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The Ultimate Guide To Free Keyword Research!

Welcome to my keyword research tutorial! I had never planned to cover this subject but I recently had a change of heart and decided to share it with a friend, his feedback was positive and he managed to take a fair few points from it and integrate them into his own keyword research process so I decided to type it up and post it in the hope my readers can implimtent parts of it into their stratergy. Everything in this process can be complete for free provided you are willing to invest your time in the process, that being said I will include ways to automate or outsource where possible as I know the majority of my readers don’t have the time to do everything manually.

My personal definition of keyword research contains two parts, keyword acquisition, and keyword competition analysis. Time and time again I see people pulling keywords from the Google planner and aimlessly complaining when they are unable to rank for that particular keyword blaming their tools or service providers. In reality, the fault lies with them as they have only completed keyword acquisition, keyword competition analysis gives you the ability to remove the vast majority of the fluff that is a waste of your average affiliate marketers time and leaves you with keywords that you are actually able to rank.

Another thing I want to touch on is that keyword difficulty is a relative term, the examples I provide in this post are based around acquiring keywords that have a low competition and can be ranked using an automated set. If you have access to a private blog network or you plan to buy links you can adjust the metric cut off points and go for more difficult keywords.

This is one of the main reasons I still use this process over the automated difficulty ratings provided by tools such as Long Tail Pro or SEMRush. They knock out a generic number and represent it as a keyword difficulty score. They never go into detail of how they reach this score or allow you to tweak their algorithm to customize it to your own methods.

For example, a widespread belief amongst long tail pro users is that a keyword with a difficulty score of 30 or less is low competition. That’s all well and good but low competition for what? Someone using automated tools? Someone using guest posts? Someone with a massive private blog network? Each method has an upper limit on a keyword that it can rank, keyword difficulty scores don’t take this into account.

On top of that, they don’t provide any means for you to gauge your content against what is already ranking. For example, say a keyword has a score of 25 in long tail pro, the top ten results are all articles with a word count of 3000 words, perfect grammar, perfect spelling and heavy image and video usage. Your content is 500 words and has a random image from some stock photography website, is full of spelling and grammatical errors but you feel you can still rank for that keyword because its score is 25.

To further the example say you decide to build a big site with similar keywords with 500 word articles, you pay a few hundred dollars for the content and a few thousand dollars for backlink tools or a service to backlink your website for you. The months fly by and your website fails to climb, you make a few angry posts on a few forums and then give up on internet marketing all because you did not learn step one of affiliate site search engine optimization that is keyword research.

Long Tail Pro is not the only tool that does this, the vast majority of keyword tools do this now and I am yet to find a single one that gives some form of instruction on what your content or website will require to even stand a chance of getting ranked for these keywords that the tools are leading you to believe are low competition!

Easy Keyword Acquisition

Keyword acquisition is the process of growing a list of target keywords that you can base your content around in an attempt to gain traffic from search engines. There are a number of free methods you can take advantage of to build your potential keyword list such as brainstorming a target niche for ideas and the Google Keyword Planner.

Brainstorming is essentially sitting down with a notebook or a text app open and writing down as many potential ideas for content in your chosen niche as possible. I personally feel this method takes too much time for the results it produces and I haven’t used this method in years as I find using the Google Keyword Planner is much quicker.

Although it may be quicker, in mid to late 2016 the Google Keyword Planner changed from displaying exact search volumes for the keyword such as 4400 searches per month to search ranges such as 100-1000 searches per month. These ranges can still be used to some extent but I personally feel they did make the process a little harder but thankfully, a few free work arounds have now been released!

Google Keyword Planner For Keyword Research

I have decided to use the Google Keyword Planner for my example run through for this post, the screenshot above shows the first page of the tool. The tool is actually designed for Google to sell adspace to people so most of the options are useless to us, we are interested in its “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category” option as shown in the screenshot below.

Using the google keyword planner for keyword research.

There are a few options users are able to take advantage of on this screen but we are mainly interested in the “Your product or service” entry. If you are wanting to target a specific country then you can select your country of choice from the “All locations” drop down. Personally I leave it set to all locations as my sites are based around display advertising or affiliate marketing.

You are also able to add your keyword filters at this stage but I prefer to wait until the tool has actually presented some data for the keyword as with niche long tails it gives you a better picture of the keyword and its potential secondary long tail and LSI keywords.

Understanding the Google keyword planner heading for keyword research.

Before moving on and showing any data presented by the tool I just want to quickly go over the column headings for the tool as they tend to catch some people out.

  • Keyword – The keyword the rest of the data is relevant to.
  • Avg. monthly searches – The number of searches expected for that keyword.
  • Competition – The competition for people to show their ad NOT search engine competition.
  • Suggested bid – The suggested bid to be shown on Google search NOT the display network.
  • Ad Impr. – Ad impressions if you pay to advertise, useless to us.
  • Add to plan – Add to your plan to pay to advertise, useless to us.

Now as you may notice, the Google Keyword Planner is designed for their search based ad spaces and show up in Google search results as shown in the screenshot below.

Google search advertisements.They also have the Google Display Planner tool that displays some keyword data for advertisers bidding on the keyword for the Google display network (the Adsense program) with results shown for the example keyword “tea” in the screenshot below.

Using the Google Display Planner for keyword research.

Due to it being based around the Google display network rather than Google search it does not show search volume data for the keyword and it also returns a much lower number of relevant keywords per root keyword entered so I stick with the Google Keyword Planner tool.

That being said the Google Display Planner tool does display a much more accurate CPC to what the advertiser will have to pay on the display network but you only receive around 55 percent (I maybe wrong on this) of that after Google take their cut.

In addition, there are retargeting options open to other advertisers. For example, say you target “afternoon tea London” and you expect 0-£1 CPC. A visitor arrives on your site but they have recently been on Amazon looking at a product they have an amazon browser cookie, Google detect this and check if Amazon have a higher bid to try and get the visitor back to their website to convert the sale, they are willing to pay £2 so Google display their ad rather than any of the relevant “afternoon tea London” ads meaning you potentially get more money.

On With The Tutorial!

Being British, I am currently drinking a cup of tea so for this example, I am going to start with the keyword of “tea”. In theory, this seed keyword could present a number of keywords that I could use to make money via either the Amazon affiliate program (Shout out to tea makers of London! it’s unreal how much of their tea I buy) or Googles Adsense. In my opinion, Adsense based sites require less experience to set up so for this example I will be looking for a keyword based around an Adsense article.

Google keyword planner results for keyword research.

The screenshot above is the initial results presented by the tool for the seed keyword “tea”. As you can see the initial results are far too broad, to counter this I apply my filter words to the tool in an attempt to remove the fluff keywords that I would never go for. My filter words are words or phrases that are not only designed to remove the broad keywords but also leave behind keywords with a high cost per click.

Feel free to skip this filtering stage out if you like as it is not essential by any means. My Adsense filter words include things like “how” and “why”. For the example keyword of “tea” they would be used to try and remove fluff keywords and leave behind keywords such as “how to lose weight with green tea” or “why do I have more energy after drinking tea”. My Amazon filter words include things such as “best” and “for women” with a goal of being left with keywords such as “the best green tea for losing weight” or “herbal teas for women who are pregnant”.

If you want to implement this into your own keyword strategy then you can click the text expanders below to expand my filter words to use in your own process.

Adsense Based Filter Words


Amazon Based Filter Words

for women
for men
for children
for couples
for girls
for guys
for kids
for men
for newbies
for seniors
for students
for women

Applying filter words for keyword research in the Google keyword planner

To apply your filter words you simply click the “Keywords to include” button shown in the screenshot before and paste the keywords in the popup box. The tool will then refresh the page and remove any keywords that were previously presented that do not include any of the filter words you applied.

Filtered keywords in the google keyword planner for keyword research.

The screenshot above shows some of the keywords that remain after applying the filter words. As you can see they are a little more niche with lower search volumes meaning we may find something from this batch. I then export all of these keywords and repeat the process for terms from this initial batch so rather than searching “tea” as I initially did I may search “where to buy green tea” and then repeat the filter word process and then search “where to buy loose leaf tea” to build up my potential keywords.

Next, I merge all of the potential keywords from the various exports into one list and head on over to Keyword Planner Pro. This service has just came out of beta and provides users the real search volume for the keyword rather than the ranges Google present. They have just launched their paid plans but you can still put a fair few keywords through their system per day for free.

Keyword Planner Pro data for keyword research.

The above screenshot is a sample of the keywords I have remaining at this stage, as you can see I now have the real search volumes for the keywords rather than the rangers I had previously. I still have the advertiser competition data as well as the suggested bid CPC, I have already touched on how this CPC is not what you will receive if a visitor to your website clicks on one of your Adsense ads. Keep this spreadsheet saved somewhere as we will be coming back to it later.

At this stage, I usually filter my keywords further by removing low search volume keywords. I have no fixed lower limit for this, especially when I am going for Amazon based keywords as a keyword may receive 290 searches per month but the products retail for £1000 meaning I would still probably go for it.

In the past, if I am looking for keywords for an Adsense based website I have also deleted keywords with low advertiser competition or a low suggested bid at this stage. I have now stopped doing this due to the way Adsense retarget ads, for example, you may have a 2900 searches per month keyword with low advertiser competition and £0 suggested bid. You rank for the term and begin to get traffic to your website and Google retargets other advertisers using the visitors cookies, in my experience, you still get around $0.25 per click for this and most people overlook these keywords so they are easier to rank for.

The Art Of Keyword Competition Analysis

Now that you have acquired a list of keywords it is time to work on their competition analysis to try and work out what keywords you have a higher chance of ranking for. I have already had my rant about automated keyword competition scores so I am going to show you my exact method that has adjustable variables you can set to meet the requirement of your own method.

There are so many tools out there that rely on data based on third-party metrics from services such as moz, majestic and ahrefs. These metrics can have their place in this process but Google offer some excellent FREE off page search engine optimisation data via their advanced search operators, for keyword research purposes we are interested in four particular ones.

using google search operators for keyword research

To demonstrate how these search operators can help you I have chosen a keyword from my example batch at random, in this case, it is what does oolong tea taste like. The screenshot above is a regular search for the keyword and as you can see there are 1,470,000 pages returned for this particular keyword.

The first advanced search operator we are going to look at is putting your keyword in quotation marks like this “what does oolong tea taste like”. Doing this forces Google to only return results that have the keyword in that exact order on the page. You can still use this search operator to assist with your keyword competition analysis but I have personally dropped it due to LSI and secondary keywords coming into play more in Google.

keyword research example with quotation mark google search operator

As you can see from the screenshot above, running a search on the example keyword with the quotation mark google search operator now returns only 163 results meaning Google only have 163 pages indexed that have that phrase in their content in exact order.

The next search operator we are interested in is inurl:. This search modifier forces Google to only return results that have the keyword in the page URL. Again, with secondary and LSI keywords becoming more prominent I have personally dropped this from my current method but you may find a use for it.

inurl google search operator for keyword research

Notice how the above screenshot using the inurl: search operator without quotation marks around the keyword returns 3,580 but the screenshot below using the inurl: operator with quotation marks returns 2! This is because the above screenshot is returning results that have a partial match to the keywords in their URL where as the one below is returning results that have the keywords in their exact order. Be sure to always use your quotation marks guys!

inurl modifier with quotation marks for keyword research.

Google also have an allinurl: operator, all this operator does is force Google to return pages that have the full keyword in their URL but it can be in any order. Personally, I just stick to the inurl: with quotation marks.

The next operator we will be looking at is intitle:. When used with quotation marks around the keyword this operator forces Google to return pages that have the exact match keyword in their title. I personally feel that having the exact keyword in your page title is one of the most important on-page search engine optimization factors so I still use this operator in my current keyword research method.

Using the intitle search operator for keyword research

As you can see from the screenshot above, at the time of writing, Google held only four pages in their index that have the exact phrase of what does oolong tea taste link in their page title leading me to believe very few people are targeting this keyword.

The final search operator I use is the inanchor: operator. This forces Google to only return pages that have a backlink pointing to it with that keyword as an anchor text. Although I presume it does sometimes happen naturally, using a low percentage of exact match anchor texts is still a very popular black hat search engine optimization technique. One thing I would like to know about this search operator is if the page with the backlink on it to the page returned in the search results is held within the Google index or not but I have been unable to find any confirmation of this.

keyword research using the inanchor search operator

As you can see from the screenshot above, at the time of writing Google are saying there are three pages in their index that have a backlink with the anchor text matching the keyword leading me to believe that little to no black hat guys are targeting the keyword.

Stringing Search Modifiers Togeather For More Data

Keyword research using multiple google search operators togeather.

The screen shot above shows the exact query I currently use to gather the basics of my off page search engine optimization data. Using the intitle: and inanchor: search modifiers in this way for your keyword research forces Google to return only results that have the keyword in the page title as well as an exact match anchor text to the page. Although it offers no data about the total number of links pointing to the page or their strength I still use this query to get an idea of how many people, particularly black hats are targeting the term.

Unfortunately, the example keyword of “what does oolong tea taste link” is a bad example as all of its modified searches returning a low number of indexed pages. In an attempt to get my point across lets quickly take a look at an example, say the keyword returned 200 pages for its intitle: search and 50 pages for its inanchor: search, still pretty decent returns that give you an indication the keyword is low competition.

For this example, let’s say when using both search operators togeather it only returns 10 indexed pages. This is an excellent indication that the keyword could be extremely low competition.

Now if you are wanting to keep this method totally free you are going to have to manually search each keyword and note down the number of results returned by the search. This can literally take weeks depending on how large of a site you are wanting to build but thankfully there is an easy way to automate it using Scrapebox.

Quick And Easy Search Operator Automation!

Thankfully, if you own a Scrapebox license then you have access to its free Google Competition Finder add-on and it offers a set and forget solution for this process, we can even save additional time in the process by using a spreadsheet.

So, first things first. Potentially we are going to have thousands of potential keywords to run through this process and it could take hours just to set the queries up. Thankfully there is a quick and easy way to create these search queries in bulk using either Numbers (Mac) or Excel (Windows). I am a Mac user so the screenshot below may look a little different when set up on a Windows based program.

Keyword research tool created in a spreadsheet.

Now I’m sure there are a number of ways you are able to do this but the above screenshot shows how I do it. The theory behind it is that you enter your keyword into the B2 cell and it will automatically churn out the required queries for you. You then copy the fields downwards for a few thousand cells to enable you to automatically generate the queries required in bulk.

Copies keyword research templates in all cells in a spreadsheet tool

The above screenshot gives an idea of how your spreadsheet will look once the data in the first set of cells has been copies to all the cells without having added keywords with the below screenshot displaying how the tool will look once you have added your keywords. As you can see the end column is ready to be copied and pasted direcly into Scrapebox.

Using a spreadsheet to generate keyword research queries in bulk.

Next, you simply paste your queries into the “Harvester and Keywords” field within Scrapebox as shown in the screenshot below.

Using Scrapebox to automated keyword research queries.

Although you can do this with totally free scraped public proxies I prefer to use either semi-dedicated or dedicated proxies as they have a much better success rate with Google queries. So be sure to load some proxies into Scrapebox before starting. In addition, when repeatedly using advanced search operators in Google there is a much lower timeout threshold set by Google as to how quickly your proxies will be soft banned.

At the time of writing, this is around one query every seventy seconds per proxy but I won’t be surprised if this changes soon, I can remember the says when I was able to set my timeout to one query every 12 seconds and leave the tool to run all night but times have changed.

Next, in the top menu, click Addons – Show Available Addons and download the Google Competition Finder if you haven’t already. If you have already downloaded the tool then click Addons – Google Competition Finder.

Once the tool is open click “Import Keywords” in the bottom left of the tool and select “Import From Scrapebox” to load your queries into the tool. Next, you have to work out a query timeout option for your particular proxy set up. To make it easier I set connections to one and then work out my delay for my proxies. To make it easier I am going to say I have seven semi dedicated proxies in the tool so set the delay to 10. With this set up each of my proxies will only be used once every 70 seconds to query Google meaning to tool can run indefinitely without soft bans. Finally click the “Start/Recheck” button and leave the tool to run, it will submit a query to Google at the time interval set by the user in the “delay” field and free you up to complete other tasks such as gather more keywords to process, write content or anything else you wish to do.

Errors in the google competition finder when used for keyword research

Although very common with public proxies you will still get a few errors when using semi-dedicated or dedicated proxies in the Google Competition Finder addon as shown in the screenshot above, simply press the “Start/Recheck” and let the tool rerun. It will save the values of the successful queries and rerun the ones with errors, repeat this until each query has a numerical value or a question mark and there are no errors.

Once this is complete select the export button in the bottom right of the tool and save the data as an excel file at your desired location and open it in your favorite spreadsheet program, at this stage, your data should look similar to the screenshot below.

Keyword research data after queries are complete.

Now this is where your backlinking strategy comes into play, previously I would aim for keywords with a value of two hundred or less for mass automated backlinking and found it to be a good cut off, if you are using web 2.0, private blog networks or bought links on your tier one then I would imagine you can go higher than this. For this example, I will remove all of the values with a value of over 200 and I am left with a short list of potential keywords with potentially low competition and I am left with the below screenshot.

Low competition keywords for keyword research

Now it is time to clean up the keyword names, now I am sure there is a more efficient way to do this but I open sublime (notepad ++ should work on windows) or any text based program with regex support and I paste in my keywords in the exact same order they are currently in. I then open up the replace menu, I have no idea what its called in notepad ++.

Sublime Text and Regex for keyword research.

As shown in the screenshot above, we will add (.*?)[:][“](.*?)[“] to the find field and then add $2 to the replace menu and press replace all. The tool will then go through each entry and remove everything before and including the first quotation as well as everything after the second quotation leaving us with a single keyword as shown below.

Regex being used to purge useless data for keyword research

As the keywords in Sublime Text are organized in the same order as they are in the spreadsheet we simply copy and paste them back into the spreadsheet to replace the intitle: and inanchor: versions of the keywords.

Next, we open up our search volume spreadsheet from earlier. Arrange that spreadsheets keywords in the same order as your Scrapebox export and copy the search volume across. At this stage you should have something similar to the screenshot below.

Spreadsheet being filled out with data for keyword research.

You can now manipulate the keywords by arranging them by their search volume or their intitle: and inanchor: results to remove anything that you do not wish to pursue further. For this example, I have removed all searches with a search volume of less than 1000 but depending on various factors such as the cost of your ranking method and your monetization method you may be able to keep keywords with a much lower search volume.

At this stage of processing the example batch of keywords, we have the following four left.

Remaining Keywords after keyword research purging has taken place.

Checking The Top 10 Results

For this next stage, you will require the free AHRefs browser plugin. Until recently, I also used the Majestic plugin as it was also free but it is now part of their paid membership toolset. I also used to use the Moz plugin too but their crawler returns a fraction of the results of the AHRefs and Majestic crawlers leading me to drop Moz due to unreliable data from their under performing crawler.

AHRefs Plugin being used for keyword research.

The above screenshot shows the additional data provided in the search results by the AHRefs plugin below the search result. The left-hand side of the plugin represents the URL specific metrics where as the right-hand side is the domain level metrics. You can read their official definitions for each of the data types on their page here.

Next, we are going to go Google search our keywords and analyze the top 10 results. I simply search the keywords and complete the following steps for the top 10 results.

  1. Three or less results have a UR (URL Rating) above 30.
  2. Three or less results have over 30 RD (Referring Domains) to the URL.
  3. Three or less results have over 200 BL (Total Backlinks) to the URL.
  4. Three of less results have a AR (AHRefs Rating) of under 25,000 at domain level.

Personally, I currently put no weight into social signals so I disregard all social data from the plugin. If the above four requirements are all met then I press Ctrl+F to bring up the page search function and paste my keyword into it this highlights the term in the search field to make the next steps easier as shown in the screenshot below.

Using Firefox's search function for keyword research.

Next, I complete the following checks.

  1. Three or less pages have my target keyword in their page title.
  2. Five or less pages have my target keyword in their meta description.

All four of my remaining example keywords pass all of these checks meaning I would now try to work out a way to monetise them. As none of the keywords have a buyers intent so affiliate links are going to be difficult so I would use all four for display advertising.

Next, I go back to the Google Keyword Planner using their “Get Search Volume And Trends” option to only pull data for the keywords I enter. I export the keywords and paste the cost per click metrics into my master spreadsheet leaving me with the below.

The final keywords from my keyword research method.

As you can see, I have four low competition keywords with over 1000 searches per month. As I already touched on, the cost per click displayed here is the cost per click the advertiser pays for their ad to be displayed in the Google search results, not on the display network but I have found a higher cost per click here usually means a higher cost per click on the Google Display Network too.

Optional Free Extra Steps For Your Keyword Research

Everything above covers the steps either I or a virtual assistant take when completing my keyword research but there are a few extra steps I may do depending on the circumstances.

The first is to work out the content length for the top 10 results to give me a rough word count for my own content or in some cases drop the keyword completly . These days I only complete this step for my affiliate based pages rather than my display advertising pages.

Thankfully, this free word count tool saves us time when completing this task. Simply paste in the URLs for the top 10 results for your keyword, complete the captcha and press the “Perform Check” button.

Working out a page word count for keyword research

As you can see from the screenshot above, the majority of the pages are sales pages that are bulked out with customer reviews and such give them a massive word count. The page in tenth position is a micro niche site with only 327 words of content on its page. Personally, even though there is a micro niche site in the top ten I would still drop this keyword due to the rest of the page one results.

The keyword is a good example of how you can compete against stronger domains with higher on page content volumes with good off page black hat search engine optimisation techniques.

The next thing is to log how much media the top ten results have used in their content. Personally I only include this step for affiliate based keywords when having a virtual assistant do my keyword research for me but they just add two new columns at the end of my master spreadsheet, one for images and one for videos and then workout the average inclusion for both over the top 10 results and enter that number in the cells.

Finally we have the keyword density percentage for the top ten pages. Again, I only have this step completed if the keyword is affiliate based an a virtual assistant is completing my keyword research for me. Now if you read this page over on wikipedia working out the correct keyword and key phrase densities can become very confusing. I simply use the Quirk Search Status plugin for Firefox and have my virtual assistant add another column to the end of my master spreadsheet and enter the average keyword density for the top ten results in there.

Tips For Bulking Out Your Content

There are multiple sources suggesting that even when ranked first for your main keyword, over sixty percent of your traffic will come from long tail keywords! Here are the methods I use to come up with my long tail keywords for free when completing my keyword research in an attempt to rank for as many long tails as possible.

Again, we use the excellent free resource that is Google. Search your target keyword, scroll to the bottom and you have some free ideas for long tails within seconds as shown in the screenshot below.

Quick and easy long tail keywords for keyword research

I then filter out the relevant ones and have my writing team include them in the content. As these are long tail or supplementary keywords I see no reason to complete the difficulty analytics on them above as it will sky rocket the time required.

Next we have the free tool keyword shitter, simply add a keyword and tell it to shit keywords and watch your long tail and supplementary keywords grow.

Finally we have accessory and buyers guys for relevant products if working with affiliate based keywords. I have begun to use this strategy in addition to the above as it is an excellent method to increase relevant word count while providing value to the reader as well as naturally include some relevant keywords to the article.

I hope you are able to take a few things from this article to help improve your own keyword research method and help get some additional traffic to your pages.


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