Most marketers are obsessed with keyword traffic volume (also called keyword search volume).
The higher the better. Or, at least, that’s the common M.O. you’ll encounter.
People think higher traffic volume = more people searching for the keyword = more traffic coming to their pages optimized and ranking for that keyword.
But, what if bigger, higher, and more aren’t what you should be looking for in keyword traffic volume? ❗❓
What if high traffic volume doesn’t mean what you think it does? What if it’s just a vanity metric?!
If at this point you’re thinking “Julia has lost her mind!” – stay with me.
I’m here to make a case for those keywords on the low end of traffic volume. I’ll also dive into what keyword traffic volume means, how to find GREAT keywords for your niche and audience, and recommend some amazing tools that will help get the job done.
Still skeptical about how low traffic volume can be desirable for keywords? Let me explain…
What Is Keyword Traffic Volume? What Does It Mean?
Keyword traffic volume, or keyword search volume, is a metric that reports the average number of people entering a given keyword into a search engine over a specific period.
For example, if you look up the keyword “SEO content writing” in a tool like SEMrush, you’ll see immediately the keyword traffic volume is 1K.
Note the database is set to the United States – this means, on average, 1,000 people in the U.S. searched this keyword on Google in one month (in this case, February 2020).
Why does this information matter? Because targeting a keyword with X search volume means you have the potential to draw X number of people to a page optimized for that keyword.
Let’s say you optimize and publish a comprehensive blog targeting the keyword “SEO content writing.” If you rank in the top 5 results, there’s a good chance of earning a click from at least a few of those 1K searchers typing that keyword into Google.
Now that you understand what keyword traffic volume means, let’s look at the difference between two keywords, one with high traffic volume and one with low traffic volume.What if high keyword traffic volume is just a vanity metric?! If you’re currently thinking '@JuliaEMcCoy has lost her mind!' – just one minute. She's here to make a case for those keywords on the low end of traffic volume. Click To Tweet
We’ll also discuss why high traffic volume is often just a vanity metric. A lot of the time, targeting high volume keywords will do nothing for your ROI or bottom-line.
#Truthbomb - high keyword traffic volume is often just a vanity metric. A lot of the time, targeting high volume keywords will do nothing for your ROI or bottom-line. Learn more here Click To Tweet
1. High vs. Low Keyword Traffic Volume: How They Map to Search Intent (and Why It Matters)
There’s a reason why keywords with exploding search volume are so popular for SEO.
Example: “SEO”. This keyword has a traffic volume of 135K.
Why? It’s a general, informational type of search. That means the people looking up that keyword have little-to-zero buying intent. Instead, they just need information – and in some cases, the SERP itself has enough information to satisfy that need.
To drive my point home, let’s look at the click data for this keyword on Ahrefs:
Sure, people search this keyword at least 135,000 times in one month. BUT, only 34% of those searches ended in a person clicking on one of the results.
Why might this be true?
Guess #1: People looking up “SEO” just need a simple definition. They might not know what the acronym stands for. Luckily, Google pulled a definition from Wikipedia and featured it on the SERP in a Knowledge Panel.
Boom. There’s the answer. No clicking required.
Guess #2: There are multiple guides on “what is SEO” on the SERP for this keyword (see below). When people DO click, they’re clicking on a few results to find the best answer to that question.
Now, let’s look at a narrower keyword with lower traffic volume: “local SEO for small business”. According to SEMrush, it has a traffic volume of 210.
This keyword is long-tail, which means it has more than 3 words in a phrase. It’s also narrower in scope because it gets more specific: not just SEO but local SEO – not for everyone, but for a small business.
“Local SEO for small business” is so low-competition, there isn’t enough data to populate the click trends in Ahrefs:
However, we can see that the top result for this keyword is getting 23 visitors/month from this SERP.
Those 23 visitors have higher buying intent (or commercial intent) behind their search. Generally, the more specific the search term, the higher the buyer intent and interest. Those people could turn into a sale.
In contrast, most of the 135-165K searching “SEO” have very low buying intent, if any at all.
Which keyword makes more sense to target to you – especially if you’re a small brand focused on growth?
2. Why High Search Volume Keywords Aren’t Necessarily Better
High volume keywords aren’t always better for targeting.
Even if you could rank for a broad keyword with high volume like “SEO”, and even if a majority of that traffic filtered to your page, that would still mean 100,000 useless visitors with no real interest in your brand or intent to buy. They would come and go with nary a profitable action in sight.
Now, consider this: Wouldn’t it make MORE sense to target a narrower keyword with far less traffic volume, but with real buying intent behind it? It’s the difference between 100,000 uninterested visitors vs. 10 clients ready to whip out their wallets.
And, yes, I’m saying you should target keywords with a traffic volume of 10. If those keywords are specific enough, only people with a distinct interest in what you offer with intent to buy will be searching for them.Yes, she went there - @JuliaEMcCoy says you SHOULD go after keywords with a traffic volume of 10. ‼ If those keywords are specific enough, only people with big interest in what you offer (with intent to BUY) will be searching them. Click To Tweet
Advice for New Websites on Keywords and Traffic Volume
For new sites especially, this goes double. New sites have NO authority to compete with the big guns. They have no backlinks and no blogging history. To rank AT ALL, a new site must, MUST go after low competition keywords with low traffic volume..@JuliaEMcCoy says: To rank AT ALL, a new site must, MUST go after low competition keywords with low traffic volume. ⬇ Click To Tweet
However, once you start building authority, the story changes slightly. Generally, I recommend not going after keywords with heavier competition and higher traffic volume until month 12 or later. You need at least one year under your belt of publishing consistent, high-quality content. Then, once you have higher trust flow and better domain authority (DA), you can start competing.
Want to nail those big keywords? You need the gravitas, first. Time to start building up your content! ⌚
How to Find Keywords That Work for Your Content (How We Do It at EW)
Before you head straight to a keyword search volume checker to find good keywords, stop. You’re getting ahead of yourself.
First, you need to look a bit broader to find relevant terms that speak to both your brand and your audience. Then you can vet them in terms of traffic volume and difficulty.
Here’s how to find keywords with the method I use for my content.
1. Start with Topic Circles
Finding good keywords starts with finding good topics for your content. When your topics are relevant to your niche and your audience, your keywords will be, too.
For our content strategy at Express Writers, I use a concept called Topic Circles to make this easy to understand. It looks like a Venn Diagram – one circle represents what your audience is looking for, content-wise, and one circle represents your business niche. Where they overlap is the sweet spot for content, topics, and keywords. I teach how to find yours (or your client’s), and build an entire content strategy around it, in The Content Strategy & Marketing Course.
The collision of your business niche and your audience's search/content needs is your sweet spot for topics, keywords, and content. Click To Tweet
Great example: Buzzsprout is a company with tools for hosting, promoting, and tracking podcasts. At the same time, one of their audience pain points is figuring out how to start a podcast.
As such, one of their content topics/keywords is “How to Start a Podcast”:
This keyword and topic fits in their niche but also appeals to their target audience. Check and check! ✅
2. Look for Niche Keywords Everywhere (Long-tail, Low Volume, Low Competition)
Once you choose relevant topics, you need to look for those niche keywords everywhere. That means:
- Long-tail (three-word phrases or longer)
- Low volume (under 1,000 searches/month is a great benchmark)
- Low competition (as measured with the Keyword Difficulty metric, or KD, in various tools – usually, we look for keywords rated at 40 and below)
Where these three things overlap is yet another sweet spot to hone in on.
For us at EW, focusing on niche keywords has been KEY. It’s even worked well enough to build up 5 brands from scratch and earn 100,000 visitors/month.
Not bad, right?
3 Recommended Keyword Tools for Analyzing Search/Traffic Volume
Now that you know what niche keywords look like in theory, it’s time to examine them in practice.
Let’s look at the long-tail keyword we talked about earlier, “local SEO for small business”, in three of my favorite keyword research tools: SEMrush, KWFinder, and Ahrefs.
SEMrush is a comprehensive tool for not only keyword research, but also rank tracking, topic research, competitive analysis, and more.
Here’s what our keyword looks like when we plug it into the search bar in SEMrush. The metrics we care about are highlighted below, with one caveat:
…What’s that “Competition” metric about? That’s not the same as Keyword Difficulty… Right?
“Competition” actually refers to “Competitive Density”, NOT Keyword Difficulty.
Competitive Density is a metric that measures paid competition in the SERP for that keyword (think PPC – SEMrush explains in detail in this guide). In other words, how much will you have to spend to rank in the paid search results? The closer to 1.00 you get, the harder it will be.
Keyword Difficulty, on the other hand, is a metric that refers to your chances of organically ranking with SEO alone. For this metric, keywords are rated on a scale of 1-100. The closer to 100 you get, the harder it is to rank organically for that keyword.
To find this metric in SEMrush, we need to do some extra clicking. Go to the left menu and click the arrow next to Keyword Analytics, then go down to Keyword Difficulty:
Ah, there’s the metric we’re looking for.
As you can see, our long-tail keyword “local SEO for small business” has a KD of 58.66, according to SEMrush data.
This is a little higher than what we’ll see in other tools. Keep reading to see what I mean.
Perhaps the most user-friendly keyword tool EVER, KWFinder is great if you’re new to this type of research. The data pops and is easy to read and analyze.
Here’s our keyword in KWFinder with the data we need highlighted:
The above screenshot additionally makes it clear why we need to consult more than one keyword tool when digging into a keyword. The data is slightly different.
That’s expected, though. No one keyword tool should be your holy grail, because no tool is 100% accurate.
Instead, you should spread out your research and weigh the numbers you see in each tool. Notice trends, see how close the numbers are, and THEN decide if the keyword is worth going after.
3. Ahrefs Keyword Explorer
Ahrefs is seamless and easy to use, making it a popular keyword tool choice. It also offers valuable data on clicks in the SERPs you won’t find elsewhere.
Here’s our keyword after we search it in Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer. Once again, I’ve highlighted the data we care about most.
Right off the bat, the information I’m looking for is front-and-center. Immediately, I can see this is a keyword opportunity for any business in the niche (super-low difficulty, and a low traffic volume that will STILL bring a good amount of extremely qualified leads your way).
When I weigh this information against the data we found in SEMrush and KWFinder, this keyword still looks good-to-go. The traffic volume ranges from 150-220 searches/month, and the KD ranges from 12 on the low end to 58-59 on the high end. Averaged out, the KD is 32. Still possible!
I also teach every step in SEO writing in a one-week course. Check it out here: The Expert SEO Content Writer. Get a free sneak peek at the lesson content in the ebook below!
Extra Credit: Why Not Use Google Keyword Planner/Google Ads?
You may have noticed, in ALL the blogs I have ever written about keywords, I never recommend Google Keyword Planner as a tool.
There’s a good reason for that.
Google Keyword Planner data is WILDLY inaccurate. This is not the best free keyword research tool – it’s the worst.The *worst* keyword research tool? Google Keyword Planner. Its data is WILDLY inaccurate due to the focus on averages and ranges. Click To Tweet
1. The numbers are heavily rounded. What you see reported in GKP are not exact numbers, but rather ranges.
For example, when I search for keyword data, I’m not given a precise number for search volume. Instead, GKP tells me the “Avg. monthly searches” fall between 100 – 1,000.
This isn’t helpful at all. There’s a HUGE difference between 100 and 1,000 monthly searches (10x!!) for a keyword, especially when you’re a small business. Not helpful, Google. ♀️
2. The information isn’t precise at all. GKP does the same thing for their “Competition” metric as for search volume. We don’t get a precise rating or percentage – instead, we get a range.
According to Google, the keyword I searched has “low” competition. Low compared to what??
There are plenty of other reasons not to use this tool – see this Moz article, Google Keyword Planner’s Dirty Secrets, to see what I mean. (It was published in 2015, but it’s still relevant!)
Now That You Understand Keyword Traffic Volume, Do Something About It
Keyword traffic volume is a tricky metric. High volume isn’t necessarily better, and low volume isn’t necessarily bad.
In actuality, some long-tail keywords with low volume could be AMAZING for bringing qualified leads to your content and website.
After all, what’s better: 100,000 visitors who don’t care and never buy…
Or 10 visitors who immediately become clients??!
You do the math.
Create epic content today that pulls in your audience. It’s never too late!
Don’t have the time (and really, should the business owner be writing the content)? Hire my team to produce this for you. This is our day job for nine years… over 19,500 projects completed to date successfully. We even do the SEO content strategy for our clients, too. Talk to us today about finding SEO keywords and creating content that pulls in your ideal audience.