If you're like most people who do online marketing, you use one or both of the following: Google AdWords (paid advertising), or SEO (search engine optimization).
Both these forms of search engine marketing revolve around keywords — terms people search for.
So to hone in on the right ones, you'll use online tools that give you that information.
While there are tons of paid tools available, like MozPro and SEMRush, the gold standard for free keyword tools has always been Google Keyword Planner.
Well, at least until recently.
A couple of years ago, Google drastically reduced the amount and quality of information you could get from Keyword Planner if you weren't actively spending money on AdWords ads.
But even if you are using AdWords, Keyword Planner still has some really glaring flaws.
It might actually not be a good idea to rely on it too heavily, or to trust its data at face value.
The most well-known issue is the comically massive search volume ranges it will give you.
A given keyword, like “lighting installation,” might have a search volume value given as something like “10,000-100,000 average monthly searches.”
That's so broad as to be practically meaningless.
There's a huge difference between something that gets 10k searches a month, and something that gets 100k. They're in two totally different leagues.
But that's not the only issue.
In a recent Whiteboard Friday post, Moz's Rand Fishkin explains why relying on Keyword Planner can leave you with inaccurate information that could have a negative effect on your search marketing efforts.
AdWords doesn't line up to reality, or even Google Trends!
AdWords doesn't line up to reality with itself. I'll show you what I mean.
So let's go over to Google Trends. Great tool, by the way. I'm going to talk about that in a second. But I plugged in “lighting design,” “lighting consultant,” and “types of lighting.” I get the nice chart that shows me seasonality.
But over on the left, it also shows average keyword volume compared to each other — 86 for “lighting design,” 2 for “lighting consultant,” and 12 for “types of lighting.” Now, you tell me how it is that this can be 43 times as big as this one and this can be 6 times as big as that one, and yet these are all correct.
The math only works in some very, very tiny amounts of circumstances, like, okay, maybe if this is 1,000 and this is 12,000, which technically puts it in the 10k, and this is 86,000 — well, no wait, that doesn't quite work — 43,000, okay, now we made it work.
But you change this to 2,000 or 3,000, the numbers don't add up. Worse, it gets worse, of course it does. When AdWords gets more specific with the performance data, things just get so crazy weird that nothing lines up.
So what I did is I created ad groups, because in AdWords in order to get more granular monthly search data, you have to actually create ad groups and then go review those. This is in the review section of my ad group creation. I created ad groups with only a single keyword so that I could get the most accurate volume data I could, and then I maximized out my bid until I wasn't getting any more impressions by bidding any higher.
Well, whether that truly accounts for all searches or not, hard to say. But here's the impression count — 2,500 a day, 330 a day, 4 a day. So 4 a day times 30, gosh, that sounds like 120 to me. That doesn't sound like it's in the 1,000 to 10,000 range.
I don't think this could possibly be right. It just doesn't make any sense.
What's happening? Oh, actually, this is “types of lighting.” Google clearly knows that there are way more searches for this. There's a ton more searches for this.
Why is the impression so low? The impressions are so low because Google will rarely ever show an ad for that keyword, which is why when we were talking, above here, about competition, I didn't see an ad for that keyword.
So again, extremely misleading.
If you're taking data from AdWords and you're trying to apply it to your SEO campaigns, your organic campaigns, your content marketing campaigns, you are being misled and led astray.
If you see numbers like this that are coming straight from AdWords, “Oh, we looked at the AdWords impression,” know that these can be dead f'ing wrong, totally misleading, and throw your campaigns off.
You might choose not to invest in content around types of lighting, when in fact that could be an incredibly wonderful lead source. It could be the exact right keyword for you. It is getting way more search volume. We can see it right here.
We can see it in Google Trends, which is showing us some real data, and we can back that up with our own clickstream data that we get here at Moz.
AdWords conflates and combines keywords that don't share search intent or volume
Another problem, Google conflates keywords. So when I do searches and I start adding keywords to a list, unless I'm very careful and I type them in manually and I'm only using the exact ones, Google will take all three of these, “types of lights,” “types of light” (singular light), and “types of lighting” and conflate them all, which is insane. It is maddening.
Why is it maddening? Because “types of light,” in my opinion, is a physics-related search. You can see many of the results, they'll be from Energy.gov or whatever, and they'll show you the different types of wavelengths and light ranges on the visible spectrum.
“Types of lights” will show you what? It will show you types of lights that you could put in your home or office.
“Types of lighting” will show you lighting design stuff, the things that a lighting consultant might be interested in.
So three different, very different, types of results with three different search intents all conflated in AdWords, killing me.
You can find out more about the limitations of Google Keyword Planner, and how this can affect your advertising strategies, in the full post from Moz.