The Netsetter: My Favorite Keyword Research Tools, Part 1

You don’t need fancy tools to find good keywords. I can and have done all of my keyword research at times with nothing but the good old Google AdWords Keyword Tool and a couple of free browser extensions. That said, there are a few industrial strength keyword discovery and analysis tools that allow you to process thousands of keywords in the time it would take to review dozens by hand. We’re going to look at the first two of the half dozen tools I use on a daily basis.

But first, what are “good” keywords? In this context, good keywords are those with high search volume, commerciality and accessibility. Obviously, “high search volume” means that the keyword gets a relatively high number of searches. Commerciality refers to the likelihood that people typing the keyword into a search engine will buy a related product or service if the right offer is made—”noise canceling headphones” is a search with higher commercial intent than “song lyrics”—often gauged by the AdWords Cost Per Click (some affiliate networks have their own sales and conversion metrics that might be more relevant). Accessibility refers to the lack of formidable competition for a particular keyword, as measured by the number of search results, the PageRank of the top search results, or both.

As a Californian, I think the California Gold Rush of the 1840’s is a good allegory for keyword research today. We’re still at the frontier, and there are still plenty of nuggets to find. Using only the Google Keyword Tool is like panning for gold. Using the rest of the tools I’ll cover is like using a sluice box, allowing you to prospect with a much higher throughput.

Keyword Tool Dominator

If you’re really hardcore about finding a mass of keywords in a fraction of the time it would take to generate a comparable list with the Google’s tool, look no further than Keyword Tool Dominator ($39.99), which basically creates lists of lists.


In other words, you can import your list of 800 keywords from the Google Keyword Tool, and KTD will create a new keyword list generated from each of these keywords, then collate these lists into a master list that’s exponentially larger than your initial list. The latest version can take one keyword, generate the initial list, then recursively build a master keyword list. It’s not uncommon to end up with lists of 3000-8000 keywords. The last job I ran in it generated 53,430 keywords off of a single starter keyword.

The other feature I use it for is AdSense Potential calculation. When I’m reviewing keywords in the Google Keyword Tool, I’m often scanning back and forth between the CPC and Global Monthly Search Volume columns to compare the overall value of one keyword on the list to another, which gets extremely tedious. I can streamline the comparison by exporting the list to Excel and running a formula that computes what each keyword is theoretically worth in AdSense revenue on a page ranked #1 in Google; then I can sort these amounts in descending order. Keyword Tool Dominator performs the computation directly in the program, so that I don’t have to export to Excel. I can compare potential AdSense revenues instantly, giving me a more immediate sense of the keywords’ relative commerciality.

Niche Refinery

KTD is awesome for finding keywords, but has no ability to determine their competitiveness. You can take the CSV output from KTD or the Google Keyword Tool and dump it into Niche Refinery, which checks the PageRank of the top four results in Google for each keyword. Since many keyword researchers and internet marketers are accustomed to assessing competition by counting the number of search results for a keyword, Niche Refinery might need some explanation.

Niche Refinery is a $33-per-month subscription product of The Keyword Academy. TKA argues that the amount of competition—the number of pages indexed in Google for the keyword—is irrelevant compared to the strength of competition—essentially the PageRank of the top results in Google. If the top four results for a keyword are all PR0 and PR1, it’s still possible to get to #1 with comparatively few backlinks, even if there are millions of results indexed. For more detail, see my Keyword Competition Analysis post.


Instead of manually checking the PageRank of top four results for each keyword, Niche Refinery lets you import a keyword list of any size. In most cases, NR will process the list in under 20 minutes; sometimes it will take hours; and in the case of my 53K-keyword list, the processing is 84% complete after running for a week. There’s no way in heaven or hell that I could manually run tens of thousands of search in a week.

Whether your list has completed processing, or is at some significant stage of completion, you can filter out the overly competitive keywords by clicking “Show Greens”. The “greens” are the keywords that meet TKA’s criteria for accessibility based on the top four Google search results: (1) no results greater than PR4 and (2) no PR4 results with the keyword in the title tag.


Exceptions to these rules do show up in the lists, but you can adjust the filters to suit your own criteria. You can set minimums and maxiums for PageRank, Cost Per Click, AdSense Potential, Search Volume and the Difficulty Score. The Difficulty Score is a congealed representation of the PageRank results, using a scale between 18 and 255 for “green” keywords, and over 255 for “red” keywords (which you’re advised to avoid). For instance, if the top four results for a keyword were all PR0, the Difficulty would be 18; if they were all PR4, the Difficulty would be 255.

Over to You

In the sequel, I’ll revisit some of the (mostly free) tools I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but in a more consolidated fashion. In the meantime, if you know of any tools that deserve a mention, drop that mention below.

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Andre Kibbe currently works as a content analyst for Internet Brands. He can be found on Twitter: @andrekibbe


  1. Firas Bushnaq on the 10th February

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