What the heck is going on with Google Keyword Planner?

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First there were the error notices that users have to have an active campaign, not just an AdWords account to access Keyword Planner. Then came combined search volumes for close variants.

A Google spokesperson has confirmed with Search Engine Land that users do not have to have an active campaign to use Keyword Planner. On social media,¬†Google told users that the error was the result of a technical issue that was being fixed. When Keyword Planner launched inside AdWords in 2013, replacing the open Keyword Tool, it got a cool reception. So there was alarm¬†when¬†some users got the¬†error message telling them they’d also have to have¬†an active AdWords campaign to use it. The error¬†didn’t affect all accounts; still¬†it got people speculating whether¬†it just a glitch or Google backtracking.¬†Either way, for now at least we can move on.

So, to close variants and the resulting combined search volume results. Google isn’t commenting the move; we asked. Close variants grouping is not necessarily unexpected — Google replaced exact match targeting with close variants in ad campaigns in 2014 — and yet it is often inconsistent. ¬†Sometimes plurals are grouped, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes acronyms and abbreviations are grouped with their full phrase, sometimes not. Sometimes search volumes for synonyms are combined, other times not. Sometimes combined words and misspellings are grouped, other time they are not. And apparently we search for dogs and cats at the same rate.

Here are just some examples of oddities I’ve found:

Scenario Search term Avg. monthly searches
Plural treated the same. cat 3,350,000
cats 3,350,000
¬†– ¬†– ¬†–
Plural treated differently seo service 6,600
seo services 27,100
¬†– ¬†–
Same volume for abbreviation pay per click 135,000
ppc 135,000
¬†– ¬†– ¬†–
Then different volumes for abbreviation and synonym search engine marketing 12,100
search marketing 2,900
sem 368,000
¬†– ¬†– ¬†–
Some combined words get different volumes, some don’t car wash 550,000
carwash 550,000
dog walker 22,200
dogwalker 2,900
auto body shop 49,500
autobody shop 2,400
¬†– ¬†– ¬†–
Plural and abbreviations reported separately cfp 110,000
cfps 4,400
certified financial planners 480
¬†– ¬†– ¬†–
Spelling choice reported separately financial advisor 74,000
financial adviser 6,600
¬†– ¬†– ¬†–
Not measured as synonyms ecommerce business 8,100
ecommerce company 4,400
ecommerce firm 110
Synonyms and word order measured separately remarketing 22,200
retargeting 18,100
remarketing adwords 2,400
adwords remarketing 1,600

What does this mean for search marketers?

First,¬†it’s a good reminder¬†that the search volumes (and estimated CPCs) in Keyword Planner should be seen¬†as¬†directional signals, not hard facts. Second, if you’ve been benchmarking certain keywords and/or keyword groups over time, you’ll may or may not¬†see shifts in historical reporting.¬†Third, sometimes you’ll get granularity, sometimes you won’t. Which brings us right back to point number one: yes, it’s kind of annoying¬†some keyword variations are grouped and some aren’t, but it might offer some directional insight¬†into when¬†granular targeting could¬†make more of an¬†impact¬†in your efforts.

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