seems like a sensible article to write, then go ahead and write it.
What Are Keyword Reseach Tools Useful For?
Let’s not totally beat up on keyword research tools though. Are they not good for some things? Yes, they are. Here are some things keyword tools can do quite well.
1. Larger Volume Searches – Keyword tools can sometimes give quite accurate results for higher competition search phrases, where they have enough data that they can extrapolate reasonably correctly.
However, these type of high volume search phrases are generally not the ones you want to after anyway, because they will be super competitive, with lots of big sites already writing long posts on them. These are not generally worth going after unless you have a site with big domain authority.
2. Backlink Profiles – Keyword research tools can be excellent for examining the backlink profiles of sites, especially larger ones where they have more data. In other words, seeing which other websites are linking to them, and how many backlinks they have from other sites, as well as the quality of these backlinks.
3. Top Articles – Again on older, well established sites where they have more data, some keyword tools are reasonably accurate at telling you which posts on a site bring in the most traffic. Can be good for deciding which keywords to go after (or not go after if too competitive).
4. Ideas – Keyword tools can give you some ideas in terms of general keywords and concepts to pursue in your niche. Can give some ideas on related phrases to check out using the more manual method we described above.
Some Popular Keyword Research Tools
Despite all we have said about the limitations of keyword research tools, we get that some readers may still want to try them out to either get some ideas or to test out the accuracy of the search volumes.
There are lots of keyword tools now; lets list some of the more popular ones:
1. Keywords Everywhere – This one has been around for a while. I started out using it, but didnt stick around long once I realized the problems with search volume accuracy. It has both free and Premium versions, and can be installed as a Chrome or Firefox extension. Has the same weaknesses as all keyword tools, but can be useful for getting some keyword ideas.
2. Answer The Public – This is one we do actually recommend! This is an excellent tool with Free and Premium versions, and can actually be useful, because they are focused on keyword phrases only and not on search volume. If you visit their website, you can plug in a very general phrase (eg. tennis rackets), and it will run a quick analysis of all the keywords that are being searched with that phrase in and put them into a nice graphic or chart for you to save and use.
Great for general keyword research and highly recommended!
3. Ahrefs – This is a premium tool which is actually quite pricey, and comes with the same limitations as all the other tools. None of them have enough data to consistently give accurarate search volume. Probably not worth the money for most bloggers.
4. Long Tail Pro – Another premium tool but the plans aren’t cheap again, and probably not worth it for most individual bloggers. Larger companies and SEO agencies may want to use it for the other features it provides.
5. SEMrush – Another premium tool that’s the most expensive of the lot. Not worth it for most individual bloggers, big companies many want to use it.
See here for a list of more Keyword Research Tools. Be aware though that no matter how well they are marketed, they all suffer from the same problem of not having enough data to be reliably accurate.