Are Google’s Keyword Tool Estimates Accurate?

By Mike Munter on May 01, 2012  

are google keyword tool estimates accurateWe’ve all used Google’s keyword tool to help us get an idea of the search volume for particular keyword phrases.  For SEO’s and novices alike, it’s a free and easy way to get information right from the source that will lead us toward putting together comprehensive campaigns for our own sites and for our clients.

But can we trust the numbers we see in the tool?

I was curious about this and looked forward to achieving a number 1 ranking for a big, fat keyword so I could see for myself if the estimates provided were accurate.

In the summer of 2011, I decided to go after the keyword phrase “small business seo”.  The term was reported to have 4,400 exact local searches at the time and a commercial value of around $16 per click.  To me, this looked like a very lucrative keyword and since the top spot in Google gets 36% of the traffic, I figured it was well worth the effort to reach #1.  Thirty-six percent of 4,400 is 1,584 visitors.  That is what I was hoping for.  What I got was totally different.

Reaching #1 in Google

For the month of January, 2012, we achieved our goal and reached the #1 spot in Google for the target keyword “small business seo”.  Looking back now, I can see that I received 125 visitors to my site for that keyword.  Furthermore, when I check Google’s search estimates now, they are reporting search traffic of 6,600 exact local searches each month.  If I would have gotten 36% of 6,600, I should have seen 2,376 visitors.  Since I only saw 125 visitors, I only got 2% of the traffic.  Something doesn’t add up.

I trust the data put out by Search Engine Watch and I’ve seen various other reports that claim the #1 spot gets anywhere between 40-50% of traffic.

To me, the only clear answer is that Google’s search estimates are overstated.

What about other keywords?

For the same month of January 2012, this site was ranked #1 for “affordable small business seo”, a term that is reported by Google’s keyword tool to have 590 exact local searches each month.  A #1 ranking for that keyword should have brought 212 visitors to my site.  I got 29.  Instead of receiving 36% of the reported total, I received 5%.

So, Can We Trust Google’s Keyword Tool?

Although this is a very small sample, it seems to me that there is a problem with Google’s traffic estimates.  If we assume the research provided by Search Engine Watch is true and a #1 spot really does get 36 % of the traffic, than Google’s estimates should look like this:

small business seo, exact local traffic = 347
affordable small business seo, exact local traffic = 80

Honestly, these numbers seem a lot more realistic to me.  So, try to temper your excitement when you think you’ve discovered a keyword with lots of traffic behind it.  It’s likely overinflated, in fact, it could be as much as 10 times or more overinflated.

It gets me to thinking that we shouldn’t be tracking rankings, as much as we should be tracking traffic because while being ranked #1 for a keyword is pretty damn sexy, it’s traffic that matters at the end of the day.

Wonder why we’re not number 1 any longer?  We learned a valuable lesson, but you’ll have to contact us to learn more about that!


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