There’s been a large and not-particularly-helpful change to Google’s indispensable Keyword Planner in the last few weeks. Accounts that aren’t spending much are now seeing vague search volumes, whereas big spenders are still getting the full data.

Here’s what the same report looks like in Keyword Planner with and without the new limits in place:

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As you can see you’re losing a lot more than just exact search volume – the chart is no more, meaning identifying seasonality, mobile trends, device usage and competitor data is nigh-on impossible.

The new volume groupings are particularly problematic. In the screenshots above, Earth has more than four times the search volume of Wind, but in the new, stripped-back report, they are both in the same volume grouping.

No word on spending limits

Google is staying quiet on exactly what the spending requirements are to unlock the full keyword volume data is, saying only that they “can’t share any specific spend requirements at this time” when pressed by an angry mob of Keyword Planner users.

Recent updates on Twitter and the AdWords forum state that the aim of the update is to prevent “Bots and other services from abusing the intended use of Keyword Planner.” Bots most likely refers to third-party services which scrape Keyword Planner data for their own means – so we could well see smaller SEO tools begin to lose up-to-date keyword volume data before long.

How can you get your keyword data back?

So what is there to do for users who are receiving restricted data? Anecdotally, the spending limits to access full data appear quite low (in the hundreds of dollars per month range), so if you really need accurate keyword data it’s worth paying for an AdWords campaign. The only other way to get access would be to pay for a third-party service, but running an AdWords campaign means you’ll benefit from the impact of your ads. Even if you have a modest budget, it’s a worthwhile investment in the long run which allows you to take advantage of channels such as rich cards and Gboard.

It’s also good to remember how valuable organic search listings can be. They have a much higher clickthrough rate than paid results and are great for receiving traffic from long-tail keywords. Users also tend to trust a company more if they rank higher organically. As we explained in this post about Google’s Instant Answers product, it’s worth having both paid and organic solutions working together to boost your traffic.

Another glimpse at Google’s future?

Ironically, Google states in the introduction of its code of conduct that it’s motto “Don’t be evil” is “about providing our users with unbiased access to information.” The keyword planner update, as well as other recent changes to AdWords, such as the removal of sidebar ads and expanded text ads indicate that Google is changing, with more and more focus on paid results.

The danger here is that with more emphasis on AdWords, Google becomes more biased towards larger companies, who are willing and able to pay more to advertise. Small businesses and startups, who may be producing great content and ranking well, won’t be able to compete as they are buried under a landslide of increasingly aggressive paid results.

The irony here, of course, is that Google may end up driving these businesses onto other platforms like Facebook.

Have any thoughts on this update? Tweet us @RocketMill