How to Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool

How to Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool

The assortment of tools provided by Google for improving a website is astounding. Whether you’re optimizing for search, writing code, or sharing content, the company always seems to have something useful up its sleeve. The Google Keyword Tool has long been a favorite of webmasters and advertisers for generating ideas for key phrases to target, and to learn more about search volume. This post will give you some tips on how to use the Google AdWords keyword tool for SEO and AdWords.

Tread with Caution When Using The Google Keyword Tool

A while back, SEOMoz put out a post covering a brief study they conducted on the keyword tool. They found some compelling evidence that the tool could not really be trusted in terms of the search volume that it suggested for certain key terms. The post gives a lot of detail on why that is. Another factor that users of the tool should keep in mind is that it is designed for advertisers who are using AdWords. Data from the tool is not representative of searches on all search engines.

You may also see different data depending on whether you are using the tool logged in as a Google account holder, or using the tool as a visitor. The tool may also not return all possible phrases and terms that people might use to find your site. Also, not all columns of data associated with keyword ideas will be available. The lists below compare the data you will be able to see based on whether you are logged in or not. In a nutshell, you can get good data, but you should learn how to use the Google AdWords keyword tool before relying on its information. You should also try to verify data with an outside source before making decisions with it.


Not Logged in:

  • Competition
  • Local monthly searches
  • Global monthly searches
  • Extracted from web page (must enter a URL for this to work)

Logged in:

  • All of the above data columns
  • Ad share
  • Google search network
  • Search share
  • Approximate cost per click (CPC)
  • Local search trends


How to Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool for SEO

If your purposes for the tool are not AdWords-related, you can still get some benefit out of it. For example, you can use it to get ideas for other words that you may want to target for your SEO campaigns. You can also use the ad group tool to come up with similar keywords to optimize a single page for. Another convenient feature is the ability to search terms right from the tool so that you can look at other data in SERPs while doing keyword research.

How to Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool for AdWords

Google’s tool is most effective when applied to an AdWords campaign. One of the best features for advertisers has been the introduction of the ad group ideas. Before this, advertisers had to sort through long lists of keywords to make the best selections for their campaigns. Novice users were really at a disadvantage because they had no idea how to structure their campaigns and ad groups in the first place. The ad group ideas tab allows users to select groups of like keywords to include with their campaigns. It also saves experienced users the time it takes to sort through hundreds of keyword ideas trying to find the right ones for their ad groups.

Advertisers can also see the number of global and monthly searches that occur on Google’s search network. Note that this only includes Google’s main search as well as partner networks but no other search engine traffic. Local search trends allow advertisers to see how popular a particular phrase or term is over a period of time. The competition column gives a general idea of how competitive a particular keyword is and the approximate CPC helps guide advertisers on how much they can expect to spend per click on keywords they are thinking of targeting.

Using Google Keywords Generated from Advanced Filters

You can certainly find keyword ideas using default settings; however, you can also apply advanced filters to get more focused data on keywords. For instance, you can select specific locations and languages for keyword data. By default, Google will show you data for both desktop and mobile devices. However, you can also opt to have it show you only data for mobile devices or mobile devices with full Internet browsers. You also have the ability to search for keywords using specific match types, URLs and multiple keywords at once.

Advanced filter screenshot



How to Use AdWords Keyword Tool Match Types

Broad Match:  If you type words into the tool as you would normally, the default setting is “broad match.” This means Google will show you data that is broader in nature. You may get terms that have nothing to do with your original phrase.

Exact Match:  The [exact match] modifier shows the exact phase as well as close variations for ideas. In terms of AdWords showing your ads with this modifier, it typically only displays ads when there are searches very close to what your exact match term is. In the Google Keyword Tool, you may still see some terms that don’t match your phrase exactly, but you will get more focused results that only include your terms.

Phrase Match: This match type will show you many of the same types of results that exact match will in the keyword tool. You may notice much different results for global and monthly search volumes when using phrase match and exact match. That’s because the list of results is far more targeted when using these operators.

Keyword Research Tool Ad Group Ideas

A relatively new feature of the keyword tool is the ad group ideas. It used to be that typing terms and phrases into the tool would simply give you other variations or even different terms that may be somewhat related to the originals. This is good; however, it did not give advertisers any guidance on what words to choose from the sometimes more than 800 different choices offered by the tool.


adgroup ideas screenshot


Ad group ideas beta was rolled out in April of 2012, and it groups similarly themed keywords into ad groups for you. This means that a primary keyword and its variants were already segmented nicely for you. The idea is that you can take the group right from the tool and plug it into a campaign. The cool part about this feature is that it can also be used for optimizing pages.

Pages (like ad groups in AdWords) should be highly targeted. For example, each page on a website should be optimized for one keyword and its variants. Ad group ideas in the keyword tool works great for finding words that can be optimized on the same page of a website.

Keyword Columns

Here we’ll talk in a little bit more detail about the columns associated with the keywords that the tool returns. Keep in mind that this data should be used as a guide and not necessarily end-all, be-all information. These statistics do not include data from other search engines, and are largely representative of activity related to AdWords as opposed to search in general. Other data are Google’s best estimates such as cost-per-click or search volume. You should always do more research outside the tool to get a clearer picture of the keywords you are targeting.

Keyword Column screenshot



Local and global search volume:  This column shows you search volume based on the locations you have selected in the tool as well as for everywhere in the world. It is based on a 12-month average of searches, and it relates only to Google’s search network and the devices you have selected.

Competition:  This refers to the competitiveness of the keywords you have chosen. It reflects the number of advertisers across the entire globe bidding on keywords. The rating is very general with a low, medium and high status. Keep in mind that Google is showing you how competitive a key term is based on location and language settings. For example, you aren’t competing for bids on a keyword that someone may be using in a different language in a different part of the world unless you are also targeting that same keyword and language.

Ad share:  This column’s data refers to data from ads you have running and the keywords you have associated with them. You will notice that there is no data for most of the keyword ideas. That’s because it will only show data if you have a campaign with history and are using the keywords generated by the tool. Ad share shows you how often your ads are showing, and is specific to your target location.

Search Share:  Conversely, this column shows data similar to ad share; however, it is based on organic search.

Approximate CPC:  The approximate cost-per-click column gives you a ball-park figure of how much you can expect to spend on a click on your ad for that specific keyword.

Local search trends:  An overview of the activity of a keyword in search over a 12 month period.

Extracted from webpage:  When you plug in a URL to the tool, Google will show you a link to a relevant landing page for corresponding key terms. This is typically the URL used in the tool, but it can also be other pages on the domain.

The Google Keyword tool is a valuable resource for advertisers and SEOs who want to know more about the terms they want to target and the searchers using them. While it can provide valuable insights, you should always use a secondary form of research to get a clearer picture of your target market and how they behave in search.


How do you use the Google Keyword Tool? Have you found it to be useful in your web marketing activities?

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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