Keywords Revisited, Part 2: Free Research Tools

Last week I covered how to tap your log file as a source for valuable keyword data while using that data for campaign tuning. But log files only show how searchers found your site.

You need third-party keyword research tools and resources to build and expand keyword lists for search engine marketing (SEM). Each popular external keyword research tool has a place in keyword expansion. If you’re not thinking about expanding your keyword list, consider:

  • The percentage of longer search phrases, as opposed to one or two words, is increasing. Regardless of portal, there’s a trend toward longer search strings. Several sources suggest over 40 percent of searchers use three or more terms.

  • Broad-match listings alone don’t provide the best user experience, nor the highest return on investment (ROI). Break broad listings down into individual, more specific listings. You’ll have more targeted creative and a better-tuned landing page — and, therefore, a better site experience.

Free Tools

Overture’s Search Term Suggestion Tool. This keyword tool is an invaluable asset to search engine marketers. The key to using it efficiently is understanding exactly how and what results it provides.

Enter a search term or phrase. The tool returns keyword expansion data with up to 100 results for each query, including the number of times the word or phrase was searched during a recent month. Results are phrase permutations of the original search. So “lawyer” will not result in related terms and synonyms, including “attorney,” “legal advisor,” “paralegal,” and “barrister.”

Results only include keywords and keyword phrases searched at least 25 times during the prior month. So number 100 sometimes gets thousands of searches a month. When this happens, drill down using longer phrases to see more granular results. The longer phrases should include the original word or phrase.

Though less popular, these lower-traffic keyword phrases could be extremely valuable to your campaign and right on target for the product or service you provide. Often, granular results provide high ROI. With Overture’s policy of placing standard match searches ahead of phrase or broad match, ignoring deep keyword research results hands high-ROI traffic to the competition.

Google’s AdWords Keyword Suggestion “keyword sandbox.” The keyword sandbox was written with Google’s AdWords in mind. In addition to broadening the root keyword entered, it also provides related term information (essentially, synonyms). Synonyms displayed may result in an ad being shown for an extended broad match.

Note any keywords or keyword phrases in this area that might require a negative match. Extended keyword recommendations might be killer keywords that belong in your campaign with their own AdGroups listings, plus attendant creative and landing pages.

Online thesaurus. Try this one (or an old-fashioned, offline one). Nothing beats a thesaurus for finding synonyms. That’s what they’re designed to do.

Online dictionary. I like this one (or try the non-virtual kind). Dictionary definitions provide creative fodder and can stimulate a new train of thought.

Teoma’s and AltaVista’s search refinements. Several search engines display related searches or search recommendations when a search is performed, particularly on a keyword where the searcher’s intent is unclear or ambiguous. These search recommendations often contain related phrases and synonyms.

Recommendation engines may have educated one- and two-word searchers to lengthen their queries for better results. These engine-based tools are particularly good at finding related concepts that take you down a different keyword research path.

KwMap. The site’s keyword relationship data seems to mirror what’s found elsewhere, but I like the unique method of displaying “a network of keywords and concepts as they logically relate to each other, on various topics.” The site seems to work on a site directory hierarchy that ties sites to keywords — as long as they link back to KwMap. I just learned about this site and have been unable to contact the owner to learn more.

Your own campaign is an ongoing keyword research tool when you run broad match listings. The exact phrase used to find your broad-match listing can be captured by a Web analytics or campaign management system, and show up in your log.

Some SEM and search engine optimization (SEO) agencies have keyword research tools available only to their clients. At my company, we used a proprietary keyword research tool internally, then released it to the SEM and SEO community free of charge.

Next in the series, paid keyword research tools. How do you use them? And why fork over your hard-won marketing budget to invest in advanced keyword research (including competitive intelligence)?

Want more search information? ClickZ Search Archives contains all our search columns, organized by topic.

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