If you're seeing wildly different search volume data in your keyword research vs. what you're used to, you're not alone.

Starting in late June, SEO's across the web (on Moz, SEMPost, SEW and SELand) reported seeing a significant change in how Google was reporting search volume.

Similar intent and close variants

Analysis of the keyword planner data before and after June shows that keywords with very similar "intent" (singular vs. plural, acronym vs full form etc) have started reporting the same search volume instead of their individual exact match versions as it did before. It appears that "close variants" are being treated the same in a fashion similar to how Adwords treats phrase or broad match.

Take the example of the word "HDMI" vs. "High-Definition Multimedia Interface".

Know anyone typing in "High-Definition Multimedia Interface" when looking for HDMI into the search bar?

The current Keyword Planner shows both as having the same exact search volume! Clearly, this is not the exact match search volume for the keyword and instead a change in how Google reports the search volume for such keywords.

How big is the issue?

We took a sampling of roughly 250,000 keywords across 10 countries and compared the search volume as we had recorded it BEFORE the change with the same after the change. We found a 61% increase in search volume across the entire 250,000 keyword set we analyzed - meaning, on average, a keyword with 100,000 in search volume now showed 160,000!

But of course, aggregate measures like this can be misleading, and the data is influenced by the keywords in our sample. Not every keyword increased by 61%. A number of keywords had unbelievable search volume increases (try "amer girl" with 2249900.0% increase!) and others had a minor decline.

A full 79.2% of the keywords showed some sort of increase in search volume. Only 20.8% keywords showed a decline in search volume (likely due to normal fluctuations in which search volume "bucket" a keyword fell into this particular month)

[tweetthis]Nearly 80% of keywords analyzed show much higher search vol. in Keyword Planner now[/tweetthis]

How does this affect you?

At seoClarity, we update our Search Volume Research database of 241,529,703 keywords across 51 countries on a monthly basis. That database continues to be updated with no stoppage. If you're interested in the latest search volume for your keywords, head over to the Research -> Search Volume tab to start digging in. The data in there will match what you see in the Adwords Keyword Planner.

Given the characterization of this change as a potential "bug" or at the very least a "feature" that Google product managers may consider rolling back, we have chosen NOT to update search volume for your managed keywords within RankClarity for now. So, if you were to compare search volume between what you see in RankClarity and Adwords keyword Planner (or the seoClarity Search Volume research tool), the data would look different for a lot of keywords.

There are 2 reasons why we're holding off on updating search volume within your accounts for your managed keywords

  1. Search volume changes have a significant impact on Weighted Average Rank and other metrics that rely on it.
  2. A lot of clients use search volume and Estimated Traffic to determine where to focus their efforts.

A change in the search volume (like in the example of HDMI vs. High-Definition Multimedia Interface) could end up causing tremendous confusion for non-SEO's on the team and for the reports that you rely on to communicate SEO success within your Enterprise. Especially if this change in Keyword Planner is reversed, updating the search volume right now would cause unnecessary havoc.

What if this change is permanent?

[tweetthis]The time to shift from a pure keyword focus to a broader "topic" focus is now![/tweetthis]

Keywords as a target for optimization worked well back in the days when search engines were literal to the words on the page. "Topics" better address the real needs of users and the vast variety of ways in which they search. Google's RankBrain, machine learning improvements and ability to understand the intent behind searches makes it imperative for Enterprises to adopt the Search Experience Framework for Optimization.

We will be monitoring the data for the next few weeks closely to check if the search volumes correct themselves. If not, we have some cool ideas under testing to help minimize the disruption to your reporting metrics due to the search volume changes.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact your Client Success Manager