If you’re starting out with figuring out SEO for your small business, you’ll run into keyword research tools. What does a keyword research tool do? Do you need one for your local business?
Keyword research tools give you information what terms in your niche are being searched on Google. Some will even give you data on the volume of terms being searched. They are useful because once you know the keyphrases people are searching for, you’ll know what topics to cover on your business blog.
The scoop on keyword research tools that no-one tells small business owners
Now, there are thousands of keyword research tools on the market today. Many of them are incredibly sophisticated and capable of incredibly in-depth analysis, with the high price tag you’d expect.
This is because many keyword research tools are intended for professional internet marketers and SEO specialists. Many of the people who use these premium tools either create big-money websites themselves, or serve clients who do. So their entire business depends on selecting the right niche, topics and keywords.
Marketers do extensive research to target only the most lucrative, low-competition phrases. Then they create sites around the keywords.
Free keyword tools for content marketing beginners
You can see why an SEO would invest the $1,790 in an annual subscription to ahrefs, one of the best keyword research tools out there. If this is the foundation of your online business, then it makes sense. Plus, the tool has many other functionalities.
As folks running small businesses and doing our own SEO, keyword research looks a little different. Rather than going after the keywords with the most opportunities (like getting tens of thousands of hits a month, with relatively low competition), we need to prioritize relevance to the communities we serve.
In this article, you’ll learn about the 16 best free (or very cheap) keyword research tools that you’ll find useful in your small biz.
After all, on our sites we’re not serving up display ads or selling products or services directly through them. Our goal is to be seen by the right local customers who may then book us for our services or buy our products from a physical location near them.
How is keyword research different for us?
As a small business owner, keyword research looks a little different.
First and foremost, as small biz owners (not operating online businesses) we want our keyword tools to be free or very low-priced. Sure, you can go ahead and purchase a premium tool, but for most small biz owners, it will not be worth it. Unless, of course, you are moving to a different business model in which keywords are everything.
Let me give an example from my own line of work – wedding photography. I’ll admit this is a little different in that when I go out and performing my service, I’m actually creating the content that I’ll then showcase on my blog. If I were a masseuse or a mechanic, I wouldn’t have this luxury.
Most of the time, we’re showcasing what we have actually had experience with. So if I look up the most-searched-for key phrases in my local area, I may find that they are wedding venues I’ve never been hired to photograph in. I cannot target those keywords! So, my keywords only go so far as my actual experience.
A word of warning first. Don’t go crazy with keyword research – it can seriously derail your efforts if you become too fixated on rankings and volume and search difficulty. I advocate combining some elements of keyword research with a more intuitive approach to what you share.
Here’s a little flowchart I prepared to show you an idea for content mix – and how keyword research is not front & center of this.
Which keyword tools to use for small business?
With that said, keyword research is definitely you want to undertake and understand. It’s a good place to start and then branch out into other areas that are relevant to your local community and to your business.
I’m going to give lots of examples from my own service business so you can see the relevance of keyword tools. Hopefully this will give you a few ideas how it translates to your local brick and mortar business or your service biz.
All the keyword research tools on my list are either free or super cheap. Now, of course, they are not going to be the best keyword tools on the market – they would be costly, and honestly overkill for our purposes.
Some of these tools do require an email address to get started, others are plug and play. The keyword research tools on this list, while lacking many of the bells and whistles, are more than sufficient for most local businesses. OK, here we go!
A little about how keyword tools work
Bear in mind, each variation of essentially the same basic term (for example ‘sf wedding photographer’, ‘san francisco wedding photographer’, ‘san francisco wedding photography’, ‘sf wedding photos’), is treated as a separate keyphrase by these tools.
The number of keywords that any given piece of content will hit, will always be higher than one.
So think of it like this: you’re targeting one keyword, but you’re going to get a bunch of bonus keywords at the same time. If a keyword tool says my desired phrase has 720 hits, in reality, the piece of content will be found by people searching many different keywords. This will only go up over time as the algorithms learn that your content is a match for different phrases.
Think of keywords as having a compounding effect over time. Even ‘low volume’ ones are often worth targeting. This is because you cannot possibly know every single search term that a user is typing in, in order to find your blog post.
UberSuggest is a very robust tool that does a lot (especially when you connect using the Google account which is also connected to your Analytics account).
The ‘Keywords Suggestions’ functionality is what we’ll be playing with here.
In the screen shown above, I typed my search term into the box. Right off the bat, I can see the search volume that particular terms gets every month. 720 is pretty good – and my content may show up for hundreds or related terms too.
Let’s say we want to get some keyword suggestions, we can now scroll down to ‘keyword ideas’. Now, there is a limit to what we can view (and download) here without paying, but already you can see plenty of ideas to get started with!
I wouldn’t recommend writing a specific blog post for each and every one! There is way too much crossover between the keywords here – you’ll end up competing with yourself on the SERPs!
More like use this list to see what kinds of terms are being searched and the titles that come to mind using this as a guide. Here are a few I thought of just looking at those 24 ideas that UberSuggest generated:
- Affordable wedding photography in San Francisco – who’s the best choice?
- Best San Francisco City Hall photographers according to Yelp
- San Francisco City Hall courthouse wedding photographer
- Looking for affordable San Francisco City Hall wedding photography packages?
- Gay wedding in San Francisco – need a photographer who’s there for you?
You can also enter your competitor’s domain and see what content brings them traffic! Really great tool, packed with valuable insights.
This one’s a little different in its style and approach! Answer the Public gives you raw search results, phrased as questions, direct from the Google search results.
Let’s try a different search here, and see what we get. You’ll want to make sure you hit the correct country and languate from the drop-down list before you hit ‘search’.
This tool only allows you ‘a few’ searches a day, before you have to upgrade to the paid plan which starts at $99 / month. So use them wisely, choose your search terms carefully, and grab all the valuable info you can!
You can view the results in a beautiful mindmap-style visualization or as a text list. Here’s what both of those look like:
Keywords Everywhere is an internet browser extension that allows you to view search volume of the phrases you input.
This tool has recently moved to a paid model, but it’s extremely low-cost. There’s no subscription, you simply purchase credits that allow you to grab the keyword data for that term. The credits start from $10 and that allows you 100,000 credits. Most searches only cost you a few credits.
Edit: In November 2020, Keywords Everywhere changed their pricing structure, so now you only have a maximum of 1 year to use up your credits, or else they will expire. They emailed all users to alert them of this change in October 2020.
OK, so once you toggle the tool on, you’ll input your desired search term.
Below this, you’ll see some data appearing – the monthly search volume, the cost per click, the level of competition from zero to one, and the trend over time. Then, on the right hand side of the SERP, you’ll see some super useful data: ‘related keywords’ and ‘people also search for’.
As you can see, this is really handy to take a peek at and see which are relevant to your business.
In this example, you’ll see the term ‘Zillow’ has a huge monthly search volume. But how useful or possible is it for you to target that term if you’re an independent real estate agent in this city?
Very similar to Keywords Everywhere (and arguable even better) is Keyword Surfer. It’s also a Chrome extension. When you enter a term, it gives you detailed data on estimated search volume and cost per click for Google Ads at the top of the SERP.
With Keyword Surfer – Chrome extension, you can find out the monthly search volume for any given query or question.
But it doesn’t end there. There’s also really useful competitor information in the SERP itself (below the ads). There are three metrics shown under each result:
- Estimated monthly traffic for that domain (per country).
- Number of words on that page.
- Number of exact keywords on that page (e.g how many times the exact phrase ‘plumber los angeles’ was used solely on that page.
One more feature of Keyword Surfer is the ‘keyword ideas’ that appear on the right hand side of the SERP. Along with keyphrase ideas, you’ll find similarity to the search term you’ve entered, monthly volume, and correlation charts. Give it a whirl and see what you can find out.
I wouldn’t necessarily use just these keyword ideas for my content strategy – as you can see they are all ‘near me’ searches, which we cannot optimize for by simply repeating that phrase in our content, in face we will not use it at all.
That’s why we need to use a combination of different keyword research tools. So keep reading, we’re not even halfway through!
These two are so similar, even in name that I lumped them together. They are simple tools that do exactly what you would think from the name! There’s definitely a touch of the random about the results you’ll find on Keyword Shitter and Keyword Sheeter. If you’re drawn to the random like I am, it is actually pretty interesting. If you don’t want to get bogged down with all the metrics and just get the keywords, these ‘shitter’ tools are great.
They’ll keep running and shitting out those keywords until you hit ‘Stop Job’.
You can easily download all the suggestions into an Excel CSV file which is super duper handy.
Keyword Sheeter has slightly more going on, including a paid version with more functionality. It’s pay-as-you-go, so if you wanted to experiment with it and go deep, it’s pretty affordable. Both of these similarly-named tools are great places to get started, especially for small business owners new to keyword research.
As keyword research tools rely on data from Google anyway, why not go directly to the source? Google Keyword Planner is part of the Google Ads platform.
You’ll need a Google Ads account, which you can set up in a matter of minutes, for free. You don’t need to be running ads currently to use the tool.
Even if you never plan to run an ad, it’s 100% worth getting set up on Google Ads just for this tool alone.
As you can see in the screenshot above, it gives you plenty of keyword suggestions worth considering on the left-hand column. It also lets you see the average monthly search range. And this is pretty nifty – the level of competition for each term (higher number of monthly searches does not always mean higher competition – it’s worth checking competition gauge).
If you do advertise on Google Ads like I’ve done previously, you may want to keep an eye on the bid range for your keywords. For local search terms, you’re usually looking at a very low PPC (less than $7.50). Anyway, a super easy tool that comes right from the source! And this one is easy to download to Excel or Google Sheets.
This awesome tool, Keyworddit, takes a different slant on keywords! Rather than sourcing from Google, Higher Visibility’s free tool takes its data from Reddit.
You’ll want to find a few relevant subreddits that are related either to your area of expertise or your local community. In this example, I’ve entered the ‘electricians’ for the ‘r/electricians’ subreddit.
You’re going to get a different set of ideas here, a different way of coming at your topic. When you’re only looking at content created by professionals, marketers and biz owners, it can start to feel like an echo chamber. Reddit is brilliant for gauging what real people are talking about.
If I was looking at general topics to cover in my wedding photography business, I’d probably check out the r/weddingplanning subreddit for a glimpse into the minds of my target market (brides), then find a way of making that hyperrelevant to my target market – or just extremely useful.
Right off the bat, I see something very interesting. Though this subreddit is about wedding planning in general, a large proportion of the results are about dresses. Particularly unconventional dress ideas, such as navy blue, mint green, knee length and black wedding dresses. This gives me an idea for content – a blog post showcasing my favorite unconventional wedding dresses of Bay Area brides I’ve photographed.
ScoutSuggest is a free keyword research tool that uses Google’s autocomplete functionality.
Type in your desired search term, and don’t forget to check the ‘local’ tab!
You’ll see different ways of presenting and downloading the information. There are different categories and groups, as well as seeing the phrases, questions, comparisons or an alphabetical list. It’s user-friendly and the free options are great for small businesses.
AlsoAsked is a relatively new keyword research tool that’s completely free. It focuses around an understanding of how questions are actually asked and topically grouped, enabling you to see the blind spots in your content strategy.
Let’s see how it works! I actually tried a search term dear to my heart, given what I do in my small business. It works great! I can see a whole bunch of questions that real people are asking. I can personally vouch for these being exactly what my wedding clients ask me about. How do you get married at that venue, how long does it take, what should they wear, how much does it cost, and where should they eat afterwards.
I’ve already written detailed posts on many of these subjects – just from knowing my clients’ needs well through experience and direct contact. However, there are many, many new topics to explore here. The questions make a lot more sense than the questions on AnswerThePublic, which uses combinations of auto-complete searches.
Supposedly the best blog topic generator! QuestionDB is a little different from others on this list because it deals with broad keywords. So, as a local business it’s maybe not quite as targeted, but is useful when approaching writing your content and generating new ideas.
For example, if you’re a marketer, you might want to start with “seo” or “backlinks”. If you’re a nutrition writer, start with something like “keto” or “vegan”. If you choose the right keyword, that will return you a large list of questions.
I’m curious about how this keyword research tool fares for local SEO keywords. Let’s give it a whirl, again with a topic I’m very familiar with. Going with their advice to use broad terms only, I entered ‘wedding photography’.
Pretty interesting results – some of these terms are very specific and long-tail. It seems like some have originated from people wanting to enter the profession. Others from slightly disgruntled brides, particularly that last one on the list.
All in all, a little random but many of these may be good jumping-off points at the very least, for blog post ideas.
You can only see 10 results from each search, though I believe the number of searches is unlimited within fair use. However, if you like this tool, it’s only $10/month currently, going down to $7/month if you take out an annual plan. So, super affordable.
As the tool is really good for, as they put it, ‘casual ideation and understanding your readers‘, a free plan is honestly sufficient for most. You’ll be using it alongside other keyword research tools, just to give a slightly different perspective.
SEMrush is one of the big hitters in the SEO space, with tools that are used by the biggest companies in the world. It is, of course, a paid tool, but their free version is sufficient for most! It allows a generous 10 searches per day. You’ll just need to give a valid email address for each account you’d like to create. This is a tool I use almost every day and I’ve never paid for it. A subscription starts at $100 / month.
You can see limited data (or start a free trial) – a total of 10 keywords are available. But, you’ll also see other useful information about your chosen keyword that you won’t see in this much detail on the other keyword tools.
The overview screen shows the search volume, keyword difficulty, cost per click, global volume, and SERP features for the term.
SEMrush allows you to spy on your competitors too, which is really helpful! I may make a more in-depth post about the free features of this tool.
Moz is another one of the huge hitters in the industry. The paid tool comes with a premium price tag, which isn’t worth it for most small, local business owners.
Moz gives you 10 free searches every 30 days, so use them wisely! The plus side is that you can see a full 1,000 keyword suggestion list as shown below for my desired search term. You can then sort these by relevance or monthly volume, and easily export the list to CSV, too.
Ahrefs is an amazing, powerful SEO toolset, used by a huge number of professional SEOs. Of course, it comes with a pricetag to match (beginning at $99/month). However, you can use the Ahrefs Keyword Generator to get valuable keyword ideas for free! You don’t even need to give them your email address.
Below, you can see I’ve got 100 keyword ideas together with an idea of keyword difficulty and search volume. That’s plenty to get you started – without upgrading to the 7-day, $7 trial.
You can also specify the search engine you’d like data for – Google, Bing, YouTube and Amazon.
I didn’t have any luck trying the ‘questions’ tab – the ‘loading’ circle just kept going round and round, but you have more success with this. With free tools it can be a little hit and miss. It also could have been a temporary glitch or problem with my settings.
The Hoth’s keyword planner is a really great tool that pulls data directly from SEMRush. It gives you the more in-depth data (CPC, keyword volume, search trend etc) but for free!
To make things easier, create a free account, then you can go about your searching without being bothered by them wanting your email address. Now you can enter your keyphrase and see all that juicy data.
You can see the terms that advertisers (your competitors) are targeting and how much they’re paying per click. Looks like this is a very competitive market, with extremely high costs per click as high as $53! This is great for seeing where you business can stand out with other terms that are being searched by those who are looking for your services.
But how are you going to find those ‘other terms’? Sometimes keyword research can be frustrating, right? Because looking at all those terms in the screenshot above, they’re just tiny variations on the same exact term (‘hvac repair dallas’ vs ‘hvac repair in dallas’). In modern search, if you rank for one you will rank for the other – do not create separate pages targeting each!
15. Google Trends
Google Trends is a useful tool that comes directly from Google. It helps you get more of an insight into the way that your users approach search, and of course the popularity of your desired keyword over time. As it gives a general overview, the results can be extremely interesting – and surprising.
It works best with high-volume and general search terms, but let’s give it a go for a local term.
Above, I set the term to 5 years and can see the term has been searched more and more over that duration. There are also seasonal peaks that I would probably want to look into more so I can capitalize on those spikes in traffic and make sure my marketing is dialed in!
Don’t forget to check out the ‘related queries’ section which appears below the trend chart and the ‘interest by sub-region’ data.
You can scroll through a few screens of related queries and even share or download them quickly and easily. They can be sorted by different filters – ‘rising’ or ‘top’. What’s really interesting here is that I can see how what people were searching for has changed.
In the past 5 years, I can see that ‘barn wedding venue’ was being searched a lot. I changed it to the last 12 months, and switched the view to ‘rising’, and I can see that a different search term has had a 250% increase in searches. Let’s take a look.
Barn weddings are out and industrial wedding venues are in!! However this relates to my business, it’s good to have that information so I can create content around the topic.
16. Google’s own SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)
Last but not least, don’t forget the most powerful and free tool of all! You can use Google’s search results without any plug-ins or extensions to see what people are also searching for. Use the autocomplete suggestion for an inexhaustible supply of keywords to target.
Why is this method so brilliant? Because it’s a reflection of how users are searching Google, and uses real-time algorithms to give you valuable search suggestions. Let’s look at a couple of different ways you can use this.
This is where the final tool comes in! Guys, I’ve saved the best for last. And the good news is, you use it every day already.
1. Google Autocomplete
Above, I typed in my target keyword and as I typed, a bunch of suggestions came up. I can see here what people are talking about concerning the topic. Any one of these gives me off-shoot topics for my next blog posts. Sure, they won’t all be relevant to what I offer, but they give me an insight into the minds of my buyers.
2. ‘People also asked’
The ‘People also ask’ section is a goldmine! As with all SERP features, it doesn’t come up for every search. Algorithms determine whether there is enough appetite for each SERP feature. But when it does, oh boy! These are all questions that could be blog posts in themselves – just make it better than what’s currently showing up in the snippet there.
Answering users’ questions is one of the most important content for your small business’ blog. So always pay attention to those questions (how/what/when/where/who!)!
Have a click around the ‘People also ask’ section for your desired term right now. When you start expanding the sections, more sections open up below that give you more questions related to what you just clicked on! You may have to take a more zoomed-out approach if it’s lacking this feature.
3. ‘Searches related to’
‘Searches related to’ is at the bottom of the page. Again, great keyword ideas that you can access for free! Now, these look quite different from our original search term. Some terms are not relevant at all, some are because they’re taking a different approach to the topic.
At the very least, the ‘searches related to’ section gives you valuable insight into how your target audience thinks. After all, when you’re deeply invested in your topic, it can be hard to think about how an outsider who’s new to this, approaches the subject and searches for information.
And there you have it! My round-up of the 16 best keyword research tools for small business owners in 2020. You don’t need to spend a fortune on the most comprehensive tools – for our purposes, that’s overkill. You already know your subject and your business inside out.
Run with that!
But also don’t forget to stay aligned with what your local target market is looking for and the terms they are using to find information that YOU could provide for them.
Also, if you are a local business make sure you optimize your Google My Business listing. It’s free! In-depth info linked below:
Happy blogging, small biz tribe!