Google Keyword Planner

Now that you have your starting list of keywords, we’re ready to start using Google’s Keyword Planner. This is a tool that Google developed to help Adwords buyers purchase ads on Google, but it’s hugely useful for SEO as well. In addition to various ad-related info, the tool will tell us how many people search for a keyword each month, and will give us suggestions of related keywords that people also search for.

Google gets this data from everyone who searches on Google, as you can imagine. However, there are a couple things you should be aware of.

  • Google Keyword Planner search volume is based on the average of a year’s worth of searches. That means that all seasonality is averaged out. If Google says there are 12,000 searches per month, that might mean that there are actually 6k per month in the spring, but 20k per month during the holidays. Most searches have some kind of seasonality to them. The Keyword Planner will show you some bar graphs on top with the seasonality, but the numbers in the grid below are averages.
  • The tool will only give you search numbers for exactly the phase you entered. Perhaps you searched for “headboard” and saw it has 18,100 searches per month… but if you didn’t check headboards (plural) you wouldn’t have known that version has 49,500 searches per month!
  • In addition to being averaged, the search volumes are lumped into preset buckets. For example, a keyword might have 320 searches per month, but it will never have 413, or 390, or 450. The next bucket is 480. Google’s not trying to give you exact numbers, but instead is just trying to give you the qualitative information you need to have a good idea how much better or worse different keywords are when compared to each other.
  • Google will not actually show you all of the related searches that it knows about. The tool is trying to be helpful for people buying ads, so it’s less likely to show your searches that aren’t good for advertising. If you enter the term, Google will still give you the search volume, but it’s up to you to make sure you’re checking all the right terms.

Okay, time to get started!

First, head over to the Google Keyword Planner. You will have to have a Google account to use it, and Google now also requires you to have an adwords account. Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend anything or buy any ads. Just go ahead and sign up, then get back to the first page of the Keyword Planner, which looks something like this:

Google Keyword Planner Start page

You want to choose “Search for new keyword and ad group ides.” You’ll then get to a page like this one:

Google Keyword Planner Keyword Entry Page

In the top box, just copy and paste you list of keywords. On this page you can also set what region and language you want to check: just set it for your country and language. There’s also an option to limit your suggestions by entering negative keywords (in which case Google won’t suggest any phrase including that word) or a required keyword (in which case Google will only make suggestions that include that word). These options can be very useful for looking up specific things, but you can ignore them at first.

Now we click Get ideas and Google is going to bring us to a page that shows a bunch of data for each keyword (note: look at the “Keyword ideas” tab. Sometimes Google takes you to the “Ad group ideas” tab – you don’t want that). Since we’re not interesting in buying ads on Google, we can ignore everything except for the Search Volume number. That is the average number of people who search for that exact keyword phrase each month — on desktop computers, tablets, or mobile phones.

Google Keyword Planner Results Page

Now we can export this list by clicking Download from the top right of the data table. Our next step is to spend a few minutes looking over our output list. I like to sort it by volume, then delete anything that I think is too low — exactly how little is too little depends on your industry: for I look at anything at least in the hundreds; for enterprise ecommerce sites I’d commonly only look at things in the thousands.

Note on the Competition Column: ignore this column. This is not a measure of how competitive it is to rank for that term. It is a measure of how competitive it is to advertise for that term with paid ads. The two are often quite different. For SEO purposes, ignore this column entirely.

With the garbage removed, I then like to sort it alphabetically and get a feel for where the good search volume is. Once we get to topicality optimization, you’ll see that while we optimize for keywords, we’re also really optimizing around clusters of keywords. A page optimized for headboards is probably going to rank pretty well for headboard, and head boards — and we definitely shouldn’t have a separate page for each (which creates a crappy site, and can lead to Google penalties).

Expand Your Keyword List

Our next step in the keyword research process is to expand our list beyond what we thought of in our brainstorming. Now we want to sort our list by search volume, and take just the top keywords.

Starting at the top, enter just one keyword into Google Keyword Planner. The reason we’re doing this is because the fewer keywords you enter, the more suggestions Google will give us. We’ll enter the keyword, tell the Keyword Planner to sort the recommendations by search volume, and see if there’s anything here that we didn’t think of.

Google Keyword Planner Results for Headboard

This is also the stage where it can be worth your while to use the filters to exclude or include keywords (using include will only show keyword phrases that include that keyword – in the example above I’m including “headboard”). For certain keywords Google’s suggestions can be all over the map, and limiting the results can help give you less junk to wade through. For example, if you’re selling apple pies, you probably want negative keywords like “computer, ipod, ipad, iphone” to exclude apple computer products — or you can set “pie” as a required keyword.

As you find suggestions that are relevant to your site, have a search volume over the minimum that you’ve decided, and that you don’t already have on your list, go ahead and add them to your list.

Keep an eye out for keywords related to your niche or industry that are informational in nature. For example, if I’m doing research for my site selling headboards and I discover some decent search volume for “how to refinish headboard” I want to make a note of that. Eventually I’ll probably want to write an article about refinishing headboards for my site. These kinds of searches can give you ideas for excellent content articles, which you’ll use later to attract links to your site.

Once you’ve gone through the first few pages of suggestions and have added all the keywords with decent search volume, move on to the next keyword on your list. Repeat this process with all of your high volume keywords. There’s no need to repeat closely related ones (headboard, headboards, head board, wooden headboards) — every one of those is likely to give the same suggestions. So you’ll only need to include substantially different keywords.

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