photo of man illustrates confusion over Google keyword toolsPlanner?  Tool?  And what happened to Match Volume?  Is the current state of Google Keyword Research confusing you?

I’m noticing a fair amount of confusion among many of my students and clients who are casual Google Keyword Tool users about the latest shift in Google’s available options.  Here’s a cheat sheet on where things seem to stand right now (at least for my Adwords account; with Google you never can tell).

Most people who follow SEO and PPC even casually know by now that Google has announced it will be getting rid of the keyword tool in the near future.  You have have seen a notice like this in your Adwords account:


Screen capture of Google keyword tool with advisory


(By the way, click on any of the screenshots to see them a bit larger.)

You Can Have Any Color Tool, as Long as It’s Black

That notice is hard to see anymore, and here’s why.  When you log into your Adwords account and click on the Tools and Analysis section, you’ll see three enticing choices, Keyword Tool, Keyword Planner, and Traffic Estimator.  However what you don’t realize at first is that all three of them take you to the same place.

Screen capture of Google Adwords Tools and Analysis menu

Although each of the above choices will take you to the same place, namely the Keyword Planner, there is a difference, and it’s significant if you want to keep using the old Keyword Tool as long as possible.  Here’s what it looks like if your select the Keyword Planner:

Screen capture of Google keyword planner intro screen

And this is what you see if you select Keyword Tool.  Notice the message at the topic with the cryptic “go back” link.  That link don’t do what you thing it do, mister.  Instead of going back to your previous page, you go back in time, to those wonderful days when the Keyword Tool made everything simple (not!).

Screen capture of keyword planner with go back link

Now, let’s consider a couple of things before the merciless hands of time drag you into the Keyword Planner age.  I personally am not so sad to see the Keyword Tool go.  After all, I only used it to judge volume, and the default setting for that was poor to worthless, namely “broad match.”  Now if you don’t understand the “match” game, allow me to give you a few quick tips.

Google enumerates three “match volume” types: broad, phrase, and exact match.  And the volume of search activity will vary dramatically according to which one you pick.  Broad match will show you the world in rose-colored glasses, at least as far as volume goes.  For example, let’s say your seed keyword is running shoes.  With broad match, Google would count each of the following search queries in it’s volume figures.

  • Running shoes
  • Cheap running shoes
  • Marathon running without shoes
  • Running shoe carrying bag

If you’re trying to determine whether you want to optimize a page for “running shoes,” those 2nd and 3rd phrases are not very applicable.

It gets a little better with phrase match.  In that case, the following phrases would be counted in the volume figures (the “phrase” is highlighted in bold):

  • Running shoes
  • Cheap running shoes

But when I’m doing keyword research I’d rather have the most precise data I can (after all, it’s just an estimate to begin with, why would we want to make it even fuzzier?).

So I always switch the Keyword Tool to “exact match.”  (See the screen capture)

Screen capture of keyword tool with match volume type selector


Fortunately, with the Keyword Planner I think Google gets the point, and in the Keyword Planner the estimates just come out at exact match volume.

By the way, this makes me skeptical of the claims that Google is forcing us to go to the Keyword Planner simply as part of their endless series of little schemes to get us to buy more Adwords.  The volume figures for “exact match” are far more sobering than the ones for broad match.  No starry eyed optimists who want to see a million searches a day for “hydroponic plant guidebooks” will be satisfied with exact match.   (By the way and for the record, I really do think that there is an endless series of little Google schemes to get us to buy Adwords…I just don’t buy into the fact that this one of them.)

There’s more that could be said in favor of the Keyword Planner (can anyone say “geographic volume numbers”?), but I’ll have to leave it at that.  If you’d like to contribute a comment, please do so.  It will make me oh so happy…well, it might.