If your business has an online presence, you’ve probably already learned having a website isn’t enough. Even the most attractive site still needs to be optimized to reach the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) because that’s where your potential customers are looking. And when it’s time to kickstart your site’s SEO, the simplest and most effective place to start is with a keyword research tool.
It’s common knowledge that search algorithms look at keywords in content when ranking pages. However, too many businesses don’t make keyword optimization a priority. If you want to improve your search visibility, you’ll need to be among the companies that invest in keyword research.
It’s simple: Keywords are essential for growing your online presence. And keyword research tools are the best way to start the keyword-discovery process.
Fortunately, there are several keyword research tools to choose from. This article will cover why you need to integrate keyword research tools into your content creation process, highlight free keyword research tools, and share some excellent professional keyword research tools that provide tons of helpful information.
Why You Need a Go-To Keyword Research Tool
Keywords are the backbone of good search engine optimization. If you aim to drive organic traffic to your website, you need to understand how your target audience will find you. By identifying the keywords they use when running a search, you can create compelling content that engages and educates them. This helps increase brand recognition and trust — and leads to more conversions.
But finding the best keywords for your SEO content strategy isn’t always intuitive. While you may think potential customers are likely to search for a particular phrase to find you, they may actually use an entirely different phrase you hadn’t even considered. Keyword research tools can help you uncover which keywords you should focus on to build an SEO strategy that takes both your industry and your target audience into account.
If you’re new to keyword research, check out the following articles to get the most value from your efforts.
Where Do Keyword Research Tools Get Their Data?
A keyword research tool is only as good as the data it provides — which begs the question, where do keyword research tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush get their data?
It may seem like keyword research tools have a deal with search engines so they can share info like search volume and keyword difficulty, but that’s not the case. In fact, those figures are just estimates.
Keyword research tools use clickstream data generated by following a sample of the population. They see how this sample travels the web and then extrapolate data from there. This assumes their samples are representative of the population at large. Various keyword research tools may use different sources of clickstream data and have unique methods to extrapolate the information — which you’ll notice if you use multiple tools for keyword research. The numbers often don’t align across platforms.
A Note on Search Intent
Knowing the keywords and key phrases people use to find your products or services isn’t enough — you’ll also want to uncover the search intent of the keyword.
Search intent is the why behind a query. If you search for keyword research services, for example, Google will try to determine which results should show up in SERPs based on why it thinks you’re running a particular search. That’s why you’ll primarily see landing pages for agencies that offer keyword research services rather than keyword research tools.
Google uses search intent to surface the right kind of content for a query. They always want to show the most relevant results, and understanding the intent behind a search allows them to decipher what a searcher wants more accurately.
There are four types of search intent:
- Commercial investigation
For example, if you have a page about how to cook chicken all the way through that aims to educate about food safety, you may assume the page, page title, and meta description should focus on the keyword “how to cook chicken.”
However, if you Google this phrase, you’ll see recipes, preferences, and cooking methods — but little to no information about time and temperature. A keyword research tool can help you identify this mismatch as well as offer you related keywords like “how long does chicken take to cook,” which results in the correct search intent for your page.
As a best practice, always Google your keywords after you’ve used a keyword research tool to learn which type of search intent Google associates with that keyword. If you want to rank for that phrase or keyword, you’ll need to create or modify your content to match the search intent.
Learn more about search intent optimization here.
Free Keyword Research Tools You Can Use Right Now
Check out the following free keyword research tools to start investigating different words and phrases you can optimize your pages around or create new content for.
Wondering how a particular word or phrase has performed in search over the past hour, month, or year? Use Google Trends to see the search volume for particular keywords and phrases over certain time periods or in certain areas.
You can also compare different phrases to see whether one is more popular, subject to seasonal variability, or on an upward trend.
Select your location and whether you want a web, image, or news search to get started. Add comparisons or don’t — a single keyword will work just fine.
Google Trend Pros
- Easy to use
- Allows comparison between keywords
- Shows historical data for keywords
Google Trends Cons
- Does not help you find additional keywords
- Only provides insight into Google properties
- No insight into keyword difficulty
Learn how to get the most from Google Trends here.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword Planner is a useful tool, especially if you already use Google Ads. It’s only available if you have a Google Ads account, so sign up if you don’t have one. (It doesn’t cost anything to do so, and Google won’t force you to run ads.)
If you have a term or phrase in mind, just plug it into the Keyword Planner. The application will generate suggested keywords to capitalize on. You can also view the average monthly searches, level of competition, and estimated cost per click for each keyword.
Google’s Keyword Planner helps you to discover keywords and compare the keyword trends.
Google Keyword Planner Pros
- Free, only requires a Google Ads account
- Large backlog of past keyword trends
- Ability to track content popularity based on location
Google Keyword Planner Cons
- Only provides “average” monthly searches, which can be a very large range
- No insight into which device your target audience uses
Ahrefs Free Keyword Generator
In addition to their paid suite of tools, Ahrefs offers its Free Keyword Generator, which allows you to see search volume, keyword difficulty for some results, and even commonly asked questions that feature your keyword.
Simply plug in your word or phrase, pick which search engine you want results for, and select your target country to get up to 100 phrase-match keywords.
While you’ll need to sign up for a paid subscription to get more insights — like if you want to see the organic keywords a particular URL ranks for — you can run unlimited searches on the Free Keyword Generator until you’re ready to make a financial commitment.
Ahrefs Free Keyword Generator Pros
- Unlimited searches
- Provides search volume and keyword difficulty for some results
- Allows you to search by platform (Google, Bing, YouTube, Amazon)
- Lets you select a country
- Shares questions that feature your keyword
Ahrefs Free Keyword Generator Cons
- Only provides the first 100 results
- Only 10 results have keyword difficulty listed
- Keyword difficulty is displayed as a number; necessary backlinks aren’t listed
SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool
Another popular SEO tool, SEMrush provides a free keyword research tool called Keyword Magic that lets you see up to 10 keywords, phrases, or questions based on the keyword you enter.
Type in your keyword and select the country you want to rank in. SEMrush will then give you the search volume, keyword difficulty, CPC, and more. They also do their best to provide you with the search intent of the keyword, though I still recommend checking this for yourself.
SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool Pros
- Provides search intent, keyword difficulty, search volume data, cost-per-click, and SERP features
- Can choose country
- Shows trend for the keyword for the past twelve months
- Allows you to run broad match, phrase match, exact match, and related searches
- Shares questions that feature your keyword
SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool Cons
- Requires account signup
- Only provides 10 results
Moz’s Keyword Explorer
If you need to research just a few keywords, Moz’s Keyword Explorer makes the job simple. With monthly search volume estimates, keyword difficulty scores, and additional keyword suggestions, you have everything you need to create or optimize your content.
Moz also offers two proprietary metrics: Organic CTR and Priority.
Organic CTR takes into account SERP features like featured snippets and knowledge graphs that can distract searchers from organic results. A higher CTR indicates fewer SERP features.
Priority rating attempts to showcase the “sweet spot” between how hard it is to rank for a keyword and its search volume. A score of 100 would indicate a high search volume and low keyword difficulty.
Free Keyword Explorer Pros
- Predicts monthly volume and difficulty
- Info on organic CTR and “priority”
- Shares additional keyword suggestions
- Highlights results that currently rank for desired keyword
Free Keyword Explorer Cons
- Requires an account
- Only provides 10 queries
- Monthly volume provided as a range
- No historical information or keyword trends
Surfer SEO’s Keyword Surfer
Gain insight into keywords while Googling with Keyword Surfer, a free Chrome extension by Surfer SEO.
Keyword Surfer’s results show up directly on your Google search page. When you enter a word or phrase in the search bar, Keyword Surfer will provide you with the search volume and the estimated cost-per-click for Google Ads.
Scroll down to the bottom of the SERPs, and you’ll find an additional box with related terms you can sort by volume or their similarity to the original search term. Save and export them to use as secondary keywords.
Keyword Surfer Pros
- Shows up right on Google SERPs
- Provides monthly search volume data and CPC in the search bar
- Generates additional keyword ideas based on the keyword entered in the search bar
- Allows you to sort results by similarity to your original search term or search volume
- Results can be saved and exported
Keyword Surfer Cons
- No insights into keyword difficulty
- Only available on Google Chrome
This free tool from Term Explorer gives you a list of related keywords when you enter a word or phrase into the search box. Simply type in the keyword you want to target into Keyword Sheeter and hit “Sheet Keywords.” Related terms will begin to appear in the box.
Keyword Sheeter Pros
- Basic function is free
- Provides related keywords people search for
Keyword Sheeter Cons
- Doesn’t provide additional information about the keyword you want to target
- No information about search volume for related keywords
- Attempts to get you to purchase a more thorough report
Soovle is a helpful free keyword research tool that surfaces related keywords. If you already know the keyword you want to rank for, you can use Soovle to identify secondary keywords that may be semantically related to your target keyword.
Soovle specializes in seven search engines and portals: Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Answers.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Amazon. This online tool will suggest related keywords for each engine/portal in real time as you type your desired keyword.
- Provides multiple suggestions at once
- Good for identifying secondary keywords
- Doesn’t specify search volume or keyword difficulty
- No information about referring domains or backlinks
Wordstream Keyword Tool
Created by SEO and PPC online advertising company Wordstream, this keyword research tool provides insight into keywords on both Google and Bing. The Wordstream Keyword Tool provides search volume, CPC, and competition for both search engines — though it only lets you view 25 results.
I noticed when testing this tool that it didn’t provide me with an exact match for my keyword. While other tools showed me the search data for the keyword I entered, this one only showed me data for its related keywords. I tested it a few times with different keywords and got the same results. I think this tool helps identify secondary keywords, but it’s not so great for helping you learn more about your target keyword.
Wordstream Keyword Tool Pros
- Provides search volume, CPC, and the relative amount of competition for related keywords on Google and Bing
- Allows you to email yourself the results of your search
- Good for identifying secondary or long-tail keywords
Wordstream Keyword Tool Cons
- Doesn’t provide exact match for your keyword — just additional suggestions
- Only provides 25 suggestions at a time
- Only 30 free searches
Ubersuggest is Neil Patel’s free keyword research tool. It provides info on the search volume, SEO difficulty, PCP difficulty, and CPC for a keyword. I appreciated that this tool shared the average backlinks necessary to rank in the top 10.
Ubersuggest also allows you to input a URL to see the keywords your competitors rank for. However, this data differs from similar information provided by Ahrefs and SEMrush and should be taken with a grain of salt.
- Provides search volume and difficulty for both SEO and paid search
- Shared how many backlinks you would need to rank in the top 10 for your keyword
- Limits free daily searches — you only get three a day
- Results varied the most from other tools
Paid Keyword Research Tools to Help You Rank
Investing in keyword research tools is a must if you want to take advantage of additional features and capabilities that will make your keyword research better.
Many free keyword research tools limit the number of results they provide. Most don’t provide insight into the keywords themselves, leaving out crucial information like search volume and keyword difficulty. If you want to improve the quality of your keyword research, test out paid services that offer more comprehensive keyword research tools.
Here are some different pro tools and what we like about them.
If you’re ready to move beyond their free Keyword Generator, Ahrefs offers an easy-to-use platform that lets you track your site’s keyword performance, monitor keyword trends, and research potential keywords.
With Site Explorer, you can identify the keywords your competitors rank for. Input them into Keywords Explorer to learn more about what you need to do to rank for those keywords. Plus, see how many referring domains Ahrefs thinks you’ll need to get into the top ten, the average monthly search volume, related keywords, and more.
- Allows you to choose between Google, YouTube, Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, and more
- Search multiple keywords at once
- Provides multiple suggestions, including phrases, questions, and related keywords
- Shares search volume, keyword difficulty, and referring domains needs
- Shows top-ranked URL for the target keyword and allows you to see what other keywords the page ranks for
- Starts at $99 a month for a lite plan that includes Keyword Explorer. Plans featuring additional SEO tools will cost more, as will additional users.
SEMrush has become a leader in SEO analytics for a reason. Their easy-to-use platform allows you to analyze the potential of different industry keywords to determine which ones you should optimize your site around.
With SEMrush pro, you get access to several keyword research tools. In addition to the free Keyword Magic Tool mentioned above and their general Keyword Overview tool, you can also analyze your competitors’ keywords and track how well your site is ranking for your desired keywords. You’ll also receive access to their on-page SEO and link building reporting tools with a subscription.
- Search multiple keywords at once
- Allows you to choose between desktop or mobile SERPs
- Keyword search results include volume, keyword difficulty, search intent, search trends, and CPC
- Provides keyword variations, related keywords, and questions featuring the keyword
- Provides a list of URLs ranking for your desired keywords and how many backlinks they have
- Easy to understand graphic interface
- Plans start at $119.95/month, and each includes keyword analytics. Additional tools and users are available at higher price points.
Moz Pro Keyword Explorer
You can sign up for a pro account to receive more if you’ve exhausted your ten free queries with Moz. The keyword tool is the same. However, you’ll get access to additional features that’ll provide insight into your target keywords, your site’s optimization, and more.
Keyword Explorer Pros
- Same as above
Keyword Explorer Cons
- Starts at $99 for 150 keyword queries
What’s the Best Keyword Research Tool?
If you ask ten SEOs what the best keyword research tool is, you’ll get a bunch of different answers. There isn’t a “best keyword research tool” — there’s just the best keyword research tool for you.
If you feel you have accurate information and the capabilities and features you want, that’s great. If you don’t feel that way, you may find it useful to shop around or use more than one tool.
You Have Your Keywords — Now What?
Once you’ve nailed down your go-to keyword research tool and pinpointed your target keywords and their search intent, the hard work begins. You’ll want to either create content around your keywords or optimize your current pages for them. Remember to only target each keyword on one page — you don’t want to inadvertently compete with yourself and use the same keyword on two different pages (i.e., keyword cannibalization).
To help your pages rank, you’ll also want to create a link-building strategy. Backlinks and unique referring domains show Google and other search engines your content is relevant, authoritative, and trustworthy.
If your chosen tool provides keyword difficulty or insight into backlinks, use the information to identify how many referring domains you may need to rank for your desired keyword. The higher the difficulty, the more referring domains you’ll need to show up in SERPs.
Remember, SEO is a long-term strategy. Securing backlinks can take a while. With a comprehensive strategy, you can make inroads in SERPs.
Need an SEO Partner?
Implementing keyword research won’t help you automatically nab the number one spot on Google. If you want to rank and drive more organic traffic to your website, you need to focus on SEO as an additive and iterative process.
Our SEO agency uses proven techniques that have been honed to target our customers’ business needs and deliver results straight to their bottom line. We offer keyword research services and link building services to help our customers succeed. Learn more about how we can support your goals — sign up for a free SEO consultation today.