This post was written by Evan Porter, a professional writer turned affiliate site entrepreneur. I met Evan a while back after hearing about his success with the Keyword Golden Ratio, hitting $4k per month, then $8k per month.
And now $12k per month in December 2020.
Evan will tell you when you should and shouldn’t target these rarely searched for keyword phrases.
Low volume keywords can be a goldmine of traffic, and they’re severely overlooked by most people.
The top post on one of my sites targets a keyword with 210 searches and brings in over 11,000 pageviews per month.
On another site, my top post targets a keyword with only 110 searches per month.
It pays off to the tune of 8,000 pageviews every single month.
And those instances aren’t rare!
When you successfully target a low volume keyword, you can usually expect to get anywhere from 3 to 30 times the traffic you’d expect based on the volume — or even more, in my experience.
But should you target keywords that show a search volume of 0?
The short answer? Yes! If Google autosuggests a keyword or displays it under ‘Related Searches’ or ‘People Also Ask’, it means other people are definitely searching that keyword.
In other words, 0 volume probably won’t lead to 0 traffic!
However, the number of people interested in the topic could be quite low, and I’ve found 0 volume keywords to be pretty hit or miss. If you want to improve your success rate targeting 0 volume keywords, I have a pretty cool trick that I’m excited to share.
But first, let me show you what NOT to look for.
Anatomy of a Flop (Island Keywords)
I still remember finding this keyword like it was yesterday.
When doing Keyword Golden Ratio keyword research, one of my favorite techniques is to take a popular stem keyword, say “how to teach a dog to sit,” and start adding unique qualifiers to it in order to find more niched down article ideas.
For example, “how to teach a dog to sit in 10 minutes,” or “how to teach a dog to sit without treats.”
When first starting out, you usually won’t be able to compete for those high-volume stem keywords. Finding hyper-specific variations on the same topic is an excellent way to find KGR terms you can rank for quickly.
I found the keyword in question in this exact way, and it seemed like a perfect fit. It:
- Came up as a Google autosuggest
- Was a specific variation of a highly popular keyword
- Made sense as a topic
- Had very little relevant competition
The only problem? It had an estimated search volume of 0 according to Keywords Everywhere.
But since it checked all of the other boxes, I decided to go for it and write a quality article on the topic.
Here’s how it’s performed over the 12 months since I originally wrote it:
That averages out to about 50 pageviews per month.
If you’re an optimist, you could see this as a huge win. 50 pageviews per month on a 0 volume keyword? Woohoo!
But to me, this is a little disappointing. It’s one of my worst performing posts and has essentially no impact on my site’s traffic or revenue performance.
So why did it fail? Simply put, this keyword was too specific.
I like to call it an “island keyword.”
Imagine a tiny speck of land way out in the middle of the ocean. Sure, you can find it if you’re looking for it, but it’s too small and out of the way for people to stumble upon naturally.
This kind of keyword won’t collect people searching longtail variations or different phrasings because it’s already too specific.
The only people who come to this article are people looking for this exact topic, and those people are too few for keyword tools to even estimate — hence the 0 volume.
Here’s an example and how to spot island keywords.
The keyword I targeted in this example was very similar in nature to “how to count steps without fitbit.”
On the surface, it seems like a great keyword! It’s readily auto-suggested by Google and sounds like a worthwhile topic.
But look carefully at the bottom of the SERP. It’s clear from just a cursory glance at the related searches that they actually aren’t related at all. They’re mostly about how to use your FitBit or how to troubleshoot problems with your FitBit, not about counting steps without one.
Not to mention, all of the top results after performing this search are help articles from FitBit’s support page which… doesn’t exactly match the user intent here.
To me, that signals that the scope of our topic keyword is way too narrow. You may have a few people per month searching for that exact phrase, but you’re unlikely to get much more than that.
I recommend being cautious when targeting island keywords like this one.
You might get lucky and start ranking for a few unforeseen and larger keywords, who knows! And you may be in a situation with a brand new site where a meager 50 pageviews per month is a big win for you.
But 0 volume keywords can pay off in spades if avoid these island keywords in favor of what I call “cluster keywords.”
Anatomy of a Hit (Cluster Keywords)
Here’s another example of a 0 volume keyword I targeted much more recently.
Let’s call it “when is the grocery store least crowded.” (Again, very similar in nature to the article I actually wrote.)
Much like the keyword in the last example, this one:
- Is a Google autosuggest term
- Has 0 search volume per month
- Makes pretty good sense as a topic
So I wrote it. And here’s how it’s performed in just a few months time.
In less than three months, it’s closing in on 100 pageviews… PER DAY.
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
The question is, why has this one performed so much better than the other keyword?
Is it just luck? Maybe.
But I think there’s a better explanation: This keyword is what I call a “cluster keyword.”
A cluster keyword, to me, is a keyword that’s pretty much identical to several others just like it, outside of minor phrasing differences.
Check out the related searches for “when the grocery store least crowded”:
All of these are pretty much asking the same question or very close variations of the same question. And most of them also have 0 searches per month.
You can pretty easily imagine writing an article that addresses most, if not all, of these questions, right?
And by doing so, you cast a wide net over a dozen or more 0 or low volume keywords that are all basically the same thing.
Maybe each one only brings a few people per day or month, but in aggregate, they amount to some serious traffic.
Pro Tip: Using search volume figures for targeting primary keywords
Search volumes in 3rd party tools are more guidelines than hard figures but deciding on an article’s primary keyword can be difficult when search volumes are low.
When a keyword shows a search volume of 10, rather than taking this figure by itself, I suggest using it to estimate the traffic for other keywords.
For example, a keyword with a volume of 20, I would estimate a relevant phrase of 40 searches per month to be double the first keyword, making it more viable for a primary target in the article.
Ben McLaughlan from Easy Mode Media
Pro Tip: Zero Searches = New Opportunities
Considering that millions of searches across Google every day have never been searched before, there are always new opportunities for keywords to target – even those with zero search volumes (according to SEO tools).
It’s critical to always consider the end user and what they might be searching for, especially in times like these that are unpredictable and changing.
Two More Examples – Choose Your Own Adventure!
Let’s say you run a blog about home maintenance, appliances, home improvement gear, or anything like that.
And one day you stumble over the keyword, which pops up in your Google search bar: “how big is a dishwasher”
Seems like a good topic, right? Unfortunately, that specific term has 0 searches per month according to Keywords Everywhere.
Do you write it? Here are the related searches at the bottom of the page:
What do you think?
Me, personally — I think it’s a judgment call, but I would probably be cautious and lean toward calling this an island keyword.
A few of the suggested searches here relate to dishwasher size, but if you really study the intent, the majority of them are buyer’s keywords.
People aren’t so much looking for general information in these searches so much as they’re looking for actual dishwasher recommendations with specific specs (compact, 18 inch, 22 inch, 32 inch, etc.). Now THOSE would be good articles to write on their own, but as far as a general article on dishwasher dimensions, you could write it but I wouldn’t expect a massive payoff.
In fact, I wrote something almost exactly like this on my own site and here’s where I landed:
Pro Tip: Rank Faster with Long Tails
Most keywords listed as “zero volume” are longer-tail search queries, many of which are associated with shorter phrases whose volumes might be much higher.
Depending on your site’s authority, ranking for the shorter stem keywords could take months or years, but ranking for zero volume long tail that are associated with the stem is much more likely.
And, in doing so, there will be multiple phrases the page could rank for, depending on the mix of words you’re using for the title and description.
In addition, we always advise on keeping the titles of your posts long and the URL slugs shorter, focused more on the high volume stem phrases. This ensures you can be flexible and experiment on zero/low volume long tail, while not changing the hard-coded URL string later
That’s about 127 pageviews per month over the last year. Not too horrible! But hardly a hit, especially for an informational search.
Here’s another one.
Let’s stick with the general theme of dishwashers and explore “does using a dishwasher save money.”
Again, 0 volume, readily suggested by Google, and honestly, a pretty good question!
Here’s what the related searches say:
To me, this is a slam dunk cluster keyword.
Almost every single related search shown is about how much water and electricity a dishwasher uses compared to handwashing, and I can definitely imagine writing a really good post on the topic that captures all of these keywords.
In fact, (and you probably guessed it), I did write this post — at least, something very, very similar to it in a different niche.
Here were my results:
This one took longer to rank and reach its full traffic potential, but has been pulling in a solid 200-400 pageviews per month over the past several months.
It’s performing at least twice as well as the previous keyword overall.
It’s not necessarily guaranteed to work out this way, and there’s definitely some gray area between what makes a cluster keyword vs an island keyword, but in my experience following this general model has yielded better results and higher traffic when going after 0 volume keywords.
(Psst… Don’t forget to look at the actual results when you Google a keyword to see if you can compete with the other sites currently ranking. Usually, 0 volume keywords won’t be very competitive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still analyze the results.)
Pro Tip: Branded keywords with zero search traffic
If you’re working internally for a budding company, you should also expect branded search queries to grow naturally. I work for Smallpdf—our brand name has a monthly search volume of 556,000 (SEMrush). But when we started the company seven years ago, it was non-existent.
As your company grows, observe Search Console’s live data closely and rely less on SEO tools, which can take a while to dig up new keyword data.
How to Vet 0 Volume Keywords (Checklist)
When I’m doing keyword research and I come across a keyword with an estimated search volume of 0, I just ask myself a few questions before I decide to put in on my hit-list of articles to write:
- Was the keyword suggested, auto-filled, or otherwise presented by Google?
- Does it make sense as a topic?
- Can I compete with the top search results? (On authority or relevance)
- Is it a cluster keyword or an island keyword?
Remember, island keywords will usually “confuse” Google to some degree because of how few people search for them. Search results will probably be off-target, and any related searches or “People also ask” features inside the SERP will probably not be super reflective of the topic.
Cluster keywords, however, will usually present you with a couple of alternate keywords that are almost identical to the one you’re vetting. They might even leave you scratching your head wondering which one to target because they’re all so similar! (Don’t overthink it — just write a good article on the topic and use the keywords naturally.)
At the end of the day, though, this is just a suggestion to improve your success rate targeting these 0 volume keywords, and it’s not guaranteed to work every time.
The only thing that really matters is whether the keyword makes sense and if you think you can rank for it. Remember, ALWAYS err on the side of action — if you’re spending more time eliminating keywords from your list based on this or that criteria versus actually writing, you’re doing it wrong.
If low volume keywords are underappreciated, 0 volume keywords might as well be invisible to most marketers. If you’ve ignored them to this point thinking they’re too small-potatoes to even bother with, hopefully, I’ve convinced you to reconsider.
There’s a ton of traffic in 0 volume keywords — you just have to know how to find it.