I hear and read a great deal about people who use Google's Keyword Tool to define the words and phrases they will pursue, finally rank for them, and see only a dribble of traffic.
But it is like any other tool - you have to know how to use it so you don't end up slaving away to optimise for something that will do you no good at all.
So what do you need to know?
There are searches and re-searches
Millions of searches each day are really mistakes on the part of internet users. They look at the results screen and think "Oops, that search was too wide", they rethink their query and then they try again.
So someone might start with the search "Curry" and quickly realise, without clicking on a thing, that what they see is not going to help them.
What they do instead is re-search with a little more thought. Perhaps "Vegetable Curry recipe".
But the Keyword Tool reports as it is. Perhaps Curry is searched 1,000,000 times a month, no lie, but it doesn't generate traffic. It's the lower volume, more accurate, search which does.
The word is part of a bigger search
Based on my experience I have seen cases where the Keyword Tool reports very high volume for words or phrases that are probably never searched.
What the tool is saying is that this word is searched as part of a longer query. So "Curry" itself may not be searched a million times a month but searches which contain the word curry are - in all their many variations and guises.
The word or phrase is trending
Very easy to miss this one but if a word or phrase is trending down then the figure you see on the screen for the number of monthly searches is only an indicator.
In fact it's an historical average so don't forget to use Google Insights to make sure your chosen phrase is not currently heading for extinction.
It is a ballpark figure
Log in to your Google account and use the Keyword Tool, log out and use it ... different results. There are plenty of oddities so use it as a ball park indicator, not gospel.
It doesn't suggest everything
Although it does generate some very useful keyword variations based on what you put in there are plenty more that it doesn't tell you.
Try doing some exact match searches as well and you'll get more ideas for your SEO or for your Adwords.
It doesn't include Bing
That may sound outrageously obvious but it amazes me how often it is forgotten. Bing and Yahoo have an ever increasing share of the search market and in certain fields it can be better to concentrate your efforts over there than in Google.