When to Target ZERO Search Volume Keywords (And When Not To)

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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:

Results from an island keyword

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.

Related searches for island keyword

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.

Results from cluster keyword

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”:

Related searches for cluster keyword

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.

Itamar Blauer, SEO

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:

Related searches for another keyword

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:

More results from island keyword

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

Nate Nead from SEO.co

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:

More related searches for cluster keyword

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:

More results from cluster keyword

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.

Hung Nguyen from Smallpdf

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.

About the author: Evan is a blogger, marketer, writer, and dad. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, daughter, and two dogs. When he’s not working on his blogs, he’s… probably thinking about them. You can keep up with him over at wordsbyevanporter.com.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steven

    Sweet article! Beginning to do my keyword research using the KGR for the affiliate site I’m going to start. Definitely came across quite a few 0/month search volumes and decided to ignore them. After reading this, I have to go back and review! Thanks!

    • Evan Porter

      Thanks Steven, glad you found it helpful! These clusters were a trend I noticed over and over and it took me a while to finally piece it together 🙂

  • RK

    Nice post! Enjoyed the explanation. Just wondering, when writing an article about a cluster type topic, like your dishwasher example, should the exact phrases be used or the highlighted words in the content.


    • Evan Porter

      Just write it naturally. Pick one main keyword phrase to build the article around and sprinkle the other variations in here and there, but mostly just cover the topic well and Google will figure it out!

  • Amber

    Thanks Evan for a wonderful post and explaining nicely to find out the cluster keywords. Hope I will be able to get some traffic driven keywords out of 0 search volume.

    • Evan Porter

      Thanks Amber, glad it helped!

  • Akhil

    Amazing article. Just loved the content.
    Feels like a goldmine content.
    Extremely valuable . Thanks. Thanks a lot .

    It really did change my perspective.

  • Denise

    Excellent! I’ve been wondering about this exact topic, thank you for the useful info

  • Jeremy

    Thanks Doug,

    Great info. I see I have written quite a few island keyword articles.

  • Dana

    Hey Doug,
    for some reason, the images aren’t loading for me. Great post regardless, so kudos to Evan. 🙂

    • Evan Porter

      Thanks Dana!

  • Marty McLeod

    Nice ideas, Evan! Thanks for this as I’ll take note and evaluate potential keywords as you described.

    • Evan Porter

      Thanks Marty! 🙂

  • Vishal M

    This is an excellent write up about zero search keywords. Evan, I really admire your hard work and writing skills.

    I have written quite a lot cluster keywords and few island ones..

    Now I realize them as you explained them lucidly. Thanks a lot for this amazing piece.

    • Evan Porter

      You’re very welcome Vishal, thanks for the kind words. Let me know if you’re seeing similar trends and results when you go after 0-volume keywords.

  • Kyle Hoffman

    Great post, Evan! I was actually wondering about this when I heard Ron Stefanski state that he targets keywords with 0 search volume on The Doug Show. I was like… wut? haha This concept really expands the my keyword research options.

    • Evan Porter

      Yessir! Even “bad” 0-volume keywords, or “island keywords” as I called them here, will bring you at least some traffic.

  • James Grayston

    Evan, this is fantastic stuff. Would you use each of the cluster keyword phrases as a question to answer within the same article?

    Also, approximately how long are each of the articles that have shown traffic stats for?

    • Evan Porter

      Thanks James, I’m glad it’s helpful!
      It depends, but usually I would just write the article naturally. If there are 5 different keywords that are all kind of the same and have no or very low search volume, I’ll just pick the best and most efficient sounding one to build the article around.
      But I’ll be sure to sprinkle those minor phrasing variations in throughout the article where it makes sense.
      As for word count, if it’s 0 volume and there aren’t really any competitive articles, I’ll usually go 1200-1500 words. That’s about how long my example posts are that I referenced here.

      • James Grayston

        Thanks for clarifying that to me.

  • Amanda

    I was wondering about the questions that Google Autosuggest to us, should we target them?

    • Evan Porter

      Definitely. They’re an excellent source of keyword ideas. They can also be used to help build out your outline for a post before you write.

  • Roman

    Great and interesting ideas! I’ll try to implement them into content writing.
    But pictures in your article are not displayed.

  • Sanjeev

    Fantastic article, Doug! This should be useful info for restarting work on an amazon website I have that’s been more or less abandoned for 1+ years. I’ll make sure KGR keywords I use also qualify as cluster keywords.

    I’m finding your Five Figure Niche Site course awesome, btw! 🙂

    Have a great day!

  • Michael

    Hi Evan,
    Great article and info. I tell you, this is VERY HELPFUL to me and I will adjust myself accordingly. I also read a number of good tips from your main blog and I thank you for that.
    All the best

    • Evan Porter

      Thanks Michael, and thanks for checking out my blog.

  • Marty Labrado

    I’ve been using the KGR to find some pretty damned good keywords and I see these zero search queries all the time. I’m so glad you wrote about this. I was going to test out writing a few articles on some zero search terms to test it out but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a huge waste of time. Now I have more confidence in moving forward. I can’t wait to see how much (or how little) traffic these search terms bring in.

    • Evan Porter

      Thanks Marty! Let me know how it goes for you and if you see similar results to me re: island vs cluster keywords. I definitely think it’s worth testing out.

  • Patrick


    Fantastic article, dude.

    You have touched on a topic that I have long been biting nails over. You stumble across a keyword that you think should have lots of people searching for it, but then you check for its search volume and find it pulls in 0 searches. I have stopped short of writing an article on a few of them regardless.

    Thanks for sharing this hack and process. I will definitely use it.

    Doug, thanks for this article. Evan really is a good writer. And seeing what a ninja he is with keyword research, it isn’t surprising why he has found so much success with his site.


  • Khris

    Thank you so much Evan!

    I’m so glad I saw this. Been kind of bothering me for quite some time now, because I recently started working on a new project and I saw lots of 0 kw volume and very few ones with great volume.

    Like for example:
    When I have a keyword like: “Vitamin C and Malaria” with 210 search volume

    Then I have it’s variations like: “does vitamin C cure malaria”, “can vitamin C treat malaria”, “how effective is vitamin C on malaria patient”… All with 0 search volume but found in autosuggest and people also ask.

    Do I just target the all in one post or have separate posts for them?

  • Doug Bryan

    Great Article Evan! Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this subject. I am not new in IM but I am a total neub when it comes to writing KGR articles.
    This ifo wil most definately help me move to the next level.


  • Dann Marceau

    Thank you, I have been stuck on longtails using the KGR method having basically ran out of thought for any more under 250 and how to make my “hit list” of articles more substantial. It has hindered my progress as I didn’t have a plan of attack for the 0 search volume, now I do. Thanks for the article Evan

  • Shaun Baird

    Hi Evan, so do you forget about KGR with a zero search keyword? As zero messes up the formula… so basically just write about zero keywords??

    • Evan Porter

      Yeah 0 volume does break the KGR. Just use your judgment based on the actual first-page search results… Are the results a) on topic b) from high-authority sites? Or do you feel like there’s an opportunity there for you to create something that answers the question better?

  • Ryan

    Hello Evan,
    Firstly Zero searches does not mean that nobody is looking for that term, it only means that there is very low volume.
    For example many of the search queries shown on your Google search console will show up as zero searches per month on the Google Adwords tool.
    Again selection of keywords depends on your niche and how many searches your main keywords attract.

    FYI: Images aren’t loading for me.

    Thank you for the article Evan

  • Luisa

    What a great post! I always discarded 0 searches words, even though some of them looked great for writing an article. I’ll use them now 🙂

    Thank you!

  • Prathmesh

    Did you hacked my mind! I was just wondering about the same. I have already made a hit list for articles. But have made them for affiliate content, the keywords are like “best compact sedan for 3 people family” or “best compact sedan for 4 people family” (sorry for this example. I just made something up.) So in this case the vahicles I’m going to mention are mostly the same. So do you combine the two keywords in one article or write separate articles.
    Or this method works good for info article only?

    • Taiss Nowrouzi

      If you think it would be duplicate content, then it is best to just write one article. If the searcher intent is different and you will provide different information in each article, then write then separately.

  • Riaz uddin

    Hello Evan,
    If i selected an auto suggest keywords which search volume is 0. But google 1st page ranking websites optimized with an related keywords.

    As an example: “best electric razor for armpits” (auto suggested and 0 volume). But the result shows for “Best Electric Shavers for Women”

    is it good to use this kind of keywords? Are this full fill the requirements?

  • Jo

    Hi Evan – you really nailed something that I was puzzling over. My blog is new, so I was delighted to see that a few early posts were at the top of SERPs, but not so delighted when they were not generating meaningful traffic. Now I see they were pointy islands in the middle of the Pacific and the lack of traffic was quite predictable.
    The other side of the coin is that I can now seek more sensible targets. So really big thanks from me.

  • Domin

    Thanks for the very insightful post her Evan. This actually expands my approach to low search keywords.
    In fact, I had a reverse situation here: I pursuit 1000+ search keywords, when I landed on the top positions (say 1-5), my post don’t get that much traffic as of estimated by Ahrefs. In reality, those posts get it only 10-50 visits per month. This makes me almost lose hope, if I get this disappointing traffic with 1000+ search keywords, I will never get anything with low to zero search ones.
    By the way, Ahrefs vs Keyword Everywhere, which one you trust the most?

    • Doug Cunnington, PMP

      Thanks for the comment, Domin.
      Keep pushing on.
      Either tool is fine – just stick to one tool.

  • Mitch Glass

    Hey Evan, this is so fascinating! I’ve wasted the past year ignorantly going after KWs that are WAY to competitive (and ignoring all these longtails). I’m excited to try out this strategy now.

    Do you have any tips for finding these zero/low-volume KW clusters other than just stumbling on them while clicking around Google?

    Thanks so much!

  • Elle

    I love this! Thank you!

  • Francesca

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this! I have been dismissing 0 search results, but in the back of my mind wondering why they were coming up at all as suggested keywords if they are not actually searched for. But now it looks like I can write them! Thanks 🙂

  • Mark

    Great post, KGR is one of the best techniques. My question is if a kgr keyword not coming in the first page what should i do?

  • Asen

    Very interesting approach. Thanks for sharing.
    I never target keywords with 0 search volume but I noticed that I rank for keywords that I don’t target and that have 0 search volume.
    So it definitely works as you say. The trick is to minimize the risk of wasting your time.
    Plus, you can always promote the post on social media, right 🙂

  • Isaac Ademola

    This is a wonderful topic, I must say. I’m a new affiliate marketer and currently, my website if just less than a month old. Though I learnt the idea of KGR through a forum but I have some questions which I will like detailed answer to.
    Based on the niche I love to work on, I did some keywords research mostly coming from Google auto-filled and SERP related searches but I’m skeptical about their search volume. Keyword everywhere often shows for those buyers intent keywords I noted down as Zero (0) search per month. And when I do the allintitle search, some of them comes up with 0 and the maximum one being 10. This makes calculation of KGR impossible as I can’t divide a particular number of search from allintitle by search volume per month ( which is always 0 except for a few). So, I will like ask for your best advise on this. Should I continue to write comprehensive articles on those buyers intent keywords that I have in mind to work on or I should drop them and look for those with 100 monthly searches.

    Will it also be advisable, since I really love these buyers intent niche as they sounds great and writable, should I find a way of using the SERP related search suggestions in my articles and perhaps maybe use almost all of them as a subtitles and link their relevance with products I want to review. What do you suggest, sir… Please, I need detailed answers as I have no knowledge at all on website things and also Affiliate marketing.
    And, please, I will like you to comment on my website…www.absolutefitnesskit.wordpress.com Is it good as it is on wordpress.com . Won’t it affect me ranking my page high as I need some revenues to really upgrade this website and host it in a normal way.

  • Mobolomope

    Good evening, everyone.
    Thanks for this great article,.
    I have a question to ask please. In my searches recently, especially on the keywords I want to write articles on, I realized that, their allintitle is less than 10 pages. But the concern is this, those pages I saw are mostly pininterest. Does that mean that ,my competitors are pininterest targeting the same keywords I’m working on to target too?

    Also, will it be a good thing for me to work on such keywords. Will I be ranked on-time on Google searches. On the main SERP, when I searched for the same keyword, the first page, for some of these keywords I jotted down in my notebook to write articles on, have pages that is already targeting it but most of them are informational articles… Is that a good sign for me to come in?
    Please, kindly reply my messages as I really want motivations to push this through.

    • Doug Cunnington, PMP

      I’m not sure since I haven’t tried that specifically. So I suggest you try it and see what happens.

  • Isuamfon Offiong

    Thank you Evan for this one.

    Surely, a zero keyword has some linking and related terms that Google can’t detect at times, hence the need to nonetheless write about them.

    I went for a low search keywords and the blog brings in 300+ month. After about 6 months it made its first affiliate sale.

    The lesson was, if it can make affiliate sales with less than 400 visits, it sure means others in the same category can do better.

    Thanks once again for the analysis and case study.

    Thanks Doug, you’re a good teacher.

  • Ioanna Karelia

    Thanks a lot for the tips. Trying to target zero search volume keywords as well.

  • Chris Doyle

    Thank you for this article It has really provided data I needed to confirm my hunch that “O” doesn’t always mean zero! And Zero multiplied by many equals a good handful of traffic for an easy ranking article. Thank you again, Doug!