One morning a couple weeks ago, Matt Bailey—a highly experienced SEO and marketing practitioner—went into Google's Keyword Planner and "checked terms like investing, investments, investment." What he found was that investment and investments are not combined but show the exact same number of monthly searches—which is probably not possible.
On TheSEMPost, Jennifer Slegg explained: "Last week, Google made a change to the tool where instead of showing individual keyword estimates for each keyword or keyword phrase, Google is now lumping in the data together, meaning Google will show identical estimates for similar keywords or keyword phrases... You can no longer see individual estimates to see which of those has the highest volume and which the lowest, a valuable aspect for both advertisers and SEOs who are choosing which keywords to target based on volume."
Bailey pointed out the inconsistency to how this is being applied. "Words with -ing, -est, -sed, all those suffixes are being merged together, but it seems to be happening slowly. Like they did it for primary industries where search marketers live, and then they will work their way down."
According to Slegg, Keyword Planner now combines many search variants, including:
- plurals with non-plurals for any word in the keyword phrase;
- acronyms with longhand version;
- stemming variants: -er, -ing, -ized, -ed etc. keywords;
- words that can be spelled with or without space;
- words with and without punctuation.
One commenter pointed out the importance of this change. "Having worked for a pool table retailer, I know that the difference between the keyword 'pool table' and 'pool tables' is monumental The intent is drastic when you add the 's.' Now I can't separate that data."
Bailey did not seem too surprised. He said that Google has a history of giving you "everything for free and then taking things away. And if you want it back, you have to pay for it." Slegg wrote that the change could be connected to the fact Google also began "restricting access to the Keyword Planner tool to those with active AdWords campaigns only, a decision they later seemed to backtrack on, changing the 'requirement' to a 'bug'... But for those who use it as a keyword volume tool, the value of this tool just diminished significantly."
The best way to proceed
One way around it, Bailey said, is to use AdWords because you would see the exact keyword that led people to click on your ad. "Here's the key—the keyword totals and suggestions (monthly searches) weren't 100% accurate to start with. I have never told anyone to look at those numbers and bet on them. The best thing is to look at them like a ratio or index number.
"I use monthly search amounts to compare," he continued. "What gets searched on more than anything else? That's going to become a little harder as you see terms being merged together, but ultimately that's the only thing you can do..."
Here are other suggestions Bailey has:
1. Just use Keyword Planner as part of your research process. "It's a way to give you ideas, brainstorm, find different variations and see how people search," he said. "I use it a lot for new content development. And finding what questions people are asking that I can answer."
2. Develop a list of keywords and take it to Google Trends. That shows Bailey if there are seasonal trends to words. "I took the words showing the same exact count in Keyword Planner and put them in Trends, and it showed me the ratio of which was getting more searches. No one is talking about that."
3. Use other tools. Bailey recommends Wordtracker, Jaaxy, SEMrush and Moz.
4. Search on Bing and use Bing tools. Bailey recommends signing up for Bing's webmaster tools. "That will show not only which terms people are searching on but which pages of your website show up in search results... Bing is seeing the opportunity as Google shuts out more and more webmasters and pulls data away. Bing is starting to provide more and more data."
And he doesn't see Google reversing course. "Actually Bing is my default search engine on most of my devices. If I can get other people to use it, we'll get our data back."
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…