What makes some ecommerce stores thrive and eclipse their competition? Is it having a great product at great prices? Certainly, but potential customers can’t take advantage of your prices if they don’t know your store exists. To thrive in ecommerce, it helps to be visible online, which means showing up on a search engine results page (SERP).
Search engines like Google and Bing produce two kinds of results: paid search results (essentially ads that a search engine matches to specific search queries) and organic search results (search results algorithmically generated by identifying relevant keywords across the web).
Many companies want organic search traffic because it doesn’t require paying a search engine to appear in results. Getting this traffic starts with researching organic keywords that your potential customers are looking up. Here’s how you can use keyword research tools to drive organic traffic to your site.
What are keyword research tools?
A keyword research tool is a software application that analyzes the words most frequently typed into search platforms like Google and Bing and shopping platforms like Amazon. These tools provide lists of words and phrases called keywords, along with their search volume—the number of times a keyword is entered into a search bar within a given set of dates.
You can incorporate these keyword suggestions into website headings, blog posts, and ecommerce store listings so your pages have a better chance of showing up at the top of an organic SERP—known as “ranking.” This tactic is part of a broader ecommerce marketing strategy called search engine optimization (SEO).
It takes effort to research keywords and pepper them across your website and ecommerce store. Over the long run, however, it can be more cost-effective than relying on paid ads to ensure your site ranks, making keyword research a fundamental part of SEO best practices.
Shopify Academy Course: SEO for Beginners
Entrepreneur and Shopify Expert Casandra Campbell shares her three-step SEO framework to help your business get found through Google searches.
Types of keyword research tools
There are two types of keyword research tools available to internet marketers: free research tools and paid research tools. Here’s how they’re different.
A free keyword research tool doesn’t charge you to find keywords related to your business and target audience, though there’s typically a limit on the number of terms you can research. At a minimum, these free SEO tools can help you find keyword ideas based on what real-world users are searching for. For instance, the free Google Trends tool shows monthly search volume data for particular keywords and suggests related keywords that might generate store traffic.
A paid keyword tool charges you for keyword data and keyword suggestions. Paid tools typically have more keyword research features than their free counterparts. For instance, Ahrefs lets you start your keyword search by typing a word or phrase into a prompt box. It uses this as a starting point to generate several new keywords tied to related queries—a level of automation typically unavailable with a free keyword tool.
What features do keyword research tools have?
A high-quality keyword research tool offers several valuable functions that make it easy to generate relevant keywords for your website or ecommerce platform. Look for the following as you explore the best keyword research tool for your business:
- Keyword suggestions. Keyword research tools should provide a keyword list showing what words and phrases attract high search volumes. The list should feature relevant keywords that will attract high-value visitors—people who might be genuinely interested in your offerings—to your site.
- Keyword competition analysis. A competitor keyword analysis lets you study your competitors’ websites and see the keywords they target to drive search traffic, which you can then use to boost visits to your site.
- Keyword difficulty rankings. A keyword difficulty ranking tool tells you how easy or difficult it is to rank on the first search result page for that keyword. For instance, an ecommerce merchant selling candles might have difficulty ranking for broad keywords like “candles,” but may fare better competing for more specific keywords with lower search volumes, like “hickory-scented candles.”
- Backlink data. A backlink is linked text that directs users to another website. When a high-quality site links to a page on your website, Google and other search engines see it as a sign your site is trustworthy. A good keyword research tool can inform you about competitors’ backlinks, which can help you assess how many you’ll need to boost your performance.
Keyword research example
Imagine you run a sportswear ecommerce store. Your content marketing strategy might involve blog posts about fitness, and you’re considering a post outlining the best low-impact workouts. A keyword research tool could tell you how many people search for “low-impact workouts” each month and show you the top articles ranking for that query.
You could then use keyword research to find keywords related to this subject, like “Pilates,” “dancing,” and “joint stress.” Addressing these terms in your blog post could make it more useful to readers and more likely to rank on the first page of search engine results. Smart use of keyword research tools can lead to better articles, higher SERP rankings, more clicks, and, ultimately, more sales.
What can you do with keyword research tools? 4 common uses
- Discover new keywords
- Develop international SEO strategies
- Find keyword gaps
- Prioritize keywords with the highest chance of success
Finding the right keywords for your website is difficult without proper tools. A solid keyword research tool will help you:
1. Discover new keywords
Use keyword research applications to explore keywords related to a given topic. Most keyword research tools work by taking a seed keyword and then generating a list of related keywords. Additionally, a keyword research tool can help you scrape competitor sites for the keywords that bring them traffic. By building a long keyword list, you’ll have a sense of the full range of topics related to both your business and one another that users are searching for. Once you have the list, you can eliminate all the keywords that aren’t a good fit for your brand and incorporate the relevant keywords into your content.
For example, imagine you have a business that sells date syrup. You know you want to rank for the keyword “date syrup,” but beyond that you don’t know where to begin. You can use a keyword research tool to see which keywords are driving traffic to your competitors. Once you’ve selected keywords from that list, you can use the tool to generate related keywords that might be of particular interest to your audience. The tool will show you the monthly search volume (MSV) for each term, allowing you to prioritize the most promising keywords. You might pursue the high-volume query “date syrup recipes” to give your customers ideas for using your date syrup (and increase brand awareness among shoppers who already use date syrup).
2. Develop international SEO strategies
If you sell products around the world, keyword research tools enable you to see search trends in different countries; you can use this information to refine your SEO strategies, prioritizing keywords that are relevant in regions where you market your product.
Say you’ve got a solid handle on the date syrup market in the United States, but you want to branch out internationally. Customers in different regions might use different languages to describe your product, and you might discover pockets of interest for your product based on search volume in different countries. For example, keyword research tools can show you that the term “date molasses” (it’s the same thing as date syrup) is much more popular in the United Kingdom than in the US, so you may want to use that phrasing in the marketing copy you write for the UK.
3. Find keyword gaps
Keyword gap analysis involves identifying the keywords that your competitors rank for that you don’t. By taking advantage of these keyword opportunities, you can better compete for your audience’s attention. When you paste the URLs of your top competitors’ sites into your keyword gap tool, it will show you a list of keywords that are driving traffic to your competitors’ sites but not to yours. Maybe your primary competitor in the date syrup market is ranking at the top of the SERP for “date sweetener”—a keyword you haven’t even targeted. By using keyword research software to identify this keyword gap, you can now optimize your content to rank for “date sweetener.”
4. Prioritize keywords with the highest chance of success
The best keyword research tools help you analyze keywords based on keyword difficulty, which is a rating assigned to a keyword based on competition—the higher the search volume for a given term, the more traffic it can drive to sites that rank on the SERP. This leads to more competition for that term, making it more difficult for content to rank on the first page of results. Noting keyword difficulty allows you to prioritize keywords that you’re most likely to rank for. Targeting easier niche keywords that are specifically relevant to your brand’s area of expertise in turn helps you build domain authority and work your way up toward the difficult keywords.
The 12 best keyword research tools
Depending on your SEO marketing budget, you may choose to pay for a keyword research tool, or start with a free option. Here are some of the best keyword research tools available to ecommerce entrepreneurs.
Free keyword research tools
A free tool can be an excellent entry point to the keyword research process. Here are six free keyword research tools to consider:
- Google Keyword Planner. Google Keyword Planner comes with a Google Ads account. While purchasing Google Ads costs money, you can create an account for free and use Google’s keyword planner to conduct research. It shows monthly searches for particular keywords and how they’ve changed over time and gives phrase match reports showing whether word order affects your search results.
- Google Search Console. Google Search Console helps you understand which keywords your site already ranks for, technical issues that might be hurting your site’s search performance, and which websites are providing backlinks to your site.
- Keyword Surfer. Keyword Surfer is a Google Chrome extension by Surfer SEO that overlays onto standard Google web searches. When you search for terms, Keyword Surfer shows you recent search volumes and the estimated cost-per-click, should you opt-in. It can also suggest an AI-generated outline for an article or blog entry based on particular keywords.
- Question DB. This keyword research tool focuses on questions users search, setting it apart from most other keyword tools. When searching for user questions, Question DB doesn’t just pull data from the big search platforms Google and Bing, it also scrapes questions from forums like Reddit and Quora. You can use Question DB for free and get up to 50 results per search.
- Moz. While Moz doesn’t provide quite the same volume of data that you might get from a paid platform like Semrush, it does offer user-friendly reports on keyword difficulty, search volumes, and organic clickthrough rates. You can use Moz for free and get 10 queries per month using each of its tools.
- AnswerThePublic. AnswerThePublic offers a free plan that allows you to research three queries daily once you register with your email. The platform draws on autocomplete data from major search engines to inspire relevant blog entries.
SEO for Shopify stores
Whether you’re launching a new product, building a web presence for your retail location, or starting a dropshipping business, when you’re trying to sell online you have an important problem to solve: How do you get customers to find your store?
Paid keyword research tools
Companies with larger SEO marketing budgets may opt for the broad functionality of a paid keyword research tool. Here are six options to consider.
- Semrush. Semrush comes with features that help you find the right keywords to boost your search profile. One such feature is its Keyword Magic tool, which lets you enter a target keyword and view its search volume, user intent, keyword difficulty, long-term trends, and cost-per-click, all from a single dashboard. Semrush’s paid plans run from $120 to $450 per month.
- Long Tail Pro. Long Tail focuses on long tail keywords—longer keywords and phrases that are somewhat niche but may let you win higher-quality search results. The Long Tail Pro platform provides a backlink analysis, a SERP analysis, and a keyword rank tracker among its many tools for boosting SEO performance. Annual subscriptions start at $297 per year and go up to $1,177 yearly.
- Ahrefs. Ahrefs provides a keyword explorer feature that lets you enter a short phrase known as a seed keyword, prompting its software to suggest related keywords. Some of its suggestions are also seed keywords; others are long tail keywords. Ahrefs’ monthly plans range from $99 to $999 per month, with some discounts for annual subscriptions.
- Surfer SEO. Surfer SEO is among the more affordable keyword research tools on the market, starting at $49 per month. The platform uses your chosen keywords to generate “topic clusters,” which can prompt article ideas. It pairs this with a content editor tool to help you write articles and blog posts that align with Surfer’s suggested keywords and section headings.
- SEO Powersuite. SEO Powersuite platform bakes keyword research into an all-in-one SEO solution that includes backlink history, competitor rankings, sitewide SEO audits, and custom-generated SEO reports. Paid plans start at $299 per year.
- Serpstat. Serpstat is an all-in-one SEO platform with robust keyword research features. It can suggest related keywords, rank different types of phrasing, analyze competitor keywords, report on keyword difficulty and seasonal keyword trends, and provide a content plan for implementing high-performing keywords. Monthly plans start at $69 per month and scale up to $499, with discounts for those who buy a one-year subscription upfront.
You can analyze your online store’s search engine optimization using apps in the Shopify App Store.
Keyword research tools FAQ
Is it necessary to use a paid keyword research tool or are free ones effective enough?
Paid keyword research tools like Semrush and Ahrefs offer robust functionality. Still, some small business owners and ecommerce entrepreneurs may get everything they need from a free tool like Google Keyword Planner or AnswerThePublic. If you have a modest marketing budget, free tools can provide plenty of keywords to incorporate into your web copy or inspire new blog entries.
Can keyword research tools help me find profitable keywords for my business?
Yes, when used properly, a keyword research tool can show you what keywords your potential customers are searching. These tools can analyze the words and phrases driving traffic to your competitors’ websites and help you strategize how to use those keywords to showcase your website or ecommerce store.
How can I effectively use keyword research tools to improve my website’s SEO?
Keyword research tools offer multiple ways to approach SEO: A competitor keyword analysis examines the keywords your competitors use so you can target those keywords or identify searches they’re missing out on; a keyword difficulty ranking tool reveals how hard it would be to make it onto the first page of a specific keyword’s SERP; a backlink report lets you know what terms appear on the backlinks that drive traffic to your site, giving you insight into your most valuable content.
What is the difference between keyword research tools and keyword suggestion tools?
A keyword suggestion is a type of keyword research tool that often prompts you to enter a word or short phrase known as a seed keyword. The tool may then suggest additional seed keywords to feature on your site. It may also suggest longer, more specific phrases known as long tail keywords. Combining these suggestions with other keyword research tools—like a keyword competition analysis—gives you multiple assets to drive more traffic to your website.