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

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.

I asked him to write something interesting since he’s a better writer than me. Evan pitched this idea about 0 search volume terms with real data, plus insights that I didn’t even think of. 

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.

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

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.)

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.

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35 comments… add one
  • Steven Jul 1, 2019 @ 8:12

    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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:46

      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 Jul 1, 2019 @ 8:29

    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.

    Thanks

    • Evan Porter Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:47

      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 Jul 1, 2019 @ 8:34

    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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:47

      Thanks Amber, glad it helped!

  • Akhil Jul 1, 2019 @ 8:43

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

    It really did change my perspective.

  • Denise Jul 1, 2019 @ 8:48

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

  • Jeremy Jul 1, 2019 @ 9:27

    Thanks Doug,

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

  • Dana Jul 1, 2019 @ 11:40

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

    • Evan Porter Jul 1, 2019 @ 14:01

      Thanks Dana!

  • Marty McLeod Jul 1, 2019 @ 12:00

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

    • Evan Porter Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:48

      Thanks Marty! 🙂

  • Vishal M Jul 1, 2019 @ 12:46

    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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:48

      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 Jul 1, 2019 @ 13:29

    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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:49

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

  • James Grayston Jul 1, 2019 @ 13:50

    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 Jul 1, 2019 @ 14:07

      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 Jul 1, 2019 @ 14:22

        Thanks for clarifying that to me.

  • Amanda Jul 1, 2019 @ 18:07

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

    • Evan Porter Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:50

      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 Jul 1, 2019 @ 18:18

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

  • Sanjeev Jul 1, 2019 @ 23:33

    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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 6:54

    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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:50

      Thanks Michael, and thanks for checking out my blog.

  • Marty Labrado Jul 2, 2019 @ 12:22

    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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 15:51

      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 Jul 2, 2019 @ 18:23

    Evan,

    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.

    Cheers!

  • Khris Jul 4, 2019 @ 4:20

    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 Jul 5, 2019 @ 11:59

    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.

    Blessings,
    Doug

  • Dann Marceau Jul 5, 2019 @ 12:40

    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 Jul 6, 2019 @ 1:03

    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 Jul 8, 2019 @ 8:14

      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 Jul 8, 2019 @ 8:00

    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

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