5 Reasons Google's New Keyword Tool is Better [Best of SEW 2010 #6”

There's been a good deal of controversy of late surrounding the newest edition of Google's AdWords Keyword Tool (which launched in September 2009 and came out of beta this August).

A lot of marketers in the search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search communities have come out of the woodwork complaining about the wide variance in volume projections in the new version, compared to the old. Their beefs are substantial: overpaying on keyword-rich domain purchases, business failures from erroneous projections, and much more.

Apparently, at the time of the new Keyword Tool's launch, Google was less-than-explicit about an important caveat: the old version used combined data from searches on Google.com plus all of Google's Search Network Partners, e.g. AOL, Shopping.com, parked domains, etc. (Not sure what this means? If you've ever conducted a Google search from within another site, that site is a Google Search Network partner.)

Despite this criticism, digital marketers shouldn't lose sight of all the benefits of using the new Google Keyword Tool. That's why we put it at the top of our list:

1. The New Keyword Tool Ignores Traffic From Google Search Network Partners

Any search marketer knows the profiles of each search audience (Google.com vs. partners) can vary widely, with differences in cost-per-click (CPC), click-through rate (CTR), conversion rates, baseline ROI, and more. Seasonal fluctuations in these core metrics also show different patterns, at times.

While the outdated combined view certainly showed bigger and bolder numbers, Search Network numbers were always harder to pin down when projecting critical success metrics. Better to have a firm grasp on a smaller number, and look for growth down the road.

2. You Can Run Search Query Volume Estimates in Any Geographical Market

In the past, how could you do this? Resisting the temptation to calculate search query volumes off of relative country population sizes, you'd probably have to go to a third-party keyword tool -- but then face all kinds of hazards in harmonizing the data to Google's. Never a pretty picture.

Now, with a mouse click, you can roll in as many countries as you want. For good measure, they also threw in language targeting.

3. You Can Estimate Search Traffic on Mobile Devices

Behaviorally speaking, desktop/laptop search and mobile search are two very different animals. Searcher's intent, query language, context, even screen and browser limitations -- these all vary widely from the big screen to the little screen. The keyword [Italian restaurant” garners more than 16 percent of its query volume from mobile devices, compared to 0.2 percent for the keyword [management consultants”. Isn't it about time we had a tool to help quantify mobile search behavior with that kind of precision?

4. New Data Filters Ease the Heavy Lifting of all That Search Query Data

With the old tool, we'd often find a list with a heavy long tail of keywords showing little or no data. Given that Google would limit the output of any list to 200 items, it often took several tries to build a useful seed list of keywords to analyze. Now we can filter by query volume, competition, estimated CPC, etc. And by the way, Google has done away with the 200 keyword limit.

5. Match Type Targeting is More Intuitive, This Time Around

One of the easiest ways to misinterpret data from the old Keyword Tool was to overlook the potential overlaps of search query data inherent in a broad-matched seed list (example: showing [Italian restaurant” and [Italian restaurant Chicago” on the same list). The risk is still apparent, but with simple check boxes in the new version, it's become much easier to control for these potential errors.

Where to, From Here?

Google, thankfully, has caught on to the confusion surrounding divergent query projections, and continues to communicate the Keyword Tool's passage out of beta.

Meanwhile, the link to "Previous Interface" has conspicuously gone missing from the Keyword Tool, a clear message that the new version is here to stay. Search marketers on the organic side will benefit from a more accurate reflection of natural search, while on the PPC side we'll have lesser risk of faulty projections.

A few more thoughts, for the road:

  • Always make sure your browser is logged into your AdWords account, when you use the new Keyword Tool -- otherwise many of the advanced options will be disabled.

  • Love it or hate it, the new Keyword Tool will still be an important asset, but David Naylor makes a good case for complementing your research with the Google Search-Based Keyword Tool.

  • Remember the Golden Rule of search query projection: estimates will be far more useful to you on a relative basis, as opposed to a volumetric basis. If the top keyword in your list shows 150,000 queries, and the next highest shows 50,000, don't focus so much on the raw numbers... just know that you can expect roughly triple the query volume.

And if you still feel strongly about this, drop a note directly to Google!

About the author

Always a believer in the analytical foundation of marketing, Paul Burani was trained in traditional research-driven brand development at The NPD Group, and went on to found Clicksharp Marketing, a search engine marketing and social media strategy consultancy positioned to help entrepreneurs use digital media to take on larger competitors and grow their businesses. In 2009, Clicksharp was acquired by Web Liquid Group, adding search and other PPC media to the global digital marketing agency's capability set. Burani's work has spanned a variety of industries including consumer products, health care, apparel, travel & hospitality, with clients such as Avis, Hilton, MillerCoors, LG Electronics, and PayPal.

Paul has been writing for Search Engine Watch since 2010, covering a wide range of topics in digital media, as well as developing tools for marketers like the Search Query Volume Estimator. He graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, and holds an MBA in International Marketing from Suffolk University in Boston.