How to Do Free Keyword Research Using Google AdWords Keyword Planner

05 Apr 2017 Gorilla hands using a laptop

You may believe that your current website’s content matches what people type into search engines. You might think you know all the things people search in order to end up on your site (instead of your competitor’s). But when it comes to keywords, the old maxim rings true: You may think you know, but you have no idea.

If you’re going to attract more site visitors, you need to know how they are trying to find you using Google. You need keyword research. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner can provide the keyword insights you need—for free.

Instead of using this tool to help you develop a search advertising strategy—which is what it officially exists to do—we’re going to use it to extract the keywords on which your website should focus. But first, let’s remind ourselves about the...

Different Ways Humans Search

If you keep in mind how humans search, you’ll begin to hone in on your ideal keywords.

For example, let’s say your company is named Pet-o-Porté. You make and sell clothes for pets.

You decide to roll out a line of GPS-enabled collars to help owners locate their pets anywhere at any time. Here are several ways a prospect might search in order to end up on your GPS collar webpages:

1. By what you are/sell
GPS pet collar

2. By what you or your products do
Pet tracker, Pet locator, Pet finder

3. By the specific audience or industry you serve
Dog tracker, Cat finder

4. By the problem you need solved
How to find my dog, How to locate my cat

5. With a strong intent to buy
Cat GPS collar cost, Where can I buy a GPS dog collar?

Step 1: Write a “Seed List”

Begin by creating a list of keywords you think people might use to search for the kinds of products or services your organization offers. Don’t put every word on your list, but instead, any word that is reasonable and adequately specific.

Search terms like pets, dogs, and cats are far too broad to make it onto our seed list because most people searching these terms aren’t looking for apparel.

Similarly, terms like clothing and sweaters are too broad because most people who type these words into Google aren’t looking for apparel for their beloved Basset hound. Instead, the start of the list could look like the following:

Step 2: Borrow Keyword Ideas

Competitor Websites

First, do a variety of searches on Google for the terms you feel are most important and note which competitors are consistently atop the search results.

For example, Petco offers plenty of pet clothing on their website. Browsing through their pet apparel pages, you’ll see that most of their offerings are related to dogs. Thus, you would just nab their words and add them to your growing list:

  • Dog calming shirts
  • Dog boots
  • Dog life jackets
  • Dog raincoats
  • Dog costumes, cat costumes
  • Dog necklaces, cat necklaces


Wikipedia will likely contain articles related to your organization that can also offer some prospective terms.

For example, the Wikipedia page on “dog fashion” discusses specific types of high-end clothing for pets, giving you terms like "fashion collars," "diamond collars," and "dog dresses."

Google Trends

Google Trends can also help you determine which keywords to include or exclude. You can view each term’s search popularity over time and by global region.

Google Search Console (optional)

You can expand your seed list by adding the terms that people actually use to end up on your website. Do this using the Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools). Once your site is verified with your Search Console account, configure Search Console data so it can be visible in Google Analytics. To view these reports:

  • In Search Console: Search Traffic -> Search Analytics
  • In Google Analytics: Acquisition -> Search Console -> Queries

Don’t use this as your only keyword list because this data only tells you how people currently find your site. This list should only be used to inform your research. It is common for websites to be invisible on Google for most of the ways people search for them because there is no content on the site relevant to that search.

Step 3: Open a Google AdWords Account

Don’t worry, you don’t have to actually buy any AdWords advertisements, but you need the account to access the Keyword Planner.

Open your Google AdWords account here.

Step 4: Open the Keyword Planner

Once inside your Google AdWords account, go to Tools -> Keyword Planner.

Step 5: Get Ideas: Expand Your List of Keywords

Let’s start adding keywords. First, click the Find Keywords tab atop the page.

Next, enter some of your seed list terms in the field at the top of the page and click Get Ideas. (Make sure each term is separated by a comma.)

Google will then propose keywords for the terms you included, organized within suggested ad groups. It is common for many of the keywords within these suggested ad groups to be irrelevant, so it is not recommended that you add any of these groups to your plan. Instead, create your own ad groups by clicking the + symbol.

Here, we’ve clicked on the “Dog Sweater” ad group to see this list of proposed keywords:


You can add relevant keywords by selecting the appropriate ad group at the right and then clicking >> in the Add to Plan column. Remember, we’re simply compiling a big list of keywords that we’ll eventually download for use.

But which terms should we add?

In the example above, we probably want to add “sweaters for dogs” and “small dog sweaters” to a Dog Sweaters ad group. And because there is significant search traffic for the term “dog christmas sweater,” we want to add this to a separate “Christmas Sweaters” ad group.

However, we shouldn’t add “dog sweater patterns” because people searching for this are, most likely, trying to make the sweater themselves.

Keyword Planner suggests many keywords, but it rarely provides all of the relevant keywords for your market. So you’ll want to get more specific. For example, if you want to explore how searchers are looking for items for large dogs versus small dogs, you may have to keep searching—using terms like “shirts for large dogs” and “small dog coats.”

Step 6: Modify Search

Another way to get more granular in your research is to next click the Modify Search button at the top of the page:

A pop-up window will offer three options under the heading “Find new keywords and get search volume data”:

Here’s what each option entails:

1. Search for new keywords using a phrase, website, or category
This provides the same results as “Get Ideas,” but you can also search your website’s homepage to determine which terms Google finds most relevant.

2. Get search volume data and trends
Here, you can paste a long list of keywords and get results for those keywords only.

3. Multiply keyword lists to get new keywords
By combining every word or phrase in two or three separate lists of keywords, you can see combined results for up to 1,000 keywords at once. This is especially helpful in a few instances:

  • You want to discover if there is search volume for your offering when combined with common terms like “services” or “solutions” or “products.”
  • You want to discover if there is search volume for your offering in a specific city, such as “Austin” or “Austin, TX.”

Step 7: Perform Additional Targeting

Along the left side of the screen, you’ll find additional targeting tools—three of which are particularly useful:

1. Location Targeting

If you are primarily selling in the United States—and don’t need to see search results around the world— select “United States” in the Targeting menu.

This will keep you from filling your research with popular terms that aren’t relevant in the U.S. For example, the phrase “dog christmas jumpers” is primarily used in the U.K.

However, even if your pet clothing store primarily serves those in a particular city—say “Austin, Texas”—don’t begin your keyword research by selecting "Austin" or "Texas" because your search sample becomes far too small to be useful.


2. Negative Keywords

Negative Keywords allow you to remove certain terms from your research.

For example, if you offer high-end (read: expensive) products, you could add "free" and "cheap" as negative keywords to filter out those results.

3. Keywords to Include

When you gather all of your keywords, you’ll often end up with a variety of options—many of which may not be related to your interests. Using the Keywords to Include filter helps you ensure that the results will be only those that include the keywords you enter.

For example, when searching your various pet-related terms, you get a ton of dog-related results. But if you’re keen on building out the cat sections of your website, you may want to use Keywords to Include and type "cats" to limit your results to only our feline friends.

Step 8: Download Your List

Now, you just need to download your list.

Simply click the Download button at the bottom of the “Your Plan” right-hand sidebar:

How to Use the Research

Congratulations! You’ve compiled a robust list of keywords that you can use to guide your future website, marketing, and content strategies.

Do some Google searches for the most relevant terms in your keyword list. There may be a number of reasons why your site isn’t in the top search results, but Google (usually) won’t include your homepage—or any other page—in their search results if your content isn’t about what people are searching for. It is recommended that you work with a search marketing professional to help you create and implement a strategy, but here are three simple ways you can use this research to improve your website’s visibility:

  • Include a relevant keyword in the page title, title tag, and copy on your most relevant website pages.
  • Create new pages for specific ways people search for what you offer, including the relevant keyword in the page title, title tag, and copy.
  • If your website has a blog, write an article using a keyword in the title and in the copy, linking to the relevant website page.

The Final Word

There are a number of search engine ranking tools that provide a free report showing how your site ranks on Google for a list of terms—as long as you sign up for the trial. These reports almost always reveal missed opportunities, which can be used to justify investment in search marketing.

Patrick Wicker

Online Marketing Manager

As a digital market expert and Google Analytics-certified pro, Patrick helps our clients get found online.

More Articles by Patrick Wicker