How to Use Google Keyword Planner to Research & Target the Right Keywords (According to 30 Marketers)

Author's avatar Marketing Mar 5, 2019 16 minutes read

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    Nearly three-fourths of marketers always use Google Keyword Planner before launching a Google Ads campaign.

    Most of the respondents to our latest survey reported that they use Google Keyword Planner for every paid search campaign. Another 25% reported using the tool frequently, and very few respondents reported only occasional use.

    paid search keyword research

    The sheer number of marketers using the tool to conduct research before building search ads suggests that Google Keyword Planner is a powerful source of data.

    We wanted to find out how marketers discover and extract that data, so we asked 30 of them to share their best tips on how to use Google Keyword Planner.

    Here’s what we learned.


    How to Use Google Keyword Planner to Find Keywords

    “Google Keyword Planner gives you two options to get started: ‘Find new keywords’ and ‘Get search volume and forecasts,’” says Rajat Chauhan of Techtic Solutions Inc. “Both options take you to the keyword plan, but what you see varies slightly depending on your choice.”

    To take advantage of the tips below, choose “Find new keywords” to access the keyword discovery tool.

    You’ll use “Get search volume and forecasts” later to gather additional data about specific keywords you’re considering.

    But first, here’s how to compile an initial list of potential keywords.

    Think Like Your Audience

    “The one tip I always give to anyone when it comes to using Google Keyword Planner: think like your audience,” says Freelance Web Design’s Filipe Lavis-Fernandes.

    “We all use Google, so once you know your target audience really well, it becomes fairly easy to put yourself in their shoes. Forget that you’re trying to advertise; just search on Google Keyword Planner like you would on Google itself.”

    Start with Broad Terms

    Noriko Harada of 45RPM recommends “starting with broad search terms. From there, work your way down to very specific, long-tail keywords.”

    Starting with broad terms will give you an overview of how people search on Google. But by refining those terms, you can get really granular and find keywords that likely have lower costs.”

    Identify the Keywords Your Competitors are Targeting

    “A quick tip for finding lots of relevant keywords for your Google Ads campaign is to enter a competitor’s website into Google Keyword Planner,” says Sam Carr of PharmaVaccs. “It will automatically populate a list of thousands of related keywords.”

    “The process is relatively simple,” says Cardswitcher’s Stephen Hart. “You just enter a competitor’s URL into the search bar, and Google will present you with a list of suggested keywords.”

    “You can choose to get suggested keywords for the entire site if you’re just doing general research, or you can get suggestions for a specific page if your research is more targeted,” Hart says.

    “I’d recommend evaluating the keywords your competitors use on a consistent basis,” says The Slumber Yard’s Matthew Ross. “Essentially, you can scan your competitor’s site to get a list of keywords that you can then cross-reference against your own to see what words, terms, or content areas you’re missing.”

    Expand on Keyword Data Found in Other Tools

    “My one tip is to use Google Keyword Planner after you’ve conducted your research in another tool,” says Daniel Rosenfeld of Twist Bioscience.

    “For example, use SEMrush first to gauge your competitor’s keywords or understand what your target audience might be looking for. Then, use Google Keyword Planner to get search traffic volume data and other keyword ideas.”

    Digital Rev Marketing’s Kevin Peguero agrees: “I use Ahrefs or SEMrush to do competitor research. Then, I put those keywords into Google Keyword Planner to get ideas for other long-tail keywords and keywords that don’t show up in Ahrefs and SEMrush.”

    Michele Gourdine of LyntonWeb also recommends Keywords Everywhere for upfront keyword research.

    “I use Keywords Everywhere to complete Google searches and brainstorm a list of main keywords to enter into Google Keyword Planner. By pulling in top terms from various searches in Keywords Everywhere, I maximize Google Keyword Planner’s ability to pull all high-performing keywords related to my topic.”

    See Which Keywords Google Recommends for Your Content

    “The first place to start to identify keyword targets for your domain and/or landing page is to have Google Keyword Planner serve up suggested keywords for your site URLs,” says Tommy Landry of Return On Now.

    “Many people think you have to start with a keyword in mind. While we often do, I always like to have Google first tell me what keywords it thinks are most relevant to the site/page.”

    “This serves two purposes: it enhances your potential to have good quality scores upon launch, and it informs you when your website/page isn’t properly optimized for keywords in the first place.”

    “The latter has obvious SEO implications, but it also foreshadows problems you’ll run into with conversions and/or quality scores based on your existing content.”

    “So before you start delving into specific keywords in depth, get a gauge on what Google thinks is relevant to the content you already have on your website. You might be shocked to see what that reveals.”

    Find More Keywords with Grouped Ideas

    “My advice is to use all of the features Google Keyword Planner offers, even those that aren’t very obvious,” says Natalia Makarenko of CIENCE.

    “For instance, when you look at the results page, there are keyword ideas and grouped ideas. They can be different.”

    “Grouped ideas help you find new keyword ideas you might not have thought of,” says Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray. “Only use this feature once you’ve already found keywords, though.”

    How to Narrow Down a Massive List of Keywords

    Google Keyword Planner will provide you with hundreds of keywords for any search term or URL that you input, but sorting through all of those keywords can be extremely time-consuming.

    Use these tips to narrow down a massive selection of keywords and build a more manageable list of keywords to consider.

    Export Keywords to a CSV File to Sort and Filter Your List

    Lola’s Collin Burke recommends using a spreadsheet to narrow your list of keywords.

    “When using Google Keyword Planner, I’ll enter a few related terms to see what comes up. Then, I export the results as a CSV. Finally, I sort the spreadsheet by average monthly searches and highlight the rows of any terms that are both relevant and have reasonable bid ranges.”

    Related: 19 Advanced Google Sheets Tips for Content Marketing, SEO, Reporting, and More

    Filter to Narrow Your List by Keyword Text

    “It’s very easy to get lost in the large number of keywords Google Keyword Planner populates when you enter a query,” says Abhijith VM of ClaySys Technologies. “The advanced filter helps solve this problem.”

    “For example, since we’re focused on the software development service market, most of our target keywords include terms like ‘services,’ ‘company,’ etc. If I do a broad keyword search for ‘software development,’ I’ll get more than 800 keywords, most of which are irrelevant.

    “The best way to sort this list is to apply a ‘Keyword text’ filter with a word that’s usually present in conversion-friendly keywords. For us, that word might be ‘company.’

    “This reduces the number of keywords you have to sort through and gives you a lot of good keywords instantaneously.”

    Filter to Find Keywords with Low Competition

    “If you’re in a highly competitive industry and have to compete against large companies that have a bigger budget for advertising, you can use the ‘Competition’ filter to find keywords with little competition,” says Jim Milan of Auto Accessories Garage.

    “For example, if you’re selling auto accessories, you can enter ‘auto accessories’ into Google Keyword Planner to see that it receives 8,100 monthly searches and is very competitive.”

    “Then, you can filter that list so you only see low-competition keywords in the results. When you do this, you’ll see that ‘auto supply store’ receives 4,400 monthly searches and has low competition, so this may be a more appropriate keyword to target with your campaign.”

    How to Choose the Right Keywords to Target

    Finding keywords in Google Keyword Planner is simple. Choosing the right keywords to target with your ads is the hard part.

    After narrowing your list of keywords, you have to make sure that the keywords you’ve selected are the right keywords to target.

    That means considering things like user intent, competition, and search volume.

    But not all marketers agree on which metrics are most important when choosing keywords to target. While our respondents ranked search volume as most important, other metrics like competition, average bid, and ad impression share weren’t ranked far behind.

    And even when it comes to choosing the right search volume to look for, opinions varied greatly:

    Since there aren’t standard metrics every advertiser should look for when choosing keywords for Google Ads, our respondents offered the following tips to help you choose the right keywords for your business.

    Know Your Goals

    “When looking at keyword data in Google Keyword Planner, it provides you with estimated conversion, cost, and impression data,” says AutoNation’s Laura Gonzalez. “In order to target the right search terms, you need to know exactly what your goals are.”

    “For example: if you want to build your brand, look for keywords with the most impressions. If you want to increase the amount of time visitors spend viewing your content, pay attention to the highest number of clicks.”

    Consider User Intent

    “Don’t focus too much on the number of average monthly searches,” says Epic Marketing’s Cameron Dunn. “Instead, focus on user intent.”

    “I manage ads for a number of different companies across various industries, and time and time again I’ve found that it is far more important to understand what search terms lead to the desired outcome. Google Ads may be a numbers game, but I’ll take higher conversion rates over higher impressions any day.”

    “Use Google Keyword Planner to get a list of keywords together that you think are the best ones to use,” says PPC Freelance Consultant Ryan Scollon. “Once you have that list, search for each keyword on a normal Google search page and see what the results look like. Do they show the right products/services?”

    “Sometimes keywords can look like the obvious choice, but once you review what the search results look like for those keywords, your opinion can change quickly.”

    “Take it slow and think about searcher intent for every keyword,” says Jorge Sheffy of Loclweb. “Search for every keyword to see what Google thinks people are looking for. It takes a lot of time, but if you want your ads to be effective and not waste money, it’s important to take the time to do it right.”

    Uncover Location-Specific Keyword Data

    Freelance Marketing Consultant Steve James recommends “using the correct geographic area when conducting keyword performance research.”

    Nick Kastner of Forum Communications agrees: “A lot of our clients focus on local or regional markets. While national data is helpful, we typically focus on the locations where our clients are located. This prevents us from running into situations where one area of the country is driving search rankings really high on a given topic.”

    “For instance, we work with a plastic surgeon. Nationally, there are over 60,000 searches for plastic surgery, 11,000+ searches for rhinoplasty, and 8,100 searches for nose surgery.”

    “That sounds great on paper, but if you localize the data to this surgeon’s geographic target, there are only 20, 70, and 10 searches, respectively, for these topics in a given month. However, there are other keywords that are more frequently searched in that location that are more beneficial.”

    Take Advantage of Volume Forecasting

    “Use the ‘Get search volume and forecasts’ tool to see how keywords you’ve selected will perform in the future,” says Fisher Unitech’s Jackie Tihanyi. “This will help you weed out any keywords that will not perform well and allow you to focus your budget on the ones that will.”

    Benjamin Hanzel of Best Company agrees: “Look at other months/years when observing search volume. This can help identify seasonality.”

    “A sizeable average search volume does not ensure consistency,” says Smallpdf’s Hung Nguyen. “For instance, the term ‘funny valentines day quotes’ has about 6,600 annual searches on average. However, if you look at the trend, it’s a downward slope from February.”

    “This tiny little detail is crucial for businesses who generate leads via Google Ads throughout the year. Otherwise, you may end up in a predicament where leads, traffic, CPC, and CPM all plummet due to poor keyword planning.”

    “In many cases,” says Kulwant Nagi of BloggingCage, “the search volume of a keyword might be high, but it doesn’t have volume throughout the year. Finalizing an ad without looking at volume trend data could be a big mistake.”

    Find the “Goldilocks Zone”

    “My number one tip is to use Google Keyword Planner to find the ‘Goldilocks zone’ between sufficient monthly search volume, the importance of the search term to your business, and low competition,” says Colton De Vos of Resolute Technology Solutions.

    “This often involves doing pain point research to try and rank for causes of your prospects’ problems instead of just targeting solution keywords. It also means targeting long-tail keywords that have less search volume but either show intent to buy or have very low competition.”

    “I typically export Google Keyword Planner results, highlight the terms that meet these criteria, then plan the campaign spend around these targeted keywords. You end up spending less and getting more targeted traffic.”

    How to Access Google Keyword Planner if You’ve Never Run a Google Ads Campaign

    Google’s interface makes it seem like you have to run at least one Google Ads campaign before gaining access to Google Keyword Planner. However, you’ll likely want to use the tips above to find the right keywords before building your first campaign.

    Luckily, there’s a way to bypass creating a campaign to use Google Keyword Planner first.

    After logging in to Google Adwords, click “Experienced with Google Ads?” instead of choosing an advertising goal.

    Next, click “Create an account without a campaign.”

    Finally, select your billing country, time zone, and currency, then click “Submit.”

    You’ll be redirected to a screen that says “Congrats! You’re all done.” Click the “Explore Your Account” button to go to your Google Ads dashboard.

    Then, to access Google Keyword Planner, click “Tools” in the header navigation bar and select “Keyword Planner.”

    While it’s possible to use Google Keyword Planner without ever running a campaign, Advance B2B’s Jesse Särmö argues that there’s value in running Google Ads campaigns regularly.

    “If you keep your Google Ads account active, you get more specific data in Keyword Planner. Active accounts get exact search volumes, not scales (i.e. 52 searches per month versus 10-100 average searches/month).”

    How to Optimize Your Google Ads Using Keyword Planner Data

    Once you’ve discovered the right keywords to target, it’s time to start building the ads you’ll run for those keywords. Our respondents offered the following tips for building high-performing Google Ads.

    Target High- and Low-Volume Keywords with the Same Ad

    “Being in the B2B industry, a majority of our clients write content around industry buzzwords that rarely get any consistent search volume,” says Ledger Bennett’s Thomas Jacobs. “So my one tip is to always marry long-tail qualified terms with some more generic keywords to find terms that will increase visibility for a page.”

    “For example, we optimized a page for ‘Variable Frequency Drives,’ but the search volume is so low that we weren’t able to drive any non-brand traffic. As a solution, we combined that term with ‘AC Drives,’ ‘VFD,’ and more—terms with more consistent search volumes.”

    “Expanding the keywords we bid on increases the potential impression share, but it also increases impression volume that the campaign can be optimized around.”

    Create Landing Pages that Support Your Ads

    Another tip from Lola’s Collin Burke: “For keywords that have significant volume, I like to create keyword-specific landing pages, meaning the headline of the landing page contains the exact keyword targeted in the ad.”

    “Maintaining consistent language from search term to ad copy to landing page leads to higher conversion rates and lower costs per conversion.”

    Target Branded Search Terms

    “Targeting branded search terms is a low-cost tactic,” says Evan Roberts of Dependable Homebuyers.

    “If your brand’s website isn’t in the first position of organic search for branded terms, potential customers will need to scroll down the page looking for it. Simply improving branded SERP rankings will make your customers’ lives easier.”

    Finally, Don’t Rely on Google Keyword Planner Alone

    “Google Keyword Planner should only be a small part of your approach to keyword research. Otherwise, it will likely lead you astray,” says TSL Marketing’s Ryan Nicholson. “Be ready with additional data and research. Considerations have to be made for close variants of keywords that Keyword Planner will spit out.”

    “Why is this important? Because if you don’t consider close variants and/or homonyms, you’ll potentially end up targeting queries that have nothing to do with what you’re trying to promote.”

    “Come to Keyword Planner with a well-thought-out plan that includes competitive and user research, as well as data and keywords that your pages already get found for.”

    “Be open to Google Keyword Planner’s suggestions, but be sure to scrutinize them.”

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    Jessica Greene

    writes about marketing, business, and technology for B2B SaaS companies. A former writing instructor and corporate marketer, she uses her subject-matter expertise and desire to educate others as motivation for developing actionable, in-depth, user-focused content.

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