Having a good PPC campaign isn’t just about trying to out-bid your competitors on the keywords they’re bidding on.
And having a good content strategy isn’t just about finding tiny traffic pools based off low-competition keywords.
That’s only scratching the surface.
It can help, sure, but neglecting to do your own keyword research for PPC means you could very well be missing out on golden opportunities to optimize your budget.
You gotta dig a little deeper to discover those keywords you haven’t even thought of.
For example, uncovering long-tail versions of shorter keyword phrases that are frequently bidded on means that you’ve found a less competitive (and likely lower-priced) phrase to bid on.
Keyword research can also help you make sure you’re not leaving out important keyword sets:
“I recently did some [keyword research] models for a company spending $20+ million on paid and 40% of their products were not represented in the keyword set,”
said Bill Hunt in an interview with Search Engine Watch.
You know you don’t want to be the company spending millions (or even thousands) on ads only to be missing out on traffic for nearly half of your products. Proper keyword research helps you avoid that.
Why Keyword Research Matters for Content, Too
SEO and content marketing via search rankings are two sides of the same keyword research coin.
If your blog posts and landing page copy aren’t in line with the keywords you’re trying to rank for, your efforts won’t be nearly as effective as they could be.
Plus, there’s a huge difference in content that’s adored and shared by your existing audience and content that’s adored and shared by your existing audience and adored and shared by people who found it in a web search.
And once you’ve got a list of solid keywords you want to rank for, the actual work of making sure your pages are SEO optimized for those keywords isn’t that hard.
The key is simply finding those keywords… and ones that can help you blow past your competition.
“80% of SEOs and marketers do keyword research wrong.
They plug in a main keyword to Google’s Keyword Planner, download the results,
and then start sorting through them in a spreadsheet.
But here’s the thing: literally thousands of other marketers have already searched the exact same keyword.” said Neil Patel.
So the important thing is to do what no one else is taking the time or effort to do… and that’s digging through multiple tools to uncover uncommon keywords that can still provide a huge benefit.
27 Keyword Research Tools That’ll Help You Dominate the Competition… Fast
So now that we’re all in agreement that we should research our keywords for your company SEM and content plans, let’s explore some different keyword research tools.
AdWords Reports: Search Terms
This one’s the big one.
We’ve already discussed a bit on the importance of uncovering search terms for the sake of improving your SEO-focused content offerings, but this is the place where you actually go to find those things.
Basically, a search term is what people type in to both trigger your ads to get displayed and for them to be subsequently clicked on. Costing you money, but hopefully sending you a qualified, buy-ready visitor.
To find these search terms, go into the “Campaigns” section of your company AdWords account and click on the “Keywords” tab.
Select which keywords you want to investigate, click on the “Search terms” button to see your search terms.
Now you’ll see a list of all the terms people typed into Google’s search box to get your ads to trigger and prompt a click out of them.
You might find some totally irrelevant things, in which you’d want to add those phrases to your negative keyword list, but you may also uncover phrases you haven’t thought about bidding on before or realize there’s a gaping hole in your on-site content that you need to fill to better lead prospects through your funnel and into leads.
Hint: To see search terms, you will have to set your keywords to broad match rather than phrase match or exact match.
It might reduce the ROI of your budget in the meantime, but if you pay close attention to the search queries and act on them properly, that short loss in ROI could be a good investment in and of itself.
Remember back in the day when the Google Keyword Tool was available to anyone and everyone to look up keywords, see search volumes, and get an idea of the competition?
Google decided to revoke that privilege to the internet as a whole, but in its place, they have created the Google Keyword Planner, which is easily accessible via any AdWords account.
Click on the “Tools” option of the Google AdWords main menu bar… it’s the last option on the right. Select “Keyword Planner” in the drop-down menu that pops up.
To find new keywords, enter a generic term for what you want to advertise for, pick your location if it’s relevant, along with your product category.
Google will give you data on the average monthly searches, ad group ideas that you could implement into your AdWords campaigns, along with single keyword ideas.
Using this tool is a great way to get a jump start if you’re adding keywords for a new product or service.
For a more in-depth guide to this tool, check out Backlinko’s chapter dedicated specifically to using the Keyword Planner.
This tool lets you toggle between searches from all kinds of sites: Google, Amazon, Bing, Etsy, Ebay, YouTube, and so on, helping you identify purchase-based trends from sites (like Amazon and Etsy) focused on purchasing, as well as overall trends.
The top searches for each search engine render alphabetically, helping you keep your keyword record-keeping sorted and organized in comparison with the keywords already on your list.
The search engine trends aspect helps you identify brand new or upcoming trends to help you stay ahead of your competition as far as offering keywords to serve people making buy-based searches based on those trends.
Armed with the information FreshKey provides, you’ll know what kind of keyword-based lead magnets you should be creating, and, if needed, how to modify your product names and descriptions to better fit what people are looking for.
This is one of the best tools out there to help you build a truly exhaustive list of potential keywords to work with. (And to help you identify a fairly exhaustive list of negative keywords that you need to employ.)
That, and it couldn’t be easier to use.
When you get to the UberSuggest page, you’ll see a box in the center of it asking for your keyword, the language you want to search in, and what search type you’re interested in.
Then you see a looooong list.
First you see the most popular phrases including your keyword, and then the most popular phrases including your keyword + something, and then UberSuggest goes through the entire alphabet and single-number set for key phrase add-ons.
What’s more, you can click the little plus sign next to each work to expand for even more in-depth searches and specific search queries.
So if I’m interested in getting more SEO traffic for yoga mats sold at Target, I’ll know that adding the word “store” could be important as well as parents looking for yoga mats for their kids at Target.
Basically, the tool generates keyword-smart content ideas based on topics that you enter.
Once you select one of their available topics, you are sent to a page where you can choose up to 10 keywords that they know are relevant to your topic area:
I chose a handful and clicked on continue and got this piece of pure gold:
That’s right. A list of 3,090 SEO-optimized content ideas to use on my site that talks about hatha yoga.
And you know what?
They’re all topics that people who have any sort of moderate interest in hatha yoga beyond showing up at yoga class on Saturday morning would be curious about.
Score. (Plus, right now, their accounts are free to sign up for.)
Like Google, Bing has it’s own keyword tool to help people running ads on their search engine make smart choices about which keywords to bid on.
And, importantly, their data is all based on organic search—nothing paid.
Once you create an account and sign in, using the tool is pretty straightforward and quite similar to Google’s Keyword Planner, if you have experience using that.
This short video by Moe Muise shows the basics of how to use Bing’s Keyword Research dashboard.
Beyond their online web interface that allows you to do keyword research, Bing also has a downloadable desktop tool that integrates with Excel, and it’s focused specifically around helping you optimize your PPC performance within their ad network.
It works by letting you download your keyword campaigns onto your desktop, eliminating duplicates, and performs keyword expansions (suggesting new keywords) based on the ones you’re already using.
Google Chrome Hack
This is not so much of a tool as it is a very handy trick to have up your sleeve. But it’s just too good not to include in the list.
Probably the best way to directly spy on your competitor’s keyword strategy that I personally know of.
All you have to do is open the web page in question from within Chrome, right click, and select “View Page Source”.
When you do that, a new tab will open up with loads and loads of code.
But don’t let it intimidate you. There’s this amazing little “Command+F” function that I’m sure you’re all aware of that gets you straight to what you’re looking for.
To find the keywords your competitors are optimizing for, search for tags like H1, H2, title, or keyword.
This is a basic keyword generator that works much in the same way as the Google Chrome hack mentioned above, except you don’t have to do all the work of digging through the code.
It works on Firefox, and shows you the main keywords of the websites you want to compete with, helping you get a better picture of your competitors’ keyword strategy.
This is another Firefox-specific add-on that shows you search volumes for the search terms you’re interested in.
Basically, you type in a search term and it shows you other, relevant terms and they’re traffic.
Nothing overly fancy, but sometimes simple tools provide a job well done too.
More of a monitoring tool than a keyword research tool specifically for mining, Twazzup lets you put in a keyword or hashtag to search for and shows you every single time it’s showed up.
The important thing is not so much to identify popular hashtags or keywords, but to notice conversations that are going on to get ahead of any trends that might be coming up before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon—because you’ll have identified them before they’re available in search engine data.
Got a website that focuses around delivering the latest and greatest news in your niche? Like to stay on top of trends and make sure your offerings are relevant to them?
Google Alerts can be a great way to find trending keyword phrases based on news happenings to keep rotating in and out of your keyword strategy.
When setting up these email alerts, you can choose how often you want to receive them, where you want your sourced information to come from, and where in the world you want to focus on.
The makers behind this tool mean serious business.
They don’t just help you find the keywords that your competitors are using, but they go so far as to tell you every single keyword they’ve ever purchased on AdWords, every single word they rank for organically, and every single ad variation they’ve ever used… from the last nine years.
Maybe it’s playing a little dirty, but maybe it’s not. I mean, it is the internet after all. All bets are off.
And it’s super easy to use, the only real work that’s required of you is to copy & paste your competitor’s domain into their search bar:
And then they render a super long report that you can export to PDF:
For some results, you do have to sign up for a paid plan. But you can get unlimited searches and results for as low as $49 per month, which isn’t exactly breaking the bank.
This is another tool where you can really get your hands dirty with information on exactly what your competition is doing.
iSpionage helps you do extensive keyword research by showing you lists of advertisers (past & present) that have overlapping keywords with your campaigns… which is handy if you’re trying to build out a PPC campaign but don’t really know where to start.
It also lets you track your competitor’s landing pages, letting you know the moment a change gets tracked on the page they’re sending their ad traffic to… so you can not only stay on top of them keyword wise, but get ideas on landing page optimization tricks that work for your target audience.
Wordtracker does more than show you simple pieces of keyword data like search volume and competition. It focuses on providing insights to help you optimize your traffic quality and profits based on the keywords you target.
The free demo on their site gives you a nice taste of what to expect.
First, you enter a keyword to see what kind of related terms there are in relation to traffic volume.
Then, as you keep clicking on their “Continue Your Research” buttons, more windows popup up below one another to show you what keywords competitors are bidding on, and which words have the highest potential.
Beyond that basic information (which is still valuable), it’s a paid tool, but they let you try it out for seven days before you have to start paying.
Which piece of software you download and use (no, this isn’t cloud-based SaaS) depends on what type of machine you’re operating on: Mac or PC.
The idea behind these tools is to be a full-scale SEO boost: making sure your on-page tags are up to scratch and to understand how to improve your site overall.
But beyond that, they help you find out what keywords your clients are beating you at so you not only know what keywords to add to your campaign lists, but which ones you need to focus on building out via on-page content and higher bidding.
Experian is a data beast and their capabilities stretch well beyond the financial industry.
And Hitwise is their online consumer intelligence tool that has a much higher barrier to entry than the typical SEO spying tools and SaaS-based PPC tools.
But it may well be worth it. Because while competitor data can be useful, it doesn’t really tell you all that much about the end users, how they behave, and what they want from a company they’ll eventually buy from.
Experian studies and analyzes actual searcher behavior on their desktop and mobile devices and pairs with with their offline lifestyle data to give you a much more complete picture of who you’re targeting and what they want.
When it comes to keywords, the data will help you discover keywords to trim and to add to your list to increase your SEO effectiveness.
Are you noticing a common theme here?
Loads and loads of these tools focus on finding out what your competitors are doing so you can dominate them and gain an edge over whatever it is they’re doing to put you out of the picture online.
This is another one.
KeywordSpy, like the others, lets you see the lists of keywords your competitors are using.
But beyond that, they show you the actual ads your competitors are running, what keywords those ads run for, and the ROI of those ads.
(Because if your competition is stinking it up with one particular ad set… you know don’t want to mimic it.)
This is a pretty easy and straightforward tool to use that could pay off hugely—especially if you’re in a market with words that aren’t so easy for the average person to spell.
Of course, take the typos with a grain of salt and don’t just go bidding on whatever.
Look through the list you get and identify some plausible typos. Then use another keyword tool to check the traffic of that keyword to see if it makes sense to bid on the typo.
Google is getting much better at identifying typos, but that doesn’t mean a really common one wouldn’t be worth looking at… it may even have a lower bid than all the other correctly spelled keywords, and still yielding quality traffic.
SEMrush is a popular SEO tool that does a great job of displaying the competitor information you’re after into an easily understood and easily digestible format.
It shows you the top organic keywords a competitor ranks for, their top paid keywords, and their main competitors when it comes to organic and paid search.
(You know, just in case you want to make sure you’re on top of your competitor’s competitors.)
Adding Buy Cycle Modifiers
Another one that’s not so much of a tool as it is a very handy trick to have up your sleeve when you want to generate more traffic to a particular product or product line.
When you have your base lift of keywords to describe your product, you can add cycle-specific modifiers to your ads to drive people to content that’s relevant to them at their point in the buying cycle.
For example, if you’ve got a site that sells all different kinds of smartphones, you might want to target people who are searching for the “best phones” (Top of the funnel).
But when you take buy cycle modifiers into consideration, you’ve got things like “best phones for long battery life” or “best phones for outdoor lifestyle” as people who are at the top of the buy cycle.
Go a little bit further down, and you may add something like “best android phones for….” or “best iPhone model for….” (Middle of the funnel).
Then you might get even more specific when people are ready to buy with phrases like “best deal on Samsung Galaxy” (Bottom of the funnel).
Keyword Tool claims it’s better than Google Keyword Planner or any other keyword research tool out there.
It’s a big claim, but if you’re mainly concerned with Google rankings, they have good reasoning to back up their claims:
Basically, they use Google Autocomplete, but show you way more than just the 3-5 searches that pop up on your screen when you’re searching Google for yourself… which can mean 750 or more long-tail, spot-on keywords that are exactly relevant to what your target audience is actually searching.
This can help you with your SEO more than Google Keyword Planner because since Google Keyword Planner is aimed around pay per click and helping Google make money, Keyword Tool claims Google will purposefully hide some long-tail keywords that could be profitable for you but not for Google.
To use the tool, you just need to type in a term in the search box on the top of your home page. They give you the long list of keywords for free, but ask you to upgrade for the search volume, cost per click, and competition levels.
Buzzsumo is more about finding content that performs best in the subject area you’re concerned about rather than finding direct, specific, long-tail keywords for your to optimize your site around.
But it’s still incredibly helpful from a keyword research point of view.
When you see which topics in your niche are getting the most attention, you can get new ideas on how to shift the SEO side of your content marketing campaigns.
When I searched “email marketing,” for example, I was able to see which pieces on that topic had the most shares and what kind of approach they had to the topic at hand.
With an account, I’d be able to see information like the top authors in that content area, full content analyses, and domain comparisons for sites publishing on that topic.
These guys talk about a “70% secret” that new startups are able to use to start from nothing and get loads of customers overnight.
That “secret” is long tail keywords, and it’s “70%” because long-tail, specific keywords make up 70% of search engine traffic.
They also have features that help you narrow down what the most profitable keywords for your site will be, without having to rely on educated guessing and experimentation.
Here, for example, they’ve cherry-picked keywords that even the top-ranking sites haven’t optimized for well, showing you where you can step into the competition and make big waves.
Google Trends focuses on showing you how much interest in a keyword has increased and decreased over time, regional interests, and related searches.
The interest over time and regional interest can tell you whether or not the keyword you’re using is worth your time.
And the related searches section can tell you what other keyword areas you might want to focus on optimizing to generate more traffic from your target audience.
For example, I searched “how to get rid of acne.” If I had a site about helping people deal with their acne, I’d want to create content about the items in both the topics and the queries list to glean even more relevant traffic to the products I’d be selling.
This tool focuses on helping you find the long-tail keywords that no one else is working on ranking for, meaning that the competition will be low and you’d be able to start generating traffic from them right away.
The numbers in the right-hand column show you how difficult it is to rank for a given keyword. (The lower the number, the easier it is.)
Based on the first seven results for “landing page design,” it seems like there’s a lot of opportunity to rank for these keywords, even though there’s a lot of competing business out there.
This tool shows you both how difficult it is to rank for a keyword and the SERP (search engine results page) results so you can see for yourself who and what you’re up against.
Basically, for any keyword you input, you get the top 10 search engine results for that phrase, its’ search volume, and competitive metrics to show you how much work you’ll need to do to get into that top 10 list.
Rather than being a tool that helps in keyword discovery, this tool is more about helping you narrow down which keywords are worth your time and resources to invest in. It’s only available to Moz account holders, but it is very cool.
This tool is a data nerd’s dream come true. Just look at it:
All the lines you see are different websites and how their rankings for the given keyword have changed in the date range chosen. (For this chart it’s January 22 to February 4, 2016.)
But beyond that, it shows you how many days a site has ranked for the keyword you entered, the range of positions it’s held in SERP, it’s Majestic and Alexa score, MOZ scores, and numbers of backlinks—letting you size up the competition in just one glance.
Beyond that, you can compare how different domains rank against each other in search engines, and get a full domain SERP analysis on your own domain or a competitor’s.
GerpWords is a tool that lets you look up keyword data, data on related keywords, and gives you different browser plugins so you can do the research while you’re researching your competition rather than having to shift back and forth between screens to do so.
They don’t offer a free demo version, but they are willing to show off what knowledge their tool gives them by offering little freebies on their blog like the top one million paid keywords in a CSV file. I downloaded it for myself and here’s a sample:
This is a tool that helps over 30,000 users cut through the clutter and find the keywords that will be most profitable for them in a matter of just seconds.
Once you input a keyword phrase into their search function, you see something like this:
You’re allowed to search by any of the ranking factors in the spreadsheet, but the “Niche” value on the right-hand side is particularly useful.
The keywords with the highest search volume and lowest level of SEO difficulty (therefore those easiest to rank for) get the highest niche scores.
Rather than focusing on the numbers of just keywords, BrightEdge helps businesses focus on content marketing as a whole… but in a way that boils down to raw data and pure numbers.
This lets marketers connect their content efforts directly with ROI, showing them immediately what works and what doesn’t.
Keyword-wise, BrightEdge can show you what pages you’re ranking on to find areas for improvement.
For example, if you’ve got a handful of results that are on page two, you might just be a few optimization tweaks from getting to page one and a lot more organic traffic.
Get Started With One Tool & Get Ahead of the Competition
The funny thing about keyword research is that even though all of this data is readily available, very few businesses actually go to the extent of putting in hard research, creating exhaustive lists, and acting on them.
Though the work can be mentally draining, there’s a big opportunity available for those willing to push through the grind and take action on their keyword discoveries.
So pick your favorite tool(s) from the list above and use it to figure out one to two action steps that could improve your keyword-based PPC and content strategies.
What’s the tool that you use the most when you need keyword insight?
Let us know in the comments below, we wanna hear from you 🙂