Marketing & Advertising

SEO 101, Part 5: Google Keyword Planner

This is the fifth installment of my “SEO 101″ series, following “Part 1: What Is SEO?,” “Part 2: Benefits of SEO,” “Part 3: Keyword Research Planning,” and “Part 4: Keyword Research Tool Tips.”

With a well-planned keyword research strategy, using the Google Keyword Planner is an easy, free way to mine a deep set of keyword data that can be analyzed in a variety of ways. The resulting data is pure gold in terms of creating and executing your organic search strategy.

Keyword Seeds and Keyword Data

In “Part 3: Keyword Research Planning,” I addressed seeds and generating keywords to input into the keyword research tool. Returning to the example from that article of pens and ink refills, I used to combine 20 keyword seeds into 982 different potential keywords.

An example of keyword seeds and the different keywords they can combine to form

An example of keyword seeds and the different keywords they can combine to form.

Those 982 potential keywords are the fodder I’ll feed into the Google Keyword Planner to start researching keywords for search engine optimization. Looking at the list above, you’ll notice that some of the phrases are clunky and likely won’t yield a lot of search data. Leave them in the list, for several reasons.

  • Speed. The process of converting 20 seeds to 982 potential keywords took maybe four minutes using Scouring the list for odd phrases would take five to ten times as long, and would not have a real benefit. Google Keyword Tool will accept lists of up to 200 words at a time. So in five cycles of inputting keywords into the tool, I’ll have input all 982 phrases.

The tool processes 200 keywords in the same amount of time as it takes to process two keywords, and each cycle takes about two minutes. So in ten minutes I can have all 982 phrases processed through Google Keyword Planner, which is less time than it would take you to weed through the keyword potentials list for odd phrases. In reality, if you’re serious about keyword research, you won’t be working with 20 seeds. You might have 200 seeds or 2,000 seeds. The only way to tackle deep keyword research is through planning and efficiency.

  • The unknown. Searchers defy all laws of grammar, spelling, and punctuation when they search. Some of the phrases you would toss out because you think they’re odd may just have some keyword value.
  • Related phrases. Even the odd phrases reinforce to the Keyword Planner the types of words and phrases you want to find. The Keyword Planner may suggest related phrases using those oddballs that it wouldn’t have if you had only entered grammatically perfect phrases.

How to Use Google Keyword Planner

Now it’s time to use the keyword tool. Use your Google account to sign in to — or sign up for — AdWords at You don’t need to run a single ad to use the Keyword Planner, but you do need an account, which is free.

Click on the first option, “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas,” and you’ll see something like the image below.

The input screen for Google Keyword Planner's new keywords function.

The input screen for Google Keyword Planner’s new keywords function.

Paste a list of up to 200 words and phrases in the box marked “Your product or service.” You’ll probably also want to turn the feature on to “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms.” You can also turn it on or off in the next screen if you aren’t satisfied with the scope of your results. Then click the blue “Get ideas” button.

The tool defaults to ad group ideas, so first click on the “Keyword ideas” tab as shown in the image below.

Keyword data in the Google Keyword Planner.

Keyword data in the Google Keyword Planner.

Google Keyword Planner will return data on two sets of keywords: the “Search terms” that you input into the tool, followed by some suggestions for related keywords. The second column from the left titled “Avg. monthly searches” contains the most important data for SEO keyword research: the number of times a phrase is searched in Google per month on average.

For example, somewhere around 12,100 searches a month are conducted in Google for the exact phrase “ballpoint pen.” “Ballpoint pen refills” drives only 720 searches, but that’s better than the 170 searches that “ballpoint refills” drives.

Because Google Keyword Planner is primarily intended to support the sale of AdWords ads, the next columns show “Competition” and “Suggested bid.” For organic search, both indicate the competitiveness of the search phrase. If sites are willing to pay higher amounts to buy visits to their site on a particular keyword, it’s likely that the phrase is also highly competitive in the organic search space as well.

These three phrases were part of the 982 potential keywords input into the tool. When all of the potential keywords have been researched, we’ll know how many searches each and every one of those 982 phrases drives. Notice that some of the phrases input, like “ballpoint pens blue ink refill,” didn’t drive any searches. This is probably not a surprise, but I didn’t lose any time by keeping it in the potential keyword list.

The suggested keywords are phrases that the Keyword Planner considers relevant to the keywords input. Because Google doesn’t actually know your business model or the exact products you’re looking for, individual suggested keywords may or may not have any value to your research.

You may be tempted to read through them at this point and pick out the ones that you don’t want. Don’t. Export the entire list using the “Download” button shown above.

Remember, speed and efficiency are key to deep keyword research. Each time you input a set of keywords into the tool, Google Keyword Planner suggests related keywords. Because you’re researching the same basic topic over many different cycles, the tool will suggest overlapping sets of related keywords again and again. Taking the time to pick through those same irrelevant keywords many times is a waste.

Download all of the keywords, combine exported CSV files them into a single Excel spreadsheet, and use Excel to remove the duplicates instantly with a single click of a button. Then you can review the list of suggested keywords to remove the irrelevant ones and only have to do it once. I’ve previously explained a quick way to combine CSV files, at “Merging CSV Files Using the Command Line.”

You will absolutely need to pick through the suggested keywords to remove irrelevant ones. For example, the Keyword Planner turned the original 20 seeds that generated 982 potential keywords into 1,963 suggested keywords. Because some of the words and phrases were very general, like “ink,” the Keyword Planner suggested a wide variety of ink-based phrases: tattoo ink, custom ink, printer ink, and others, as shown below.

Sample keyword data, before removing irrelevant keyword phrases.

Sample keyword data, before removing irrelevant keyword phrases.

Especially among the search phrases with the largest number of searches, the percentage of irrelevant phrases will be very high. Of the 20 phrases above, only three are relevant to our pens and ink example. Don’t be discouraged.

Removing Irrelevant Keyword Data

Systematically filter and delete based on irrelevant words to remove the irrelevant keywords until the data is clean. In Excel, select the row that contains the headings for your data: keyword, avg. monthly searches, and so on. Then choose “Filter” from the “Data” menu in Excel, and each cell in that row will have a little gray box with a downward-facing triangle in the lower right corner.

If you click on those gray triangle boxes (the filter buttons) Excel displays menus that offer options to filter the data in that column. In the image above, if I click the filter button in the keyword column and type in “printer,” the only rows that would be displayed would be the ones in which the phrase in the keyword column contained “printer.”

As long as all of the columns in your spreadsheet were selected when you chose “Filter” from the “Data” menu, the data in your columns and rows will stay in sync as you filter and edit the data.

Use this technique over and over to find and remove irrelevant keyword phrases: tattoo, squid, canon, brother, india, custom, killer. Each of those filterings will yield multiple keywords to remove all at once. After about an hour, the list of 1,963 suggested keywords can be whittled down to 619 relevant keywords — a sample is shown below.

The original list of 1,963 suggested keywords can be reduced to 619 relevant ones.

The original list of 1,963 suggested keywords can be reduced to 619 relevant ones.

For the next installment of this “SEO 101″ series, see “Part 6: Going Deep on Keyword Research.”

Jill Kocher Brown

Jill Kocher Brown

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