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Analyzing search volume figures from tools like Google Keyword Planner is a core element of keyword research. These numbers help us filter down our seed list, show trends in the wording people use when they search, and highlight the big opportunities we should be tapping into. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a search professional who doesn’t utilize volume figures as part of their research process. However, I’d argue that most keyword research today is over-reliant on this quantifying of searcher behavior and therefore misses out on the huge value in studying low to no-volume search terms. A process focusing more on qualitative keyword data, on the other hand, opens up a host of new opportunities and insights.
The main reason I favor this approach is because of the inherent flaws with the data that search tools provide. If these tools were 100% accurate and comprehensive, we could use them as our sole data source when building out a strategy. The fact is though, even the best tools we have don’t give the full picture.
Why does this matter? It means that many of the terms and topics we’re disregarding due to non-existent search volume figures could actually represent great opportunities.
If you don’t need persuading on the limitations of search volume data, feel free to skip to the “how do we find qualitative keyword data” paragraph. Otherwise…
I’ve largely focused on Google Keyword Planner here, as this is the tool which *I believe* all SEO tools are at least in-part reliant on.
There is an argument for tools like Ahrefs, which don’t group terms together, but they too call on Google for search data to a certain degree. What’s more, they rely on clickstream for the rest, which itself is only a representative view of searches, based on analyzing the behavior of certain users.
OK, so we can’t fully trust the numbers. We could see this as a problem, but equally, we could see it as an opportunity.
Suddenly, a 0 in keyword planner is no limitation. We can set our sights on a whole host of other tools and practices to inspire our targeting approach, as well as tackling areas we know from experience that our customers are interested in, even if the data doesn’t seem to prove it. Here are a few approaches I’ve found useful in the past.
Remember, the fact that terms appear at all through these methods means they are being searched. You can generate a lot of clicks from terms with no recognized search volume on standard SEO tools.
Like I said at the beginning of this piece, I am not suggesting that we should totally do away with search volume data, as it does provide a useful guide as to the most searched terms in your space. In reality, combining niche and high volume targeting will be the key to long term success.
My recommendation is to ensure key pages on your site tackle the most highly searched terms in your vertical, but that you also supplement this with content that addresses the varied and rich data you get from a more qualitative approach. If nothing else, qualitative keyword research will allow you to understand the breadth of your audience’s interests and concerns better. That’s got to be worth a go.
Thanks for reading, let me know in the comments below if you have any questions.
Jack Telford works as an Owned Strategy Director at global media network Starcom. He leads clients’ overall SEO approach and direction, whilst overseeing a team of SEO specialists working on content, technical and off-site plans. He can be found on LinkedIn.
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