The New Google Keyword Planner: What You Need to Know

google-logo 2Sadly, Google’s infamous Keyword Tool is no more.  It was recently replaced by the new (although not necessarily improved) Google Keyword Planner.  Why the switch, and what does it mean for you?

Here’s what you need to know about the new functionality, as well as what to make of some concerning unusual changes to the data being reported.

It’s No Longer Public

While the old Tool was public, the new Keyword Planner is only available from within the Google AdWords interface.  To access it, you’ll need to sign-up for a (free) AdWords account.  It’s not a big deal, but it’s not nearly as convenient as the old easily accessible interface.

No Device Segmentation

Probably the biggest change is that the new Planner no longer gives you the ability to segment desktop, tablet and mobile traffic.  Instead, it’s all lumped into one big fat number.

This is not a welcome update, especially when trying to do niche research and profitability estimations.  Even with a mobile optimized version of a site, mobile visitors convert at a significantly lower rate than desktop and tablet visitors.  So when doing niche analysis, it’s very useful to be able to tell what percent of search traffic for a keyword comes from mobile devices.

Why the change?  The new Planner is much more targeted toward AdWords users (as we’ll discuss more), and AdWords does give you the ability to configure what devices your ads are served up to.  But it’s still a disappointing and unnecessary removal.

Hope You Like Exact Match!

Been confused by all this talk of phrase, broad and exact match?  Well, good news:  exact match is now the default setting for the keyword tool.  In fact, it’s now the ONLY type of match you can get data for!

Match types have been a well-known source of confusion for years, so in once sense it’s good to see this new default as exact match is usually the best and most accurate choice.  But it’s a little bit odd that Google stripped away the ability for knowledgeable users to have access to phrase and broad match as well.

A word of warning:  don’t be confused by the AdWords match type box that lets you select from broad, phrase and exact match (see below).  This won’t change the reported results you get.  Instead, it only defines how keywords are added to AdWords campaigns if you add them from the Keyword Planner.

Match-Type

More Straight Forward Location Targeting

So far, I’ve highlighted the disappointing aspects of the change but it’s not all bad news.  The previous Keyword Tool listed  both “Local” and “Global” columns which was a little bit ambiguous in terms of the reported areas.  The New Keyword Planner instead lists just a single column – “Avg. Monthly Searches” – with location settings that are clearly defined in the left hand column.

The old keyword tool also wouldn’t let you drill down to the city level, while the new Google Keyword Planner Tool let’s you get that granular with the data.

Location

Clearer Trend and Seasonality Data

The old keyword tool would provide average search volume from the most recent month, which can be very misleading if you’re in a seasonal market.  For example, if I measured the search volume for “swim suits” in November with the old tool, it was have been under-reported on an annual basis.  Search volume spikes way up in the Summer and falls drastically in the Fall and Winter.

The new Planner reduces the chance for misinterpretation by showing an overall year average, with a convenient pop-over showing seasons monthly trends in volume.

Trends

Default (and more Accurate?) CPC Estimates

It was possible to get CPC estimates under the old tool, but wasn’t enabled by default.  The new Planner has estimated keyword CPC (cost-per-click) data turned on by default, and Google claims that it’s “more accurate” than the old data

More accurate?  This puzzles me.  Why would the new CPC data be more accurate?  That leads to the obvious inference that the CPC information being dished out by the old Keyword Tool wasn’t necessarily as reliable.  I can’t imagine that transitioning to a new interface had any meaningful change to the way Google stored and calculated their CPC information.  So why the shift?

Ad Group Ideas Tab

One noticeable adjustment to the user experience is the addition of Ad Group Ideas.  Previously with the old Tool, you’d be immediately taken to a page detailing the search results for your keyword.  Now with the Planner, you’re taken first to the “Ad Group Ideas” tab.  If you want to see the raw data for individual keywords in the old layout style, you’ll need to click on the “Keyword Ideas” tab, per the image below:

Ideas-1

 

At first, this really annoyed me.  But after I got use to the change I actually found some real value in the ideas tab.  One of the things I’m always looking for is niches with lots of long-tail keyword results.  In the old tool, all the different variations of a long-tail keyword would be listed out separately.

But with the new “Ad Group Ideas” tool, Google organizes all the similar variations of a keyword and reports the cumulative search volume for that basket of related terms.  Nice!

 

Ideas-2

 

Ideas-3

I see the “Ideas” tag as a great way to easily find more long-tail modifiers you may be missing for SEO and PPC, as well as being able to gauge very quickly how much long-tail traffic a niche may have if you’re in research mode.  Overall, this is a welcome addition to the tool.

Some Troubling Changes

Is it surprising for Google to move the Planner into the AdWords interface, especially when it’s still freely available?  Not necessarily.  They are, after all, a for-profit company.

But what IS more concerning is some unusual data being reported post transition.  The folks over at Conductor released a very interesting study comparing reported search data before and after the tool switch.  A few of the takeaways are:

  • 25% of the reported keyword volumes stayed the same or decreased, which shouldn’t occur if mobile results are being added in
  • There were some very significant jumps in the level of searches reported (beyond simple mobile searches being included)
  • Extremely popular keywords saw an unusually higher than average increase in their reported volume

What to make of all this?  Conductor suggests that it’s possible the overall algorithm for computing keyword search volumes shifted.  And taking a slightly more controversial position suggested that the reporting tweaks may be helping Google increase ad revenues by showing higher search volumes (read a bigger potential market) for popular terms to incentive advertisers to spend more.

It’s worth noting that Conductor offers their own SEO and keyword tools, and so they aren’t exactly an unbiased party regarding search.  They stand to benefit if people have less faith in Google’s Keyword Planner.  But their arguments are well supported with data, and definitely raise an eyebrow.

I’ve also noticed some strange irregularities with the tool, specifically in the calculations of average keyword volume.  Let’s look at the results for the keyword “atv tires”.

The overall annual average for the keyword is 33,000 exact match searches.  But when you look at the seasonal graph, search volume spikes significantly  in the Spring over a 33,000 baseline and gradually comes back down.   The average should be listed in the high 30s, which is why the reported annual average number of 33,000 just intuitively doesn’t make sense.

 

Average-Problems

 

Search data from Google has historically been lumped into different pre-set tiers and shouldn’t be taken as exact volumes.  But an examples like this that  presents contradictory data does give you pause and wonder what other calculation issues are going in within their keyword tool.

The Verdict

So are the new changes to be celebrated or are we going to be lamenting the loss the old tried-and-true Google Keyword Tool?

It depends.  If you’re a heavy AdWords user or a Google shareholder you should welcome the change!   AdWords users will appreciate the tighter integration in terms of being able to brainstorm and easily add keywords to their campaign.  Plus, the “more accurate” CPC estimates, ideas tab, and increased visibility into location targeting are all nice touches.

But sadly, this transition seems to be in line with changes Google’s made over the last few years that are increasingly focusing on satisfying shareholders and the bottom line.  By making the tool only accessible via AdWords, Google is guaranteed to increase revenues as more people sign up for accounts.  And Conductor’s insights into the unusual increase in reported search volumes are unusually convenient for Google from the perspective of potentially enticing more advertisers.

And in a world where mobile is growing insanely fast, I can’t think of any good reasons for limiting insights user have into mobile search.  It’s a real disappointment that this functionality is no longer available.

Sadly, I think our old beloved keyword tool has been repositioned to benefit AdWord users and Google’s interests.  And while I’ll still be using it frequently for research, I’ll be taking the results I get with a (large) pinch of salt.

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Comments

  1. Lena says:

    Thank you for your explanation of how exact match is now the only result being given. I was having a hard time understanding how search terms that were generating results in the thousands have plummeted to less than a hundred. I personally find this frustrating, as their was value in seeing the broad match for me.

    Useful post!

  2. Shabbir says:

    Really insightful stuff, Andrew! I think the location targeting and the trends data is a big plus, but one feature I really miss is the ability to “show only results closely related to my keyword.” Now the results are a lot more to go through.

    I used to use the free tool all the time, but ever since Google phased out the old one, I’ve switched to Long Tail Pro – it’s a little pricey but the familiar interface and the extra perks have made it worthwhile. You get the same data but in a newer interface. Have you tried market samurai or LTP?

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks Shabbir! While I’ve heard of both, I haven’t tried either of them yet. Does Long Tail Pro act like a full-fledged keyword tool giving search volumes for all keywords? Or is it focused more specifically on just long-tail phrases?

      • Shabbir says:

        It’s a full fledged tool and more, actually. Basically, you feed in head keywords(up to 5 is recommended, but you could throw in hundreds, too) and it pulls the data from Google’s Planner into a nice spreadsheet interface. It’ll show you whatever Planner shows(suggestions and volumes based on locations you choose), but also brings up some nice long tail variations too. Then you can sort the sheet however you want, remove unwanted keywords, and once you have a list, LTP is integrated with Moz so you can get a top 10 results analysis with DA, PA, and links for any of those keywords.

        I’m actually thinking of doing a video walkthrough of it for my blog, so I’ll share that with you once it’s ready, too.

        • Chris says:

          Hi Shabbir,

          I love your explanation above on LTP. I own the software myself and haven’t had the chance to put it to use yet. I would love to see the video you’d produce. As a matter of fact I am somewhat timid with the entire keyword research thing, I know I need some coaching, if you’re up for it let me know and we can chat about it. My email is violetischris@gmail.com

          thank you
          Chris

          P.S. Andrew, thank you as well for the insightful posting. I was wondering when someone would post some helpful analysis of the GKP.

        • Omar says:

          Hi Shabir,

          If you were to choose just one, Market Samurai or LTP, which one would it be and why? I am under the impression you chose LTP, but either way your analysis will be appreciated.

          Thanks,

  3. Mitesh says:

    Andrew, so does this mean that it’s no longer any good? Are there any other keyword tools out there that are better than Google. If and when I do find a niche does it rule out using it? Seems the results are a bit of miss and hit to be honest.

    • Andrew says:

      I’ll still be using it, but it’s not quite as good (in my opinion) as the old tool. A few other SEO tools you might want to consider using as well are WordTracker and SEMRush.

  4. kenneth robinson says:

    I was wondering the same thing as what Mitesh said.

  5. It’s helpful to know that they’re using exact match — that’s my preferred method but I couldn’t figure out which method they were even using in the new version of the keyword tool.

    Regarding the irregularities, I’ve seen this as well. I have a strong suspicion that Google is now taking the approach to show you results based on what they think you mean instead of what you actually searched for. It’s like when you misspell something and they say “showing results for xyz”, except without telling you they’re doing it.

    My theory is that they’re funneling traffic from the long-tail into the high-volume terms that they think you want to see.

    Example: if you search for “oakland as”, you will get results for the Oakland Athletics. It’s my assertion that the search term “oakland athletics” is getting credit for the query as the actual query was funneled into that term.

    • Andrew says:

      Ahhhh…. Very interesting theory, Will! Could be another explanation as well for the increase, and it would make sense that Google could make that assumption. Interesting to think about…..

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Brian says:

    Thanks for the interesting and informative posting. I notice another simple google property that made me questioning my retinal signals. Is there a change in the contrast of the organic vs paid Adwords section? It seems very dim and if i had a small cataract there is no way i could see the difference (ie emerging cataract babyboomers on that one). This of course would be another perk for google’s bottom line and promotion of Adword usage. Just an observation and not a conspiracy statement.

    • Andrew says:

      I’ve noticed that, too! That brown box separating the organic and paid listings on the first page of Google does seem to be getting harder to read. Good point!

  7. Natalya says:

    Thank you, Andy, for the great article and the thoughtful analysis.

  8. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for this! It’s too sad they retire the keyword tool but I guess there is also some good news for the replacement!

    Thanks
    Victor Björklund

  9. Pam says:

    Hi Andrew, I am still a bit confused. I intended to do keyword searches for the Niche Blitzkrieg system, and found about Adwords and the Keyword Planner. But, the first thing I come when signing up for Adwords is billing info. So not sure on this. Thanks, Pam

    • Pam says:

      Oh didn’t really finish that. LOL Will I be charged for searching keywords?

      • Andrew says:

        Nope, no charge for searching using the Keyword Planner. Only charged if you actually create a campaign and start running ads.

        • Kelly Farrell says:

          I am just learning about adding keywords to websites and signed up for google adwords. looks to me like they want me to sign up for a campaign and give them my credit card number. Is there a way around this process? I’m not an advertiser.
          This came in my email:
          Now it’s time to activate your account so you can start reaching customers online:

          1. Sign in to your account at http://adwords.google.com/um/StartNewLogin
          2. Click the Create your first campaign button. Campaign setup takes just a few minutes and include four simple steps:
          - Choose your budget
          - Create your ads
          - Select keywords that match your ad to potential customers
          - Enter your billing information

          Once you complete these steps, your account will be activated

  10. Danny Howard says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Great read, I’ve been playing around with the new keyword planer myself and find your views and concerns to be the same as mine :)

    It’s really frustrating that the data is been kept more in the dark than it wants was. But seeing how people will leverage this tool in the upcoming months will be interesting.

  11. Olatunde says:

    Mind anyone sharing any alternative tool that makes mobile search accessible? Since the new google planner doesn’t come with this? Or would it be included soon?

    • Andrew says:

      Don’t think it’s being included, Olatunde – I think Google intentionally stripped it out so they could make more money per click for keywords as they know mobile ads don’t command as high a price. Not sure if device segmentation is available on other services like WordTracker or SEMRush….

  12. Deepanker says:

    Thanks for this post. I was searching for an easy guide of Keyword planner

  13. Sunil says:

    I was reluctant to use the s/w. But your Visual explanation has helped me to understand it more clearly.
    Thanks and please keep on posting..

    Sunil

  14. Fusionista says:

    Another great post and good analysis from you. It found it confusing using it in the beginning but it is now getting better.

  15. Tamar says:

    Well I liked the good news that user will get exact match but…
    No Device Segmentation? That’s a bad news because it’s more accurate when you know exact percentage where the traffic is coming from.
    Now you will not know which segment you need to work on if it’s a desktop traffic you need to improve, or tablet or mobile.

  16. Sarah says:

    Greatly disappointed by the google keyword tool. No more does it show the exact results rather it shows only worldwide search volume. Truly unnecessary changes it has made. Was most of the time dependent upon this tool, but now i have shifted gears to semrush.com. But still the previous keyword planner was the best. I hope google understands it to the earliest.

  17. Rishabh says:

    Keyword planner seems to have stopped working. Any idea?

  18. Sean Smith says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for this article. I know in your book “Profitable Ecommerce” you stated an exact match of 3,000-5,000 for the primary keyword indicates a good-sized market and 15,000-25,000 indicates a more competitive but better long-term market to enter with the Google Keyword Tool. Have these numbers changed for you since the advent on Keyword Planner?

    Best,

    Sean

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