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

Written by

Darren DeMatas



Written by

Darren DeMatas


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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

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