Ever since Google announced the impending demise of the AdWords Keyword Tool and their preference for its new avatar – the Keyword Planner, yet another hot discussion has sprung up in the SEO community. This time, strong adherents of the free-for-all ideology are riled at Google’s decision to make the Keyword Planner accessible only to marketers who’ve explicitly signed up to Google’s AdWords (which is one step more than having a Gmail account), taking it closer to being a paid tool in future! I don’t see this as a hindrance, because most other keyword (or other) tools require you to create an account and sign in before you can use them, even if they’re free. But if Google does it, we have reason to pounce on them, don’t we?
One possible problem is that although the Keyword Planner has some cool new features (including integration of the Google Traffic Estimator, which will be retired too), as of this writing, the indispensable Exact Match and Phrase Match features are nowhere to be found! Whole books will become useless without these, so I hope Google will eventually port them to the Keyword Planner. Nor do you see the “Include specific content” option, which is a life-saver for the adult industry, which spends the most on Google PPC.
We’re not here to dwell on the good and the bad of Google’s decision. I personally am elated that this debate has brought the crucial SEO function of Keyword Research into the limelight once again. There’s more to it than taking the first 10 results from the Google Keyword Tool and scattering them left, right and center in your content. Savvy keyword research is what separates strategists from headless chickens.
The team at E2M is taking this opportunity to analyze other significant (and free to use/try) keyword research tools out there. We are asking ourselves what data and logic should ideally go into keyword research, how this logic can be programmatically applied to the creation of tools, and what the best ways are to consolidate and use their output. Here’s a quick look at 25 other keyword research tools, some well-known and some you’d do well to know. These are not alternatives to the AdWords Keyword Tool on their own, but each of them performs some function of the AdWords tool in its own unique way, and all of them aid and abet your keyword research quite well.
This tool allows you to enter a collection of keywords in three columns. It will then generate a list of permutations of those keywords so that you can take them to another keyword tool or domain naming site to see what your next options are.
- The extra options allow you to select how you want the words to be separated from one another, including nothing, a space, a dash, a plus sign, or any custom separator. You can also wrap the words in quotation marks or brackets.
- The tool is very user friendly
- Very useful in conjunction with setting up a PPC campaign so that you can specifically target all permutations instead of using a broad match that may be too broad
- Mergewords doesn’t provide you with any data about the keywords; you will need to take the words to a different tool for that
- No keyword recommendations based on similar interests are provided other than permutations of the columns that you included
WordStream’s free keyword tool works in a way that is very similar to the Google AdWords Keyword Planner, and was developed with AdWords users in mind, but is useful for anybody who needs to do keyword research.
- WordStream’s database is regularly updated and analyzes thousands of searches every day
- Opportunity score highlights which keywords show the most potential for you to be successful with
- Links directly with your Google Ads account
- Provides you with competition and cost data with keywords that are targeted specifically for your industry of choice
- The tool is not free after 30 searches
- Some features require signing up with your email address
- Some features are more intended for AdWords campaigns than SEO
- Free, limited to 30 searches, email address required for some features
SEMrush is a paid SEO tool with very involved features that allow you to perform link analysis and competitive research, make traffic estimates, in addition to their keyword research and monitoring capabilities.
- SEMrush was developed by SEO professionals for SEO purposes and this comes through in the features and design of the tool
- Allows you to monitor your rankings for a collection of keywords
- Traffic estimates, competitive data, and CPC data are available
- See what keywords your competitors are ranking well for
- Provides keyword recommendations
- Keyword difficulty tool helps you determine which keywords are worth pursuing
- Difficult learning curve
- Paid tool with prices that small freelancers and bloggers may not be able to afford
- $99.95/mo for basic features
- $199.95/mo for additional branded reporting, historical data, and extended tool limits
- $399.95/mo for additional white label reports, API access, and further extended limits
A collection of tools provided by Aaron Wall, an SEO guru who launched his career with a very successful SEO book in 2003. A paid version of the site exists with access to an exclusive community of SEO experts, but the paid version of the site is currently closed to new members. Keyword tools are among the free tools available on the site.
- Free keyword tool includes traffic and CPC information compiled from Google’s defunct Search-Based Keyword Tool, the primary benefit being that the data is exclusively for the keywords in question and not blended with other similar keywords
- Provides data that isn’t available to AdWords users who are not spending a significant amount of campaigns
- Keyword density analyzer tells you if your keyword has been used too often in your text
- Keyword generator creates a list of permutations based on keywords that you enter
- Keyword data is out of date due to being based on data from before switching to the Keyword Planner, and thus is only useful for evergreen queries
- Tool features are limited
- Account signup is free but requires email address
- Free with free account
5. Keyword Eye
A keyword tool in a similar vein as the Keyword Planner with some additional features like question finder and link analysis.
- Easily research each individual keyword for alternatives and autosuggestions by Google, Amazon and others
- Check the keyword in soovle.com for related queries
- Data is presented in a user friendly graph that most tools don’t offer
- Question finder helps you find what people are asking on the web
- Link analysis tells you what competitors are ranking for
- See trending keyword data
- Display area is narrow and can lead to cumbersome scrolling
- Not free
- $44/mo billed monthly
- $35/mo billed annually
This is Bing’s equivalent of the Google AdWords Keyword Planner, with many of the same features, except that the keyword data comes from Bing.
- Replicates most features of the Google Keyword Planner
- Based on actual historical search data from the Bing search engine
- Only reliable source of information on Bing search traffic
- Requires a verified website to use
- No competition score for keywords
A somewhat dated tool, but with several features that some marketers will find useful, especially for competitive research.
- Useful for competitive keyword targeting
- Niche-based keyword research
- Location-based rank tracking
- Creates targeted campaigns
- Similar keyword suggestions
- Free version limited to 10 results
- Paid version is expensive
- Ads data not up to date
- Dated design
- No export capability
- Free with limits to 10 results
- $89.95/mo for tracking and $139 for pro accounts
A site for finding synonyms of words.
- Allows you to find human-vetted synonyms of words that may not show up as recommendations in keyword tools
- Works well in combination with Mergewords as a method of identifying a large number of keyword phrase alternatives
- No keyword data and not designed for marketers
- No export feature
Generates a big list of keywords generated from the autocompletes and autosuggestions of various tools.
- Target market filtering
- Includes platforms other than Google search including images, YouTube, shopping, and news
- Suggestions categorized by starting letter
- See competitors and their ad copy
- User friendly interface
- Location and language filtering capabilities
- Includes search, competition, and CPC metrics
- Filters to focus on or remove specific words
- Slightly long load time
- Distracting advertisements
Ahrefs is primarily a tool for exploring backlinks, but it also has a very extensive collection of keyword-based features that are very useful for marketers.
- Very large keyword data set (5.1 billion keywords)
- Click and click-per-search metrics not found in other tools
- Includes one of the most extensive backlink databases, excellent competitive research tools, social sharing information, backlink loss and gain alerts, and a chrome extension
- Content explorer identifies popular content on any topic or keyword
- Track rankings for your keywords
- Ranking history
- Related keywords
- Keyword difficulty
- See what else sites that rank well for your keywords also rank for
- Options for autocomplete, phrases containing your keyword (as is or permutations of it), and new phrases containing your keyword
- Free version is very limited and for one time tasks only
- Not straightforward for newer users
- From $99 to $999, primarily to limit the number of users and the amount of database use
Generates a long list of keyword recommendations by collection autocomplete suggestions from Google, eBay, the app store, YouTube, Bing, and Amazon.
- Free version doesn’t even require an account to use
- Get a large number of keyword recommendations from a wide variety of suggestion tools
- Language and location filters
- Arguably the best free tool for identifying long tail keywords
- Use negative keywords to exclude unnecessary keyword recommendations
- Long tail keywords may not generate any recommendations
- CPC and competition data is only available for the paid version
- Paid version required for more than 5 negative keywords
- Basic features free without account
- $48 to $88 for paid version with more suggestions and metric data
A comprehensive keyword tool with an extensive feature set and limited free use.
- Identifies low competition, easy to rank for long tail keywords
- Comprehensive metrics for each keyword
- Simple user interface despite relatively large feature set
- See keyword popularity over time
- Runs fast
- Simple side by side comparison of competing site’s keyword metrics
- Rank tracker and link miner access
- See SERPs without going to Google
- See top sites ranking for a keyword, with social metrics
- Filtering by language and country
- Only 3 free searches per day
- Lower tier paid packages still have relatively limited number of searches
- Keyword recommendations insufficient for professional use without using the paid version
- From $29.90/mo to $79.90/mo for different levels of usage
13. Google Correlate
Google correlate is a tool that tells you which search terms correlate with your seed keyword based on location or over time.
- Identify keywords that correlate based on time series or US state location
- Provides more diverse and less obvious keyword recommendations, rather than synonyms or queries that use the same words
- Data provided directly by Google
- Good for identifying broad keywords related to your topics that you may not have considered
- No keyword metrics
- Dated design
- Not good for long tail keywords
Moz Pro offers a wide collection of tools including the Moz keyword explorer and rank tracker.
- Volume and difficulty metrics for each keyword
- Relative click-through rates, keyword importance, and keyword potential to help you prioritize keywords
- Uses recommendations from Google Suggest, KeywordPlanner.io, and Related Searches.
- Asses competition based on page and domain authority
- Rank tracking and competitive analysis reports
- Database relatively small compared to some tools
- Not suitable outside of US
- From $99/mo to 999/mo, discounts for yearly payments
15. Term Explorer
Useful for getting lists of keyword recommendations and determine competition levels for keywords.
- “Tiny jobs” allow you to get 1,000 keyword recommendations from a single seed keyword
- Options to sort or filter keywords by CPC, volume, keywords that have an exact match domain, and negative keywords that you don’t want included
- Keyword analysis tool useful for determining how high competition is for your keywords
- Limited to 5 “tiny jobs” and 5 keyword analysis credits on the free version
- From $34/mo to $499/mo
Allows you to see how well you rank for keywords you are targeting in Google and Bing.
- Tracks rankings for keywords that you set
- See how you are ranking at specific locations
- No need to track rankings for individual URLs, entering the homepage URL allows you to track all pages on your site for keywords
- Only free for 14 day trial
- $79/mo billed monthly or $71/mo billed yearly
Useful for determining what keywords are working well for your competitors.
- View what keywords your competitor is ranking for by entering their homepage URL
- See an estimate of how many clicks the site is getting from search engines based on their rankings
- Estimate what percentage of the traffic to your competitor’s sites is coming from organic vs paid search
- See who their top competitors are
- Regular competitor tracking available on paid version
- See your competitor’s historical advertising copy
- 12 year history on keywords
- No local data
- Not easy for beginners
- $39/mo to $299/mo paid monthly or $33/mo to $199/mo billed yearly
Get keyword ideas from Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Overstock.com.
- Simple and quick to use
- Perfect for discovering long tail keywords
- Easily add or remove which search engines to use
- Export capability
- Get a list of keywords without loading a new page
- Useful demo to see how the tool works
- Focused on the US market
- Need to use other tools to get CPC, competition, search volume, and other metrics
- Some keywords don’t generate any ideas
A browser extension that you can use to see keyword metrics for keywords on any page you visit.
- See keyword metrics like CPC, competition, and search volume on any page, including Google search results
- Loads results quickly
- Export feature
- Save your favorite keywords
- Choose to automatically highlight high value keywords based on metrics of your choice
- Extremely easy to use
- Makes other keyword tools that don’t provide these metrics more useful
- Customizable country, currency, and metrics
- Bulk upload keywords to see metrics
- Requires email address
A simple tool with a focus on latent semantic indexing (LSI), the method search engines use to determine how keywords are related to one another.
- Find synonyms for your keywords
- Fast loading time and easy to use
- Allows you to discover keyword ideas that would not have occurred to you and won’t be found with other tools
- Paid resources and an ebook help incorporate semantic SEO knowledge into your strategy
- Up to 20 searches per day if you provide your email address (3 without)
- No export feature
- No metrics
- No filters
A somewhat dated tool but with some useful features.
- Analyze your competitors
- Keyword seasonality
- Combines keywords from Google, Bing, and Yahoo for a large list
- Keyword density analysis
- Spelling mistake research
- Domain research
- Keyword Effectiveness Index estimates value of keyword
- Dated interface
- Keyword density and spelling mistake research may have some usefulness but are dated SEO tactics that should be used with caution and may mislead non-advanced users
- Free standard usage
- $49.95/mo or $499.95/year
A crudely named keyword tool that generates a very long list of keywords based on a topic of your choice.
- Filter keywords using a “positive” and “negative” filter even while keywords are still loading
- Very simple design and interface
- Generates hundreds of ideas
- Fast load time
- Easy export feature
- No metrics
- Unclear where keyword recommendations are coming from
- No language or location filters
Shows you Google suggested keywords, as well as suggestions from other search engines, despite the name.
- Get a list of long tail keywords, usually quite extensive and organized in alphabetical order
- Can also sort by top suggestions
- See a list of suggestions from Google, YouTube, Bing, and Amazon
- Export feature
- No metrics
Suggests keywords in a novel way by presenting them to you in “levels.”
- Provides a list of related keywords based on your original keyword in the first level
- Provides a more diverse list of keywords based on the first level in level 2
- Provides an even more diverse list in level 3
- Export feature
- Offers suggestions not found in other tools
- No clarity on how up to date the keyword info is
- No metrics
- Keyword list is diverse but not a detailed list
- No language or location filters and US-focused
A Chrome plugin that can be used to easily generate a long list of keywords.
- Generate a long list of long tail keywords quickly and easily
- Table interface is organized and easy to use
- Filter out letters, numbers, and special characters
- Multiple tabs for multiple results
- Get 800 keyword suggestions from one or a few seed keywords
- Country and language filters
- Suggestions from Google, Bing, Amazon, YouTube, Yahoo, and eBay
- Easy export
- Need Google Keyword Planner to extract metrics
- Only for Chrome
There, now. We’ve given you an overview of twenty-five cool keyword tools. Of course each of these has its own strengths and caveats, and at least for now, none can match the effectiveness of Google’s Keyword Tool, particularly in language, location, or device-specific results. Google gathers and analyzes vast amounts of data and as you know, the rich only get richer.
I also want to emphasize that Microsoft Excel and Google Docs perhaps play an equal, if not more important role in keyword research than any of these tools, because at the end of the day, the mountain of data you end up with is of no use if you can’t perform calculations, sort, filter, present or store it in a way that’s best suits the task at hand. Head over to Distilled for a comprehensive Excel for SEOs guide. Alternatively, bug this guy—he’s the Sensei who trains Excel ninjas in the dark of the night.
As search engine optimizers and marketers, we have to constantly keep testing and fine tuning search terms. Tools will always be there to help us collect and organize data but only humans can fully understand human intent, even if you argue that husbands can’t understand wives!
Looking to learn advanced keyword research strategies? Checkout our Keyword Research Guide, How to do Keyword Research like a Pro.