How to Use Google’s Keyword Planner for SEO

Google's Keyword PlannerGoogle’s Keyword Planner is probably the most important keyword research tool there is. Why? Because it comes directly from the source. With 70% of the search market, Google’s search data is invaluable. Unfortunately, Google wants us to use this data to run paid search campaigns rather than optimize websites, so there are a few hoops to jump through in order to get the data we need.  But the keyword data that can be gathered with the Keyword Planner is well worth the effort. Oh, and unlike many other keyword tools–it’s free.

The Keyword Planner replaced the Google’s Keyword tool in 2013. The Keyword Planner has some more advanced features, but also is missing some of the features that we used to know and love–like the ability to segment desktop and mobile data. Sigh.

The first simple hurdle you need to overcome is that Google requires you have an Adwords account in order to use the Keyword Planner. Don’t worry, you don’t need to enter any payment details or buy any ads. You need to create an account. You can do that here.

Once you’ve created an Adwords account then you can just bookmark in order to navigate directly to the Keyword Planner anytime you want.

I usually begin using the keyword planner by:

  1. Selecting “Search for new keyword and adgroup ideas.”
  2. Then I enter in a few keywords related to the website I want to optimize. I try not to mess with the filters too much at first, because I want to see as much data as I can in the beginning. You can always filter later. (I also usually leave landing page and category blank–but feel free to experiment).
  3. If I’m doing keyword research for a local business I will set the location, otherwise I’ll leave the setting at “All Locations”
  4. I will change the Google setting to include “Google and search partners” (because more data is better in my opinion).
  5. Click “Get Ideas”

Because Google wants you to start creating an Adwords accounts based on the results, the page that you land on is a listing of possible ad groups. While you’re not using the data to create ad campaigns, it’s actually quite helpful to know how Google groups keywords into topics but well get to that in a bit.  The first thing i usually do is click the keyword tab in order to evaluate the list of keywords Google has provided.

Google will give you a long list of keyword suggestions along with their average monthly searches and high-to-low competition as well as some bid information for paid advertising. The competition metric is also meant for paid advertising. While you can guess that there is a correlation in competition between organic search and paid search, I usually take this competition ranking with a grain of salt. Often simply looking at the actual search result page will give you a better sense of what kind of competition you are up against. Also, the Moz toolbar is a great browser plugin that will help you assess the competition.

Once you have a list of suggested keywords in the keyword planner, I highly recommend using the “Include and exclude” options to narrow down the Keyword Planners suggestions. If there is a certain irrelevant keyword that comes up again and again in your list you can exclude it. Or if you only want to see keywords that contain the word “shoe” or “shoes” use those in your include options.

Once I’ve generated a list of keywords and filtered it to my satisfaction, I will download it and open it in an excel file. If you’ve done a good job of filtering you won’t have too many junk keywords to eliminate, but there will usually always be a bunch of keywords that are simply off topic, and you’ll want to delete them. It’s good to use Excel’s filter option so you can easily arrange your columns from the highest traffic to lowest, or highest competition to lowest.

Once you have identified your most promising keywords by comparing competition, traffic volume, and relevancy, you can actually upload the whole list back into the keyword planner in order to make Google reorganize your keywords back into ad groups.

This is particularly useful for keyword placement. Think of each ad group as a single page on your website–and only optimize a single page for each group of keywords.  You don’t need to include every keyword on the page of course, but using a few targeted phrases that flow well with your copy can be very helpful.

Some things to know about the keyword planner:

The default setting in the keyword planner includes all countries. For most searches you’ll want to narrow that down to country, city, or even zip code.

You can exclude or include certain words. This is one of the most powerful tools. Use it. Requiring that a certain word is included in every keyword suggestion or excluding irrelevant words can reduce a gigantic list of keywords down to a targeted few.

Just because a keyword has zero or very little traffic according to the Planner, doesn’t necessarily mean you should ignore it. The keywords shown are considered exact matches, which means that the traffic volume per keyword is based on a keyword phrase being typed into Google in a very particular way. But in real life people misspell words and add on things, and use all kinds of conjugations and phrasings when they search. Often times it helps if you think of the traffic from multiple keywords as your goal. For instance if you want to target “ladies cheap red  shoes” you might also rank for “affordable red women’s shoes” and others. Google will do its best to understand your page and bring traffic from a wide variety of keywords.

If you have any thoughts and/or suggestions or tips for using Google’s Keyword Planner, I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments below.

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