Keyword Research Masterclass: Using the Google Keyword Planner
Research and Development (R&D) is something we tend to think of in terms of scientific and medical fields, and the manufacturing industry. Not content marketing.
But think of your typical week (or even day) as a content or online marketer for the website you manage. Isn't a lot of what you do a variation on R&D? From developing content, through to researching advertising and sales campaigns, and even keywords.
Although the concept of search has evolved along with the way we use Internet, much of it still revolves around keywords. But what these keywords are, and how they are used, are changing as rapidly as search algorithms, leaving you to constantly monitor their use, and the optimal way in which to use them.
One of the most popular tools for keyword research, the Google Keyword Tool, was replaced with the Keyword Planner in mid-2013; and despite some shortcomings, it is still an essential tool to use whether you are researching keyword ideas for ad campaigns, or simply for content development purposes. As with many other tools and services, it is seldom a good idea to limit yourself to only one option, and so while we begin this article by looking at the Google Keyword Planner, we end it by looking at some alternatives that can be used in conjunction with it.
The Beginners Guide to the Google Keyword Planner
The Keyword Planner tool is accessed via Google AdWords, using your Google credentials. From the top navigation bar select Tools, and then Keyword Planner, after which you will be presented with four options:
- Search for new keyword ideas
- Get search volume for a list of keywords
- Get traffic estimates for a list of keywords
- Multiply keyword lists
It is important to remember that the Keyword Planner is designed for both ad campaigns and keyword ideas, so no matter which of the four options you use Ad group ideas will always show by default. You can view keywords simply by selecting the Keyword Ideas tab. The results returned for each of the options can also be refined by altering filters that narrow location, language, date range, and even additional keywords to include, or ignore.
Searching for Keyword Ideas
You can search for new keyword ideas by selecting the first option under the Keyword Planner, and entering the following:
- Words or phrases that you associate with your business, or product
- A URL - either your default URL, or for a specific page (eg. a product landing page)
- The category most relevant to your business or product
You need to enter at least one of the above, but the more information you provide, the more relevant the keyword ideas will be.
The data in the table can be sorted (in ascending or descending order) according to each column, depending on what your criteria is for narrowing down the results. Additionally, while the figure shown in the monthly searches column is an average for the full period you have selected (the default is the last 12 months), hovering over the graph icon next to each figure brings up a chart giving a monthly breakdown.
If you are researching keywords for a campaign, you can add them directly to your plan by selecting the double arrows to the right of the table, or you can download the entire table to work through at your own pace.
Discovering Search Volume & Traffic Estimates
The Search Volume and Traffic Estimate options both function in the same way, even if the results each returns serves a different purpose. They both require you to already have a list of keywords that you are interested in, either to be entered manually or uploaded as a CSV file. As with Keyword Ideas, you can refine the results by adjusting various parameters.
Unlike Keyword Ideas, the results returned are limited to the list of keywords and phrases you entered or uploaded, highlighting either the average search volume during the date range you entered, or the potential traffic (clicks and costs) the keywords could generate. In order to get traffic estimates you need to add a bid amount, along with a daily budget.
Additionally, with both Search Volume and Traffic Estimates, you can split the results by device (mobile, computer or tablet) and country, which is extremely helpful if you are looking at targeting specific locations or devices. Finally, with Traffic Estimates you are also able to differentiate between broad match, phrase match and exact match on your keywords and phrases, giving you are more accurate idea of potential campaign costs, and traffic.
Multiplying Keyword Lists
The final option under the Keyword Planner is a tool that helps you generate even broader ideas for keywords and phrases, by simply multiplying keywords from two or more lists. The returned results are in the same format as with Traffic Estimates, allowing you to set a bid and daily limit in order to see cost and traffic estimates, but it is also useful in just getting an idea of what keyword combinations and extended phrases would work best.
How Broad Match, Phrase Match & Exact Match Differ
When using Traffic Estimates or Multiply Keyword Lists, you are able to view results based on broad, phrase or exact match, but how do they differ?
- Broad Match is exactly what the phrase implies - you are shown results (traffic and cost) based on search terms that contain any of your keywords, in any order, along with slight variations. This is suitable for very broad targeting, reaching as large an audience as possible, but it works best when combined with negative keywords to filter out irrelevant traffic.
- Phrase Match reduces the number of matches by limiting the results to exact matches of your keyword(s), with additional words before or after it. It may trigger on close variations, but far less than with a broad match.
- Exact Match is the most limiting, since the results are only for matches on your exact keyword(s), without any other words included. Exact match is useful when you are targeting a very specific audience or phrase, but it does require careful research to ensure you aren't hiding yourself from valuable traffic.
Close variations are accepted in all of the above, which takes into consideration misspellings, plural forms, and even stems using prefixes and suffixes. It is also worth remembering that keywords are not case-sensitive, so there is no need for you to include variations based on case.
Building Your Basic Keyword List
The foundation of any ad, search or content marketing campaign is a strong list of keywords or phrases, but selecting what to include is a lot more involved than simply pulling words out of a hat.
Think. Like a Customer.
You no doubt already have a list of words and phrases that you associate with your business and/or each of your products, with the emphasis on that you associate. The question that begs to be asked here is
What do your customers associate your business and products with?
While it is acceptable to start building your list with your choice of keywords, it must be expanded by incorporating keywords and phrases that your customers are most likely to use. Look for clues in your traffic analytics (where still available), without ignoring category variations, brands, colours and even price points. Think in terms of phrases and group of words, rather than single keywords. And when targeting multiple locations, consider how different countries and cultures refer to the same product.
Refine and Group Keyword Lists
Having a large keyword list that relates to all aspects of your business and website is useful for general SEO, and for campaigns intended to boost exposure and traffic for your website. However, when you start running campaigns that target specific groups of customers, and drive them to specific product and service pages, the list needs to be reduced to keywords relevant to that campaign only. Broad, and popular, keywords and phrases can reach a far larger audience, but since they also tend to have more competition, the bid amounts, and overall cost, is also much higher.
A useful approach is to look at your keyword terms and phrases in terms of search intent - what is the user's intended purpose when searching:
- Informational - merely looking for additional information, and these phrases may include terms such as: more information, details for, features of, etc.
- Navigational - not that common, but still used by some users, this type of query tends to include a domain or brand in the search query.
- Commercial - these queries usually include very specific parameters such as colours, price, compare, versus, size. These users are very close to buying, and while they might not be using transactional queries, they could still turn to buyers immediately if they find what they are looking for.
- Transactional - While the commercial query is linked to users who are close to buying, a transactional query is linked to users who are ready to buy. These queries include words such as purchase, buy, sale, coupon, discount, sometimes combined with a location.
Further refinement can happen by grouping your keywords according to specific products, categories and product features. For example, a furniture store can group keywords according to room (kitchen, living room, bedroom, etc.), and then separate even further by splitting furniture from decorative elements and accessories. This is useful not only in giving you more accurate traffic and cost estimates, but also in keeping all your campaigns organised, particularly if your catalogue of products is large and diverse.
More Does not Equal Better, Except When it Does
Keyword research, and keyword lists, ultimately serve two purposes: they can be used to help shape the content on your website, and they can be used to shape your display and search advertising campaigns. As such, the size and detail of your keyword list is largely determined by its intended purpose. For advertising campaigns you want to keep the list relatively short and concise, while for content purposes you can have a very long list, with considerable variation shown in each phrase on the list.
The one area where they don't differ is in the optimal length of each keyword phrase: two to five words. For content purposes you can consider sentences built around the relevant phrases, but these aren't necessarily shown in the main column of your keyword list. Even though the way people phrase their search queries are now starting to resemble full sentences and questions, the number of possible combinations is too large to limit yourself to one full sentence in your keyword list.
Search Elsewhere for Variations
Don't rely on the Keyword Planner, and your own brainstorming sessions, for all possible variations. Look to your competitors and alternative keyword tools to not only expand on your variations, but also to confirm your inclusion of others.
You're never going to have a competitive advantage if you simply mimic what your competitors do, not only in terms of business, but also in marketing and keyword targeting. When looking at what keywords your competitors are using and targeting, always focus on finding your own variations that could put you ahead of them. This can be done by looking for synonyms and word combinations that have fairly high search volumes, but low to medium competition.
Finding a richer source of synonyms and word combinations is possible by using the various alternatives to Google's Keyword Planner including:
- WordStream (Freemium) - the free tool is limited to 30 searches, but WordStream is also of benefit in finding niche words, grouping keywords and compiling a list of negative keywords.
- Ubersuggest (Free) - this tool will generate a large set of variations, and by clicking on each variation returned you can quickly generate even more suggestions. Clicking the plus sign next to each phrase adds it to a list of keywords that you can copy and paste into your own document. You can even narrow the results by language and source (video, news, web, shopping, etc.).
- Keyword Eye (Freemium) - the free plan limits you to 10 keyword searches per day, and 100 keyword suggestions per report. The results are visual, similar to what you see in a tag cloud, but the tool includes some nifty features that you won't find elsewhere.
- Keyword Discovery (Premium) - the advantage of this tool is that it uses search data from all the major search engines, and it can be used to identify seasonal search trends, common misspellings and popular terms relating to a specific industry.
- Positionly Keyword Mixer - this handy tool is available to anyone and it's similar to Google's Keyword Multiplier. It helps you create more keyword ideas that you could track later on in the application.
The need for keyword research is no longer limited only to ad/search campaigns and SEO; it is now a strong component of any serious site operator's content marketing strategy. The content you provide on your site must meet the needs of your customers, but it is equally important that they can find the information when entering a search query.