8 Free Keyword Research Tools (That CRUSH Google Keyword Planner)

Joshua Hardwick
Head of Content @ Ahrefs (or, in plain English, I'm the guy responsible for ensuring that every blog post we publish is EPIC). Founder @ The SEO Project.

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    Are you tired of Google Keyword Planners restrictions? Then you’re in the right place.

    Remember the good ol’ days when GKP was totally awesome?

    You could enter any ‘seed’ keyword and see tons of keyword suggestions and their associated search volumes.

    google keyword planner search volume old

    Now, Google has restricted these numbers to general ranges. 🙁

    google keyword planner search volume new

    Sidenote.
    You can still see exact numbers, but only if you spend enough on AdWords campaigns for Google to deem you worthy of such data.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a useful tool. It suggests some good keywords, splits them into groups (which is useful), and is totally free.

    But if GKP is the only tool you’re using for keyword research, then you’re missing out.

    Yeah, you can use tools like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer which have tons of data, features, and filters. But what if you’re just starting out and can’t justify paying for any SEO tools whatsoever?

    Here are some free keyword tools to help kickstart your SEO with zero investment:

    Let’s delve deeper into each of these tools.

    1. Google Trends

    Let’s kick off this list with another useful keyword tool (that you may already be familiar with) from Google—Google Trends.

    Google Trends visualizes how search trends change over time.

    Enter a keyword, and you will see the relative popularity of that search query over the past 12 months.

    To demonstrate how this can be useful, let’s check the Google Trends data for “protein powder.”

    protein powder google trends

    It looks like the search popularity of this query is relatively stable throughout the year.

    But if you look closely, you’ll see that there is a gradual decline between August and December, with popularity spiking in January.

    This is likely because many people are on a ‘health kick’ in January.

    If we check Google Trends data for the past five years, we can see that this is, in fact, an annual spike.

    protein powder annual spike google trends

    (This is information that we couldn’t possibly glean from Google Keyword Planner.)

    So if you have a fitness blog, for example, it may make sense to publish a piece of protein powder-related content in early-January.

    But Google Trends has another cool trick up its sleeve—related queries.

    Drop down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see a ‘related queries’ box:

    related queries google trends

    This show related queries (obviously) with rising popularity.

    Sidenote.
    Learn more about top and rising ‘related queries’ by clicking the question mark icon (see screenshot above) in the related queries box.

    I’ve found this is particularly useful for quickly unveiling search queries I would otherwise never have thought of (e.g., “bone broth protein powder”… is that a thing!?)

    Honestly, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Google Trends.

    So I recommend reading our full guide to using Google Trends for keyword research.

    2. Keyword Shitter

    It doesn’t take much of an imagination to guess what this tool does.

    Just enter a “seed” keyword (or many) and hit “Shit keywords!”

    keyword shitter protein powder

    It will then start doing its business, so to speak.

    Be warned, though, this tool will generate a lot of keyword suggestions.

    I left it running for ~30 minutes and had ~20K suggestions… and it was still going!

    It works by mining Google Autocomplete.

    Not familiar with Google Autocomplete?

    Google Autocomplete = the results that appear when you begin typing a search in Google.

    google autosuggest

    Because of this, it’s quite basic.

    It doesn’t show search volumes or trends data, nor does it group keywords in any way (as Google Keyword Planner does).

    But it does have one other notable feature: positive and negative filters.

    So let’s add the word “buy” to the positive filter and run our “protein powder” search again.

    keyword shitter protein powder buy filter

    Now you can see that it only mines queries containing the word “buy.”

    The negative filter does the opposite—it excludes queries containing the filtered words.

    This can be useful when looking for related queries with high purchase intent (e.g., “buy protein powder,” “protein powder store,” etc.)

    Do you want even more Google Autocomplete keyword ideas?

    Try the Search suggestions report in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

    Keywords Explorer > Search suggestions

    ahrefs keywords explorer search suggestions

    Unlike KW Shitter, we also give you a bunch of metrics such as search volume, Keyword Difficulty (KD), and more. 🙂

    Sidenote.
    This isn’t the only tool that mines Google Autocomplete. There’s also KeywordTool.io, but this tool restricts results to ~700 keywords (more are available for “pro” members). Infinite Suggest is another alternative, but despite the name, I’ve found that it still doesn’t find anywhere near the number of keywords that Keyword Shitter finds. And there are tons of other Google Autocomplete miners too. Just Google “google auto suggest tool” for more. There’s also this tool from SEOChat which mines autocomplete suggestions from Google, Bing, Amazon, and YouTube.

    3. AdWord & SEO Keyword Permutation Generator

    This tool combines multiple lists of keywords into every possible permutation.

    Let me demonstrate with an example.

    keyword permutations

    Here, the tool took my three lists of keywords and combined them into a list of permutations.

    This is useful should you want to add transactional or informational modifiers (e.g., “best,” “cheapest,” “buy,” etc.) to a list of topics.

    It could also be used for local SEO purposes.

    For example, let’s say you run a plumbing company that offers services in multiple counties.

    Here’s how you could use such a tool:

    plumbing company in permutations

    Sidenote.
    The third list of keywords is optional. You can generate permutations from only two lists, as I did above.
    Need a list of cities or counties?

    Try Wikipedia.

    I searched for “counties in Florida” and found this list.

    counties in florida

    Then I used Scraper (free plugin for Chrome) to scrape the entire list.

    scraper counties in florida

    Note. Read my web scraping guide to learn how to scrape information like this.

    There’s really not much else to say about this tool.

    It’s clearly quite simple in its functionality, which means that it doesn’t give you any additional data (e.g., search volumes, trends, CPC, etc.)

    But that’s not what the tool is for—it exists to save time.

    Sidenote.
    Need to combine more than three lists of keywords? Try KeywordIn.com
    Doing local SEO? Try this tool.

    Here’s a cool tool that generates keyword permutations based on business type and location.

    Just enter your business category (e.g., plumber), select from a list of related individual services, then hit “Generate keywords.”

    final smb keywords

    There you have it—a list of niche and location-relevant keyword permutations. 🙂

    4. Answer the Public

    Answer the Public finds questions, prepositions, comparisons, alphabeticals, and related searches.

    Confused? Let’s tackle each of those individually.

    We’ll start by entering a “seed” keyword—let’s stick with “protein powder.”

    GIF

    (Yes, I used a GIF primarily to show how damn cool the site looks.)

    First thing you’ll see after entering a “seed” keyword is questions.

    These are search queries containing who, what, why, where, how, which, when, are, and is.

    E.g., “what protein powder tastes best?”

    By default, you’ll see a visualization, but you can switch to a regular ol’ list if you prefer (which I do).

    GIF

    Next up, we have propositions—i.e., for, can, is, near, without, with, and to.

    These are search queries that fit the [seed] [preposition] [______] format.

    E.g., “protein powder without carbs,” or “protein powder for weight gain.”

    We then have comparisons—i.e., versus, vs, and, like, or.

    Once again, the format is [seed] [comparison] [______].

    E.g., “protein powder versus meat,” or “protein powder or chicken breast.”

    And finally we have alphabeticals and related.

    Alphabeticals are Google Autocomplete suggestions.

    answer the public alphabeticals

    And related, well, who knows?

    From my experience, the number of suggestions in the related category is almost always ~20, and I have no clue how the keywords are derived. But still, it does kick back a few gems from time to time.

    But where does ATP get their data from, anyway?

    As far as we’re aware, that would be Google Keyword Planner.

    Do you want more ‘question’ type suggestions?

    Answer the Public gives a total of 200 question-based queries for the phrase “cat.”

    Let’s see how Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer compares.

    Keywords Explorer > All > include only the same question type queries as ATP

    cat questions

    That’s ~420,000 keywords. 2,100x more than ATP.

    I’ll admit it; we’re flexing our big data muscles here.

    For most people, ATP has more than enough keyword suggestions.

    But when your site grows bigger, there’s always Keywords Explorer. 🙂

    Sidenote.
    All data is exportable to CSV. No need to register or log in.

    5. Google Correlate

    Yep—another tool from Google.

    In Google’s own words, Google Correlate finds search patterns which correspond with real-world trends. I.e., trend correlations.

    Sidenote.
    Google Correlate is technically part of Google Trends. But I felt it deserved a standalone mention, as it generally provides a different way of finding keyword ideas when compared with trends.

    Let’s dive straight in by searching for—yep, you guessed it—“protein powder.”

    google correlate protein powder

    Google kicks back ten search queries with trends that correlate with “protein powder.”

    Sidenote.
    Hit “show more” for even more keywords.

    You’ll notice that not all of these queries contain the “seed” phrase.

    That’s because this is correlation data—they’re keywords where the search trend correlates with that of your seed keyword.

    ninja blender protein powder correlation

    For this reason, this can uncover some seriously unrelated keywords.

    unrelated mobile homes for sale

    mobile homes for sale” correlates with “protein powder,” apparently.

    But every now and again, it will kick back a gem that you never thought of.

    A good example of this is “ninja blender.”

    I would never have thought of this on my own, but thinking about it, I can see why these two might correlate. Ninja blender is a brand of blender, and people use blenders to make protein shakes. (Duh!)

    So perhaps it could be the case that people are searching for “ninja blender protein recipes.”

    Hunch = confirmed

    I was curious about “ninja blender protein recipes,” so I decided to check it in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer.

    It has a estimated search volume of 20 searches per month.

    ninja blender protein recipes search volume ahrefs

    Not much. But the keyword difficulty (KD) score is low, so it would likely be easy to rank for.

    If we check the SERP overview, it’s also clear that this particular keyword has the potential to drive more traffic from long-tail keywords.

    ninja blender protein shakes serp overview

    We can tell because the current top-ranking page ranks for 207 keywords and receives an estimate 163 visitors from organic search each month.

    6. Keywords Everywhere

    Keywords Everywhere is a free addon for Chrome (or Firefox) that adds search volume, CPC & competition data to all your favourite websites.

    These websites include: Google, eBay, Amazon, Answer the Public, Keyword Shitter, and more.

    Here is the tool in action on Google search:

    keywords everywhere google search

    … and on Keyword Shitter:

    keywords everywhere keyword shitter

    Quick tip

    Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

    Keywords Everywhere + Keyword Shitter = a less limited Google Keyword Planner. 🙂

    Use Keyword Shitter to mine thousands of Google Autocomplete suggestions, then Keywords Everywhere to pull the search volumes for them.

    Just copy and paste all the Keywords Everywhere data from Keyword Shitter into a spreadsheet.

    The only downside—aside from update frequency and accuracy, which we’ll touch on in a minute—is that the results are formatted in an odd way, as you can see.

    But this is nothing a bit of Google Sheets magic can’t fix!

    Make a copy of this Google Sheet, then paste the Keywords Everywhere data into the first sheet—the one labelled “PASTE HERE.”

    Then go to “RESULTS” sheet and you’ll see a much neater list. 🙂

    keywords everywhere spreadsheet results

    This is a seriously useful tool as it transforms casual browsing into keyword research.

    Think about it: how many Google searches do you do each day?

    For me, it’s probably hundreds. Maybe even thousands.

    Now, everytime I search, I see data related to that keyword—this uncovers some serious gems.

    This also happens across YouTube, Bing, Amazon, eBay… everywhere.

    keywords everywhere amazon

    Sidenote.
    It’s worth mentioning that this tool only shows keyword volume and CPC estimates for Google search. By that, I mean the data displayed on sites like Amazon won’t reflect Amazon search volume, but rather Google search volume.

    But from where is this data derived?

    I reached out to the founder of Keywords Everywhere, Akash to find out.

    Here’s what he said:

    The search volume, cpc and competition data shown by Keywords Everywhere comes directly from Google Keyword Planner.

    We have a cache of over 2 billion keywords that get updated every month or so.

    Keywords with volume greater than 50 get fresh numbers from GKP once every month. Lower volume keywords get updated once every two/three months.

    Akash Mansukhani
    Akash Mansukhani, Founder, Keywords Everywhere

    So basically, these numbers come straight from Google Keyword Planner.

    Two things to note here:

    1. These numbers won’t be as accurate as those from a paid tool (e.g., Ahrefs Keywords Explorer) for a number of reasons.
    2. You should never blindly trust search volumes for traffic estimations—regardless of source.

    But these estimations are still useful, and far better than the vague ranges GKP shows.

    Sidenote.
    Keywords Everywhere is also available for Firefox.

    7. Wordtracker Scout

    Sticking with Chrome extensions, here’s another cool one—Wordtracker Scout.

    Hit the extension while browsing any webpage and it will pluck out the most relevant keywords from that page. (It’s like a keyword density checker, but better.)

    It displays the data as a word cloud, which you can also manipulate to refine the suggestions by relevance and number of words.

    Here it is in action on Bodybuilding.com’s list of the best protein powders:

    GIF

    If you navigate to the “Keywords” tab, you’ll see some additional insights for the keywords—namely searches, competition, and opportunity.

    wordtracker scout keywords

    There’s also the option to view data for different countries/territories.

    All this data is easily-copyable (hit the “Copy” button) and pastes nicely into a Google Sheet.

    wordstream data spreadsheet

    But where does this data actually come from? It isn’t data from Google Keyword Planner, right?

    According to Wordtracker, all data is derived from Wordtracker’s “huge database […] of literally billions of real searches by real people.”

    I reached out to Wordtracker to ask for more details about this. Here’s what they said:

    [Wordtracker Scout] uses the Wordtracker data set which is passed to us from a variety of third party sources such as second tier search engines.
    Owen Powis
    Owen Powis, Chief Executive Officer Wordtracker

    Check out this post if you’d like to learn more about how to use Wordtracker Scout.

    8. Google Search Console

    Most keyword tools (free or otherwise) are made for finding new keywords to target.

    But what about the existing keywords you already rank for?

    Aren’t there insights to be gleaned from these?

    Definitely.

    Google Search Console is, therefore, a keyword tool that should not be overlooked.

    Sidenote.
    I’m going to abandon the “protein powder” example for this tool, as I don’t have access to Google Search Console data for a site ranking for such keywords. So I’ll use the Ahrefs blog instead.

    Go to: Search Console > Search Traffic > Search Analytics > Queries

    Then hit the impressions, CTR, and position checkboxes.

    google search console queries

    Now you will see which queries sent the most clicks to your site in the past 28 days.

    You will also see the impressions, CTR, and average position for each query.

    This report can tell you a lot—you just need to know what you’re looking for.

    For starters, look at the impressions column. If GSC reports your average position as ~7 or under, there’s a good chance—in my opinion, at least—that you’re showing up for the majority of searches.

    The result? Impressions = a reasonably accurate estimate of search volume.

    For example, take “SEO audit” from the screenshot above.

    google search console queries 1

    Ahrefs’ blog is ranking in position 2.9 (on average), and there were 13,528 impressions over the past 28 days.

    This is a lot, and it’s also probably pretty close to the real search volume for that query.

    Unfortunately, we only received 723 clicks from that search query. 🙁

    Most likely, this is because we’re ranking in position ~3 on average, so our CTR is low-ish.

    This keyword = low-hanging fruit.

    If we were to rank higher for this query, chances are we could “steal” a larger percentage of those ~13K monthly searches.

    So this is a keyword for which we should try to boost rankings, perhaps by building some links.

    I recommend playing around with GSC data; there are a lot of keyword insights to be had!

    Free vs. paid keyword tools: how do they compare?

    It’s quite simple, really—free keyword tools are somewhat limited compared to paid tools.

    That’s not to say that free tools don’t have their uses, but the amount of keyword ideas and data they give access to will always pale in comparison to paid tools.

    Because of this, paid tools allow you to go way deeper and do more advanced marketing research.

    To illustrate, here’s what happens when I type “protein powder” into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer:

    ahrefs keywords explorer protein powder

    protein powder” in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer

    ~80K suggestions from our database of 5.9 billion keywords (which is MUCH bigger than any free keyword tool, by the way) complete with all manner of data points, including:

    • Estimated monthly search volume;
    • Keyword Difficulty (KD);
    • Clicks;
    • CPC;

    All searchable, filterable, and returned within seconds.

    Sidenote.
    We frequently update our keywords database. New keywords are added and search volumes are refreshed every month.

    Doing this with free keyword tools would be next to impossible.

    Plus, to make any real decisions on the competitiveness of a keyword—and the opportunity it may, or may not present—you need to analyze the top 10 ranking pages.

    I’m talking about backlink data, traffic stats, and so forth for each of the top 10 results.

    We have SERP Overview for that.

    serp overview protein powder

    SERP overview for “protein powder” in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

    FYI: As far as we’re aware, no other keyword tool—free or paid—can do this.

    Final Thoughts

    Don’t get me wrong, you can find some good keywords with free keyword tools.

    But doing-so can be very time-consuming. And time = money.

    Every second you spend mining Google Autocomplete results for individual queries (and merging data from multiple free keywords tools together in spreadsheets) is time you could spend doing more important stuff… like actually creating content, or link building.

    What’s more, paid keyword tools—such as Ahrefs Keywords Explorer—derive their suggestions from HUGE amounts of data. This makes them much more efficient at finding low-competition keywords that may actually be worth targeting.

    Bottomline: free keyword tools are good, but not as good as paid tools. (Surprising, right?)

    Let me know in the comments if you know of any other cool free keyword tools. I will happily consider adding them to the list. 🙂

    Joshua Hardwick
    Head of Content @ Ahrefs (or, in plain English, I'm the guy responsible for ensuring that every blog post we publish is EPIC). Founder @ The SEO Project.

    Article stats

    • Referring domains 18
    • Organic traffic 4156
    Data from Content Explorer tool.

    Shows how many different websites are linking to this piece of content. As a general rule, the more websites link to you, the higher you rank in Google.

    Shows estimated monthly search traffic to this article according to Ahrefs data. The actual search traffic (as reported in Google Analytics) is usually 3-5 times bigger.

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