Has Google Keyword Planner Tool Gone Kaput?

Back in 2013 when Google got rid of the SEO Keyword Research Tool and replaced it with the Keyword Planner, I said “There’s no doubt that this tool is designed to encourage people towards PPC.”

And that day has finally come, my SEO friends. I’m sure you’ve heard (or seen) by now that the Keyword Planner tool is no longer offering specific data across the board, and is instead grouping together terms and providing general search volume ranges.

So after much hand wringing and teeth gnashing and wine drinking, I dug in to find out what this change means for my team, my clients, and for you, my SEO community. What we’re left with is a little confusing (and a lot frustrating) but I thought this Moz article summed it up nicely. I’ve added some highlights below for you on the two biggest changes: grouping data and broad volume ranges.

Grouping Keyword Data

By grouping data, I mean that keywords that Google deems to have the same intent are lumped together and given the same volume. According to Moz:

“If (hypothetically) [SEO] is searched 21,000 times per month in the UK, and [Search Engine Optimisation] is searched 12,100 times per month, once these keywords are combined, each will be reported as receiving the total of the two—33,100 searches per month.”

To make matters worse, Google (again hypothetically) would display 33,100 searches a month as the volume for BOTH terms, leading SEOs to believe there are more than 65,000 monthly searches for the two terms combined. Talk about confusing!

After some SERPs analysis, the team at Moz found that the factors most frequently impacting grouped together data are:

  1. Plurals (dog and dogs)
  2. Punctuation (mom’s gifts and moms gifts)
  3. Initials/abbreviations (SEO and search engine optimization)

Verb variations and typos also had an impact on data grouping, but not as significantly as the factors listed above.

Broad Volume Ranges

As if the grouped data didn’t throw us all for a loop, Google restricted access to specific volume ranges across the board. That is – if you aren’t spending the big bucks. And we’re not actually even sure how much “big” bucks are needed to access better data; Google has been pretty tight-lipped about those thresholds, which isn’t surprising.

What does this mean? It means that instead of seeing a search volume of 1,200, you’re going to see a range of 1,000 – 10,000. Yikes, right?

Of course the first thing everyone did was start searching for a workaround. Trust me, I was too! I came across several soon after the news dropped, but of course Google was quick to close those loopholes. Gareth with Brave Creative wrote up a piece that explains how to use the updated keyword planner tool for SEO, but it’s not an easy fix. I thought this statement summed it up well:

“As Google has already implemented this change, there is little left to do now other than adjust and adapt to it the best way we can. By using the Review Plan section of Keyword Planner, alongside the new search volume ranges, we can still work out which keywords offer the best levels of interaction and engagement. So, moving forward, Keyword Research will be more time consuming and involve more in-depth analysis, but in the end we, as digital marketers, will be deciding keywords on engagement levels rather than sheer volume.”

So what does this mean for SEOs? It means we’re going to have to spend more time digging in and looking at a variety of tools and data (which we should be doing anyway) instead of heavily relying on one tool for the bulk of our volume and competition metrics. Note that you can still use the Keyword Planner Tool for expanding and discovering new related terms; this feature has not changed.

I also found this comment on the Moz article that I found interesting and insightful regarding the relevancy of Keyword Planner Tool, especially when it comes to SEOs today:

“I feel this is way more non-relevant these days with so many other tools out there like SEMRush, Spyfu, Similar Web, etc where I can look at competitors and similar sites already in my niche and see what keywords bring them the most traffic (paid and organic) and what pages are getting that traffic.

Using that data I have a clear understanding of what is already working in my niche/industry…then I can also drop a few bucks on a broad based PPC campaign (broad modified, Phrase, etc) and let it run for a week and see exactly what other long-tail keywords people are searching for and optimize my website further from this data.

Then as Google Webmaster Tools starts populating data in the Search Analytics tab I can see a variety of other keywords people are searching for related to my site and optimize further.

I can do all this without touching keyword planner…so although it sucks that it changed…it is still not that big of deal in my opinion for anyone not to be able to accurately find keywords to optimize for.”

Your Turn

How has this change impacted your business, and what are your plans for the future? Will you be using different tools moving forward, or just adjusting your research methods to accommodate for the new metrics Google is displaying. Share with me in the comments below.

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Jenny Munn

Jenny Munn is an SEO Strategist who helps organizations get more leads from their website and integrate SEO into their marketing mix. She consults with in-house marketing managers, agencies, and small businesses. Jenny has taught SEO at WordCamp Atlanta, Digital Atlanta, Solo PR Summit, Business Marketing Association, Atlanta Tech Village, and various content marketing and social media organizations.
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