Researching Keywords

A key component to success with search marketing is to understand how people are seeking your products and services. There are a variety of tools to help you with this search term research. Below, a look at some of the resources out there. Also be sure to see:

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Essential Tools
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Essential Tools

Yahoo Keyword Selector Tool

Formerly called the Overture Keyword Selector Tool and the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool before that, this free service is primarily designed to help advertisers who wish to select terms to target with ads on the Yahoo network. But you can use it to see how popular particular terms are.

Enter a word or phrase. The tool will then show you the top 100 most popular queries related to that term across sites within the Yahoo ad network over the previous month. This is a free, easy way to get a quick look at whether terms you assume are popular really are and to help brainstorm other terms you should target.

Be aware that the tool will combine misspellings and some related terms into the words its shows. For example, the search term “car” will include searches for the words “cars” and “carrs,” as of the time of this writing. With multiple word queries, the exact order of terms shown may also differ from the exact order used by most searchers.

The past SEW article, Overture Weakens Advertiser Control With Match Driver, explains this more. The article is from 2002, and the examples shown may no longer work, but other examples tried on the tool recently still show issues with the order of terms.

The link above provides data from Overture’s US-targeted network. Overture also provides tools for a variety of other countries it serves. A great resource that lists all of these is dWoz’s Overture Keyword Suggestion Tools category.

Google AdWords Keyword Tool

The URL above leads to the service on Google’s US site. However, you can use that page to focus on search term data for specific languages or countries. The service interface itself will stay in English. If you prefer the interface in another language, you’ll need to visit a country-specific Google site, then locate the corresponding tool there (sorry, I don’t have a list of these links to provide).

Enter a term, and you get back a list ranked by “relevance,” though Google doesn’t really explain what relevance is despite a help page supposedly answering this. For example, if you enter [cars” into the search box, why exactly is “rental cars” more relevant than “donate cars?” That’s not explained.

Fortunately, you have options. After searching, use the drop-down box above the word list and select the “Keyword popularity” option. Now a new Search Volume column appears. Unlike with Yahoo’s tool above, there aren’t counts given. Instead, green bars show popularity, the more green, the better. Click on the Search Volume hyperlink above the column, and now terms are sorted by popularity.

Note that as with Yahoo’s tool, word order might not be as searchers necessarily enter terms into a search engine. For example, a search for [racing cars” will show [cars racing” as the most popular related term — most people are actually going to be searching for [racing cars” in that order. Also, misspellings and plurals may be combined.

The drop-down box has another option, “Global search volume trends.” It shows the search volume of a particular keyword phrase, charted over a 12 month historical period.

Note that if you don’t see any popularity data for some terms when using the “Keyword popularity” option, try switching to the “Global search volume trends” view. If you suddenly see some seasonal data, that gives you a sign a term is more popular than those showing no data when you viewed without a seasonal look.

There’s also a Site-Related Keywords tab on the tool. Enter the URL of a page, and Google will show you all the key terms it thinks the page is relevant for. That’s nice for contextual targeting, the intent of the tool. But it’s also a useful way to see what terms Google thinks an important page is relevant for. Or enter your own page, and see if Google’s finding you relevant for the terms you think you should be targeting.

Google Sitemaps

This free service allows you to see top queries sending you traffic from Google plus your average position for search queries.

Google Suggest

Designed as a query refinement tool for searchers, the Google Suggest tool provides another way to quickly gauge terms you might want to target based on Google query data. Enter a few letters of a word, and you’ll be shown some of the popular words and queries that begin with those words.

Enter “cars,” for example, and you’ll see “cars for sale” among the options. However, the terms aren’t shown in descending popularity, and other related terms you might want to target may also be missing. Use this for further brainstorming, not as a primary research tool.

For more on the tool, see this SEW Blog post, Google Suggest Offers Query Refinement, and this SEW Forum discussion, Google Suggest Beta.

Google Trends

Allows you to tap into Google’s database of searches, to determine what’s popular. You can view the volume of queries over time, by city, regions, languages and so on. Compare multiple terms, as well. See our review: Google Trends: Peer Into Google’s Database Of Searches.

This free tool lets you mine a database of queries that publisher Trellian says it gathers from major search partners, though these are not revealed. Unlike WordTracker, where the database only stretches for two months (or Overture, which goes back only one), this service lets you look across an entire year. That’s helpful for getting a head start on terms that are seasonal in nature.


Unlike the tools above, WordTracker is a fee-based service. It combines both a respectable search term database with tools that make mining the information easy. Many search marketers large and small make use of the service and consider it an essential investment. The SEW article, Researching Search Terms With WordTracker, provides more background about the tool. While that review is from 2001, the service continues to operate in the same fundamental fashion.

Hitwise Keyword Intelligence

Pricier than Wordtracker, this tool allows you to tap into the database Hitwise assembles on how people search without having to go to its high-end product below.

eBay Marketplace Research

Curious about terms that are popular on eBay? There are options at different price points that allow you to purchase data.

High-End Paid Services

Hitwise Search Intelligence

Hitwise has a product that, through monitoring internet proxy data, can help you understand the exact terms people are using to reach particular web sites, including those of your competitors. The company can also give you overall popularity data. Downside? The service is expensive. The company creates custom pricing for clients — expect to pay in at least the thousands of dollars per year.

comScore qSearch

Similar to Hitwise, comScore’s qSearch product can provide you incredibly in-depth information about how people are searching on the web, based on monitoring a panel of users. Kevin Lee provides some more details of the service’s feature in this article, Keywords Revisited, Part 3: Paid Research Tools. Also as with Hitwise, expect to pay in the thousands of dollars per year for the service.

Yahoo Buzz / Campaign Measurement

Yes, Yahoo operates a popular Yahoo Buzz service that the public can use to understand what’s popular in search. However, a corporate version of the tool allows advertisers to mine Yahoo’s search data. You’ll need to negotiate a contract directly with Yahoo for this access.

Other Resources

  • dWoz Keywords & Search Phrases Category: A great guide to the many live search displays and keyword research tools offered by smaller search engines across the web.
  • Good Keywords: I last looked at this tool in Dec. 2001 and found it useful. It’s still offered. At the time I last looked, it provided a software interface to pull down search term research from Overture, as well as related searches from other search engines You can merge them into one list and export them into other program, such as Excel. Unfortunately, the export didn’t carry along the crucial count numbers that help you gauge relative popularity.
  • Digital Point Keyword Suggestion Tool: Enter a term, then get search term counts back from the popular Overture and Wordtracker tools, side by side.
  • SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool: Enter a term, get back a matrix of links to help you further research and target terms.
  • Search Term Research Category: Within the Search Topics are of SEW, this provides new and past articles on the topic search term research and targeting from across the web.

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