As an SEO professional, it’s all too easy to disregard queries with a search volume below a certain threshold when carrying out keyword research for your website. Particularly those terms industry tools show to have zero monthly searches.
But could this reliance on estimated data actually mean you're leaving lots of qualified traffic - and potential customers - on the table every month?
As you’d expect, zero-search-volume keywords are those that are reported by SEO and research tools, such as Semrush, Ahrefs or even Google Keyword Planner, to have no queries at all on a monthly basis.
Ostensibly, it’d be fair to assume that creating content to tackle said keywords would be a fruitless exercise. However, particularly in recent months, there’s been a growing number of SEOs and web publishers demonstrating successful results from targeting so-called zero-volume keywords - particularly in the case of longtail variants.
Indeed, there are a number of reasons why SEO keyword research tools aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to developing your content strategy; more on that a bit later.
As for the general practice of deliberately identifying and going after reported zero or low-volume keywords, the strategy has been fairly well documented over the course of the last 12 months. Moreover, Google themselves encourage content creators to consider the different ways (i.e. keywords) users may search for similar topics in their SEO Starter Guide:
“Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content. Users who know a lot about the topic might use different keywords in their search queries than someone who is new to the topic... Anticipating these differences in search behaviour and accounting for them while writing your content (using a good mix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results.”
In other words, depending on their experience level, users may have hundreds of different ways of carrying out the same, or very similar, query, yielding the same intent and therefore the same SERPs. Google uses a somewhat baffling example of users searching for 'fifa' vs. 'football playoffs' as a rather half-baked illustration, but you get the idea.
Cumulatively, all of these nuanced, similar-but-different searches may add up to a more substantial volume of traffic than you might expect. Especially when you realise that the vast majority of internet searches are, in fact, longtail by nature:
That’s not the only reason you should consider no-search keywords, however. Particularly in saturated, highly competitive or B2B niches, users may have hyper-focused, super-specific queries, the infrequency of which is such that keyword tools are simply unable to document search volume historically or hold accurate data on them.
As always, consider what constitutes success in your industry, rather than just what you've heard is 'good' in general terms. For example, capturing just one entry-level marketer to a blog post such as this per month is unlikely to result in a meaningful difference to ICS-digital’s bottom line. However, if just one company CEO or key decision maker were to land on a transaction-optimised page - and ultimately decide to engage ICS for an SEO retainer as a result - the monetary benefits are clear.
Hyper-focused topics and longtail keyword variants aside, sometimes research tools will show search volumes that are, well, objectively wrong. Take ChatGPT, for example, one of the dominant players in tech news over the past few months.
It’s clear from Google Trends data - as if it were needed - that the AI bot is one of, if not the hottest, search trends in recent times:
However, according to Ahrefs, the head term itself has a global search volume of ‘0 to 10’. Of course, this can’t be correct - and it isn’t! Other SEO tools such as Semrush put the global volume at 2.6M searches per month; frankly, somewhat of a conservative estimate.
ChatGPT certainly isn’t unique here, but it is a pertinent example of why SEO research tools are only accurate to a certain extent. This level of disconnection between 'lab and field' data is something we come across almost daily at ICS-digital.
In a recent case, a gaming client’s branded search volume estimates fluctuated by up to 500K when measured by our various SEO tools - and none of these were all that close to the actual number of impressions reported in Search Console for the same keyword.
So, why such a disparity? As I’ve stated a number of times already, SEO keyword research tools are not infallible. Broadly speaking, discrepancies may boil down to:
All told, SEO tools and keyword volume estimates (as well as metrics such as keyword difficulty, estimated cost per click and competitive density) should be used to guide your content strategy, rather than dictate it.
At ICS-digital, our award-winning content and SEO teams use a combination of industry-leading research tools, as well as first-hand experience, creativity and competitive insights, to craft the perfect bespoke content strategy for your brand - regardless of search volume.