The Definitive Guide to Using Google’s Keyword Planner Tool for Keyword Research

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Google’s keyword tool has been the foundation of SEO campaigns for years. Because it was free and provided all the information necessary to conduct keyword research, it was the first place most SEO professionals visited when planning a new SEO campaign.

However, as of August 28th, 2013, Google’s keyword tool has been replaced with a new tool. Taking its place is the Keyword Planner, a tool that “combines the functionality of Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator to make it easier to plan search campaigns” according to Google’s official page.

Using the Keyword Planner

Before we get into detail about the new features of the Keyword Planner and how to use it, let’s look at one important change to the user interface.

When you enter your research keywords into the Keyword Planner, you’ll be presented with two tabs. The first one is called Ad group ideas, and is selected by default. This tab shows keywords grouped by categories, or Ad groups. This information is geared toward people who are using the tool for AdWords campaigns.

If you’re conducting keyword research for an SEO campaign, then you’ll want to use the other tab, called Keyword ideas.

The Keyword Planner requires you to log in before using it. Once you log in with your Google account, first ensure that you’re in the Keyword Planner section. If not, click on Tools and Analysis –> Keyword Planner from the top menu. Next, click on Search for keyword and ad group ideas. From here, you can research keyword ideas based on:

  • A product or service
  • Your landing page
  • Your product category

Once you enter in your data to research, click the Get ideas button. The results will be divided into the two tabs mentioned earlier. For keyword research purposes, click on the Keyword ideas tab to get started.

keyword results
Analyzing the Results

At this point, you’ll notice that the Global and Local monthly searches which used to be displayed in the old Keyword Tool are no longer available because they have been combined into the Avg. monthly searches column. Look over to the top left part of the screen and you’ll see the Targeting section. Here, you can make changes to:

  • The geographic location for your research
  • The language
  • The basis for your research (Google or Google and search partners)
  • Negative keywords


Moving down the left side of your screen, you’ll see the Customize your search section, which will help further target your research. Use Keyword filters to set a minimum for the Avg. monthly searches, and Keyword options to allow you to include adult themed keywords and/or filter out keywords you have already found. You’ll also have the option to set parameters for keywords that should be excluded or included.

customize your search
Keyword Match Types

The ability to set keyword match types to broad, exact, and phrase matches is still available, but it has moved to the other side of the page.

Look at the far right side of the column headers and you’ll see a pencil icon with a drop-down arrow. Clicking on this icon will display your match options for your keywords. For SEO keyword research purposes, I recommend setting your preference to “Exact” match.

If you change it while you have results displayed, you’ll see a message that reads, “Great, next time you save a keyword it will be added as exact (or whatever you chose) match. Should we make that the match type for the rest of the keywords in your plan, too?” Click Yes or No based on your preference.

Historical Research

In addition to the average monthly searches for a specific keyword, you can also view a twelve-month history of the keyword’s popularity in Google search.

In the “Avg. monthly searches” column, you’ll see the average monthly search volume for that keyword. You’ll also see an icon that looks like a graph. Hovering your mouse over this icon will expand a graph that outlines the average search volume for the past year, organized by month. This makes it possible to see if certain keywords are more popular during specific seasons or if they are on an upward or downward trend.

Saving Keywords to Your Plan

While you can still download the entire list of keyword ideas that Google gives you, I recommend adding individual keywords to your plan as you find good ones. This way, you can combine multiple search terms into one plan and download those results into one file rather than downloading different .csv files for each search.

When you find a keyword you want to add to your plan, click on the double arrows to the right of the keyword. This will add it to your Ad group on the far right side of the page.

Clicking on the name of the Ad group will open up a pane that will show you all the keywords you have added. If you want to download those keywords into a spreadsheet, click on the download icon. Deleting or adding Ad groups can be accomplished here as well.

It’s the middle icon, the down-pointing arrow. When you download your plan, you’ll be given several options for data output. The most important for keyword research would be the historical statistics, with the Segment by month option checked. This will include columns for each of the prior 12 months of search volume history for each keyword, allowing you to spot trends in popularity of each keyword.

download your plan

The Final Verdict

The new Keyword Planner is a new experience from the familiar Adwords Keyword Tool, but it’s also a step forward for SEO professionals who use Google’s tools for keyword research. Not only does this tool allow for more fine-tuned research, it also organizes keywords more efficiently and provides more useful information about each keyword.

For more helpful articles about performing keyword research, I recommend:

Have you used the new Keyword Planner tool? What do you think of it? Let us know in the comments below.

Jayson DeMers
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or... Read Full Bio
Jayson DeMers
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  • Banjo Smyth

    Regarding ‘Keyword Match Types’, you say
    “The ability to set keyword match types to broad, exact, and phrase matches is still available, but it has moved to the other side of the page.”

    My understanding is that the different match types alter the ‘traffic estimates’, but they don’t change the monthly search volume – that is ALWAYS shown in ‘exact’? Or am I missing something?

    • Rick Noel

      You are correct Banjo. Keyword Planner has no match type data for search volume. The Keyword Planner only provides search stats for exact match. Changing search type only in the Keyword Planner only shows traffic potential estimates for each match type as opposed raw search volume.

      Google claims that this change from the way the keyword tool used to work will help users get an accurate estimate of how much traffic they can expect to receive using different match types within AdWords.

      According to Google, this Keyword tool estimate factors in overlap in search volume statistic between match type which the apparently the retired Keyword Tool didn’t. Traffic estimates like click and cost do take this overlap into account, so checking those may help inform users which match type to use on their buys.

  • Gururaj Mahale

    I would say Keyword tool was a extra ordinary where we could see search levels above 1K and sometimes 1M but the amount of visits after ranking on first page was very less compared to searches shown by keyword tool.

    Keyword Planner helps you modify your search instantly and gives you the exact search volumes and hope we get exact visits from exact search for better promise of ROI.

    However the and keyword group here are reduced.

  • Yawar

    Please tell me how to use google adword for high rank seo

  • Chris

    Why do so many of my search terms come up with ’10’ as the number of monthly searches?

    I think there is something wrong with this tool

    E.g. in the Washington D C area (which has 5.5 million people), supposedly only 10 people for month search for ‘adhd natural treatment’. Same for natural medicine for ADHD and many others like it.

    The term ‘anxiety’ supposedly only gets 1,600 searches per month.

    This seems highly unlikely – that this few searches would be conducted.

    Any insight?