Need help choosing an SEO keyword tool? Our 18-part checklist comes helpful tips and a host of free and paid tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Answer The Public.
- SEO keyword tools will help you find a balance between high search volume, a high trend, and a low ranking difficulty.
- Keyword tools will help you beat your competition and track performance of what you’re already ranking for.
- Choosing between paid and free tools comes down to budget constraints and essential features.
- Only choose what is right for your business and not what seems trendy and popular to everyone else.
A quick Google search brings up about 37,000,000 results for “SEO keyword tools”. Most of them are blog posts about which SEO tools to use or landing pages for the tools themselves.
But if you’re trying to find the best SEO tool for your business, this isn’t enough information to go off. Worse still, it’ll be biased and not offer your business the value you actually need.
While I will be doing the same in this article, I will also be covering what a keyword tool actually does, why you should be using one in 2019, and things to consider before taking the plunge.
What is an SEO keyword tool?
An SEO keyword tool primarily finds keywords and phrases you can use on your website. The best content on the web is optimised based on these phrases so keyword tools are essential for organic search campaigns.
But they don’t just find keywords. SEO tools analyse how well they perform, giving you key information to influence your strategy.
Here are three key metrics to think about:
- Monthly search volume (an average of how many times that keyword or phrase is searched every month)
- Trend (usually a graph of how often people are searching during a period of time)
- Keyword difficulty (how difficult it is to rank for that keyword – the lower, the better)
The perfect keyword has a high search volume, a high trend, and a low difficulty rating. But we don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why you need to find a balance.
Why do you need an SEO keyword tool?
Finding that perfect balance is why you need an SEO keyword tool. You can’t afford to make assumptions with your content. SERP features like rich snippets are the equivalent of a page spread advert in a printed publication except they’re free. You don’t get one of those without optimised content and you don’t get optimised content without SEO keyword tools.
Beat the competition… at their own game!
More than likely, you’ll have competitors that are ahead of you. They’re there for a reason – they are doing certain things better than you are and keywords play a major role in that.
But they won’t have optimised for every keyword in your industry. And that’s where SEO tools work best. You can check what keywords they’re ranking well for and ones that don’t.
Tapping into that low-hanging fruit could be your ticket to higher conversions.
Master the power of long-tail keywords
Following on from that low-hanging fruit, you’ve got to find it. Ranking #1 for your brand name isn’t enough if it doesn’t help you convert.
A keyword tool will help narrow down the terms that matter to you and offer some surprisingly high ROI, even if the search volume is less than 100.
With around 70% of organic traffic coming from long-tail keywords, you’re missing out on potentially lucrative opportunities without an SEO keyword tool in your proverbial shed.
Track the performance of your own keywords
It’s all well and good looking for opportunities but what are you currently ranking for? What could you improve? SEO is a process and you need to know your own performance.
Paid keyword tools have ranking functionality to analyse where you are in the SERPs. You can also compare your profile with your competitors’ profile to find content gaps.
4 key elements to review when choosing an SEO keyword tool
Now you know what an SEO keyword tool does and why you need one, you have to figure out what you need from one.
These tools are far from niche so most of them will offer the same kinds of features. Companies like to offer unique features nobody else does and while they can be useful, they might not be right for your business.
So here are some key elements to think about when choosing an SEO keyword tool.
Should you choose a free tool or a paid tool?
This factor will cull a lot of choices, depending on your budget. The best SEO keyword tools will charge a monthly fee because they offer comprehensive analysis and vast amounts of data (more on that later).
But not everyone has a big enough budget to pay for these kinds of tools. Free tools are great if you don’t have the money for tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs but they only offer specific features.
It boils down to what you need and what you can afford.
There’s an in-between category for internet services known as freemium (free + premium). It means you can get certain features for free but they’re limited unless you pay a subscription fee.
User interface and user experience
UX is very important when using a tool or service. As many of the SEO keyword tools in our list are browser-based, that means the websites need to be fast and clear in what they provide.
UK Web Host Review created an infographic about UX design and found:
- 59% preferred a “beautifully designed website”
- 86% of visitors want information about products and services
- You have on average 10 seconds to impress visitors before they leave
A good keyword tool should be well-presented, explain what the tool does, and you should be able to navigate quickly and intuitively.
Does the keyword tool have the essential features you need?
Before you can think of the bells and whistles, you need the product or service to be fundamentally sound. That means the basic features need to be there and optimised for use.
The best SEO keyword tools need to provide some or all of the following:
- Keyword research
- Monthly search volume
- Keyword difficulty
- Any available SERP features for a given keyword (Featured snippets, sitelinks, people also ask boxes)
- Keyword variations
Some tools focus on specific elements like AdWord & SEO Keyword Permutation Generator but others are all-in-one software suites like SEMrush and Ahrefs that provide multiple keyword tools.
Start small and add more features as and when you need them to save money and time.
How much keyword data does the tool have?
Data fuels keyword tools. So you need as much data as possible to accurately analyse your competition keywords and your niche.
Most tools fall under two categories for data: user-generated data and search engine data. For user-generated data, you input your own data and the tool analyses it. An example of this is the AdWord & SEO Keyword Permutation Generator which comes up with different keyword variations to then funnel back into your organic or paid content.
Google Trends, however, taps into Google’s gargantuan database of keywords and give up-to-date graphs and search trends. This saves you time and gives you insights into user search behaviour.
11 tools to propel your content up the rankings
SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool (Freemium)
I used SEMrush to write this very article. The Keyword Magic Tool has been a revelation since I first discovered it.
The tool can generate over 2 million keyword ideas for SEO and PPC campaigns and group them by topic. If you find a handful of interesting keywords, you can save them in the Keyword Analyzer and estimate the number of clicks and how likely you’ll rank for them in the top 10 of the SERPs.
There’s also an export function so you can generate a CSV or XLS file for clients or colleagues.
Ahrefs Keywords Explorer (Paid)
The Ahrefs equivalent to the Keyword Magic Tool, the Keywords Explorer covers the essentials and throws in some unique features of their own.
According to its website, Keywords Explorer is the most complete keyword research tool on the market, using the largest third-party search query database in the world. That means it comes with thousands of different keyword suggestions from a choice of over 7 billion from 171 countries!
Keywords Explorer trawls through 10 search engines including Google, YouTube, and Bing and uses clickstream data to ensure the data is accurate, refreshed every month.
As well as a keyword difficulty score, you also get an estimate of how many clicks your keyword gets and you can cluster keywords under “parent topics” to maximise your chances of ranking.
Google Trends (Free)
Want to see how much of a buzz a topic is getting online? Google Trends is the answer. The website analyses the popularity of Google search queries depending on location and languages.
You can also compare different queries over time with graphs to analyse trends.
AdWord & SEO Keyword Permutation Generator (Free)
One of the simplest tools on the list, Dan Zambonini’s keyword permutation generator takes three columns of keywords and finds as many string combinations as possible.
For the PPC professionals out there, you can add keyword modifiers (broad match, phrase match, and exact match). The tool only allows one order of permutations (1-2-3) so if you want to change things up, you’ll have to do it manually.
Answer the Public (Freemium)
A digital PR favourite, Answer the Public finds the questions and queries that searchers are asking and gives a report based on Google SERPs.
Answer The Public used to be a free service but there is now a daily limit on free searches. The Pro version costs $99/month and gives you features including:
- Unlimited searches
- Compare data + see new suggestions
- Language + location based search results
- Saved reports
Keywords Everywhere (Paid)
Sometimes you just want to know the search volume of a keyword or some suggestions on what other people search for. Keywords Everywhere does both.
It comes as a Google extension or Firefox add-on and shows the search volume, CPC, and competition data. As of 1st Oct 2019, Keywords Everywhere will be a paid tool (curse those bots!). The good news is there aren’t any monthly subscriptions fees and you pay for what you use; $1 gets you 10,000 keywords and the folks behind the tool don’t expect many people to spend more than $2/month.
Google Autocomplete (Free)
Occam’s Razor says “entities should not be multiplied without necessity”. In layman’s terms, that means don’t use more than you need to. Google Autocomplete isn’t a tool per se. It works by predicting your search as you type, based on popular search queries and what you’ve previously searched before.
Location and language also influences search predictions so what you’d get in the UK might not be the same in the US. Keyword Tool have written a great article about Google Autocomplete that demonstrates the ins-and-outs of the feature.
Keyword Tool (Free)
Speaking of which, Keyword Tool is the next tool on the list. The self-proclaimed “best alternative to Google Keyword Planner” offers over 750 long-tail keyword suggestions per query with its free version and 100% of the time, it works 99.99% of the time.
- Free version of Keyword Tool generates up to 750+ long-tail keyword suggestions for every search term
- Unlike Keyword Planner or other tools, Keyword Tool is extremely reliable as it works 99.99% of the time
- You can use Keyword Tool absolutely for free, even without creating an account
Moz Keyword Explorer (Paid)
There are three major players in the paid SEO keyword game: SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz. Moz’s Keyword Explorer works in much the same way as the other two – you enter a URL or keyword and gain in-depth analysis and suggestions.
But if they’re so similar, why would you use Moz’s tool? Marketers working in local SEO will prefer Keyword Explorer as well as larger teams and agencies that need bulk access. There’s also a longer free trial (30 days) compared to SEMrush and Ahrefs (which charges $7 for 7 days at the time of writing).
Long-tail is still the way to go for untapped niche searches. But the longer the tail, the lower the volume. KWFinder finds that careful balance between long-tail, volume, and low difficulty.
KWFinder does what most other SEO keyword tools doesn’t – it gives an accurate search volume figure (eg. most tools round volumes to the nearest 10; KWFinder does it to the nearest 1).
You can also visualise a keyword’s difficulty with a handy meter so you know whether it’s worth trying to rank for.
Last but not least is Soovle. The interface may be archaic by modern standards but as a keyword tool, it does the trick. It gives search suggestions and completions from search engines like Google, Wikipedia, Bing, Amazon, and even places like eBay and Yahoo!. Just type your word in and watch the screen populate with suggestions.
Final SEO keyword tool takeaways
Now’s the time to make a decision. Should you go with a free tool or a paid one? There are plenty of advantages to both and you can find some top quality keywords with free SEO keyword tools.
But they’re not as robust or in-depth as paid tools. Most don’t give you the analysis you need to create engaging topic clusters and entities.
Do you really have the time to trawl through Google Autocomplete when SEMrush or Ahrefs can do bulk analyses of a list of keywords? And do you have the budget for those?
These are things to consider when seeking the best SEO keyword tool for your business.