What the heck is going on with Google Keyword Planner?
Technical glitches and close variants (sometimes) come to Keyword Planner
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|
|Plural treated differently||seo service||6,600|
|Same volume for abbreviation||pay per click||135,000|
|Then different volumes for abbreviation and synonym||search engine marketing||12,100|
|Some combined words get different volumes, some don’t||car wash||550,000|
|auto body shop||49,500|
|Plural and abbreviations reported separately||cfp||110,000|
|certified financial planners||480|
|Spelling choice reported separately||financial advisor||74,000|
|Not measured as synonyms||ecommerce business||8,100|
|Synonyms and word order measured separately||remarketing||22,200|
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.