Table of Contents
Tools, Tools, Tools…
As an SEO consultancy, we have quite the toolset. And, I’ll be honest, we probably have some tools that we don’t necessarily need because others we have cover the core features.
For example, SEMRush has back link analysis but I still love using Ahrefs.com for that. And both have keyword research tools but I like Kwfinder.com for that.
As an agency provider, we invest heavily in tools and I’m generally happy to have feature overlap on the basis of having a preference for how one tool does something.
Technically, I have four active subscriptions right now for tools with keyword research functionality, but I generally use one much more than others (and I’ll go into why afterwards).
But for small businesses or freelancers only looking to do keyword research for their own brands, one subscription will typically cover it. So what we’ve done here is outline what we think are the best keyword research tools on the market in 2021 for small businesses and consultants looking to do their own research.
We’ve used these keyword research tools…
Some of these are tools I have an active (fully paid for and in no way subsidised) subscription right now. The others are tools I’ve used in the past or have trialled.
In other words, I’ve tried them all myself. It’s not a list just scraped together from a Google Search.
For that reason, this is by no means an exhaustive list of keyword research platforms. I’ve omitted any I’ve previously used and simply didn’t rate (after all, this is supposed be a list of some of the best ones on the market, not just a round up of any old thing). I’ve also deliberately not included any that I have not personally used.
As I trial and use more, I’ll update this over time.
Paid vs Free Keyword Research Tools
There are tools on here that are free and others that you pay for. And there are some that offer some limited trial functionality.
Our Favourite Keyword Research Tools in Summary
Here’s a summary of all the tools we’ve included in this write up with some key info around pricing, features, pros and cons. Then within this write up, we’ve gone into much more detail on each specific tool.
|Tool||Free Account Available?||Pro/Premium Price from…||Estimated Search Volume Provided?||Free Trial?|
|Kwfinder.com||Yes||$29.90 per month||Yes||Yes|
|questionbd.io||Yes||$7/month||No||No – but the free account is sufficient to assess whether you’d benefit from a paid one|
|ahrefs.com||No||$82/month||Yes||No – but you can get a 7 day trial for $7|
|Wordstream Free Keyword Tool||Yes||Free||Yes||No need – it’s free|
Kwfinder.comMy Own Personal Favourite!
Search volume available by country, city and state breakdowns too!
Monthly volumes available over time - some keywords have data going back to 2015
Easy to use
Import a full list of keywords to get volume checked
Related keyword suggestions available
Google auto suggest keywords available
Low entry level pricing with annual payment discounts
Search by domain or keyword
Doesn't allow you to search for volume by multiple locations at once (so if I want volume for a keyword in each state or in several countries/cities, I have to search each location individually
Let me be honest. This is my personal favourite keyword research tool. I have an active SEMRush account and an active Ahrefs.com, an active iSpionage account too. So I absolutely could cancel this subscription and still have keyword research tools available to me.
But I’ve had my subscription for 3 years and frankly have no intention of getting rid.
Because for keyword research, the UX is simple, it has features like city level breakdown that I can’t get in other tools and it the data output is clear. Kwfinder.com is a part of the wider Mangools toolset and I don’t use much of that wider toolset if I’m being honest. But I love the keyword research functionality. Let me take you through some of my favourite features.
It’s SO EASY to use. Look at this. Just type in a keyword, pick your country and away you go…
Just enter your keyword here
Choose your country (or select "global")
You can import a list of keywords from a CSV or similar too
Its suggested keyword lists are generally pretty good (but always manually sift through these lists – don’t just export and use them all!). But the auto suggest list along with related keywords really helps you to identify opportunities you might not yet have considered
Loads of suggested keywords
Hover over month by month to see volume in a specific time period
Default view shows related keywords but you can also show autocomplete and questions
- You can also search by domain now – just type your domain in and it will suggest keywords and competitors.
And possibly my favourite feature? Search volume by city!!!! Loads of tools offer volume by state but the breakdown is more granular here. It’s great for local SEO campaigns. Example. Let’s say you’re a plumber in Leeds. You go looking for how many people in the UK search “plumber Leeds” each month and this is what you’ll see:
1,500 people a month in the UK search “plumber leeds” according to this and a further 410 search “emergency plumber leeds.”
But this doesn’t take into account people in the Leeds area just searching “plumber” or “plumber near me.”
Instead you can show volumes for keywords like that specifically in Leeds:
This gives a more in depth picture of how people are searching.
Other features to note:
- It’s really easy to see who ranks in a glance too
- Estimated cost per click if you’re going for the keywords in PPC
- One of the lower cost offerings available
You can also get a very limited number of searches on a free account at the time of writing.
The toolset comes with other ones too including a rankings checker, SERPs analysis tool and so forth. But for the purposes of this piece I want to focus on keyword research functionality. And to be honest, that’s the thing in this suite that I use the most.
You can get a 10 day free trial.
SEMRushPhenomenally full featured tool set
Type in a keyword and get volume split by country
Type in a competitor's domain and see all the keywords they rank for and bid on in PPC
Amazing keyword gap analysis tool which lets you spot keywords where your competitors outrank you
Lots and lots of data - possibly the most data rich tool I use
As yet, you can't get volume at a city level
More expensive than many tools here (albeit with LOTS of functionality beyond keyword research). So if you only want it for keyword research and you're on a restricted budget it might not be the best option.
Although kwfinder.com is my favourite keyword research tool, SEMRush is the single subscription I think we get the most value out of overall in our wider SEO efforts.
So if you were only going to subscribe to one tool and needed it to have the widest range of functionality possible, this would be a good shout.
In keyword research terms, it has a dedicated “keyword magic” tool which lets you very simply put in a keyword and get a ton of data very quickly:
Choose country and currency (for estimated cost per click)
Click on any keyword to go to a page with a lot of data on that specific keyword
You can click on any keywords on the list to go to a page with a ton more data on that specific keyword, including a top level view of where in the world it is most searched (a nice handy comparison without having to manually go through and look for the volume country by country).
And the one thing that, in my view, SEMRush does better than any of the competitor tools I’ve used is competitor keyword analysis. It has two tools in particular I like in this regard.
The first is the ability to just type in any domain and see what keywords it ranks for and (something hugely useful) all the keywords that website spends money on Ads to appear for. If you’re starting a new SEO campaign for a relatively new brand or one that hasn’t done online advertising or SEO before, then not having your own data could be limiting. But SEMrush allows you to get information from competitor websites and while there’s no substitute for your own, this is a great starting point.
So let’s say you’re competing with super successful flower brand, Bloom and Wild, you pop their domain in and get this:
Click here to see the keywords they rank for organically
Clicking here shows you the keywords they bid on.
You can see a list of keywords they rank for organically along with recent changes in positions/rankings:
And also information about keywords they pay to appear in Ads for:
And then there’s the Keyword Gap tool, which I find useful for identifying keyword opportunities for more established websites by finding keywords you’re outranked for. You can also use this tool to plan keyword strategy for new sites by looking at gap analysis using two more established competitors.
So, here’s what we see if we put in Bloom. andWild alongside bunches.co.uk:
This is again a really useful feature.
In terms of pricing, SEMRush is at the higher end even for an entry level pro account. But it’s full of features. That said, if you’re just looking for keyword volume data then this toolset may well be overkill for your needs. But for more strategy keyword and competitor analysis, it’s hard to beat.
What I would say, based on how I’ve seen my own clients interact with this platform, is that it takes a little longer to get to grips with than kwfinder.com. And while there’s no doubt that the data available is astronomical, some find it overfacing.
But for me, if I were only going to have one subscription to do as many SEO tasks as possible, SEMrush would be it.
Grab a free trial.
Questiondb.ioFind questions people ask on Reddit
For many casual users, the free account will be completely sufficient
Even pro users can get access from $7 per month - incredibly low cost
Shows questions users ask on Q&A sites and reddit
No supporting information like competitiveness or volume because this isn't really intended as a search specific tool
So this one is somewhat different to Kwfinder.com and SEMrush in that it isn’t based on people’s search history.
Instead, QuestionDB scans reddit, Q&A sites like Quora and sites like Stackexchange to find questions people have asked containing the keywords you type in.
There’s definitely a life beyond search! And I think that scanning sites like these alongside wider social media analysis is a really great way to understand sentiment around a topic and also the problems or questions people have about it. A question that is commonly asked on social media or on reddit etc is one likely to be asked in search too, after all.
But if you want to find our data like how many people look for something in search each month or what the competition is like to rank for something in search, this isn’t the tool for that.
Nonetheless, I am a big fan of Questiondb. You get a lot of data in the free account too. Here’s a summary from the website of the differences between the free and paid plans:
Pop your keyword in and the tool goes off to find questions people have asked on these platforms, presenting you with a list and the source:
This can be a really solid source of inspiration for keywords and content ideas and if you’re only doing small amounts of keyword research, can be totally free.
AhrefsAn incredibly feature rich tool set
Simple functionality using the "Keyword Explorer" to type in a keyword, select a country and get volume info
You can see trend data for keywords too
Ahrefs also offers data about the proportion of people searching a keyword who actually click a result
Access to info about sites ranking for the keyword and fluctuations over time
Volume not available by state/region/city
Much like SEMRush, Ahrefs.com is very much more than a keyword research tool.
I primarily use it as a backlink analysis tool but the functionality of the platform is growing. It has a solid keyword explorer tool now, which lets you simply type in a query and get a lot of information like volume, trends and event some really superb information about estimate number of searchers who actually click a result.
Proportion of users who actually click on a result. Such useful info!
Basic oversight of estimated searches per month, cost per click in ads and some trends information
Another feature it’s well worth me mentioning is the fact you can get volume estimates for Youtube, Amazon and other platforms too:
This is something incredibly useful!
And much like with SEMrush, you can also type in any website and get an overview of the keywords they rank for:
Ahrefs is a tool I personally use for link analysis more than anything else, but there are some features on the keyword research side of things that I absolutely love.
Wordstream Free Keyword Tool
Wordstream Free KW Research ToolVolume data free of charge
It's literally free
And includes volume data
You get 25 of the keyword suggestions on site and have to give an email address to receive the rest. But seriously. It's free.
So of course, this is likely to be (in part at least) a lead generation tool for Wordstream. But who cares? This is a cracking tool that provides you with suggested keywords when you enter a URL.
It’s easy to use:
Simply pop in a URL, select and industry and choose a location.
You’ll get a list of recommended keywords like this:
You get volume and cost per click data for both Google and Bing.
It’s worth noting that you’ll see the first 25 suggestions and will have to put an email in to be sent the rest.
But free volume data is impressive.
A few things to note…
This is not a complete list of keyword research tools by any stretch. I mentioned at the start that I’m only including tools I both use regularly and like. I have omitted any tools I haven’t used and omitted any I didn’t rate.
Everyone’s looking for different things from a keyword research tool and before signing up for anything paid, I’d always suggest taking a demo/free trial. And if a free trial last for 7 days, then time it for a period when you can actually get some use out of it over those 7 days.
There are some affiliate links in this post (not all) but again, this hasn’t influenced opinions or positions of these tools.
And if you reckon I have missed an absolute blinder of a keyword research tool that I’m crazy for leaving out, then give me a shout. I’m always happy to try new tools.