About Those Changes to the Google Keyword Planning Tool

by Posted @ Jul 08 2016



Google has changed a resource that many SEOs have been relying upon for years to discover how much search traffic different words and phrases attracted from searchers each month. It’s been an important tool in content creation and SEO planning for many sites that were hoping to potentially rank well in Google. That change was captured in the Search Engine Land article What the heck is going on with Google Keyword Planner?. I wanted to dig in more deeply and see if I could find more information about those changes and share them, and I was able to find a patent granted this week at the United States Patent and Trademark office that included details on the changes to the Keyword Planner.

Keyword Selection Planner

Two different types of Search Engine Marketing take place over at Google. One is often referred to as just SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, and is also sometimes referred to as “organic search.” It involves Google ranking pages in search results based on a mixture of information retrieval scores (relevance of content on pages) and popularity scores (such as PageRank) and possibly Structured Data markup (such as Schema.org vocabulary). The other type is often referred to as Sponsored Search or PPC or Pay-Per-Click, where site owners can bid on keywords and pay to have advertisements or sponsored search results show up in response to searcher’s queries. Google has made a tool available to both people doing SEO and PPC that indicates how many searches there is each month for specific keywords.

Knowing how much traffic a certain keyword might attract has been an important part of SEO for a long time. Around a decade ago, I had a client who had an important keyword for their business that was often spelled as a two-word compound. Except, they spelled it on their site as one word everywhere it appeared. Google’s Keyword tool told us that 10,000 searches for that term took place every month as a two-word phrase, and 800 searches a month sought the version of the same term as a one-word phrase (Sort of like the difference between “base ball” and “baseball”.) After finding how many more people searched for the two-word version compared to the one-word version, that client agreed to change it everywhere on their site to a two-word version.

Today the two-word version and the one-word version of that compound word both get 14,800 searches a month – the tool shows the same amount for the one word and the two-word version. This change goes deeper than compound words. Misspelled terms, acronyms, singular and plural versions, and synonyms are all showing the same search volumes. Google may look at auction records to see what queries have been returned based upon keywords that people have bid upon. Google is treating these search volume numbers they are showing in the keyword planner as if different queries might fit a broad match of a keyword.

Google was granted a patent this week that fits in well with the changes we see in how they are reporting keywords; and it provides some interesting statements about how people select keywords to use in paid search, like this :

These bids are often based on guesswork. Further, the third-party content provider guesses on the actual user queries with which the third-party content items corresponding to the bids are shown. By placing inappropriate bids, especially on inappropriate user queries, the third-party content provider tends to pay more for third-party content items, thereby increasing costs and reducing profits for the third-party content provider. At present, some third-party content providers manually analyze reports that include third-party content performance data to determine appropriate bid values but the analysis is time-consuming and often done too late to be useful if at all, resulting in efficiency loss and thus lower profit.

The patent that describes this change in how the keyword planner now reports search volume is:

Methods and systems for providing potential search queries that may be targeted by one or more keywords
Inventors: Jan-Moritz Peter Franosch), Wojciech Skut, Bianca Madalina Milatinovici, Lars Kare Engebretsen, Julia Mari Lennerz, Nadine Sandra Gerspacher, Elias Lieberich, and Ritter dam
US Patent 9,378,517
Granted June 28, 2016
Filed: July 3, 2013
Prior Publication Data


Systems and methods for providing potential search queries that may be targeted by a given keyword. The method includes receiving, from a third-party content provider, a request to identify one or more search queries that match a given keyword. A table corresponding to the given keyword is identified. The table includes one or more search queries with which at least one third-party content item was selected for display.
The selected third-party content item was selected responsive to a bid for the given keyword. The method determines from the identified table, one or more search queries that correspond to the given keyword. The determined search queries that correspond to the given keyword are those search queries that can be targeted by the given keyword. The method provides for display, the determined search queries that correspond to given keyword.


The patent provides many more details if you are interested in what it may mean for sponsored search, or want to spend more time behind the curtains looking at the things that have been changed. If you are looking for the search volume for a search on a term such as “pool”, keep in mind that these search volume numbers are for a broad match search, so that search volume number might include searches for things such as “swimming pools,” “pool tables,” and “car pools”. So the numbers may not be a good reflection of how much traffic may be interested in what you offer on your site when you choose a specific keyword phrase to optimize a page for.

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  1. Serbay says:

    Do you see any cases like Pool example?

    In first part of your article I thought that only words like pools, pooll,pool would be combined.

    But you are saying swimming pool, car pool is in pool search volume too. So you are saying kW planner returned old broad match days ?

  2. Bill Slawski says:

    Hi Serbay,

    Your right that terms such as pools, pooll,pool would be combined. When I search for Swimming pool, Pool table, and car pool, the search volumes are different (Swimming pool 165,000, pool table 135,000, Car pool 6,600)

    I did end up with a number of terms with the word “pool” in them that had the same search volume amount and wondered if they were being treated as if they were the same term even though they weren’t. The patent does refer to broad match, so some of that is in there. It’s worth looking at closely though.

  3. Bill Slawski says:

    Hi Serbay,

    It’s worth being thorough:

    Pool – 368,000
    Pools – 368,000
    Pooll – 390

    So sometimes misspellings aren’t treated the same.

    • Serbay says:

      Thanks for quick answer Bill. In pool case Poolls may be polls 🙂 so this is complicated issue I think:)

      We need to look after new solutions to understand real search volumes better like getting more kws from
      Search console (via opening sc for sub folders and using Api looking for first page kws)

      Also using AdWords exact match kws impressions and impression shares will be good solutions.

  4. Astrid says:

    So, what’s the tool to use now? How do I find out if pool or pools has a bigger search volume? How do I know what to optimize my page for if the Google Keyword planer doesn’t provide the data anymore?

    • Bill Slawski says:

      Hi Astrid,

      You can still use the keyword planner tool. It is still usable. When someone searches for pool or pools, the results that are shown to them are filled with both pool and pools results, so the higher search volume is true. Search for “pool” on Google, and you’ll see both “Pool” and “pools” in the titles of the results that Google shows. The keyword planner tool is showing 368,000 searches for both “pool” and “pools”.

  5. Rotimi says:

    I’ve always felt that the Keyword Planner Tool, since it was repackaged, has been positioned as a tool for AdWords activities primarily, that is if anything else at all.

    This kind of feels like captology in action.

    I can imagine them modifying user behaviour by more-or-less guiding users into more specific with keyword targeting.

    And I’m not sure one can blame them.
    Why should anyone deliberately bid on “pool” as a keyword within a Adgroup.

    That does seem a bit ridiculous.

    • Bill Slawski says:

      Hi Rotimi,

      Captology is the Name that B.J. Fogg of Stanford came up with for Computers as Persuasive Technology which involved things like improving credibility and persuading visitors to a web page. Your mention of it has me wanting to hear more about your thoughts regarding it.

      The keyword planner tool, I think is primarily intended to be used for people using Adwords, but it provides information that has been very helpful for people focusing upon organic search.

  6. Greetings Bill
    Won’t Google be using the volumes of user behavior data that they have collected over the years to contextualize these new associations? Perhaps that why poolls (misspelled 2 ls) shows lower value while the plural of pool shows shared volume?

    Just a thought, m

    • Bill Slawski says:

      Hi Marianne,

      If Google is providing this information to people using search volumes to choose keywords to advertise upon, it would be in Google’s best interest to tell advertisers to provide details about all of the information that they are using to suggest terms to advertise upon. They are not telling us about using user data to offer these suggestions, and because of that, I would suggest following Occam’s razor, with the statement that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Google could use some of that user data information, but if they were there would be no reason to hide that from us. They don’t say anything about using that information in the patent either, where they would be protecting the use of that information as intellectual property; which isn’t something they are doing; given that, I think it’s likely that they are not using that kind of information.

  7. Amir Bar-Tikva says:

    Another thing on the subject I noticed is:

    For some phrases it will report the aggregate search volume, thus equal s.v. for the singular and plural. e.g. tel aviv hostels and tel aviv hostel show each a s.v. of 1300.

    But “Jerusalem hostel” (s.v. reported – 880) and “Jerusalem hostels” (170) don’t!!!

    So W.T.F. Google trying to do here? Make us realize that they really really don’t want us to use k.w.p. data

    • Bill Slawski says:

      Hi Amir.

      The kind of inconsistencies you point to do leave a person wondering what Google is thinking, It does sound like it’s worth checking plurals to see if they provide different search volumes than just assuming that they might. Not sure why those differ, but appreciate your sharing what you noticed with us. Thank you.

  8. […] About Those Changes to the Google Keyword Planning Tool […]

  9. Mikes says:

    Bill I agree that search volume numbers are for a broad match search. I am just worried about the localization that is happening in search results. If everyone is getting personalized search results it is very difficult to predict search volume? Right

    • Bill Slawski says:

      Hi Mikes,

      If someone is searching for a topic for the first time, they are likely not getting biased search results in response to a query, and the search volumes for a term may apply for them. Personalization has been around for years and isn’t stopping people from finding information that they want to find. (though there have been concerns voiced about things such as “filter bubbles” where people are concerned that personalization is keeping people away from content on the web that they might like to see. It’s possible that people researching things such as bias should look into such things.

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