My Updated Opinion on Various Keyword Research Tools

February 22, 2009

So over the past 1-2 years most of the keyword research I’ve been doing has been supplemental in nature.  That is to say I did a “major” analysis maybe 2-3 years ago and have just been building on top of that, updating things, etc. rather than starting from scratch.  This is primarily b/c I’ve not taken on a ton of new clients since most of our clients partner with us for ongoing, long-term campaigns.  The main tools I’ve been using lately are the free Google Keyword Tool and the not-free Keyword Discovery by Trellian, along with a heavy dose of data analysis via Google Analytics and any other sources showing actual keyword referrals.

But a couple of days ago I went back to starting from scratch.  We have a client who started with us about a month ago and first tackled some structural and tracking-related issues with the site before really hitting the keyword research formally.  We had some intuitive ideas about keywords, and the client has a good bit of historical data… plus its a segment where the diversity of keywords just doesn’t seem to be that great.  Anyhow, I decided to try out a number of tools that I’ve had accounts with for a while… probably 2-3 years or more.  In some cases we’ve had free trial accounts, and in other cases I’ve been paying for membership even though we haven’t used it much.

I was looking for keyword suggestions and (hopefully) some sort of quantitative pieces, and was sort of doing this with my “competitive analysis” hat on.  That is, I was interested in finding out what is driving traffic to the competitors’ websites, and then see if we are already targeting those keywords or not.

I gave between 5 and 30 minutes to each of the following:

Keyword Discovery – still a pretty good tool, mainly b/c of the size of their data source.  Its still clunky and slow to use and is missing lots of intuitive features that would be very helpful, but the data is pretty good considering most other sites.  Its also ugly.  Hire a designer, guys!

SpyFu – a lot of people bring up this site, but I must be missing it.  They had only a few suggestions for the keywords and competitors I gave them.  Not impressed.

WordZe – nice looking icons on the login screen, and the promise of lots of tools… but the core keyword research function is lacking.  The suggestions and data I get look like junk compared to the better services out there.  This copyblogger review gives it a thumbs up, but to me all they are saying is “its pretty and easier to use”.  Okay, but what about the fact that their data sucks and does not provide a good number of quality keyword suggestions?

KeyCompete – Again, not impressed.  I was using the free version, but that’s only b/c they only seemed to have a few keywords anyway.  Had they shown me something enticing I would have gladly paid for the subscription, but why should I when they only had 2 keywords for each site I searched on?  I got to see up to 5 for free.  The next site had a ton more data.

KeywordSpy – Very impressed.  Lots of great data, and easy to use.  Fairly fast too.  Even had ROI estimates, though I don’t know how much I’d trust those numbers.  Anyhow, good stuff.  I signed up for a monthly subscription.

Google Keyword Tool – You have to use it given the data source, even though everyone believes the numbers are vastly inflated and obviously rounded quite dramatically.  They used to say “high”, “medium” and “low” for volume, so having actual numbers is an improvement even with how rounded they are.  I believe there are like 20 or so different volume levels and they just round to the nearest.  That said, the data is all relative so it still has value.  And given that their data accounts for like 80% of all search data, its hard to ignore this.  I still don’t like the interface though, but this has to be a piece of your keyword research process.

Another tool that helps with keyword research is a keyword combination tool like the one at Ranks.nl.  All it really does is a concatenate function that you can easily do yourself using Microsoft Excel, but it is a little more user friendly and will save you 3 minutes of creating Excel formulas and copying/pasting.

Summary and Key Learnings

KeywordSpy really impressed me.  I signed up for a subscription for like $89 per month or something.  Feeling bad about increasing my monthly expenses, I logged into WordZe.com and gave them a few minutes of my time.  Didn’t find any real value there, so I canceled my $35 per month subscription, thus saving a bit on the monthly commitments.

Question: Should I give Wordtracker another try?  It has to have been like 5 years since I used them.  Also what about Aaron Wall’s tool?  Last time I used that I remember it being almost too much data and not enough “good data”.  Thoughts?

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6 Responses to “My Updated Opinion on Various Keyword Research Tools”


  1. We just started using KeywordSpy as well and are very happy it with it so far. I uncovered some great terms my competitor’s were bidding on that I was not using the tool. I also thought the CPC estimates and KW position estimates were really accurate for one of my clients. Another good tool that is similar is SEMrush.com but I thought KeywordSpy was better.

    • jonpayne Says:

      Glad to hear it! I saw a post that mentioned they might be doing some email spamming or something. I don’t like that, but I don’t know about that first-hand either. I do like their product though.

  2. Corey Creed Says:

    We almost exclusively use Google keyword tool. It’s not perfect, but it’s about the best we have. Wordtracker and KD are just not worth the price anymore unless you do it all the time. Even then I doubt it is worth the cost.

    There are a couple “keyword combination” web pages that are extremely helpful. We use that method constantly and it works great, mostly for AdWords.

    Aaron’s SEO Book keyword tool is great because it is basically a great aggregate tool of the others that may be worth checking (like Quintura for LSI)

    This is the process we use…

    1. Brainstorm with a few people and a whiteboard.
    2. Use SEO Book to look for extra ideas you may have missed.
    3. Use Google Keyword tool to put some general numbers to it (for seo) or use keyword combinations to create more phrases (for PPC).
    4. Use excel to “weight” some phrases more or less due to how good they are for this particular website (for seo).

    That’s it. Assign keyword phrases to pages and start optimizing.

    Corey Creed
    Hippo Internet Marketing Training

    • jonpayne Says:

      Good stuff. Very similar to our process, though I like to mix in a few more tools for some non-Google volume numbers and opinions. In KeywordDiscovery I find the “historical database” better than the Global Premium unless you are researching very generic keywords.

      Ever use KeywordSpy? I find it rather helpful when used with other tools as well.

  3. Sasha Says:

    Also do not forget this service http://www.synonymbase.com/ its very simple, but free 😉


  4. […] Also see:  My Updated Opinion on Various Keyword Research Tools […]


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