What’s the deal with search volume?
In issue no. 25, Shelby explains what search volume is and why there's no such thing as "good" search volume.
Happy Monday, friends! It’s Shelby, on a hot, disgusting, humid day here in Toronto, and I am very displeased by the climate crisis we are experiencing. Please recycle, use less single-waste plastic, write strongly-worded letters to the 100 companies responsible for most of the climate crimes, and subscribe to climate news organizations (like Grist, Heated, MVP or the Narwhal!
Now, let’s move on from my sweaty high horse!
Today, I’m going to go through the concept of search volume. We’ll talk about what it is, how to measure it and how to use search volume to inform content opportunities in the future.
A lot of today’s discussion will revolve around how to use search volume to understand search intent while performing keyword research. If you haven’t yet, check out our issues on those to have a well-rounded understanding of the topic.
As with everything in SEO, we take this all with the grain of salt. Search volume is fluid and will change depending on the tool you use, the geographical location you’re in or the attitude of Google (no, I’m not kidding).
In this issue:
Definitions of key terms
Understanding high and low volume
Can search volume help identify story opportunities?
What exactly is search volume?
Search volume refers to the number of people searching for a specific keyword during a selected period of time. It is usually measured by months, and most keyword research tools use the average value based on the last 12 months. However, that number will consistently change based on geographical location, changes to the way we live or major news events.
Where does search volume come from? Typically, third-party platforms or tools will scrape data from Google Keyword Planner, a tool that is part of the Google Ads platform, or Bing Keyword Planner.
Why does it matter? Search volume of a keyword is really one of the most important SEO metrics – it is the number of people who are searching this specific keyword every month.
Understanding search volume for keywords can help:
Prioritize story ideas and editorial calendars;
Understand the search trends of a specific keyword;
Estimate the potential traffic you can expect to see if you target this keyword.
Search volume gives you an idea of whether a keyword is really popular, relatively popular, searched regularly or has absolutely no search volume and is not worth your time.
However, it’s important to know search volume will fluctuate based on the tool you use (for example, this is how SEMRush measures volume), seasonality, consumer behaviour or the program that scrapes the data. And SEOs for years have been wondering whether Google Keyword Planner’s data is even worth relying on. So, keep your journalistic instincts in your back pocket while you perform your keyword research.
What is “good” search volume for a keyword?
Good search volume doesn’t exist.
That’s right – as much as we’re talking about search volume as a metric, and looking at piles and piles of keywords, we can’t just easily describe search volume as “good” or “bad.”
In fact, search volume is a bad predictor of search traffic.
The reason is directly related to our caveat: search volume cannot be fully trusted. And just because a keyword has low search volume doesn’t mean it is a bad keyword. The intent of the keyword – what people are actually looking for – changes.
We can create three buckets for search volume when examining keywords:
High search volume:
High levels of search volume (thousands or millions);
Informational or navigational phrases (a search for
“washington post login”when people don’t want to put the URL in the address bar);
“Fat-head” keywords (big, broad keywords like
Good for exposure to a wide range of readers;
Harder to rank for because there is more competition;
Keywords that don’t typically translate to many conversions.
Mid-to-low search volume:
Typically have search volume less than a 1,000, or significantly smaller than related/similar keywords;
More granular, more specific;
Not as much traffic;
Easier to rank for if search intent is matched;
Targeting mid-to-low keywords can result in higher conversions.
Zero search volume:
Tools say these terms have no searches per month, meaning – normally – they are not searched. However, we know this to not be true;
A hidden gem for traffic that is usually written off by SEOs that strategize by high volume;
Can drive a surprisingly large amount of high-intent traffic (if there is, indeed, intent behind it).
We can take this information while doing keyword research to connect it to search intent, and determine the keyword phrases we want to target.
General interest: What is the search volume for a keyword? High, low or zero? You can understand the interest now by getting a gauge of how popular the phrase is.
Chia seedshave 33,100 monthly searches according to Keywords Everywhere, but
drinking chia seedsonly has 390 monthly searches.
If we Google
Chia seeds, we see that a lot of the information is general knowledge. This is a very high-volume keyword that may work well if you had a page such as, “what are chia seeds and how to eat them”.
If we Google
drinking chia seeds
,we have a more detailed search intent behind the query, which would be very effective if you were creating an article around the benefits of drinking chia seeds, or good chia seeds smoothie or drink recipes.
Direction of coverage: If there is a specific keyword that drives a ton of traffic already to your site, but you want to write another angle, search volume can help you understand the direction.
🔗 Read more: Keyword Search Volume: Things you didn’t know you don’t know
THE KNOW HOW
How do I acquire search volume?
To get search volume data, you need a handy dandy keyword research tool.
Previously, we had an issue on the best SEO tools to use for news publishing. But for the sake of simplicity, these are the recommended keyword research-specific tools:
Any of these tools will provide their own breadth of keyword research data you can use to inform your content.
From here, we use the tool to look up particular keywords and learn the search volume. We will note:
Overall search volume: What is the monthly volume according to your tool?;
Keyword difficulty: How hard would it be to rank for this keyword?;
Historical trends: Does this keyword spike around back to school? Every four years? Is volume going down?;
Future projections: Is this keyword volume likely to be popular again? Is a new keyword beginning to take off?
From there, Google the keywords in question. Make note about what the intent is (what is showing up in the results) and if it’s worth optimizing for the keyword.
In your keyword research, you may learn about another keyword that works better, and can inform your editors to focus their attention there rather than whatever query you were originally looking up.
As always, use a Google Spreadsheet to organize the data for your chosen keywords.
Focus on trends and correlations in keywords. Search volume can indicate general traffic levels to expect if a story is optimized – something you can communicate with your editors – but does not explain intent or fluctuations.
THE KNOW HOW
Using search volume to to identify story opportunities
Now that we have an understanding of search volume for keywords, we can begin to make decisions for our content.
Assigning stories. You can inform editors and reporters of search volume trends and indicate when a keyword is beginning to take off. From there, we can look at long-tail keywords or niche phrases that drive reporting.
paralympics” spiked Sunday morning in Canada. The average search volume according to Keywords Everywhere is around 1,900 per month, but will most definitely be higher this month. The trend chart from Keywords Everywhere tells me it began to climb substantially over the past two days. I want to tell my editors this and get our stories prepared, while compiling a list of long-tail keywords connected to the high-volume keyword.
Reworking evergreen content: Keywords that fluctuate in search volume can be used to update evergreen content. Zero-volume keywords can also become low volume over time, so get ahead of the curve if you see a trend and optimize accordingly.
Inform future search strategies: Did you come across a keyword that is starting to take off? It can be included in future planning, or kept in a list to use when the time is right. Be a little bit of a psychic and prepare for future events.
As with most things in SEO, it is a judgment call. But search volume gives us an understanding of what to expect when we target a specific keyword.
Use a keyword research tool to understand search volume, trends and correlation for your keywords so you can predict traffic;
Organize your keywords based on high, mid/low or zero search volume and understand intent;
Use keyword research best practices to assign keywords to stories, evergreen or future strategy.
✔️ Action item: The next time you’re asked, “does this keyword have good search volume?” go through these steps. Use the search volume to give your editors a sense of traffic while levelling expectations and preparing content around keywords that fit your strategy.
The bottom line: Search volume is a good metric to understand general popularity behind a keyword and can help inform intent. However, long-tail keywords and content clusters are more important than individual phrases. Adopt a strategy around topics, not keywords.
FUN + GAMES
What percentage of users completely ignore Google Ads results at the top of SERPs?
You can now add author bio URLs to author Schema markup
Dan Smullen on Twitter: Regex in Google Search Console queries.
15 reasons why your business needs to invest in SEO.
How to optimize FAQ Schema to maximize positive outcomes
How to win in the era of infinite content
Steve Toth has given insight that he will be writing about search volume (particularly 0 search volume keywords) in his newsletter that goes out at 9 a.m. ET tomorrow. Subscribe to get his incredible weekly resource SEONotebook to your inbox.
NEXT WEEK: A Q&A issue with (fellow Canadian) Lindsey Wiebe, manager of international SEO for The New York Times!!!
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)
FUN + GAMES
The answer: 4. Over 70 percent of all users will ignore the Google Ads results. Organic for the win!
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley
Hi Jessie & Shelby! HUGE fan of WTF. You've helped me and my newsroom so much. Editors and reporters often ask me: What is the keyword difficulty 'cutoff'? For instance if we were between three keywords:
A: volume 50, keyword difficult 42
B: volume 590, keyword difficult 68
C: volume 6.6K, keyword difficulty 80
We use SEMrush. Would it be worth it to go after the keyword C, despite the higher KD? Or should we always avoid keywords in the 70-100% KD range?