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If you spend any time researching the various methods people use to build niche sites, you’ve probably noticed that there are two strong camps when it comes to keyword tools: those who think they’re crucial, and those who say you shouldn’t use them at all.

Both sides of the fence have good arguments, but does it really have to be one or the other? Is there really only one good way to find keywords that will help you grow your site?

I’ve spent plenty of time doing keyword research with and without tools, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a middle ground, and that middle ground can work to your advantage to find keywords that others will either never see or will simply ignore.

In this post, I’ll list some of the benefits to taking each approach, then show you the method that I’ve used to grow our sites to tens of thousands of dollars per month.

Why Keyword Tools Are So Appealing

Keyboard with Tools Button

When it comes to content marketing, keyword tools have become really popular, and for good reason. They provide a lot of benefits that can potentially help you grow your business more quickly.

One of the biggest benefits of using a tool over finding keywords manually is that you can find keywords in bulk. You simply set up a filter to drill down into what you’re looking for, and the tool will return hundreds to thousands of results in a matter of seconds.

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Many of these tools will also show you the level of competition you’re up against for each keyword, saving you time on yet another aspect of building a keyword target list. I’ll dive deeper into analyzing competition in another article, but again, that is something that can be done with or without tools.

These tools can also be as simple or complex as you want them to be. Most of them can be picked up and used in minutes, but can also be configured to get as granular as you’d like.

One last benefit of many keyword tools, like ahrefs and Semrush, is that they come packaged with a ton of other useful feature, like the ability to track your rankings and visibility into your site’s backlinks.

The Benefits of Not Using a Tool

Empty Pockets

On the other side of the coin, you absolutely can find good keywords without using any tools at all. Granted, this will take you significantly more time, but there are definitely some strong benefits to this approach.

One of the biggest benefits is that you can find keywords that most tools are unlikely to uncover. A big reason for this is that with a keyword tool, you need to enter a “seed” keyword or phrase to generate a list of keywords.

When finding keywords manually, you’re likely going to go down rabbit holes that lead to much longer and more unique phrases than you would ever enter into a tool. As a result, you will come up with keywords that you would never have found using a tool.

Another big benefit of finding keywords manually is that you don’t know what the search volume of a keyword actually is. While that might sound like a drawback at first, you have to understand that none of the tools can produce accurate volumes either.

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Question Marks

At best, the tools are giving you an estimated volume that may or may not be close to the actual volume. As a result, if you use a tool, you might avoid going after a keyword because the reported volume is too low for your tastes, when in reality, that keyword (and its multiple variations) have plenty of search volume.

Along the same lines, many keyword tools report a competition level for each keyword. Each tool has a different way to determine this, but many of them use the number of backlinks to a site as a factor in their scores.

When you consider that many large sites like Pinterest or Reddit have a ton of backlinks, but can typically be easily outranked, the competition score might not be as accurate as you’d think.

Also, just based on experience, I’ve had plenty of articles outrank large sites, simply because my articles were more on point. Just because your competitors are large authority sites doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t outrank them.

Lastly, keyword tools tend to cost quite a bit of money. That’s not such a big deal once you’ve created a nice income stream from your site, but early on, the cost can be a large barrier to entry.

For this reason alone, I recommend starting out without using any keyword research tools. If you want to test them after you have the cashflow, then by all means, go for it.

My Approach to Using Keyword Tools

As I mentioned early on in this post, you don’t see much middle ground when it comes to using or not using a keyword tool. However, I think there is a middle ground to explore, and based on my experience, it’s the best approach to finding great keywords.

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Aside from briefly mentioning a couple of well-known tools earlier, I haven’t really touched on any specific tools that you might consider. Up until recently, the one and only keyword tool that I used was Keywords Everywhere.

I’ve recently started using another tool, called Keyword Chef, which is providing great results as well, but I’ll touch on that further down below.

While Keywords Everywhere does have some bells and whistles, it is a much more basic tool than the more expensive tools like ahrefs and Semrush. Speaking of cost, it is very inexpensive.

The way this tool works is that it’s a Chrome or Firefox extension, which when enabled, will show you the search volume right in Google Search, YouTube, etc., right as you type. The pricing is based on the number of keywords that the tool pulls information for.

Keywords Everywhere Screenshot - How to Ride a Bike

This tool works similarly to the others in that it provides you with an estimated volume for each keyword, but instead of providing it based on a “seed” keyword that you entered, it provides it for the specific phrase that you search for, as well as any related searched that appear.

Because of this, you will end up taking a more manual approach to finding keywords (which I definitely think is better than using a tool), but at the same time, you can get an idea of what the volume of each keyword is as you type.

Now, the key to using Keywords Everywhere along with a manual approach to finding keywords is to understand that the volume for each keyword corresponds to the specific phrase that you’re typing. If you want to have a much better idea of the volume of a keyword, you need to search for the variations of that keyword.

For example, if you type “tips to catch fish” into Google Search, the tool will provide a volume of 170 searches per month. However, if you type a variation of that phrase, “how to catch fish,” you will get a result of 9,900 searches per month.

Keywords Everywhere Screenshot - Tips to Catch a Fish
Keywords Everywhere Screenshot - How to Catch Fish

You could also drill down further for very similar results and see 480 searches/month for “how to catch fish in a lake,” etc. As you can see, you can’t simply assume that the volume listed next to a specific keyword truly represents the volume of that keyword.

To use Keywords Everywhere to full effect, you need to use the tool as a general guideline and combine it with some common sense. Search for the various phrases you think might be entered for a given keyword, then use that total volume as a general guideline for the volume of that keyword.

When approaching your keyword research in this way, you can have more confidence in the estimated volumes of your search terms and combine them with a manual approach to finding keywords, which well help you uncover those hidden gems.

On the flip side, you can also use this method to avoid going after keywords that are too low in volume. If your search phrase and all the variations that you can think of return 0-10 searches/month, it might not make sense to target that keyword at all.

Again, if you simply use the search volumes provided by Keywords Everywhere as a general guide and combine it with some common sense while using a manual keyword research approach, you can get the benefits of both using a tool and not using a tool at the same time.

Using Keyword Chef as a Safety Check

Chef Hat

I mentioned above that I recently started using another keyword research tool called Keyword Chef. This tool works more like a traditional one, where you simply enter a term or phrase, then let it produce a list of keywords for you.

While I tend to stay away from these types of tools, I’ve been very impressed with the results that Keyword Chef spits out. The best feature though (in my opinion), is that you can set it to only give you question-based keywords, which is what we target the most.

However, at this point in time, I don’t recommend relying on this tool for 100% of your keyword research. Instead, use it as a safety check.

What I mean by that, is to use it as a way to fill any content gaps that you might have missed when finding keywords with your preferred method of choice. No matter what method you use, you’re bound to miss at least a few great keywords, and I’ve found that Keyword Chef is good at finding those missed opportunities.

If you’ve already finished your keyword research for a bicycling site, simply run all of your bicycling terms through Keyword Chef to see what kind of results it gives you. Set it to only give you question-based keywords, then enter words like bike, kickstand, handlebars, spokes, etc. to see what you’ve missed.

Surprisingly, when using Keyword Chef in this way, I’ve been able to identify quite a few good keywords that I missed initially. At the same time, I have plenty of keywords on my list that the tool is not spitting out. That’s why it’s important to tackle keyword research from multiple angles.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, keyword tools can be used to great effect when building a niche website. The key is to understand what those tools are providing, instead of making assumptions that many times turn out to be incorrect.

By using a keyword tool as a general guideline and combining that information with some manual work, you can unearth a ton of great keywords that others will never come across.


After spending several years struggling to find a reliable way to make money online, I finally developed a simple system that produces large and consistent results. My small team and I are now generating life-changing income for all of us by building simple niche websites using the basic steps covered on Passive Income Unlocked.


  1. Hello Jeff. I just subbed to your channel. Would you guys critique a websites if someone requested?

    • Hi Rob, thanks for the sub! Yes, we would definitely consider it. We actually just recorded a site review yesterday for someone. I don’t know how often we’ll do them, but if you’re interested, we will add you to a list of requests that we’ll pull from randomly over time. These site reviews will be made public on YouTube, so just keep that in mind.

  2. Imer Imran Reply

    Hi Jeff
    This article is great esp. on the part where you share your approach on keywords tools. I like that approach while in my previous kw research technique I’m not using tools. I feel that I’m shooting in the dark.

    I’ve one question on the keyword selection. How do you determine that the keyword can be created as an article? While I saw lots of small questions with short answers. Do you recommend writing a q&a article about that topic? Something like; X topic: 10 helpful questions answered. If yes, does this (q&a) type of article attract lots of traffic/easy to rank since there will be short answers for each of the questions, maybe 3-4 paragraphs for each question.

    Or it’s recommended to write an article with specific question/URL, like the example on this article. how to catch fish? tips to catch fish? etc.


    • Hi Imer,

      This is a great question, and one I’ve gone back and forth on in the past. Our current approach is to target every keyword with a separate article, even if it feels like a small topic. The trick is to stay on topic as much as possible, which can be difficult depending on the question.

      So if you have a search term like “how much does a soccer ball weigh?” the answer seems pretty obvious. However, you can dive into related topics like the weights of soccer balls for different age groups or leagues, or how the weight of a soccer ball compares to the weight of other sports balls, and so on.

      The more you stay on topic, and the more focused an article is on a particular keyword, the better the chance of ranking for that keyword. With that being said, we tend to stay away from keywords that are so straightforward that they don’t really leave any room for expansion. It’s definitely a fine line and something that isn’t written in stone.

      I’ve seen a lot of sites take the opposite approach and stuff a bunch of related questions into a single article, so that could very well work successfully as well.

      Hope this helps!

      • Imer Imran Reply

        Thanks Jeff for the detail answers. I do appreciate it a lot.

  3. Jeff, I was so excited to use Keyword Chef, but the results have been dismal in my niche, which leads me to believe that I have niched down too much in my website or just not doing search right. I have no issue sharing that Keywords Everywhere gave results of 18,100 for “barn door for closets” but Keyword Chef provided:

    a rating of 0 for “*barn doors for closets” in WILD CARD with 39 results (I had removed a few already)
    a rating of 0 in QUESTIONS for “barn doors for closets” with only 3 results

    Am I approaching this wrong? I know I’m not supposed to pay attention to traffic results, but I seem to be striking out 50 searches in which all indicate low search volume according to Keyword Chef. Even though my website is niche, I strongly feel I can pivot and cover many other topics.in the home and garden niche and keep my website going.

    I have 90 articles (with 30 article published January 15, 2022). I finally accepted that I need to outsource writing if I want to move the needle on this website. The 90 articles that I wrote were more to create a base website that “made sense” before I moved to the next level of heavy keyword strategy – and now Keyword Chef seems to be telling me there is nothing out there for me to write on 🙁

    Do you have any additional feedback in using Keyword Chef to “pull out” good data? Should I go after the 3 ratings? I have been primarily focused in the “questions” query.

    Thank you, Renee

    • Jeff Reply

      Hi Renee. When using the wildcard option on Keyword Chef, are you keeping your search term fairly broad, like entering “barn doors*” instead of “barn doors for closets”? I think specifying “for closets” will severely limit the potential results, so I’d suggest keeping your searches fairly broad to find more potential keywords.

      As far as difficulty goes, we never pay attention to what the tools say. Instead, we manually search for each term, then check the competing articles on page 1 to see how competitive the keyword is. Relying on the difficulty level provided by a tool might lead you down the wrong path or suggest that there or more (or less) keywords that you can comfortably target.

      For the most part, we just use the Keywords Everywhere extension, along with Google Search, to find keywords. We do use Keyword Chef, but mostly just to find additional keywords that we might have missed when using Keywords Everywhere. Here are a couple of our videos that will hopefully help you out with the keyword research and competition analysis process:

      Keyword Research: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEvL1FXe6WQ
      Competition Analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pHirnsckfo

  4. Wow I’ve read more than 20 articles on this website already. Your articles are always on point and I’ve learnt a lot.
    I was also trying to cover all possible keywords in one article but now I know better.
    I will start focusing more on creating article that goes in depth into each keywords.
    Thank you sir.

    • Happy to hear you’re finding good value on this site!

      It’s definitely a challenge finding the right balance as far as what you want to target with each article. In some cases, we target a single keyword with an article, whereas in other cases, we target multiple (targeting an overall topic instead of a keyword).

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