Keyword Research

Keyword Sleuthing: Locate the Right Word

Effective search engine optimization (“SEO”) starts with keyword research. Chasing after the wrong keywords is a waste, costing you time and effort. The “right” keywords are the ones that are not only relevant to your business but also popular with searchers.

So how can you know what’s popular with searchers and what is not? The process of keyword research involves using some online tools to estimate the popularity of keywords with searchers, taking into account the competition for the top rankings for those keywords.

Keyword Tools

A good place to start your research is to check the popularity of keyword searches using Overture’s Keyword Selector tool, free and available at This tool is based on data from all searches on Yahoo! over the past month and other Yahoo! Search Marketing partners.

While this is a huge amount of free data, the downside is that verb tenses, plural and singular forms, and misspellings are all aggregated together. What that means to you is that when using this tool you have no sense of how popular a keyword variation (such as a misspelling) is in comparison with the main form of the word. This can be especially frustrating if you have no sense of how popular a noun’s plural form is versus the singular form.

A good rule is that the plural form is usually more popular than the singular. However, this is not always the case, and the degree to which that varies depends on the keyword.

Another free tool to find keyword popularity is Google’s Keyword Sandbox. One drawback to this tool is that it doesn’t return any hard numbers like the Overture tool, but it does have a place in your keyword research arsenal. Though your keyword search results are displayed in order of popularity, the absence of quantitative data makes it difficult to compare relative popularities in any meaningful way.

Despite its limitations, the Google tool does allow you to localize your searches based on country and language, which is valuable for businesses with international sales. In addition, the Google tool will also distinguish between singular and plural forms of a word, verb tenses, and misspellings, giving you an idea of how popular each form of your keyword is. Not to mention that the Google tool is based on data collected from the largest sample of Internet searchers on the planet: the users of Google.

When selecting the best keywords, these two tools only get us part way, but the price was right! To get serious, part with some hard-earned cash by buying a subscription (about $260) to

WordTracker overcomes the Overture Keyword Tool’s limitations regarding verb tense, singular versus plural, and misspelling. It also offers advanced functionality, such as building projects containing groups of keywords that you can research, import into Excel, and search for synonyms.

WordTracker’s database is based on searches done on the meta-search engine MetaCrawler (owned by Infospace) over the last 130 days. While MetaCrawler is a minor search engine and accounts for less than 1% of the market, there is still enough data to get statistically significant comparisons between the popularity of various keywords.

Additionally, WordTracker calculates a Keyword Effectiveness Indicator (“KEI”), which considers not just keyword popularity but also its competition. A KEI score is a ratio of keyword popularity to the number of search results returned for that keyword. KEI scores are specific to each search engine, and you should run KEI scores for at least Google and Yahoo! The higher the KEI score, the more attractive the keyword is to target, assuming it is relevant to your business.


The aforementioned tools should help you find great keywords relevant to your business and popular with searchers. However, remember that achieving a high ranking for certain keywords may not be feasible if there is a lot of competition.

Stephan Spencer
Stephan Spencer
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