SEO Content Strategy
June 22nd 2017

­­­­­­Our 2017 Guide to Keyword Research Tools

8 min read

There are a lot of keywords tools out there, take it from us. We know our platform is unique and how it differentiates from the competition, but how is the average marketer to know which keyword research tools they need in their kit?

The truth is, no one tool will do everything for you. It takes an arsenal – or at least three or four – in order to develop and maintain an effective content marketing strategy.

We could give you an exhaustive list of all the SEO tools at your disposal, but instead we’re going to hand a life preserver to content marketers out there who are lost in an ocean of options.

In this post, we’ll give you a summary of the keyword research tools we use for our content at MarketMuse and recommend to all of our clients. We’ll also explain how each tool is keeping up with the times (i.e. the Google algorithm) to help you create or update your content marketing strategy.

Here’s our shortlist of the keyword research tools that we find essential:

The Tool: Moz Keyword Explorer
What It Does:
Keyword metrics, rank tracking, backlink analysis
Why It’s In Our Toolbox: This is a go-to tool for many SEOs because it gives you a ton of up-to-date information on volume, difficulty, opportunity and potential of keywords and their related terms.

The Tool: SEMrush

What It Does: Keyword metrics, backlink analysis
Why It’s In Our Toolbox: This is a MarketMuse favorite, because it gives you detailed domain and keyword analytics for an in-depth assessment of your competitors, including their keyword, AdWords spend, and domain rank.

The Tool: LongTail Pro
What It Does:
Long-tail keyword analysis
Why It’s In Our Toolbox: AdWords users find this tool especially helpful, but SEOs love the extensive list of keyword variants it provides. You may have to do some sorting, but by knowing the filters and a few tricks in Excel, you can get a robust list of keyword variants.

The Tool: Serpfox
What It Does: Rank tracking
Why It’s In Our Toolbox: We love this one for its simplicity. It’s accurate, reliable, and a great way to get a distraction-free look at your rankings, which you can use to corroborate your data.

The Tool: Search Console
What It Does: SEO metric analysis
Why It’s In Our Toolbox: This feature in your Google WebMaster Tools is an obvious go-to for assessing your search analytics. If you’re a beginner, there may be a bit of a learning curve, but it’s worth getting to know how to use.

The Tool: MarketMuse
What It Does:
Content optimization, content analysis, long-tail keyword research, competitive analysis
Why It’s In Our Toolbox: Ok, we’re going to toot our own horn on this one. Our platform analyzes your content against the competition and identifies exactly which keywords you’re missing, as well as the terms the competition is missing. This allows you to easily craft content with the most comprehensive topic coverage on the web. It won’t replace your Search Console, but you’ll find that it’s an irreplaceable complement to your other keyword research tools.

A word on Google’s Keyword Planner: When you search “keyword research tool” one of the top results that will always show up is Google’s Keyword Planner. This is an essential tool if you’re using AdWords (and you need an AdWords account to use it), but it focuses on search volume data because that’s how Google bases its ad bidding. It’s not a reliable keyword research tool for planning a comprehensive, long-term content marketing strategy, but generally can give you some insights.

Conducting Your Keyword Research

How you ultimately determine which keywords to target depends on your existing authority and content quality, your goals, your resources, and your competitive landscape. In general, though, there are some good rules to abide when creating or updating your content marketing strategy.

Below, we’ll walk through some of the tried-and-true methods of establishing and optimizing a keyword strategy, updated for current trends.

Search Volume, Competition, and Other Important Metrics

Some terms have low search volume because they’re only queried by a narrow audience, but don’t automatically dismiss low-volume keywords. This could be a highly qualified audience for you, and one that comes with low competition. Sometimes, the more specific the search, the higher the user intent. We’ll touch more on this further down, but it’s something to keep in mind when looking at volume.

Competition and difficulty ratings will give you an idea of how many other sites are targeting your desired keywords. If a term has a lot of competition, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim to rank for it, but it does mean that you’ll need to try harder to get on page one of SERPs. Having a tool that can give you granular competitor analysis is key to ranking for high-volume, competitive keywords.

After you’ve done your initial keyword research, you’ll want to refine it to include long-tail keywords and semantic terms. These will help ensure that you’re writing topically comprehensive content and can allow you to identify user intent and create resources that answer common queries.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords and semantic terms allow you to target specific user intents with your content because they add context to otherwise general terms. As such, you can also use your long-tail keywords as topics for your content, allowing you to build out a library of resources that directly answer your user’s most pressing questions.

When you create content that speaks directly to frequently asked questions or pain points, you’re likely to see a higher click-through rate because searchers and Google alike will see your content as being highly relevant to queries.

For instance, if you write a post on “SAAS integration for large agencies,” chances are good that you’re going to get a lot of clicks from people looking to implement enterprise software into their agency. You know the intent of your user, and you’re directly answering their questions.

Another piece of content on the broader topic of “SAAS” might see more clicks, but not from people who are specifically looking for a product to integrate into an agency – this search shows a low level of intent. The intent of someone searching for any broad term is hard to identify. So you may see higher bounce rates if you fail to use relevant long-tail keywords.

In addition to increasing your CTR and conversions, using long-tail keywords in your content will increase the total number of keywords for which you rank, boosting your authority as well as your overall SERP rankings. When you have comprehensive, high-quality content on your site, it improves the positioning of all other content on your site. We call it the “all boats rise” effect, where your best-performing pages increase the authority of your site as a whole, thus improving the ranking of each individual page.

Now that you know which terms you want to target, you’ll need to record your baseline metrics and measure improvements to optimize as you go. You’ll want to refine your strategy as you create more content and gather more data. An SEO’s work is never done, but we promise you’ll be happy with the results.

Measuring and Optimizing Your Keyword Performance

It’s useful to measure your keyword performance so you know which are bringing the most traffic to your site and, more importantly, which are bringing traffic that converts. This lets you know the queries by which people are finding you and, in turn, the topics that interest your audience the most.

Keep an updated list that ranks the keywords that bring traffic to your site, from most to least. For those at the top of the list, you should take a deep dive to find topics related to them, and add those to your long-tail keyword list. These are your money makers, so don’t lose sight of them.

For those toward the bottom of the list, do some research to find pages that are ranking well for those terms, and compare them to your own content. It may become apparent that your content is much shallower than the ranking pages, or you may realize that those keywords are just not relevant to your site’s focus topic. If it’s the latter case, just eliminate them from your list. If it’s the former, read on and we’ll explain how to optimize your keyword use.

The keywords that are neither high- nor low-performing may represent your most robust opportunities for improvement. Middling performance means some searchers are finding your content relevant and your domain has some authority, but also that your site’s content is lacking in topic comprehensiveness. This is where MarketMuse becomes invaluable to your strategy.

Our software generates content outlines using artificial intelligence, accurately predicting what type of content you need to write in order to rank for your focus keywords – as well as all other related keywords. It removes the guesswork for your team and helps your content creation team operate efficiently and effectively.

Feature image vector designed by Freepik

Rebecca Bakken

Written by Rebecca Bakken rakkenbakken