Google has lots of useful tools to offer to the marketer - most of them are free and awesome - the two words you not so often find go in combination. This post looks at various ways to do keyword research with free Google tools - more often than not you won't need any other tools at all.

Google keyword research

1. Just Use Google Search

Google Search has answers to all questions (I mean it). You can both research your keywords and find valuable content ideas by just searching Google. The only trick is to learn how to use it correctly.

Here are a few tips for you to research your keywords using Google:

Use wildcard operator. A wildcard (*) will tell Google to substitute it for one or more words that would normally appear in the phrase. Here are just a couple example of how the wildcard search in Google may turn useful:

  • Expand your base phrase by looking at what would Google normally insert into it. Example: ["healthy * foods"] search will include any phrases from "healthy snack foods", "healthy pet foods", "healthy holiday foods", etc

Google keyword research: wildcard

Use synonym search: ~ operator will include some related terms in search results. The operator turns particularly useful when used before some most generic term (in a phrase or in combination with the wildcard operator). Example: [~money *] search will include pages about "currency converter", "currency encyclopedia", "financial aid process", "financial assistance", and many more:

Google kyword research: synonyms

Use (ALL)INTITLE: (ALL)INANCHOR: operators for competitor research. I mentioned this tip in my old post on competitive research: number of results for both [intitle:"keyword" and inanchor:"keyword"] – this is your exact competition, i.e. those who use SEO (optimized titles and incoming links anchor text).

2. Use Google's Keyword Tool

Most of us are aware of Google's public keyword research tools but not many know these tips:

  • Select the “Show/hide columns” drop down list, and choose “Show all”. This should be done to see trending and the average CPC (cost per click) is for top ranking on the paid results for these keywords.
  • Under “Match Type” in the right-most column, select “Exact”. This will show a much more accurate count for the keywords you are researching, since it gives a monthly count for that exact keyword (as opposed to all phrases containing that keyword in addition to phrases Google considers related to that keyword).
  • Treat the "Search Volume" column correctly: make sure to take the average user's behavior into account.

Gogle keyword research tool

3. Check Google Insights

Google Insights tool is a must for checking trends. You can check this outstanding post by Googlers listing some great examples of this tool can be used. Here are just a few essential tips:

  • Narrow data to specific categories, like finance, health, and sports (this will allow for more targeted results especially if one word have a few popular meanings);
  • Watch how trends were changing over time across regions and cities. (this one if pure fun!) The feature hides under "REGION" section behind the link "View change over time"

Google keyword research: Google Insights

  • Use Product search filter if you are doing research for some e-commerce project; Use News search for buzz research.
  • Download data as CSV (the file contains much more data than it is displayed on the page).

4. Google's Wonder Wheel

Wonder Wheel is Google's experiment that started last spring. That's a great tool to research various connections between the words and phrases. The feature hides behind "Show options" link shown in SERPs:

Clicking Wonder Wheel link will create an interactive chart which starts with your search term in the center, and related words and phrases around it. Once you click on any related term the wheel will expand to show this term related phrases:

Gogle keyword research: Wonder Wheel

5. Try Google Sets

Google Sets tool is another fun way to research relations between the words. But if wonder wheel shows related words which are semantically close and/or have same base words, Google Sets tool shows words that tend to appear in the same context (same lists).

Google Sets tool analyzes the following when deciding of the two or more terms are related:

  • Punctuation ( words separated by commas must be relevant, i.e. by forming a list);
  • HTML tags (words within same (sets of) HTML tags – e.g. <li>, <h6>, etc – might be relevant).

The tool thus turns particularly useful for identifying neighboring terms:

Google keyword research: Google Sets

Any more keyword research tips? Share them in the comments!

The guest post is by Ann Smarty, Director of Media for Search and Social. If you (like Ann) love guest blogging, join My Blog Guest, where bloggers meet to exchange posts and help promote each others' blogs.

Post image by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty is a blogger and SEO consultant and professional blogger. Check out Ann's personal project My Blog Guest - the forum meant to connect guest bloggers to blog owner for plenty of mutual benefits. Ann also provides guest blogging services.

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23 Responses to “Keyword Research with Google Only: No Other Tools Needed”

  1. Potter says:

    Brilliant. All tools I use already – except for the wildcard trick. That is great. Never thought of that.

    I can see how I will benefit from that. Thanks.


  2. Will Fowler says:

    Those operators are awesome for Google keywords. Google's definitely my first choice for keyword research but I also like wordtacker firefox plugin if I'm needing a quick overview in my browser of search volume.
    .-= Will Fowler recently posted: Crazy for Comments Valentine’s Day Giveaway! =-.

  3. Thanks for this post. Very useful ways to use Google's Keyword Tool. While it is definitely one of the best free tools, I don't think Google offers all the functionality needed to build a complete keyword list. For existing sites, it's extremely useful to view approximately where the site ranks for specific terms. On keyword lists of a couple thousand, this can be a cumbersome task. SEOBook's Rank Checker is a great tool to find current rankings, but it would be much easier if Google supplied this information. Wanted to throw that out there if Google is listening.

  4. […] Keyword Research with Google Only: No Other Tools Needed – Search Engine People […]

  5. John says:

    Thanks for the post. Although I use some of the tools – I never used the Wonder Wheel! :) It seems to give new ideas for keywords.

  6. […] Keyword Research with Google Only: No Other Tools Needed – Search Engine People […]

  7. Sure am learning a lot today that has to do with Google keyword research. Had no idea about using ~ or * to specify certain searches. Thanks for the info.
    .-= Marie Leonard recently posted: How To Write A Great Press Release =-.

  8. […] Keyword Research with Google Only: No Other Tools Needed […]

    • Steve says:

      adwords only give limited information, to do real keyword research you need to check the SERP too. Then you need to analyze what are your chances of ranking in the SERP for that certain keyword. For analyzing your competitors i found this tool very useful at it literally tells you the chances of you ranking for that keyword provided you follow normal on-page and off-page optimization. Hope this helps :)

  9. Tom says:

    A great post.

    Usage of the above ideas can give great insight to the market/sector and possible keyword ideas/link building opportunities.

    Combined the above with some advanced queries and bingo! :)

  10. […] mentioned the operator many times to emphasize how useful it might turn for keyword research – the operator comes particularly handy when used before some most generic […]

  11. If you’re looking to take the pulse of the web at any given moment (and you don’t want the static or excess sensationalism that goes along with using Twitter), Google Fast Flip is as good a place as any to start. It sort of feels like a concise, pre-filtered Alltop that provides a macro level view of some of the web’s most influential and respectable news sources.
    .-= Claire@men's blog recently posted: SEASON ARTICLES &amp BLOG =-.

  12. Jon says:

    I only discovered the Google Wonder Wheel yesterday and I love it. Its a bit addictive really. I keep fining myself looking at really obscure things now! Its almost like stumbling, you find stuff that you would never come across just by typing in your own search terms.
    .-= Jon recently posted: Google’s Wonder Wheel Search Tool =-.

  13. Simon says:

    In order to access the Wonder Wheel, you need to opt out of Google Instant, after that you can view it and use it. Don’t worry, you'll be able to toggle Instant back on at any time.

  14. Tucker says:

    I love the google tools but there is a real glich between the estimated daily clicks with adwords and the estimated monthly volume on exact keyword searches. So keyword tool will say global monthly exact is 18,000 and estimated traffic at #1 with max spend will generate <1 click per day. Not sure what the deal is.

  15. I use Google Keyword Tools a lot, but sometimes it is good idea to search related terms at forums, local newspaper. For in-depth keyword analysis look Market Samurai, I think it is great tool.

  16. Google Keyword is a very useful tool and I'm using it daily. I need to learn more so I can enjoy using it and get things done fast.

  17. Siddhartha says:

    Nice article. Also include Google Suggests and Google instant in ur list.

  18. I use google keyword tool alot and it helps me keep track of the progress I am making in my chosen keyword.

  19. Nishadha says:

    WOW, Some excellent tips , the [ healthy * diet ] combination alone would help get many keyword ideas. Thanks for sharing :-)

  20. Yes! I love what you had to say as it is something that I constantly try to drill my clients on. Google is such a comprehensive tool, and now with the appearance of Google+….it is truly becoming a one-stop shop. In only 88 days it got over 50 million users. It took Facebook nearly 3 years… get 25 million! Can't wait to see what the future holds.

  21. I'm a fledgling SEO specialist and this is great info! I use Google for all my analytics and there were plenty of things I need to try myself that you've brought to my attention. Keep up the great work and thank you for posting this!

  22. Julie Carter says:

    Thanks for this post. I learned a lot of helpful ideas on how keywords play a big part in getting targeted traffic. I am starting to apply the things that I learned from here.Thanks