Keyword Research: 8 Ways That Google Tells You The Answers

google keyword researchWould you be surprised if I told you that Google will literally tell you every keyword you should target to improve your rankings. Some of these you may have seen, but I’m sure you’ll be surprised by others. The tools Google provides from webmaster tools to Adwords are all built with one thing in mind: Google’s best interest. But you may be surprised how much data leaks through their tools and helps us SEOs be more successful.

1. Webmaster Tools

Webmaster tools is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think keyword research, but the reality is that it can be a very powerful tool for you. Not necessarily for generating new keywords, but making sure you are targeting the keywords you have been planning on.

webmaster tools keyword research

Content Keywords = Gold!

Jump into Webmaster Tools and under the  “Google Index” heading you’ll find your new best friend: “Content Keywords.” These are the keywords that Google already associates with your site. Download this to Excel and you’ll find each keyword, the number of occurrences on your site, a list of keyword variants found, as well as the top pages where each term is found.

So, now the question becomes how do you use this info? I’m sure you can come up with plenty of ways (feel free to comment below), but I’ve used it for everything from making sure my site is being crawled correctly to making sure I am actually targeting the words I intend to. Those variants can be very helpful as I’ve found it very helpful to make sure that I am diversifying my keyword choices in this post-panda and -penguin world. This practice is known as “keyword stemming.”

Check out this more technical explanation here by Ted Ives.

2. Adwords Keyword Planner

The Adwords Keyword Planner (recently replaced the “keyword tool”) is far more powerful than most SEOs want to admit. In no way would I exclusively use the Keyword Planner, but feeding data into it can give you everything from new keywords to competitive data. Jumping right into it, let’s go over some of my favorite ways to use the Planner.

keyword plannerKeyword Expansion. The number one way that you’ve probably used the Keyword Planner is by plugging in a set of keywords and sifting through the keyword suggestions kicked out. You can’t beat it really. But there are a few tweaks you can play with to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

  1. Try to stick to lists of under 10 or so keywords as input. I’ve found that to produce better, more relevant results.
  2. Mess with some of the keyword options. Set “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” to “On” and see how it changes your results.
  3. Try throwing your own name into the tool. What topics/keywords does Google relate with you? This should give you some insight into your authorship as it stands in Google’s eyes :).
  4. Location.

Landing Page Extraction. Possibly my favorite use of the Keyword Planner, instead of inputting keywords, throw a landing page in. Here are a few different ideas to try:

  1. Try your own landing pages (or home page). Where do you stand in Google’s eyes right now?
  2. Try competitor’s landing pages. What keywords do they seem to target? Where are there holes in the keywords they target?
  3. Get creative. Throw in a wikipedia page on your topic. You sell vinyl fencing? throw http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyl_fence in and admire the wonderful cascade of keywords now at your disposal. Note that the tool pulls from more than just page content and gets into topic-relative keywords :).
  4. Want more creative? My favorite is Pinterest search pages. Surprisingly heavy in keywords for the Planner. I believe I picked this one up from Dan Shure at Advanced Web Ranking where he also suggests Reddit pages, industry conference pages, forum threads, directories, and more.

What other ideas do you have? What else could you plug in to the Keyword Planner?

The Data. 
Of course the biggest reason any of us use Google’s keyword tool is the data that they throw into it for us. Search volumes, competition levels, and click pricing all have their own place in our hearts as SEOs and SEMs. I’ve heard the keyword data from Adwords come under fire more than once in the past year or two and I definitely agree that it is

keyword data validity

Google Analytics Data

everything but accurate. First off, the data is at least three months old. On top of that it comes as about a three-month average. Beyond those inaccuracies, I don’t know what else causes the differences I see, but, just for example, a keyword I recently looked for clocks in at 15,000 impressions on webmaster tools. That same keyword doesn’t even register 10,000 searches in Adwords. My site currently swaps between the 1st and 2nd page

keyword data validity 2

Google Adwords Predicted Data (Off by at least 5k/30%)

of Google, so I doubt it even catches all the possible impressions.

So, I didn’t go super in depth into how exactly the mechanics of the Keyword Planner work. If you are looking for something a bit more detailed, try Jayson Demers’ Definitive Guide to the Keyword Planner or if you’d like something even more step-by-step, check out Ian Cleary’s Ultimate Guide. If that still doesn’t satiate you, hit me up in the comments.

3. Google Autofill

All this and we still haven’t left a Google property. The autofill is something that I assume you see daily. You go to type something into Google and as you type up pops a bunch of “suggestions” by Google. In order to use this effectively for researching keywords, make sure you are doing it right. Log out of Google (Or at least disable personalized search in your preferences), use an incognito window. If you are working from a specific location, make sure you specify that location under “search tools.”

Once you’ve got that figured out, you’ll see those keywords (especially of the long-tail variety) pouring once more out of your screen. Try  different variations of your current keywords. Try misspellings. Make sure you note down the ones you want to look into as you go. An Excel document in the other window is always a handy tool.

If you want to take this to the next level, try out Uber Suggest which essentially kicks out all the suggestions that you would come up with by rotating through the alphabet after your root keyword. Try it out!

4. Google Suggested Searches

keyword suggestions

Google’s Suggestions

So, we already determined that we like it when Google suggests our keywords for us. Did you know that there is more than just the search bar suggestions that is also hiding right in plain site? Type in a keyword and scroll to the bottom of the SERP. You should see a small, two-column list of suggestions. Let’s call them “potential landing pages.” You obviously want to vet them for search volume and relevancy, but I assume you can handle that by yourself :).

5. Google Analytics

Google Analytics used to be the SEO’s thermometer. Even mid-2013, we could all see most of the keyword data behind our organic search visits. Since then, we’ve all had to get a bit more creative in our use of other resources, but don’t be so quick to count out your analytics data as useless.

  1. For one, you are still privy to around 10% (give or take) of your keyword data. If you get enough traffic, 10% can be plenty for statistical significance
  2. Beyond the keyword data, Google Analytics can now integrate with Webmaster Tools which provides (however inaccurately) search query and click data on a term by term basis
  3. You can also take a closer look at your landing pages, which if you’ve targeted them correctly, you can get a very good idea of what terms are bringing in the traffic
  4. If you run a PPC budget, take full advantage of the 100% keyword data you get. Use the impression and click data to optimize for organic

Anyways, my point is that Google Analytics is still EXTREMELY helpful in the keyword research process.

6. Google Trends

You may or may not have heard of Google Trends. Essentially, it maps out a graph of the relative search volume over history. This allows us insight into a few things:

  1. Historical performance and trends. If the keyword you are looking to target is on a strong down trend, maybe you ought to rethink your choice. Or maybe not? Lower search volume means lower competition. Make sure you look into the why and don’t depend too heavily on Google trends (On any one source of information really)
  2. Regional data come in handy for a variety of reasons. Certain keywords may be trending in certain countries or even states. Your uses could include targeting your content marketing or social media.

    regional data

    Interesting that Utah is the high on the index…

  3. Related search queries and topics include broad topics you could look into and even a list of “top” and “rising” terms along with data backing up how popular these terms are relative to others.
  4. Time Ranges can be pretty picky, but an amazing tool as well. If your term has enough volume, try setting a 30-day time range and you’ll see the week-to-week trends! For example try “social media marketing” and see that search volume drops significantly on the weekends. Helpful? I’d say so!

Keep in mind that ALL the data provided by Google Trends is relative only to whatever context you are comparing it in at that moment. You can’t assume that a current trend level of 100 is greater than a trend level of 30 when performing the searches separately. they are all generalized to their own index.

Check out the trend data for “Keyword Tool” vs. “Keyword Planner”

If you want some more ideas or need something more to brainstorm up how Google Trends can help you, Arnie Kuenn from The Content Marketing Institute, put together a great write-up on ways to use Google Trends.

7. Google Sets

google sets 1

Throw in some keywords

The odds are pretty good that you’ve never heard of Google Sets before. In fact, “Google Sets” no longer exists, as it was discontinued along with many of the other Google Labs innovations. BUT, the functionality we need still remains in Google Docs. Google Sets was essentially a framework that allowed for inputting a few words and getting back out a bunch of what Google considered to be related words. Sounds interesting, huh?

google sets 2

Holding CTRL, drag down the blue square

How’s it work? Quick version is: open Google Docs, put a couple related keywords into a column and, holding CTRL, drag the little blue box down. Then let go and watch the magic happen.

Credit goes to Glen from Viperchill  for setting me on to this one (Check near the end of Glen’s post for info on Sets). If you want to know more about how Google Sets used to work, check out Bill Slawski’s post on the subject. If you want some more detailed instructions on how to use Sets within Google Docs, jump over here.

8. Google Translate

As more of an afterthought, since we are focusing on Google-owned properties, Google Translate can actually kick out some good ideas for synonyms. It is a bit round-about, but if you plug your keyword in, translate it to some other language (generally a language not latin-based), then copy it into the input and translate it back into english you get something interesting. Sometimes you get a new, Google decided, synonym, but in the very least you can click on your result and pop up a little list of related keywords :).

google translate

Google Translate at it’s Best

Not a huge-volume idea, but great for idea generation if you rinse and repeat.

 Some Parting Words

When it comes down to it, your keyword research should really focus on  combination of user intent and search volume. No matter what combination of tools you use to get the job done, these two things will guide you in the right direction. I won’t get too into now (Another day, another post), but I hope you’ve enjoyed these few ways to take advantage of the data the Google provides for us. Note that all these options are FREE! If you know of any other Google properties that belong on this list, PLEASE let me know! Other, non-Google tools/tactics? Feel free to throw those in as well as that will likely be the topic of one of my next posts.

Hope you enjoyed the post. Please add your take in the comments below.

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Jeff Kingston

Jeff is currently a business management student at Brigham Young University in Utah. Aside from his study of marketing, Jeff does some consulting in the subject of internet marketing and SEO at the small business and start-up level.


  1. Good stuff, Jeff! I think you basically covered every single type of Google tool for internet marketing….although, truthfully, my #1 Google tool (till this day) is a good ole fashioned, incognito Google search.

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