What is The Best Keyword Research Tool in 2017?

Lewis Parrott - March 30, 2017

Organic rankings have long been the lifeblood of any well-established site.

Play your cards right and you’ll be able to tap into an endless stream of free, highly-targeted traffic… on autopilot.

Sounds awesome, and it is. But getting there requires smart planning. Not throwing up a hundred articles, stuffing them with every keyword under the sun and calling it a day. That’s not what keyword research is about.

You need an intelligent approach that allows you to strategically find the right keywords. Keywords that are not only possible to rank for, but those that also generate a positive ROI.

Fortunately, a number of tools have emerged over the years to help us do just that. In this post, we’ll tear them apart in order to find out who's the real daddy of keyword research tools.

Why Even Use A Keyword Research Tool?

It’s a valid question, and a good starting point.

After all, before these “essential” tools showed up, people were ranking just fine. Google’s page 1 wasn’t just an empty, desolate void of white space.

So what makes a premium keyword research tool worth the investment?

Answer: Time & Data.

Not only do they directly speed up the research process, but they give you the keys to a myriad of data and insights you otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.

The kind of information that allows you to strategically target keywords as opposed to shooting blind, and giving you a basis to create content around keywords that are statistically proven.

There’s really no doubting the benefits of using a premium keyword research tool. They perform a function that’s invaluable to anyone looking to grow an online business.

The question really comes down to which tool does the job in the fastest and most efficient way possible. And that, my little internet marketing friends, is exactly what we’re about to find out.

The 2 Approaches To Keyword Research

Before we dive into actual tools themselves, it’s important to understand that not all keyword research tools are created equal.

In fact, there are 2 distinct approaches you can take:

  • Approach #1 - Traditional keyword research
  • Approach #2 - Competitor-based keyword research

Each approach follows a different set of steps in order to reach the same goal. The goal, of course, is to uncover ‘easy to rank’ keywords that’ll offer a positive ROI.

As for keyword research tools, there’s a clear divide between tools that help with the traditional approach versus the competitor-based approach. And very few are good for both (but we’ll get to that).

In order to identify which tool to use, you’ll first need to identify which approach is right for you.

Let’s go further down the rabbit hole, shall we?

Approach #1: Traditional Keyword Research

The traditional approach takes a more linear angle and is by far the most common approach when it comes keyword research.

(Although that’s becoming less and less the case - hint hint.)

These are the fundamental steps involved for carrying out traditional keyword research:

  • Step 1: Find Seed Keywords
    Using a number of strategies, research competitors and create a list seed keywords for step 2.
  • Step 2: Plug Seed Keywords
    Plug those seed keywords into a traditional keyword research tool to generate a larger list of keyword opportunities.
  • Step 3: Filter Keyword Opportunities
    Sort and filter the list of keyword opportunities based on both monthly search volume and SEO data.
  • Step 4: Evaluate competitiveness
    Evaluate the strength of your remaining keywords based on a keyword difficulty metric and manual SERP analysis.

Examples Of Traditional Keyword Research Tools

Most keyword research tools on the market are built on the traditional approach, simply because it’s long been the default strategy for SEO’s.

Here are some of the key players:

KW Finder

KW Finder is a fairly new traditional keyword research tool built from a KISS (keep it simple stupid) perspective, and without compromising on a detailed analysis.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Site


Long Tail Pro

Long Tail Pro is a veteran in the traditional keyword research marketplace and one of the first to introduce a keyword competitiveness score. It continues to see upgrades and improvements to this day.

Short ReviewVisit Site


SE Cockpit

SE Cockpit is yet another traditional keyword research tool with over 67,000 users. A somewhat less talked about tool, SE Cockpit boldly claims to to offer keyword research at “warp speed.”

Visit Site


Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz Pro is well-established player in the SEO market offering a suite of SEO-based tools. One of those is a traditional keyword research tool, called the 'Moz Keyword Explorer’.

Visit Site

Approach #2: Competitor-Based Keyword Research

The competitor-based approach flips the traditional approach on it’s head by looking for keywords that are already proven.

It’s uniquely different in a sense that your research (step 1 and 2) isn’t based on seed keywords, but seed websites. In other words, reverse-engineering your competitor's rankings.

These are the fundamental steps involved for carrying out competitor-based keyword research:

  • Step 1: Find Seed Websites
    Using a number of strategies, research competitors and create a list seed websites for step 2.
  • Step 2: Plug Seed Websites
    Plug those seed sites into a competitor-based keyword research tool to uncover a list of proven keyword opportunities.
  • Step 3: Sort & Filter Keyword Opportunities
    Sort and filter the list of keyword opportunities based on both monthly search volume and SEO data.
  • Step 4: Evaluate Difficulty
    Evaluate the strength of your remaining keywords based on a keyword difficulty metric and manual SERP analysis.

Examples Of Competitor-Based Keyword Research Tools

Fewer keyword research tools are built on the competitor-based approach, simply because it’s a newer, and far more resource-intensive way to do keyword research.

I should also mention that some competitor-based tools have incorporated traditional research, which is currently not true in reverse.

Here are some of the key players:

SEMRush

SEMRush was one of the first competitor-based keyword research tools to emerge, and it quickly became a popular choice among SEO’s in the community.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Site


Ahrefs

Ahrefs is an established competitor-based research tool that - as of recently - also offers a robust traditional keyword research tool as part of the package.

Short Review | Full Review | Visit Site


SERPStat

SEPStat is another all-in-one SEO tool (not just keyword research) that was recently featured in a lifetime AppSumo deal. It’s still relatively new but it seems to have already made a splash.

Short ReviewVisit Site

Which Approach Works Best?

This is the big question.

On one hand we’ve got the traditional approach, and on the other hand, we’ve got the competitor-based approach.

They both work when it comes to finding low-competition, high-value keywords, but it still begs the question...

….which approach works best?

Why Competitor-Based Research Is Superior

As I’ve already alluded to, more and more SEO’s are adopting the competitor-based approach. The reason for that is simple:

It’s wayyyyy more effective.

By leveraging keywords that are already proven, you remove a lot of the risk associated with traditional research, which is largely based on theory.

The point I’m trying to make is, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If it works for your closest competitors, it’s probably going to work for you as well.

So with that said, you should obviously take the competitor-based approach to keyword research, right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, it’s not as cut and dry as that.

Just because it’s “the best” approach, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right approach for you specifically.

You Should Still Choose The Traditional Approach If...

I know, this might seem a little counter-intuitive.

After all, I just told you that competitor-based research is a more effective approach, so why would anyone even consider taking the traditional route?

Truth is, the traditional approach does makes sense if you fit into any of the following:

  • Casual Blogger
    If you’re not all that serious about blogging, and turning a profit isn’t your main objective, you won’t get much value from competitor-based research. The traditional approach is a lot more suited to casual bloggers.

  • Market Pioneer
    In order to get the most from competitor-based research, you need to first have competitors. Admittedly, 99% of people will (and should) have multiple competitors to work with, but if you are taking a unique idea to market, you’ll get better results using the traditional approach.

  • Low Budget Marketer
    Like I said, competitor-based research tools are resource intensive. They need to scrape unimaginable amounts of data on a daily basis in order to carry out their core function. So if you’re down on the dollar, the traditional approach is a cheaper alternative.

  • Low Activity Blogger
    This sort of ties back into the casual blogger category, but if you rarely publish new content on your site, you’ll struggle to make use of competitor-based insights. Not really worth it, especially given the high cost of entry.

Keyword Research Tool Must Haves

At this stage, we’ve covered the different ways to approach keyword research and how to determine the right one to take.

But here’s the thing:

Knowing which approach to take only tells you the type of tool you need, but it still doesn’t tell which tool you need, specifically.

So with that in mind, let’s cover the “must have” features when it comes to choosing a keyword research tool.

There are really only a few key features that'll move the needle, and once you know what they are, you can make a MUCH better buying decision.

Keyword Suggestions

The first one is pretty obvious, but it needs to be said.

That's right, the number of suggestions it spits out. Generally, the more keywords you have to work with, the more likely you are to find those gems.

But while you should absolutely look for a tool that brings back a reasonable number of suggestions, there is a trade off.

Relevance.

Larger lists are inherently less relevant. When you have a bunch of low-relevance keywords, you need to be able to effectively filter that list based on different data points.

And while any decent keyword research tool will allow you to filter and analyze suggestions, it’s access to data that determines how well this works.

We’ll come back to this again shortly, but for now, just keep this relationship in mind.


Keyword Suggestions: Showdown

The only logical way to compare keyword tools based on suggestions is to run the same query through each and record the results.

For this test, I used the keyword phrase “massage”. (Mostly because I could really use a massage right about now. This chair is awful.)

KW Finder

Found: 106 suggestions

Notes: KW Finder caps keyword suggestions at 200 or 500, depending on your plan.


Long Tail Pro

Found: 2,654 suggestions

Notes: A reasonable number of suggestions, but I did have to run the seed keyword multiple times due to limitations.


SE Cockpit

Found: 130

Notes: Nothing very impressive on SECockpit's side here.


Moz Keyword Explorer

Found: 1,000

Notes: Moz caps keyword suggestions at 1,000 for each seed keyword.


SEMRush

Found: 164,959

Notes: An excellent result considering this traditional research tool (Keyword Magic) is still in Beta.


Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Found: 745,233

Notes: Ahrefs completely knocks it out of the park on this one, pulling in the largest number of keyword suggestions by a mile.


SERPStat

Found: 100,900

Notes: Impressive, but if you’re on the AppSumo plan, you won’t be able to see more than 100 suggestions.

NOTE: To even the playing field, I had originally planned to run a similar test for competitor-based keyword research tools.

Interestingly, these tools still managed to (massively) outperform traditional tools on a test that was designed for traditional tools. Needless to say, we can also safely conclude that competitor-based tools are superior when it comes to keyword suggestions.

Data Filtering

It’s easy to look at the ‘keyword suggestions’ test and jump to conclusions about which is “best”, but you have to keep in mind, sheer volume by itself isn’t useful.

As I said before, you need to be able to use data to filter suggestions effectively, otherwise, you’re just biting off more than you can chew.

SERPStat is a perfect example.

In my initial test, the tool pulled in a huge 100,900 suggestions for the keyword, “massage”. But where do we go from there?

Notice the kind of data I have to work with...

Things like ‘Cost’ and ‘PPC competition aren’t very helpful when it comes to organic keyword research.

Most importantly, there are ZERO link metrics for me to gauge keyword difficulty, let alone a dedicated SEO difficulty metric.

The filters, unsurprisingly, aren’t able to offer much help either.

With that many suggestions and no way to filter them properly, it actually creates more problems than it solves.

This is why, in my opinion, suggestions and filtering go hand-in-hand when it comes to keyword research tools.

Data Filtering: Showdown

KW Finder

Notes: Filtering with KW Finder is a breeze. Only drawback is that keyword difficulty data isn’t available for every keyword unless it's been calculated (by any user) previously.


Long Tail Pro

Notes: Plenty of filtering opportunities but the interface could use some improvement. I found it to be quite slow and clunky.


SE Cockpit

Notes: SE Cockpit has a TON of filtering options to help you narrow down suggestions, although the interface could use some work.


Moz Keyword Explorer

Notes: Moz’s filtering options felt somewhat limited. I also wasn’t a fan of the predefined filtering ranges.


SEMRush

Notes: SEMRush allows you to filter suggestions based on all the usual data points you’d expect. Not bad at all.


Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Notes: Offers a plethora of fresh and cached data that allow you to apply very precise filtering to suggestions. Love it.


SERPStat

Notes: Some good filtering options but it’s still lacking the ability to filter by keyword difficulty (not advertising competition).

Search Volume Trend

The first thing most people look for when doing keyword research is the keyword’s monthly search volume.

What’s often overlooked, however, is search volume trend.

Let’s look at the keyword phrase, “valentines gifts for her” which gets 6,200 (US) monthly searches according to Ahrefs.

But since this is a seasonal keyword, the search volume isn’t evenly distributed over the year like you might expect with other keywords.

Check it out:

Of course, it won’t always be so obvious and it’s important to identify seasonal imbalance with any keyword you decide to target.

Some keyword keyword research tools allow you to see search volume trend from within the tool itself, though that’s not always the case.

Search Volume Trend: Showdown

This will be a pretty straightforward test, especially since many of these tools don’t even offer search volume trend.

For the ones that do, take note of how they present the data, and what level of data is provided. Yeah, search trend can get pretty deep.

KW Finder

Notes: Search volume trend is nicely laid out in true KW Finder style, completely with all the data you’d expect.


Long Tail Pro

Notes: Long Tail Pro doesn’t provide ‘search volume trend’ data.


SE Cockpit

Notes: The tool just embeds a Google Trends graph. Good enough, I guess.


Moz Keyword Explorer

Notes: Moz Keyword Explorer doesn’t provide ‘search volume trend’ data.


SEMRush

Notes: A pretty standard trend graph, but I’d much prefer if it actually showed the search volumes as opposed to a decimal value.


Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Notes: Not only does it show search volume trends, but it breaks it down even further based on whether people actually clicked.


SERPStat

Notes: Another tool that leverages the power of an embed. I can’t help but respect the ingenuity.

Keyword Difficulty

Nowadays, pretty much every keyword research tool offers some form of difficulty or competitiveness score.

In case you don’t know, this is a metric that allows you to filter and pick out low-competition keywords at a glance.

When it works, it’s very, very useful.

I say “when it works” because, as Perrin discovered, keyword research tools tend to calculate this metric in different ways, often resulting in vastly different scores.

Obviously, they can’t all be right.

Since keyword difficulty is such a key metric when it comes to speeding up the keyword research process, you’ll want a tool that offers a reasonably accurate scoring system.

Keyword Difficulty: Showdown

KW Finder

Notes: Not only is it easy on the eyes, but I also found KW Finder's KD metric to be surprisingly accurate.


Long Tail Pro

Notes: Long Tail Pro is regarded as one of the most reliable tools when it comes to keyword difficulty, and I can see why.


SE Cockpit

Notes: SE Cockpit calculates keyword difficulty based on various on-page and off-page factors. It's far from perfect and the small bars are difficult to gauge accurately.


Moz Keyword Explorer

Notes: Considering how little praise Moz gets as an SEO tools suite, I was quite surprised at how well it performed here.


SEMRush

Notes: Most of the time the KD score is just plain wrong. This is easily one of the biggest weaknesses of SEMRush in my opinion.


Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Notes: Despite building their keyword difficulty algorithm entirely around links, we’ve found that Ahrefs offers the most reliable metric over any other tool.


SERPStat

Notes: SERPStat doesn’t provide ‘keyword difficulty’ data.

SERP Analysis

Personally, I put a LOT of weight on this one.

As much as I love a good ole’ keyword difficulty score, it’ll be a while before it fully replaces a manual SERP analysis. (Though I'll be happy to eat my words)

Why's it so important?

Well, assuming we have the right data in front of us, humans are still much better at evaluating keyword difficulty. It just takes us longer to do it.

So while I recommend using a difficulty metric to narrow down your suggestions, you should always do a manual analysis before giving any keyword the green light.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, your ability to do this effectively relies on data. More specifically, the availability and accuracy of specific kinds of data, like:

  • Backlinks
  • Referring domains
  • Domain level authority
  • Page level authority

And while most keyword research tools allow you analyze these metrics natively from within the tool, others don’t.

SERP Analysis: Showdown

KW Finder

Notes: Not everyone’s a fan of Moz data, but I found KW Finder’s SERP analysis to be super simple and easy to digest. (It also has a dedicated tool, which is even better)


Long Tail Pro

Notes: Plenty of solid data. It’s just a shame that SERP analysis on any keyword forces you into a new browser tab. Because if there's one thing I need more of, it's tabs.


SE Cockpit

Notes: Color coding is a nice touch and despite being a little crowded at times, it works. Even if it does feel like it’s running on Windows 98.


Moz Keyword Explorer

Notes: Moz provides minimal data here and you have to do FAR too much scrolling to see everything.


SEMRush

Notes: SEMRush literally forwards you to Google’s search results page. Chrome extension, anyone?


Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Notes: Ahrefs offers a very detailed analysis. The only drawback is that it sometimes takes a few clicks to get there, depending on the keyword.


SERPStat

Notes: A very basic analysis that doesn’t offer any real off-page data to properly evaluate competition.

Request Limitations

Request limitations are the kryptonite of the keyword research world.

Seriously, even if a tool excels at everything else in this “must haves” list, the last thing you want is having to spread your research over several days to avoid limitations.

That defeats one of the core principles of using a keyword research tool in the first place.

To save time.

Most tools vary massively in this regard so it’s important to check the specifications of your plan beforehand.

Request Limitations: Showdown

KW Finder

Score:

Notes: The lowest plan offers 100 requests per day, which is still pretty reasonable in my opinion.


Long Tail Pro

Notes: Long Tail Pro works on a sort of monthly ‘credit’ system, which, when you break it down, isn't actually all that good.


SE Cockpit

Notes: Even though it renews daily, I feel that 10 requests per day is still pretty limited for most people.


Moz Keyword Explorer

Notes: The lowest plan is really limited at 5 reports a day, but ALL other plans give you significantly more wiggle room.


SEMRush

Notes: SEMRush allows you to make 3,000 requests per day - and that’s on the lowest plan. You’d be hard pushed to burn through that amount.


Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Notes: Ahrefs also works on a monthly credit system, which they call ‘Rows”. Overall, I think it’d take some doing to run the tank empty.


SERPStat

Notes: Definitely one of the more generous tools (at least in this area) with 300 requests per day on the lowest plan.


Overall Speed

Speed is an obvious one to most, but it’s easily overlooked.

Now, if you’re a casual blogger who’s only looking to do some light keyword research from time to time, this will be far less important.

That said, if you’re doing keyword research on a larger scale then all those wasted seconds can quickly turn to hours with repetitive tasks.

You might be surprised at how quickly some keyword research tools can process/request the same amount of data compared to other tools, so keep that in mind.

Overall Speed: Showdown

KW Finder

Notes: Considering the frequency of loading screens you face with this tool, I found it to be reliably snappy with every click.


Long Tail Pro

Notes: Long Tail Pro seemed to vary the most in terms of speed. Oddly enough, the same action would often result in significantly different load times. #whatsupwiththat


SE Cockpit

Notes: Overall SE Cockpit was pretty nippy in terms of navigation, but pulling in suggestions was painfully slow at times. Not fun.


Moz Keyword Explorer

Notes: I was actually quite impressed at how quickly Moz’s Keyword Explorer handled everything I was able to throw at it.


SEMRush

Notes: I doubt anyone would describe SEMRush as a slow tool. Considering the volume of keywords it pulls in, I'd say it’s well optimized for speed.


Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Notes: I found that Ahref’s offered very similar speeds to SEMRush. Again, we’re working with HUGE amounts of data, so scoring this high is commendable.


SERPStat

Notes: SERPStat was well rounded in terms of overall speed. It didn’t blow me away but I certaintly had no complaints.

NOTE: None of these tools really stood out as “lightning fast”, and, if anything, it was the hardest category to award because there was only a negligible difference between a handful of tools.

Keyword Research Tools Comparison Table

So now we’ve covered the crucial features to look for when buying a keyword research tool, we can start to see how certain tools stack up.

The table below compares some of the most popular keyword research tools on the market today.

Tool

Type

Suggestions

Search Trend

Keyword Difficulty

SERP Analysis

Request Limitations

Overall Speed

Traditional

Average (2/5)

Good (3/5)

Excellent (5/5)

Excellent (5/5)

Good (3/5)

Great (4/5)

Good (3/5)

N/A (0/5)

Great (4/5)

Good (3/5)

Average (2/5)

Good (3/5)

Good (3/5)

Good (3/5)

Average (2/5)

Good (3/5)

Average (2/5)

Average (2/5)

Good (3/5)

N/A (0/5)

Great (4/5)

Average (2/5)

Good (3/5)

Great (4/5)

Competitor-based

Excellent (5/5)

Good (3/5)

Poor (1/5)

Poor (1/5)

Excellent (5/5)

Great (4/5)

Excellent (5/5)

Excellent (5/5)

Excellent (5/5)

Great (4/5)

Excellent (5/5)

Great (4/5)

Great (4/5)

Good (3/5)

N/A (0/5)

N/A (0/5)

Great (4/5)

Good (3/5)

Still Not Sure Which Tool To Buy?

You can interpret that comparison table however you like, but there’s one thing we didn’t include which is still a key factor to consider.

PRICE.

For some, keeping costs down is a priority, and choosing a tool that ticks the right boxes without costing an arm and a leg is a more attractive option.

For others, having access to the best possible tools in order to get the job done is the only thing that matters, regardless of price.

So we thought it’d be a good idea to give you our personal recommendations, based on which of those categories you fall into to.

Best ‘Value’ Keyword Research Tool

Value for money is something we can all relate to.

And that's particularly true in this market, where keyword research tools vary so much in price that it’s sometimes hard to know what you’re getting for your money.

Truth is, keyword research tools rely on data, and data isn’t cheap.

The best tools, as in the tools that offer the most comprehensive data, aren’t on the lower end of this scale as you can imagine.

That said, there are some pretty solid, but affordable options If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck.

In my opinion, the best value keyword research tool would have to be KW Finder.

This web-based tool starts at $29 per month (or $12 per month if you pay annually).

Despite the low price tag, it’s also an excellent tool and one we also use ourselves here at Authority Hacker.

Best ‘Premium’ Keyword Research Tool

On the other side of the spectrum, some people just want the most horsepower. And that's fine.

Thanks to fierce competition and constant updates in technology, some keyword research tools have become an invaluable hub of SEO and keyword data.

Now, if you studied the comparison chart above, this will probably come at no surprise.

The best premium keyword research tool - again, in my opinion - is Ahrefs.

Starting at $99/month, it offers both traditional and competitor-based keyword research, a super reliable keyword difficulty scoring system and a robust SERP analysis feature backed by a ginormous link index of over 12 trillion.

For me (and the rest of Authority Hacker team), there’s really no other tool on the market that can replace Ahrefs at the moment.


Keyword Research Tools Review

Now that you have a grasp of what to look for in a keyword research tool, it’s time to look at some of your options in a bit more detail.

Most of the following tools have been thoroughly reviewed in their own, individual posts, but I’ve included a short and sweet version to give you an idea of how it fared.

Note: we will continue to update this page as and when we publish more keyword research tool reviews.

KW Finder

KW Finder is a traditional keyword research tool brought to life by the team over at Mangools.

What separates this keyword tool is its strong focus on simplicity, keeping user experience at the heart of both design and functionality.

Aside from KW Finder’s clean - and frankly impressive - interface, it offers a one-click keyword difficulty score system as well as some unique research options rarely found in other keyword research tools.

What We Liked

Firstly, KW Finder is a robust web-app that has possibly the most intuitive UI of any keyword research tool I’ve ever used.

The tool aggregates a large amount of data for thorough keyword analysis, as well as offering multiple research options to help you uncover some unique keyword opportunities.

One of my favorite features of this research tool is the one-click keyword difficulty metric, which I found to be surprisingly reliable.

The support was excellent and even gives you a live chat option which remained responsive at different times throughout the day.​

What We Didn’t Like

For heavy users, KW Finder may be a little limited both in terms of the number of requests you can make, and the number number of suggested results you get back.

I would have also liked to see some customization options in the SERP Checker preview window, instead of having to open the full application to get different kinds of data.

It also doesn’t support multi-tabbed research, so a new search will also replace the existing one which can be annoying at times.

Finally, being a traditional keyword research tool, it obviously doesn’t offer competitor-based research which could be a turn off for some.

Full Review | Visit The Site

Long Tail Pro

Long Tail Pro is a traditional keyword research tool originally created in 2011 by Spencer Haws of NichePursuits.com.

Spencer funded development of the software after becoming frustrated with how long it took to carry out keyword research. Even with Market Samurai, then considered the best tool around, it took hours to uncover even handful of good keyword opportunities.

Long Tail Pro promises speed, efficiency and a myriad of features to give you everything you need for finding profitable, long tail keywords.

With the recent release (and transition) to Long Tail Platinum Cloud, we’ve seen a number of additional features and upgrades designed to take the tool to a whole new level.

What We Liked

Long Tail Pro is a traditional, desktop-based keyword research tool that recently made the transition to becoming a web-based tool.

While the move fixed many of the inherent issues of being a desktop-based application, the current stages of the newer version are buggy to say the least.

It does, however, pull data much faster than before and is now one of the quickest tools on the market in that respect. That also holds true for Long Tail Pro’s keyword competitiveness score, which is now calculated automatically.

Another handy addition is the custom keyword competitiveness guideline which is constantly updated based on your domains link metrics. This is a lot nicer than the fixed competitiveness charts you get with other tools.

What We Didn’t Like

The newer, web-based version of Long Tail Pro has some request limitations that don’t exist in the older, desktop version.

Being new, it also has quite a few bugs that kept slowing me down. At one point, I was even locked out of the tool for several hours.

Other “downgrades” from the desktop version include a lack of interface customization and grouped seed keywords (yeah, I miss those tabs).

SE Cockpit

SE Cockpit - created by the team over at Swiss Made Marketing - is one of the oldest keyword research tools in this roundup, and with over 67,000 members, it's still the tool of choice for some SEO's.

The tool claims to offer keyword research at lightning speed, advanced campaign tracking, and superior keyword analysis data.

What We Liked

SE Cockpit does provide a TON of data when it comes to analyzing keywords, including things like estimated traffic and whether Amazon appears in the top 10 results.

I also like the SERP analysis, which not only offered a myriad of different metrics to compare, but also color codes the data to make it easier to digest.

Finally, I’m all for multitasking when it comes to keyword research, and SE Cockpit does allow you to pull this off with the tools in-built tab system.

What We Didn't Like

The first thing you’ll notice about this tool is the user interface. Not only does it feel I’m using Windows 98, but it’s also not the most intuitive tool on the planet.

And while SE Cockpit’s claim to fame is speed, I wasn’t exactly blown away. Sure, it had it’s moments, but on some occasions I was left waiting for what felt like minutes.

As for the data, there’s so much going on that almost all the column title are truncated. I spent more time scouting for tooltips than actually looking at keywords. (Okay, not quite - but you get my point).

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz’s Keyword Explorer is one of many tools in the Moz Pro suite, and despite Moz being among the biggest authorities in SEO, it's one that doesn’t seem to get much coverage as far as keyword research tools go.

But with over half a million businesses using Moz Pro, there must be something about the Keyword Explorer that’s got everyone splashing the cash, right?

What We Liked

I just couldn’t help but the love interface. Not only is it clean and well laid out, but Moz makes good use of visuals to present data in a way that doesn’t overwhelm.

The ‘potential’ metric is also an interesting addition. It takes all other data into account, and gives an indication of how close you are to that “sweet spot”.

Finally, the Keyword Explorer gives all suggestions a relevance score, which is definitely useful when sorting hundreds of suggestions.

What We Didn't Like

Well for starters, Moz data isn’t known for being the most comprehensive. If you’re looking for the most accurate tool, this isn’t it.

As for keyword suggestions, Moz puts a cap at 1,000. Personally, this is a little on the low end for me, especially when you consider other tools that can easily generate tens of thousands of suggestions.

When it comes to the SERP analysis, I was disappointed to say the least. While it is visually appealing, it’s completely lacking in data points. In fact, you can pretty much perform the exact same analysis with the Moz Chrome Extension.

Ahrefs

Ahrefs is a competitor analysis tool that supports both traditional and competitor-based keyword research.

Back in the day, Ahrefs was primarily used for backlink analysis but has since developed into one of the best keyword research tools on the market - particularly with the release of Keyword Explorer 2.0.

What We Liked

Let’s start with the obvious; Ahrefs allows you take a hybrid approach to keyword research, which can’t be said for most tools on this list.

The organic search report is pure gold and brings back tons of ideas complete with their trusty (cached) keyword difficulty score.

Their newer, traditional tool, Keyword Explorer also pulls in an impressive number of keyword suggestions. Far more than any other tool we tested, in fact.

Finally, the SERP analysis feature utilizes Ahrefs massive link index, allowing you to properly evaluate a given keyword's difficulty.

What We Didn’t Like

Even though Ahrefs offers more than just keyword research, it’s a little pricey for someone who’s only interested in using it as a keyword research tool.

Apart from that, it’s probably not the most beginner-friendly tool.

SEMRush

SEMRush is a competitor-based keyword research tool, founded in 2008 by the same guys behind the popular browser-extension, SEOQuake.

Unlike any other keyword research tool around during its inception, SEMRush gave way to a very unique approach to finding profitable keywords:

Reverse-engineering your competitors organic rankings.

Being the first tool to have this kind of capability, it had first movers advantage. Almost overnight, it became a must-have tool in the SEO and online marketing world.

What We Liked

The organic rankings feature makes good work of pulling keyword suggestions based on your competitors rankings.

It also has a top performing pages report, which gives you an insight into what types of content is working well in your niche.

I really liked how SEMRush sorts suggestions by traffic potential. This makes it super easy to uncover those really juicy keywords.

Finally, the tool gives you a huge list of similar competitors based on a single seed URL.

What We Didn’t Like

The keyword difficulty metric was really unreliable which is a major flaw, especially considering that some cheaper tools offer a much better system.

SERP analysis is also a bit of an issue with SEMRush, mainly because their backlink index is lacking.

It does have a traditional keyword research tool (still in Beta), but even in it’s infancy I can’t see it being a contender. Hope I’m wrong.

Finally, the user interface could be cleaned up a little. Not a huge deal but I think it makes the tool feel more cluttered/complicated than it really is.

SERPStat

SERPStat is an all-in-one SEO tool that offers both competitor-based and traditional keyword research as part of it’s suite (that’s a mouthful).

The research tool includes everything from in-depth URL analysis, “tree-view” keywords distribution, and even advanced filtering.

Despite being one of the newest tools on this list, it has already made a name for itself thanks to a recent AppSumo deal.

What We Liked

For the most part, SERPStat pulled in a respectable number of suggestions from a single seed keyword... though it did underperform for some searches.

I also appreciated the additional insights, like seeing at a glance which keywords had knowledge graphs and images on the first page, as well as things like social domains.

Overall, considering how new this tool is, it has a considerable number of keyword research options to play with. I'm excited to see how it develops.

What We Didn’t Like

The biggest drawback for me, is that it doesn’t offer a keyword difficulty metric. This is something that most SEO’s have come to expect nowadays because it just makes keyword research that much easier.

And you know what? It wouldn’t be so bad. But the SERP analysis tool doesn’t even provide on-page or off-page data to help you with a manual review.

For those two reasons alone, it’s almost impossible to evaluate keyword difficulty with SERPStat. Obviously a massive flaw for any keyword research tool.

Lewis Parrott
 

I’m Lewis, a full-time writer at Authority Hacker and a find-time writer at my own blog, The Freelance Effect. I’m also a digital nomad currently based in SE Asia. I have an unhealthy addiction to internet marketing, documentaries and chocolate. Mmmm… chocolate.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 54 comments
Nate - April 6, 2017

There are a lot of things I like about kwfinder (especially the aesthetics), I hope that the Mangools team looks into creating a separate tool or maybe adding it to kwfinder for competitor research, like what Semrush has.

If they did this and raised the cap limit on the searches per day, then they would be my go to tool for all kw research.

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    Gael Breton - April 7, 2017

    Yeah agreed, they’re in a good position right now. I think they could become the go to for beginners while Ahrefs keep their higher end spot.

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    Lewis Parrott - April 9, 2017

    Hey Nate,

    I have to agree. Though for me, it’s less about the # of searches per day and more the # of results per search. I think they should at least have a higher tier plan to see 1000+ suggestions. I have no doubt KW Finder will continue to get better, we’ll just have to see what that means exactly.

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      Nate - April 10, 2017

      “more the # of results per search”, my thoughts exactly! Forgot to add that into my original comment.

      Reply
Ivan Palii - April 7, 2017

Thanks, Lewis! Great overview with important details. What do you think about also free keyword research tool as http://kparser.com?

Our team has developed it for own needs. But our colleagues have loved it in one day. So, we are happy to share it with everyone seo master. I’ll be happy to see your conclusion about our tool.

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Steve - April 9, 2017

That has to be the best damn review I have ever read about SEO software. Thanks so much for putting all the work into this.

I have been on the fence between Moz, SEM and ahrefs. I finally narrowed it down to SEM or ahrefs. I can only afford one. Leaning toward SEM because it has more variety of tools and since I can only afford one, it serves me better. But in an ideal world I take two (just not sure which two).

Thanks again for this awesome work.

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    Lewis Parrott - April 9, 2017

    Hey Steve,

    Thanks for the kind words. Means a lot.

    I’d advise running a free trial on both tools to see which one floats your boat. But if you want my personal opinion, I’d go with Ahrefs all day long. Probably no surprise if you read this review :)

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Rennison - April 11, 2017

You guys should add a keyword tool called Jaaxy – (http://www.jaaxy.com). It’s very good for long tail keywords

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Mark - April 12, 2017

You dug really deep! Data don’t lie, Ahrefs is still the king. Why there is no serped (though still new)?

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Michiel - April 14, 2017

One thing that I would like to add regarding Long Tail Pro (that you probably didn’t test) is the bad performance for languages other than English.

For example, if I enter quite a common search term in Dutch in Longtail Pro, it comes back saying: “Sorry, there are no results related to your search”. If I enter the same term in KW Finder, it instantly comes up with search volume data and suggested keywords.

I contacted Longtail Pro about this and they said that they have problems with other languages than English and that they’re looking for other data providers to fix this. I was assured that they were working on it and that it was their top priority. I should see “a drastic improvement by end of this month”. That was beginning of March, and I’m still not seeing any data for very common keywords….

In other words, for my Dutch site Longtail Pro is pretty much useless at the moment.

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Michael G - April 14, 2017

Oh boy…sitting back with popcorn waiting for collusion accusations to start flying.

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Leon - April 14, 2017

For a long time I loved Semrush… it was my to go tool.

Now I use it together with Ahrefs… but honestly I’d rather just pay for one.
What I loved about Semrush is how easily they showed the keywords that are closely related and
keywords i’m already ranking for, and a little more user friendly in my eyes.

But I am not sure how accurate they are anymore with their data, and ahrefs keyword difficulty is
a lot more accurate as you mentioned.

Here’s a specific issue I’m having with both. They are showing completely diff numbers for organic traffic numbers.
Here are screenshots for my site using both tools.

Semrush showing 24,000 monthly visitors and with 40% increase trending up.
screenshot – http://www.learntodance.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Screen-Shot-2017-04-14-at-2.35.28-PM.png

Ahrefs is showing much lower – 14,000 monthly visitors, and sort of trending down
screenshot – http://www.learntodance.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Screen-Shot-2017-04-14-at-2.37.01-PM.png

Why such a big difference? Who is right here?

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    Gael Breton - April 15, 2017

    Yeah, those numbers are off with every tool, the only accurate way to look at your traffic is to use Google Analytics. However, the trends tend to be accurate. Basically, the use of these tools is to compare how big sites are compared to each other and how the traffic trends. The actual number is never really that important apart from that.

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      Leon - April 18, 2017

      Hey Gael,

      As a follow up, I did look at my GA and isolated just the organic traffic from USA and I can see that the number is very close to the one ahrefs is reporting….

      So another win for ahrefs in accuracy.

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Joe - April 14, 2017

So at the end of the day Ahrefs takes the cake!

I’ve found Ahrefs to be the best all around tool for sure. It’s amazing that they’re both the best backlink tool and the best keyword tool. As a paying subscriber I’m glad they keep innovating and keep winning.

If they were to implement the website value estimator like SEMrush has, and also get better CPC data, as well as a better rank tracker and site auditor, they would cause everyone to cancel every other subscription!

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Mike - April 15, 2017

No review on Majestic?

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Carl - April 15, 2017

Didn’t Perrin just write this same article like a month ago?

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Fibonacci - April 18, 2017

I don’t like KWFinder because support is very bad. I send email to them in 14 April but until 18 April, I don’t receive any respond.

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    Gael Breton - April 20, 2017

    Hah, yeah, support can fail with small companies (including us). It doesn’t mean the tool is bad though.

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    Dan - April 21, 2017

    It seems startups and revamped keyword tools have limited resources in the early stages, whereby customer support lags behind the tool itself. It took the new, revised Long Tail Pro quite some time before customer support became a realistic working asset to customers. They charge relatively small monthly fees so it takes a while for resources to catch up in all aspects, in my opinion. Google has shaken the boat for sure regarding keyword tool operations.

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Dan - April 18, 2017

Hello Authority Hacker staff. Thanx for all great info relating to hacking into computers with authority(just joking!). You can tell I have been listening to many of your educational podcasts, as in one, you mentioned a possible pitfall with the domain name you chose here for your website(Gael and Mark).
I actually discovered, at my part time job, they allow me to put in my earbuds connected to my cellphone. The other employees who do this I’m sure are listening to favorite music. Not a chance here with me; I’m cranking away trying to hear every podcast you guys have put out so far. Yes I’m getting paid while listening to how to succeed in affiliate marketing. These podcasts are a great motivational venue, I love it.
As for keyword tools, I will be honest with you at this time. I am a long time customer of Long Tail Pro. As a courtesy for hanging in there, I get about a 50 percent discount on their monthly fee for the new platinum cloud and it allows me 25,000 keyword allotment in a month. I have not come close to using it up yet. I waited for many months for the cloud version to start running as promised and there were some shaky moments. But knowing Spencer Hawes was the originator of the software, I decided to be patient. Everything has improved significantly I have found. Their customer support was a complete “F” maybe 6 months ago. I my experience now with “heather” has been a complete turnaround to a rating of A+. I feel, at least in my case, with the discount, Long Tail Platinum is a very good tool and probably will continue to get better. I am using Semrush on a free trial, will do the same with Afrefs in the future. But to compare LTP at 17 dollars a month to Ahrefs at $100 monthly, one would expect to get more data from additional areas which is obviously the case based on your review here. Just wanted to point out, that if one is on a budget, I find LTP of very good value currently. All these keyword tools are probably going to have to switch to clickstream data to improve accuracy and consistency on search volume figures.
Since I have covered maybe over 50% of your podcasts, I would also like to comment on the talented staff member, Perrin Carrell. I think it was Gael who mentioned on a podcasts, that you are inclined to cut down on amount of words in your posts meaning in the future, the likes of Perrin Carrell is being instructed to keep his posts shorter and more concise. Personally, I think this is a mistake. In my opinion, when Perrin writes a post, I read every darn sentence even if it is 10,000 words: it just his style is so educational, I find no wasted words and end up learning a ton more. Its one affiliate marketer with huge writing skills (and teaching skills)that I would not put on a leash. Otherwise to AH and your staff, great job overall.

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    Gael Breton - April 20, 2017

    Hey Dan, sure, when you get a tool for half the price the value proposition changes drastically which is why it makes sense in your case. However, after a bit of time, you’ll make much more money than those tools cost and that’s when you find the best performing one and cost isn’t a big deal anymore.

    As for the long vs short articles, we actually publish more often as a result of that policy meaning you get the same amount of content, just split between more posts :).

    Glad you like the site!

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      Dan - April 21, 2017

      You hit the nail on the head. Agree here with everything in your reply.
      What else is new! Relevant points and logic of sound advice. Thanx.

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Anthony Tran - April 18, 2017

Wow really in-depth post. I love how you broke down each section and provided a rating score along with video reviews of each software! I’ve used Long Tail Pro, SEMRush, and KWFinder. I agree that SEMRush’s keyword difficulty score is inaccurate, but I do love using it to see what keywords other websites are ranking for and how much traffic they’re generating from it. KWFinder has a really nice clean and easy user interface. The only complaint I have is I wish they would display the keyword difficulty on all the keywords versus me having to click on each one to see the score. Overall happy with their software so far.

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Omigy - April 20, 2017

I love what you have described here on the different keyword tools. I think since there has been some updates in getting search estimates from the biggest search engine, all of the keyword tools are somehow a little in the dark in terms of the number of potential search per month for a keyword. So they estimate it and provide a KC that is inaccurate. The best thing is to look at the top 10 sites that rank for the keyword and see if you can outrank them with better content. Keyword tools are best to investigate what keywords you can go after and then you choose the winners and not the KC.

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Johan Abelson - April 20, 2017

Amazing review Lewis! I use SEMRush at the moment but also have my doubts about the numbers sometimes. I will definitely try ahrefs!

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Leon - April 24, 2017

Hey Gael,

One of the strengths that Semrush was known for – for long time, is it’s ability to show “What your site/competitor site is already ranking for”.

Would you say that Ahrefs provides just the same if not more accurate keyword data that you’re already ranking for? Obviously in all other departments it seems to be the winner to me…. But what about this area?

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    Gael Breton - April 26, 2017

    Yep, Ahrefs lets you do that with more data. I know SEMRush was the only one for a while but times have changed.

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arvind - April 24, 2017

Hi Lewis,

I thinks this is my best article i have come across on keyword tools…you have really clear all my doubts which I use to have while searching for a keyword in kwfinder and SEmrush..this is best post sharing all the important information of each keyword tool…!!!Thanks for sharing this!!

Arvind

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Muhibul Haque - May 1, 2017

I consider keyword is key to success. But this is one of the most confusing task for me. I following all popular blogs to enhance my keyword research knowledge. “Competitor-Based Keyword Research” is new to me. I will apply this method from my next project :) great share indeed :)

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Tim - May 3, 2017

I wish one of these reviews took a look at some of the less obvious tools out there. There are thousands of reviews comparing Moz, SEMRush and Ahrefs. But what about SE Ranking, SEO Profiler and SEO PowerSuite? (I have no business affiliation with these sites/services, but have used them and they are priced very competitively).

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    NYC928 - September 20, 2017

    Tim- I was wondering the same thing, I just signed up for a demo of SEOPROFILER.com and was pretty dang impressed at how direct it was compared to some of the other tools. I love AHREF’s but it doesn’t really give you any “what to do” information. I was surprised at the lack of coverage or even a decent review of the tool at all. I have no association with the company, but your comment was the only thing google could find that wasn’t an automated type of review.

    +1 for SEOPROFILER.com review. The Client reports and straight forward interface look pretty fantastic for those of us who do SEO for clients.

    Hey, maybe it’s just a secret :)

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Karma - May 20, 2017

Been a few months since I did any SEO, so I just discovered the limitations in Adwords for non-customers. Results like 1,000-10,000 are just not going to cut it.

This is by far the best roundup of tools that I’ve seen. Some have more tools listed, but if I wanted a list I’d do a Google search! Your comparisons and charts were so helpful and conscientious. Nice work!

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Mike Lima - May 21, 2017

Wow. This article couldn’t have come at a better time, as I just set apart some budget for a paid KW Tool.

Question for you guys:

I’m thinking about also using the KGR technique (where you go for keywords with search volume below 250, divide the allintitle google results by its volume, and if the result is 0.25 or less then the KW is good to use).

Do you think it’s still a good idea these days? And from these tools, what would be the best for this technique (I’ve seen that Ahrefs usually gives an estimate of search volume that is below other tools).

Thank you, and looking forward to more awesome guides.

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    Gael Breton - June 17, 2017

    Hey Mike,

    We don’t really use this technique, we mostly rely on link metrics of the top 10 and word count / content quality.

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Yasar - June 16, 2017

Great Compilation of Keyword Research Tools!
I think these tools are not for us. We can’t afford it because they are too expensive & our projects are not too much. But still, MOZ OSE is a good tool for me & it’s a freemium tool.

Sharing any free tools would be appreciated.

Thank you.
Yasar,

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    Gael Breton - June 17, 2017

    Hey Yasar, we’ll probably make a post on free tools eventually but to be frank the paid ones do tend to be much better.

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Kollin - June 16, 2017

hi authorityhacker, want to recommend you a new but already recognizable tool for in-depth keyword research – K-Meta Tool.

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Tim - June 21, 2017

Holy crap! This is such a great post! Such a good breakdown of the different tools. Thanks!

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Joan - July 9, 2017

Hey mate! Great analysis, i love your graphics like a draw, what tool are you using for it?

Thanks for the info!

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Jason - July 13, 2017

One of best reviews on these tools. Thanks Lewis!

We have used SEMRush, MOZ, SERPStats, and Ahrefs. Based on project usage & experience, our vote definitely goes to Ahrefs. Ahrefs has very comprehensive and deep analysis on keywords, as well as the most accurate data, as far as we know.

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Martin Topping - July 24, 2017

A very well researched and analysed post on keyword research tools. Thanks for putting it all together, its actually really helped cement which tool to use. I have used them all at one point or another. I have my likes and dislikes with them all. I agree with you totally if we could all afford Ahrefs that would be my tool of choice. I think kwfinder is what I tend to use most these days, not just for price not breaking the bank but overall layout, its quite well put together.

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Ivan David Lippens - November 2, 2017

You totally did not compare these based on price and functionality.
In order to get the best results, from the big name brands, you have to be subscribed to plans that are two times, or more, expensive than the average base price on the market, which is about $100/mo.

Majestic DOES have a keyword tool, btw.
It should’ve been included on this list.

You rated KWFinder WAY too high.
I used it for a LONG time, but it has serious flaws that their staff is unwilling to address.

It looks nice, but you failed to accurately rate it’s ability to do any real bulk processing, which should basically be scored at zero, because you have to click on the keywords, one-by-one, in order to get the data.
The SEO Metric is also Moz Based, and doesn’t even average all of the other metrics that are ALREADY IN THEIR SYSTEM, so it’s just lazy on their part, because they could actually give a much more interesting competitive insight.

Their metric doesn’t filter for inflation, either, so you get a bird’s eye, but it doesn’t factor in things that could swing the numbers.
The SERP Research aspect IS very convenient, I will give it that, but using this for consultation was literally 70% of the work, because of how LONG it took to actually reveal the keyword metrics.

I think you rated it way too high, across the board.
Especially in comparison with other competitors that demolish it.

SECockpit, for example, is like KWFinder gone Hulk, or something.
It’s clear that you don’t like the tool very much, and I get that the aesthetics aren’t very appealing, but the functionality is head over heels most of the competition, and yet you rated it so low.

I don’t think you understood what it really does, or maybe you just didn’t like the aesthetics, I dunno, but you severely underrated SECockpit.
First of all, it does Unlimited Keyword Searches a day, at the best plan, and each search delivers 10k results.

Every other solution on the market has monthly limits.
So, with SECockpit, you can do ten searches in a niche, and collect 100k keywords, or 100 searches, and collect a million keywords.

One of the biggest lures, for this tool, is it’s niche value metric, which is basically correlative filtering, in that it can automatically compare volume to competition, and that’s something I have generally used Google Sheets for.
The main downside is that, as far as I can tell it, doesn’t have an area where you can enter your own lists, which is one thing that has kept me from pulling the trigger on it, myself, unfortunately.

I agree that Ahrefs is the best overall solution on the market, but the price is such a drag.
Comparing various solutions through shared accounts, Ahrefs squashes pretty much everything else.

Still, there is a need on the market for something that can do large scale processing of search volume, and simple competitive analysis.
ScrapeBox is one of the best things I’ve found, so far, but without volume, get ready for one big-messy site. :P

SERPStat does seem to be more competitive, and they do have large query limits, which is cool, but I’d be curious if you can enter a list, like that.
I recently decided to go with SEO PowerSuite, because it’s a one-time fee, and there are no limits on Keywords.

It integrates with your Adwords API, but my buddy was telling me that you can spend about $10/mo on a YouTube ad, and get access to search volume data.
Not sure how that all works, but after a ton of research, this was the best solution I found, at least on paper, when it comes to large scale keyword processing, including search volumes, and metrics.

I messaged support, and got a coupon, as well, for those who are interested.

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