YouTube keyword tools VidIQ and TubeBuddy a scam?

YouTube keyword tools VidIQ and TubeBuddy a scam? play video
Written by: Dexxter Clark
I’ve used Tubebuddy for YouTube keyword research and YouTube SEO since 2017.
I have a payed TubeBuddy license for multiple channels and a free license for VidIQ.
But when I started my YouTube advice YouTube channel with 0 watch time and 0 videos, and the tool give me very positive results on very competitive search terms, so I got a bit suspicious.

So I typed in “mr Beast”, and Tubebuddy thought that I had a 76% chance of ranking against the largest channel on YouTube.
It has become a sport for me to collect wrong Tubebuddy results, by now I have hundreds.

You might think that only TubeBuddy is off.
But VidIQ thinks I can’t even rank for my own channel name, so VidIQ is not a hair better.

VidIQ and TubeBuddy often contradict, which is the first clue that something smells fishy.
If both parties have the same data (which they have) they should be able to draw the same conclusions.

So I went on a quest to find out what is going on here by programming my own Keyword Research tool to see if I can do any better.
Within the matter of a day I had a tool that actually works better that what is already out there.

One could even argue that both of these companies are a scam, because they knowingly deceive their customers by selling products they know don’t work.

Here’s what I found.

Problem 1: You don’t use your gut feeling

The  biggest pitfall with using a keyword research tool, you blindly trust the tool and stop using your gut feeling.
You become lazy and stop doing actual manual keyword research, don’t think with your gray matter upstairs.

It’s that self-driving electric car that you don’t pay attention to the road anymore.
We’ve all seen the headlines of how well that turned out.

Manual keyword research, so looking at the actual videos that YouTube returns gives you much more accurate results.

You get much better feeling of how your competition is doing.

Problem 2: Lack of data

All tools, including my prototype, use the YouTube API, the Application Programming Interface that Google makes available to everybody.
A programmer “talks” to the API by providing a search query and the API returns search results.
However this API doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.
That gives a huge reliability problem.

To determine if you should make a video you want to have 4 things:
  • 1. Low competition:
    The smaller the channels are in the search results compared to yours, the better.
    The more watch time they got on their channel, the less likely you are to beat them.
  • 2. High search volume:
    With a high search volume you know if there is demand for a topic.
    Low competition and low search volume will only be useful for a new channel
    High search volume and high competition is never desirable.
    High search volume and low competition is the most ideal situation.
  • 3. Relevant search results to the search query.
    If YouTube returns unrelated or only-slightly search results, it means that YouTube doesn’t have (enough) videos on the topic.
  • 4. how strong is the competition?
    How good is the video? How good is the thumbnail?

Let’s look at each of these 4 factors.

1. Channel size

The YouTube API provides information on views and subscribers, so we have data on channel size.

2. Search volume

But Search volume is a huge problem, the API doesn’t give search volume.
So the only thing you can do is estimate it, based on …. nothing tangible.
The problem with estimating is, you are always wrong, sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot.
It is basically playing Russian roulette with your keyword research.

The one thing you could do is looking at the returned search results and see how many views the videos get.
But even then:
    • It doesn’t say anything about the traffic source, is it even YouTube Search?
    • It doesn’t say anything about whether the views came from this search query

I think is why Tubebuddy and VidIQ often contradict.
TubeBuddy and VidIQ know this is a “guestimate” and deliberate don’t communicate that clearly to their customers.
I my opinion there is nothing wrong with not-knowing, but at least be honest about it.

This is not even the biggest “crime”, it gets even worse …

3. Relevancy

It is extremely hard to determine relevancy.
We as humans know that boat, barge and ship basically mean the same floating device, but a computer does not.

Keyword research tools, including my prototype, blindly trust the returned search results to be relevant to the search query, while they may not be the case.
  • First, If YouTube cant find results with “ship”, it will return results with “barge”, if that happens it could be an amazing search term, since nobody made a video about ships.
    Or it can be that viewers that searched for “ship” have another search intent, namely “barge”, YouTube’s algorithm figured that out based on viewer behavior, keyword tools can’t.
    But if “ship” returns “barge” with only big channels, you get a bad score while it may be the most amazing low competition search term in the world.
  • Second, YouTube returns results based on what this particular viewer is most likely to watch, which can be irrelevant to the search term. (often the 3rd, 4th or 5th search result is unrelated).
  • Third, the amount of returned search results says nothing (in contrast to what TubeBuddy claims), since YouTube ranks by most-relevant-to-viewer.
    If out of 4 millions search results, only the first 3 results are relevant, and 4M-3 are big channels, you get a bad score.
  • Fourth, often  hindi spoken videos show up in the search results, which are not a competition for an English spoken channel.
    But also this can give you a bad score, when the Hindi channels are big.
  • Fifth, when you do manual research and look at the search results and can see which kind of audience it attracts.
    When I see a lot of spammy search results or a lot of Hindi videos, I know that this is the audience for that search term.
    But that is not the audience I want to attract to my channel.
    With a tool that only gives me a “blind” score, you can’t see that.
  • Sixth, do the returned results actually fully satisfy the search intent of the viewer? YouTube gives the closest video first.
    If viewers look for “how to paint a door black” (assuming you need specific knowledge for black) and YouTube has only videos about white.
    When the videos about white have 5M views each, you will get a bad score.
    But on-topic information about specifically painting a door black will rank #1.

4. How strong is the competition?

You need to see the competition to see what they are doing
How good is the video? Is the creator able to keep viewers in the video? How is the intro? Are they giving accurate information? How is the production quality?
Sometimes something simple as production quality can make the difference.
How good is the thumbnail? Can you make a better one to rank higher?

Sometimes even showing your face on the thumbnail makes the difference between ranking and not.

There is no equivalent to the human eye, actually looking at the real search results.
In my prototype I tackled this my giving viewers the actual YouTube search results, so they are forced to look at it.
But despite my best efforts, also my keyword tool would never give 100% accurate results, simply because I lack the same data just like every other tool out there.

Why big YouTubers promote the tool?

So, why do keep big youtubers promoting these tools when they clearly have their flaws?


You would think if you would promote a product on YouTube that you would test it and compared manual research against the results of the tool.
Apparently not.

Either they don’t have the knowledge or don’t care.

Financial motive

The only thing I can think of is a financial motive.

Because TubeBuddy gives a 50% recurring affiliate commission.
TubeBuddy’s smallest plan is $4,- a month.
So when you refer 1000 people to TubeBuddy for 2 bucks a month is 2000 bucks for free every month without lifting a finger.
But there are even more expensive plans, so this estimate is quite conservative.

Everything you need is available for free

There is another thing that I found remarkable.
The YouTube API gives exactly the same data as what is already publicly available on YouTube.
In other words: no tool in the world can give you information that you can’t find on for free.

Focus on the wrong things

What annoys me the most is that TubeBuddy and VidIQ focus on the wrong things.
They either do this knowingly or unknowingly (meaning they don’t have enough knowledge).

You decide for yourself which one is worse.


The YouTube tags tools in TubeBuddy and VidIQ are so prominently integrated.
A beginner might get the idea that they actually do something.
Tags don’t work anymore since 2015!
Also YouTube clearly states in the text about the tag box: “Tags can be useful if content in your video is commonly misspelt. Otherwise, tags play a minimal role in helping viewers to find your video”

I tested if tags have any function whatsoever and explain in detail in this article on why YouTube tags don’t work anymore.
I think this is blatantly misleading your customers.


The SEO scores in TubeBuddy and VidIQ are totally bogus.
That SEO score only exists in the TubeBuddy/VidIQ realm, not in the YouTube algorithm realm.
YouTube looks at the relevance to what viewers like to watch, even if the search term is slightly unrelated.

Besides that, keywords are pretty much dead.
SEO is not that important anymore, that is YouTube knowledge from 2015, other things like viewers clicking on thumbnails are much more important.
Again, I think this is blatantly misleading your customers.

TubeBuddy’s A/B Testing tool

TubeBuddy allows creators to test title and thumbnail combinations with their A/B-test tool.
You can compare one title+thumbnail to another to see which one performs better.

When I heard how this tool worked, I laughed so hard that the tears rolled over my cheeks.

Instead of looking at views over a certain time span, TubeBuddy looks at Click Through Rate.
Click Through Rate is about the most useless metric in YouTube Analytics, like I explained in my article on Why YouTube Click Through Rate is a lie.

If you don’t want to take it from me, take if from YouTuber Vanessa Lau in this video.

This might come as a shocker, but you can use an A/B test spreadsheet which is more reliable than a payed tool.
This spreadsheet you can find in the download section of this site (pssst, it is free).

TubeBuddy charges an arm and a leg for this feature to A/B-test thumbnails and titles.
Again here, I think this is blatantly misleading your customers.

Standard integrated

There are also features in the tools that are in YouTube Studio by default for free.
Like replacing text in descriptions of multiple videos.

You don’t need to pay for a tool to do that.

Any positive side to YouTube keyword research tools?

There are other features in those tools that could be useful.
Some features that could be useful:

If you like to know the total amount of views on the channel of the competition with 1500 videos.
Technically, that data is available and you can whip out that calculator, but a tools has done this much quicker.

Showing a graph of the views of the last 30 days of the competition, is something that a tool could do for you.
Or showing a graph of view velocity on the best performing videos on a channel.
Useful, but not something you can’t do with a spreadsheet.

Showing your thumbnail in VidIQ between other videos to see if the video sticks out, is something you can do in photoshop, but the tool can also do this.

Also showing the thumbnail when you’ve already clicked on a video is handy.

Making a list of your best performing videos within a click to see a pattern, again, not something you can’t do in YouTube Studio, but can be convenient.

Generating ideas
I think of all the features of VidIQ and Tubebuddy offer, the most useful one: generating ideas that you might not have thought of.
These can be keywords, titles or talking points for making a new video.
A lot of tools like TubeBuddy still use the auto suggest feature of YouTube, again not something you’ll miss without the tool.

I use TubeBuddy against you

I have a TubeBuddy license, for 1 reason: I’m using the tool because it is so bad (and nobody seems to notice).

From experience I know the myths around the tools.

When I see that a keyword gets a bad score, I jump up from excitement because I know that a lot of creators blindly follow the tools without thinking.

This is my opportunity to see (with manual research) if that is indeed the case.
Often it’s not, I’m literally using the tool against you when you think for a second that TubeBuddy is reliable.

You can do without

I’ve started a brand new channel just to see how fast I can grow without the tools.
I managed to get from 0 -1000 subscribers within 5 months in the most competitive niche on YouTube (the YouTube advice niche)
I repeated this a second time: 0 – 1000 subscribers with only 6 videos.

I’ve focussing more on clickable thumbnails, value for viewers and returning viewers to my content.

Tubebuddy is a mess

Although I have a TubeBuddy Pro license I still receive spam emails that I should upgrade to their pro license.
It completely confirms that this company has no idea what they are doing, at all.

TubeBuddy also reached out to me to join their affiliate program.
They claimed to have seen my content (including videos in which I expose their questionable business practices).
I’m not going to promote a tool that treats their customers this way, that is bad for my reputation!
If this thing blows up in their face, I’m don’t want to be dragged into it.
I replied that they didn’t watch my content, otherwise they would have never sent the email in the first place.

Not only their administration is mess, they also lied to me that they had seen my content.

When you are serious about YouTube and want to take it to the next level, take a look at my video training program: Viral Strategy.
The program takes you step-by-step through the process of getting views, subscribers and going viral.

For new creators I included a module that guides you step-by-step through the process of starting, creating and setting up a YouTube channel.

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