Although Google has been lumping volumes and bids together for similar keywords for a couple years now, it has really been kicked up a notch since June, with a much more liberal interpretation of “close matching variation”.

Of course, Google is doing this for our benefit, right?

This is what Google has to say about close keyword variations.

Google's official reason for screwing us over by combining keyword volumes

After reading an article from Sam Nemzer on the Moz blog about a month ago, where he dove into what this really meant for SEO 1, I was intrigued and wanted to see some of these examples for myself.

The SEO community has been complaining pretty heavily as we’ve now had even more reliable data stripped from us 2, but after reviewing some of these examples, I’m sort of surprised the PPC community isn’t more up in arms. 3After all, it’s their dollars Google is making them spend on, in some cases, completely irrelevant keywords. Take a look for yourself.

Also, heads up – I’m rushing through this article right now because it’s being referenced in my SEMPO KC presentation later today. Yeah, I know, this should probably already be done. Anyway, there will be mistakes and some of the screenshots are crap. I’ll fix them later.


‘2017 buick’ and ‘2017 buicks’

With the singular version, Lacrosse is all over the SERPs. Clearly Google thinks that’s what you’re looking for when searching singularly. But notice how Google hedges its bets with the ‘2017 buicks’ by diversifying the Buick models and also showing pages that talk about all kinds of Buicks. However, Keyword Planner’s clearly doesn’t see a difference.

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot 2017 buick SERP 2017 buick SERP 2017 buicks SERP 2017 buicks SERP Google Trends – Buick models Google Trends – Buick models

‘automotive industry’ and ‘automotive industries’

While both feature an answer box at the top, the SERP listings vary greatly below. ‘automotive industry’ features industry trends and news articles, while its plural counterpart emphasizes a magazine, includes a LinkedIn page and displays automotive images. Again, Google says one thing and Adwords says another.

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot automotive industry SERP automotive industry SERP automotive industries SERP automotive industries SERP

‘harlem shake’ and ‘harlem shakes’

Are we talking about the once-popular dance meme or the band from New York that’s been around since 2006? According to Keyword Planner, those are the same thing…

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot harlem shake SERP harlem shake SERP harlem shakes SERP harlem shakes SERP

‘mastermind’ and ‘masterminds’

I think this is evidence that Keyword Planner also doesn’t consider QDF when it comes to grouping keyword volumes. While they both have a knowledge graph and movie-times SERP feature for the movie Masterminds, the singular version’s blue links are almost exclusively about the popular board game. Unfortunately, Adwords doesn’t play games.

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot mastermind SERP mastermind SERP masterminds SERP masterminds SERP


‘nba’ and ‘national basketball association’

‘national basketball association’ is all about official websites with the WNBA and the Players Association sites included. However, ‘nba’ gives the people what they want: social media and late-breaking news.

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot nba SERP nba SERP national basketball association SERP national basketball association SERP

’emr’ and ‘electronic medical records’

If you were Amazon Elastic MapReduce under Amazon’s Web Services, how happy would you be knowing that you could also show up for “electronic medical records” if you bid on “emr”?

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot emr SERP emr SERP electronic medical records SERP electronic medical records SERP

Different spellings for the same word

‘inquiry’ and ‘enquiry’

This one is weird. Unlike the other examples where Google tells you it’s lumping the keyword volumes together, there is no such notification here. I thought at first that maybe both terms just magically received 246,000 searches a month. However, when you look at the searches by month for each keyword, ‘enquiry’ clearly generates more volume. Bollocks!

inquiry average volumes screenshot inquiry average volumes screenshot enquiry average volumes screenshot enquiry average volumes screenshot inquiry SERP inquiry SERP enquiry SERP enquiry SERP


‘missbehaving’ and ‘missbehaven’

NOT ONE listing is the same between the two, yet Google Keyword Planner thinks the differences are negligible. Also, of course there’s a yacht named Missbehaving, because why wouldn’t there be?

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot missbehaving SERP missbehaving SERP missbehaven SERP missbehaven SERP

Root word variations

‘misbehaving’ and ‘misbehave’

People searching ‘misbehaving’ clearly are looking for a behavioral economics book. People searching ‘misbehave’ apparently just want to know what the word means. Again, not the same.

Grouped volumes screenshot Grouped volumes screenshot misbehaving SERP misbehaving SERP misbehave SERP misbehave SERP


I think this is what Google’s actual explanation for grouping volumes is.
What I think Google's actual 'close word variations' explanation is.

I’ve already written about my disdain for the Keyword Planner tool and now it’s grown to new heights. What reduced role do you think it still plays in keyword research?

  1. I highly recommend reading it.

  2. thank goodness for Moz’s Keyword Explorer

  3. Heck. Maybe they are and I’m just not enough in the loop.