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Keyword Research Tool Comparison 2018 (Commentary)

8 min read

Here are the nine most important takeaways from Jeff Baker’s MOZ content and the 10th one you definitely missed.

There’s no doubt Jeff Baker is a Search Engine Optimization and Content Strategy expert. His MOZ article, Ranking the 6 Most Accurate Keyword Difficulty Tools, provides a state of the “Keyword Difficulty” union that is critical for data-driven SEOs to consider. If you’re determining how to integrate competitive metrics into their guidance for content teams, clients, and writing resources, don’t miss Jeff’s post.

Russ Jones is another genius whose wizardry often makes its way into solid case studies, data studies and articles that change minds.

When the two of them join forces on a content item, it is a clear must-read.

But alas, when the two of them join forces, things like “Pearson Correlation Coefficients” can require three cups of coffee and a free hour to digest. Content strategists want to know what parts of their workflows to change or update TODAY!

Here’s my late-summer distillation on the keyword difficulty takeaways that you have to implement before Labor Day.

Why Labor Day? It’s the first unofficial day of Content Marketing Worldwhere thousands of content and SEO experts will be delivering wisdom on keywords vs. topics, trying to boost, invoke fear, and teach along the way.

Three Sessions to Make at Content Marketing World 2018:

Tuesday, September 4 | 1:00pm – 4:00pm


Speaker: Chris Penn (Brain+Trust Insights)

Wednesday, September 5 | 10:15am – 11:00am


Speaker: Michael Brenner (Marketing Insider Group)

Thursday, September 6 | 1:30pm – 2:15pm


Speaker: Stephan Spencer (The Art of SEO)

Now here are those important takeaways.

1. Using One Data Source Can Get You Into Trouble.

With the potential for outliers and error in any keyword database-based solution, you owe it to yourself and your business to check your work across offerings. This article is your business case to not rely on one solution, whether you’ve invested $19.99 per month or $19,999 per month on it.

Writing and investing in a content plan is a serious decision. Accidentally choosing to begin with one of the statistical outliers could tank the momentum you’ve built within your organization and negatively impact your ability to get budget next year.

2. If You Are Using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner (GAKP) to Measure Keyword Difficulty, You Are Violating the Laws of Decency.

Change or die. The GAKP has always been something where SEOs have hacked methods at using the data to their benefit and the yield on the industry has been that Content Strategy, Content Marketing, and Search Engine Optimization teams at early stages of maturity are still practicing in this way.

Hat tip to Cyrus Shepard for also calling this out on Twitter:

3. Knowing the Keyword Difficulty to Target Is Important, Not Only for Today’s Priority.

Illustrating that your site/business cannot compete in topical areas where you wish to compete by attaching foundational content plans, costs and expected outcomes is a great way to make an internal business case for larger content and off-page development efforts.

4. You Need a Documented Content Strategy and to Build (or Buy) Content Briefs for Every Page You Create.

Brafton illustrates that generating or purchasing clear content blueprints for writers is a path to ensure content message, targeting and coverage levels are consistent winners.

Effective content brief development gives any business a competitive edge, decreases workflow thrash with dreaded “SEO Audits” and improves relationships between SEO teams and content creators.

5. User intent and Intent Fracture Must Be Considered in Any Keyword Study.

As Jeff Baker mentions in his comments on the article,

“It’s getting harder and harder to tell what keyword a page is “optimizing for.” Google is able to understand the meaning of a page, and what it understands the intent to be solving for. So I wouldn’t rely strictly on old-school technical SEO in your evaluations. Also, high DA/PA sites are going to rank for untargeted, variant keywords simply because of the fact that they are such strong powerhouses.”

Adding to that, a clear understanding of how fractured the user intent is on your target topic is a must before putting pen to paper. Take a look at “How User Intent Impacts SERPS.”

Is there no ambiguity as to what the user may want if they are searching for this keyword? Or are there many reasons why someone might search for that particular query?

If the latter, am I enabling task completion across as many intent profiles as possible in my article? In my connected content inventory or topic cluster?

Think about the reader/customer journey.

For any study, ensuring that the words used are a cross-section of intent fracture is job #1.

6. Some Keyword Tools Are Missing Keywords You Want to Research.

Most important for mid-market and enterprise SEO teams, ensuring that you are able to track anything you want and get insights on your priorities is a must for any technology selection.

If a vendor is driving you to decrease your keyword list, limit what you track, and reduce the scope of what you are looking to learn — is that in your best interest or theirs?

Great companies like STAT know the score here and their Customer Success Team is amazing.

7. Get a Second Opinion, Ideally a Brilliant Creative One, Before Executing Any Data Study.

“Big thanks to Russ Jones, who put together an entirely different model that answers the question: “What is the likelihood that the keyword difficulty of two randomly selected keywords will correctly predict the relative position of rankings?”

It isn’t just for statistical reliability. Sometimes bias and ego are even more damaging to an article.

Here are two other amazing data studies on the same topic you may have missed from 2017:

Best Keyword Research Tool to Determine Keyword Competitiveness – from Jon Gillham

Rank in Google With Certainty? – from Jon Gillham

8. Brafton’s Content Success Story is Dramatic

“We doubled the number of total keywords we rank for in less than six months. By using our advanced keyword research and topic writing process published earlier this year we also increased our organic traffic by 45% and the number of keywords ranking in the top ten results by 130%.

But we got a whole lot more than just traffic.

From planning to execution and performance tracking, we meticulously logged every aspect of the project. I’m talking blog word count, MarketMuse performance scores, on-page SEO scores, days indexed on Google. You name it, we recorded it.“

50%+ gains in organic traffic in a year are still achievable goals with the right Content Planning solution and process (and, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.)

9. Brafton’s Average Post Was 1,600+ Words

Authority content has to elegantly cover a topic comprehensively while exhibiting subject matter expertise. Towing that line while avoiding verbosity should be every team’s directive.

AND, the most important one.

10. Keyword Difficulty is a relative concept, but, it doesn’t have to be

Because of technology limitations, Keyword Research platforms of the past have relied only on linking metrics, search features, domain age, and other off-page factors to drive the bus for the entire industry on whether ranking on a keyword is hard.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In 2018 and beyond, the best teams are figuring out additional data to include in their content planning and topic/keyword priorities.

Jeff Baker outlines some of these items when he references SERP crowding, user intent profiling, and semantic analysis-driven factors — but all of these data sets forget about one thing:


What is your business about today?

What does your content tell the world that you are about today?

By analyzing your content inventory, the content on the competitive pages in the SERP, and the entire content inventories of the sites within the SERP, the opportunity exists to personalize every Keyword Difficulty data point and every research effort.

It’s expensive. It’s hard.

(Disclaimer) MarketMuse does it.

Bonus <RANT> Section for Social Media Detractors

When someone performs the challenging work of a data study for the benefit of a community and/or for the benefit of their business or personal brand and you immediately/reactively pounce on it and look for holes and places to defecate:

You are the problem.

If you know better and you know the holes, use it to your and your team’s advantage.

If you feel compelled to inform the author of the inaccuracy or your concern, DMs and emails work just as great. You’ll find that you’ll get a hat tip when they update the post. No one wants it to be more accurate than the team that spent dozens of hours of time on it.

Practice empathy first, community responsibility second, and give support third.

The future posts and authors that mean-spirited critiques discourage might have just been EPIC ones that you would have liked.


Thanks, and see you at Content Marketing World on September 4th. MarketMuse is sponsoring and if you ask nicely, I may buy you a beer. Empathy, Community, Support.


  • Brafton is a client. (a great one)
  • Jeff Baker is a friend.
  • Russ Jones is a friend.
  • #10 is self-promotional, but, it is true
  • You should be a MarketMuse client
  • This is a link to schedule a MarketMuse Demo
  • We’re sponsoring Content Marketing World
Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer at MarketMuse

Jeff is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at MarketMuse. He is a cross-disciplined, data-driven inbound marketing executive with 18+ years of experience managing products and website networks; focused on helping companies grow. You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.