An interesting and, as far as I know, unannounced change has just taken place with the Google Keyword Research Tool: If you go and check the search volumes for your targeted keywords, you’ll likely find that all of the numbers are far lower now than they were before.
The change affects all search volume numbers. The ones we’re interested in for SEO purposes are generally the exact match volumes, though. In some cases, the drop in search volume is dramatic, with numbers being only fractions of what they were just a few hours or days ago and in other cases the changes are less dramatic. From the quick scan I had through my keywords list, it seemes that all of the search volume numbers dropped by at least 50%.
So, what’s going on, here?
Well, it’s been known for a long time that the search volume numbers presented in the keyword tool tend to be inaccurate. More precisely, they tend to be inaccurate on the side of exaggaration. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone getting surprisingly more visitors than expected when hitting the number one spot for a targeted keyword. On the other hand, I’ve often heard of disappointingly low traffic coming to the number one spot of a sought-after keyword.
There’s a thread here on the Warrior Forum and another one on the topic here on Backlinks Forum. From the developing discussion on both of these threads, it seems like the numbers are now more accurate, overall. So, the simple explanation for what happened with the keyword research tool is this: It was inaccurate before and now it’s fixed.
But what are the implications? So far, there hasn’t been an official statement by Google, so we don’t know what was changed or why. Did they simply improve the filtering for automated, non-human queries? If so, does that mean that there are far more non-human queries to Google than there are actual searches done by human users?
And what does this mean for niche marketers and SEO’ers? Will the change in numbers impact what kind of keywords they go after or even change/invalidate entire strategies? Also: Is that part of the reason for the change?
And for some more unpleasant implications: What does the change mean for Google itself? Is it actually getting only a fraction of the traffic we formerly believed? Have they been deceiving advertisers with grossly inflated search numbers?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not predicting the end of SEO, here (as I’m sure many will…). Traffic volumes themselves haven’t changed, only the search volume estimates have. Still, it will be interesting to see what develops of this. Also: Prepare for some epic moaning and complaining as well as apocaliptic forum threads (particularly the Warrior Forum is a favourite for those).
What’s happened to your keywords? Will you change anything, now that the numbers are different? Let me know in the comments.
Judging from the comments (thanks to all commenters!), we all seem to agree that the new numbers are generally more accurate and that’s a good thing. It’s certainly better to work with accurate numbers when you’re doing keyword research. Now, you should be able to look at the exact match search number for a keyword and assume that a number 1 ranking for that keyword will get you 40% to 50% of that traffic.
On the other hand, we’re all still wondering about what caused the change and why the numbers were so skewed for such a long time, before.
I also still have not seen any official statement from the side of Google.
As was kindly pointed out by Josh in the comments, there’s a semi-official statement about this change here. A Google employee wrote:
“If you use both the previous and updated versions of the Keyword Tool to search for keywords, you may notice differences between the tools for statistics on Global Monthly Searches and Local Monthly Searches. This is because the previous version of the Keyword Tool provides search statistics based on Google.com search traffic and traffic from search partners, while the updated version of the Keyword Tool provides search statistics based on Google.com traffic only. We’ve updated these statistics based on user feedback, and hope you find them helpful for keyword selection.”