There are a ton of fancy and expensive keyword research tools on offer these days, but the truth is, you can do some basic research with just three free tools: Google Suggest, Google AdWords Keyword Planner, and Google Trends. Even if you have and use paid keyword research tools, you can use them as a starting point when you do research on the topic, find out how Google groups keywords or match relevant queries that can help you get a new perspective on terms. target and refine your search strategy. I’ll walk through how each tool works and the process for putting them together so you can do a quick and free keyword research for yourself.
1. Google Suggest
Google Suggest, the list of phrases that appear in the search box when you type a query on Google.com, is perhaps the fastest way to do keyword searches:
Typically, Google Suggest shows the four most popular queries that contain the phrase you entered into the search box at the time of your request. This means that Google Suggest data can change every time you run a new query.
Typing variations of the sentence you are studying often results in different Suggest results.
2. Google AdWords keyword planner
The Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a common starting point for SEO keyword research. While part of the AdWords toolset, search volumes reflect all users, not just paid search clicks.
To use this tool you need a Google AdWords account (https://adwords.google.com); you don’t need to post ads or enter a credit card to get the account. Once set up, log into Google AdWords and this will be your Google AdWords home page. Once you are here, click on the tools and analytics button at the top. Then, click on Keyword Planner.
The tool will show you four options. For the sake of keyword research, we want to click the one above where it says Look for new keyword and ad group ideas.
Once clicked, you have several options:
You have a number of options here. The first box is where you enter keywords related to your site’s content. To generate keyword ideas, you could start with terms like “zach galifianakis”
You can also set a location (a specific country or all locations) or add terms you want to exclude to improve results.
The results will include two tabs:
Ad group ideas
Ad group ideas groups several keywords recommended by a main concept, like this result for “Hangover Zach”:
These groups can be useful as a starting point for refining or expanding the keywords you are looking for.
The Keyword Ideas tab will provide you with an unordered list of keyword ideas related to your starting term. These can be sorted by volume or downloaded in Excel:
The volume numbers are a monthly average. When you download the terms, you can also get monthly volume trends to see seasonal terms. Volume numbers are directional—depending on your ranking, season and click-through rate, the actual number of visitors you reach for these keywords will generally be much lower!
Choose keywords that accurately describe the concept being researched. The more specific the term, the better its overall performance will be.
3. Google Trend
Using Google Trends, you can compare how often your target keywords are searched in seconds. For example, let’s say you’re not sure what a more popular keyword would be, “zach galifianakis” or “between two ferns”. In Google Trends, type “zach galifianakis”, “between two ferns” in the search box. Quotation marks are not required, but a comma is required between each search term or keyword phrase that you want to check. You can enter up to 5 comma-separated key phrases at a time. When done, click the Search Trends button.
Google Trends returns a color-coded line chart showing how often the specified terms have been used in a Google search query over the past three calendar years. Using our example, Google Trends shows you almost instantly that the terms “swimsuit” and “swimwear” are somewhat interchangeable. The map below shows which regions use one term more than another.
Google Trends also displays related terms that can be used to understand additional keyword variations to target. Related terms are listed by “Top”, the ones that are most popular over the time period, and “Rising”, the ones that are growing fastest. Typically, you want to target a combination of popular and fast-growing keywords.
A process of putting these tools together
Using just these tools, here is a step by step guide on how I would do the keyword research:
1. Google Suggest searches for target terms and variations
On a spreadsheet, list the terms that interest you most.
2. Enter the terms in the Google AdWords Keyword Planner
Look at ad group ideas first to try and filter out irrelevant terms. Add terms to Exclude if necessary. Search in each group that interests you and check the terms you want to research in more detail. Review your query to update the results as needed. Once you’ve gone through the terms and decided you have enough, you can only download the ones you checked to start working on page ideas / title tag updates / text tweaks, etc.
3. Google Trend
In cases where there is an overlap with the keywords you have selected (eg “swimsuit” and “swimwear), you can enter these terms in Google Trends to see which one looks best to you. You can also find out related terms and add them back into the AdWords tool.
4. Decide on which terms to use
After downloading the core set of keywords, you should try to separate them into the following buckets:
- Terms that can be unique pages – These are terms that you may see being the title or part of a page title. In general, they should represent a unique concept and have sufficient search volume to justify creating a new page.
- Terms that can be added to an existing page – These are terms that aren’t unique enough or don’t have enough search volume to warrant a new page. These phrases can be added to the text copy of an existing page that may already be ranked in Google for these terms. By adding them to the page, you can improve the page ranking for the term. In some cases, it may even make sense to add these terms to the page title. This requires understanding which terms already ranks on the page and making sure adding the term to the title doesn’t dilute the rankings for other terms. It’s a bit of an art that requires testing.
It sounds pretty simple (and it’s honest), but these three tools can give you a foundation to work on or give you new insights and opportunities that you may not have seen previously. Although our agency has expensive third-party KW tools and builds in-house MLs for keyword research, which do crazy things with n-gram analysis and k-mean clustering, these free tools have us helped to get great information for us in the past.
In one case, a significant percentage of our client’s target keywords were so niche that they didn’t appear in third party keyword tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs, so we had to improvise and develop an SEO strategy with the help of Google Trends – take a look at the case study and how everything went well.