Should We Trust Keyword Data for SEO?
Why you shouldn’t trust what you see.
“Well, the phrase only has 10 searches a month, it’s not really worth it.”
If I had a Haribo for every time I’ve over heard this one in a casual conversation with fellow SEO peers….
As SEO professionals, keyword research is the lifeblood of a campaign and major influence in the majority of optimisation decisions that we make on a day-to-day basis. But do we place blind faith in the data provided to us by Google?
Most of us know that we should treat the keyword volumes stated by Google with a pinch of salt. But how much salt should we pinch? We’ve outlined some examples below showing the potential gaps in the keyword data provided by Google and why we need to be smarter about our keyword volume judgement when planning content.
The reality is, it’s impossible to try and track every keyword your website is ranking for (excluding Google Search Console data but that’s a whole different discussion). Keyword research should be used to gauge the general popularity of a topic to influence semantic keywords you should be naturally using within content. So firstly, how is the data in Google Keyword Planner generated?
What is Google Keyword Planner?
Keyword Planner is a part of the Google Ads advertising platform. It allows users to research and analyse lists of keywords for use in pay-per-click campaigns. The keyword planner is designed as a paid search tool but its data is nonetheless extremely useful for SEOs.
Keywords are the bread and butter of an SEO campaign and keyword research is a very reasonable starting point. However, the historic keyword prediction data from Google is exactly that - historic. The data is calculated based on average number of searches over the past 12 months. Google collects data on what people have searched for which feeds into the data volumes we see and informs PPC professionals about phrases they should be bidding on.
Yes, there is a forecasting functionality within the tool, this aside, the historic data is completely reactive to what has already happened or has been previously searched. This presents a ‘gap’ in SEO strategies that we often overlook - emerging trends and seasonality.
Gap 1: Current Trends
So what happens when a new product hits the market that nobody has every heard of? This is exactly what happened when fidget spinners (remember those) came to town (and schools, and pretty every shop in the UK for that matter). So what happened when the keyword research was carried out?
Yes, yes I know - I used an exact match domain (it was part of the experiment). Having witnessed fidget spinners rise to prominence on social media, we carried out some keyword research around the subject and stuck a site up. This screenshot was taken in April 2017.
Using the Keywords Everywhere tool, which pulls from Google Keyword Planner data, I found that there were only 10 searches a month for ‘Fidget Spinner Argos.’
We experimented by adding the word ‘Argos’ to the home page meta title and within the content (cheeky I know) and within a few weeks….
The site had generated over 40,000 page views. Jumping into Google Search Console, we found that our top search phrases were:
Despite this, Keyword Planner still showed 10 monthly searches. A slight difference to the 195,631 impressions generated in first few weeks of the experiment.
Remember: there is always a ‘catch up period’ from when a new product first hits the scene (or appears on social media) to when Google displays data closer to the expected numbers. We can stay a step ahead of keyword data by becoming ‘futurists’ for our clients. If the budget allows, we should always keep an eye on topical discussions within an industry, new releases and social media discussions.
This applies to seasonality too. Sometimes, we know that certain phrases will be searched for more frequently at different times of the year - known seasonality. However, this seasonality is not always obvious in keyword data, especially if you’re using tools like Keywords Everywhere.
For example, it’s very easy to predict search behaviour for sporting events. We recently uploaded an article about ‘Premier League Trophy FAQ’s (targeting phrases that had low search volume at the time) and after achieving a stronger ranking position (not difficult due to the low competition) we saw an influx in traffic for this over the weekend of the final day of the Premier League several months later.
Behold, Google Search Console Data:
Remember: Factor seasonality into your content strategy and plan way ahead to ensure your content is ranking at peak seasonal time.
Gap 2: Phrase variation
When doing keyword research, there may be so many variations of a phrase that would register as ‘zero’ search volume. Remember if Google deems search volume to be less than 10 searches a month, it will display zero monthly searches - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it! If you used the right keyword phrases in your content, Google is smart enough to know the context and intent of the user’s search and match it up with your content.
Many of you may have noticed that there is always quite a difference in Google keyword data compared to search impressions in Search Console. For example, according to Google Keyword Planner data, there is around 3,600 searches a month for ‘resin driveway cost,’ but you cannot look at this term (or any term) in isolation when trying to gauge the real value of producing content for this keyword.
Each keyword in isolation has many variants that may not be accounted for in the keyword data Google gives us. Delving into our client’s Google Search Console account, we can see that the page ranking for this phrase actually had clicks for 246 ‘cost’ variations phrases (including resin driveway cost) in the last 4 months - many of which had zero search volume.
Ultimately, it’s important not to be too reactive and myopic when it comes to keyword research. It is possible to use news stories, seasonality and social media chatter to predict what users will be searching for to stay one step ahead of the competition and be the authoritative voice in your industry.