The complete guide to the Google Keyword Planner
For those looking to plan a Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising campaign, there are a number of online tools available. But there is only one free tool that allows limitless access to data direct from Google: this helps to explain why Google’s Keyword Planner remains the number one choice for PPC professionals.
With direct integration with Google AdWords, the Keyword Planner also enables new campaigns to be created more quickly and efficiently than might otherwise be the case. This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t problems with the Keyword Planner. This article offers a “warts and all” view, discussing some great techniques for making the most of the tool, while also looking at some issues that you might not otherwise be aware of.
What is the Keyword Planner?
Put simply, the Keyword Planner is a free tool that is offered by Google. Although it is sometimes used by search engine optimisation (SEO) practitioners, its main role is in assisting those wanting to run PPC campaigns.
The tool taps into Google’s own database, allowing advertisers to see key information about individual search terms (sometimes described as keywords). What sort of data is available to you? There’s a vast raft of information, including estimates on the number of times search terms are used within a given month. You can also look at data that’s specific to your geographic location, while the tool enables you to access insights into how competitive particular search terms are, together with how much you might need to bid on a given keyword, in order to reach a level of prominence.
In our case, we don’t tend to use it to investigate competitor behaviour, since we don’t see it as the right tool for that particular job. It is, however, the right tool when we want to identify a wider range of keywords, or to limit waste within an account. We’ll talk more about those elements as we go along!
How you can access the Keyword Planner
Accessing the Keyword Planner used to be incredibly straightforward: you would bookmark the tool’s location within your favourite browser and that was pretty much job done! Things became a little more complicated when Google decided to limit access, restricting it to those with active Google AdWords accounts.
Now, that change was undoubtedly a bit annoying for some, but it’s not been disastrous. Firstly, most users of the Keyword Planner will have (or wish to have) an AdWords account anyway. After all, that’s the most likely reason for carrying out keyword research. Secondly, it’s free (and easy) to create a Google AdWords account. If you’ve not already done so, then make your way to:
A little note at this point: it is possible to access the Keyword Planner once you have created an AdWords account, even if you don’t have a campaign in place. However, Google decided to limit the level of data that you have access to in those circumstances. So, if you want to gain full access to the Keyword Planner tool, you need to create a campaign within your AdWords account. That campaign doesn’t need to be live (you don’t even need to enter any billing details within your AdWords account), but a campaign needs to exist.
Finding the Keyword Planner
So, you have a Google AdWords account in place and have created at least one campaign, even if it’s not yet been activated. What happens next? To find the Keyword Planner tool within your AdWords account, you need to navigate to the Tools menu and then select the Keyword Planner option. You’ll then be presented with the main screen, which looks like this:
In the top half of the screen (with the section entitled Find new keywords and get search volume data), you have the 3 main options for using the tool:
- Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category
- Get search volume data and trends
- Multiply keyword lists to get new keywords
I’ll talk through each of these options in turn:
Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category
This is probably the area of functionality within the Keyword Planner that we use most frequently here at Search South. When we are planning a campaign, or looking to expand an existing campaign, this is the area that we often turn to in the first instance.
As you expand out this section, you are shown the screen below, prompting you for a series of input options:
What you are going to be presented with, having completed the inputs, is information on potential target keywords, including how often Google users search using them, the level of AdWords competition that exists for each, suggestions on how an AdWords campaign could be structured, the opportunity to automatically add keywords to your campaigns, together with some pointers on how much you will need to bid in order to gain visibility.
Before reaching that point, you need to give the Keyword Planner some idea of what search terms might be of interest to your audience.
The easiest way to start is often simply to enter a list of your key products and services in the top box. You don’t need to also enter details of your landing page or category: you can simply reel off a list of products and services.
What we tend to find is that our clients will often have some opening ideas on the sort of keywords that they’ll be looking to target. We’ll also add our own ideas. At this stage of the process, thoughts will be at a very broad level. Let’s say that we’re working with a toy retailer, we might enter a list of keywords along the following lines:
Buy toys online
Buy ball games
As you can see, this initial list needn’t be particularly sophisticated. I know that my client sells toys and that they have an impressive range of ball games and other toys for outdoor use. They’ve also been successful in selling board games and action figures online. Given this information, I’m able to prompt Google to offer me some further ideas.
Tip: If you’re a subscriber to a tool like SEMRush, which enables you to examine which keywords your competitors are targeting, then you could enter their keywords as a starting point.
If I’m unsure of which keywords I could realistically enter (possibly because I’m unclear of precisely what my client is offering), then I could enter a landing page. This might be added instead of the list of products and services, or in addition. If I do enter a landing page, then the Keyword Planner will carry out a quick analysis of that page, examining the keywords that appear to be represented. With that information, the Keyword Planner will be able to make keyword suggestions.
Personally, I rarely enter a Category. Although you can do so, it adds little value to what can be identified via product and service selections, together with the landing page.
Once you have you seed keywords, URL or category entered, it’s important that you focus closely on the targeting options. It’s all too easy to get some astonishing figures returned, only to then realise that you have asked Google to return data on global searches, rather than the actual location that you are interested in!
First up, you have the Location field. If you’re simply targeting the whole of the United Kingdom (as is often the case when it comes to a nationwide campaign), then you’ll need to ensure that you have the United Kingdom listed as the location to be targeted. Ensure that any additional locations have been removed at the same time.
If you’d prefer to target a city or region, then you’re able to select that here too. Again, if you choose to do so, ensure that you only have the location of interest entered. It’s quite easy to select a location, but to forget to delete the United Kingdom from the list, which then distorts the results. Think carefully too about how precise your targeting needs to be: are you targeting a specific turn, for example, or is there interest in surrounding locations too?
The Advanced search facility can be useful at this point, enabling you to identify associated locations of interest, that you might not otherwise have covered. There’s also the option to upload a bulk list. By default, the tool appears to often assume that you are based in the US, so change that in order to ensure that you are receiving accurate UK results.
For language targeting, it may seem that the selection will be self-explanatory in most cases. But there are circumstances where you will be looking to target those who speak a first language that is not quite so obvious: for instance, if you’re producing ads for the Canadian market, then will you only seek to display those to English-speaking individuals, or to French-speakers too?
By default, the Keyword Planner displays data that relates purely to searches carried out on Google. However, as you may be aware, it is possible to place your ads in front of a wider audience than simply Google users. Google’s Search Network includes a range of other properties, meaning that advertising on this Network can expand the reach of your advertising. If you are intending to do so, then you can choose to view Keyword Planner results that cover the Search Network, as well as Google. This can prove informative.
Tip: You might wish to run a report for Google-only and then a separate report to include the Search Network. Some simple data manipulation within Excel can then be used to ascertain the figure on the Search Network for specific keywords. If you’re unsure on whether to run ads on the Search Network (or may only wish to do so for particular keywords), then this is a tip that can work well.
You may already know that there are some search terms that may appear to be related to your business, but where you really don’t want your ads to appear. We can take an example of this by looking again at our hypothetical toy retailer. Let’s say that the retailer sells toys, but does not sell any Lego toys. In this case, it might be pointless to advertise on search terms that include the word Lego, since it’s likely that any resulting clicks will be wasted.
In order to filter data from the outset, the Keyword Planner prompts you to enter any negative keywords that you have in mind. In the case of our example, if you enter Lego here, then the results offered by the Keyword Planner will exclude any keywords that mention Lego.
The Keyword Planner results page offers an indication of how many times keywords have been used within the past 12 months. But you can alter the period of time that you are examining. Indeed, there’s the option at this point to enter a custom date range and even to carry out comparisons with other date ranges.
The final 3 fields on the Keyword Planner main screen relate to customisation options:
- Keyword filters
- Keyword options
- Keywords to include
There are options here to filter your results based upon average monthly searches, suggested bid and impression share. There’s also the opportunity to filter here on the basis of competition levels (high, medium or low).
By default, all of these are switched to off. But the options here enable other ideas to be shown that are closely related to the keywords, showing keywords in my account, showing keywords in my plan and showing adult keywords.
Keywords to include
Finally, by entering keywords to include, you are instructing Google’s Keyword Planner to only show search terms that include specific keywords. If our imaginary toy shop, for example, only sells outdoor games, then we might consider entering a range of keywords here that specifically relate to outdoor play, such as: outdoor, garden, external. The reason for doing this would be to exclude any terms that do not specifically include these keywords. A similar impact can be achieved by entering negative keywords.
Get search volume data and trends
I’ve covered the most-used function within the Keyword Planner (which is Find new keywords and get search volume data), but what happens if you wish to opt to Get search volume data and trends?. There’s a subtle difference here, both in terms of what’s returned and the initial information that you are required to enter.
In essence, you are asked to provide one or more keywords. There’s no option to input a landing page or category. Instead, your keywords are either entered manually or via a bulk upload.
You are then offered a limited range of targeting options: location, Google only or with Search Network and negative keywords. There’s also the possibility to enter a custom date range, or to use the default (covering the past 12 months).
On the Keyword Planner main screen, there is also a third item of functionality: Multiply keyword lists to get new keywords.
This is an automated element of the tool, allowing new keyword combinations to be displayed, by combining lists of existing keywords. You’re presented with two List boxes. As you’d expect, you enter a list of keywords in each (either on new lines or comma separated) and can then get forecasts for the extended list that is automatically generated.
Tip: You are not limited to only using two lists as the inputs here. You can click the X to add more boxes, enabling you to generated more sophisticated keyword lists.
Plan your budget and get forecasts
Although probably used less frequently, the bottom section of the Keyword Planner main screen enables the user to enter keywords and then to get some projections on likely search volumes and resulting costs over a particular period of time. By default, the forecast is for the next 7 days and provides a daily forecast.
As with other elements of the tool, it’s necessary (and absolutely critical) to set the target location, language, platform (Google, or including Search Partners too), together with any negative keywords that you’re looking to exclude.
Keyword Planner results
Once you’ve entered your starting information, it’s time to take a look at the results. But what does all of this information mean? Let’s go through each of the elements in turn.
The Keyword Planner results screen is divided into two main sections: a graph (shown within the top half of the page) and the detailed data (shown within the bottom section of the page). I’ll talk about the graphs in a moment, but the detailed data represents the core output from the Keyword Planner, so I’m going to start by delving into this in some detail.
The Keyword Planner data is divided into two separate tabs: Ad group ideas and Keyword ideas. Ultimately, the actual information that is provided is the same in both, allowing you to look at monthly searches, competition levels, suggested bids and additional items of interest. Where there is a difference between these two tabs is in how this information is shown.
The Ad group ideas tab gathers associated keywords together into suggested ad groups. I tend to find that this is the easiest format to use, even if I’m not intending to create ad groups immediately from within the Keyword Planner. The grouping of keywords allows you to take a look at the suggestions and to identify where there are sets of keywords that can immediately be ruled out.
The Keyword ideas tab, on the other hand, simply lists all of the keywords identified by the tool. These are notionally ordered by relevance, as a default. I’ll add a few words of caution here: I’ve found that the tool isn’t great in identifying the relevance of individual keywords, so you can’t simply scan through the keywords towards the top of the list until you start to reach a few that don’t feel relevant. There’s a good chance that stopping at this point would mean that you’ll be missing out on a lot more relevant keywords that are being displayed lower on the list.
Let’s jump back to the graphs. You’ll already have noticed that you’re shown a default graph, displaying average monthly search trends over the past 12 months, taking into account all keywords listed within the Keyword Planner results page. Is this a useful graph? It offers an overview, but given that you won’t yet have started to look at the data, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s effectively a graph that displays search trends for keywords identified by the tool, many of which you are likely to decide aren’t particularly relevant to your own advertising campaign plans.
Those same caveats apply to the alternative graph views that are available, which are:
- Mobile trends: This enables you to look at the mobile search trend, together with the overall trend. It also allows you to establish what proportion of the searches are being conducted on mobile devices.
- Breakdown by device: Provides a simple pie chart, showing a summary for mobile, tablets and desktop. This doesn’t include a monthly breakdown, although one could be achieved by modifying the filtering on the main Keyword Planner input screen.
- Breakdown by location: A further pie chart, with the individual elements depending upon your own selections. If you’re looking at UK-wide data, for instance, then you’re able to get a breakdown by province, country, municipality and town/city.
- Account/plan coverage: This is only visible if you’ve chosen to include the keywords within your account in the results.
- Compared to competitor domains: Shows ad impression share for your own account against those of competitors (as automatically identified by Google).
- Compared to market leader domains: Shows ad impression share for your own account against those of leading businesses within your market (again, as automatically identified by Google).
This is probably self explanatory: the search terms listed are those that Google is suggesting that you should consider advertising on.
Tip: Never run through the Keyword Planner just once when planning a new AdWords campaign. It always pays to use multiple data inputs to discover an even greater number of relevant keywords.
Against each of the keywords is a graph icon. Click on that graph and you can see what the search trends look like (on a monthly basis) for each keyword, based upon the date range that you originally entered. This is far more useful, I find, than the default graph that is shown at the top of the results page. Here’s your chance to look at the data at a far more granular level.
Average monthly searches
As the name suggests, this is the average number of monthly searches on this keyword, within the date range that you originally specified. Read on to understand why this figure may not always be entirely accurate.
The level of competition, shown as High, Medium or Low. You can get a more detailed breakdown of this measure when you download data into a spreadsheet. More about this in a moment too!
This is Google’s suggestion on what you should be bidding for this keyword. Is it a fantastic, accurate estimate? No, but it does at least provide you with a starting point when you are planning your campaigns. I’ll show you how this can be used to start building some pretty decent estimates of likely campaign advertising costs.
Ad impression share
The ad impression share column shows you the proportion of times that your ad has been shown for this keyword in the last calendar month. This is useful if you already have some of the keywords included within existing ad groups because it enables you to identify new opportunities, including keywords where you currently have some exposure, but where there’s a further opportunity to increase your presence.
Add to Plan
The functionality here enables you to start constructing ad groups from within the Keyword Planner. You can choose to ad entire ad groups, or simply look to construct using individual keywords.
Once you’ve added a selection of keywords, a new Review plan tab becomes available, enabling you to view projections on the number of clicks and associated costs that might be expected, given your selections.
Download Keyword Planner results
Downloading the results can be incredibly useful, enabling you to carry out more work offline, or to prepare a dataset for an upload via the Google AdWords Editor tool. There are various options available to you:
Segmentation: You can choose to segment your data by month.
File format: There is the opportunity to either download the file in a ready-made AdWords Editor CSV, or to opt for a CSV file that can be used easily within Excel.
Destination: You can opt to save the resulting file to Google Drive. If you don’t tick this box, then your file will be downloaded into your default Downloads folder, depending upon the browser settings that you have in place.
PPC competition level in downloaded file
When using the Keyword Planner, the level of competition that you are facing is shown as being Low, Medium or High. This is a fairly basic degree of information and you may be interested in knowing more.
Once you have downloaded the data into a CSV file, you may note that the competition is expressed in a different manner. Against each keyword, the competition is shown on a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 being low competition and 1 being high competition.
Using the Keyword Planner effectively
The Keyword Planner is an extremely useful tool, but its effectiveness is often governed by user input. Although the tool can provide a huge number of suggested keywords, it’s very much over to the individual user to make informed decisions.
For example, just because a keyword is seemingly related to the products or services that you are seeking to sell, this doesn’t imply that it will lead to a great campaign performance level. In order to really evaluate individual keywords, it’s necessary to understand the searcher’s intent. Are they on the verge of making a purchase? Might they, instead, be at the research phase and some way from buying online? Is there a chance that they will never actually purchase because their search term, although seemingly related, hints at some other intent?
Not only does this mean that there’s a necessity to use experience in assessing the value of individual keywords, it also suggests that a primary use of the Keyword Tool can be seen in terms of expanding an advertiser’s negative keyword list. Identifying seemingly related keywords that you would actually expect to perform poorly can actually be a useful exercise: it enables you to rule those search terms out of campaigns, before they can start to do damage by causing wasted budget and pulling down Quality Scores.
Expanding keyword selections further
Although the Keyword Tool is good at expanding out your keyword selections, it does rely considerably upon your own ability to provide the initial ideas. If your initial ideas are inaccurate, or limited, then you can also expect your results to be limited. So how can you be sure that you are casting the net as widely as possible?
We have a number of top tips that can help to deliver results:
Ad group tab ideas
The ad group tab on the results page will present you with keywords grouped together. Are there any of these grouped suggestions that might send your thinking off in a different manner? There may well be opportunities here to identify new seed keywords, which could form the basis of a revised search.
What search terms are your competitors using? These can provide an incredible insight, allowing you to take a big shortcut to finding great seed keywords. You could manually carry out a series of Google searches to see which advertisers appear, but a far better solution would be use a tool like SEMRush. You’ll be able to get a snapshot of the keyword coverage of your main competitors.
Some of the more advanced features of SEMRush are worth examining too: we like being able to trawl through the available data, identifying even more competitors and then working through their keyword lists too. You’ll soon be in spreadsheet heaven, as you find more and more great keyword suggestions!
The Keyword Planner allows you to enter a landing page and then to ask for keyword suggestions on the basis of the content of that page. But it doesn’t limit you to using one of your own landing pages.
So why not use others that may be of relevance to your target audience. Here are some great examples:
- Competitor URLs (obviously!)
- Blog post URLs
- Pinterest search results
- Reddit URLs
- Wikipedia URLs
Google Instant Search
Have you ever noticed that, when you start typing a search term into Google’s search box, you are presented with some suggestions? This is Google predicting what you are about to type, drawing upon a history of searches by other users. You can use this data to your advantage: take a look at some of those predictions and plug them in to the Keyword Planner as seed keywords.
Drawbacks of the Keyword Planner
This article has focused on the many advantages of using Google’s Keyword Planner, but we wouldn’t wish to suggest that there aren’t drawbacks too. There are some issues with the tool, which you need to be aware of, so that you can understand the relevance and accuracy of the results that you’re presented with. So let’s run through some problems:
Google’s Keyword Planner uses rounded averages
Have you ever run the Keyword Planner and been shown that a keyword receives 5 clicks per month, or 2,350 clicks per month? No, us neither.
The Planner evidently uses a combination of rounded averages and traffic pods, in order to provide you with estimates for traffic volumes. What this means is that you can’t take the numbers as gospel: they are, in fact, just estimates.
The greater the number of searches being conducted on a keyword each month, the greater the likely variance from the estimate to the reality. At least, that’s been our experience. We believe that the difference increases because the pods (or ranges) become wider higher up the chain.
There have been some suggestions, across a range of articles, that the Keyword Planner only ever appears to provide a sub-set of potential keywords within its results pages. We’ve certainly found that, the more tailored the seed keywords, the better the results.
If you are intent on relying upon a single run of the Keyword Planner, then it is likely that you will only get part of the story. We would recommend using as many seed keywords as possible and expanding out over a series of runs. That way, you’ll put yourself in a strong position to get all of the results that you need.
Finally, you can’t simply accept recommendations at face value. We can’t emphasise this enough. Going back to our toy retailer, we can see this played out in full. Remember that we used a pretty tailored set of seed keywords. Here are some of the results that we got back:
Lottery results? Clearly, these search terms aren’t well related to our original inputs. Fortunately, an experienced AdWords advertiser or account manager is quickly able to spot such anomalies. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that every suggestion from the Keyword Planner will be a good one!
We hope that you’ve enjoyed our comprehensive discussion on Google’s Keyword Planner. We’ve tried to provide plenty of detail, while appealing to all abilities. We very much hope that we’ve succeeded!
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