How to Use Keyword Planner for SEO

Google Keyword PlannerMany of us SEO professionals are trying to learn how to use Keyword Planner, Google’s evolution of the original AdWords Keyword Tool. Now that the Google AdWords Keyword Tool is going away, we have no choice but to master this keyword research tool. It’s time to step up to the plate.

Like many of you, I originally was confused and angry that the tool I’ve spent so many years learning how to use is now being replaced with an inferior keyword research tool for search engine optimization. Guess what? Google doesn’t care. They’re not in business to help us SEO professionals. Nope, they’re in business to make money off of their AdWords platform, and this Keyword Planner tool is a lot more effective at getting businesses to more build larger “Ad Groups” around keyword families.

Let me repeat that…Ad Groups around keyword families. Hmm…Ad Groups are just collections of keywords around a similar topic, or…category. So, what if we replace “Ad Groups” with “categories.” Now what do we get? That’s right…building topical categories around keyword families. Bingo.

How to Use Keyword Planner…The Right Way

If we take this core understanding to heart, that Google is trying to help us build Ad Groups (or, in our case, “categories”), then we can really do wonders in building out core topics to cover on our websites. Let’s dive in and see how to do that.

Step 1: Let Go of the Old Way of Doing Keyword Research

Many of us are used to setting the original AdWords Keyword Tool to “Exact Match” and clicking the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” checkbox. The new Keyword Planner tool defaults to exact match, so that’s covered, but the “Only show…” checkbox doesn’t exist. That makes it very difficult to enter seed keyword phrases and get keyword ideas that only include the words in our seed keywords. Here’s an example:

Original Google AdWords Keyword Tool


We can’t do that anymore. It really sucks, I know.

***UPDATE*** I noticed on September 12th that Google re-introduced this feature (screenshot below). Simply click the checkbox that reads “Automatically include keywords containing my search terms” will essentially do the same thing as the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” feature in the old Google Keyword Tool.

Google Keyword Planner: Automatically include keywords containing my search terms

Step 2: Give Google the Controls & Use “Ad Group Ideas”

If we just enter a general keyword (or perhaps a few), and let Google do all the hard work of finding related search terms and grouping them together topically, we’ll realize how powerful this tool can really be. Look at the suggested “Ad Group Ideas” that Google recommends. These are potential categories, of already grouped keywords, that you can cover in your content strategy. Here’s what it looks like:

Google Keyword Planner: Ad Groups

All of these “Ad Group Ideas” are potential topics, or “categories,” to have on our site. And, Google has already done most of the hard work of grouping all of the keywords into these topical categories. I say most of the hard work since Google doesn’t get it perfectly right. You still need to export them to a .csv file and refine the list. But, this is a big time saver when putting together a keyword universe/taxonomy for a website.

The “Ad Group Ideas” feature existed in Beta form in the original Google Keyword Tool, but how many of us used it? Not many. Now we need to embrace this feature, and realize that it’s actually very helpful for building out keyword universes and taxonomies for specific industries.

Step 3: Dive Deeper into Niches Using Keyword Planner

Since the “Ad Group Ideas” provided by the Google Keyword Planner tool aren’t going to be perfect, you’re bound to notice some niche keywords that are missing. Type these into the Keyword Planner tool just as you would using the old Google AdWords Keyword tool, but keep in mind that you cannot click that convenient “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” checkbox anymore to further refine the keyword ideas that Google gives you. So, in order to further refine the keyword ideas suggested by Google, you’ll want to use the Include/Exclude feature in the Keyword Planner Tool. Here’s an example of how to do that. ***Update*** – this feature has be re-implemented into the Google Keyword Planner Tool (per above).

In the screenshot below, I’m using the Keyword Planner tool to get keyword ideas on different types of “broadheads” used in bowhunting. I’ve entered a number of seed keywords at the top. The problem, as you’ll see in the blue box, is that Google gives me some other keyword ideas that aren’t directly relevant.

Google Keyword Planner: Unwanted Keywords

This is where the Include/Exclude feature comes in handy. Notice how I enter “broadheads” into the Include section, so that Google’s suggested keyword ideas only include keyword phrases with the word “broadheads” in them.

Google Keyword Planner: Include/Exclude Feature

Now you’ll see that my keywords ideas have been further refined, as shown below.

Google Keyword Planner: Refined Keywords

Step 4: Use Google Suggest to Get More Keyword Ideas

Another way to further expand your niche keyword research, building upon Step 3 above, is to actually conduct searches in Google for particular niche keywords. Look at the bottom of the search results to find more seed keyword ideas that will help improve Google’s keyword ideas in the Keyword Planner tool. Here’s an example, using the “broadheads” seed keyword.

Use Google Suggest to Find Additional Keyword Ideas

Look at these additional keyword ideas, and click on them to find even more related keywords at the bottom of the next Google search results page. Grab ones that are different than what you searched for, but directly related, and put them into Keyword Planner as additional seed keywords to further expand your keyword ideas.


While every SEO would rather use the old Google AdWords Keyword tool, the Keyword Planner tool is particularly useful in forcing us to think differently when we do keyword research. When we are keyword mapping an entire website, using the Google Keyword Planner tool’s suggested “Ad Groups” can actually really help us to build out topical categories for a website, with tons of keywords already curated for us. We still have some capability for further refining our keywords using the Include/Exclude feature, and that should be enough to still allow us to do effective keyword research with Google’s own free tool.

Have any tips of your own for using the Google Keyword Planner tool? Leave a comment below.

  • Natilya James

    The Planner feels different from the Keyword Tool because the interface is quite different. The boxes to select broad, phrase, or exact is gone. The filters let you choose the location of your search, down to the city if you want. This feature is going to help a lot of local businesses.

    • Dan Kern

      Google actually re-implemented the feature “Show ideas closely related to my search terms,” so that can now be selected instead of Broad match. But yes, the local refinement feature really helps local SMBs. The matrix functionality is also great for eCommerce sites.

  • Marian

    Great post indeed. Very helpful, especially to those just starting using Google Keyword Planner.