Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new links and fresh content for readers like you. 🙂
Original Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Having a good PPC campaign isn’t just about out-bidding your competitors on keywords.
And having a good content strategy isn’t just about finding marginal traffic numbers based on low-competition keywords.
That’s only scratching the surface.
Those things can help, sure. But neglecting to do your own keyword research for PPC means you could very well be missing out on golden opportunities to optimize your budget.
You gotta dig a little deeper. You have to discover those keywords you haven’t even thought of yet.
For example, uncovering long-tail versions of shorter keyword phrases that are frequently bidded on means that you’ve found a less competitive (and likely lower-priced) phrase to bid on.
Keyword research can also help you make sure you’re not leaving out important keyword sets:
“I recently did some [keyword research] models for a company spending $20+ million on paid [search ads] and 40% of their products were not represented in the keyword set,” Bill Hunt said in an interview with Search Engine Watch.
You don’t want to be the company spending millions (or thousands, or even hundreds) on ads that don’t draw traffic for nearly half of your products. Proper keyword research tools help you avoid that. And it matters for your content strategy too.
Why Keyword Research Tools Matter for Content Too
SEO and content marketing via search rankings are two sides of the same keyword research coin.
If your blog posts and landing page copy aren’t in line with the keywords you’re trying to rank for, your efforts won’t be nearly as effective as they could be.
Plus, there’s a huge difference in content that’s adored and shared by your existing audience and content that’s adored and shared by your existing audience and people who found it in a web search.
And once you’ve got a list of solid keywords you want to rank for, the actual work of making sure your pages are SEO optimized for those keywords isn’t that hard.
The key is simply finding those keywords that can help you blow past your competition.
“80% of SEOs and marketers do keyword research wrong.
”They plug in a main keyword to Google’s Keyword Planner, download the results, and then start sorting through them in a spreadsheet.
“But here’s the thing: literally thousands of other marketers have already searched the exact same keyword.” — Neil Patel
So the important thing is to do what no one else is taking the time or effort to do. That’s digging through multiple keyword research tools to provide an effective benefit.
27 Keyword Research Tools That’ll Help You Dominate the Competition Fast
So, we’re all in agreement that we should research keywords for our company’s SEM and content plans, right? Good. Now let’s explore some different keyword research tools.
1. Google Ads Reports: Search Terms
This is the big one.
We’ve already mentioned the importance of uncovering search terms to improve your SEO-centric content. But this is the place where you actually go to find those things.
Basically, search terms are the words and phrases people type into search engines. They trigger your ads for display and, hopefully, lead to clicks. The clicks cost money but each one can send you a qualified, ready-to-buy visitor.
You can find these search terms easily. Go into the “Campaigns” section of your Google Ads account and click on the “Keywords” tab.
Select which keywords you want to investigate, and click the “Search terms” button to see your list.
Now you’ll see a list of all the terms people typed into Google to trigger your ads and prompt a click out of them.
You might find some totally irrelevant phrases, which you’d want to add to your negative keyword list. But you may also uncover phrases you haven’t thought about bidding on before, or realize there’s a gaping hole in your on-site content that you need to fill. Either way, you’ll have a better chance of leading prospects through your funnel and toward conversions.
Hint: To see search terms, you will have to set your keywords to broad match rather than phrase match or exact match.
It might reduce the ROI of your budget in the meantime, but if you pay close attention to the search queries and act on them properly, that short loss in ROI could be a good investment in and of itself.
2. Google Keyword Planner
Remember back in the day when the Google Keyword Tool was available to anyone? Everyone could look up keywords, see search volumes, and get an idea of the competition. Ah, simpler times.
Google decided to revoke that privilege to the internet as a whole. In its place, however, they created the Google Keyword Planner, which is accessible via any Google Ads account.
To access the planner, click on “Tools” in Google Ads’ main menu bar. (It’s the last option on the right.) Select “Keyword Planner” in the drop-down menu that pops up.
To find new keywords, enter a generic term for your offer. Pick your location, if it’s relevant, and your product category.
Google will give you data on the average monthly searches and ad group ideas that you can implement into your Google Ads campaigns. The planner also produces single keyword ideas.
Using this tool is a great way to get a jump start if you’re adding keywords for a new product or service.
Interested in learning more? Check out Backlinko’s in-depth guide on using the Keyword Planner.
UberSuggest is one of the best keyword research tools for building an exhaustive list of potential terms. (And to help you identify all the negative keywords that you need to implement.)
All that, and it couldn’t be easier to use. Nice.
On the UberSuggest page, you’ll see a box asking for your keyword, the language you want to search in, and what search type you’re interested in.
Then you see a looooong list.
First, you see the most popular phrases that include your keyword. Then you see the most popular phrases, including your keyword + something, and then UberSuggest goes through the entire alphabet and single-number set for key phrase add-ons.
What’s more, expand each word to for even more in-depth searches and specific search queries.
So let’s say I’m interested in getting more SEO traffic for yoga mats sold at Target. With this information, I’ll know that adding the word “store” could be important, as well as targeting parents looking for yoga mats for their kids at Target.
4. Microsoft Ads Keyword Research Tools
Like Google, Microsoft Ads (formerly Bing) has its own keyword research tools to help people running ads on their search engine make smart choices about which keywords to bid on.
And, importantly, their data is all based on organic search—nothing paid.
Once you create an account and sign in, the tool is pretty straightforward. It’s actually quite similar to Google’s Keyword Planner if you have experience using that.
This short video by Moe Muise shows the basics of how to use the Microsoft Ads Keyword Research dashboard.
5. Microsoft Ads Intelligence
Beyond their online interface for keyword research, Microsoft Ads Intelligence is a downloadable desktop tool that integrates with Excel. It’s specifically designed to help you optimize your PPC performance within their ad network.
It works by letting you download your keyword campaigns onto your desktop, eliminating duplicates, and performs keyword expansions (suggesting new keywords) based on the ones you’re already using.
6. Google Chrome Hack
This is not so much of a tool as it is a very handy trick to have up your sleeve. But it’s just too good not to include in the list.
Probably the best way to directly spy on your competitor’s keyword strategy that I personally know of.
All you have to do is open the web page in question from within Chrome, right-click, and select “View Page Source”.
When you do that, a new tab will open up with loads and loads of code.
But don’t let it intimidate you. There’s this amazing little “Command+F” function that I’m sure you’re all aware of that gets you straight to what you’re looking for.
To find the keywords your competitors are optimizing for, search for tags like H1, H2, title, or keyword.
Wordpot is another Firefox-specific add-on that shows you search volumes for the search terms you’re interested in.
Basically, you type in a search term and it shows you other, relevant terms and their traffic.
Nothing overly fancy, but sometimes simple tools are best to do a job well.
More of a monitoring tool than a keyword research tool specifically for mining, Twazzup lets you put in a keyword or hashtag to search for and shows you every single time it’s showed up.
The important thing is not so much to identify popular hashtags or keywords but to notice conversations that are going on. If you can identify trends in search engine data, you’ll have opportunities to get ahead before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.
9. Google Alerts
Got a website that focuses around delivering the latest and greatest news in your niche? Like to stay on top of trends and make sure your offerings are relevant to them?
Google Alerts can be a great way to find trending keyword phrases based on news happenings to keep rotating in and out of your keyword strategy.
When setting up these email alerts, you can choose how often you want to receive them, where you want your sourced information to come from, and where in the world you want to focus on.
The makers of SpyFu might have been actual spies at one point. This program is legit.
SpyFu doesn’t just help you find the keywords that your competitors are using. They can tell you every keyword they ever purchased on Google Ads, every word they rank for organically, and every ad variation they ever used… going back nine years.
Maybe it’s playing a little dirty, maybe it’s not. (I mean, this is the internet, after all. All bets are off.)
And it’s super easy to use. The only real work that’s required of you is to copy & paste your competitor’s domain into their search bar, and they’ll generate a super long report that you can export as a PDF.
You’ll have to sign up for a paid plan to get all of SpyFu’s results. But you can get unlimited searches and results for as low as $49 per month, which shouldn’t break your budget.
This is another tool where you can really get your hands dirty with information on exactly what your competition is doing.
iSpionage helps you do extensive keyword research by providing lists of advertisers (past & present) that have overlapping keywords with your campaigns. It’s especially handy if you’re trying to build out a PPC campaign but don’t really know where to start.
This tool can also track your competitors’ landing pages, notifying you when a change appears on the page they’re sending their ad traffic to. iSpionage lets you stay on top of competitor keywords and get ideas on landing page optimization tricks for your target audience.
Wordtracker does more than show you simple pieces of keyword data like search volume and competition. It focuses on providing insights that help you optimize your traffic quality and profits based on the keywords you target.
The free demo on their site gives you a nice glimpse of what to expect.
First, you enter a keyword to see what kind of related terms there are in relation to traffic volume.
As you click on the “Continue Your Research” buttons, more windows pop up below one another. These show you what keywords competitors are bidding on, and which words have the highest potential.
Beyond that basic information (which is still valuable), it’s a paid tool. But they let you try it out for seven days before you have to start paying.
13. Traffic Travis / AffiloTools
Which piece of software you download and use (no, this isn’t cloud-based SaaS) depends on what type of machine you’re operating on: Mac or PC.
The idea behind these tools is to be a full-scale SEO boost: making sure your on-page tags are up to scratch and to understand how to improve your site overall.
But beyond that, they help you find out which keywords you’re losing out on to the competition. With this knowledge, you can prioritize adding keywords to your campaign lists and building out others via on-page content and higher bidding.
Experian is a data beast. Hitwise is their online consumer intelligence tool.
Given that Experian’s capabilities stretch well beyond the financial industry, their tool has a similarly high barrier to entry compared to typical SEO spying tools and SaaS-based PPC tools.
But it may be worth it. Because Experian studies and analyzes actual searcher behavior on their desktop and mobile devices. They pair this analysis with offline lifestyle data to give you a much more complete picture of who you’re targeting and what they want.
While competitor data can be useful, it doesn’t really tell you all that much about the end-users. You want to know how they behave, and what they want from a company they’ll eventually buy from.
This data can help you discover keywords to add to and remove from your list to increase your SEO effectiveness.
Are you noticing a common theme here?
Loads and loads of these tools focus on finding out what your competitors are doing. We want you to gain an edge over whatever it is they’re doing to put you out of the picture online.
This is another one.
KeywordSpy, like the others, lets you see the lists of keywords your competitors are using.
But beyond that, they show you the actual ads your competitors are running, what keywords those ads run for, and the ROI of those ads.
(Because if your competition is stinking it up with one particular ad set, you know don’t want to mimic it.)
16. SEO Book Keyword Typos Generator
This is a pretty easy and straightforward tool that can lead to major payoffs — especially if you’re in a market with words that aren’t easy for the average person to spell.
Look through the list you get and identify some plausible typos. Then use another keyword tool to check the traffic of that keyword to see if it makes sense to bid on the typo.
(Of course, take the typos with a grain of salt and don’t go bid on everything.)
Google is getting much better at identifying typos, but that doesn’t mean a really common one isn’t worth looking at. It may even yield quality traffic at a lower bid level than the correctly spelled keywords.
SEMrush is another popular SEO tool. It also does a great job of displaying the competitor information you’re after in an easy-to-understand format.
Further, it shows you the top organic keywords a competitor ranks for, their top paid keywords, and their main competitors in organic and paid search.
(You know, just in case you want to stay on top of your competitor’s competitors.)
18. Adding Buy Cycle-Specific Modifiers
This is another handy trick to have up your sleeve when you want to drive more traffic to a particular product or product line.
When you have your base list of keywords to describe your product, you can add cycle-specific modifiers to your ads. These drive people to content relevant to their stage in the buying cycle.
Let’s say you have a website that sells smartphones, for example. You might want to target people who are searching for “best phones” (a broad, top-of-the-funnel search).
But when you take buy cycle modifiers into consideration, you can identify searches like “best phones for long battery life” or “best phones for outdoor lifestyle” as users early in their purchasing process.
Go a little bit further down, and you can add something like “best android phones for…” to target middle-of-the-funnel searches.
Next, you can get even more specific by targeting people at the bottom of the funnel who are using phrases like “best deal on Samsung Galaxy,” indicating an intent to buy.
19. Keyword Tool
Keyword Tool claims it’s better than Google Keyword Planner or any other keyword research tool out there.
That’s quite a flex, right? But if you’re concerned with Google rankings, they have a solid case to back up their claims.
Basically, they use Google Autocomplete. But you see way more than the 3-5 searches that appear when you search Google yourself. This can mean 750 or more long-tail, spot-on keywords that are relevant to what your target audience is actually searching for.
This can help you with your SEO more than Google Keyword Planner. Since Google Keyword Planner is directed at pay per click and helping Google make money, Keyword Tool claims Google will purposefully hide some long-tail keywords that could be profitable for you but not for Google.
To use the tool, you just need to type in a term in the search box on the top of your home page. They give you the long list of keywords for free, but ask you to upgrade for the search volume, cost per click, and competition level metrics.
Buzzsumo is more about finding high-performing content in your niche than direct, specific, long-tail keywords to mine for optimization.
But it’s still incredibly helpful from a keyword research point of view.
When you see which topics in your niche are getting the most attention, you can get new ideas on how to shift the SEO side of your content marketing campaigns.
By searching “email marketing,” for example, I was able to see which pieces on that topic had the most shares and what kind of approach they had to the topic at hand.
With an account, I’d be able to see information like the top authors in that content area, full content analyses, and domain comparisons for sites publishing on that topic.
20. Long Tail Pro
These guys talk about a “70% secret” that new startups can use to get loads of customers overnight.
That “secret” is long-tail keywords. And it’s “70%” because long-tail, specific keywords make up 70% of search engine traffic.
They also have features to refine the list of profitable keywords for your site:
Here, for example, they’ve cherry-picked keywords that even the top-ranking sites haven’t optimized for well, showing you where you can step into the competition and make big waves.
21. Google Trends
Google Trends shows how interest in a keyword has increased and decreased over time, regional interests, and related searches.
The interest over time and regional interest trend lines can help you determine if the keyword you’re using is worth your advertising dollar. And the related searches section can tell you what other keyword areas you can optimize to bring in more target audience traffic.
For example, I searched for “how to get rid of acne” (for a friend, of course). If I had a site to help people deal with their acne, I’d want to create content about the items in both the topics and the queries list to glean even more relevant traffic to the products I’d be selling.
Are you interested in long-tail keywords that no one else is trying to rank for? KWFinder helps find these low-competition opportunities so you can start generating traffic right away.
The numbers in the right-hand column show how difficult it is to rank for a given keyword. (The lower the number, the easier it is.)
Based on the first seven results for “landing page design,” it seems like there’s a lot of opportunity to rank for these keywords, even though there’s a lot of competing business out there.
23. Moz Keyword Explorer
The Moz Keyword Explorer shows how difficult it is to rank for a keyword and the SERP (search engine results page) results, so you can see for yourself who and what you’re up against.
Basically, you can get the top 10 search engine results for a keyword or phrase, as well as its search volume. Moz also provides competitive metrics to show how much work it’ll take to reach a top 10 spot.
Rather than helping with keyword discovery, this tool is more about deciding which keywords are worth your investment. It’s only available to Moz account holders, but it is very cool.
SERPWoo is a data nerd’s dream come true. Just look at it:
All the lines you see are different websites and how their rankings for the given keyword have changed in the date range chosen. (For this chart it’s January 22 to February 4, 2016.)
But beyond that, SERPWoo shows you how many days a site has ranked for the keyword you entered, the range of positions it’s held in SERP, it’s Majestic and Alexa score, MOZ scores, and the number of backlinks. In other words, SERPWoo lets you size up the competition in just one glance.
Beyond that, you can compare how different domains rank against each other in search engines, and get a full domain SERP analysis on your own domain or a competitor’s.
GrepWords is a tool that lets you look up keyword data and data on related keywords.
It also gives you different browser plugins so you can do the research while you’re researching your competition instead of shifting back and forth between screens to do so.
They don’t offer a free demo version, but they are willing to show off what knowledge their tool gives them by offering little freebies on their blog.
One such freebie is a list of their top one million paid keywords in a CSV file. I downloaded it for myself — here’s a sample:
SECockpit helps over 30,000 users cut through the clutter and find the keywords that will be most profitable for them in seconds.
Once you input a keyword phrase into their search function, you see something like this:
You’re allowed to search by any of the ranking factors in the spreadsheet, but the “Niche” value on the right-hand side is particularly useful.
The keywords with the highest search volume and lowest level of SEO difficulty (therefore those easiest to rank for) get the highest niche scores.
Rather than focusing on the numbers of just keywords, BrightEdge helps businesses focus on content marketing as a whole, but in a way that boils down to raw data and pure numbers.
This lets marketers connect their content efforts directly with ROI, showing them immediately what works and what doesn’t.
Keyword-wise, BrightEdge can show you what pages you’re ranking on to find areas for improvement.
For example, let’s say you’ve got a handful of results on page two. You might just be a few optimization tweaks from getting to page one and a lot more organic traffic.
Keyword Research Tools Final Thought: Just Pick One & Get Started Already
The funny thing about keyword research tools is that all of this data is readily available. But very few businesses actually put in the time and research necessary to create exhaustive lists and act on them.
Though the work can be mentally draining, there’s a big opportunity available for those who can push through the grind and take action on their keyword discoveries.
So pick your favorite tool(s) from the list above, and figure out one or two action steps that could improve your keyword-based PPC and content strategies.
What’s the tool that you use the most when you need keyword insight?
Let us know in the comments below — we wanna hear from you! 🙂