One of the top things you can do to improve traffic to your blog is to focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
In a nutshell, SEO is the practice of targeting a specific keyword, or key phrase, that has a good chance of getting your blog post on the first page of Google Search results.
The SEO “game” then is to use a tool to find keywords with the highest search volume, and the lowest competition you can, so you can either weave that keyword into a blog post you already wrote or write a new one based on that keyword.
However, there is a lot more that goes into finding the right keyword.
That’s a whole other discussion but let’s just say the right keyword for you and your blog may not always be the highest volume keyword.
Proof that Zero Volume Keywords Are Not Useless
I started taking SEO seriously about 5 years ago. I threw myself into learning everything I could about keyword research.
I started noticing a trend – there were often very few keywords related to my ultra-niche articles and most of the ones I found had a search volume of under 100.
In fact, while some of those keywords had a search volume under 50, the majority of them had a search volume of zero.
In September 2019, I launched a second blog focused on building traffic and monetizing as quickly as I could using all of my “lessons learned” over the years as a blogger.
I didn’t keep a formal count but at least 50% of the keywords I targeted in my articles had a search volume of zero.
Nine months in, I had published 35 articles and hit the 25k sessions mark I needed to qualify for Mediavine (you could add second sites at traffic volume then).
A year later, I’m up to 50 published posts, almost 72k sessions, and almost 85k pageviews.
Note: in the interest of transparency, in the beginning, Pinterest was a big traffic driver but organic search makes up 60-70% of the current site traffic. And it continues to grow.
Almost every coaching client I tell, is surprised to hear that you shouldn’t ignore keywords with a search volume of zero.
What Does a Keyword Search Volume of Zero Really Mean?
Google keyword statistics were originally intended for people and companies placing ads. That is still their primary intended use.
All of the ranking metrics and systems are set up to help the person or company placing ads to get their money worth – enough people looking at and clicking on their ad.
When many bloggers see the “competition” score of a keyword, they assume that means against other bloggers or websites.
In reality, competition has to do with how competitive it is to buy a keyword out from another company targeting the same one.
Without getting too deep in the weeds, Google’s formal definition of competition is “Competition: The number of advertisers worldwide bidding on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google.”
Yes, competition is relevant to all content writers concerned about SEO keywords but it’s important to understand that keyword statistics are first and foremost there to help the people placing ads.
The #1 place these advertisers look at keywords is Google’s Keyword Planner.
But what if I’m using Keywords Everywhere, SEMRush, Keysearch, etc?
Guess what? Most of those tools pull their information from Google results.
Note: These 3rd party tools may not show the same exact volume as Google if they don’t update on the same schedule or massage the date a little after they get it to be “more accurate” in their eyes.
With that in mind, let’s look a bit deeper into keywords with a search volume of zero (0).
A Deeper Look At Zero Volume Keywords
Google says, “Keywords marked as “Low search volume” are associated with very little search traffic on Google, an indication that they’re not very relevant to most customers’ searches.
For this reason, Google temporarily makes these keywords inactive so that they don’t trigger your ads….. For example, the keyword might be considered too specific or obscure…” (source)
Again, it’s all about the advertisers. Google doesn’t want businesses to mistakenly buy keywords that will yield poor results so they “deactivate” them until the search volume for these terms increases.
Google is tight-lipped about much of how they work but it’s my suspicion that “inactive” keywords still show up on the list but are given a search volume of zero. (it would be beneficial to do so because then the advertiser knows what keywords they may want to target later).
According to SEMRush, if a keyword shows a volume of 0, “this means that the keyword has less than 10 average monthly searches in your set location.”
That means the true volume may not be zero AND you are only getting data for one location (city, country, etc.). People from other locations may be search for that keyword.
There are a few important things to know about keywords with a search volume of zero:
Keywords with high volume mean high competition
Competition for low or zero volume keywords is typically less than for higher volume ones.
That means the eyeball pie (number of people searching for it) may be smaller but you may get to eat the whole thing, instead of a tiny piece of a bigger pie.
If they keyword is on the list there, people have looked for it
Keywords that have never been used, ever, won’t show up on a keyword list.
If a keyword shows up on a list, it’s been searched for at some point in time in a high enough volume to register.
While the current search volume may be very low, it could increase seasonally, based on trends, etc.
Don’t base your whole strategy on keyword search volume
Search volume is not the be all, end all of keyword research.
If your target audience is frequently looking for a particular answer, you know it has value.
There are other indicators of good keywords (and topics) such as when Google suggests a keyword. If the keyword or questions show up under the “related searches” or “people also asked” sections, you know there are people searching for that question.
If your niche is small, keyword volume will be small
If you have a niche blog, especially a very specific niche, relevant keywords are probably going to be considered “too specific or obscure” by Google so the chance of them showing a 0 search volume is high.
Don’t forget to plan for the the future
The search volume for a keyword may be zero this year but it may not be next year so if you target that keyword, you’ll be ready for the increase.
If you see the topic trending among your ideal audience, or anticipate that more people will be looking for that information in the future, you may want to write an article about it now to start ranking on Google.
All of this is to say that a search volume of zero doesn’t necessarily mean, and most likely doesn’t, that you won’t get any traffic from that keyword.
Warning: Don’t ONLY Target Zero Keywords
If I’ve done my job, you now understand that you should not discard zero volume keywords because they have value.
However, before you think you’re learned the secret to getting loads of traffic, and start targeting all of the keywords in your niche with a search volume of 0, know these things:
As with blogging in general, they key is diversifying
I’m not aware of any website that gets thousands of search traffic on zero volume keywords alone. A mix is needed.
The point here is to not ignore them completely.
Not all zero volume keywords are created equal
Some zero volume keywords still have a really high competition.
When a keyword search volume says zero, I almost always see the competition also listed as 0 or NA.
Remember, it’s most likely because that’s how Google marks a keyword as inactive.
At the very least, type your keyword into Google and see what shows up on the first page of results to verify competition.
Look at the quality of the articles, and the authority of the websites, on page 1 to get a feel for how much competition there really is for you.
You likely won’t know this because when Google decides the keyword should be “inactive”, they often stop reporting all stats for that word, not just search volume (the competition may also say 0 or N/A).
When you target any keyword, you are trying to give your article the best chance to be found based on what query you think it’s the best match for.
No matter the volume of keywords you select, only time will tell if you chose wisely (ie. get significant traffic).
Keyword targeting is merely a suggestion
A keyword is something you target, and populate in the right places in the article, to try to “signal” to Google what search query or question you think your article is answering.
Google does what it wants. Google may or may not rank your article for that keyword.
On the flip side, if its a useful article of sufficient length, Google will rank your article for a whole lot of other keywords too.
Some of those keywords may be related to your chosen keyword but they have a greater search volume than you thought you could compete for.
My goal in writing this article was to convince you that keywords with a search volume of 0 should not be overlooked.
However, there is still more that goes into selecting the keyword for you.
These things include how long your website has been around, your specific niche, other content topics on your site that have already been successful, search intent, etc.
It’s also important to gauge when a specific keyword is too obscure and if it matches the search intent.
Book a coaching call with me if you want to discuss SEO and keyword research further, as well as get advice specific to your blog.