It’s that time of year again. When SEOs fight the collective urge to storm Larry Page’s house with pitchforks.
Except this time, it’s not a Google Update that’s got SEOs a-Twitter. It’s a change to Keyword Planner that’s making it harder for us to get keyword data and traffic–the cornerstone of what we do for a living.
But this change isn’t all bad for SEOs. Like a good algorithm update, this will probably hurt the amateurs and help white-hat agencies…..even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
Curious? Read on and I’ll show you why this change could help you.
First, the Story to Date
If you haven’t been following this story, I’ll get you up to speed.
June 2016: We find out that Google Keyword Planner has been aggregating traffic for keywords that are (sometimes, but not always) similar. Some of these changes make sense, like combining “ppc” and “pay per click.” Some of them, like combining the traffic for “apartment rental” and “apartment rent”, don’t make any sense–those are very different keywords.
Morby Oberstein has a great write-up of the changes here.
August 2016: Keyword Planner starts showing broad ranges of traffic for keywords, rather than exact numbers, to people who don’t spend enough with Adwords.
Notice the text at the top:
What they mean is, “for a more detailed view, spend money with us.”
Combined, these two changes look like they put SEOs and even small PPC guys in some hot water. Fewer synonyms, keywords being lumped together, AND uselessly broad data when it comes to keyword traffic?
And this is even worse because Keyword Planner is the cornerstone of most SEOs’ keyword research process. We rely on this free keyword research tool for suggestions and traffic data. You could be forgiven for thinking that this change is going to blow a meteor-sized hole in your process and leave you grasping at straws to find the right keywords.
Luckily, it won’t. Read on and I’ll show you how to create a workaround and even, if you’re not a DIY SEO working out of your home office, why this change might help you.
The bottom line is that we’re going to have to pivot away from Keyword Planner, and start using (generally paid) keyword research tools. These tools fall into two buckets.
Bucket #1: Keyword Research Services That Still Get Their Data From Google
Most other keyword research tools get their traffic numbers from Google, which can mean a range of things. It could mean they’re still using the buckets that Keyword Planner uses, so their keyword traffic could be off by thousands.
A lot of these tools therefore don’t offer a good workaround.
But some, like KeywordTool.io, are still accurate. When we reached out to their team, KeywordTool.io told me they pull data from Google. But they get their data in real-time, which could mean it’s a) more accurate and b) unaffected by Keyword Planner’s recent change.
And Keywordtool.io is useful for brainstorming keywords, because it uses two tools that Keyword Planner tends not to: Google Autocomplete and Google Autosuggest. This lets it offer a lot of long-tail keyword suggestions that you might miss using just Google Keyword Planner.
At $68-$88/m, KeywordTool.io is a pretty effective solution. It’s not free, but as Keyword Planner becomes pay-to-play, most of the good keyword research services will as well.
Bucket #2: Keyword Research Tools That Get Their Data From Third Parties
Some keyword research services use 3rd-party data. I don’t want to discuss every single piece of software out there in this post, but I’ll touch on two: SERPWoo and Moz Keyword Explorer.
SERPWOO is a competitive solution. When I reached out to them, they told me they pull 3rd-party data and never used Keyword Planner. They have good recommendations and competition scores for each keyword.
For $49.95/m, it’s a good keyword research solution.
The other solution–and the one I personally prefer, because it gives more data–is Moz’ Keyword Explorer.
Moz’ Russ Jones reported on the issues with Keyword Planner way back in 2015. He noted that Keyword Planner gives skewed traffic numbers that can be off by tens of thousands for big keywords, and still off by hundreds for more long-tail keywords.
Russ also developed a regression model based on 3rd-party clickstream data, to give better keyword traffic estimates. These estimates are accurate to within 95% of the real number of impressions that Adwords shows after a month of targeting a specific keyword (this is real data that they show their paying customers, not estimates; so it’s extremely accurate).
Clickstream data is an aggregate of anonymized users’ browsing data. So when you go to Google and type in, “Free keyword research service”, that search gets picked up by 3rd parties like clickstre.am. When you aggregate millions of these queries, you can get very accurate data about what people are actually searching for.
This data isn’t perfect, but Moz uses regression analysis of clickstream data to line it up with Adwords’ real data and get keyword traffic numbers that are 95% accurate. And, because of this, they won’t be affected by Keyword Planner’s new obnoxiously broad ranges.
At Colorado SEO Pros, we were already using Keyword Explorer for keyword mapping, because it shows you the difficulty and opportunity for each keyword. And it’s surprisingly good for brainstorming new keywords. But what makes Keyword Explorer so valuable right now is the accuracy of the data. Even before Keyword Planner updated, Moz’ tool was more accurate to within 95% of the real traffic for a keyword, as measured by ad impressions in AdWords (which, given this is the core of Google’s business, is probably pretty accurate). And that accuracy won’t be affected by Keyword Planner’s change.
Moz also provides great recommendations for keywords. Keyword Planner’s new ‘feature’ of combining different keywords without telling you (for instance, “apartment rental” and “apartment rent”) mean that it’s not as useful for finding new keywords, especially synonyms. You need a keyword research tool that does find synonyms, and can help you find every opportunity in the keyword universe that your clients can target.
Moz’ Keyword Explorer can help you get there. It’s $50-$150/month, but worth it.
What Does Keyword Planner’s Update Mean For SEOs?
What this means is that keyword research is becoming a pay-to-play game. This is bad for new SEOs, but for established white-hate agencies that already do advanced keyword research, this change might help you.
Don’t believe me?
If you’re a white-hat SEO agency or in-house SEO at a company, you probably already use advanced tools for some stage of the keyword research process. Keyword Planner is great, but it’s just not enough–it doesn’t show keyword difficulty, for one thing. Its traffic estimates, even before these new updates, were sometimes off by tens of thousands for keywords with big volumes.
Whether it was Moz or Market Samurai, you probably already used a paid tool at some point in the process. Even if you didn’t, odds are you have the budget for one of these services.
What you’ll have to do is pivot to use these advanced keyword research tools for the whole front-to-back keyword research process.
We will be publishing a deep dive of different keyword research tools soon (let’s be honest, this post is long enough already). But for now, here’s my point:
Switching over to a paid keyword research tool may raise your costs and mean revamping your process, but it also cuts down the competition. It cuts down on amateur SEOs and do-it-yourselfers who can’t afford to make the change. It also cuts down on the ability of shady agencies to just spit out cookie-cutter keyword research using Keyword Planner.
So while it makes your job harder, it also means less competition for you.
I’m not saying this is good for the industry overall. Barriers to entry rarely are. I’m not saying it’s a smart move by Google–this is going to reduce their market share for their primary revenue driver, because fewer people will be able to create the detailed forecasts they need in order to create a PPC campaign.
But if you’re an agency, there’s a good chance this change will end up benefiting you.
A small silver lining to stop you from grabbing your pitchfork and Googling Larry Page’s address tonight.
What do you think–is this update good or bad for the SEO industry?
Chris Rodgers is CEO & Founder of Colorado SEO Pros, a boutique SEO agency providing a suite of inbound marketing services for small and mid-sized organizations. Chris has been working in the SEO and digital marketing industry for over 10 years and aspires to provide a better class of SEO and inbound marketing services to industry leaders across a variety of verticals. Connect with Chris on Twitter.