Keyword research is the basis for a lot of what we do in SEO. It’s what helps us decide which pages to make, how to optimize the pages have. They influence navigation, linking, images, meta tags and plenty of other decisions.
No matter what we’re looking to do, it all usually starts with the data – and specifically search volume.
Search volume is that nebulous little metric that helps us gauge what phrases are the most popular and have the best chance to get us the highest returns. So most of the time we gravitate toward the high numbers, the big guns, the big phrases with the big volume attached.
But that kind of focus leaves out a big part of the picture. Sure, a rock band may have a lead singer, but it also has musicians, backup singers, a road crew, and a huge team behind the scenes that are just as much a part of the show as the leather-clad icon gripping the microphone.
Too often people fixate on the starring phrases center-stage and they forget about everyone else that is involved with the production, namely all those phrases with lower search volume.
First of all, search volume is entirely relative. If your top niche phrase boasts a whopping 1000 in the search volume column, then phrases in the 100 range are still viable. Granted, I’d argue they are viable even if your top phrase has search volume of 10,000 but, my point here is that, what constitutes “high” volume and “low” volume is industry specific and should shape your ideas about what phrases “aren’t worth targeting”
When it comes to keyword targeting and optimization, you should always go after your big goals, but it’s just as important to leverage your realities.
And that means, working with phrases whose search volume you might normally dismiss as too low for the effort. But there are good reasons not to do that.
Pick Fights You Can Win
Naturally, the lower search volume phrases are less competitive. They don’t come with double digit CPC costs.
All of the big phrases that you want because they seem to have the most search; your competitors want them too. So you can jump into the fray, or you can look a little to the left and see all of the phrases everyone is neglecting.
When you’re talking about 3, 4 or 5 word phrases, when you make a conscientious effort to try to target those phrases, in the absence of other signals, the things you do may be enough to help you claim those un-loved, uncontested phrases that can still bring you visitors.
The Spirit of Leaving Nothing on the Table
When you only focus on the short-tail phrases, you’re ignoring a big area of opportunity. There are tons of people using longer versions and variations of those core keywords. By looking for ways to make your pages relevant to those longer phrases you can get your hands on what other people are losing.
If you actually delve into your potential for phrases that don’t have five figure search volume, you may find that you’re just outside the Top 10 or Top 20 for a number of phrases that you’ve just never thought about. The opportunity to perform better for those phrases is real with a little effort and the right strategy.
So before you denounce those low volume phrases as minor details that don’t matter remember that in the nuanced world of search, it can be the little things that make the difference.
Small Bursts are Better than a Big Nothing
Finally, the idea of ranking for anything is to get traffic for that phrase, to get visitors who convert into customers. At least, that’s supposed to be the plan.
If nothing before has made you inclined to consider long-tail, lower-volume phrases, here’s one more thing to consider. When you focus too intently on just the one- or two-word phrases that everyone else is competing for and you’re not winning the fight… you’re losing.
Being in the top five for 10 phrases with a search volume of 100 is far better than being number 40 for a phrase with an associated search volume of 10,000.
You won’t get traffic by being a small fish in a big lake, but the good news is, small ponds are everywhere you look, if you’re willing to see them.
It’s a Group Thing
Keyword targeting is a precision exercise. There are so many factors to consider when deciding what makes for a “good” keyword to optimize for. Big numbers are absolutely a factor, but they aren’t the only factor.
The truth is, keywords tend to be more effective as an ensemble, so try not to see only the leads, when there is an entire cast of characters on the stage.
Of course, everyone wants the star phrases, but only 10 entries can be the standard organic results for those, sometimes even less thanks to universal search. The more sophisticated search gets, the more we have to start looking at opportunities that are less obvious.
It’s always important to dream big, it’s the visionaries that change the world, but in the meantime try not to ignore what might be right in front of you.