Google Removes Close Variant Keyword Data in Keyword Planner

It was reported widely recently that Google was significantly cutting the data provided in Google Keyword Planner. For accounts that had no active Google Ads campaigns running, they would be shown only search data ranges (e.g. 10-1000 – not very useful information!). And even for accounts that had campaigns running, data was becoming less useful. Close variants of keywords were now being shown as having the same search volume, when previously they were shown to have significantly different search volumes, and are certainly often treated differently in terms of intent by searchers (e.g. photographers vs photography).

At least, however, we were still being shown search volume for all variants that had some monthly searches.

Over the past few days, however, here at White Chalk Road, we’ve noticed an even more significant change in how Google shows search volume data for close variants, cutting data even further.

While doing some keyword research on Friday (16th September 2016), one of our account managers noticed that that Google has started to actually remove the close variants from results returned and show only one version of the term, giving a combined search volume, rather than search volume for each variation of a term. And importantly, the combined search volume is lower than if each variation was taken into account.

For example, when doing the sample keyword analysis for a particular client a few weeks ago (when they were still in the prospect stage), we noticed both ‘hygiene services’ and ‘hygiene service’ had a search volume of 10 each.

However, when doing the full keyword analysis on Friday, we input a list of keywords, including both those terms, and noticed that ‘hygiene services’ was not included on the list returned of keywords that had search volume.

Despite its low search volume in general, knowing this is an important niche term for the client and that it had shown search volume previously, we tested it out by itself (i.e. searched ‘hygiene services’ alone), and noticed that Google changed the term to ‘hygiene service’ and gave search volume of only 10.

The problem for search marketers with this new development is that it will decrease the size of potential keywords we have to work with for Google Search Ads, as well as making keyword lists appear to have less search volume than previously, which can make clients nervous to go ahead with SEO or Paid Search, thinking that they won’t get as much return on investment.

So it’s important to for clients to understand that:

  • Terms will have higher search volume when close variations and plurals are taken into account – it’s just that Google has stopped providing that information
  • Google has combined the keywords, most likely, because it treats the searches the same (i.e. it will return the exact same results for a search for ‘Hygiene Services’ as it would for ‘Hygiene Service’), so it makes no real difference to optimise for one over the other
  • However, when choosing the keywords to target, sometimes it may make more sense (as in this case) to choose a close variation of the term because it matches more closely to the term used by clients and their potential customers when talking about for their services; or it makes more grammatical sense. In this case, for example, we will choose ‘Hygiene services’ as that makes more sense as an industry term, and will make more grammatical sense when including the term within the client’s website content.

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