Google grouping search results in Keyword Planner

Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 13 Jul, 2016
View comments Search News
Google’s Keyword Planner has recently starting grouping search results for similar terms - something which has been less than well received by users.

Google’s Keyword Planner has recently starting grouping search results for similar terms - something which has been less than well received by users.

Keyword Planner sits within the Google AdWords platform, displaying stats such as average monthly search volume, competition level and suggested bid for PPC placement. It’s intended to give marketers insight into traffic opportunities and help in the discovery of new and related keywords. While the Keyword Planner offers a good starting point, the numbers it displays tend to be general rather than specific and search volumes are rounded up – less than useful if you’re trying to make a business case for a new or expanded paid or organic search campaign or looking for genuine new keyword opportunities such as niche phrases with less competition.

Google has taken this generality a step further by grouping some search results for similar keywords and keyword phrases. Now, when you run a keyword search in Planner, numbers for related or similar keywords may be grouped together. The figure displayed gives an overall volume rather than a single keyword level figure, removing the ability to assess each keyword based on its own individual search volume. 

Why is this change a problem for search marketers?

While it may in some ways make sense for Google to bundle close variants together, it removes a level of detail and accuracy that many advertisers and marketers find useful. It also remains the case that close variants can have quite different results in reality.

In contrast, Wordtracker’s Keyword Tool continues to provide accurate and detailed results. It shows results for keyword terms exactly as entered by people searching online, with precise, unrounded search volumes. It also differentiates between acronyms and full form phrases, spelling variants, synonyms and so on.

These examples illustrate the change in Google’s Planner.

Acronyms and abbreviations

Searching on PPC and pay per click, or CPA and certified public accountant, the average monthly search figure shown in Google’s Planner is now identical. It’s unlikely that search users type in the acronym exactly as many times a month as the full phrase. As a search marketer, you have no idea from this data which keyword would be the best fit for your campaign goals.

Wordtracker presents the abbreviated and full form variants separately.


Searching on a plural such as house removal or house removals, or house and houses, Google’s Planner shows identical average search volumes.

Wordtracker has an option to include plurals and will display separate results for the singular and the plural terms.

A problematic aspect of the change in Planner is that there seems to be some inconsistency in approach.

Sometimes acronyms or abbreviations and the full keyword are treated as the same, but at other times not.

Closely related terms will sometimes be grouped together, such as this example for plumber and plumbing.

But, this is not always the case - digital business and digital company show separate volumes.

Sometimes Planner will show close variant grouping for spelling variations - but not always. A search for search engine optimization and search engine optimisation displays the same search volume, while a search for tshirt color and tshirt colour shows separate volumes.

Wordtracker presents each term separately, as entered and with its precise search volume result.

This lack of a consistent approach has numerous implications for those tasked with managing PPC and SEO campaigns. Above all, it means that the volumes displayed should be treated as general insights rather than hard and fast facts.

Care must also be taken when interpreting the results, as the grouping makes it easy to misread the data. In the CPA and certified public accountancy example above, it would be easy to assume that both variations of the keyword receive an average of 368,000 monthly searches. This is not the case. The figure given is a variant grouping. Taking the results to mean individual search volumes could lead to stretched budgets and underperforming campaigns when expected search traffic does not materialize.

What’s the solution?

With the move to grouped variants and no transparency as to when the data reflects a group average rather than singular keyword search volume, it’s important to remember that Google’s Keyword Planner cannot be relied upon to provide accurate, precise data.

If you do use Keyword Planner, consider it a starting point to outline the big picture. A dedicated keyword tool like Wordtracker will give much more precise search volume and traffic data for detailed organic and paid search campaign planning and strategy. Wordtracker is a great replacement for Google’s Planner, providing detailed, precise and accurate keyword data at an individual keyword level. It is based on real search volumes, removing the guesswork associated with Google’s Keyword Planner results.

Want to know more? Take a look at our Get Traffic course.

Get Traffic - The SEO Course from Wordtracker

If you want to know more about how Google ranks content, check out Get Traffic. This is the Wordtracker SEO course where we take you through all aspects of SEO - from picking a domain name and hosting, right through to on-page optimisation, backlink optimization and link building.

Find out more about Get Traffic

Recent articles

Google releases September 2023 helpful content system update
Posted by Edith MacLeod on 17 September 2023
New Merchant Center integrated reports in Google Search Console
Posted by Edith MacLeod on 14 September 2023
Google adds links to webpages in SGE’s AI-powered answers
Posted by Edith MacLeod on 31 August 2023
Google publishes Guide to Responsive Search Ads
Posted by Edith MacLeod on 29 August 2023
Google rolls out August 2023 broad core update
Posted by Edith MacLeod on 22 August 2023