There’s no way around it: without objective data, keyword research is a shot in the dark.
Fortunately, the SEO Gods have given us an awesome (free) tool that tells us almost everything we need to make informed decisions…
..decisions about which keywords are best for our business. It’s called the Google Keyword Planner.
Keep in mind that the tool is designed with Adwords advertisers in mind. So there are a lot of features in the tool (like keyword bidding features) that won’t be useful for you.
In this guide I’ll show you how to get the most SEO value out of the Google Keyword Planner.
Here’s how to use it.
STEP #1: ACCESS THE GOOGLE KEYWORD PLANNER
In order to use the Google Keyword Planner, you’ll need to have a Google Adwords account. If you don’t have one already, you can set one up in a few minutes here:
(Just follow the prompts, enter some information about you and your business, and you’re in. Note: You don’t have to run an active campaign to use the GKP. But you’ll need to fully set up an Adwords account).
Next, login to your Google Adwords account. Click on “Tools” from the toolbar and choose “Keyword Planner”:
You’ll be presented with three different tools within the Google Keyword Planner (under “Where would you like to start?”):
You’ll only need to use these 3 tools for SEO-focused keyword research:
- Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category
- Get search volume data and trends
- Multiply keyword lists to get new keywords
Now it’s time for me to show you how to find awesome keywords using each of the 3 tools built into the Google Keyword Planner.
STEP #2: CHOOSE YOUR TOOL
The Keyword Planner is a Swiss Army knife of different keyword research tools.
Here I’ll show you how to use the three tools within the Google Keyword Planner that will land you a fantastic list of keywords for your SEO campaigns.
Search for New keywords using a phrase, website or category
This is the bread and butter tool that’s ideal for finding new keywords.
Keep in mind that the keywords you get from this tool are usually very closely based on the seed keywords you put into it (as we saw in The Introduction to this guide, the GKP doesn’t generate completely new keyword ideas).
When you choose the “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category“ tool, a menu appears with a list of options:
Let’s break down each of these options:
Enter one or more of the following
This is a REALLY important option. The value you get from the planner is largely based on the information that you enter here.
Here’s how to get the most out of it:
Your product or service: This is actually where you enter “seed keywords”. You don’t want to enter a broad industry term like “flowers” or you’ll end up with a list of super-competitive Head Keywords. I recommend entering 1-3 keywords here, each in a slightly different Niche Market. For example, if you ran a cookie e commerce site, you’d want to enter terms like “gluten free desserts” and “low carb cookies” here.
Your landing page: This is primarily for Adwords users. But you can sometimes find a few solid keywords here using your site’s homepage or an article from your site.
Your product category: This allows you to access Google’s internal database of keywords for different industries. You can sometimes find keywords here that you might have missed. It’s worth playing around with if you’re not able to find any keywords using the first two options.
Once you’ve entered your information into one – or all three – of the options, it’s time to choose your “Targeting” options.
Targeting is simply the country, language and search engine that you’re marketing on.
These options are automatically set to target English-speaking people in the US searching in Google. If that’s your target audience (in most cases it will be), you can leave these options as they are.
But let’s say you’re based in Germany. You’d want to change the country to “Germany” and choose “German” as the language.
The last option is called “negative keywords”:
Negative keywords are keywords that you don’t want to advertise on. This is another feature that only applies to Adwords.
Customize your search
Here’s what each of these options mean:
Keyword filters: This simply allows you to filter out keywords that don’t meet a set of criteria. For example, let’s say that you’re not interested in any keywords with fewer than 2000 monthly searches. Just click anywhere on the “Keyword filters” box and enter your minimum monthly search volume:
You can do the same thing with the suggested bid (which is a proxy measurement of commercial intent):
(“Ad impr. Share” is a feature that’s just for Adwords advertisers)
Keyword options: This simply tells the tool how broad you want your results to be. I recommend leaving this as-is. The other options (like “Hide keywords in my plan”) are Adwords-only options.
Keywords to Include: You can choose to always include certain keywords in the results.
Why would you want to include certain keywords?
Let’s say that you just launched a new line of blue t-shirts. In that case you’d want to make sure the keyword “blue t-shirt” appears in all of your keyword suggestions.
If you have a list of keywords that you want to see, simply click on the “Keywords to include” button and add that list in this field:
Once you’re done, click on “Get Ideas” and you’ll see the Keywords Results Page. I’ll show you how to use that part of the Google Keyword Planner later in the guide.
Get search volume data and trends
This is a feature that’s useful if you already have a long list of keywords and just want to check their search volume. In other words, this tool won’t help you generate new keyword ideas.
You can either copy and paste a list of keywords into the search field or upload your list in a CSV file:
You can target your language and country here just like you did with the “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category” tool:
Finally, click “Get search volume” to see how many people search for the keywords you entered.
Multiply keyword lists to get new keyword ideas
This tool takes groups of keywords and mashes them together into hundreds (or even thousands) of combinations. Most of the results will be gibberish, but the tool will occasionally spit out a gem.
The keyword multiplier tool is especially helpful for ecommerce keyword research because it helps you identify almost every possible combination people use to search for your products.
First, enter a list of keywords into “List 1”:
And another list into “List 2”:
You can add a third field by clicking on the grey “X”:
When you do, simply add another set of keywords in “List 3”:
When you’re done, click on “Get search volume”, and you’ll be able to see what keywords the tool came up with.
Step #3: Using the Keywords Results Page
All three of the tools I described will take you to the “Keywords Results Page”, which looks like this:
Here’s a breakdown of the page:
On the left hand sidebar, you have the same targeting and filtering options you saw on the last page:
The advantage of using the filters here is that you can modify your results after you’ve performed your search. So if you get a lot of low volume keywords, you can filter out keywords that don’t meet a certain search volume threshold.
Next, you have two tabs: “Ad group ideas” and “Keyword ideas”:
Most people spend 100% of their time on “Keyword ideas”…and ignore “Ad group ideas”. This is a HUGE mistake. As you’ll see in a minute, you can usually find great keywords from the “Ad group ideas” tab.
When you do click over to the “Keyword ideas” tab, this is what you’ll see:
Here’s what each of the terms in this area mean:
Search Terms: These are the exact keywords that you entered in step 2.
Keyword (by relevance): This is the list of keywords that Google considers most relevant to the “Search Term” keyword.
Avg. monthly searches: Pretty self-explanatory. However, keep in mind that this is range…and not a super-accurate indicator of search volume.
(I’ll show you how to get more accurate search volume data in a minute).
Also, certain seasonal keywords (like “Halloween costumes”) may get 50,000 searches in October and 100 searches in May. So the average monthly searches can be somewhat misleading in some cases.
Competition: This reflects the number of advertisers bidding on that keyword (you can read more about how to determine commercial intent in Chapter 4: How to Determine a Keyword’s Commercial Intent).
Suggested bid: Yet another rock-solid way to size up a keyword’s monetization potential. The higher the suggested bid, the more lucrative the traffic.
STEP #4: FIND AWESOME KEYWORDS
Now that you know how to use all of the tools, features and options within the Google Keyword Planner, it’s time for the last step: finding awesome keywords that you can optimize your site’s content around.
(For this step I’m going to be using the Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category tool because this is the best tool within the Google Keyword Planner for finding new keywords)
First, come up with a keyword that’s somewhat broad…but also describes your product, service or content idea somewhat specifically.
(If you developed a list of Niche Topics from the introduction, you want to use them here)
For example, let’s say that you run an ecommerce site that sells organic food.
If you wanted to write a blog post about the health benefits of organic coffee, you wouldn’t want to use the keyword “coffee” (too broad) or “health benefits of organic coffee” (too narrow). A keyword like “organic coffee” would work well.
Enter that keyword into the field labeled “your product or service”:
And click “Get ideas”:
The first thing you want to do is take a look at some of the Ad group names listed here:
You can sometimes find awesome Niche Topics or keyword ideas from the names of the Ad groups themselves.
Next, click on one of the Ad group names:
And see what keywords make up this Ad group:
Another place to find great keywords that don’t show up under the “Keyword ideas” tab.
Jot down any that seem like they might be a good fit for this piece of content (or for another page on your site).
Once you’re done with “Ad group ideas”, click on the “Keyword ideas” tab:
And take a look at the keywords that come up:
How do you know which keywords to choose?
There are dozens of different factors to consider, but I prefer to evaluate keywords based on 3 main criteria:
Search Volume: Very straightforward. The higher, the better.
Commercial Intent: Determining the monetization potential of a keyword is more of an art than a science. That’s why I’ve created an entire chapter in Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide — for commercial intent.. In general, the higher the competition and suggested bid, the easier it will be to convert that traffic into paying customers.
Organic SEO Competition: Like commercial intent, evaluating a keyword’s competition in Google’s organic search results takes some more digging.
STEP #5: (OPTIONAL): GET EXACT KEYWORD SEARCH VOLUME DATA
As I mentioned earlier, the GKP will show you exact search volume data ONLY if you’re running an active Adwords campaign. Otherwise, you see a range:
To be honest, the range is actually semi-helpful. Keyword volume fluctuates anyway, so the “exact” average monthly search volume that you see is a rough average anyway.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with using these GKP ranges to help you choose your keywords.
But there’s a nifty trick you can use to get exact search volume out of the GKP…without needing an active Adwords account.
First, find a keyword in the list of suggestions that you want to target:
Then click “add to plan”
Then, in the right-hand sidebar of the page, click “Review plan”
On that page, put a ridiculously high bid for your keyword ($200+).
(That way, Google assumes that your ad will appear for every single search of that keyword).
Look at the number of “impressions” you’d get in that scenario.
That’s how many people search for that keyword every day. Multiple that number by 30 — and bada bing bada boom — you now have legit search volume data for your keyword.
That’s all there is to it. By now you should have a hefty list of potential keywords. Nice work!