Keyword research is an art as well as a science, and everyone has their own favorite ways of finding buried treasure under mountains of data.
Some people will use HubSpot for heavy lifting in a campaign, others will use Moz or SEM Rush, but every SEO strategy has one thing in common: It includes at least some data from Google’s signature keyword program – Keyword Planner.
This is one of the most valuable tools at our disposal for search engine optimization, but it’s also the most dangerous. Many marketers rely too heavily on the metrics Google provides without considering the flaws that come with it. My advice is to approach at this data with a healthy dose of skepticism, and use it in conjunction with other valuable sources.
Google Keyword Planner is a tool that allows you to research ad groups and keywords for your Adwords campaigns. By inputting a phrase or website URL, you can browse through huge lists of recommended search terms, along with traffic estimates those phrases deliver throughout the year.
Keyword Planner is actually a combination of apps Google brought together in 2013. From the beginning, it has played a critical role in SEO for many reasons:
It’s free – GKP is the only major keyword research software people can use without any monetary investment or limitations on the data you download.
Faith in Google – Since every business is concerned about getting found on the number one search engine in the world, why wouldn’t they use that search engine’s keyword research tool?
Lots of data – Downloading ad groups can give you literally thousands of keywords, including search volume data, average bid cost (for advertising) and other metrics.
GKP is an indispensable tool, no question about it. I’ve used it on every keyword research project I’ve participated in, and when used correctly it can help guide you to success, but GKP has many downsides that every marketer needs to know.
The most seductive data GKP offers is the “average monthly search volume.” More than any other metric, this information guides the decision making about which keywords end up on a website, but the estimates are misleading.
When you dig into a research project, you might notice the average volume doesn’t vary much from one keyword to the next. This is not your imagination. Drilling into an ad group, I usually see three or four phrases that get hundreds of monthly searches, some that get 30 or 20, and the rest have 10 or zero. How can so many phrases have the same traffic averages? They don’t.
Google averages monthly search traffic for keywords and then rounds them to the nearest traffic estimate “bucket.” Two phrases could have the same average of 200,000 in your downloaded report, but closer examination can reveal these terms differ by tens of thousands of searches! That’s a significant discrepancy, and one you should bear in mind as you start filtering your targets. Moz published a great article about how Google organizes their data into traffic buckets, and I would advise you to check it out.
With every passing day, organic rankings for certain keywords are getting more and more competitive, and because of this, it’s borderline crazy to choose keywords based on traffic estimates alone.
You have to know the ranking difficulty if you want to avoid targeting phrases that will be impossible to rank for. Every marketers knows this, but a lot of them don’t invest in the tools that offer these important metrics.
The HubSpot keyword research toolpulls in aggregate data that tells you how hard it is to rank for a specific term on a scale of 0-100. The higher the difficulty score, the harder it is to rank for the keyword. If I’m working on a website with below average domain authority, I usually set my sights on phrases that score under 50. At the end of your analysis, you should have a short list of targets that have a high benefit (search volume and bid cost) and a low difficulty score.
Anyone who has done keyword research for a while will tell you GKP returns some pretty weird results sometimes. As an example, I ran a report for keywords related to “rock music,” and the following terms were in the results:
"Country music downloader"
"Streaming Christmas music"
Google’s algorithms are obviously smarter than this, or no one would use it. If you search for “rock music” you won’t see any links to “gospel music” or “streaming Christmas music” anywhere in the results pages because it has no relevance the query, and yet, when using the Keyword Planner, you have to sort through hundreds or thousands of junk phrases that have little or value to your strategy.
As mentioned earlier, Google Keyword Planner offers indispensable data. It helps us create a broad landscape of keywords in very little time. But a good keyword strategy depends on what you do with that information. By filtering the results and comparing it to insightful data from other sources, you can create a more rounded strategy that’s based on reality, rather than the limited information Google wants to share with the world.