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Nov 3, 2008
Richard Stokes

Key Differences Among the Most Commonly Used Keyword Suggestion Tools

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Rigid, unchanging procedures threaten any business activity. With Internet-enabled and -related enterprises, keeping up with technological progress is absolutely essential to survival. As opposed to static (unchanging) websites that are not looking to strengthen or increase their industry share, any dynamic (changing) website will have new copy, even new strategies, on an ongoing basis. Regular, extensive, ongoing keyword research is not a luxury, but a basic survival tactic.

Understanding how people actually use words, and the relationships these words have in the context of an Internet search, is key to threading these words and phrases through the fabric of your site. Because the Internet is so very dynamic, with word relationships changing seemingly by the minute, this is a huge and growing challenge for more and more people and companies. After all, the Internet is growing into the major commercial and communication hub of the world. Accurate and useful keyword suggestion tools - and their intelligent implantation into business and marketing strategy, are a major part of the solution.

There are a plethora of keyword suggestion tools available, from free to cost-based, including NicheBot, Wordtracker, KeywordDiscovery, SEOBook, and the various Google keyword tools. In this article, we will consider these tools and the differences among them.

Most importantly, perhaps, these tools help you estimate the relative (rather than absolute) size of the search referral "market" produced by particular words and phrases. You will develop a better understanding of what terms appear how often in search queries, and what other terms are correlated with them, and how many times they are searched compared to those other terms. The analytics you develop with the tools will also give you a good idea of how their suggestions will fare, and provide a means of understanding "competition levels" for specific words and phrases.

Naturally, there are differences both large and small among these keyword analysis/suggestion tools. Google, of course, compiles its tool data from its own search network of sites and offers tremendous functionality at low or no cost. The subscription-based services, such as Wordtracker and KeywordDiscovery, take advantage of databases of multiple sites and data that can be assembled, broken down, repurposed and presented in myriad ways.

Wordtracker and KeywordDiscovery

Wordtracker aggregates its keyword data from the leading meta search engines, primarily Dogpile but with input from MetaCrawler and others. In Wordtracker's attempts to mine keyword gold, it will discover how many times a certain term or phrase shows up in its database of over 316 million words. This is quite a trick in itself, as English (according to linguists) has between 600,000 and two million words, depending upon how we define a "word." It is clear that Wordtracker leaves no permutation or word-form uncounted, which is a distinct benefit.

Wordtracker's brain trust asserts that metacrawlers process the queries of the leading search engines with some precision, and that the software robots that continuously check site rankings and such do not interfere with the count. In a different approach, KeywordDiscovery relies on its global "premium database" of some 4.5 billion searches based solely on user data, thus diminishing the distortions inherent in some other strategies.

If you are considering which tool to use, you can still get free trials of most tools, except that you usually need to provide contact information, with phone numbers and e-mail addresses required. There are few ways to use and compare the tools anonymously, so the next best approach is "meta-analysis," in which we look at various published third-party reports on the actual use of these tools.

In a study published last year, one technology writer performed keyword forecasts for "dog food" with KeywordDiscovery, Wordtracker and several other programs. Despite using different original data sets, all of these tools try to supply reliable estimates of the available search referral traffic without "data inflation." There are numerous ways to analyze and present the results.

On average, KeywordDiscovery predicted there would be some 1,088 searches for "dog food“ daily, while Wordtracker calculated the probable search referral market for ”dog food" to be about double that. KeywordDiscovery does have a unique and quite useful algorithm that considers "seasonality" in its results, letting you review the seasonality of terms historically, as monthly estimates or even as a component of annual trends. Search engine market share is developed, as well.

KeywordDiscovery and Wordtracker results can both be repurposed to estimate just Google referral traffic or that of any other major engine. In the tech columnist's example, the Wordtracker daily estimate for Google's "dog food“ search was 1,043, or almost half of all the ”Daily Prediction" information. KeywordDiscovery had Google accounting for 67 percent of its "Average Daily“ results, thus suggesting that 738 ”dog food" searches would be made in Google every day.

Perhaps this does not seem to be much of an absolute difference, but when considered over a 30-day period, the difference scaled up considerably in this particular test. KeywordDiscovery estimated some 22,000+ "dog food“ searches that month, but Wordtracker projected over 31,000 ”dog food" searches for that same period.

Nichebot

A 'niche' player Nichebot came on the scene with some degree of fanfare. It is a complex program, with a tightly specified methodology that lacks flexibility in some important ways. On the other hand, it gathers data from more sources than Wordtracker - leveraging the results from KeywordDiscovery and Google - and provides a great selection of explanatory videos, instructive screenshots and excellent "Help" functions.

However, Nichebot recommends a five-step system, which can be time-consuming and confusing, even for veterans. There are, of course, some free "quick-dig" tools, including, oddly enough, Wordtracker and its thesaurus. While it is free to search Wordtracker via Nichebot, you get only basic counts, and must pay for a premium search if you wish to see competition data and the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI).

You can dig a bit "deeper" without additional cost by clicking on a term or phrase in the results, which provides a list of associated phrases. One savvy forum poster declared that the primary purpose for using Nichebot is “to find as many keywords from multiple sources to cover as much territory for the maximum traffic for your website.” In practice, he explained, one can start “from a broad search and just keep refining, merging, narrowing in.

The proliferation of "niche" tools and functions would seem to be a sensible development given Nichebot's name, but the added functionality comes at a price. For instance, you can get the addresses of the sites that have the greatest number of backlinks for a particular term, but the learning curve involved with this program makes the more arcane data difficult to develop.

Generally speaking, Nichebot results are excellent, and it allows better organization of projects and searches via its folder hierarchy. Further, the program checks your site for keyword density "red flags" that Google may note (and disapprove of). As premium search charges kick in a bit early compared to others, the question for users has to be, Do the premium charges return enough value to offset the time and money spent to obtain it?

While meta-analysis of user comments at a random selection of forums discloses that they don't find Nichebot particularly intuitive, it is considered an impressive software achievement.

Even its appearance gives Nichebot the impression that using it takes time and discipline. While KeywordDiscovery and Wordtracker can be used in a stream-of-consciousness manner at times, Nichebot does not lend itself to brainstorming or "fluid" search styles. This is a direct result, of course, of its having the power it does. Despite that power, it does have a number of anomalies that are commonly reported. For one thing, it applies its vaunted "Jackpot" rating to keywords for which it finds no competition, even if that is the case because of error or anomaly.

Finally, a number of users report that advanced searches can get stuck in a "holding pattern" (in a queue) and take from 15-20 minutes to generate results. With the tide of the Internet forever washing new waves onto the shore, time is of the essence. Even though advanced keyword research searches can return valuable data, it is no stretch to say that many marketers might consider 20 minutes per keyword tool inquiry to be a barrier to frequent or consistent use.

Rating the tools Wordtracker is easier to use for most people, but the possibilities are certainly expanded with Nichebot. Doing random or unassociated searches “by the seat of your pants” is among Wordtracker's great strengths, but Nichebot works well to focus your work and helps you take a step-by-step, measured approach. It can be said that Nichebot can not only return search terms and numbers, but can actually sub as your defacto keyword research process. As one user commented at a KEI forum, Nichebot “takes a lot of the guesswork out [but] getting there is somewhat painful.

KeywordDiscovery's "9-in-1 tool" approach (check their site, it's even divided up this way) is popular with many users. It goes some 10,000 keywords deep and the more you pay the deeper you can go. Nichebot does provide more information, but it has that steep learning curve and much harder to learn than the more "friendly" Wordtracker and KeywordDiscovery.

Google

With the way the company has exploded in the last decade, especially over the last five years or so, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Google was taking over the world, not just the Internet. The fact is, they are growing, changing, expanding and refining all of their diverse operations with such velocity that some bloggers and "industry analysts" make a full-time out of tracking Google.

They track Google while Google tracks everything net-related, so you can avail yourself of some of Google's powerful tools. Some are free, some used to be free - like its Adwords API (Application Programming Interface) - and others cost you in various ways, from money to time to learning curves. But there is no way to do your work, if you work in web marketing, without the Google tools.

Google Suggest is good place to start accumulating your list of words and phrases to be researched. It is a fast (some would say "quick and dirty") way of identifying common word combinations and how many pages are relevant to them. When you start typing your search into Google's search box, a dropdown box opens listing terms that start with those letters and the number of pages that would come up in a search for each term. What this basically gives you is a very quick way to get a snapshot of related terms and their relative competitive landscape.

If you were to type in "fly,“ Google Suggest would potentially give you such extrapolations as ”fly fishing" or "fly larvae," taking you off on your chosen tangent. Typing in parts of words, like "prob,“ might show extrapolations such as ”probation," "probability," "problem child," or "probono." This tool is particularly helpful in building out your first keyword lists, letting you then focus on terms you deem most worthy of further research.

Google Trends lets you assess the popularity of particular terms and phrases against one other, and even supplies a history of the "most searched" terms from 2004 through the present. The particular search terms' popularity is expressed as a proportion of the total search volume, which is calculated for different regions of the world, even in a variety of languages.

You can also compare the volume of searches among multiple terms, and can display news associated with search terms on charts displaying the effect of the news on term popularity and presence. This can help you make snap decisions about whether to concentrate on one set of keywords or some other. If you want to get a handle on how searches are affected by regional anomalies and external factors, this is a good tool for that.

Until late 2006 the features in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool were free. Then Google began to charge for the API portion of the tool, with a 25-per-thousand fee that sounded low until big users started adding it up. The controversy has abated greatly, but it did leave a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths.

Google responded with a free External Tool outside of AdWords for those that desired keyword help but did not have an AdWords account. It was truly a tool that suggested keywords only, returning a great number of keywords related to the term you entered but offering no search quantity numbers to show how often people actually searched for each term daily or monthly.

More recently Google added the search metrics that a lot of marketers and business owners have been craving. Their External Tool now shows how many times the keywords you are researching were searched last month on Google related properties, as well as a twelve-month average for the terms. It also features a measurement that shows you the advertiser competition for each.

For AdWords accounts holders the AdWords Keyword Tool is tightly "Google integrated" of course, and not only helps you estimate your AdWords campaign cost but provides information on the competition levels among your chosen, targeted keywords and terms.

The AdWords Traffic Estimator is another tool that can provide data on total potential clicks for each ad, each day, for each keyword, but they are merely approximates. It also estimates potential cost so you have an idea what your daily spend would be for those terms. For natural search research it is helpful in compiling an initial list for further, detailed research, which is the point at which you would bring other keyword analytics tools into the process.

SEOBook Keyword Tool

As with all of the free and fee-based tools, they are best seen as an "information buffet," a range of tools and tests from which you can assemble the best toolkit for your particular project. Your needs may change from one task to the next, from one product to the next, so you need the greatest amount of flexibility you can get. Some people are now saying that SEOBook's Keyword Suggestion Tool is the best "anchor program" on which to hang other specialized tools.

The up-and-comer SEO industry stalwart Aaron Wall developed the Keyword Suggestion Tool for SEOBook, and it is popular for not reinventing the wheel, essentially. That is, it aggregates the most successful and effective suggestion tools on the Internet -Google tools, the "visual tool“ Quintura (with its ”word clouds"), Wordtracker and even Yahoo metrics, back when there were some.

Its proponents say that SEOBook's tool is the right one for anyone, any time, because of its components. By combining results, it does save time, but some professional traffic mongers prefer to set the tools against each other for comparison, rather than aggregation, purposes.

Still, features of the tool are legion. It can estimate certain keyword traffic in Google, Yahoo and MSN independently, or add it together for average total daily traffic. It links up to the Google Trends data for the targeted keyword(s) and employs the Google Traffic Estimator to determine the daily cost for advertising the subject terms.

The SEOBook tool also allows you to get an idea of your competitors' numbers by interfacing with Google, Wordtracker and the UK's Overture. It also makes use of the GoRank SEO Tools and Ontology Finder, and checks the top 1000 Google results for your terms by running queries on related words. It would be a good idea to look at GoRank's new link popularity analyzer, which is just now being made ready for beta testing (as of September 20). It's completely free and supports up to 30 backlinks. Once beta testing is complete, it will have the capability to analyze up to 1000 backlinks.

At the bottom of the SEOBook Keyword Suggestion Tool page is a list of potential searches you can perform on a "vertical database" - for news, blogs, directories, tags, thesauruses, dictionaries, encyclopedias, classified ad listings, audio, video, competitive, groups and other tangents.

Who, what, how and why

There are still differences among keyword analysis tools and keyword suggestion tool, but as they continue to aggregate each others' functions and link to various other third-party programs, there is bound to be some "convergence.“ There is a great deal of ”shakeout" still to come in this sector, and following Yahoo's almost-ignominious retreat from this arena the winnowing process would appear to be gaining some momentum.

Using any or all of the available suggestion tools can be a very nerve-wracking experience. There is always the chance that you will start taking the results and suggestions as gospel, and making sweeping changes based on data that changes by the nanosecond. It takes patience to make these tools perform their best, and there is no substitute for the human brain. It is the ultimate analytical tool.

Whatever tools you use, in whatever manner, it is wise to maintain a healthy skepticism about the results. Various industry analysts have run tests that show a wide discrepancy between what some of the tools report, and what they actually do. This is not to say there is misrepresentation (sometimes called "lying") going on. It is more a function of the transient nature of knowledge and the rapid turnover of data sets in Internet-related enterprises. Use the tools, certainly, but use your head, primarily.

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AdGooroo is a leader in online competition analysis. With a cutting edge keyword research tool and providing free keyword research, AdGooroo is a must-have for any search marketer or agency.
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