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Using Keyword Planner: best free SEO tools series #1

Hello again. Last time round, we looked at the 10 best free SEO tools that you can use to improve your website. As promised, we’re now following up with a How-To guide on each of these invaluable tools.

First up is Google’s Keyword Planner. It will give you a look at what search terms people use when they’re looking online for companies, such as the example below.

search terms

These search terms are what we mean when we say “keywords”. An old way of cheating search engines was to take as many of these keywords as possible and cram them into a website, like below.

keyword stuffing

…The horror! The horror! in Glasgow…

This is called “keyword stuffing” and search engines got wise to it around the time Britney Spears shot to fame and unrelated websites suddenly had her name as keywords...

But when you take keywords and use them across your website in a natural way, it will increase the chances of customers finding you online.


Getting to the keyword research tool

Let’s start at the beginning: you should probably log in to Keyword Planner before we go any further. You’ll need a Google account to use their service. If you don’t have one already, then you can set one up on their signup page.

When you’re ready, go to the Keyword Planner page. Before you do anything else, unless you want to start submitting payment information and setting out on a path to paid advertising, it’s important to “Skip the guided setup” as shown below.

Skip the guided setup

Simply enter your basic setting info such as “Language” and “Currency” and then continue to the next page. But again, you don’t want to get involved in all the campaign information: what you need to choose is the “Tools” menu and “Keyword Planner”.

Keyword Planner

Finally, you should select “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas” and you’re almost ready to start! First of all, take two minutes to note down a few ideas of what people might use to search for businesses like yours. Then, read on…

Search for new keyword and ad group ideas

How to use Keyword Planner: 11-step guide

1. Make some guesses

Type some of your ideas into the window for Products and Services. In the example below, we’re pretending that we’re a plumber based in Leeds, which is something that we normally reserve for spicing up Date Night.
Anyway, moving hurriedly on, you don’t need to spend too much time pondering potential search terms at the moment. You will get more inspiration from Google’s suggestions. More on their ideas will follow below.
You’ll also notice that there is a window for a website address. Entering information here will add keywords from that URL, so you could use a competitor’s site for even more ideas.
Google’s suggestions.

2. Check your settings

Next up, make sure that you are targeting your search appropriately. Check that your language is set to “English” and your “Location” field is set to cover a realistic catchment area for your business. Don’t target “UK” unless you really serve clients nationwide, as you won’t get an accurate report.

3. Use filters if you need them

You can use the “Filter keywords” section to filter out any search terms which are not being used in your service area. Open up the filters and choose, for example, “Average monthly searches >= 10”.

4. Hit the “Get ideas” button

This hopefully needs very little explanation.

5. Review your keyword results

On the next screen, the first thing you should do is hit “Keyword ideas” tab so that you aren’t being shown “Ad group ideas”: these are for paid advertising, which is a slightly different (and more expensive) game. We just want to focus on research just now.
Now, you should see your list of keyword suggestions in the main part of the display, as below. Underneath, you’ll notice an area called “Keywords (by relevance)”: this is where Google shows what they believe are useful search terms for your industry.
You can sort them by “Average monthly searches” to see what suggestions have the higher values. But keep in mind that a high number of searches doesn’t necessarily mean “use that keyword”. We’ll discuss why next.
Average monthly searches

6. Find accurate and usable keywords

Take a look through the first couple of pages of “Keywords (by relevance)”. You’ll see some which describe services you offer and some which may not. We want to pick out the keywords which search relatively well but – most importantly – are relevant to your business and not overly popular.
Don’t be tempted to use keywords which don’t reflect your business. For example, if our imaginary plumber doesn’t do “electrical heating”, then he shouldn’t choose that even if it has a high number of searches.
Similarly, simple and high volume results like “plumber” will likely have a huge amount of competition. If we narrow it down to something like “emergency plumber” or “commercial plumber”, there will be fewer companies and websites in direct conflict for these keywords.

7. Filter your search

Now, you can focus your keywords accurately. In the example, we’ve factored in the term “emergency”. You can also filter out with “Negative keywords” under “Targeting”: this will eliminate any words that you don’t wish to see. For our plumber, we could enter “electrical” to remove heating-related results with that term.

8. Form your keyword plan

Next up, you want to create a spreadsheet plan. To do so, tick the boxes under “Add to plan” next to any keywords that you have decided are useful. You’ll notice that your original choices stay on-screen but Google’s suggestions disappear as they are added to “My Keyword Ideas” on the right sidebar.

9. Embrace any sudden inspirations

Spotted a word that has given you a whole new set of search term suggestions? You can either use the filters to find any related keywords, or you can type your inspired ideas into the “Your products and services” window next to all your original ideas and “Get ideas” again: remember to tick them!

10. Build up a good database

Keep ticking boxes until you are satisfied that you have a good list, which you can view in “My Keyword Ideas”. Mainstream businesses like trades or well-known industries may have 80 or even 100+ keywords. Niche businesses and specialist areas of expertise may only have a couple of dozen.

11. Save your spreadsheet

When you’re happy with your list, go to the “Download plan” icon under the “My Keyword Ideas” bar and click it. Check save in the format “Excel CSV” or to the destination of “Google Drive”, and then hit “Download”. Voila! You have a keyword plan.

How to use keywords

By now, I’m hoping you’re starting to wonder “what on Earth am I doing with these keywords anyway?” We touched on keyword stuffing and the need to “use keywords in a natural way”. Basically, this means building pages or paragraphs based on your chosen keywords.

There are four key areas where you should put your keywords to send the strongest relevancy signals to Google:

  1. Menu
  2. Page title
  3. Page URL
  4. Heading 1

Using keywords in these locations sets up your page to tell Google (and human users) what they will find in the clearest way possible. The example below is for the keyword “screeding services”.

How to use keywords

Then simply follow up by including page content that mentions the keywords naturally. This should happen without too much effort: just write about the details of your services and you should be fine. But we’ll look at that in our upcoming article about On-Page Optmisation: watch this space!


 “Should I use a different SEO keyword tool?”

There are some alternatives out there that claim to give more accurate results. Their argument is that Google hides some results from the Keyword Planner to encourage paid advertising.

Whether this is true or not, many of these alternatives insist that you either sign up for a free trial or request payment. When you simply need to set up your webpages on a good foundation, it’s hard to argue with the service offered by Google. After all, they do claim 88.89% of the UK search engine market!

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