Free Keyword Analysis That Is Actionable

by Canonical SEO on September 20, 2009

Free Keyword Analysis

Keyword analysis CAN be free!  You do NOT have to spend money buying tools or subscribing to a keyword analysis service in order to obtain accurate and actionable information on keywords to target on your site.  All you really need is a web browser.  It doesn’t get more free than that!

Keyword analysis should be the first step in on-page SEO when creating a new page on your site.  You should identify your targeted keyword phrase(s) before writing a single line of content.  The process outlined below details one method of analyzing topics and determining which keyword phrase(s) you might want to target using free tools readily available on the web. Let’s get going!

Keyword Analysis

There are many reasons to perform keyword research and analysis.  But the most common reasons are:

  • To find new topic ideas for content generation
  • To determine the keyword phrase(s) to target when you already know the topic of your next piece of content

Ultimately, most keyword analysis boils down to keyword suggestion, search volume analysis, and competition analysis.

Free Keyword Analysis Tools

There are lots of free tools available on the web to assist you with keyword analysis. They each provide varying degrees of functionality.  Some help with keyword suggestions.  Some combine keyword suggestions with search query volumes.  Others can provide competitive analysis as well.

Though I have access to very expensive keyword analysis tools via paid services, I tend to use free tools for performing most keyword research.  My free keyword analysis tool of choice is the Google Adwords External Keyword Tool.  It does NOT require you to be an Adwords advertiser to use it.  It’s free to anyone with a web browser.

Tools like Hitwise rely on samples of search traffic monitored through various ISPs to obtain statistics about search traffic.  But Google obviously has access to the largest amount of data regarding search phrases and the volume of searches for those phrases.  As we all know from statistics, the larger the sample size, the more accurate the data.  So who better than Google to provide the best raw data on what people are searching for related to your topic and how often?

Google’s Free Keyword Tool

The free Adwords keyword analysis tool is very simple to use and is pretty much self explanatory.  Users can typically figure it out just by playing around with the user interface (UI) for a bit.  But the following is a brief summary of its functionality and interface.

There are two ways that the tool can be used to assist you with your keyword analysis by coming up with suggested keyword phrases that you might want to target and their related search query volumes:

  • If the user already has an idea for a topic, they can specify one or more keyword phrases commonly used to search for the topic and the tool will suggest search phases which are most often used to locate pages for the topic and their associated search volume.
  • The user can request that the tool evaluate their content (either at a particular URL or by entering a blob of text into the UI) and the tool will analyze the content to create a list of suggested keyword phrases and their associated search volumes.

If the user chooses the first option above, the user interface (UI) displays a text box prompting the user to enter “seed” keyword phrases.  By default it will also display search phrases containing other keywords that the tool feels are synonyms for the ones entered by the user.  But there is a checkbox to disable this. 

The user can also filter the output by specifying that the keyword analysis tool:

  • NOT include search phrases that contain specific keywords (i.e. negative keywords),
  • NOT suggest additional keyword phrases other than the ones entered by the user, and
  • include adult content related keyword phrases.

Each of these filters can be invoked independently of one another or in combination with one another.  There is also a captcha to prevent automated tools from abusing their free service.

If the user chooses the second method for the tool to analyze their content to come up with keyword phrases to target, the UI allows the user to either enter the URL of a page on their site or simply paste a blob of text into the UI to be evaluated.

So that is a quick rundown of the UI for the free Adwords keyword tool.  Now let’s get down to the business of using it!

Analyzing Suggested Keyword Phrases and Search Volume

The first step in keyword analysis is coming up with a topic and determining which search phrases are used to locate web pages about that topic.  This is where Google’s free Adwords keyword tool excels IMO. 

If you are looking for topic ideas for new content, then point the free Adwords tool at your home page or a particular section of your site whose content you are looking to expand and let the tool suggest some topics for you.   Once the tool helps you pick a general topic or if you already have one in mind then use the keyword tool to analyze suggested keyword phrases and search volume.

Keyword analysis is an iterative process.  It’s best to start out general and let the free analysis tool do the work for you.  By starting out with general phrases, the Adwords keyword tool will often suggest search phrases that you totally overlooked.  But if the phrases you enter to research are too narrowly focused, the tool might limit the number of keyword phrases suggested. 

Start by entering one or two keyword phrases that you believe would be most commonly used to search for pages about the topic that you have in mind.  Enter the captcha value and submit your keyword phrase(s) to the tool.  After the results are returned, change the Match Type dropdown list at the top of the results to BROAD.  Leave it on BROAD throughout the remainder of your analysis.

If phrases appear that are not applicable to your proposed topic then adjust the filters to eliminate them from the results returned and search again.  For example, if you’re researching home refinancing but phrases keep showing up related to auto refinancing, you would want to filter out results containing the keywords auto, automobile, car, vehicle, motorcycle, truck, boat, etc. and then search again.

Experiment with adding suggested keyword phrases from the results that are most relevant to your proposed topic and that have a substantial local and global search volume (depending on whether you are targeting traffic from just your country or worldwide, respectively) to your original list of keyword phrases.  Then search again.

Continue the above process until you have a list of suggested keyword phrases which are all relevant to your topic and which have a visible local or global search volume (again, depending on your target audience). 

Once you think you have a final list of potential keyword phrases to target, enter all keyword phrases that have a visible search volume greater than some cutoff (maybe more than 100 searches per month) along with their corresponding exact match monthly local and global search volumes into Excel under columns labeled Keyword Phrase, Local Search Volume, and Global Search Volume, respectively.

Free Keyword Competition Analysis

Keyword competition analysis can be free as well and is actually a MUCH simpler process than coming of with the list of potential keyword phrases.  All that is involved is making a few searches at Google.com for each of the suggested keyword phrases.

To get the complete picture of the competitive landscape, perform the following searches at Google substituting each keyword phrase from the list of potential targeted phrases for “my keyword phrase”:

  • “my keyword phrase”
  • intitle:”my keyword phrase”
  • inurl:”my keyword phrase”
  • intitle:”my keyword phrase” inurl:”my keyword phrase”

and log the number of search results for each query in your spreadsheet under columns labeled Phrase Result Count, Intitle Result Count, InURL Result Count, and Intitle/InURL Result Count, respectively. 

Also, be sure to scan the first page of the results for each query and make note of any big brands that are showing up in the results.  You will likely want to use Yahoo! Site Explorer to get lists of backlinks for the top competitors so that you can see where they are getting their links.

The first search for “my keyword phrase” (with the double quotes) will return a list of pages that contain the exact phrase “my keyword phrase” somewhere in the content.  This is really not that great a measurement of competition.  But I do it anyway.

The second search for intitle:”my keyword phrase” will return a list of pages that contain the exact phrase “my keyword phrase” somewhere in the <title> element of the page. This is probably is a great indicator of the keyword phrase’s competition since <title> typically reflects the keyword phrases being targeted by the page.

The third search for inURL:”my keyword phrase” will return a list of pages that contain the exact phrase “my keyword phrase” somewhere in the URL for the page. This is another great indicator that the page is trying to rank for that particular phrase.

The last search for intitle:”my keyword phrase” inURL:”my keyword phrase” will return a list of pages that have the exact phrase “my keyword phrase” in both the <title> and URL.  These sites are definitely competing for that exact phrase.

Search Volume vs. Competition Analysis

Once you have a list of suggested keyword phrases, their local and global search volumes, and the number of phrase and intitle result counts for each, you then have everything you need for picking your targeted phrase.  You can simply compare the search counts to the phrase and intitle result counts and make a gut call.  You want to find a balance between higher search volume figures with lower competition result counts.

You can take it one step further by trying to calculate a return on investment (ROI) figure to assist you in your selection by comparing local and global search volumes to the phrase and intitle result counts using some type of formula.  One crude version of this type of ROI calculation might be determined by dividing each of the search volumes by each of the search results counts giving four different results:

  • Local Search Volume / Phrase Result Count
  • Global Search Volume /Phrase Result Count
  • Local Search Volume / Intitle Result Count
  • Global Search Volume / Intitle Result Count
  • Local Search Volume / InURL Result Count
  • Global Search Volume / InURL Result Count
  • Local Search Volume / Intitle/InURL Result Count
  • Global Search Volume / Intitle/InURL Result Count

If you’re using a spreadsheet this is really simple by entering the above formulas into four new columns and dragging them down to calculate all four figures for each of the suggested keyword phrases.  Label your columns Local/Phrase, Global/Phrase, Local/Intitle, and Global/Intitle, Local/InURL, Global/InURL, Local Both, Global/Both, respectively.

Once your spreadsheet is populated, analyze the entire spreadsheet.  Higher numbers in the formula columns mean the keyword phrase gets more searches per competing results. 

Free Keyword Analysis with a Twist

This is just one way of performing free keyword analysis using Google’s free Adwords tool, a browser, and a spreadsheet program like Excel.  Hopefully, this has at least got you thinking about how to go about finding keyword phrases to target and researching their search volumes and competition.  Feel free to add your own twist to the process.

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