Most marketers have probably already noticed the disappearance of one of the most stalwart SEO tools: the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. It has been replaced by the Keyword Planner which adds some new functionality and requires an Adwords account.
For better or worse the good people at Google are constantly tinkering around with their various services. It’s not uncommon for certain features or tools to be abruptly discontinued with little or no warning (see Google Reader or the Google Affiliate Network).
Sometimes the changes are a genuine attempt to create a better user experience. Other times the changes are thought to be driven by monetary incentive for Google The replacement of the Keyword Tool seems to belong to the latter category.
Former users of the Keyword Tool now face a choice: they can either convert to the new Keyword Planner, or find an entirely new non-Google keyword search tool.
How Is the Keyword Planner Different? The most immediate change Google has made is restricting access to the planner. The old Keyword Tool was public, which meant anyone could access it, regardless of whether they had an Adwords account.
Now in order to use the Keyword Planner you have to create an Adwords account, which – guess what? – makes it easier for Google to market paid ads to you. This goes hand-in-hand with the overall trend of paid ads taking over the SERP landscape. Google is making it that much harder to get by in the world of digital marketing without utilizing their paid ads.
The Keyword Planner is also structured more explicitly around paid campaigns on the inside. It’s less friendly for those who just want to do some quick keyword research, especially for organic purposes.
Those doing research specifically for a paid campaign, however, may well find the Keyword Planner an improvement. Its three sections incorporate a much greater functionality than the old Keyword Tool.
The first section includes the features of the Keyword Tool, only now accompanied by all sorts of PPC bells and whistles that make it slightly less intuitive for organic research. One big change is that this section is built around the initial creation of a paid campaign, giving you the ability to get keyword ideas based on products, services, landing pages, and product categories. The second section largely incorporates the features that used to belong to the Traffic Estimator, which is also being retired. It allows you to estimate the clicks, impressions, and cost of a keyword given a max CPC.
The third section allows you to multiply several lists of keywords and compare them, potentially making the planner much more useful for paid marketers dealing with hundreds or even thousands of keywords.
One of the nice new features is the more powerful geographic targeting. Gone are the columns for global and local monthly searches and the long drop-down list of countries. Now you can search for any area you want to target, from a whole country down to a specific state or city. This will be a godsend for local businesses and make it possible for big companies to more effectively target ads to specific regions.
Missing from the new Keyword Planner, however, is the ability to filter keyword ideas by broad, exact, or phrase match. Hopefully Google isn’t done improving the tool and this functionality will eventually be incorporated.
What Are the Alternatives?
I suspect that most marketers will eventually end up using the Keyword Planner despite their griping. However, this is a good opportunity to check out some of the other keyword tools that are available. Even if they don’t completely replace Google, they may be helpful if used in tandem:
- Advanced Web Ranking
- Keyword Discovery
- Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool
- Raven Tools
- SEO Book Keyword List Generator
Of course, with many of these tool you’ll run into the problem of cost. Some of the more professional keyword research tools can get quite pricey. Even if you now have to create an Adwords account, Google’s Keyword Planner is still free, which will likely keep it an indispensable part of SEO work for the foreseeable future.