Using the AdWords Keyword Planner for Keyword Research

Keyword research, that is.

By Melanie PhungDirector of New Media, PBS Digital

If you’ve logged into the Google Keyword Tool recently (which I’m hopeful you're doing every time you’re making web content decisions), you may have noticed a message that the external Keyword Tool was going to be retired soon.

It has now been replaced by a different tool called the “AdWords Keyword Planner.”

Figure 1: Google’s new Keyword Planner Tool.

(If you’re not already familiar with the keyword research process, please read this to understand what keyword research is and why you should be doing it: Keyword Research–What is It? Why do It? )

Key Differences

The Keyword Planner combines features from the Keyword Tool (for researching search volume) and the Traffic Estimator (a tool used for budgeting PPC ad campaigns). As such, the tool looks a little different, but you can still easily navigate to what you need.

However, there are some differences between this and the old tool that are not immediately obvious, including:
  • Historical data about search volume now refers to “exact match” only. 
  • Data now combines search numbers from desktop, phone and tablet devices.
  • There are no longer separate columns for global searches and “local” searches, just one column that reflects average monthly searches based on your settings.

These differences mean that you should not mix and match your data sources. In other words, don’t just add numbers you get out of this tool to your previous spreadsheet because you’re not comparing apples to apples.

Another key difference is that the new tool requires you to log in with a Google account, whereas it was possible to get base functionality out of the old tool without being logged in. Please don’t let that stop you from using the tool.

How to Set up Your Google AdWords Account

You can use any existing Google login to create your AdWords account. Feel free to use the same email address you use to access Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, or a separate one if you want. Remember, your Google-registered email does not need to be a GMAIL address, so you can use your work account.

To get started, just go to Keyword Planner and click on the “Start Now” button in the upper right. From there, you’ll be prompted to set up your account with an existing or a new Google login.

Figure 2:  Setting up your free AdWords account

Despite requiring a login and being more obviously tied to the AdWords service, this tool does not require a credit card to use. As before, this tool is free.

Keyword Research Options

The new tool gives you 3 separate options, including:
  • Search for keyword and ad group ideas
  • Enter or upload keywords to see how they perform
  • Multiply keyword lists

All three options allow you to export the results into Excel or Google Docs, where you can do further analysis and planning.

Figure 3: Select “Keyword Planner” from the AdWords navigation dropdown. 
Then select a keyword research option.

Option 1: Search for Keyword and Ad Group Ideas

Use this option to generate keyword suggestions based on some preliminary content. This lets you create a seed list of brainstorming options.  The list generated by the tool is just a starting off point; you will need to cull, refine and iterate to get to a useful list of worthwhile targets that align with your content strategy. (Remember, the goal is not to create the biggest target list possible, but to find phrases you will actively optimize for in order to lead people to your site and achieve your content strategy objectives.)

Option 2: Enter or Upload Keywords to See How They Perform

This option is great if you already know the phrases for which you want to pull search volume numbers. Go ahead and upload or copy/paste your current active list of target phrases to build your new baseline for keyword research moving forward. This is also an appropriate option if you’re working on a single piece of content, need to quickly compare the search volumes of two or three phrases, and don’t need additional ideas.

Option 3: Multiply Keyword Lists

This is a fantastic new option that used to require separate tools. The “multiply” feature basically lets you concatenate values across two columns to generate multiple combinations of phrases.

For example, if you enter “kindergarten”, “first grade”, “second grade” etc., in the first column, and then enter “lesson plans”, “lesson plan” and “classroom activities” in the second column, the resulting list includes every combination of those terms: kindergarten lesson plans, kindergarten lesson plan, kindergarten classroom activities, first grade lesson plans, first grade lesson plan, first grade classroom activities, and so on.  Add these phrases to your seed/brainstorm list and compare which combinations make the most sense to target and focus your content around these high-value combinations.
Figure 4: Use the keyword multiplier to easily create phrase combinations.

Further Reading

For further reading on the basics of keyword research, check out:

Learn more about the Keyword Planner Tool:

Have you started using the new tool yet? Please feel free to share any tips, quirks, or questions in the comments.