Google is always insisting that SEO marketers should pay more attention to the user’s needs rather than keywords. And while that’s true, search still largely depends on keywords and your site — and ranking for specific search queries.
I’d say that it’s not like keywords are now less important, it’s just that the very nature of keyword research has changed.
If previously, you could get away with very simple logic—e.g. I sell books so I should target the “buys books” search query—it’s now more complicated. You should now understand users’ needs in order to choose the right keyword for optimization. But still, how do you understand user needs if you don’t look at keyword data and search volumes?
This means that the rise of popularity of one keyword—reflected by search volume data—could inform your entire content and even product development strategy. And this implies that the right tool for keyword research could be the best investment you make for your business.
Keyword tool features that define its value
Of course, you have a few Google-native tools that can help unwrap the most accurate keyword stats. After all, who else but Google itself would know how many monthly searches come up for each query?
But there’s a catch.
Google Search Console—probably the first tool that comes to mind when thinking of keyword intel—only shows data for keywords you actually rank for. This means that it’s not a great solution for keyword research itself, and it’s not at all useful for any kind of competitive analysis. Plus, you don’t get actual stats for keywords/ search volume—you see impressions that reflect how many times your URL ranking for that keyword was seen.
Then, there’s Google Keyword Planner (GKP). It’s a free tool, it has keyword search volume data, and it’s Google-native—what’s not to like, right? But…unfortunately, it also isn’t perfect.
GKP’s free version only shows the ranges, which is already bad news because you cannot make any actionable assumptions for your SEO strategy based on that. You can get hold of specific search volume numbers, but only if you are ready to run an ad campaign. So if you need to analyze 500 keywords—which is really the minimal number that will help you pick just a few search queries you should actually target—you’d have to allocate a lot of dollars just to get the intel.
Now, what’s the workaround? Well, dozens of tools and solutions have thought this through for you, developing keyword tools that take care of the whole keyword analysis process.
But while they may all seem to offer similar solutions, the difference comes in data quality and extent.
So this is what we’ll be looking into today to help you pick the most reliable and accurate tool for probably one of the most important aspects of SEO‚ keyword research.
There are a few factors that define the quality of a keyword research tool:
- Keyword database size
- Keyword data coverage
- Accuracy of search volume stats
Keyword database size is an obvious feature to factor in—the more keywords are in it, the more research you can do. This is especially important for those operating in very niche industries, as while the most popular keywords will show up in all tools’ databases, the least popular specific keywords might not show up.
As for keyword data coverage, this is where a lot of solutions vary. While a tool may report an extraordinarily large database, it can consist of either irrelevant or repeat keywords. This means that data for a big range of keywords can just be missing while general stats tell a different story. So if you want to make sure your tool has the biggest coverage, you have to understand how many keywords don’t have any data to show.
And finally, we’ve come to search volume stats’ accuracy. This is probably the most important factor for choosing one keyword tool over another.
While a tool can report having billions if not trillions of keywords in its database—that’s not so hard considering they might have obsolete (not relevant anymore) keywords and other tricks that help to just show an impressive stat—the quality of the data for these keywords is of most importance.
After all, you don’t look up keywords just to see keywords, you look them up because you want to reveal their search volumes and understand how popular that keyword is and decide if it’s worth the effort to optimize for it.
Picking the best tool for keyword research: a data-driven approach
I’ve already once mentioned that Semrush has the largest keyword database on the market.
And as per its own Stats page that still remains the case. But as mentioned, database size doesn’t necessarily define quality.
That’s why I’d like to share findings from one research that compared the most popular tools for keyword research against each other to the accuracy of each major keyword solution.
Keyword tool comparison: Google Keyword Planner vs. Semrush vs. Moz vs. Ahrefs vs. Mangools vs. Serpstat vs. Sistrix
As the key reference, all the analyzed data was compared against the most accurate source of keyword search volumes — Google Search Console. This methodology post explains why and how they chose the 10,000 keywords whose impressions counts could be equal to search volume stats.
Assessing the quality of search volume numbers
% of keywords that match Google Search Console numbers
The data in the image above reflects how each tool’s search volume stats stack up against Google Search Console’s impressions. This is the best way to assess the quality of data from the tools.
Semrush has the highest percentage of keywords that come closer to the real numbers Google itself reports, which means that when it comes to data accuracy, Semrush is the top solution.
Typically, Ahrefs is the tool that is considered to be the closest Semrush competitor, but when it comes to the quality of search volume data, it really lags behind.
With Semrush as an obvious winner here, check out the graph below to see how it compares to the rest of the tools:
If we were to quantify quality assessment, we could say that Semrush has double the data quality of any other major solution.
So if you’re ready to unleash the full power of Semrush, you can grab a free 14-day Semrush trial as my reader!
Assessing data freshness
The biggest value, however, of data accuracy comes when a tool features accurate data for the freshest keywords—or what’s sometimes called trendy keywords.
It’s one thing to reflect data close to real numbers for keywords it had years to analyze, that’s one thing. But what about those search queries that are just getting popular?
In this “freshness” regard, Semrush wins once again. And that’s extremely important as one of the best ways to boost your SEO quickly is to rank for keywords that are just turning trendy as there’s typically smaller competition yet to race against and a high number of search queries to capitalize on.
What about keyword data coverage?
Finally, we’ve come to explore how many keywords have missing data across each solution.
% of keywords with missing data
Numbers don’t lie so it’s Semrush once again that takes the lead. While it failed to return data for 1.8% of search queries in the study, other solutions had significantly more “not found” keywords.
Make your data-backed keyword tool choice
You may be wondering how is Semrush winning in all the aspects that affect our perception of keyword data quality.
It’s certainly all about hard work. And Semrush folks made notable improvements to their keyword data gathering algos:
- Semrush data now comes from 5X more sources which directly translates into smarter machine learning capabilities.
- Their AI is now powered by a few more algorithms—Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Anomaly Detection.
Altogether with strong anti-obsolescence features and the largest keyword database (for instance, its US keyword coverage is now at 98%), this turns Semrush into really the most powerful keyword research solution on the market.
I could say that at the end of the day, it’s up to you which keyword solution you will choose. Because there are a few more factors you can consider—pricing, customer support, learning curve, etc. But when it comes to keyword research, data quality and quantity should define your choice, and this is where Semrush has an unbeatable lead.
The Ultimate Guide to Organic Traffic for Small Business