Synopsis — Keyword strategy is vital to the success of any paid search campaign. Everything ultimately revolves around good, solid, effective choices in keywords since potential clients and customers will see your ads or listings based on the search words or phrases they use to find what they are looking for.
In his article, “Bring PPC Success One Click Closer With Keyword Research Tools,” David Rodnitzky discusses the general purposes of keyword tools for pay-per-click advertising campaigns and identifies unique features of six of the top keyword tools currently on the market. Examining the source of data used by keyword research tools, David provides further information on how to evaluate tools and the cost you can expect to incur.
The complete article follows …
Bring PPC Success One Click Closer With Keyword Research Tools
Every search marketer has a great keyword story. Perhaps it’s the tale of the obscure long-tail query that drove thousands of conversions for only pennies a click, or maybe an epic saga of two entrenched competitors who furiously bid back and forth for weeks on end in an effort to win the coveted number-one spot for a top keyword. And let’s not forget the “rags to riches” story where a keyword with a low Quality Score is transformed into a low cost, high Quality Score winner!
Not surprisingly, a diverse and crowded crop of keyword tools has blossomed over the last several years, all claiming to provide SEMs with the insight and efficiency necessary to optimize their keyword management. From keyword expansion, Quality Score management, negative keyword discovery, and competitive research, pretty much every element of a good keyword strategy can be attacked through one or more tools currently available.
The intent of this article is to help you navigate the marketplace of keyword tools. To be clear, the intent is not to declare one tool better than another, or best overall. Every tool has different use cases and different intended audiences — the best way to figure out the right tool for you is to simply test a few that sound promising and see how each helps with your specific campaigns.
Keyword Tool Features 101
The primary purpose of a keyword tool is to help you find new keywords for your account, usually through one of two methods — 1) type in a sample keyword and the system will find related keywords; or 2) type in a competitor’s URL and the tool will identify keywords your competitor is buying. For example, here’s what SEMRush comes up with for a search of “ppc agency.”
Other common functions of keyword tools include:
- Showing the ad text that competitors use for a keyword
- Calculating the estimated volume and CPC of a keyword
- Saving repeated searches
- Exporting data into XLS, CSV, or to email
Of course, every keyword tool worth its salt has one or more cool features that differentiate it from the competition. At a (very) high level, here are two unique attributes of six of the most well-known keyword tools:
- Sees landing pages of your competitors
- Measures the impact of “badges” like Google Checkout used in ad text
- Integrates SEMRush data with internal tools via the available API
- Lists related websites that might be potential publishers for your ads
- Keyword Kombat gives a visual depiction of how a competitor’s spend and keyword sets differ
- Historical data shows how a competitor’s ads and keywords have changed month-over-month
4. Keyword Discovery by Trellian
- Keyword spelling error ideas and volume
- Keyword rankings that value keywords with high volume and low competition
- Quality Score management tools help you craft targeted ad groups to improve Quality Score
- Campaign management tool functionality (bidding, upload to search engines)
- Related keywords tool for finding new avenues of keywords to explore
- One-on-one live support via chat or email
Where Does All This Great Data Come From?
Test out a few keyword tools and you’ll quickly see that the data you get from each tool is different. That’s a pretty shocking fact, almost like buying two calculators and having them come up with different results for the same equation! And yet, this is the norm in the world of keyword research tools. The reason for this inconsistency is that each keyword tool uses different data to derive its estimates.
Google has strict rules preventing bots from spidering massive amounts of its keyword results. In general, through Google’s official channels, a third party can only get data for a few thousand queries a day. Given the millions of keywords used on AdWords each day, no tool could create a robust set of keywords by following Google’s stated policies. As a result, tools use “creative” ways to grab more data — most commonly, scraping and third-party data. Understanding how each of these methods work helps you understand why data varies so much on a tool-by-tool basis.
Scraping is a method by which a program automatically collects data from the web. For example, the program may be instructed to perform thousands of search queries a day and then “scrape” the advertisers showing up on AdWords, along with their ad text and landing page. To get around the Google restrictions, a keyword tool will generally find ways to grab data from multiple computers/servers/locations, so that Google doesn’t recognize it as the same source.
Data from scraping often falls prey to the “garbage in, garbage out” principle. Scrapers may collect incomplete data, or pick up data that is locally based, session-based, or just wrong. As a result, do a very careful review of any keyword suggestions you get from a scraper. Look for clearly irrelevant keywords, keywords that are too general, or keywords that probably should be negatives. Once you’ve excluded the irrelevant keywords, you will likely end up with a nice list of keywords worth purchasing. Some tools that use scraping are SpyFu, SEMRush, and AdGooroo.
Tools that use third-party data to boost keyword results usually rely on direct data from search engines other than Google or from toolbar data. For example, if you download a toolbar to track your stocks on your computer, any search query you perform in the search box in that toolbar might eventually be sold to a keyword tool (in an anonymized form).
The advantage of third-party data is that it comes from actual user queries, which are likely to be more realistic than some of the strange queries that might come from a scraper. The disadvantage is that the data is dependent on a specific set of users, which can itself result in strange results.
Examples of tools that use third-party data are Keyword Discovery by Trellian and Wordtracker.
How Much Does it Cost?
Keyword tools can cost as much as several hundred dollars a month or as little as nothing. Here are seven of the most commonly used tools, from cheapest to most expensive (minimum monthly pricing):
AdWords Keyword Tool — Free
SEMRush — $49/month
Wordtracker — $69/month
Keyword Discovery — $69.95/month
SpyFu — $79/month
WordStream — $299/month
AdGooroo — Custom pricing based on usage
Note: Keep in mind that each tool has different feature sets — don’t make an apples-to-apples comparison on price alone.
How Do I Evaluate All These Tools?
Your choice of a keyword tool needs to take several factors into account. My recommendation is to sign up for free trials for one or two of the most promising tools prior to committing to anything beyond a monthly subscription.
Here are a few factors that I use when evaluating these tools:
- Accuracy — Select a keyword for which you have a lot of history in your AdWords account in terms of volume, cost, and competitors. Which keyword tool most accurately reflects the actual data that you already have?
- Ease of Use — Do you like the user interface? Is customer support accessible? Can you easily implement suggestions from the tool into AdWords and your other SEM campaigns?
- Advanced Features — Are there advanced features vital to your success? Does one tool have a must-have feature no other one has?
- Competitive Information — How important is it to you to have data about competitors?
- Price — Are there features that justify buying a more expensive tool, or do you really just need the basics?
What About The AdWords Tool?
Of course, the most prominent keyword tool on the market is the AdWords Keyword Suggestion Tool. This tool is free, integrates seamlessly with your AdWords account, and has access to the most accurate AdWords data. With these benefits, you might wonder why you would ever want to pay for a third-party tool.
For some advertisers, this tool might be all you really need. Keep in mind, however, that the AdWords Keyword Suggestion Tool does not provide:
- Competitor ad text
- Competitor landing pages
- Estimates of competitor spend
- Thousands of keywords at a time
- Other advanced features that individual third-party tools may offer
Putting It All Together
Regardless of the tool you use, it’s always good to remember that keywords are just one part of an overall SEM strategy. The best keyword tool in the world is useless without a smart strategy around ad text, landing pages, tracking, bidding, reporting, and targeting. But as SEM gets more and more competitive, every advantage matters — and the right keyword tool is yet another item that will bring you one click closer to online success.