Want to automate the keyword discovery process, save dozens (if not hundreds) of hours, and supercharge your optimization efforts?
Then you need a keyword research tool.
Without the right tool, keyword research remains one of the most complicated, labor-intensive, and time-consuming (but super necessary) parts of SEO.
The only question is: with hundreds of different tools on the market, how do you choose the one that’s perfect for your business?
You weigh their pros and cons, of course!
Without further ado, here are my picks for the best five keyword research tools.
1. Google Ads Keyword Planner
Straight from Google
The biggest benefit of the Google Ads Keyword Planner is that you’re getting information straight from the horse’s mouth.
You can trust that all the information about search volume, competition, and top of page bids is accurate and reliable.
Google Keyword Planner is the only forever free tool on this list. It might not have all the bells and whistles of the subscription-based or one-time-fee software on this list, but you can’t beat that price.
The three features I love most about Google Keyword Planner are:
- You can always access historical data for the last 12 months.
- You can save keywords and easily add them to an upcoming Google Ads campaign.
- You can add search parameters to conveniently filter for keywords that match your goals.
No Competition Analysis
Keyword Planner is the only tool on this list that doesn’t allow you to discover your competitors’ keywords or perform any keyword competitor analysis.
Keyword Planner has a few data limitations compared to the paid models in this list.
- It doesn’t differentiate between singular and plural cases.
- Search volume results are shown as a range, which isn’t great if you need precision.
- The keyword suggestions it returns are quite limited (you can type up to 3 keywords and Google will return no more than 2,000 results).
Less International Versatility
Keyword Planner is great for all things Google, but that makes it noticeably less effective in regions where Google isn’t the #1 search engine.
If you’re hoping to reach audiences in Russia, where most people use Yandex, or China, where they use Baidu, or certain other locations, you’ll need to invest in another tool.
Large International Database
SEMrush is cloud-based, which gives it a lot of versatility, and they boast the largest keyword database with data on more than 450 million domains and more than 9.4 billion keywords.
When doing international keyword research, you can choose a specific country for your seed keyword and get multiple keyword suggestions with data on Search Volumes, Keyword Difficulty, and more.
While you’ll find some detractors on this point, SEMrush is widely considered to have one of the most user-friendly UX’s out of any of the big keyword research tools.
Their intuitive Keyword Magic Tool makes it easy to implement filters to refine your results.
One of the best things about SEMrush is what it does differently from every other tool. Instead of giving you a list of keyword ideas, SEMrush shows you what your competitors already rank for.
This makes it easy to swoop in, start optimizing for low-hanging fruit, and discover search terms that you otherwise might have missed.
Keyword Research Uniformity
SEMrush pulls keyword ideas from its own database only, not making use of auxiliary keyword research methods like Google Autocomplete, Related Searches, or Keyword Combinations.
It means that for some niches, and especially for international research, the keyword suggestions might be quite limited.
Affordable Plans Limit Key Features
SEMrush has four different payment plans, but each plan locks or caps some essential features.
For example, the free plan is obviously the most attractive price-wise, but it’ll limit you to 10 searches per day. Speaking of keyword research, the Pro plan only lets you have 500 SEO idea units.
Traffic Analytics Can Cost More Than the Software
SEMrush doesn’t include traffic analytics out of the box.
It’s going to cost you an extra +$200/month if you want to:
- Track key metrics such as visitor engagement, marketing mix, devices used, etc.
- Compare different websites for benchmarking.
- Or analyze marketing trends.
3. Ahrefs Keywords Explorer
Enter a seed keyword, and Ahrefs will give you a ton of information with each result it returns, including:
- A breakdown of first-page competition (specified by country).
- Search volume.
- More keyword ideas, featuring the same terms.
This will help you gauge the real traffic potential of each keyword.
Keyword Difficulty Score
Almost every keyword research tool assigns a keyword difficulty score to its results, but Ahrefs offers something special.
It’s the only tool that breaks down exactly how many backlinks you need to Google’s first page results along with the more standard difficulty score.
Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer 3.0 added nine more search engines (on top of Google) including Yahoo, Bing, and some important international players like Yandex, Baidu, Naver, Daum, and Seznam.
Keyword Research Uniformity
Similar to SEMrush, Ahrefs provides keyword suggestions from its own database only, potentially limiting keyword ideas for some niches, especially in the international segment.
A mix of in-built tools like Yandex Autocomplete, Google Related Searches, or Word Mixer could have added more diversity to the results.
Affordable Plans Limit Key Features
Just like with SEMrush, you may find your SEO efforts stymied if you only have the budget for the cheapest ($99/mo.) “Lite” edition.
Your limitations in the Keywords Explorer module will include 5 keyword lists, 100 SERP updates per month, and some more.
No Free Trial
Most SaaS keyword research tools let you take them for a spin before you commit.
You’ll have to pay a nominal fee, even for the seven-day trial of its “Lite” and “Standard” editions.
4. Keyword Tool.io
A Good Starting Point for International SEO
Keyword Tool generates keyword suggestions from multiple Google language interfaces, making the keyword choice relevant to the country and language you target.
This makes it a useful tool for creating a list of baseline international keywords.
You can use Keyword Tool for free, and with the free version, you can gather more than 700 keyword suggestions.
But if you want deeper insights, you’ll need to pay a monthly fee, which is still quite affordable compared to the other cloud-based tools on this list.
Focus on Long-Tail Keywords
One of Keyword Tool’s main strengths is the number of long-tail variants it will help you identify. When you need to develop content, this is a very nice resource.
No Keyword Research Tools for Major International Search Engines
If you want to do keyword research on search engines like YouTube, Amazon, or eBay, then Keyword Tool is great.
But unlike SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Rank Tracker (which is next on the list), Keyword Tool does not currently show you results from major international search engines like Yandex or Baidu.
Limited Competition Analysis
You won’t have the detailed insights you would with other tools in terms of keyword difficulty scores or which keywords the competition is ranking for.
Insights Gated Behind Subscription Tiers
Keyword Tool is your typical freemium model – offering you some decent data if you pay for Keyword Tool Pro, but prohibiting you from seeing information such as search volume and competitor analysis with the free version, and the “Pro Basic” version locks you out of CPC and Google Ads competition data.
5. Rank Tracker
Full disclosure: my team developed Rank Tracker, a tool designed to help businesses of any size generate lists of tens of thousands of keywords and gather granular insights into keyword positioning.
More Robust International Research
Rank Tracker has one of the largest keyword databases and it’s growing at a rate of 4,000 words/minute.
It incorporates 23 keyword research tools, including Google Keyword Planner, Search Console, Google Analytics, along with international keyword tools like Yandex Wordstat.
Find the Keywords You Rank for in 10 Countries
Rank Tracker is one of the few tools that not only gives you international keyword suggestions, but also collects all the keywords you (and your competitors) rank for in organic search results in the U.S., UK, Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, Australia, Russia, Canada, and Italy.
Comprehensive Keyword Management
Easily analyze the keywords you’ve collected according to the SEO efficiency indicators you value most, including the number of searches, keyword difficulty, competition, cost per click, and more.
Unlimited Websites & Keywords
Even the free version of Rank Tracker lets you search for unlimited keywords for as many websites as you want.
Barrier to Entry
We tried to pack a lot of utility into our tool and help SEO professionals collect big amounts of data, but we’ve heard from some users that Rank Tracker can be overwhelming for beginners.
Rank Tracker is cheaper than a lot of the cloud-based alternatives, but as desktop-based software (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux) it may limit opportunities for collaboration.
Separate Programs for Different Functions
Rank Tracker works great on its own for rank tracking and keyword analysis but you won’t get the all-in-one experience (backlink analysis, site auditing, link building) without investing in the whole SEO PowerSuite family of products.
Which Tool Is Right for You?
Ultimately, the tool that’s best for you will always boil down to what you need.
- Do you need a budget-friendly option?
- Do you need more keywords to choose from?
- Do you need richer international results straight from international search engines?
- Do you need the versatility of a cloud-based program?
- Or do you, perhaps, need more than one tool to accomplish different tasks?
Whatever you need, I hope you found this list of the pros and cons helpful, and I hope it informs your research as you decide which international keyword research tool is right for you.
Featured Image: Created by author, July 2019
All screenshots taken by author, July 2019