Google Keyword Planner: How to Use It to Find Keywords

Carlos Silva

Mar 08, 202311 min read
How to Use Google Keyword Planner for SEO and PPC Campaigns


What Is Google Keyword Planner?

Google Keyword Planner is a free keyword research tool. You can use it to discover new keywords, see their estimated search volumes, and learn how much it costs to target them. 

While Google Keyword Planner is technically a PPC (pay-per-click) advertising tool, you can also use it to find keywords for your SEO (search engine optimization) strategy.

Below, we'll show you how to set up and use Keyword Planner for both SEO and PPC. Step by step.

How to Set Up Google Keyword Planner

To access Google Keyword Planner, you first need to set up a Google Ads account. 

Don’t worry. It’s fast and 100% free.

Go to Google Ads, click “Start now,” and sign in with your Google account. 

Google Ads homepage

Then, click on the blue link that says “Switch to Expert Mode.” This way, you can create an account without creating an ad campaign.

Switch to Expert Mode

On the next screen, click the small “Create an account without a campaign” link. 

Create an account without a campaign

Then, select your billing country, time zone, and currency. And click “Submit.” 

Confirm your business information page

Once you reach the confirmation page, click “Explore your account.” 

Explore your account button highlighted

Your Google Ads account setup is now complete. 

On the menu bar, click on “Tools and settings” and then select “Keyword Planner” under the “Planning” column. 

Navigate to Keyword Planner

This is where you’ll find keywords.

How to Use Google Keyword Planner

The Google keyword tool now offers two options: 

  1. Discover new keywords” to find keyword ideas
  1. Get search volume and forecasts” to see search volumes and metrics for an existing list of keywords
Two options in Google keyword

Let’s explore both options. 

Discover New Keywords

Select this option if you want to conduct keyword research to find new keyword ideas. You’ll see two tabs: 

  1. Start with keywords: Enter up to 10 keywords related to your business
  1. Start with a website: Enter a URL and see keyword suggestions based on that page
Start with keywords option highlighted

Start with Keywords

Use this method if you have a keyword (or several keywords) in mind and want a list of related ideas. 

Say you want to find keywords related to “local SEO.” Enter that keyword into the search bar. Then click “Get results.”

Tip: Enter your site’s URL to help Google remove services, products, or brands you don’t offer. 

find keywords related to local SEO

The results show 577 keyword ideas related to “local SEO.” 

Along with information about their average monthly searches, highest and lowest bid amounts, and more. 

keyword ideas results

Start with a Website

You can also find keyword ideas by entering the URL of a website or specific page. Google will look for keywords related to that page’s (or site’s) content.

Start by entering the URL, selecting the entire site or only the page, and clicking “Get results.” 

Like so:

Start with a website option highlighted

In this case, the tool shows a list of 622 keyword ideas related to the page’s content. 

List of keyword ideas related to the page’s content

Get Search Volume and Forecasts

If you already have a list of keywords, use this option. It lets you see search volumes—how often keywords are searched each month on average—and other metrics for several keywords at once. 

To start, enter your keywords into the search field. Copy and paste them, add one keyword per line, or add them in a single line separated by commas. 

Then, click “Get started.” 

Get search volume and forecasts box

You’ll see the same keywords results page as you did when you used “Discover new keywords.” 

Keywords results page

Except you’ll only get information about the keywords you entered. No related ideas. 

If you click “Forecast” on the left-hand side, you’ll see Google’s prediction of the clicks and impressions you’ll get from the keywords you entered. 

Google’s forecast

This is a useful report if you’re running ads. 

Keyword Planner will forecast each keyword’s clicks, impressions, cost, click-through rate, and average cost per click (CPC). 

Google Keyword Planner SEO Use Cases

Although Keyword Planner is primarily a tool for advertisers, it’s still handy for SEO. 

Here’s how you can use the tool to find the best keyword ideas for your SEO strategy.

Find Relevant Keywords

Targeting highly relevant keywords helps you address your ideal audience’s search intent (the reason why a user performs a search). Which can help you rank higher. 

So, start by refining your list of ideas. Filter out irrelevant keywords. 

Let’s say you own an online store and want keyword ideas related to running shoes. 

If you enter “running shoes” as your main keyword, you’ll see tons of brand-related keywords. 

Like this:

Brand-related keywords to running shoes search

But if you don’t sell these brands in your store, you shouldn’t target these keywords. 

Use the right-hand “Refine keywords” column to filter them out.

This lets you exclude (or include) keywords based on attributes like brand, shoe type, gender, sport, etc. 

Refine keywords column

For instance, if you only sell Nike shoes, you can filter the list only to display keyword ideas that contain the word “nike.”

Filter the list only to display keyword ideas that contain the word “nike”

If you’d like to refine your list further, click “Add filter,” and you’ll see a drop-down list.

Add filter button highlighted

For example, if you only want to see shoes for trail running, you’d click on “Keyword,” select “contains,” and type in “trail.” 

Then, click “Apply.” 

Apply filter

Now you have an extensive list of keyword ideas for “nike trail running shoes.”

You can apply this tactic to all kinds of keywords. And filter as much or as little as you want. 

Find Keywords with High Search Volumes

Keyword search volume is a metric that shows (on average) how often people search for a keyword within a given time frame. Usually per month. 

It’s an important metric to check because the higher a keyword’s search volume, the more traffic it can generate for your page.

Use Keyword Planner to find keywords with high search volume. 

Start by going to “Discover new keywords.” Enter your seed keyword and click “Get results.” 

(A seed keyword is a very broad keyword that describes your industry of the topic you want to rank for. For example, if you sell running shoes and want to find related keywords, your seed keyword might be “running shoes.”)

Discover new keywords page

You’ll see the keyword’s search volume in the column labeled “Avg. monthly searches.”

Avg. monthly searches column highlighted

Click on the “Avg. monthly searches” column to sort by keywords with the highest search volume.

Avg. monthly searches

You’ll see tons of great data here. However, there are two main issues with Keyword Planner’s metrics. 

One is that the average monthly search volumes are very broad. And very similar between different keywords. 

For example, both these keywords show a search volume of “100K – 1M.” That’s a big range.

Two keywords with search volume of 100K – 1M

But if we run these two keywords through Semrush’s Keyword Overview tool, we see two very different search volumes. 

Keyword Overview tool shows different search volume for same keywords

One has around 36,000 more searches per month than the other. And neither has a search volume of anywhere near 1 million. 

The other issue is that Keyword Planner doesn’t tell you exactly how competitive a keyword is. 

For example, both keywords show “High” competition.

High competition column

But that refers to how competitive a keyword is for ads. Not organic search. 

If we check both keywords in Keyword Overview, we see a column labeled “KD%.” 

KD% measures keyword difficulty, which shows how difficult it would be to rank organically in the top 10 results on Google for that keyword. 

The higher the percentage, the more difficult it’ll be to achieve page-one rankings.

KD% column

The bottom line? 

You can use Keyword Planner to find keyword and topic ideas. But you may need an additional tool with a more accurate organic search database for the full picture. 

Find Location-Specific Search Volumes

Google Keyword Planner also allows you to find keyword search volumes for specific states or cities. Not just countries. 

This can come in handy if you’re doing local SEO

For example, there are an estimated 10K to 100K monthly searches for “running shoe store” in the United States. 

“running shoe store” in the United States

Let’s change the location to “Miami, Florida” to see the change in average monthly searches. 

Click on the “location” icon at the top of the page. A window will pop up: 

Change location by clicking on icon

Enter the new location. And click on the “X” beside the location you want to remove. 

Then, click “Save.”

Save new location

Now, you’ll see the local search volume for “running shoe store” in Miami. There’s an average of 100 to 1K monthly searches. A very different number than before. 

search volume for “running shoe store” in Miami

And you can dive even deeper. 

This time, run your keyword through the “Get search volume and forecasts” option. And then click on “Forecast.”

Forecast option highlighted

Scroll down, and you’ll see a box labeled “Locations.” 

Locations section

Click the “location” icon at the top and add or remove any locations you want information from. 

For example, let’s say you choose “United States.”

You’ll immediately see a more detailed breakdown of the top states. 

Detailed breakdown of the top states with United States location

If you click that drop-down, you’ll see more granular options. You can choose top counties, municipalities, cities, and even top postal codes. 

Drop-down menu options to filter results

Use this tactic to guide your local SEO efforts. 

For example, if you have multiple stores, you can see which specific locations have high search volumes for particular keywords. Which will help you determine which location-specific pages to publish.

Find Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are longer, more specific search queries that tend to have relatively low search volumes and low competition. 

But don’t let the low search volume fool you. 

Since long-tail keywords are so specific, they also tend to bring in very targeted traffic. 

For example, someone searching for “nike air zoom pegasus 37 flyease”—a keyword with relatively low search volume—is likely very close to making a purchase. 

Low volume and KD in Keyword Overview tool

Whereas someone searching for “running shoes”—a keyword with very high search volume—probably isn’t set on a particular brand or shoe just yet.

High volume and KD in Keyword Overview tool

Find long-tail keywords in Keyword Planner by sorting the average monthly searches from low to high. 

Sort the average monthly searches in Keyword Planner

In this case, we can see plenty of long-tail keywords for the seed keyword “running shoes.” 

Long-tail keywords for the seed keyword “running shoes”

The issue, again, is you can’t see how competitive (or not) these keywords are. 

And it can vary. A lot. 

For example, if we plug “best running trainers for women” into Keyword Overview, we’ll see that this keyword is quite competitive. 

best running trainers for women in Keyword Overview

On the other hand, “nike zoom gravity 2” shows very low keyword difficulty. 

nike zoom gravity 2 in Keyword Overview

Again, be sure to use a third-party keyword research tool to check important metrics like keyword difficulty. 

Google Keyword Planner PPC Use Cases

Do you plan to use Google Ads for your PPC campaigns? Use the tactics mentioned for SEO above, plus these more specific ones for PPC.

Find Low-Competition Keywords

Remember how the Keyword Planner “competition” metric isn’t that useful for SEO?

It’s incredibly important for PPC keyword research. It shows you how competitive it is to run ads for a given keyword. And it’s specific to the location you select. 

Location and competition columns highlighted

The level of competition (low, medium, or high) is determined by how many people are bidding on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google. 

You’ll see a dash (–) if Google doesn't have enough data. 

Like this:

Dash (–) results example

Say you’re running a campaign and are looking for low-competition keywords. You have two options. 

You can click on the “Competition” column to sort the list. 

Competition column

Or you can filter the list to only show the level of competition you want. 

To do so, click “Add filter” and select “Competition.”

Add filter with competition

Then, select the level of competition you want. 

In this case, we’ll choose “Low” and “Medium.” And click “Apply.” 

Filter low and medium competition

Now, you can sort your list by average monthly searches and target keywords with low competition. 

Sort your list by average monthly searches and target keywords with low competition

If you haven't set up a Google Ads account yet, you can easily create one and initiate your campaigns seamlessly with a single click through the Ads Launch Assistant app

The app lets you manage Google Ads campaigns from start to finish with AI and Semrush data.


Just insert your URL, language, and location to get keyword suggestions and AI-generated ad copy. Confirm your campaign, select your budget, and start your Google Ads campaign.

Find Breakout Topics

In Keyword Planner, Google offers two useful change metrics, “YoY” (year over year) and “Three month change.” 

Both show changes in search trends and can help uncover breakout topics. To do so, just sort these columns from highest to lowest. 

YoY and Three month change columns in Keyword Planner

Let’s enter “marathon running shoes.” We see that “hoka half marathon” has a +900% YoY and Three month change increase. 

YoY and Three month change for marathon running shoes

Such a large increase means it might be a good idea to invest in this product. 

For example, you can run a specific PPC campaign for “hoka half marathon” shoes or create a product review page for this specific product. 

Bonus tip: You can also use these metrics to see which keywords aren’t worth investing in anymore. 

Running with the same example, we can see the keyword “eliud kipchoge nike shoes” has a YoY and Three month change of -90%. 

Which means:

It might be worth investing less in this keyword and more in another with a stronger search trend. 

Analyze Your Competitors’ Keywords

You can use Keyword Planner to analyze what your competitors are doing. You can see what’s already working. And build upon their success.

It’s easy.

Head to the “Discover new keywords” section and click “Start with a website.”

Then, enter a URL from one of your main competitors. 

Enter your competitors website URL

For example, instead of using “nike air force” as a keyword, we can use Asos’s Nike Air Force category page. 

Asos’s Nike Air Force category page

You’ll see a list of different keyword ideas this time. 

These are keywords this specific page is targeting. And it can help you structure your PPC strategy. 

Results show keywords Asos’s Nike Air Force category page is targeting

Use any type of page for this tactic. For example: blog posts, news stories, product pages, press releases, etc.

You can also see the keywords a competitor is bidding for and their actual ads with Semrush’s Advertising Research tool.

Just plug in their URL and head to the “Positions” tab for the keywords.

Positions tab in Advertising Research tool

And you’ll see the keywords your competitor is running ads for. 

Results show keywords your competitor is running ads for

You can also click on the “Ads Copies” tab to see the ads they’re running. Including headlines, descriptions, URLs, and more. 

Ads Copies tab

Forecast Ad Campaign Performance

Keyword Planner also provides insights into how your ad campaign can potentially perform. 

To start, choose the “Get search volume and forecasts” option and enter the keywords you’ll use in your campaign. 

For the sake of this example, we’ll stick to “running shoes” as our only keyword. 

Note: You can enter keywords manually or upload a .csv file. 

Then, click on “Get started.” 

Get search volume and forecasts box

Now, click “Forecast” on the left-hand side. 

Forecast on the left-hand side

You’ll see a dashboard of your expected campaign performance. 

Like this:

Dashboard of expected campaign performance

Play around with these numbers to see projections regarding traffic, impressions, cost, etc.

For example, let’s start by changing your bid strategy. From automatic (i.e., let Google automatically set your maximum cost-per-click) to manual (i.e., you set your bids). 

Click “Bid Strategy” at the top, select “Manual CPC,” and click “Apply.”

Navigate to Manual CPC option

Now, click on the number to change your maximum CPC bid. And see how your plan’s performance forecast changes. 

Click on the number to change your maximum CPC bid

Use your findings to understand the estimated number of clicks and impressions your campaign may get over 30 days. 

Conduct In-Depth Keyword Research

Google Keyword Planner is a powerful tool. It’s great for identifying keyword opportunities for both SEO and PPC.

But it does have important limitations. 

For example, it doesn’t show precise search volume data, keyword difficulty, or search intent. Among other metrics. 

If you’re looking for more in-depth information, a more comprehensive tool like Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool is your best bet. 

Keyword Magic Tool overview

A free Semrush account will grant you 10 free searches per day. And you’ll see every keyword’s:

  • Organic keyword difficulty
  • Search intent
  • Estimated cost for paid search ads 
  • SERP (search engine results page) features
  • Relevant questions 
  • Annual search trend

And more. For over 20 billion keywords—the largest keyword research database on the market. 

Author Photo
Carlos Silva is a content marketer with over 8 years of experience in writing, content strategy, and SEO. At Semrush, he’s involved in research, editing, and writing for the English blog. He also owns Semrush’s Educational Newsletter (4M+ subscribers).
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