You’ve probably heard this already, but I’ll say it again anyway:
Keyword research can make or break your online marketing campaign.
Whether you’re building SEO links, planning a PPC campaign, or sharing content on social media, you need to target the right keywords that will make your content discoverable to the right audience.
Choose the wrong keywords and you may pull in users who don’t care about what you have to offer.
A general rule of thumb is to look for long-tail keywords that are more specific, aimed at a narrower audience, and are more effective in inciting action. You also need to pay attention to key metrics that help brands gauge the viability of keywords in marketing and advertising campaigns.
Luckily, there’s no shortage of keyword research tools that will help you identify profitable keyword ideas in your niche. And if this isn’t your first time reading an article about keyword research, you’ve probably seen the name Google Keyword Planner mentioned at least once.
Google Keyword Planner: What’s Missing?
Make no mistake that Keyword Planner is a go-to keyword research tool for a reason.
Not only is it free, but it’s also capable of generating fast and reliable results.
Within seconds, you can unveil hundreds of long-tail keyword ideas along with important metrics, like the average search volume, keyword competitiveness, and the lower CPC range advertisers have historically paid for them.
There’s only one problem.
Keyword Planner is designed for AdWords advertisers.
In fact, Google admittedly stated that users with little to no AdWords spending will only get to see search volume “ranges” as opposed to precise values.
It may not seem like a huge deal, but if you’re a marketer who uses Keyword Planner for anything other than PPC, you simply can’t make well-informed decisions with estimates, especially with such absurd ranges.
I don’t know about you, but to me, the gap between 100,000 and 1,000,000 is too significant to ignore.
The good news is, there are plenty of Google Keyword Planner alternative tools out there you can use to hunt for profitable keyword opportunities.
To save you the trouble of searching for an alternative to Google Keyword Planner yourself, I took the liberty of testing out dozens of keyword research tools and narrowing it down to the top three contenders: Long Tail Pro, SEMrush, and Ahrefs.
1. Long Tail Pro
Let’s face it, you probably saw this coming the moment you read the title.
Long Tail Pro is simply the keyword research tool every marketer should try — it would be irresponsible of me not to include it on this list.
As the name suggests, everything in Long Tail Pro is tailored to help marketers find lucrative, long-tail keywords for their campaigns.
It’s designed from top to bottom for keyword research, which it’s the most user-friendly and streamlined Keyword Planner alternative on the market.
You begin by creating a new project to organize your database and entering seed keywords to get the ball rolling.
To make it easy to find the most relevant suggestions using multiple seed keywords, you can freely increase the “Suggestions per keyword” up to 400 before clicking “Retrieve.” After a few moments, you should start seeing a list of long-tail keyword suggestions pile in.
You should notice right away that Long Tail Pro is more generous than Keyword Planner when it comes to search volume data. Instead of wide number ranges, you get the average, rounded value of a keyword’s search volume over the past 12 months.
Another core advantage of Long Tail Pro is the average “keyword competitiveness” or “Avg. KC” metric, which is a beefed up version of Keyword Planner’s “competition” rating scale that only registers “high,” “low,” or “medium.”
Avg. KC measures a keyword’s competitiveness on a scale of 1 to 100. For new brands that barely have an online presence, the sweet spot is a rating of 30, which may increase as your website’s ranking potential grows.
How do you quickly comb through the entire keywords list and find viable keyword ideas?
Just like every premium keyword research tools on the web, Long Tail Pro comes with a built-in “Filter” feature that allows you to scoop up keywords that suit your needs.
To accomplish our goal, we only need to click the “Filter” button right on top of the keywords list and configure a filter as follows:
For brands that already have a foothold in the industry, the recommended KC can be calibrated by linking their domain URL to their Long Tail Pro project. Doing so will automatically adjust the “Target Keyword Competitiveness” value, which can be found at the top of the project page.
Once linked, your new target KC rating will be displayed along with a handful of useful SEO metrics, such as the number of referring domains, Trust Flow, and Citation Flow.
Going back to keyword research, Long Tail Pro offers two additional modes of analysis: competitor keywords and manual keywords.
Sometimes, the best way to find keyword opportunities that work is to observe the strategy of your top competitors.
You can make it happen with Long Tail Pro by clicking the “Competitor Keywords” tab on the project page and initiating your research with a competitor’s domain URL. A page URL can also be used to help you dissect your competitor’s keyword strategy for that specific content.
This is helpful if you plan to replicate the competitor’s content strategy and outrank them in search engine results.
Lastly, you may use Long Tail Pro to evaluate the potential of a specific keyword as well as generate variations. Simply click the “Manual Keywords” tab, enter the keyword, and wait for the results.
Using “Manual Keywords” is a great way to diversify your keyword portfolio and improving your website’s chances of getting organic traffic.
Overall, here are the reasons why I think Long Tail Pro should be your first choice when looking for a Google Keyword Planner alternative:
- Built from the ground up for keyword research
Unlike the rest of the tools included on this list, Long Tail Pro focuses solely on tools that can help with keyword research. This improves its usability and prevents information overload by only displaying metrics that matter.
- Competitive Analysis
Allowing you to spy on the keyword strategy of competitors pretty much guarantees results. You’re basically skipping the number crunching and shooting straight for keyword ideas that are proven to work.
- Customizable Target Keyword Competitiveness
Most, if not all, keyword research tools implement a competitiveness rating of some sort. However, Long Tail Pro is the only one that provides a competitiveness range based on your domain’s ranking power.
First and foremost, SEMrush isn’t just a keyword research tool.
It’s a full-on SEO platform sprinkled with features that can help with a number of activities, like domain analytics, content research, lead generation, and CPC management.
In other words, it’s overkill as a Google keyword alternative tool, but it’s on this list for a reason.
Usability-wise, the SEMrush interface may seem cluttered for new users. But once you’re past the learning curve, you’ll certainly appreciate what it has over Google Keyword Planner.
Similar to Long Tail Pro, SEMrush also lets you organize information into projects. You can create one by expanding the “Projects” tab and clicking “Create my first project” or click “Add new project”.
This will bring up the project creation window where you can specify a project name and the domain URL of your website.
The next page showcases every tool at your disposal in case you go with SEMrush as your Google Keyword Planner alternative.
If your only goal is to do keyword research, chances are you won’t use half the tools presented on this page. This makes SEMrush nowhere near as cost-effective as Long Tail Pro.
But if you are a business that could use tools for several aspects of your marketing — from social media to brand monitoring — then SEMrush is actually reasonably priced.
Jumping into the “Keyword Analytics” tab from the dashboard, you may start generating long-tail keyword ideas by entering a seed keyword and clicking “Search.” You can also select “Keyword Overview” from the drop-down menu to do keyword research from any page.
The keyword results you can get with SEMrush may not be as straightforward as Long Tail Pro’s.
While it does highlight important metrics like the keyword’s organic search volume and competitiveness level, you need to navigate to the “Related Keywords” tab first before you can make side-by-side comparisons between different long-tail keyword suggestions.
On the plus side, SEMrush incorporates data visualizations to help marketers determine the effectiveness of keywords.
A prominent one would be the “Trend” chart, which can be used to predict how the target keyword’s demand may change over time. This is useful if you want to weed out seasonal keywords that may lose their relevance down the line or upcoming trends that can spike in terms of audience interest.
SEMrush also gathers the number of organic search results that currently rank for specific keywords. It doesn’t necessarily affect the competitiveness or “Keyword Difficulty” metric, but it could give you an idea of how broad keywords are.
Remember, targeting broad keywords in your campaign can sometimes make it hard to generate high-quality leads — regardless of how much organic traffic they garner.
If you’re considering SEMrush, below are some of the tool highlights you ought to remember:
- Chock Full of Data
Seasoned marketers with a large team and a hefty budget will surely appreciate the amount of data they can unearth with SEMrush. Most of them don’t have anything to do with keyword research, but it’s always beneficial to have a single tool where you can get a handle on multiple areas of your marketing.
- Data Visualizations
A number of marketers prefer simplicity when dealing with data, which is why SEMrush is clearly not the tool for everyone. However, they managed to weave data visualizations into the platform in a non-disruptive way.
- Keyword Magic Tool
As of writing this post, the SEMrush “Keyword Magic Tool” is still in the beta development stage. While it makes the keyword research process a lot easier, it actually accomplishes what you can already do with Long Tail Pro — have a single keyword research section where you can view long-tail variations, analyze metrics, and apply filters.
Finally, Ahrefs is — at best — the third Google Keyword Planner alternative you may pick up if neither of the previous ones captures your attention.
Like SEMrush, Ahrefs is a platform meant for various marketing activities in addition to keyword research. Its “Keyword Explorer” tool also has a similar approach, particularly with the use of data visualizations and how the results are structured.
Naturally, Ahrefs includes all the basic metrics that you should care about when conducting keyword research, such as the keyword difficulty, average monthly search volume, and CPC.
Don’t worry, Ahrefs still has a few tricks up its sleeve.
A noteworthy feature is the “Questions” section where you can be in touch with the pain points of potential leads.
Bear in mind that these phrases also reflect how users perform voice searches — a burgeoning trend that can be considered as a byproduct of the dominance of mobile devices.
Ahrefs also offers a couple of unique metrics on its own, namely the keyword’s “Return Rate” and “Clicks Per Search” or “CPS.”
As you might have guessed, CPS pertains to the number of page visits users do when searching the web with a particular keyword. “Return Rate,” on the other hand, measures the likelihood of users coming back to perform the same search again.
As far as keyword research is concerned, here’s what Ahrefs can do for you in a nutshell:
- Comprehensive keyword research tool set
With the exception of Long Tail Pro’s keyword competitiveness scaling and competitor keyword research, Ahrefs has everything you need to scrape viable keyword ideas. Of course, you’re also paying for other features outside of keyword research — from a rank tracker to an integrated site auditing tool.
As a marketer, you can’t underestimate the traffic potential of voice searches. Ahrefs can point you in the right direction with its unique “Questions” tool.
- Content Explorer
Once you have a batch of potential keywords, the next step is to look for content ideas that match to them. The “Content Explorer” feature of Ahrefs can help you with this by aggregating popular content on the internet using your target keywords.
There you have it — an assessment of the top three must-try Google Keyword Planner alternatives.
Before you make a final decision, take a moment to review the following takeaways from this post:
- Long Tail Pro is the one-and-only choice if you want a no-nonsense, dependable keyword research tool.
- Although SEMrush may slightly complicate the keyword research process, its extensive range of features could prove to be valuable to the right organization.
- Ahrefs also offers more than enough data to help you find profitable keyword opportunities, but it’s definitely not the best option cost-wise.