Last updated on 13th June 2023 at 21:22 by Alex Nicholas

When it comes to SEO and content marketing, keyword planning is vital as a high-quality backlink and will ensure your website gives you a competitive advantage. However, there's a problem, inaccuracies in data, more specifically there is often an error in the data surrounding search volume provided by openly available software on the market.

Let's take free tools such as Google Keyword Planner as an example, which although is primarily for advertising, it's an OK starting point to gauge demand.

And there's a reason we look for this kind of data. That's because it's important that the content on your website is fully understood by search engines and in front of as many of the right customers as possible. After all, if your website becomes recognised by search engines and ranks well for your target keywords, then your audience will find you. So, with this in mind, when it comes to your strategy and your market/niche, it's imperative that the two come together.

Somewhere around 2016, the focus shifted in places like Google Keyword Planner when it started grouping variants of keywords together. Since then, Google has reduced keyword data further (because ultimately it wants you to pay them for your clicks and not make informed decisions that could lead to a healthy SEO campaign), and that's where, in my opinion, inaccuracies could begin.

And I'm not just aiming my tuts at the Keyword Planner here, this also goes for the paid tools. Software like Ahrefs and SEMrush also gives you search volume estimates, and 90% of the time the search volumes between the two tools will vary greatly. They're brilliant tools that give you very good insights and set a benchmark for you, but don't base everything you do around their information. Use them to serve as a useful guide.

Is the data Inflated?

Keyword variations are proving to be one of the problems. Prior to 2016, the Keyword Planner would provide search volumes for keywords separately. This no longer happens, which means that Google now combines search volumes which provides a number that is less accurate. This has made keyword research challenging because of inflated search volumes (the cynical part of me thinks this is to get you to bid more for high-volume search terms). This is particularly true in instances where keywords have clear variants.

Furthermore, it is not understood which variants are not used or included within the results delivered by Google Keyword Planner. This ultimately means that Keyword Planner no longer separates close variants but instead, they become the same keyword. This makes keyword research challenging when it comes to marketing and creating a tailored strategy.

Keyword Research Data – Calculating the Value

When companies begin an organic search marketing campaign, they often try to calculate the value of a search term when carrying out keyword research. Broadly speaking in my opinion, this is a good idea, but again it should only be a guide.

Prior to keyword research, it's also a good idea to explore the audience and demographic information. However, many marketers choose to pick a list of keywords in the hope that their strategy will give them a competitive advantage but that's often not the case in reality.

Keyword research is one of the most important elements of SEO, but only when it's lined up with the correct intent, and with the right techniques and research strategy, it's possible to feature any web page on Google or other search engines, all of which will lead to an increase in web traffic.

Of course, using the right tool to carry out the research is vital but the goal is to target the right search terms and audience. They seamlessly have to work together to deliver tangible results and that's what makes search engine optimization so important. A web page can contain the best web content but if it isn't optimised with the intent correctly aligned then it simply won't generate the relevant web traffic. Therefore, avoiding inaccuracies proves to be a vital element of the process.

It's About User Intent – Understanding the Reason Behind Keyword Research

Prior to looking starting keyword research, it's crucial to understand what results you're looking to achieve. This can vary between identifying informational keywords for use in a blog to commercial keywords specifically suited for product pages. The right keywords are often underused or understood which makes it especially important to understand search volumes and how they link in with optimising content to become SERP-friendly.

With different variants and a change to search engines and algorithms, marketers have plenty to consider and think about when writing content positioning their brand.

In fact, with the advent of the following three algorithms, writing in context and for the right audience became objective number 1.

  1. Hummingbird – Google clearly set out to understand the context and meaning behind your content and match it to relevant search terms.
  2. RankBrain – which amongst other things, helps Google crawl and index pages then present better search results to the user.
  3. BERT – which helps understand word context surrounding other words, it's even more imperative to be crystal clear with the intent of your content.

Ultimately it comes down to this, who's it for, and does it serve them properly?

There's a Question Mark Over The Accuracy of Keyword Research

The reality is that search volume can be difficult to manage. On one hand, it can be used to feed SEO strategies, while the research can prove to be extremely flawed. Searching for certain keywords using Google Search Console will return the number of clicks, impressions, and position. So, it becomes simple to accept these figures as reality because it highlights the potential search volume and traffic. However, use different tools such as Ahrefs and SEMrush and you might find that you receive different keyword information, so you should always cross-reference your data.

This could mean that there is a question mark surrounding the projected traffic which means that it could be underestimated. This is down to the fact that some pages are ranked for more than one keyword which is likely to lead to more clicks and impressions.

Therefore, the index term is vital because focusing on one keyword could result in under-projected traffic. In reality, the traditional process of researching keywords and then creating a list before creating content based on the top keyword by search volume is not as effective as many might think.

What About Metrics and Devices?

It's also worth considering web traffic clicks and impressions across different devices such as mobile and desktop. Using Google Search Console and Google Analytics, it's possible to identify the number of clicks across mobile devices and desktop devices, as well as the overall visibility of your pages.

What this highlights is that search volume doesn't necessarily indicate the difference between mobile and desktop search volume. You can opt to use the likes of SEMrush to identify and track the Desktop and Mobile search volume but again, you might find that the values differ.

What Does This Mean for Search Volume?

Essentially, this proves that true search volume and the marketing decisions based around them are not available for a large number of keywords and that the results are inaccurate. Furthermore, many of the results are averaged across the year, and that means that things like seasonality are not taken into consideration. To add to this, the problem is also magnified because of a lack of clarity between mobile and desktop while it does not indicate whether the search volume is increasing or decreasing over a period of time.

I recommend that you add your search term(s) to Google Trends and take a look at the data provided over any given timeframe.

How Can We Overcome the Problem?

One of the main solutions could be to adopt a technique that involves ignoring search volume to simply concentrate on your content strategy, content creation, brand awareness through outreach and link building, and your purchase funnel (when your customers land on your pages, do they convert).

If you concentrate on creating content around your users, over a period of time you'll create topical relevance and authority and will be rewarded by Google in the SERPs.

In my opinion, the option of choosing to create content that is formed around market research, product development, and expertise is the right way to go. However, this can create challenges as a lack of data around traffic volume means that it's not possible to gain an understanding of how the content is performing or is going to perform.

(Sometimes it's a good idea to run a PPC campaign to gain insights into which search terms convert before you set about implementing your SEO strategy)

Writing content based on your niche market and creating a knowledge graph

In contrast, it's possible to create SEO content before identifying what it ranks for, therefore, it would also be possible to optimise it based on what's already ranking for any given search term. You can then monitor the queries that relate to the content and then alter them where required, however, this option could prove costly and time-consuming.

With all of this in mind, I strongly recommend that you use a range of tools that are readily available and cheap to use. The aim is to ensure that you create the copy that Google is looking for, and this is how I recommend you do it:

  1. Head over to Ahrefs and select keywords a handful of search phrases and keywords that will enable you to target your audience.
  2. Place your keywords into Keyword Insights as this will enable you to determine that the page you are creating is actually what Google is looking for – i.e. if you're thinking of writing a long-form article but Google is showing products, you're effectively wasting your time.
  3. As mentioned above, Google is upping it's game with regard to understanding content and language, so I highly recommend utilising tools such as inLinks and Clearscope. The developers of these fantastic tools understand that to win in the SERPs you need to fill your content with entities and NLP data that Web crawlers both expect to see and understand. All of these will help you to create tailored content that will drive up click-through-rare and engagement through improved ranking in search engines.

Summing up

Should we be particularly concerned about inaccuracies in keyword search volumes data or making the comparison between tools and how similar their forecasting is? In my opinion, not really. Yes, you must be aware of the demand for your content and that your ideal client will be making searches that will result in them being interested in your service, but that's not the be-all and end-all.

Your job (and the role of your website or company as a whole) should be to create a resource for your customers to navigate through by looking for strategic opportunities for two reasons.

Firstly, inform your customers that you know your market, be that through technical or informative articles, etc, as this will breed confidence.

Secondly, as a by-product, if you put the effort into spending time improving the overall messaging and building up topicality, regardless of search volumes and making sure the distribution of your content through the correct channels, meaning your customers have access to your content before they see it in the SERPs, there's every chance Google will start seeing you as an authority in your space and will reward you accordingly.

Finally, be patient. There's no need to update your content every couple of months because it's not getting the traction you think it deserves, or you aren't acquiring clients quickly enough. SEO is a medium to long game, but the rewards are worth it.