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How to Work With Zero Search Volume Keywords: A Process for Finding & Leveraging Low to No-Volume SEO Keywords

Published on: 
June 21, 2022
Updated on: 
November 29, 2022
by
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

For many businesses, living in the long tail is the name of the game. While it may seem counterintuitive for SEO, prioritizing long tail keywords (which is what I'd argue "zero volume keywords" often are) offers one of the best ways to approach SEO.

Zero-volume (or low to no-volume) keywords are search queries that have very little (if any) traceable data to support how popular they are. But for some industries (like SaaS) and countless B2B companies (especially when SaaS and B2B meet), these seemingly low potential keywords can have a big upside.

In a Twitter thread I wrote on this topic, I make the example of a bank in Switzerland (a small country) that offers specialized financial products and services.

Despite low-volume, these keywords are likely ones you don’t want to miss

As a Swiss-based financial institution that offers asset management, I’d be hard-pressed to write off these keywords due to low to no search volume. Especially in Switzerland where there are many languages: German, French, Italian, Romansch, and English being the most common.

In many other cases, the search volume is there... it's just that the tools are not yet reporting on it. These - potentially new/trending - low-hanging keywords have yet to fall on their radar. Which, given that 15% of the searches Google sees are entirely new each day, makes sense - the universe of potential keywords is evolving ALL the time.

Here are some of the other common use cases for “needing a zero-volume keyword research process” that we see:

  • You have a topic you know is important, but you just can’t seem to find the right angle!
    • “What do people call this thing, anyway?!”Here we advocate for periodically just trying the thing, and optimizing after the fact. Chances are, some keyword variation will show up on page 3 or 5, and you and re-optimize for the correct keyword now that you’ve found it. If not… you can always remove the post later!
  • You work in a B2B field, where your target audience is, by definition, niche.
  • Your editorial team wants to write a piece about subject X, but according to the guidelines you’ve set for yourself, a target subject needs 300 searches a month, or 100 searches a month, to make it worth your time. Further, you got this idea from your sales or customer service team, so you have internal data that leads you to believe that this might be a key, bottom of funnel conversion point. Do you need to give yourself permission to break your own rules sometimes?
    • Yes. Yes you do.

And in some cases, you just might find a hidden goldmine, like in this case from Abby Reimer:

For more background on why zero-volume keyword research is so critical, Areej AbuAli (founder of WTSEO) recommends this excellent presentation from Mark Williams-Cook

Without further ado, let's explore how this might be a winning tactic to add to your overall SEO strategy.

The process of getting keyword ideas starts similarly to normal keyword research. First, you’ll want to think about what themes you want to target and explore the data within those themes to pinpoint relevant keywords. 

Explore the Long-Tail and Conjure Up New Ideas 

For example, if your site is centered around the seed keyword "cloud computing," then you’ll need to peel the onion on various keywords that align this theme with different strategic objectives, such as content strategy ideation, product landing pages, etc.

Especially when exploring new ideas for content topics, some of the long-tail keywords you find will be low- or no-volume keywords. 

This doesn't mean they're useless! In fact, they can be pretty useful while helping uniquely position your strategy. 

Headshot of Chima Mmeje
Chima Mmeje
“I use no-volume keywords all the time. Not every keyword in the funnel has search volume, but I build them anyway if it will serve as a service/product page to convert traffic from information content,” says Chima Mmeje, the founder of Zenith Copy. “I'll also use no-volume keywords for opinion style pieces around divisive topics that build authority for clients. Those pages tend to get a ton of traffic, especially if the client is an industry authority.”

Here are some key sources for finding content ideas — and potentially, critical zero search volume long keywords—that might work for your business.

Talk to your sales and customer service teams

When you're trying to come up with keyword ideas, talk to your sales and customer service teams. 

Because they spend the most time communicating directly with your prospects and customers, your sales and customer service teams can provide you with the common questions, issues, and concerns your customers have about your product or service. 

Headshot of Aleksandra Zarzycka
Aleksandra Zarzycka

Aleksandra Zarzycka, SEO specialist at Onely, knows this all too well. 

“My favorite resource for undervalued keywords/questions/issues is the knowledge of the internal teams. Imagine the sales team that replies to very interesting ‘real people’ questions and issues on a daily basis. If they happen to reply by email, you not only have the question/issue, but the answer is already partly written as well.”

Zarzycka’s right. When you talk to your teams, you might be able to identify some information that is missing from your website and get some keyword ideas for your content marketing strategy. 

If possible, try to attend sales calls and events to get this information in real-time. If you can't, then read emails and live chat logs to learn more about the questions your potential and existing customers ask, including the language they use to communicate what they're looking for in a product/service like yours.  

Similarly, you can also take a more integrated approach like Nadia Mojahed, digital SEO consultant at SEOtransformer.com

“I conduct user interviews specially for technology-related products where the user's keywords (need-related) are different than the technology provider (solution-based). I find product reviews are also useful.”

Utilize trend analysis tools to identify new themes

Another great way to pinpoint popular topics that may be undetectable through conventional keyword research is to use trend analysis tools. Try utilizing platforms like Google Trends, Snapchat Trends, and Pinterest Trends to uncover themes and interests that may have SEO merit. 

Headshot of Celeste Gonzalez
Celeste Gonzalez

Celeste Gonzalez, SEO specialist at RicketyRoo, shares her success from leveraging this technique. 

"Trends.pinterest.com was a really helpful tool that helped me with a low-volume keyword I wanted to target. My blog is all about student life and I thought Starbucks/coffee, in general, is a big part of that. So I thought of different coffee drinks that most students drink and came up with “Starbucks cold brew orders” as a good keyword to write about. There was little/no volume for it and not much relevant content, so I searched Pinterest to look for cold brew drinks that were popular and looked at Pins to see what information people wanted. Now that blog post is ranking above Starbucks and other authoritative sites (usually in position 1-3) and brings the bulk of traffic to my site."
Headshot of Joelle Irvine
Joelle Irvine

Also sharing her two cents on the topic of trend tool utilization is Joelle Irvine, a growth and marketing consultant and reputable speaker in the SEO community. She advocates using:

GWI, Google Trends, BuzzSumo, and search trends related podcasts in the specific industry (hosted by reputable companies/individuals). Why podcasts? Because the sources are generally experts in their field and they’re usually answering questions they get asked frequently, or that they use to share topical news and then through conversation, you can discover related questions and semantic language people use.”

Scour online communities where your audience congregates 

Online communities are goldmines of untapped keywords if you know where to look.

People in these communities ask questions about an industry, brand, product or service that they're interested in, and other people provide answers. These conversations usually cover a wide range of keyword opportunities. 

To tap from these keyword ideas, you'll need to find online communities where people are having conversations about your industry. Fortunately, there are many generic and industry-centric communities where you can find your audience, including:

  • Online forums (StackExchange, public and private Slack channels you may have access to, etc.)
  • Social media communities (Facebook groups, Twitter polls, LinkedIn, Quora, Reddit, YouTube, etc.)

If you spend a few hours on these sites, you'll be able to identify the topics and questions your audience is asking and uncover a ton of keyword ideas in the process. As a bonus, you can also see, in real-time, the FREQUENCY with which a question is asked, and how many people are chiming in with additional questions and answers. 

To make the process easier, you can use social media listening tools like Brandwatch and Talkwalker to track mentions of your brand or competitors. 

Dig into research journals, surveys, and reports

The Internet offers an abundance of information that may inspire topics that have yet to come to their full fruition. Such sources can range from new and trending articles on PubMed, exploring "most read" or "most cited" articles at SAGE Journals (or specific journals by discipline), or sifting through industry research and reports at IBISworld

Weighing in again is Joelle Irvine who lends a couple of tips on how to access high-value information, even when it comes at a cost.

“With very very new topics, (sometimes they’re so new that there isn’t a lot of info out there). I do Google searches and find reports, which can be paywalled for thousands of dollars. So I do one of two things:

(1) If it’s a reputable source, I reach out to them through the report inquiry form to say I’m doing research for a blog post, Industry report or a talk and I don’t have a budget, but if there’s something valuable to share within, I am happy to provide credit to give their report/company visibility. Can they share the report with me for free?

(2) If that doesn’t work, I reach out to the sales team of the company that initiated the report. Why the sales team? Because they usually answer. I explain what I’m doing, the reasons, and ask if they can provide me with questions people ask and supporting data or a quote. I then include a link back to their company.

I realize some of these can be labor-intensive. But the time invested usually pays off.”

Tools That Help Validate Keyword Ideas 

Once you have some keyword ideas ready, you can start validating these ideas and potentially finding even more keywords. Here are some tools you can use to validate keywords:

1. Google Search

The first thing you should do after getting your keyword ideas is to Google them. Through Google Autocomplete suggestions, you can easily know what people are searching for.

Say your major keyword is "cloud computing". As you type this keyword in, Google will try to predict what you're looking for. 

Screenshot of an autocomplete result on Google for the query "cloud computing"
Autocomplete for the query "cloud computing"

But these aren't mere predictions, though. They're educated guesses from a database of millions of search queries that predicts what you're going to ask based on information that millions of other people have entered.

At the bottom of the SERP, you'll find even more queries that potential customers are searching for.

Example related searches on Google - variations around cloud computing
Related Searches for the query "cloud computing"

As you try these variations, you may be able to identify keywords that actually have search volume. Doing this manually, though, can be strenuous because you're sorting through suggestions one by one. 

So it might be better to use tools that actually leverage Google Autocomplete suggestions and People Also Asked questions; the next two tools do exactly that.

2. Answer the Public

Using the same data as Google Autocomplete suggestions, AnswerThePublic can generate hundreds of long-tail keyword variations of the phrase you type in.

AnswerThePublic divides the keyword variations into "what", "who", "where", "when", "why", "which", "are", "will", and "how" questions. Then it displays all the variations in a visual format that makes it easy to integrate into a folder or presentation. 

If you enter "cloud computing" into AnswerThePublic, here's what you'll get:

Screeenshot of AnswerThePublic for the query "cloud computing"
Question autocomplete suggestions from AnswerThePublic

Check out the different questions that pop up to get a good idea of what people are searching for. 

You'll also find keyword suggestions based on prepositions like "with", "without", "like", "can", "to", and "for", as well as alphabetical search queries that add words to the original queries.

Preposition autocomplete from AnswerThePublic
Preposition autocomplete suggestions from AnswerThePublic
Screenshot of alphabetical search queries on AnswerThePublic
Alphabetical search suggestions from AnswerThePublic

3. AlsoAsked

To quickly and scalably collect People Also Ask questions, check out AlsoAsked (a tool from the aforementioned Mark Williams-Cook!!)

Whenever you type a keyword or search query into Google, you'll notice that the People Also Ask section appears with 3-6 questions. As you click on the arrow beside each question, more questions pop up. These questions are usually related to the query you typed into Google and are commonly asked by people.  

Screenshot of Google's People Also Ask results
Google's People Also Ask questions

However, typing phrases into Google and sorting through all the questions that pop up via query can be difficult. That's where AlsoAsked comes in. 

AlsoAsked leverages People Also Ask questions to show you valuable question keywords that people are searching for. And it does this in a beautiful visual format that you can export as a CSV or PNG file for future reference (if you utilize the paid version of the tool.) 

For example, when I enter "cloud computing" into AlsoAsked, it returns questions in a tree-like diagram that's easy to understand. 

Screenshot from AlsoAsked for the query "cloud computing"
People Also Ask suggestions from AlsoAsked

AlsoAsked takes things up a notch by allowing you to geo-locate your search, which is great if you're targeting specific cities or regions. 

4. Google Search Console 

Using real first-party data from Google Search Console is a great way to discover long-tail insights — that you are already benefitting from! — which can perhaps be better leveraged with more precise SEO and keyword targeting. 

eCommerce and the endless array of inventory-specific queries is a great example of how this platform can be utilized. Under the Performance section of GSC, we can see various queries that have resulted in impressions and clicks from Google Search. 

This data can be very revealing, lending to keyword gaps and opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be detected via conventional keyword research practices. For example, this bike manufacturer is generating a notable CTR from dimension-specific queries of its titanium seatpost product.

Screenshot of the Performance report in GSC
Google Search Console's Performance Report for "31.6 titanium seatpost" queries

Traditional keyword research exercises would have left the 31.6mm diameter dimension of this particular seatpost off the SEO table (because, you know, there’s not much volume for it.) But sometimes, customers and product teams know more than SEOs. 😉

Screenshot of Ahrefs keyword data about titanium seatposts
Estimated searches per month for "31.6 titanium seatpost" keywords in Ahrefs

However, by scanning GSC to find certain keyword variations that do in fact receive searches (and clicks), we can better hone our SEO for products like this. Translate this practice across hundreds or maybe thousands of products, and suddenly the zero-volume keyword game isn’t all the insignificant after all. Likewise, in a B2B context where keywords can reflect high-price conversion value, their impact can be equally significant without scale. 

5. Paid SEO Tools  

Unlike the other tools on this list, paid SEO tools like Ahrefs and Semrush usually show you the search volume, keyword difficulty, SERP results, etc. for each keyword idea you search for. 

You can also find questions people are asking about your industry, product, or service with paid SEO tools. 

Let's use Ahrefs as an example. If you enter the keyword "cloud computing" into Ahrefs' Keyword Explorer tool, here's what you'll get: 

Screenshot of Ahref's keyword research tool for the keyword "cloud computing"
Ahref's keyword data for the query "cloud computing"

You can see the search volume, keyword difficulty, top SERP results, and related keyword ideas for the given keyword in the dashboard. 

When you click Matching Terms and select Questions, you'll see the questions that people ask relating to cloud computing (along with their search volumes and keyword difficulty). However, let's say you’re aiming to produce a piece of content that speaks to the “limitations” of cloud computing, so you include this word as a filter.

Related question results in Ahrefs for the query "cloud computing"
Ahref's "Question" keyword variations

Despite low- to no volume for these question-specific queries, Ahrefs is still recognizing that these long-tails are indeed being searched. The Global Volume (GV) even validates that the top keyword gets 30 searches per month globally. In turn, we might conclude that a post positioned around these queries does in fact have SEO merit.

6. Free SEO Tools

There are a plethora of free SEO tools that offer insight into the endless universe of zero-volume keywords. Aside from obvious options like Google’s Keyword Planner, one particularly useful tool we like is Term Suggest

Although Term Suggest does not provide actual search volume metrics, the tool lends itself as a fantastic brainstorming library, particularly for long-tail keywords and content strategy ideation. In short, it generates suggested terms using Google's Query Suggest API. So while uber-simple and easy to use, it’s also impressively vast.

Just submit your primary keyword theme into the tool and explore a range of potential topics (or sub-topics) that may be worth including in your brief. 

Screenshot of the new free SEO keyword tool: Term Suggest
Term Suggest in action

What’s valuable about tools like Term Suggest is that you can easily find ideas that might otherwise be buried 20 pages deep on paid tools like Ahrefs or Semrush. Use it as a launching pad for your research or cross-reference your findings with paid options to validate your data.

7. Local Data Sources

Localized data sources can offer a unique angle to discover zero-volume keywords, and you don't need to be doing SEO for a small business or franchise to use it! 

From hashtag trending tools, local online communities, and industry-specific publications, there's truly no end as to where to look for local data and insights. 

Headshot of Veruska Anconitano
Veruska Anconitano

Veruska Anconitano, a multilingual SEO and localization project manager, offers inspiration behind how she leverages this approach.

“I usually tie up low search/zero volume keywords to relevant local events. I tend to work in tandem with the localization team to identify cultural opportunities and use keywords that have low value but can add value to hyperlocal pieces of content. To do so, I check the local sources of information (magazines, blogs, Eventbrite if it's relevant to my market, social media calendars, etc.)”

Identifying Keywords That Have More Volume Than You Might Think 

Sometimes, low (or zero) search volume estimates, like the ones you see in Ahrefs and Semrush, do not provide the full picture. In some cases, the estimates could either be higher or lower than the actual “0-10” search volume that the tools report. 

Here we’re looking primarily for patterns of breadth (interest data you can replicate across 2+ tools) and depth (interest data you can count by the number of variations, even just via one tool.)

Identifying Patterns Across Toolsets

It’s not uncommon for different tools to have discrepancies in data. These tools leverage different measurement methodologies, different data sources, and different algorithms to identify & calculate search volume estimates.

The classic case is Google’s Keyword Planner telling you one thing, while Ahrefs and Semrush tell you another. This underscores the importance of leveraging more than one keyword research tool!

Let's see an example of the same keyword in Ahrefs (3rd party data) versus Google Search Console (1st party data), and how the difference can be quite substantial. This example is based on a blog post we published on the topic of multiple domain SEO strategy, which was largely inspired by demand voiced by our clients and SEO community at large – aka NOT via conventional keyword research practices.

Here, you can see 25 impressions have been generated for the query "multiple domain seo strategy" in the last 28 days (or approximately 30 searches per month). That search query has also produced 8 clicks, which is an outstanding 30% CTR.

Screenshot from GSC with results for the query "multiple domain seo strategy"
GSC results for our blog & the query "multiple domain seo"

When we cross-reference this query with Ahrefs, the tool estimates the search volume at 10 searches/month and with very little supporting data. Had we relied on keyword research to inspire this post, it may never have been written.

Screenshot of Ahrefs' Keyword Explorer tool for the query "multiple domain seo"
Ahrefs' Keyword Explorer report for the query "multiple domain seo"

Crossing data between tools like these is an effective way to spot keywords that may have more search volume than what immediately meets the eye. 

Headshot of Isaline Muelhauser
Isaline Muelhauser

A firm believer in this exercise is Isaline Muelhauser, SEO consultant at Pilea.ch, who says:

Crossing data is useful. Tools like Ahrefs sometimes provide unreliable data for smaller markets or niche markets, especially when search volume is low. To get meaningful insight, I pull data from a neighboring market like France or the Global volume. Then I add data from KW Planner (which usually shows higher search volumes) or a second tool like Mangools.”

Another item to note is that the presence of any SV (search volume) data for a particular keyword—from any tool—is, in itself, an indicator that the keyword does get measurable traffic. If you have internal customer or community data that indicated it may be of interest, you’ve got yourself a potentially interesting target!

In addition to cross-referencing data, here are two other methods you can experiment with.

Many Results vs a Few

If you can produce 20+ autocomplete suggestions of keyword ideas directly from Google’s search bar (... that are actually about your target subject!), then the keyword of interest likely has more search volume than one with 5-10 autocomplete suggestions. 

Screenshot of Google autocomplete results for the query "multiple domain seo"
Google's autocomplete results for the query "multiple domain seo"

Even if those keywords have 0-10 searches via 3rd party tools, more Google autocomplete options likely mean more total search volume than these tools indicate. 

How to Optimize Content for Zero-Volume Keywords: A Process 

The process of optimizing content for zero-volume keywords is broken into two parts: initial optimization and re-optimization. 

Initial Optimization

This is the fundamental on-page optimization work you do when creating any new piece of content for a specific keyword. Because this topic is already so well covered elsewhere we won’t get into it here -  but if you want a primer, we recommend checking out this on-page SEO guide by Moz

Beyond the actual techniques used for optimization, another major consideration is what type of content zero-volume keywords are best used for. This will vary widely depending on the use case but in most situations, these types of keywords are best suited for tertiary pages of a site (like a specific service or location that a business needs to call out), blog content (like insightful or educational articles), and visual content (like videos, infographics, etc. – which can supplement the latter two uses.)

That said, if you confidently believe in a specific keyword for a different content type - go for it! You can always re-optimize it for something else later (and you won’t know for sure until you try it!)

Re-Optimization

After publishing your content, closely track its performance at the 3-6 month mark. 

Key point: Since we are working with zero-volume keywords, we're making more data assumptions than we might normally. Content like this should be revisited after you’ve had the opportunity to collect a meaningful amount of 1st party data in GSC. 

So after a period of 3-6 months, you should revisit content that was initially optimized for low-volume keywords – but now, with more concrete data & insights!

Here's how to do it: 

First start with your 1st party data source, Google Search Console (GSC):

  1. Go to your GSC property and filter down to the specific page you want to re-optimize via + New > Page:
Screenshot of GSC: filter type selector
Select your filter type in GSC
  1. Add the URL of the page to the filter box (with the exact URL selected) and click Apply:
Screenshot of GSC: filter by Exact URL
Filter GSC data to a specific URL
  1. Change your filter to your preferred date range (typically the last 3, 6, or 12-month period):
Screenshot of GSC with the date filter
Date range filter in GSC
  1. Click the metric tiles to include the metrics you want. Selected metrics have colored backgrounds, while unselected metrics are white. 
Screenshot of GSC performance data with filters in place
GSC performance data with filters enbled

In the image above, the selected metrics are clicks, impressions, and average position. 

  1. Switch away from the page tab to the Query (keyword) tab by clicking that word. It's under the graphed chart, so you may have to scroll down.
Screenshot of GSC Top Queries report
GSC Top Queries report
  1. Click Impressions in the table data to sort the queries that have the most impressions (you can also perform this same exercise with Click data.)
Screenshot of GSC's performance report with clicks, impressions and position - ordered by most impressions
GSC's Performance Report with clicks, impressions and position data - ordered by most impressions
  1. Now, start looking for the queries that have relatively high impressions or clicks and a low average position. These are new opportunities to rank. 

In the image above, "different domains" has a good volume and rankings on Page 3. If you think that's a good/accurate keyword, you might be able to rank for it through re-optimization.

"Domain seo" has a good volume for a page 5 keyword, so you might want to re-optimize your content for it too. But it might be a bit more competitive, so you should check for keyword competition before making a decision here. 

  1. As you find new, viable keywords, ignore any keywords that are not accurate or don't make sense. 

For instance, you shouldn't target "SEO 2" because it doesn't mean anything. And there's no way to naturally integrate that into your content.

When you have your new keywords ready, you can re-optimize your content around them using the process outlined above. 

However, be careful not to tweak your content too much, especially when the content already is performing well. 

For instance, if you change your target keyword to a lower volume keyword and you rank for that, you might lose the traffic you were getting from higher volume terms. Depending on the conversions and/or revenue difference in what that drives for your business, that may or may not be a good tradeoff. 

Making Zero-Volume Keywords Work for You

It's nearly impossible to win at SEO if you don't get inside the heads of your target audience/potential customers and learn the problems, needs, and topics that they're talking about or searching for on the internet.

Sometimes, the most pertinent search queries being asked end up being low- or zero-volume keywords. And that's not a bad thing at all! 

Headshot of Luke Davis
Luke Davis

In fact,Technical SEO Specialist Luke Davis argues that zero-volume targeting is critical for customer alignment... and the web as a whole:

"Zero volume keywords are essential not only for providing key info to writers and site owners but for the Web as a whole. It can indirectly build a relationship with users who search for rarely asked questions and gives them more direct answers. Then, they're likely to become (repeat) customers, and go away more knowledge which is good for them and good for the Web."

Optimizing your content for the right low- or no-volume keywords can actually help you increase the visibility of your content, get leads, and make more sales.

Mining these gems requires a combination of different tools and tactics. And oftentimes, it takes a bit of effort, too. If your team needs support leveraging zero-volume keywords, drop us a line and let's chat.

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