I’m going to show you a quick method to generate keyword ideas and analyse their difficulty using free tools. I’ll also reveal the exact formula KWFinder uses to calculate their keyword difficulty scores, and how you can replicate this for free!

Generating Keyword Lists

You’ll need a list of potential keywords to analyse. If you don’t have one, you can quickly create one by following this method.

1) Enter your seed keyword into the following tools.

Use these tools to generate keyword ideas, including long-tail keywords and LSI variants.
I personally use all of them to generate as many keyword ideas as possible.

Remove any duplicates using SortMyList or Alphabetizer.

2) Install Keywords Everywhere and obtain an API key. Click the extension’s icon and select “Import keywords”. Export the data to “CSV” and open it in Google Sheets. If you have Excel you can use that too.

3) Filter the list using the search volume limits you are happy with. I only target keywords with a minimum of 500 monthly searches. If this is for a local campaign, then you want to use the local search volume rather than global. To make the data easier to work with, delete all columns related to advertising, such as “CPC” and “Competition”.

Pro Tip: Even though we’re not using these keywords for an ad campaign, you can still use the Cost Per Click to filter the data for commercial intent. If people aren’t willing to pay to advertise for a keyword, it probably isn’t worth ranking for. I look for a minimum of $2 per click.

Note: You will likely find many keywords with 0 search traffic. I recommend saving these keywords in a separate file, as they can be used for LSIs, and the long-tail variants are often good suggestions for content you can create.

4) If you’re planning to use the keywords for advertising a product or service, remove any keywords that don’t show commercial intent.

Here are the three main stages of the “Consumer Purchase Cycle”.

Informational Stage (Looking for more information about a type of product.)

  • How to
  • Best way to
  • Ways to
  • I need to

Preference Stage (Comparing products with the intent to buy soon.)

  • Review
  • Best
  • Top 10
  • Product Category e.g. “wordpress hosting”
  • Cheap
  • Affordable
  • Comparison
  • Rating
  • Guide

Purchase Stage (Buying products now.)

  • Buy
  • Coupon
  • Discount
  • Deal
  • Shipping

Users searching for keywords containing phrases from the first two stages are probably not looking to buy, whereas users in the third stage are much more likely to make a purchase. Ultimately, whether or not a keyword shows commercial intent is up to you to decide.

5) You can steal the keywords your competitors are ranking for using tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, and SpyFu. Try using both the root domain and inner pages, as these will give different results.

This method of keyword research is extremely valuable as it gives you lots of pre-researched keywords, as you already know how strong the site needs to be to rank, and what sort of content they’re using to achieve this.

Need more keyword ideas? Try these rarely-utilised places to find untapped hidden gems.

  • Chapters and sub-chapters of books, magazines, and blogs.
  • Menu items, categories, and tags on niche-relevant sites.
  • Module, section, and lesson names in relevant courses, tutorials, and educational material.
  • The most frequently asked questions on Q&A sites such as Quora.
  • Topics, categories, and tags on Q&A sites.
  • Sub-forums, categories, and tags on niche-relevant forums and groups.
  • Departments and sub-departments used by online stores such as Amazon.


Keyword Competition Analysis

Unfortunately, unless you have access to a paid tool, there is currently no way to mass check keyword difficulty, so this part will take some time.

Reverse Engineering The KWFinder Difficulty Formula

Popular keyword research tools such as KWFinder and KeywordRevealer offer “keyword difficulty” levels. This is a very popular way of analysing keywords, and often leads to users purchasing these tools. However, an SEO named Aleks has found the exact formula used by KWFinder.

The formula is: Difficulty = (DA*0.25) + (PA*0.4) + (MR*10*0.22) + (MT*10*0.13)

Which breaks down to:

  • Domain Authority – 25%
  • Page Authority – 40%
  • Moz Rank (multiplied by 10) – 22%
  • Moz Trust (multiplied by 10) – 13%

Using this information, I have adjusted the formula to use only DA & PA: (PA * 0.6) + (DA * 0.4)

Why a 60/40 split? This is the formula Moz uses for their keyword difficulty scores.

Update: As Moz is no longer updating their Rank & Trust metrics, KWFinder has changed their formula to now use the Citation Flow and Trust Flow metrics by Majestic. I neglected to add these to the formula, here’s why:

  1. Moz Rank / Trust are not directly correlated with or similar to Majestic Citation / Trust. We can’t just replace these metrics without re-adjusting the formula.
  2. I’m not sure how or why the KWFinder team decided to combine the two metrics to give 35%, and honestly, I doubt they know either.
  3. Using DA/PA alone is more than enough to quickly compare your site to another. Adding more metrics just confuses the matter.
  4. The Majestic metrics are not freely available, and this tutorial is focused on performing research for free.


Free KWFinder Alternative

I have created a free alternative using Google Sheets and the MozBar extension.

  1. After installing and enabling MozBar, search for your keyword on Google.
  2. At the very left of the bar, next to the Moz logo, is the “Export to CSV” option.
  3. Copy the DA/PA from the CSV into the Google Sheet I have made.
  4. If there is a 0 in the competition column, due to not filling in the DA/PA columns, delete the 0.
  5. Profit! You now have the average DA/PA and the difficulty score shown by KWFinder.

MozBar Export - Joshua Rosato

KWFinder Google Sheets - Joshua Rosato

Note: KWFinder gets all of its “suggestions” and search volume data from Google Keyword Planner. I’ve already shown you how to mass check search volume with Keywords Everywhere.


The Problem With Keyword Difficulty Scores

Keyword difficulty score should not be the only metric you consider, as it is easy to manipulate due to the fact that it uses 3rd party metrics.

This is problematic as Moz isn’t known to have the best data on backlinks, and Majestic isn’t much better, yet both of these services only consider backlinks in their calculations. I have already shown how easy it is to manipulate Moz DA/PA.

Another problem is that all keyword competition formulas I know of completely ignore other factors, such as social signals and on-page SEO.

While backlinks have by far the biggest influence on rankings, you should still check the content and on-page optimisation of competing sites on the first few pages of Google results.

If you find that in general the on-page SEO is poor, or results from weak pages appear (among other things), this is a sign that you will be able to rank for this keyword.

Weak pages to look out for include: Quora, Yahoo Answers, Facebook Groups, Q&A sites, PDFs, article directories, press releases, and even Web 2.0s. These types of pages are often easy to outrank.

Keyword difficulty scores are only good for quickly checking which keywords are massively out of your league, but you can still rank even when the average DA/PA are higher than that of your site. There is no substitute for manual analysis by a human.


Keyword Opportunity Score

A slightly better metric for comparing multiple keywords is priority or opportunity score. I’m not sure how Moz calculates their priority scores, but we can create our own version using this formula:

Opportunity = Search Volume * (1 – 0.XX) * 0.YY

  • XX = Keyword Difficulty
  • YY = Organic CTR (You can use either Moz or Ahrefs to find this, otherwise just leave it out.)


  • Search Volume = 4400
  • Keyword Difficulty = 62
  • Organic CTR = 88

4400 * (1 – 0.66) * 0.88 = 1471.36

And without CTR:

4400 * (1 – 0.66) = 1672

Remember, if you use CTR in the calculation for one keyword, you’ll have to use it for all the others you want to compare. A higher opportunity score is better. Try using this to compare keywords, and see if you prefer it to the keyword difficulty metrics.


Keyword Search Trends

Let’s say we’re creating a blog post on marketing. We’ve narrowed our search down to 4 potential keywords: “internet marketing”, “digital marketing”, “online marketing”, and “web marketing”. But which one should we use?

Well, if you’d have asked this question ten years ago, the answer would have undoubtedly been “internet marketing”. But today, that term isn’t even the second most popular, and its number of searches continues to drop.

But how do we know all this? By using Google Trends!

Google Trends - Joshua Rosato

As you can see, “digital marketing” is clearly the winner in terms of search volume, and its popularity continues to grow. “Online marketing” is a surprisingly popular term, but its search volume appears to be dropping, along with the other two less-popular terms. We would never have known this without using Google Trends, and would have likely chosen the wrong keyword to target.

We can also use this tool to check the “seasonality” of a keyword. For example, the term “Christmas gifts” is extremely popular in November and December, but has practically no search volume any other time of year. While that should be obvious for this example, it’s still useful to know. Some keywords are surprisingly very seasonal, such as “baby gifts” and “wedding checklist”.


Keyword Profit Analysis

The most important question you should be asking when doing keyword research is:

“How much is the keyword worth?”

And today I will show you how to quickly find the answer.

I have chosen an example keyword to analyse for this post.

  • Keyword: “Best Wilderness Survival Knife”
  • Global Monthly Searches: 480
  • Competition: Low

The number one spot on Google gets around 30-50% of traffic. For this example, we’ll assume the CTR (Click-Through Rate) is 40%.

Monthly Traffic = 480 * 0.4 = 192

Our keyword will generate 480 monthly visitors, but how many of these will convert into sales?

Let’s assume the conversion rate of our site is 5%. (Remember to use your own conversion rate!)

Monthly Sales = 192 * 0.05 = 9.6

We will make 10 sales a month, but how much money do we make per sale?

For the items I am promoting, the affiliate commission is 20% and the most popular item costs $80.

Profit Per Sale = $80 * 0.2 = $16

The final step is to calculate how much money we will make per month.

Profit Per Month = $16 * 9.6 = $153.60

Annual Profit = $153.60 * 12 = $1843.20

This item will give me a nice profit of just under $2000. I suggest using only high-quality SEO services if you plan to keep the affiliate site running for multiple years. Take the time to build some foundational links and Web 2.0s, and then buy a few high-quality PBN links and you should start to see results.

A high competition keyword will likely cost more to rank, which is why you should begin with low competition keywords. It’s much easier to rank for multiple low competition keywords than it is to rank for one high competition keyword, and the combined monthly traffic will often be higher too.


Other Tutorials

This method is by no means exhaustive, and there are plenty of other great keyword research tutorials available on the web. Here are a few of my personal favourites:

These resources will turn you into a keyword research ninja.



As I mentioned, this is just my quick method, so if you have your own keyword research method, then continue using it. Don’t make the mistake of over-analysing keywords. Spend more time producing great content and you will get results.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Fantastic article! I never thought to just create my own metrics. But I have a question… This seems like a lot of work, do you actually use all of these metrics in your research? I don’t understand how they all fit into the method.

    1. Thanks for the comment Brad.

      To be honest I rarely use the formulas I mentioned at all. Don’t get caught up in the metrics. (Giving you all those new formulas probably doesn’t help with that.)

      Here’s a quick overview of how I do keyword research on a daily basis:
      1. Generate a massive list of keywords.
      2. Filter the list using search volume, and if applicable, CPC.
      3. Go through the list looking for any keywords which look interesting.
      4. Search for these keywords in Google, with the MozBar extension active.
      5. Compare the DA/PA scores of the top ranking sites to my own score.
      6. If my score is similar to or higher than the top sites, add the keyword to the master list.
      If my score is slightly lower, analyse the on-page SEO & content of the top sites, and decide accordingly.
      If my score is massively lower, ignore this keyword, or save it to a list of high competition keywords I plan to target in the future.

      If I was creating a brand new niche site, then I’d more thoroughly analyse the keywords I find, but in most cases this is the process I use.

      I hope that clears things up for you.

  2. Hey Joshua,

    Thanks for the mention. Great article, you made some very good points! I’ve actually been trying to rely on various tools as little as possible these days, but understanding how they work is crucial to understanding keyword research. Might have a simplified tool live soon 🙂


    1. Hey Aleks, great to hear. I’d love to know when it goes live.

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