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 11 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.

1. Mergewords

We’ll start with a simple one that might soon fade away. Mergewords displays three boxes, where you can enter distinct parts of a long-tail keyword. You could use one for your primary product-related keywords, another for product attributes and the third for a location or query strings. Just press Merge! to see the assorted mishmashes. It’s now done in by the new Keyword Planner, because Google has incorporated a “Multiply Keyword Lists” feature that does exactly this and then clusters it into Ad Groups.


2. WordStream

WordStream boasts of a trillion-keyword database and you can try 30 keywords for free. There are little checkboxes enabling you to customize searches by filtering adult keywords or “nichefying” results. There are more options for finding negative keywords and grouping your keywords. The full version spews out tens of thousands of results for many keywords, the top 100 of which are available for free.WordStream

3. SEMrush

SEMrush is a true heavyweight. Only the first 10 results are free, though. You can search by putting the keyword itself in the main box to see volumes, trends and other data across ten different Google regional domains and Bing. Or better still, you can type in your site or that of a competitor to see the top 10 organic keywords it ranks for.

So you get only 10 keywords right? No! SEMrush also indicates 10 organic competitors for the site! You can then go to these competitors’ profiles and get the 10 organic keywords they are ranking for. It might turn out that five or so of a competitor’s keywords may not be in the niche of your liking or will overlap with your results, but you can find use for the remaining five. Thus, you can grab about 50 valuable keywords, give or take a few. I don’t recommend going more than one level deep with competitors, because the keywords your competitors’ competitors are ranking for may not be closely relevant to you and you’ll tend to lose focus.


4. SEO Book

Powered by WordTracker, the SEO Book Keyword Tool shows you realms upon realms of data. So much that I can’t even decide on a screenshot. To call it exhaustive would be a gross understatement. You get search volumes from WordTracker, Google and Bing, data from Google Trends and Google Insights, traffic estimates Compete and Alexa, and much more. SEO Book points you to the 10 suggestions provided by Google Instant for your keyword, and then 10 more for each of those suggestions, and so on. It also delivers Yahoo! suggest results as returned by http://sugg.search.yahoo.com/sg/?output=html&nresults=10&command=keyword.

Finally, you can also click onwards to vertical search results including blogs, directories, answer sites, classifieds, videos and groups to form a holistic synopsis of your keywords and your competition.

SEO Book Keyword Tool

5. Keyword Eye

This is the new kid on the block. Keyword Eye is a “visual” tool that displays keywords in increasing or decreasing sizes based on their search volume or AdWords competition. The Basic version offers 10 keyword searches per day on any of 10 different Google country keyword databases and 100 results per report. Keyword Eye is powered by SEMrush, and consequently gives you great data on competitors.

Keyword Eye

6. KGen

KGen is a nifty Firefox add-on that is somewhat like the Google Index > Content Keywords feature of Google Webmaster Tools. It can be viewed as a sidebar in Firefox and calculates the strength of keywords on the page you’re on by evaluating the number of times they’re used, the weightage assigned to them according to the HTML tags wherein they’re enclosed, and their positions in the text. You can take quite a few actions such as setting up negative words to be ignored, changing tag weights and exporting results.


7. Bing Keyword Research

Bing Webmaster Tools is becoming a force to reckon with with each passing day. It has some super-powerful tools that must be giving sleepless nights to Google were it not for Bing’s paltry market share. Click on a site added to your BWT, navigate to Webmaster > Diagnostics & Tools and click on the second one in the list: the Keyword Research tool. You can filter your search by country and language. You can also search for keywords that appeared in Bing results within a custom date range. I wish this tool wasn’t so tedious to access, what with you having to add a site to BWT before you can use it, even though your keywords need have no relation to the site in question.

Bing Webmaster Tools Keyword Research

8. KeywordSpy

In its own words, KeywordSpy enables you to “unveil your competitors’ most profitable ad copies & keywords” and “learn from time-tested ad campaigns.” It offers a magnanimous wealth of data; the “Related,” “Similar” and “Misspell” results taken together can give you keywords similar to Phrase match and Broad match results. Further, KeyWordSpy now allows you to comb most major Google country domains.

KeywordSpy is one of the best tools for competitor research. Like SEMrush, it shows you organic as well as PPC competitors. And there’s a bonus—you also get to see their ad copies! However, just like SEMrush, KeywordSpy displays only 10 results (Whoever said the best things in life are free… wasn’t a digital marketer!) and you have to resort to looking at your competitors’ keywords for more data.


9. Thesaurus.com

One severe impediment to non-native English speakers in India, Europe and elsewhere is lack of vocabulary. If you hated grammar class in school but are now faced with the herculean task of keyword research, consider your problem half-solved. Head over to Thesaurus.com for synonyms and related terms. For example, a search for “interior design” returns terms such as décor, colors, furnishings of a place, adornment, color scheme, decoration, and ornamentation. It also returns a couple of “relevant questions” that your targets are likely to ask, such as “How to become an interior designer?”

I said your problem is half-solved because even if you don’t speak the Queen’s, you still have to know that “interior decoration” is a reasonable substitute for “interior design,” but “interior ornamentation” is not.


10. Ubersuggest

Show of hands – weren’t you wondering if I forgot Übersuggest with each passing tool in this list? Well I saved it for the end. The king of secondary keyword research, Übersuggest gives you all the terms “suggested” by Google for each letter after your keyword, in alphabetical order. It now offers vertical results for images, news, shopping, video and recipes.

There’s a clear explanation of how this tool works on the Übersuggest home page, so I’m going to skip on the duplication. Plus, its popularity and usage is probably next only to the AdWords Keyword tool.


11. Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Ahrefs Keywords Explorer is another alternative to Google Keyword Planner but with more metrics for organic search. For example, we all wonder how difficult it’d be to rank in the top 10 for a specific keyword. But Google’s tool just doesn’t give insights like that, as its “Competition” metric is for paid search only. Ahrefs does estimate Keyword Difficulty (KD) for organic search by analyzing the number of referring domains (on average) required to rank in the top 10. As it’s a critical ranking factor, the difficulty score you get is quite accurate. So is Search Volume, as it’s based on clickstream data.

Ahrefs also has a number of exclusive metrics – Clicks and Clicks Per Search. They reveal how much traffic each keyword can bring. It’s a surefire way to avoid terms that will take your content nowhere. With Ahrefs, you’ll have an extensive keyword database at hand, regardless of your target location. It contains 5.9 billion keywords for around 200 countries. Ahrefs’ newbie plan lets you check 10 keyword ideas in each report (5,000 in total per month). Additionally, you can add 10 keywords in one go for batch analysis, create a single keyword list, and export 1,000 rows of data. Speaking about advanced metrics, the free account is limited to 5 keywords per month.

Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

There, now. We’ve given you a preliminary overview of eleven 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!