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Google’s Keyword Planner – Make Sure You’re Not Being Misled!

May 17, 2017

Back in June 2016, users of Google’s Keyword Planner weren’t best pleased when they received an ‘error’ message stating that they had to have an active AdWords campaign to use it. Since Google made a name for themselves in that they have open, free-to-use tools, a lot of people were shocked by the change. Not long after all the furore, a Google spokesperson addressed the issue, stating that it was a technical issue and people could still use Keyword Planner without an active campaign.

Fast forward two months and Google released the following statement:
“Advertisers with lower monthly spend may see a limited data view in the Keyword Planner. For example, you may see values such as 0, 1-100, 100-1K, 1K-10K, 10K-100K, 100K-1M, 1M+ in the average monthly searches column.

In addition, other advertisers may trigger the limited data view by reaching a limit on the number of searches for search volume data (specifically, requests to our API).

This change was made so that we can consistently give advertisers the data they need to optimize their accounts, while preventing ‘bots’ and other services from abusing the intended use of Keyword Planner.

The search volume estimates, though displayed differently in some cases, still provide an accurate and helpful view of how many clicks and impressions keywords may receive.”

Suddenly, the ‘technical glitch’ doesn’t seem so accidental and may well have been Google trialling changes to their keyword tool. Of course, for current users this wasn’t the most welcome news, especially those with a low-budget threshold who were not sold on the idea that they would be seeing vague search volumes like ‘100k-1M’.

On the Google community forum, users questioned and criticized the change in their droves.

One user commented: “… the detailed data for larger advertisers and range data for smaller advertisers continues to create competitive disadvantages for smaller advertisers, who are primarily small and medium sized local businesses. This is a move that seems to punish SMB’s and rewards larger companies who already have large people, software, and monetary advantages over SMB’s.”

This user seemed to make a fair point. Why should accounts spending less receive less accurate data? Was this a move made purely to encourage spending? And what was the spending threshold for receiving the accurate data? Google’s spokesperson didn’t really provide much clarification on these issues and soon enough, the controversy died down.

Keyword Planner and Inaccuracies

As an agency, we naturally use the Keyword Planner tool pretty often. It’s a great means of researching when it comes to both SEO planning and paid advertising, and it’s also handy for communicating with clients when it comes to the crux of what drives our marketing campaigns. We can indicate exactly what we’re thinking and how we got to that point, and that is invaluable when it comes to providing clients with transparency.

However, we often find ourselves asking ‘how trustworthy are these numbers?’. The snapshots featured below display the search volumes of matching terms, but researched through different accounts. One account has a considerably higher spend than the other and when comparing search term volumes we can get vastly different figures.

Here are two random examples:

Account with small budget

Account with large budget

Account with small budget

Account with large budget

As you can see, for exactly the same search terms, we are drawing vastly different search volumes. These aren’t insignificant numbers, we are seeing differences of 100s of thousands which is a lot of people to miss out on if you are spending your budget on terms that actually don’t draw much interest.

That’s where the stuff we mentioned earlier comes in. It seems like Google has ditched the range format but not actually ditched the ranges. With all the negative feedback, it seems like this might be Google’s way of still giving the good data to big spenders, and the less accurate stuff to those on small budgets.

While we have to add that this hypothesis is based on an educated guess, it’s definitely an interesting series of events to consider.

Misleading Stats

Clearly, this can be quite misleading. Furthermore, it’s really important that keyword research is just one part of a bigger marketing picture. Your marketing research should use a host of tools and a wide range of metrics in order to ensure it is as reliable and accurate as possible. If anything, this could be a lesson in ensuring your marketing does not rely on one particular tool too heavily.

Keyword planner is good for a general overview of search volumes but it doesn’t tell the complete picture and can be quite wide off the mark. In essence, whether you are researching for content creation or PPC campaigns, you should ensure that you have a wide range of reference points and use a whole host of tools in order to counteract any misleading search volume stats.