Evaluating Alternatives to Google AdWords Keyword Planner

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Google recently announced that it was throttling results in its AdWords Keyword Planner for low-paying/free users of its software. Penalized users will now receive general logarithmic estimates of keyword volume, rather than more exact estimates. For those SEO and SEM marketers who are not conducting extensive AdWords campaigns and spending big bucks, what alternatives do we have?

Let’s consider what criteria you should evaluate SEO keyword vendors on:

  • Cost
  • Scale/API
  • Breadth and Freshness

For the purposes of this post, we’ll be looking at SEMRush, Spyfu, AHREFs, and Moz. We’ll compare each plan at the roughly $150 per month price point for reasonably close apples-to-apples comparison.

Methodology and Disclosures

I selected these four vendors because they’re vendors I actively use and pay for. I’ve used each tool for at least a year; some, like Moz and SpyFu, I’ve used for many years. There are plenty of other keyword tool vendors out there, but I’ve not worked with them and therefore can’t vouch for them.


I am an affiliate of SEMRush. If you purchase through my link, I receive a small but non-zero commission.

Keyword Vendor Cost

Consider the model keyword vendors use to charge you.

Moz charges by both user and keyword; 150 buys you 5,000 keywords in its Keyword Explorer tool and 30 lists (think of lists as clients, product lines, SEO projects etc.).150 also grants 10 concurrent users.

  • Price per keyword: 3 cents
  • Price per project: $5

SEMRush charges by account rather than user. $150 buys you 1,500 keywords to track and 50 projects.

  • Price per keyword: 10 cents
  • Price per project: $3

SpyFu charges by account as well. $139 buys you 15,000 keywords to track with no limit on projects.

  • Price per keyword: 0.92 cents
  • Price per project: $0

AHREFs charges by account with one user. $179 buys you 1,000 keywords to track and 50 reports.

  • Price per keyword: 17.9 cents
  • Price per project: $3.58

API Limits

Once you begin working with keywords at volume and scale, API access will be essential. You’ll quickly tire of copying and pasting, uploading, and exporting lists repeatedly. What API options are available from each of these vendors?

Moz offers its Mozscape API. Mozscape’s monthly fee is $500 to start, which purchases 500,000 rows and 200 requests per second.

  • Price per keyword: 0.1 cents
  • Pricing is on top of membership fee

SEMRush offers its own API with an incredibly unclear, confusing pricing scheme. You purchase “units” which are a virtual currency then used to purchase keyword results. Every keyword for live results costs 10 units. 1 million units costs $50.

  • Price per keyword: 0.05 cents
  • Pricing is on top of membership fee

Spyfu offers its own API. Unlike Moz and SEMRush, the SpyFu API is bundled with the membership fee; the $139 fee includes 10,000 keyword results.

  • Price per keyword: 1.39 cents
  • Pricing is included in membership fee

AHREFs does not offer an API for keywords. Its API is limited to search results tracking for now.

Data Freshness and Breadth

Once you’ve determined what you can pay, we have to consider how broad and fresh each index is.


  • Index size: 161 billion URLs, unknown keywords
  • Refresh rate: 30-60 days


  • Index size: 120 million keywords
  • Refresh rate: 15-30 days


  • Index size: 4 billion URLs, unknown keywords
  • Refresh rate: 10-20 days


  • Index size: 5 billion URLs, unknown keywords
  • Refresh rate: 3 days


Which is the best keyword vendor? It depends on what your needs are.

  • If you need freshness first, consider AHREFs.
  • If you need high API limits, consider SEMRush.
  • If you need low keyword cost, consider SpyFu.
  • If you work in-house rather than at an agency, consider Moz.

My personal choice would be SpyFu for its blend of low cost and robust results – for my needs right now.

Recall, however, that I work in an agency setting where I need tons of different types of research for many different clients. If I were an in-house marketer at a single brand, I would choose Moz instead, because Moz’s toolkit of other tools are valuable for the single brand.

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