Key Differences Among the Most Commonly Used Keyword Suggestion Tools
Part One - Rigid, unchanging procedures threaten any business activity...
by Richard Stokes
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 two-part article, we will consider these tools and the differences among them. Part one will cover the first three on the list, while part two will cover the Google tools and SEOBook’s Keyword Suggestion Tool.
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.
Specific tool functionality
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.
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?
Time and tide
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.
What works best for you will most likely be a product of trial and error – and for many will be a combination of the tools. Because you have to give up more and more personal data to get the “free trials,” however, you may want to let other people’s fingers “do the walking” and continue to do meta-analyses of others’ results. Thee is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from multiple opinions, yet there is nothing like running your own research your own way. Trust the judgment of tech columnists and meta-analysts, or acquiesce to giving up some personal information to see for yourself.
Remember, because of the many search engines and the multitudes of sources the keyword tools get their numbers from, all of the results are relative. For starters, check out the most important, relevant and highly “trafficked” keywords and terms already associated with your site's content. As we move to Part Two and consider the Google tools and SEOBook’s program, don’t forget that ongoing study, research and testing are the most fruitful ways to stay abreast of an ever-changing universe of words – and all their relatives, too.