Keyword Generation Tools & Tips/
September 14, 2015
The keyword research process, whether for paid SEM or SEO, should always start with 3 steps:
- Understand the mission – What are web goals? What you are selling? What kind of audience do you want to target?
- Brainstorm – Generate lists of as many relevant potential target keywords as you can.
- Analyze – Gather data and evaluate the potential keywords.
This article is all about step #2, with particular emphasis on free long-tail keyword discovery tools and methods you should be employing.
Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool
For most SEO practitioners, including myself, Google AdWords Keyword Planner is the go-to tool for discovering relevant keywords. I’m not going to cover the basics; these articles already have done a fine job of that:
- How to Use the Google Keyword Planner – Backlinko
- Using Keyword Planner to get keyword ideas and traffic forecasts – AdWords Help
This tool is awesome, but not perfect. Below are a few drawbacks that often need to be addressed with other tools:
- Adwords returns a lot of irrelevant keywords you shouldn’t care about.
- “Chunky middle” keywords are often inexplicably missing from the list of ideas.
- Longtail keywords with less than 5 or 10 queries per month are completely excluded from the list of ideas.
- There is no way to validate a potential longtail keyword that has under 5 or 10 queries per month as something someone might actually search for. (AdWords reports only as low as 10 queries per month, though perhaps they round up from 5 or more.)
- The purpose of that tool is to increase AdWords revenue. Therefore, it makes sense that the results of Keyword Planner steer users towards keywords with commercial intent and high cost-per-click.
Here are a 5 quick tips on bypassing irrelevant results to dig down and extract relevant long-tail keyword ideas:
- Entering Your Landing Page or other site’s URLs can be handy. Dan Shure has some great tricks on this here.
- Check out both the Ad group ideas tab and the Keyword ideas tab.
- Adding Negative keywords can help trim the fat.
- Turning on Only show ideas closely related to my search terms basically returns results that only contain your seed keywords. This is handy once you know what you are looking for.
- Keywords to include, found in the bottom left, is my favorite feature. Enter two or more words on one line to see keyword ideas that include all your words in any order. You can enter two or more words on one line surrounded by quotes to see keyword ideas that include all those words in that exact order (like a Phrase Match).
Autocomplete-based Keyword Suggestion Tools
How they work
There are a slew of keyword generation tools that basically append and prepend letters and numbers to a seed keyword and return all the results from Google Autocomplete.
Autocomplete tools are a great way to quickly dive deep into the long tail from a specific seed term. They also bypass AdWords bias and help validate that users are searching for the longtail keywords that AdWords won’t show any volume for.
Google recently announced that it would be cutting off access to the Autocomplete API on August 10. Tools completely reliant on this API would lose functionality if access was cut. But many Autocomplete-based keyword suggestion tools are still working, as they can be powered in other ways, such as:
- Bing Autocomplete (or other search engines’ autocomplete) – It’s not Google, but it still gives you a lot of really great ideas.
- SERP Scraping – There are tools that can programmatically make search engine searches and extract the Autocomplete results in real time. The downside is that this violates the terms of service of all search engines: the engines try to prevent scraping to save on their bandwidth, often blocking IP addresses that appear to be scraping search engine results pages. To combat this, scrapers can slow down hit frequency (which means scraping can take a little while to return results), try to mimic human search behavior, and/or use proxy IPs.
- Historical data? It is feasible for a keyword suggestion tool to store Autocomplete data and return that data when users use their tool.
- Selective API permission? It could be possible that Google is continuing to allow Autocomplete API access to a select few services.
Quick tips – Use wildcards and questions
Google Autocomplete can suggest queries that not only start with your seed term, but also end with the seed term, or are sandwhiched in or around the seed term. Before you hit “Enter”, simply type an underscore (_) in the desired location after you type in the seed term. See more examples in the Rand Fishkin post I learned this trick from (great examples in the comment section). Some of the suggestion tools support this functionality.
Autocomplete is also a great way to generate questions people ask. Question-based keywords are excellent indicators of what information users see. Additionally, questions are becoming increasingly popular queries as users increasingly converse directly with their smartphones.
Below are some Autocomplete-based keyword suggestion tools that are still helpful as of September 14, 2015.
Keywordtool.io is my favorite of the bunch. It’s simple, free, fast, and returns a lot of results. It seems to support the wildcard tric and provides a whole tab of great question-based keywords. It also enables you to select from multiple languages and regions and from Google, YouTube, Bing, or Apple App Store. Also, for reasons unknown to me, it seems to be working per usual as of Sept. 14.
UberSuggest is the keyword suggestion o.g. (original generator). It seems to have switched to be powered by Bing Autocomplete.
Soovle returns up to 10 results of suggestions from 7 search engines as you type in the seed term. The 10-result cap prevents heavy lifting, but Soovle can be a fun way to kick off brainstorming.
ScrapeBox is powerful scraping software with a feature called Keyword Harvester that can simultaneously scrape the suggestions of multiple seed terms from the SERPs of any search engine.
Answer the Public has some nifty visualizations of its keyword suggestions.
Check out this Greenlane SEO article from January 2015 for more tips and info on keyword suggestion tools.
Generating Target Keywords from Your Own Data
Always make sure you’ve thoroughly examined keyword data from your own site.
AdWords Search Terms/Queries
If you are spending on AdWords, you have some very valuable data for SEO keyword research. Retrieve it from the AdWords Search terms report or the Google Analytics AdWords Search Queries report. (Do not look at “keywords”, which are not the exact queries users searched for.) Pay special attention to queries with conversions.
Google Search Console Search Analytics
Always look for keywords under your nose. That’s why you should use Google Search Console’s Search Analytics Report (formerly Google Webmaster Tools’ Search Queries Report) to see the keyword you are already ranking for.
Be sure to pay attention to keywords you are not ranking highly for, especially those with high impressions. Also, Excel and the Search Analytics Queries and Pages filters are your friends.
Bing WebMaster Tools
You can also check out the search queries that led to visits from your site from Bing and Yahoo!. Just check out Bing Webmaster Tools Search Keywords report.
If your site has an internal site search, the terms users searched for might give you some content and keyword ideas. Just check out the Google Analytics Site Search Report. If you have not configured site search, you may still be able to get some historical data from page reports if your site searches have URLs in the format string + search term, e.g. example.com/search/example+search+terms.
More Ways to Get Keyword Ideas
There are a few additional ways to find questions your users ask beyond using the tools we’ve already discussed. General Q&A sites, like Quora, can be a good source of relevant questions. Niche forums, like the ones at Moz or Houzz for example, are excellent sources of questions. Google Advanced Search can help you mine forums more effectively. Also, see what questions sales and service gets: talk to some of your company’s reps and ask them for FAQs or mine the logs of web helpdesk tools like LiveChat or Zendesk.
Old fashioned research on a topic always gives you some ideas as well, so don’t be afraid to get all journalistic (or just look up your topic in Wikipedia).
Competitor sites can give you some great ideas. SpyFu and SEMrush are two tools that let you pull a list of paid and organic keywords that generate traffic for a given site. You can also use a keyword density tool to extract common terms from a given page, and you can use AdWords Keyword Planner to generate keyword ideas from any given page.
Bing Webmaster Tools Keyword Research Tool is a slimmed-down version of AdWords Keyword Planner that will generate keyword ideas and provides the number of Bing searches.
Rank Tracker, from SEO PowerSuite, is keyword intelligence software that (among other things) can pull in keyword suggestions from a whopping 20 sources (only one source at a time, though).
Combining 2 or More Lists of Terms into Long-tail Keywords
I saved this method for last (but not least) because it is a great way to find additional long-tail keywords you might have missed. Also, it works best after you’ve identified some different strong keywords. There’s plenty of tools to help you scale this powerful method, including:
- The Simple Long-Tail Keyword Generator is a great place to start combining keywords.
- AdWords Keyword Planner has a built-in feature to combine two lists (though I think it is weak).
- SEO Books’ Keyword List Generator is an excellent tool that combines up to 5 lists, and lets you denote match types and bids to help prepare PPC keyword lists.
- Internet Marketing Ninjas Search Combination Tool is the only keyword combination tool I know of that provides results that are clickable links to the SERPs for that keyword.
- Excel Concatenation can be used to combine terms however your heart desires.
That’s it. Go get some keywords!