Benjamin Lefebvre

Keyword Planner: Friend or Foe for International Marketers?

Google Keyword PlannerWhen Google launched its keyword planner tool, the whole online marketing world crumbled… I read some great posts about what the new tool does and what it no longer does. I also saw some good comparison tables for both PPC and SEO which are really useful.

At the same time that everybody was berating and bemoaning the change, I was wondering why Google was so excited about that new tool. What are the real differences? Does it really change anything?

Actually, yes it does.

I’ve taken a deeper look at the tool and investigated its potential for international search marketers in several scenarios.

Scenario 1: Region / Language Settings

The first thing I wanted to check with the new tool is the region / language facilities and how reliable they are. With the old keyword tool, it was a bit difficult to get keywords ideas and relevant data for a country, such as Canada, where various languages are used.

Take for example the key phrase “restaurant quebec”. This might be used by either French or English speakers, so how do which know which language the users are speaking? We tried some different scenarios to compare the results.

 Case A – Settings: Canada, All Languages

 Settings: Canada, All Languages

We can see that the keywords ideas resulting from this term are classified according to relevance and are mainly in English, with the occasional French phrases. Not really helpful, especially if you have a Canadian website displaying two language.

Case B - Settings: Canada, English

Case B – Settings: Canada, English

All of the keyword ideas are exactly the same as the “all languages” setting. Does it mean that the all languages and the English settings are the same? Again, not very helpful.

Case C - Settings: Canada, French

Case C – Settings: Canada, French

The search volume for “restaurant quebec” is exactly the same as the two other settings. However, the keywords ideas are now only French results. Still not ideal…

Case D – Settings: Quebec, French

Case D – Settings: Quebec, French

The search volume for “restaurant quebec” is now different. Keywords ideas are classified according to relevance and are the same as case C…

At last we have some relevant data for French Canadian speakers… This is actually a real change and something which can be really useful for targeting campaigns and budgets at the most relevant and profitable regions, within a target market.

Scenario 2: Keywords in the same Language

Another thing I came across is the difference between terms in English across different countries. I wanted to have a look at the use of “winter tyres” by comparing the data between the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. Here is what I came across:

English language comparison for winter tyres search

Snow tyres v snow tires v winter tyres v winter tires

Most of you, if not all of you, will say that the old keyword tool could do the same. This is very true. That’s why I wanted to push the research a bit further.  Why not have a look at the data within the UK, within the US and within Canada?

Comparison within the UK

Even if there are some differences within the UK in terms of vocabulary, it seems that winter tyres related keywords remain more or less the same within the country. Specific regional targeting here wouldn’t have any value, as people across the UK would generally all search for winter tyres.

Comparison within the US

The US is definitely a very interesting case. I gathered the data for 48 states (I excluded Alaska and Hawaii) in order to draw different maps. The first one below represents the search volume density (proportionally to the population of each state) for the keywords related to “winter tyres” regardless of the spelling (US vs. UK), and the preferred term “snow” or “winter”.

searches for snow tires in the US

USA map showing the popularity of searches related to winter tyres (the darker, the more searches)

I wanted to see if we could really trust those results and the first idea that came to mind was to actually have a look at a snowfall map in the US for last winter. It might be slightly different but really, why would people search for winter tires when they tend to have a very mild winter?

I found map showing the snowfalls in the USA in winter 2012-2013.

SnowFall Map

USA Snowfall map winter 2012-2013

So far it really does make sense. The snowfall map matches the results I gathered with the keyword planner:

Actual Snowfall compared to Snow Tire searches

Actual snowfall compared to snow tire searches

According to the maps above, the data makes sense and the more snowfall you have, the more searches of winter tyres related keywords you get. That is a relief!

But let’s have a look at the popularity between winter tires, winter tyres, snow tires and snow tyres. When you search for those terms applying the “United States of America – English” setting, you get that “snow tires” is the keyword you need to use or rank for if you want US internet users to find your range of tires.

However, if you look deeper, you see that is not the case for the whole country.

Snow tire vs winter tire searches

USA map showing the popularity of the term “snow tires” versus “winter tires”

For the States in orange, the term “snow tires” is more popular. In pink, the terms are more or less equally popular. Finally, in purple, the term “winter tires” is more popular than “snow tires”.

69% of 48 states in the USA (Alaska and Hawaii have not been represented on this map) prefer to use the term “snow tires”. 29% don’t really have a preference in terms of key phrase usage and will use both winter tires and snow tires, while 2% actually prefer to use the popular Canadian term “winter tires”.

What does that change? Well, if you are an online shop targeting Vermont, you might want to reconsider your keyword for this State, given that “winter tires” is more popular than “snow tires”. And given also that Vermont has one of the highest snowfalls in the USA, this is a region you want to be visible in!

Comparison within Canada

When I gathered the data for the USA, I thought it would be good to do the same for Canada as it will allow us to see whether a physical border might be slightly different to a linguistic one.

Keyword Search variations in Canada

Map of Canada showing the popularity of the different winter tyres related keywords

The results show that Ontario and British Columbia tend to use “winter tires” but the American-preferred term “snow tires” is also used. In other regions of Canada, it is “winter tires” that wins, yet users in Quebec tend to favour the term “pneus d’hiver” which literally means “winter tyres”. Incidentally, this is different to the French term used in France which is “pneus neige” (snow tyres).

From this, we can draw a map of both Canada and the USA and see what the preferred terms are across the whole region:

Snow/Winter tire searches in US and Canada

USA and Canada map showing the popularity of winter tyres related keywords

In orange are the areas where the term “snow tires” is preferred, whereas purple is shows the areas where “winter tires” is more popular. In pink are the regions where both terms are used. Finally, in yellow the region where the French equivalent “pneus d’hiver” is used.

These examples show how important it is to conduct keyword research for local terms and understand that keywords are not only country-related but also region related. With the new Keyword Planner, it seems easier to target the right regions and ensure you are targeting the most valuable and profitable keywords for that region.

Benjamin Lefebvre

Benjamin Lefebvre

Director of Business Solutions at Webcertain
Ben is the Director of Business Solutions at Webcertain. With an extensive linguistic background, and over four years of hands-on search experience, Ben is a regular speaker at the International Search Summit and is one of the tutors at the International Marketing School. Familiar with a variety of different industry sectors and digital channels, he also makes sure that all clients’ international digital marketing strategies have been appropriately adapted to each target market. Ben’s areas of expertise are Pay per Click, SMO, Search Engine Optimisation, Online PR and Link Building applied to international and multilingual markets and project management. He also contributes to Webcertain's multilingual search blog.

11 Responses to Keyword Planner: Friend or Foe for International Marketers?

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  4. Carlos says:

    Hi ben,

    Congratulations for your post. Your explanations, not only about the new word planner tool, but also your view as a marketer are very enlightening.

    Awesome work,

    Best

  5. PhilTomm says:

    I think you’re missing the point of most of the Keyword Planner hate. It’s not an issue with actual data, it’s an issue with horrible suggestions (no strict filter), horrible UX for doing keyword research, etc.

    That’s why I wrote in an article looking at alternatives that the only good alternatives are products like AWR to still give you the good data but vastly improve the keyword research experience or generating your keyword list using alternative tools.

    • BenBen says:

      Hi Phil,

      I get your point but this article is mainly focused on the regional differences which are very important to us as we work in over 45 languages and various regions. The previous tool gave awesome results in English but it was not so great for other languages. It looks like this time, there is a light at the end of the tunnel…
      I would be very interested in reading your article though!!!

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  7. Rene Remington says:

    Great info and research. Thank you

  8. Norman Sutton says:

    Hi Benjamin

    I found your article helpful

    Just a question that you may be able to help me with …. I am starting a travel site targeting tourists from USA, UK, Germany, and India.

    Is there any variance between these countries in terms of keywords used such as:-

    - vacation, holiday, tour, trip
    - campervan, RV, holiday home

    I would appreciate your insights

    Thanks

    Norman

    • BenBen says:

      Hi Norman,

      First of all, I would need to know if your website is in English only or in local languages… Either way, I would assume results would be different from a country to another especially regarding the English terms “vacation” and “holiday” but the experience taught me to no longer assume anything and do a keyword research around the terms you mention for the countries you are targeting. Don’t hesitate if you need any help!

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