Google, None Of Us Want Close Variant Keywords

I have to say, as a full-time SEO and inbound marketer, I haven’t been very happy about Google’s recent decision to change up their data in the keyword planner. For those of you who might not know, they are now grouping up everything into what they call close variants keywords. Basically this means that for some of us, the tool has pretty much turned into garbage overnight. Especially for those of us relying on the data for organic search.

angry google
src: quickmeme

Keyword Planner Moves to Close Variants

Back in June reports started coming in from people seeing weird data in the Google Keyword Planner. As someone who does keyword research on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis, I can tell you I also noticed this change right away.

What are close variants? Basically Google thinks that lumping up similar keywords together is useful for marketers. I understand why they are doing this, as they want people to focus more on “topic” writing, rather than “keyword” based writing. Which I would be all for, however, Google still ranks everything based on keywords. This is coming from first-hand experience having written hundreds of blog posts over the past year and monitoring the rankings on all of them.

You can’t move to close variants @Google if you still rank differently on keywords. 😩Click to Post

Close Variants Example

Let me give you an example, and trust me there are a lot of them. I probably ran into 20+ in the latter part of this week. Let’s take the keywords “CDN,” “Content Delivery Network,” and “Content Distribution Network.” So, at first, you would think these are pretty different keywords right? Well, not according to Google. According to Google keyword planner after the change, these basically are the same. While I agree they are the same topic, these rank entirely differently. Notice below that the keyword planner reveals the following avg. monthly searches:

cdn: 27,000 searches
content delivery network: 27,000 searches
content distribution network: 27,000 searches

close variants search volume
Close variants search volume

I can tell you from experience, having written around these specific keywords, this is by no means accurate. One reason is that I remember what it was before this change. Each of these keywords, in reality, have very different search volume. I guarantee you that writing about a “content distribution network” is going to rank better for that keyword than if I was to write about a “content delivery network.”

Even tools like KWFinder and now have this problem because they are using the Google API to pull in keyword data.

Problem Now Exists in KWFinder

kwfinder close variants
KWFinder close variants

Problem Now Exists in

keywordtool cdn cdn
keywordtool-content-delivery-network content delivery network
keywordtool-content-distribution-network content distribution network

Basically any tool that relies upon the Google API is now going to have this issue.

The Big Problem

So the big problem is now a lot of people are assuming a keyword has that search volume when it reality it could be entirely different. Let’s take a better look at what the actual search volume is for those keywords. Below are some solutions on how to still find the actual search volume on these keywords. Or at least closer to the data we used to have.

Option 1 – Ahrefs

Ahrefs uses search volume based on a couple of different sources. We can see that it returns the following search volume for those keywords.

cdn: 22,200 searches (close approximation to what Google says)
content delivery network: 1,900 searches (reality)
content distribution network: 390 searches (reality)

So what do you think? Are 390 searches different than 27,000 searches as the Google Keyword Planner now says? Um yes, it is!

ahrefs search volume

Option 2 – SEMrush

SEMrush also uses search volume based on a couple of different sources. We can see that it returns the following search volume for those keywords.

cdn: 27,100 searches (close approximation to what Google says)
content delivery network: 2,400 searches  (reality)
content distribution network: 390 searches  (reality)

search volume SEMrush
Search volume in SEMrush

Option 3 – Keyword Planner Impression Shares

Patrick Stox wrote an article recently about how to get the old search volume back in the Google Keyword Planner. You can add your keywords to an ad group and get the individual impression shares for each keyword.

add keywords to ad group
Add keywords to ad group

After you add them to an ad group simply input a bid amount at the top. You can then see the individual impressions per keywords.

cdn: 15,646.68 impressions
content delivery network: 319.77 (impressions)
content distribution network: 33.55 (impressions)

keyword planner search volume impression
Keyword planner search volume impression

The problem with the impression method is it really only gives you an idea based on the time period you choose and the percentage of how popular the keyword might be.

Additional Examples

And it’s not just a few keywords, this is happening with a lot that Google deems as close variants. Here are some additional examples according to the new keyword planner data. It is happening with a lot of plurals, combined words, and then a lot of abbreviations.

ppc: 22,200 searches
pay per click: 22,200 searches
carwash: 368,000 searches
car wash: 368,000 searches
dog: 1,220,000
dogs: 1,220,000


The solution? Well, for a lot of keywords now I am using KWFinder still, but I am now double-checking every keyword in Ahrefs and SEMrush when doing keyword research. Is this a pain in the butt? Yes, but it seems to be the only way to see individual search volume data on close variant keywords.

If anyone has any other strategies or tricks they are using I would love to hear them. I think this is one of the dumbest moves Google has made yet as it just makes my life harder.

author bio
Brian Jackson

I craft actionable content and develop performance-driven WordPress plugins. Connect on X, subscribe to my newsletter (once a month), or buy me coffee.

2 thoughts on “Google, None Of Us Want Close Variant Keywords”

  1. Hi Brian,

    I have been a big fan of your work and I have followed your blog just recently. Having read through your post, I couldn’t mind noticing your affection for ahefs and semrush. I have used these tools before and find them as a better alternative to google’s keyword planner. However, recently a group I belong to have released one of the better keyword tools out on the market today. Is it possible for me to post an affiliate link here to their tool for ya? Thanks. Wait in baited breath for your next post.

    • Feel free to send me your tool via my contact form and I will take a look.

      I have migrated everything over to Kinsta which is a higher end WordPress host. No caching plugins needed. I still recommend WPHostingSpot for mid-tier host, they are amazing and never had a single issue with them.


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