Keyword research tools

Fani Sánchez

Written by Fani Sánchez

Any search engine optimisation strategy begins with the selection and definition of some keywords. These keywords represent concepts, we want our customers to identify us with, and terms we want Google to classify us with. For that reason, it’s vital that we choose them super carefully: a wrong selection will make us focus our effort into keywords that will not provide the desired profitability.

According to our very own Fernando Maciá, the definition of a keyword is:

Keyword or keywords are a word or a combination of words, which search engine algorithms use to classify our website, framing it inside a series of categories in their database.

In this post we are going to see a very small part of the overall process of a keyword research for an SEO campaign: the main tools.

Google Analytics?

Not provided in Google Analytics
Percentage of users and sessions with regard to the organic traffic coming through keywords we have no data on.

Google Analytics used to be a reliable and valuable source of information, before “not provided” came to be. This is the concept used to group all search formulas used by users logged into their Google accounts from Firefox (v. 14 onwards), Google Chrome search bar, or Google’s Omnibar on any browser.

As you can see in the above screenshot, the amount of organic traffic, the keyword formula of which is unknown to us, is huge on most websites, and sooner than later it will reach 100%. For that reason, the keywords we find in Analytics > Acquisition > All traffic > Channels > Organic Search are no longer representative or sufficient. Although there are ways to deal with “not provided”, we better recommend to look at organic landing pages, on which our target audience has landed (Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages). They can give us better clues regarding the content our users were looking for.

The chosen time period for data extraction should be of at least one year, to ensure we have enough data and to be able to assess the probable seasonality in our traffic and terms.

Google Instant Search

This Google feature will mainly serve as a source of ideas. Introduced in 2010, its role consists of predictive search suggestions, as we enter our search terms into the search bar, either in Chrome or

Google predictive search

The options offered by Google instant as we type are based on predictive search suggestions and autocomplete. While you type, Google analyses about 200 indicators to decide which pages and content provide the most relevant response. For example, content originality and the terms used on the website, results recommended by people to whom you are connected, the URL and the title of the web page, as well as synonyms of the original query you entered.

Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Google AdWords Keyword Planner is the tool you can use to check the search terms registered in Google’s database. Given that this search engine registers about 95% of the total number of searches made, it’s evident that this tool can provide valuable data.

Its two main strengths are:

  • Keyword suggestion: it suggests keyword ideas based on the terms you’ve entered. They are grouped by general topics or concepts.
  • Traffic volume estimation and historical statistical data: it estimates traffic volume based on searches it registers. This data belongs to an archive, so you can learn about the yearly trend for certain keywords, to identify their lifecycle, behaviour patterns, seasonality, etc.

Before we head on to craft our keyword list, we should carefully select the language and geographic targeting, keeping in mind our business model and target audience. For example:

  • If we have an e-commerce site in Spanish, which only ships its products within Spain, our target is going to be “Spanish” for “Spain”.
  • If we have an online newspaper in Spanish, and our business model monetisation is based on page views, it doesn’t matter where the traffic comes from, so we’ll only target users who speak “Spanish”.

Then, we can enter the list of keywords we would like to rank for, and we’ll be given a list with its traffic and competition, besides some ideas of terms, which could be useful.


ubersuggest keyword research toolThe primary strength of this tool is keyword suggestion . It doesn’t calculate traffic potential or show the competition for a specific term. However, it’s a very powerful tool for discovering keywords and search formulas we may have not previously thought of. This tool is better used during the phase of ideation, and then we can run this full list through the Keyword Planner.

Tools for websites with data archives

There is another kind of tools for keyword research which are very, very useful, but only if your website already has a ranking history, that is, it is not a new website. These tools collect ranking data, and, amongst other things, they will show you for which keywords you’re ranking already.


SEMrush is one of the most popular and enshrined tools among SEOs. Its strongest suits for keyword research are:

  • Keyword analysis and domains ranking for them.
  • Competition analysis.

Enter the name of your domain (or specific page, but not directory) into the search bar and select the corresponding country for your search. You will be shown a lot of information, but let’s focus on the organic search position report. To get there, you can go to the Top Keywords module, or access it from the sidebar Organic > Positions.

Organic Search Positions in SEMrush

This list shows keywords for which we are ranking in the Top 20 organic results in Google (2017 update: SEMrush now offers Top 100 organic results, which can be filtered to Top 20 if we wish). For our list, we should consider those keywords, for which our website is already ranking well, because there is a high chance that it’s worth keeping them in our list and boost their use in their corresponding pages of our website. We should also consider keywords, for which we are ranking on the second page, because if they have a good search potential and they are aligned with our business goals, we can see the ranking URL and examine it in detail:

  • Does it have the appropriate keyword density?
  • Is its text relevant enough?
  • Where are the internal links pointing to this page located?
  • What are their anchor texts?

In summary: how can we make this page better to improve its ranking?

Competition analysis with SEMRush

With regard to this aspect, SEMrush can help us by analysing the rankings of our competitors. Follow the same procedure, but instead use a competitor’s domain, and analyse its keywords. Extract keyword ideas, analyse the pages it ranks with for your own target search terms, and compare them to your own pages. Go to Tools > Domain vs. Domain in the sidebar. You can compare your website’s rankings to 4 more domains. What keywords do you have in common? Which keywords would you like to rank for, that your competitors do but you do not? This section is a goldmine for ideas.


Sistrix keyword research toolSistrix is a powerful tool where you can view similar data to that of SEMrush: it also shows keyword rankings from the first 100 positions in Google. Go to “Keywords“, and you can apply filters to get a list including terms, which are interesting in terms of traffic or position, and just as with SEMrush, download the list for more convenient analysis.

Moreover, in the sidebar you’ll find “Keyword ideas“. This list is generated based on current keyword rankings, and it will give you fresh ideas for similar search queries, which Google specifies at the bottom of its results.

This tool’s strongest suit is that it allows you to monitor the rankings of a keyword over time, and you can also analyse directories, not just pages or domains. You can also compare the visibility of various domains.

KEI, KFI, or KOI: are these indicators reliable?

unreliable keyword indicatorsThree indicators:

  • Keyword Effectiveness Index.
  • Keyword Feasibility Index.
  • Keyword Opportunity Index.

Certain tools (like SEMrush, Raven SEO…) have started to include these indicators to showcase the difficulty there exists to rank with a particular keyword.

These indices are calculated using specific mathematical formulas, which involve variables, such as keywords in anchor texts or the title. And that’s exactly why we do NOT recommend taking these indicators into account.

  1. For a long time now, Google has rejected the over-optimisation of links (more specifically, using keywords in anchor texts), making this trend outdated. So, do indicators using this variable make sense?
  2. In many occasions, titles are manipulated by Google. They are either shortened, or bits are added to them, based on the user’s search, title extension, keyword repetition, and other factors. Therefore: which data is this indicator picking up? The real title, or the manipulated one?

As you can see, the values these formulas will contribute can serve as reference, always taken with a grain of salt, but that’s about it. Don’t cement your keyword research strategy on these indicators.

If your website is “virgin”

If your website doesn’t have a data archive, because it’s either new or very recent, these tools can also perform inverse analyses. I.e. by listing a series of domains ranking for a particular keywords, whichever one you enter into search. From this analysis you can also extract a lot of information. You can also enter competitor domains and analyse their situation. Remember that, when establishing who your competitors are, it’s good to be ambitious, but also be realistic. Set reachable goals.


As I’ve said at the beginning of this post, it focusses on some of the most popular tools for keyword research. We haven’t delved into other prior aspects that must be taken into account (disambiguation, jargon, language context, anticipatory searches, branded concepts, user profiles, etc.) or the usage of these tools. I do encourage your to use them if you liked this post.

As you can see, this has just been a very superficial summary of our favourite tools at Human Level, which all SEOs should know about, but there are many others, and each professional has its own bag of tricks. The important thing is to view this data within the correct context and in contrast to other information. There are certain patterns and keys to help us choose our keyword list wisely out of the options these tools provide, but there are no magical spells, so we must keep an open mind with regard to the fact that introducing changes to this list throughout the campaign means that we’re paying attention to what we’re monitoring, and whether it works for our project or it does not.

Fani Sánchez
Autor: Fani Sánchez

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