Lindsay Ford

Lindsay Ford

Digital Strategist

Google Keyword Planner Search Volume Updates: Understanding The Changes and Impact

What Changes Were Made to Google’s Keyword Planner?

In June 2016, Google began substantially altering how it reports monthly keyword volume in its Keyword Planner tool. Many similar keywords which were previously allocated individual volume numbers are now grouped together and show the same monthly search volume. The change was also made retroactive and affects all months for which volume is currently available. Because many keyword volumes are now reported this way, the volume listed has drastically increased for certain keywords due to their being grouped with much more popular variations.

Some Examples of Keyword Volumes Being Grouped Together

  • Plural and singular versions of the same keyword (e.g., “salmon recipe” and “salmon recipes”)
  • Keywords with and without an apostrophe (e.g., “mens razors and men’s razors”)
  • Acronyms and their associated words (e.g., “seo” and “search engine optimization”)
  • Different words describing the same subject or idea (e.g., dance, dancing)

Why This Isn’t Just Another Adjustment to the Numbers

For search marketers, it’s important to understand that this change represents a major shift in available data and it isn’t something that should be glossed over or taken lightly. Forecasting traffic for individual keyword variations is now much more difficult. This is because in addition to adjusting how they allocate volume, Google does not tell you which keywords are being grouped together. Marketers will need to figure that out on their own by analyzing and comparing volume for similar keywords. Even when marketers are able to group keywords together, it may be impossible to know with certainty if all grouped variations are being taken into account. And even when keyword groupings can be determined with some certainty, it will be difficult or impossible in many cases to determine the true volume breakdown in different keyword sets.

Bear in Mind: This Is a Work in Progress

While many keywords that fall into the categories listed above are affected by this change, there are also many exceptions.

For example, the search volumes listed for “dnc” and “democratic national committee” are still different in keyword planner despite the fact that they refer to the same organization. Additionally, “car rental” and “car rentals” show different volume, despite being singular and plural versions of the same word.

Marketers should expect to see additional volume changes and groupings as time goes on and Google becomes more and more sophisticated at understanding keyword relationships and the results that best satisfy user intent.

How Marketers Can Avoid Any Potential Pitfalls of This Change

Short-Term Changes

When estimating keyword traffic, marketers must now assume the volume shown has the potential to be significantly inflated. And when building out target keyword lists for site optimization and content development, be sure to include known variations grouped together wherever possible so colleagues and clients are aware of which keywords are now being grouped together.

Additionally, when building target keyword lists for the purpose of estimating traffic, be sure to audit the lists to remove similar variations that show identical volume, as this will inflate estimates. Be aware though, your volume may still be incorrect if you choose a low volume variation at the expense of a more popular one. To help mitigate this risk, checking variations against each other in other tools first (like Google Trends) is a good way to make sure you don’t choose a low-volume term at the expense of a high-volume term.

Keyword Planner Changes

Long-Term Changes

Instead of focusing on mapping individual keywords to individual pages and using volume as the primary consideration, think more in terms of topics moving forward. When optimizing landing pages, marketers should focus on using keyword variations naturally, and in a way that effectively describes the subject matter of the landing page.

Marketers trying to build search visibility for informational keywords should think in terms of what questions searchers have for which a brand or organization has a) expertise and b) a right to win. Then build content that truly satisfies those questions and provides the desired information.

When trying to gain search visibility for product and e-commerce type searches, think about what information searchers need to help make a purchasing decision, then make sure that information is being provided in a visually appealing format. It’s also important to keep user experience in mind and make it easy for searchers to interact with the website in question and actually make a purchase.

Final Thoughts: Impact and How to Move Forward

Google’s ability to go beyond specific words and understand intent and information desired continues to grow at a rapid pace. Marketers must grow along with these changes in order to be successful and maximize search visibility for their clients.

Keywords are still an important part of search, but must be viewed in context. Above all, providing users with the information and content they are really looking for is the most important consideration when building out and optimizing onsite content. And that’s a critical foundational element of a successful organic search strategy.

Marketers should have already been taking this into account, but now Google is clearly signaling that this approach is no longer a choice.

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