Why You Can’t Bank On Google’s Keyword Planner Tool

Millions of marketers use Google Keyword Planner (GKP) the wrong way.

Using it to spot easy to rank keyword opportunities can cripple your marketing plan. Now, you can’t even use it for basic keyword research anymore.

Or can you?

Supposedly if you’re running an active Adwords campaign you’ll be able to get detailed keyword data. I run active campaigns spending more than $1K month (since 2008) and sometimes only get data ranges in GKP. I’ve also seen search volume extremely limited for ecommerce products.

Even if you can get the data do you really want it? Sure you can make it through all the bugs and get an idea on how many searches a keyword gets. But you can never bank on that data to find low competition keywords for SEO.

What Makes Keyword Data Useful For SEO:

  1. Search Volume: are people interested in the topic?
  2. Cost-Per-Click: are businesses willing to invest money in this keyword?
  3. Keyword Difficulty: can you rank for this keyword? Sometimes confused with the keyword competition metric from GKP.
  4. Ranking Probability: can you actually rank for this keyword…or will you just be wasting time?
  5. Conversion: if you get the traffic will it convert?

With that out of the way, you might be able to hack GKP to get Googles detailed keyword estimates. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t use the GKP as your only keyword research tool.

You Can’t Trust GKP’s Search Volume Estimates

Even with active campaigns spending more than $1K month (since 2008) I sometimes only get data ranges in GKP. I’ve also seen search volume extremely limited for ecommerce products.

Google is trading keywords for data feeds  when it comes to products in the shopping results. Advertisers CAN’T BID on keywords for products to appear in the shopping results. So metrics for products in the planner tool is almost meaningless.

So really, you shouldn’t depend on the Keyword Planner Tool for product SEO. It’s great for ideas, but you have to take the information with a grain of salt.

To get decent keyword data from Google, I recommend setting up both a text based ad group and a shopping campaign targeting your product. When I did this, I noticed a huge difference between actual search volume and estimated search volume.

how to use google keyword tool for ecommerce
This keyword generated 500+ ad impressions in a month.

My Adwords query string report showed a long tail (8 phrase) keyword received almost 500 impressions in one month, yet it doesn’t even register in Google Keyword Planner Tool. With Google moving away from keywords for product advertising, it is no wonder why good product keyword data is hard to find in the planner tool.

In this particular ad group, I have keyword phrases that contain 15 words that convert! That’s as many words as the last sentence.

If I never used set up Google AdWords, I would have never found these profitable long tail keyword phrases. Once I identified them, I went back to the product landing page and updated the content.

The Competition Score in GKP Has Nothing To Do With SEO

Low keyword competition does not mean easy SEO.

When you are looking at the keyword planner from Google you need to understand that low keyword competition does not translate to “easy to rank” organic keywords. It means that advertisers don’t bid on them.

Low keyword bids is usually a sign that the keyword is too generic to result in conversions. You can not run an effective AdWords campaign by bidding on keywords that don’t convert. Over time, AdWords managers learn to avoid these keywords so there is little competition between advertisers.

Low Competition In Google Adwords Keyword Tool Doesnt Correlate To SEO
At the surface, this high volume/low competition keyword looks like it would be great for SEO. Couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand the important difference between keyword competition for advertising and keyword difficulty for SEO.  If  you don’t understand the difference you could be targeting the wrong keywords.

The problem is compounded because many paid search tools pull in “competition” data from the Google Keyword Planner to fuel their data.

On the flip side, high competition does not mean SEO will be too hard.

You’ve probably heard that you should avoid highly competitive keywords when developing your SEO strategy. This is true, but not when it comes to data from Google’s Keyword Planner Tool. If a term is highly competitive, you shouldn’t dismiss it right away.  Advertisers are spending money on these keywords because they turn into sales.

It might be worth the long term SEO effort to rank for these “money” keywords IF the organic competition is not too fierce. These terms can be  byproduct of your long tail SEO efforts. In other words, don’t directly spend money “optimizing for them” use internal link building and site architecture to help you rank for these harder terms.

The bottom line is the keyword planner tool does not provide a keyword difficulty metric.

9 Keyword Research Tools You Can Count On

Search volume has always been a starting point for keyword research…but now you got to pay for it. Below are the top tools that I’ve used extensively for volume and CPC data.  I’ve also included scores for each tool. I know there’s a lot of tools out there, but Im only listing out the ones I know how to use.

1. Run An Adwords Campaign

Yup. I’ve been saying this for years. At the end of the day, ranking #1 is pointless unless it brings in dollar bills. AdWords is the single best way to find money keywords for your business.

  1. Set up a test campaign
  2. Create an ad group for each main keyword using broad modified match (ex +SEO +tools)
  3. Write ad copy
  4. Make sure conversion tracking is set up
  5. After a day or two make sure you’re getting impressions and clicks
  6. After a few weeks check your Query String report to see what search converted.
  7. Double down on SEO


  • you get to see which keywords actually convert
  • impression data and impression share data can give you idea of actual search volume
  • easy to create keyword lists


  • doesn’t provide any SEO metrics
  • the suggested keywords are designed to increase your ad spend, not give you more relevant keywords

2. Moz Keyword Explorer

I love Moz’s keyword explorer tool – in my opinion it is the best pure keyword research tool on the market today. Based on my own testing, the keyword difficulty metric is the most accurate. I’ve tested this by researching potential keywords, creating content and SEO for those keywords and seeing where I rank after 4 months.

But the Moz Keyword Explorer lacks when it comes to competitive keyword analysis. For example, there’s no way to do a gap analysis. I typically start all my keyword research projects by looking at which keywords sites in my industry rank for that I do not.


  • Presents an accurate, easy to use keyword difficulty metric
  • Search volume ranges are more accurate than GKP
  • Great keyword suggestions
  • the keyword grouping feature is worth its weight in gold
  • Easy to create and manage keyword lists


  • Does not include Cost Per Click data
  • Limited SERP tool – you can’t see the keywords a page ranks for in Moz, which is a huge limitation
  • No competitive keyword research functionality
  • You can’t see all the keywords a page or site ranks for.

3. SEMRush

SEMRush is the OG (original gangsta) of competitive keyword research. But they are losing a lot of ground to competitors. To the best of my knowledge, SEMRush pulls in CPC and volume data from GKP (vs Moz – which uses their own and clickstream data). So you get what you get there.

I’ve also found the keyword difficulty metric misleading and inaccurate. I have personally chased keyword that I thought I could easily rank by using SEMRush keyword difficulty metric.


  • Single best competitive search engine marketing competitive analysis tool
  • Keyword gap analysis is fantastic
  • You can easily see all the keywords a site or page ranks for (so you can start stealing traffic)


  • The keyword difficulty metric is questionable
  • Doesnt always have data for low volume keywords
  • No keyword list management
  • Ok at coming up with keyword ideas

5. Ahrefs Keyword Explorer

Let me first say, that Ahrefs is hands down the single best SEO tool on the market today. Best overall value. If you were going to have one paid SEO tool, it would be Ahrefs.  Although it is made for backlink analysis, you can do just about everything. Ahrefs Keyword Explorer is a bit clunky to use, but the site explorer feature is great for competitive keyword analysis.

I reached out to Ahrefs to understand where they pull their volume from:

We get our volume data from our data partners. It is a mix of data from Google Keyword Planner + a few other data sources.

At the moment we’re working at our own solution for calculating accurate keyword volumes, based on a few different sources of data 🙂
Once that solution is released – we’ll post all details on our blog. – Ahrefs Anna

The above is why I love Ahrefs so much. Ive been using them for years and they improve their tools faster than anyone else. They work hard for the money!

However, like SEMRush, I’ve personally found the keyword difficulty metric misleading. Recently, Ive ranked a new site #1 for a keyword with 98 difficulty (according to Ahrefs) but 36 according to Moz. That alone tells me Moz is more accurate.


  • Overall best SEO researh tool
  • Competitive keyword analysis is fantastic
  • Can quickly find top performing topics and related keywords in industry


  • Cant import data and the tool is overwhelming to use when you have more than 5 keywords
  • Keyword difficulty is questionable
  • Hard to create and manage keyword lists

6. CanIRank

CanIRank is a super easy to use keyword research tool that pulls in data from both Moz and SEMrush. CanIRank is great for novices for two main reasons:

  1. Gives you actionable items to improve your site’s ranking. You can actually build an action plan directly from the interface.
  2. Suggests other keywords that you are already ranking for. It is extremely valuable to find a high value keyword that you are already on page 2 for.

Usually with a little effort you can get to the top 3 listings for those keywords.

CanIRank key word difficulty tool to improve rankings

Coupon code selfstartr will get you 50% off your first month of any plan! Plus the founder, +Matt Bentley is super smart and friendly!


  • Keyword difficulty is based on your page, not a generic difficulty score
  • Give beginners step by step recommendations for improving rank


  • Can’t do a gap analysis or competitive research easily
  • Hard to create and manage keyword lists

7. TermExplorer

I had a lot of fun using Term Explorer.  It pulls a ton of keyword suggestions using a single keyword and has a great keyword difficulty score analysis.

I’m thinking this tool pulls in data from your Google Adwords account, as Ive received the dreaded you seem like a bot message from Google Search while using this tool.


  • Pulls a ton of keyword data to evaluate
  • Able to filter keywords to select relevant ones
  • SERP analysis tool is pretty solid


  • Pulls a ton of keyword data to evaluate
  • Amount of data can be overwhelming. Easy to get lost.

9. Keyword Finder

Personally, I like the Keyword Finder a lot. Its similar to most of the tools listed on this page, but is priced right. Keyword research is all it does and it does it pretty good. This tool is neck and neck with Moz in terms of keyword difficulty accuracy.



  • Very accurate keyword difficulty
  • Powerful and easy keyword list management (probably the best)
  • Suggestions are good
  • Can import keywords in bulk


  • Can be a bit slow
  • Hard to sort through and filter suggestion types
  • Pulls in volume and CPC from GKP

So, What Can You Bank On?

I use the Google Keyword Planner tool every day. It’s free for me because I run multiple AdWords campaigns. Spend a little cash on a keyword difficulty tool. Set aside a small AdWords budget to help find long tail keywords that convert. You can’t afford to chase the wrong keywords with PPC or SEO. Doing Amazon keyword research? Check out these tools.

I’d love for you to comment below and let me know which keyword tool you decided to use.

About the author

Photo of author
Darren DeMatas
Darren has an MBA in Internet Marketing and 10+ years of experience marketing retail, manufacturing and Internet marketing corporations, 7-figure brands and startups online. Follow him on TwitterLinkedIn. Or take his course to learn ecommerce.

46 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Bank On Google’s Keyword Planner Tool”

  1. Hi Darren,

    I have just started my blog and i need to understand Keyword Research.As i read your post, i have some queries.
    1. How to get the exact average month searches, since GKP shows the range like from 10-100, 1k-100k.
    2. I have read somewhere that we should write posts having less than 100k searches. Is that true ?

    • 1. You’d have to use a paid Keyword Research Tools Like Ahrefs or KW Finder. Or youd have to pay for ads and see which keywords are converting.
      2. This is false. 100K is quite a high number and most keywords dont have that much volume. Its more important to focus on total traffic for a topic vs a single keyword.

  2. Nice post. Great list of Keyword Research tools. Really helpful article. I am using different keywords research tools. Google keyword planner is really good, it is free. This tool is beginner friendly. But SEMrush is the most powerful keyword research tool. It is really easy to find the profitable keywords using SEMrush. Thanks for your article.

  3. Hi Darren,
    Insightful and extremely helpful article! I am interested to know if you have looked at two other products on the market: LongTailPro and SECockpit. I believe they are quite similar products to one another, and each pull data from Moz/GKP.

    Also, I see that AHrefs updated their keyword explorer 2.0 very recently and it looks absolutely AMAZING!

    • Im loving Ahrefs keyword explorer 2.0

  4. Nice article Darren! I was wondering, what is your overall impression with CanIRank and how often do you use it? I was thinking about adding it on my tool list.

  5. Hey there,

    Maybe someone could provide some insight on this for me. My search volume results for all keywords I enter are extremely broad. For example, something like “garlic for inflammation” might show “100-1k,” as opposed to “700,” for example.

    Here is a screenshot of what I mean: https://postimg.org/image/y9zjnn4wr/

    Thanks in advance,

    – Mike

    • Hey Mike – I just updated the article to explain this a bit more. Check it out and let me know if you still have questions.

  6. Hey Darren,
    Thanks for the most informative article. Long tails can be artificially twisted – Google tools show incorrect competition level for such keywords. I’m pairing Keyword Planner with SERPstat to address this and to have wider insight into competition level.
    What are you methods to “separate the sheep from goats”? Would love to hear more methods.

  7. Owh heck , your old post still releven until today , thumbs up Daren.
    Thanks also for my friends that share this to his facebook

  8. As I am trying to learn more and more about seo, It sometimes becoming more confusing to me. Especially when I read your post, I use to think to that low competition in GKP mean it will be easier to rank. Thanks for this, I need to check some other tools to get LTK I can rank for

  9. Good post, thank you! What’s your opinion about how accurate are the estimated monthly search volume from Google Keyword Tool really are? I some cases I’ve found that were their tool shows low to zero estimated monthly searches, however,

  10. Darren,
    You’ve got some great keyword tips here. I also like CanIRank as well. Probably the biggest issue that comes up again and again is the idea of “Keyword Difficulty”. As you mentioned in your post, it’s relative to your site, not some arbitrary number. So you always have to factor in how strong your own site is first.

    Also, be sure to check out the Keyword Research Tool from Bing. It’s part of the Bing Webmaster set of tools and has some good search volume data. Since most people use the Google Keyword Planner, there are some real gems you can find with this tool that many are overlooking.

  11. Good Piece of Information regarding keywords planner nice thanks for sharing such useful information.


    • Hi sakshi I want to learn profitable blogging! Can you be my mentor?

  12. Hi Darren,

    Excellent one, I enjoyed your article as I am newcomer in SEO marketing. I am planning to create a affiliate website, will use your techniques in my writings

  13. Googles keyword planner tool is pretty accurate and I have come to find out that competition does not matter as long as you have good seo copy-writing skills.

  14. SEO is super frustrating sometimes. Thanks for making it a little easier. Nice article.

  15. Hello,

    Long tail keywords, like you correctly opined, drive more targetted traffic and in the long run, converts far better.

    However, long tail keywords (and their numerous variations) also help bloggers and information marketers avoid Google penalties for keyword stuffing as an article that properly follows this standard appears natural both to readers and search engines.

    …while being also, very highly optimized!

    Be certain to make the day great!


  16. Also on google trends some weird disparities too, some trends would show up as too little data, but will be marked in related keywords, for example if you search something it will say 0 data, but it the same keyword will turn up as a related keyword with a volume of 20 per month under a different keyword.

  17. Honestly, I was wrong about “Keyword Competition” in keyword planner. I suggest the low competition in Keyword Planner always means easy to rank in Google organic.

    You have nice and clear explanation about Keyword Research, this is the stuff which i need.

    Thank you very much

    • Glad this helped! You can also check out termexplorer. Ive been using them lately.

  18. The Keyword Planner is the last resort for looking at long-tail keywords for SEO.

    Look at forums for what questions people are actually asking. Those are your best areas for keyword research.

  19. I do PPC for clients and disagree with one thing about keyword competition and ppc. I find it very useful to bid on as large a list as possible with phrase match. It allows us to pick up search terms that we never could have imagined. It takes managing the negative keyword file a little more closely, but it is worth the effort.

    • Thanks Ron. If your goal is to use PPC to find keywords broad modified match is a much better way to collect variation keywords vs phrase match.

      You can cast a much wider net with broad match modified.

    • Thanks for the suggestion 🙂

  20. Great Tips and list Darren. Serpstat has launched a new one. In addition to knowing what questions your prospects are asking on the web, you can as well find out what drives traffic to your competitors and even analyze website structure.

    • Cool. Ill check it out 😛

  21. You do know that the low competition color on google smaller is for the advertising right? It’s not for website competition. It’s for advertising competition so really you want a website advertiser rank med or higher.

    • Hi Roy, thanks for commenting. Yes, I do know that the keyword planner tool is for advertising. This is really the reason I wrote this post is because too many people confuse keyword competition (advertising) with keyword difficulty (SEO).

  22. Sorry to add to the above ^

    What I mean is if I am reinvesting my earnings into my website/s , I am not sure where to put the money and time in. If I churn out more content, whats stopping people just reading my info/guides/advice and then flipping to a cheaper site to make the purchase?

    Also I mean – the google thing interestingly if you put the “rising” keyword back into google trends it will saw no volume which makes no sense, because it can’t be marked as “rising” without volume.

    • I would spend A LOT less TIME churning out new content, and more time promoting your best content.

  23. Hi, I really liked this blog post. Thanks for the info.

    I am curious as to your thing with the keyword planner, I too have noticed some weird disparities between the keyword planner and actuality, for example some common sense search terms will have 0 volume traffic in the keyword planner, but people are clearly arriving on my site using these 0 volume traffic keywords.

    Also on google trends some weird disparities too, some trends would show up as too little data, but will be marked in related keywords, for example if you search something it will say 0 data, but it the same keyword will turn up as a related keyword with a volume of 20 per month under a different keyword. On top of that sometimes certain 3 or 4 term keywords will come up as “rising”, but no indications to why it is marked as such, meaning there is some data underneath it.

    when you do a text page ads, google now doesn’t allow you to do impressions of ad’s that are under its low volume search (which seems like another conspiracy to me), unless i’m mistaken – how do you find out if people are actually searching for your long tail keyword.

    Also I notice my blog content is doing pretty well without SEO optimisation, perhaps keywords are overrated? Yoast regularly says my content is too wordy, but google says otherwise. It just seems there is no logic to the game.

    Final question (if that doesn’t dig into your consultancy services) – It seems most people simply “price surf” is lower competitive prices more important than marketing for conversions? I am scared of this kind of race to the bottom, but it does seem people genuinely really care about saving a dime or two rather than the content/quality of the website – what do you think?

    newcomer here. I appreciate your advice!

    • Welcome, Joey!

      Keywords are NOT overrated. I recently tripled a sites traffic by ONLY using keyword research to find 3 low difficulty long tail related keywords that each have over 1000 searches per month (No Link Building to that Page). I used SEMRush for that.

      Regarding your question:how do you find out if people are actually searching for your long tail keyword.

      I use Google Adwords, Here is what I do:

      Step 1: Set Up A Test Ad Group

      Step 2: Add my keywords as broad modified match (BMM) (ex. +baseball +gloves)

      Step 3: Run it a few weeks and check search terms report. I look at impressions for search volume. Using BMM I could find terms like “Glove’s For Womens’s Baseball” or “Large Baseball Gloves”

      I hope this helps

  24. Hi Darren,
    I am having an issue with trying to find actual monthly search results. I normally use Google Keyword planner to see how many searches are being made per month. The keyword that I am researching is – “diabetic life insurance”, Google Keyword Planner shows 250 searches/mo. I ran the same keyword in keyspyword.com and came up with different numbers are far as number of searches/mo. they are showing 2600/mo. Which is correct?


    • Hey Vini!

      Thanks for stopping by! Search volume is really, really tricky. You can get data from multiple sources, but its always going to be a little bit of a guessing game. For one of my sites, the monthly search volume for the targeted phrase is 170, but the page gets 100 visits per day.

      I would try a small AdWords campaign with exact match or broad modified match keywords to see how many impressions are being triggered.

      In general, I think you might be better off targeting multiple keywords around that semantic core.

  25. This is one of the most insightful articles I’ve read on the keyword tool, especially the insights about the tool for e-commerce. I recently came across the same findings, nailing dozens of conversions on a keyword with no data! It really just takes a little budget and some tinkering! A great way to find revenue stream gems that no one else is bidding on. Thanks again!

    • So glad to hear that Travis! That is awesome!!!!

  26. Hello Darren,

    What a great article about SEO keyword. But i really get confused whenever I do keyword research. For example, I was doing a keyword research for my friend’s business of website consulting. So i look for the long-tail keyword “Web development company karachi” , but in return Google only showed me low Competition keywords and low volume (only 70, 50, 20 etc. ) i used the variations of keywords but still got the same result. So my question is, should I go with low competition and low volume, I think NO, but I couldnt find any high volume search. Secondly, for another keyword lets say “Edmonton marketing company” I want to rank for this keyword. But I typed this keyword in Google KeywordPlanner, it shows me (marketing companies, low, 40 avg monthly searches) (internet marketing company, low, 50 avg monthly searches), advertising agencies, low, 320 avg monthly) etc. I am totally lost and have no idea how to get it right. What are the basics to get it done smoothly, by the way I am new to SEO, and keyword research is the most difficult part in SEO. It would be great if you could help me with the questions mentioned above. I will highly appreciate that. Thanks in Advance !



    • Kaizaa,

      Thanks for dropping by 🙂

      Local SEO is a little bit different that ecommerce SEO. I don’t really like or use the keyword competition metric in Adwords for SEO. Have you looked into any of the keyword difficulty tools I suggested in this post? The search volume for ANY of the tools is not that accurate. I’ve gotten 500 visits a day for a page optimized for a keyword that was supposed to be getting 170 searches per month.

      For your situation, I wouldn’t try to chase the keyword planner too much. Just use it as a guide. I would go after keywords that are most relevant, ones that would get your business. I would start with specific problems that your friends company wants to solve. Who cares if you get 500 visits per day if none of them contact you. For my site, I started off targeting keywords like “SEO in Jacksonville” but quickly gave up on that because it wasn’t bringing in any business. I have received more leads from posts like “How To Outrank Amazon” – Virtually no search volume according to Google Keyword Planner.

      For local SEO, i usually strip out the city from the keyword research aspect. I would set up a sales landing page, and run a local adwords campaign to it to see traffic estimates in your local area. I would also check out to see which keywords convert. Then I would spend time doing SEO for those keywords.

      I hope this helps – Good luck!!

  27. Hey Darren! This is very interesting. Especially the part about product SEO research. For the long tail product keywords you mention, did you originally pick the keywords using google’s keyword tool? In other words, how did you decide upon a keyword phrase to test if it did not yeild any estimated data in the planner tool to begin with? It may seem obvious the more experienced SEO folks, but I’m kinda confused.

    By the way, I use Market Samurai, Scribe, and SEMrush. Samurai’s competition module color codes competitive data similarly to the dial in Can I Rank (but no dial). Still playing around with Scribe on the Synthesis server; it seems to be pretty remarkable so far.

    Thanks for the great articles! Keep em coming…

    • Blaine – Im glad you caught my points about keyword research for products. It’s very subtle in that people won’t notice it, but is a game changer in my opinion. The fact I’m showing 500+ searches per month for a highly converting keyword…that has no data in Google’s free tool is significant. It almost seems like this data is not making its way into the KW planner tool at all.

      I found the long tail keyword by simply using broad modified match in AdWords. I’ll write more about this over the next few weeks. Ill use “Louis Vuitton Sunglasses” as an example for you (since I am staring at a spam comment for it while I reply).

      In AdWords, I would set up a an ad group to focus on the category and use +Louis +Vuitton +Sunglasses as my keyword. There really isnt much thought behind the strategy other than I want to show my ads to people searching for that product line.

      Using broad modified match means that the search query HAS to include all those words (in any order) with any additional words. In setting it up this way (using the search terms report in AdWords), I might be able to see that a lot of people are searching for “louis vuitton damier tortoise shell brown sunglasses” and I would be able to prioritize my On-Page, Link Building, effort to that specific product page.

      I probably wont rank for “Louis Vuitton Sunglasses” but I might have some success with “louis vuitton damier tortoise shell brown sunglasses”

      If your doing KW research for a non-branded, non-physical product – the process is a little different. I ALWAYS start with Google Keyword Planner tool, and try to figure out the possible keyword themes and search volume for the theme as a whole. I would still try to break it down to the seed term, and use AdWords to see the real search volume (impressions, clicks, etc.)


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