Making the Most of Google’s Free Keyword Planner
Did you know that fewer than 10% of web pages get any visitors at all from Google? Having traffic-generating keywords on your web page will help which is why Google’s free Keyword Planner is so useful.
Here's what we will cover...
- Playing fair with Google
- Tracking down keywords: the basics
- Turning the tables
- Fine-tuning with filters
- Stepping off the beaten track
- What’s the next step?
The basic goal of keyword research is to find out which words and phrases will attract the most relevant visitors to your website. A good keyword tool will connect you with the data to inform your decision.
While there are affordable examples, most good quality commercial keyword tools come bundled up with a range of search engine optimisation (SEO) services. These package costs can be eye-watering and hard for the average business to justify, especially when they just need a no-frills keyword tool.
Enter Google’s Keyword Planner.
Since most businesses are trying to rank on Google anyway, it makes sense to favour their own Keyword Planner. The fact that it’s free to use makes it something of a no-brainer.
However, there is a small catch…
Playing fair with Google
If you want to make use of Google’s free Keyword Planner, you will need to jump through a couple of hoops first.
Most people already have a free Google account but if you don’t, that’s the first step to take.
Next, you will need to set up a Google Ads account by visiting https://ads.google.com/ and following the on-screen instructions.
Now, here’s where you might get a bit twitchy because you do have to go through the motions of setting up an ad campaign, including entering your credit card details.
You don’t actually have to run this campaign though and so you shouldn’t have to pay a penny.
Disclaimer: Note the word ‘shouldn’t’. Google could change their rules and online processes at any time!
Once you’ve got this far, you should see a spanner icon with the label ‘TOOLS & SETTINGS’ in the top menu bar of your Google Ads account. Click this. Next, click ‘Keyword Planner’ in the dropdown menu.
Hurrah! You can finally step into the wonderful world of keyword research.
Tracking down keywords: the basics
Google Keyword Planner presents you with two panels. Click the panel on the left that says ‘Discover new keywords.’
By default, you will be prompted to ‘Enter products or services closely related to your business’ so do just that!
For example, we might type in Digital Marketing as a starting point for keywords related to our industry.
Click the ‘Get Results’ button to see what Google can come up with off the bat. The results will appear in a table along with several columns of data (we will run through the most important of these in the next section).
At the top of the page, you will see options for changing the country, language, network and date range relating to the data. In most cases you will want to leave these as they are (UK, English, Google and 12 months).
You will also see some Google-generated ideas for broadening your search. For example, we added ‘Marketing Strategy’ which increased the number of suggested keywords from around 580 to more than 1,800.
Turning the tables
The default table of keywords includes seven columns. We will only look at the first three columns in this article as the others only apply if you are running a Google Ads or similar pay-per-click (PPC) campaign.
Keyword (by relevance):
This column contains the keyword suggestions Google has come up with. It is presorted with the keywords Google deems most relevant to you at the top.
Avg. monthly searches
Unless you are running a Google Ads campaign, these will be presented as a range rather than a single number (e.g. 100-1K, 1K-10K, 10K-100K etc.)
This refers to the average number of people who typed this keyword into their search engine each month.
The table can be sorted from high to low (or low to high) monthly searches by clicking the heading.
This column reveals how popular the keyword is among Google Ads users. A ‘High’ rating means that the term has been used in many campaigns while a ‘Low’ ranking keyword may not be used much at all.
Why is this useful to know?
If a lot of people are paying to have their web pages rank highly for a specific term, they must expect to cover those costs through sales. High competition is therefore a rough marker for ‘commercial intent’.
On the other hand, a keyword with a high average search volume but low competition could indicate a gap in the online market.
The table can be sorted from high to low (or low to high) competition by clicking the heading.
You now know how to find relevant, traffic-generating keywords and you can see how popular these keywords are with your online competition.
The next step is to filter the list to make it more manageable.
Fine-tuning with filters
Rather than making you scroll through pages of keywords, Google Keyword Planner includes a filter feature. Filters can be combined to really hone in on the most effective keywords for your goals.
If you click the ‘ADD FILTER’ option above the keywords table, you will see a list of ten or so options. As with the table columns, some filters only apply to Google Ads campaigns.
The most useful parameters to filter by are Keyword and Competition.
By selecting this filter, you can choose to exclude or include keywords from your list of search terms.
For example, if we were writing a page on social media services, we might ask the Planner to only show us terms that include the keyword ‘Social Media’.
This filter allows you to select from High, Medium and Low competition keywords.
If you want to use a finer net, there is also a Competition (indexed value) filter. Here, competition is ranked on a scale from 0 to 100 and you can choose to display keywords that are above or below a certain value.
For example, as we are selling digital marketing services, we might want to select only highly competitive keywords by checking this box on the Competition filter.
However, by also applying the Competition (indexed value) filter with a <= 95 parameter, we can take out those really competitive keywords we might struggle to keep up with.
It is important to stress that competition data is tied to Google Ads so is only a guide to how popular a keyword might be on the internet at large.
Stepping off the beaten track
If you want even more variety, there is a neat feature that can help you ramble down the road less travelled in search of keywords.
Select the Keyword Planner Tool again and click ‘Discover new keywords’. This time, instead of using the default ‘START WITH KEYWORDS’ tab, choose ‘START WITH A WEBSITE’.
Find an interesting website or web page that is related to your business area. This could be a competitor’s e-commerce site, a thought-leader’s blog or any other online resource you stumble across.
Next, copy and paste the site or page address into the relevant field on the Keyword Planner. Hit ‘Get Results’ and follow the same process as before.
What’s the next step?
Now you have a bunch of promising keywords, you might be wondering what to do with them.
From now on, when creating any content on your website, you should structure your pages to highlight these important words and phrases.
To start with, place them in your key service pages as headings and subheadings.
They should also appear in the main body of your page but don’t overdo this. Think of your keywords as seasoning for your content (like sprinkling some salt and vinegar on your chips).
Keywords should also be placed in the title and description visitors will see on your Google search listing. If you are not sure how to do this, speak to your website developer (or download a plugin like Yoast if you run your own WordPress site).
Keywords are also critical when connecting ‘landing pages’ to online PPC adverts. As mentioned above, there are additional features of Google Keyword Planner that come into play when running a Google Ads (or similar PPC) campaign. Of course, Vu can help you with your PPC campaigns and we have also written several articles on writing effective landing pages.