Public relations has always been a critical factor in building a brand, and it is no different in today’s digital society. Times have simply moved from billboards and press comments outside office buildings to creative digital campaigns and quotes in key online publications.
The best part? Digital PR and SEO go together like peanut butter and jelly. Digital PR is not only beneficial to your website in its own right, but it can also seriously boost your SEO efforts and is the truest form of “white hat” link building.
As someone who specializes in using digital PR for SEO, I am going to deep dive into digital PR and its many benefits, as well as give you some of my top tips on where to start and how to get the most success from your efforts.
But first, let’s look at what digital PR is and why it is important.
Digital PR is a promotional tactic used by marketing professionals and PR specialists. When done properly, it utilizes traditional public relations tactics in a digital space—most often to boost the awareness of a brand, company, or business.
The whole point of digital PR is to stay ahead of the curve and make your brand unmissable.
Just like any other form of marketing, digital PR should have its own strategy based on the individual requirements and goals of the brand or business. The strategy combines a number of techniques, such as promoting content, stories, or data, to deliver results that benefit the overall marketing strategy.
Digital PR has a huge number of benefits in addition to improving brand awareness, including boosting organic traffic, leads, and sales, as well as promoting social engagement.
Digital PR is often thought of as a form of link building. However, it is a beast of its own, and the two should not be confused. Digital PR should be done alongside SEO. Even Google’s own John Mueller said previously that it is often even more important than technical SEO.
Although digital PR is not an SEO tactic, it does complement our efforts as SEOs by improving the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of the brand and those behind it, as well as creating high-quality, super-authority backlinks.
The fact is no matter what paid and organic marketing channels you focus on, digital PR should always be part of your marketing strategy, regardless of the size of your business.
So if you’re new to digital PR, you’re probably wondering why you should invest your time and money into a digital PR strategy and what the point is exactly? Well, let’s break it down and look at some of the main reasons people want to utilize digital PR tactics for their business:
- Brand coverage
- Building awareness
- Forming long-term relationships with journalists
- Boosting SEO efforts
Bigger and better brand coverage
Media coverage for brands has always been one of the main goals for public relations, regardless of whether it is in a digital or traditional sense.
A third-party endorsement for your business, especially from a highly authoritative media outlet, is the best possible advertisement for your company. Your brand and those behind it are presented as experts in the field. This builds instant trust with your audience and potential customers.
Building awareness and shaping brand image
If you’re the new kid on the block and your business is just getting started, create an online presence that lets your target audience know who you are, what you’re about, and your values. This gets your name in front of your target audience in the way you want to be viewed.
Doing so in a way that is newsworthy is best for making a lasting impression.
But it’s not just about making a name for yourself at the beginning of your business. Even established brands look for new and exciting ways to get in front of their ideal audience to maintain brand awareness and stop their competition from getting the edge.
Forming long-term relationships with journalists
Unlike the days of traditional print media, a digital journalist
never always reveals their source. That means mentioning your brand and often quoting the key experts at the forefront of your business.
Now, pitching journalists regularly (daily in my case) is considered by many to be a long-winded, tedious process. However, this is simply the first step in building relationships with journalists—the value of which should never be underestimated.
As someone who has been using digital PR to boost the SEO efforts for clients over the years, I have built ongoing relationships with hundreds of journalists.
To date, I have a personal database of thousands of U.S.- and U.K.-based journalists for all major publications. That means, these days, I can contact journalists directly for campaigns and press releases I am running for my clients.
I also have a large number of journalists who come to me (or my clients) directly for quotes that require topic experts. Whenever they are writing an article relevant to my experience, they will reach out to me to see if I can provide a quote.
Initially, pitching journalists is definitely hard work. But in the long run, you can build ongoing, long-term relationships. It’s definitely worth it when journalists come to you and are continuously publishing your brand on high-authority websites.
Boosting SEO efforts
Although the main goal of public relations is always to build your brand, the secondary benefits digital PR lends to SEO are undeniable.
We will discuss each of these and why they matter in more detail later, but the most obvious are links, links, and more links.
But not just any links. Not a random link thrown into a guest post that no one will ever see or care about. I’m talking about links that actually get clicks, drive traffic to a piece of content or asset, encourage engagement and shares, and boost branded search.
Pages with more backlinks often appear higher in search results. A page’s Google search traffic is strongly and positively correlated with the number of websites that link to it, according to our analysis of 1 billion pages:
Plus, if you want to put the “expert” in expertise, authority, and trust, there’s nothing more effective than being quoted across high-authority websites as a go-to topic specialist.
OK, now we know the point of public relations. So let’s talk about what you’ll get out of it:
- More sales and leads
- Build authority with links from top-tier publications
- Build links that competitors can’t replicate to get ahead of the competition
- Gain trust as an industry expert
- Earn links that drive referral traffic
More sales and leads
In all my years working with clients as an SEO, I found getting more qualified leads and sales is always on their list of KPIs—no matter what other goals they may have.
The great thing about digital PR is that it gets your brand in front of the right people at the right time. A well-coordinated campaign can ensure your new product, a seasonal sale, or a special offer is seen by your ideal customers and promote a huge influx of highly relevant, qualified leads.
Building links for SEO on niche relevant sites can help improve topic relevance so Google has a better understanding of what your website is about. But in digital PR, relevance means getting your business, product, or service in front of a relevant audience.
For example, if you have a B2B cybersecurity business, you don’t want any old mention on Cybersecurity Weekly. Rather, you want to be featured in content that CEOs and founders are likely to read, such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur.
Build authority with links from top-tier publications
One of the major benefits of digital PR (certainly as an SEO) is building links to highly authoritative websites that you simply can’t achieve with other forms of link building.
Over the years, I have acquired a magnitude of links for clients across sites like Forbes, The New York Times, The Telegraph, BuzzFeed, and so on.
These links can not only significantly improve the authority of your site within your given niche in the eyes of search engines, but they can also make your brand stand out from the competition.
If someone searches for your company name, everyone expects the top result to be your website. But not everyone can follow that with positions #2, #3, and #4 as features on sites like those listed above.
Build links that competitors can’t replicate to get ahead of the competition
As mentioned above, the links acquired from digital PR are more difficult to replicate with traditional link building methods. Plus, features are always completely unique.
Sure, your competitors can also do some digital PR. But it is not guaranteed that the same sites will be working on relevant features to acquire links or that they will even be picked up by the journalists.
That means even if a major competitor is continuously checking your backlink profile to attempt to loot your backlinks, it’s not as simple as putting a guest post on the same website.
Gain trust as an industry expert
Let’s face it. Anyone can tell you how fantastic they are. A well-written About page or a self-promoting YouTube video may gain you some trust as an authority in your industry. But an endorsement from an authoritative publication? Priceless.
Nothing speaks louder to a potential customer than a leading industry authority presenting you as an expert. This builds instant trust between you (seen as a specialist in your field) and people who are directly interested in what you have to offer.
If you regularly provide journalists with well-written and actionable quotes, chances are they will add you as a regular source.
Always share any articles your quotes are published in across social media, especially LinkedIn and Twitter. Journalists have KPIs on engagement and shares, and sources who make the effort on socials tend to get used again.
Earn links that drive referral traffic
With links acquired by traditional link building methods, the goal is to develop trust signals from authoritative, niche-relevant sites that will tell Google your website is an authority in the niche and give search engines a better understanding of your site’s content.
The thing is that those links don’t always tell your audience you are an authority and, often, have no real value to the user.
When you’re promoting yourself and your brand as an authority to your potential customers using digital PR methods, links will be used to direct the user to a highly relevant, engaging resource.
For example, a story that goes viral about a groundbreaking study your company has conducted may contain a link that directs readers to the results.
These links drive traffic, social shares, and engagement.
Now, I’m a huge advocate of digital PR and how it can support SEO. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. So let’s take a look at some of the downsides:
- Highly competitive
- Results not guaranteed
Due to the nature of public relations, it is a highly competitive arena. Some of the more popular tactics—such as earned media, where you pitch journalists your thoughts as an industry expert—happen quickly. And there are thousands of other people waiting to jump on the opportunity.
Journalists can post their queries across different platforms in the afternoon and want all submissions by the end of the working day. That means you have to be hot off the blocks (as well as provide something high-quality and unique) to beat the competition.
In the last six months alone, I have seen enormous changes within the digital PR space, especially as someone who specifically uses PR to boost SEO.
Tactics that were highly successful before no longer work, and platforms that were once a goldmine of opportunities are over-saturated and offer results few and far between.
Now, if you’re an SEO, you’re used to being on your toes. I mean, who knows what kind of curveball Google can throw at any time with a surprise algorithm update?
But for those not used to working in such a fast-paced environment, such as a small-business owner, it can be difficult to stay on top of what the best plan of action is to actually get results.
Results are not guaranteed
Speaking of results, here’s the thing with digital PR: They’re never guaranteed! Mainly due to the two reasons above.
You can pitch 20 journalists and just not hit the nail on the head. Or you come up with a great campaign idea, conduct an in-depth study, and create assets around the results; then, a competitor releases something near-similar the day before publishing (yes, I’ve had that happen).
Also, if you don’t have the best strategy or it simply isn’t well executed, the likelihood is that you won’t get picked up by journalists or you won’t get the response from your target audience.
So now that we’ve talked about what digital PR is, as well as the pros and cons, let’s take a look at some of my favorite digital PR tactics:
- Reactive PR (earned media)
- Data-driven proactive campaigns
- Press releases
- Creative campaigns
1. Reactive PR (earned media)
Reactive PR (also called earned media) is a method where a journalist will post a query for an article they are writing, requiring subject matter experts to give comments that they can use as an authority source.
This method works incredibly well for businesses of all sizes and helps to build E-A-T and high-authority links.
There are a few different platforms and methods used for reactive PR, depending on the kinds of sites you want to target (niches, geography, etc.). All you need to do is visit the website and register as a source, and queries will come directly to your inbox.
Some of these include:
HARO – Help a Reporter Out is a popular platform for earned media. It’s a great option for beginners and mainly focuses on high-quality publications in the U.S. The one issue with HARO is, these days, it is incredibly saturated, so you have to be quick to get featured.
Terkel – Terkel is a great alternative to HARO that provides queries for high-authority media outlets in both the U.S. and U.K. Again, it is a great option for beginners looking to do their own PR and, as a newer platform, is continuously expanding with opportunities.
SourceBottle – If you’re a new business specifically looking for publications in Australia, SourceBottle is a great platform to get started with.
Paid platforms – The above options are all free and a great starting place for beginners. However, these days, more experienced PR pros will stay away from these platforms when working on accounts for clients. They may opt for paid platforms instead.
Use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to vet publications before pitching. If you’re hoping for an SEO boost, you can quickly check the Domain Rating (DR) score and traffic of a site.
Plus, always look at its backlink profile to make sure nothing seems untoward. Avoid any site that has a backlink profile full of spam links or appears to be part of a public blog network (PBN).
The key to success with reactive PR is to write unique and actionable pitches for journalists. Give them something that your competitors won’t have an insight into and make sure it is well written.
Journalists want to directly copy and paste, so make their job as easy as possible!
Recommended reading: How to Build Backlinks and Get Press Using HARO [Case Study]
2. Data-driven proactive campaigns
Journalists love data. Fact.
Conducted some groundbreaking research? Got some fun and quirky statistics? Journalists love to feature that stuff.
The idea with these campaigns is to come up with an idea around something newsworthy that you can gather comprehensive data on and then proactively approach journalists with the story.
I recently created a campaign for a client in the HR industry about lying on your CV for remote positions. We conducted a study in the U.K., and it turns out that over one-third of jobseekers were lying to get remote positions.
We created an in-depth piece of content detailing the full results on the client’s website, along with a long-form infographic with the key data points. It was then picked up by hundreds of media outlets, including MSN and Yahoo:
3. Press releases
Just won an award? A new company merged? If you have a newsworthy story, a press release is a great way to get traction, create brand awareness, and amplify your position as an authority in your industry.
Here’s an example of a press release we distributed earlier this year about major keyword updates:
There is a formula for success when it comes to writing press releases, though. To get picked up, they need to be written and formatted correctly. To learn more about how to do it, you can read this great guide from our Rebecca Liew.
4. Creative campaigns
We’ve established that journalists love data, but that doesn’t mean all campaigns have to be data-led to pick up traction.
Big brands are finding more and more success with creative campaigns that include bold visuals or creative stunts (think the digital version of a flash mob) to capture attention and go viral.
This campaign tugged at the nation’s heartstrings, driving 8,500 people to its landing page and picking up almost 40 qualified leads… for a £25,000 ring!
For this tactic to be successful, you have to be hot off the presses.
Newsjacking is all about monitoring news stories as they break and jumping on them with comments and thought leadership pieces. It is an always-on technique that is used by PR professionals to put brands at the center of a trending topic.
Most people who do newsjacking successfully have teams of people monitoring the news daily for stories to jump on. For a beginner, an easy way to get started is to set up Google Alerts to notify you of specific topics. That way, you can be quick to respond with expert commentary.
Recommended reading: 9 Great Public Relations Tactics With Campaign Examples
Digital PR is one of the most effective ways of establishing your brand and those behind it as an authority in your space. Also, it works in tandem with SEO to boost your link building efforts.
Is it time to start using digital PR to make your brand unmissable?
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ping me on Twitter.
Google’s Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies
John Mueller recently made strong statements against SEO companies that provide negative SEO and other agencies that provide link disavow services outside of the tool’s intended purpose, saying that they are “cashing in” on clients who don’t know better.
While many frequently say that Mueller and other Googlers are ambiguous, even on the topic of link disavows.
The fact however is that Mueller and other Googlers have consistently recommended against using the link disavow tool.
This may be the first time Mueller actually portrayed SEOs who liberally recommend link disavows in a negative light.
What Led to John Mueller’s Rebuke
The context of Mueller’s comments about negative SEO and link disavow companies started with a tweet by Ryan Jones (@RyanJones)
Ryan tweeted that he was shocked at how many SEOs regularly offer disavowing links.
“I’m still shocked at how many seos regularly disavow links. Why? Unless you spammed them or have a manual action you’re probably doing more harm than good.”
The reason why Ryan is shocked is because Google has consistently recommended the tool for disavowing paid/spammy links that the sites (or their SEOs) are responsible for.
And yet, here we are, eleven years later, and SEOs are still misusing the tool for removing other kinds of tools.
Here’s the background information about that.
Link Disavow Tool
In the mid 2000’s there was a thriving open market for paid links prior to the Penguin Update in April 2012. The commerce in paid links was staggering.
I knew of one publisher with around fifty websites who received a $30,000 check every month for hosting paid links on his site.
Even though I advised my clients against it, some of them still purchased links because they saw everyone else was buying them and getting away with it.
The Penguin Update caused the link selling boom collapsed.
Thousands of websites lost rankings.
SEOs and affected websites strained under the burden of having to contact all the sites from which they purchased paid links to ask to have them removed.
So some in the SEO community asked Google for a more convenient way to disavow the links.
Months went by and after resisting the requests, Google relented and released a disavow tool.
Google cautioned from the very beginning to only use the tool for disavowing links that the site publishers (or their SEOs) are responsible for.
The first paragraph of Google’s October 2012 announcement of the link disavow tool leaves no doubt on when to use the tool:
“Today we’re introducing a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site.
If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on ‘unnatural links’ pointing to your site, this tool can help you address the issue.
If you haven’t gotten this notification, this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about.”
The message couldn’t be clearer.
But at some point in time, link disavowing became a service applied to random and “spammy looking” links, which is not what the tool is for.
Link Disavow Takes Months To Work
There are many anecdotes about link disavows that helped sites regain rankings.
They aren’t lying, I know credible and honest people who have made this claim.
But here’s the thing, John Mueller has confirmed that the link disavow process takes months to work its way through Google’s algorithm.
Sometimes things happen that are not related, no correlation. It just looks that way.
John shared how long it takes for a link disavow to work in a Webmaster Hangout:
“With regards to this particular case, where you’re saying you submitted a disavow file and then the ranking dropped or the visibility dropped, especially a few days later, I would assume that that is not related.
So in particular with the disavow file, what happens is we take that file into account when we reprocess the links kind of pointing to your website.
And this is a process that happens incrementally over a period of time where I would expect it would have an effect over the course of… I don’t know… maybe three, four, five, six months …kind of step by step going in that direction.
So if you’re saying that you saw an effect within a couple of days and it was a really strong effect then I would assume that this effect is completely unrelated to the disavow file. …it sounds like you still haven’t figured out what might be causing this.”
John Mueller: Negative SEO and Link Disavow Companies are Making Stuff Up
Context is important to understand what was said.
So here’s the context for John Mueller’s remark.
An SEO responded to Ryan’s tweet about being shocked at how many SEOs regularly disavow links.
The person responding to Ryan tweeted that disavowing links was still important, that agencies provide negative SEO services to take down websites and that link disavow is a way to combat the negative links.
“Google still gives penalties for backlinks (for example, 14 Dec update, so disavowing links is still important.”
SEOGuruJaipur next began tweeting about negative SEO companies.
Negative SEO companies are those that will build spammy links to a client’s competitor in order to make the competitor’s rankings drop.
“There are so many agencies that provide services to down competitors; they create backlinks for competitors such as comments, bookmarking, directory, and article submission on low quality sites.”
SEOGuruJaipur continued discussing negative SEO link builders, saying that only high trust sites are immune to the negative SEO links.
“Agencies know what kind of links hurt the website because they have been doing this for a long time.
It’s only hard to down for very trusted sites. Even some agencies provide a money back guarantee as well.
They will provide you examples as well with proper insights.”
John Mueller tweeted his response to the above tweets:
“That’s all made up & irrelevant.
These agencies (both those creating, and those disavowing) are just making stuff up, and cashing in from those who don’t know better.”
Then someone else joined the discussion:
(I am the site owner haha)
It’s just crazy to me, and extremely annoying, that some site is scraping our entire website’s code and duplicating our pages.
I have it disavowed just because they’re not links I want, but it’s still annoying haha.
— Rutledge Daugette (@TheRealRutledge) January 31, 2023
Mueller tweeted a response:
“Don’t waste your time on it; do things that build up your site instead.”
Unambiguous Statement on Negative SEO and Link Disavow Services
A statement by John Mueller (or anyone) can appear to conflict with prior statements when taken out of context.
That’s why I not only placed his statements into their original context but also the history going back eleven years that is a part of that discussion.
It’s clear that John Mueller feels that those selling negative SEO services and those providing disavow services outside of the intended use are “making stuff up” and “cashing in” on clients who might not “know better.”
Featured image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero
Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider
January 25, 2023, the day that Yandex—Russia’s search engine—was hacked.
Its complete source code was leaked online. And, it might not be the first time we’ve seen hacking happen in this industry, but it is one of the most intriguing, groundbreaking events in years.
But Yandex isn’t Google, so why should we care? Here’s why we do: these two search engines are very similar in how they process technical elements of a website, and this leak just showed us the 1,922 ranking factors Yandex uses in its algorithm.
Simply put, this information is something that we can use to our advantage to get more traffic from Google.
Yandex vs Google
As I said, a lot of these ranking factors are possibly quite similar to the signals that Google uses for search.
Yandex’s algorithm shows a RankBrain analog: MatrixNext. It also seems that they are using PageRank (almost the same way as Google does), and a lot of their text algorithms are the same. Interestingly, there are also a lot of ex-Googlers working in Yandex.
So, reviewing these factors and understanding how they play into search rankings and traffic will provide some very useful insights into how search engines like Google work. No doubt, this new trove of information will greatly influence the SEO market in the months to come.
That said, Yandex isn’t Google. The chances of Google having the exact same list of ranking factors is low — and Google may not even give that signal the same amount of weight that Yandex does.
Still, it’s information that potentially will be useful for driving traffic, so make sure to take a look at them here (before it’s scrubbed from the internet forever).
An early analysis of ranking factors
Many of their ranking factors are as expected. These include:
- Many link-related factors (e.g., age, relevancy, etc.).
- Content relevance, age, and freshness.
- Host reliability
- End-user behavior signals.
Some sites also get preference (such as Wikipedia). FI_VISITS_FROM_WIKI even shows that sites that are referenced by Wikipedia get plus points.
These are all things that we already know.
But something interesting: there were several factors that I and other SEOs found unusual, such as PageRank being the 17th highest weighted factor in Yandex, and the 19th highest weighted factor being query-document relevance (in other words, how close they match thematically). There’s also karma for likely spam hosts, based on Whois information.
Other interesting factors are the average domain ranking across queries, percent of organic traffic, and the number of unique visitors.
You can also use this Yandex Search Ranking Factor Explorer, created by Rob Ousbey, to search through the various ranking factors.
The possible negative ranking factors:
Here’s my thoughts on Yandex’s factors that I found interesting:
FI_ADV: -0.2509284637 — this factor means having tons of adverts scattered around your page and buying PPC can affect rankings.
FI_DATER_AGE: -0.2074373667 — this one evaluates content age, and whether your article is more than 10 years old, or if there’s no determinable date. Date metadata is important.
FI_COMM_LINKS_SEO_HOSTS: -0.1809636391 — this can be a negative factor if you have too much commercial anchor text, particularly if the proportion of such links goes above 50%. Pay attention to anchor text distribution. I’ve written a guide on how to effectively use anchor texts if you need some help on this.
FI_RANK_ARTROZ — outdated, poorly written text will bring your rankings down. Go through your site and give your content a refresh. FI_WORD_COUNT also shows that the number of words matter, so avoid having low-content pages.
FI_URL_HAS_NO_DIGITS, FI_NUM_SLASHES, FI_FULL_URL_FRACTION — urls shouldn’t have digits, too many slashes (too much hierarchy), and of course contain your targeted keyword.
FI_NUM_LINKS_FROM_MP — always interlink your main pages (such as your homepage or landing pages) to any other important content you want to rank. Otherwise, it can hurt your content.
FI_HOPS — reduce the crawl depth for any pages that matter to you. No important pages should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage. I recommend keeping it to two clicks, at most.
FI_IS_UNREACHABLE — likewise, avoid making any important page an orphan page. If it’s unreachable from your homepage, it’s as good as dead in the eyes of the search engine.
The possible positive ranking factors:
FI_IS_COM: +0.2762504972 — .com domains get a boost in rankings.
FI_YABAR_HOST_VISITORS — the more traffic you get, the more ranking power your site has. The strategy of targeting smaller, easier keywords first to build up an audience before targeting harder keywords can help you build traffic.
FI_BEAST_HOST_MEAN_POS — the average position of the host for keywords affects your overall ranking. This factor and the previous one clearly show that being smart with your keyword and content planning matters. If you need help with that, check out these 5 ways to build a solid SEO strategy.
FI_YABAR_HOST_SEARCH_TRAFFIC — this might look bad but shows that having other traffic sources (such as social media, direct search, and PPC) is good for your site. Yandex uses this to determine if a real site is being run, not just some spammy SEO project.
This one includes a whole host of CTR-related factors.
It’s clear that having searchable and interesting titles that drive users to check your content out is something that positively affects your rankings.
Google is rewarding sites that help end a user’s search journey (as we know from the latest mobile search updates and even the Helpful Content update). Do what you can to answer the query early on in your article. The factor “FI_VISITORS_RETURN_MONTH_SHARE“ also shows that it helps to encourage users to return to your site for more information on the topics they’re interested in. Email marketing is a handy tool here.
FI_GOOD_RATIO and FI_MANY_BAD — the percentage of “good” and “bad” backlinks on your site. Getting your backlinks from high-quality websites with traffic is important for your rankings. The factor FI_LINK_AGE also shows that adding a link-building strategy to your SEO as early as possible can help with your rankings.
FI_SOCIAL_URL_IS_VERIFIED — that little blue check has actual benefits now. Links from verified accounts have more weight.
Yandex and Google, being so similar to each other in theory, means that this data leak is something we must pay attention to.
Several of these factors may already be common knowledge amongst SEOs, but having them confirmed by another search engine enforces how important they are for your strategy.
These initial findings, and understanding what it might mean for your website, can help you identify what to improve, what to scrap, and what to focus on when it comes to your SEO strategy.
Top 7 SEO Keyword Research Tools For Agencies
All successful SEO campaigns rely on accurate, comprehensive data. And that process starts with the right keyword research tools.
Sure, you can get away with collecting keyword data manually on your own. But while you may be saving the cost of a premium tool, manual keyword research costs you in ot
- Efficiency. Doing keyword research manually is time intensive. How much is an hour of your time worth?
- Comprehensiveness. Historical and comprehensive data isn’t easy to get on your own. It’s too easy to miss out on vital information that will make your SEO strategy a success.
- Competition. Keyword research tools allow you to understand not only what users are searching for but also what your competition focuses on. You can quickly identify gaps and find the best path to profitability and success.
- Knowledge. Long-time SEO experts can craft their own keyword strategies with a careful analysis of the SERPs, but that requires years of practice, trial, and costly errors. Not everyone has that experience. And not everyone has made enough mistakes to avoid the pitfalls.
A good SEO keyword research tool eliminates much of the guesswork. Here are seven well-known and time-tested tools for SEO that will get you well on the way to dominating your market.
1. Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is a classic favorite.
It’s free, but because the information comes directly from the search engine, it’s reliable and trustworthy. It’s also flexible, allowing you to:
- Identify new keywords.
- Find related keywords.
- Estimate the number of searches for each variation.
- Estimate competition levels.
The tool is easy to access and available as a web application and via API, and it costs nothing; it just requires a Google Ads account.
You must also be aware of a few things when using this tool.
First, these are estimates based on historical data. That means if trends change, it won’t necessarily be reflected here.
Google Keyword Planner also can’t tell you much about the SERP itself, such as what features you can capitalize on and how the feature converts.
Because it’s part of Google Ads, PPC experience can help you gain more insights. You’ll find trends broadly across a demographic or granular level, like a city, region, or major city.
Google Keyword Planner also tends to combine data for similar keywords. So, if you want to know if [keyword near me] is better than [keywords near me], you’ll need a different tool.
Lastly, the tool uses broad definitions of words like “competition,” which doesn’t tell you who is ranking for the term, how much they’re investing to hold that ranking, or how likely you are to unseat them from their coveted top 10 rankings.
That being said, it’s an excellent tool if you just want to get a quick look or fresh ideas, if you’d like to use an API and create your own tools, or simply prefer to do the other tasks yourself.
Cost: Free, $29 per month, and $49 per month.
If Google’s Keyword Planner isn’t quite enough, but you’re on a tight budget, Keyword.io may be the alternative you need. It also has different features.
Keyword.io uses autocomplete APIs to pull basic data for several sites and search engines, including Google, Amazon, eBay, Bing, Wikipedia, Alibaba, YouTube, Yandex, Fiverr, and Fotolia. This is perfect for niche clients and meeting specific needs.
It also has a Question/Intent Generator, an interactive topic explorer, and a topical overview tool.
In its user interface (UI), you’ll find an easy-to-use filter system and a chart that includes the competition, search volume, CPC, and a few other details about your chosen keywords.
It does have some limits, however.
You can run up to 20,000 keywords per seed with a limit of 100 requests per day (five per minute) or 1,000 requests per day (10 per minute) on its paid plans.
Its API access, related keywords tool, Google Ad data, and other features are also limited to paid accounts.
Cost: $119.95 to $449.95 per month.
In its digital marketing suite, Semrush offers a collection of six keyword tools and four competitive analysis tools with a database of more than 21 billion keywords.
You can get a full overview of the keywords you’re watching, including paid and organic search volume, intent, competition, CPC, historical data, SERP analysis, and more.
You’ll get related keywords and questions, as well as a ton of guidance, ideas, and suggestions from the Semrush Magic, Position Tracking, and Organic Traffic Insights tools.
The Keyword Planner, however, is where much of the magic happens.
The organic competitor tab makes it easy to spot content and keyword gaps. Expand them and develop clusters that will help you grab traffic and conversions.
You can also see long-tail keyword data and other data to see what Page 1 holds regarding competition, difficulty, and opportunities at a broad or hyperlocal level.
The full suite of tools is a huge benefit. Teams can collaborate, share insights, and plan.
The seamless integration allows you to integrate your data, meaning teams can easily collaborate, share insights, and strategize.
And when you’re done, it can track everything you need for a successful digital marketing strategy.
Some of the tools they offer include:
- On-page SEO tools.
- Competitive analysis suite.
- Log file analysis.
- Site auditing.
- Content marketing tools.
- Marketing analysis.
- Paid advertising tools.
- Local SEO tools.
- Rank tracking.
- Social media management.
- Link-building tools.
- Amazon marketing tools.
- Website monetization tools.
Semrush’s best features when it comes to keyword research are its historical information and PPC metrics.
You can deep dive into campaigns and keywords to unlock the secrets of the SERPs and provide agency or in-house teams with priceless information they don’t usually access.
4. Moz Keyword Explorer
Cost: Free for 10 queries per month. $99-$599 per month.
With a database of more than 500 million keywords, Moz Keyword Explorer may be a great option if you’re looking to build a strategy rather than get a quick view of the data for a few keywords.
Moz has long been a leader in the SEO space.
Constantly updating and improving its Keyword Explorer Tool and its other core services, Moz keeps up with the trends and is well known for providing SEO professionals with the latest tools. And it has done so for more than a decade.
Like the Google Keyword Tool, Moz’s keyword planning tool provides information on the difficulty and monthly search volume for terms. It also lets you drill down geographically.
When you start, you’ll find the Keyword Overview, which provides monthly search volumes, ranking difficulty, organic click-through opportunities, and an estimated priority level.
You can also:
- Find new relevant keywords you should be targeting but aren’t.
- Learn how your site performs for keywords.
- Find areas where you can improve your SEO (including quick wins and larger investments).
- Prioritize keywords for efficient strategy creation.
- Top SERP analysis and features.
- Competitor analysis.
- Organic click-through rates.
Unlike the Google Keyword Tool, however, Moz supplies you with data beyond the basics. Think of it like keyword research and SERP analysis.
Moz does tend to have fewer keyword suggestions. And like Google’s Keyword Planner, it provides range estimates for search data rather than a specific number.
However, the database is updated frequently, so you can feel confident that you’re keeping up with the constant change in consumer search habits and rankings.
Plus, it’s easy to use, so teams can quickly take care of marketing tasks like finding opportunities, tracking performance, identifying problem areas, and gathering page-level details.
Moz also offers several other tools to help you get your site on track and ahead of the competition, but we really like it for its keyword research and flexibility.
5. Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
Cost: $99-$999 per month.
If I had to describe Ahrefs in one word, it would be power.
Enter a word into the search box, and you’re presented with multiple panels that can tell you everything you want to know about that keyword.
Total search volume, clicks, difficulty, the SERP features, and even a volume-difficulty distribution. And while it may look like a lot, all the information is well-organized and clearly presented.
Ahrefs provides terms in a parent-child topic format, providing the terms with context, so you can easily learn more about the terms, such as intent, while identifying overlap and keeping it all easy to find and understand.
These topics appear when you search for a related term, including the term’s ranking on the SERP, SERP result type, first-page ranking difficulty scores, and a snapshot of the user-delivered SERP. You can stay broad or narrow it all down by city or language.
Ahrefs can get a bit expensive. Agencies may find it difficult to scale if they prefer several user or client accounts, but it’s still one of the best and most reliable keyword research tools on the market.
What I really like about Ahrefs is that it’s thorough. It has one of the largest databases of all the tools available (19.2 billion keywords, 10 search engines, and 242 countries at the time of writing), and it’s regularly updated.
It makes international SEO strategies a breeze and includes data for everything from Google and Bing to YouTube and Amazon.
Plus, they clearly explain their metrics and database. And that level of transparency means trust.
Other tools in the suite include:
- Site Explorer.
- Site auditing.
- Rank tracking.
- Content Explorer.
Cost: $23.52-$239 per month, depending on the ranking check and payment frequency.
SERanking shines as a keyword research tool within an all-around SEO toolkit. SERanking helps you keep costs down while offering features that allow agencies to meet clients’ unique needs.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you log in is its intuitive user interface. But this tool isn’t just another pretty online tool.
Its database is robust.
SERanking’s U.S. database includes 887 million keywords, 327 million U.S. domains, and 3 trillion indexed backlinks. And this doesn’t include its expansive European and Asian databases.
The overview page provides a solid look at the data, which includes search volume, the CPC, and a difficulty score.
SERanking also provides lists of related and low-volume keywords if you need inspiration or suggestions, as well as long-tail keyword suggestions with information about SERP features, competition levels, search volume, and other details you need to know to identify new opportunities.
Of course, identifying keywords is only the start of the mystery. How do you turn keywords into conversions? SERanking provides keyword tools that help you answer this question.
You can find out who the competition is in the organic results and see who is buying search ads, as well as details like estimated traffic levels and copies of the ads they’re using.
This allows you to see what’s working, gain insights into the users searching for those terms, and generate new ideas to try.
SERanking offers agency features, such as white labeling, report builders, lead generator, and other features you’ll find helpful.
However, one of the features agencies might find most helpful in keyword research is SERanking’s bulk keyword analysis, which lets you run thousands of keywords and download full reports for all the terms that matter.
Other tools in the SERanking Suite include:
- Keyword Rank Tracker.
- Keyword Grouper.
- Keyword Suggestions and Search Volume Checker.
- Index Status checker.
- Backlink Checker.
- Backlink monitoring.
- Competitive research tool.
- Website auditing tool.
- On-page SEO Checker.
- Page Changes Monitor.
- Social media analytics.
- Traffic analysis.
SERanking is more affordable than some of the other tools out there, but it does come at a cost.
It isn’t as robust as some of its competitors and doesn’t get as granular in the same way, but it still provides the features and data you need to create a successful SEO strategy.
And with its flexible pricing, this tool is well worth considering.
7. BrightEdge Data Cube
Cost: Custom pricing model.
If you’re looking for an AI-powered digital marketing tool suite that includes a quality research tool, BrightEdge may be the right option for you.
Unlike other tools that focus on supplying you with data and ways to analyze that data, BrightEdge looks to do much of the time-consuming analysis for you.
Among its search, content, social, local, and mobile solutions, you’ll find Data Cube – an AI-backed content and keyword tool that uses natural language processing to find related topics and keywords.
You’ll also encounter DataMind, an AI that helps you find search trends, changes in consumer behaviors, and important competitor movements you need to know about.
The two together make it quick and easy to perform keyword research, build out topics, create content strategies, and strengthen your SEO plans.
Once you enter a topic or broad keyword, the tool will provide you with relevant keywords, the search volume, competition levels, keyword value, it’s universal listing, and the number of words in the phrase.
Filter the results by a custom set of criteria to narrow the list down and get the necessary information.
Once you have a list, select the ones you want to keep and download them or use them with BrightEdge’s other tools to create full strategies and gain more insights.
This could include competitor analysis, analyzing SERP features, intent, or other tasks.
For agencies that provide local SEO, BrightEdge also offers HyperLocal, which helps you find and track keywords and keyword performance at the local level.
When you’re done, give the Opportunity Forecasting and tracking tools a try to monitor your progress and provide clients with the information they care about.
Perhaps the nicest feature for agencies is its Storybuilder – a reporting tool that allows you to create rich client reports that provide clients with targeted overviews and the data they’re most interested in.
If this sounds like the right tool for you, the company gives demos, but there are a few things you should consider.
First, it only updates once per month. And while the company keeps its pricing close to the chest, this digital marketing tool suite is a significant investment. It may not be the best choice if keyword research is the only thing you need.
Secondly, while the tools are highly sophisticated and refined, there is a learning curve to get started.
You’ll also discover that there are limits on features like keyword tracking, and it can be time-consuming to set up, with some adjustments requiring technical support.
Lastly, BrightEdge’s keyword research tool doesn’t let you get too far into the weeds and doesn’t include PPC traffic.
That aside, agencies and larger brands will find that it scales easily, has a beautifully designed UI, and makes you look great to clients.
The Best Agency SEO Keyword Research Tools
This list only contains seven of the many tools available today to help you get your keyword research done to an expert degree.
But no matter how many of the tools we share with you or which ones, it’s important to understand that none are flawless.
Each tool has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, so selecting a platform is very much dependent on the types of clients that you typically work with and personal preference.
In reality, you’ll likely find that you prefer to work between a few tools to accomplish everything you’d like.
Google Keyword Planner and Keyword.io are top choices when you want a quick look at the data, or you’d like to export the data to work on elsewhere. You may even want to use this data with the other tools mentioned in this chapter.
Ahrefs, Moz, Semrush, and BrightEdge are far more robust and are better suited to agency SEO tasks.
While not free (although they offer free plans or a trial period except BrightEdge), they allow you to really dig into the search space, ultimately resulting in higher traffic, more conversions, and stronger SEO strategies. These benefits require more time and often come with a learning curve.
By far, the most important keyword research tool you have access to is you.
Keyword research is more than simply choosing the keywords with the biggest search volume or the phrase with the lowest Cost Per Click (CPC).
It’s your expertise, experience, knowledge, and insights that transform data into digital marketing you can be proud of.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal
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