How will changes to Google’s Keyword Planner affect your Keyword Research in 2017?

In SEO, The Digital Marketing Blog by Dave1 Comment

Recently, we tweeted about Google’s changes to its Keyword Planner tool, specifically that it is restricting data depending on how much money you spend on AdWords. There are plenty of excellent articles out there (such as those below) that explain it in detail so we’ll only give you a brief rundown.

Google’s All New ‘Freemium’ Keyword Planner

Essentially, people started noticing that the search volume data was only showing ranges rather than the usual, much more detailed numbers. See screenshot below:

It began with Google telling everybody they needed an active AdWords account but not (for now) an active campaign. Fast forward 13 days to the 12th of August 2016 and Google confirmed that users with low spend will see limited data.


So not only do you now need an active account, you need to spend sufficient money on it; there’s no word from Google on what is deemed a sufficient amount. We guess you’ll just have to keep using the Keyword Planner as normal and see what results you get.

As we said, there are plenty of great articles out there that explain it in depth but this one from Greg Finn over on Search Engine Land is particularly worth a read. I might be in the minority here but I don’t actually blame Google for doing this; they have a product that almost everybody uses (often to varying degrees, to game their algorithm) so why shouldn’t they charge people to use it?

UPDATE 19/08/2016: Google have since confirmed that one of the main reasons behind this decision, as I’ve alluded to above is to stop bots and other services when they’re not using it for it’s primary purpose.

While we’re here, I won’t be at all surprised to see more and more aspects of Analytics moved into the premium and/or 360 suite in the future either until the free product is a fully stripped down, basic version. For what it’s worth, my guess is that people receiving over a certain threshold of visitors will see sampled data, and will have to cough up to see the full set. This is already the case, but I think the threshold will be incrementally but significantly lowered over the coming years.

Now we’ve briefly covered what’s happened, we’re going to examine what this might actually mean to us as marketers. *Side note: I’m from a content and SEO background so I’m looking at this primarily from that angle.

Keyword Research in 2017

Firstly, we’ve said 2017 and that’s intentional because quite often when these things happen, the effects can take a few weeks or months to be fully felt. People running campaigns now will likely have done their research phase already. As far as I see it, it will be campaigns and onsite work done for late (think Christmas) 2016 and into 2017 that will be most affected.

So how will it affect us & what will we do instead?

For agencies, I don’t think it will affect us that much to begin with. We spend enough on AdWords that we’ve seen no impact thus far. I’m guessing that most other agencies are the same. However marketing departments that don’t do much PPC and freelance SEOs, content writers etc. could be in a different boat. So, what do we do?

Option 1: We Look Elsewhere for the Data

The simplest solution is to find another tool; there are many out there that do a similar, if not better, job than the Keyword Planner. Unfortunately, you have to pay for most of these. Examples that immediately spring to mind are Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMrush, SearchMetrics, Advanced Web Ranking and KeywordTool.IO.

Here at SiteVisibility, we have been very impressed with MOZ’s brand new Keyword Explorer and have been using it extensively even before this announcement. We also utilise SEMrush in a number of our campaigns and when combined we can research, categorise and track key terms with ease. Most SEO agencies and individuals will likely have subscriptions to these but we still feel they may be getting even more soon.

It’s important to note that many of these tools use Google data too and it’s unclear if or how they will be affected, although MOZ have already moved to announce that their Keyword Explorer won’t be, as they use clickstream data.

Option 2: We Think Outside the Box

This may sound ridiculous but what if we don’t actually use search engine data to inform our search strategies. It’s no secret that simple words on a page aren’t what they were and google is moving towards a much smarter, more intuitive search. We know that we should focus on topic themes instead, and we know that we should try and optimise for local if and where we can. So Google’s decision to restrict data may not be the death knell we think.

I won’t delve too deep as this article about Google Rankbrain covers it very well; but what if we start thinking like users even more and get our data from other places… like social media?. There’s a plethora of social media monitoring tools and we could be using this to inform our onsite strategies. We know that Google wants to become more instant and adaptive, we know that conversations on social media can mirror other online intent and finally, it’s data we have access to.

I don’t see it being very useful for the more run-of-the-mill page optimisation for things like product or category pages but for creative campaigns, landing pages and informational content, it could be a great way of judging what people are talking about and tapping into it. As a bonus, it will also give us a measure of confidence that any content created has the ability to perform well socially.

Option 3: We do this…

Remember when directory submission worked and you would pay to do it? And then when it stopped working those same directories would charge you to remove the links…?

Welcome to 2017…


Ultimately, I think this change will force us to be better search marketers, or better marketers in general for that matter. We’re going to have to experiment a bit and accept that sometimes we’ll get it right and sometimes we won’t. We’ll have to think for ourselves, rather than relying too heavily on numbers. We’ll have to use our intuition, think like our users/customers (we should be doing this anyway but we’re all guilty of not thinking like our customers from time to time), and ultimately, we’ll have to get better at giving people what they want. Google has wanted us to do this for years; it just might be a bit harder to work out exactly what it is they want now.

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  1. Actually, your article here has given me a more positive outlook. I WAS IN PANIC MODE to be honest. Google changes are not the end of the world for an aspiring affiliate marketer, like myself. (I have no adwords budget at this time). There are still other options.
    I currently use Long Tail Pro as a keyword tool. Not sure how this will affect their output, but yesterday Spencer Hawes had commented they had foreseen such an issue, so they perhaps, like MOZ wil be switching to “Clickstream Data” as their input feed for search volume. I never even heard of “clickstream data” until you educated me here in your post. The chess game goes on!
    Perhaps you are also on cue about relying less on keyword research. If one puts out a relevant, high quality content that solves problems, then I would assume success will follow.
    Money talks here. I would assume, there will still be ways to get the desired search volume data for keywords; just one will have to pay for it monthly or will be doing alot more manual research to attain it. I am sure the big wigs like Moz, Semrush, Ahrefs and others have got their alternative strategies already in place. Thank you for a timely, educational, reassuring post here.

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