We’ll come straight out and say it; over-reliance on keyword tools can absolutely cripple your marketing strategy. Yes, we can and do use these tools on a daily basis but hard-won experience has taught us not to take their reports at face value, especially if they are scaring you away from high-value low search volume keywords.
Tools like Semrush, Moz, Ahrefs and Google Keyword Planner aren’t 100% accurate. In fact, Semrush readily admit that their tool cannot reliably match exact search (or impression) data from Google Search Console (source: Semrush).
The boffins at Semrush also point out that keyword research tools are often prone to conflating near-identical (but semantically-distinct) phrases like “light design and lighting design” – and it’s worth pointing out that all keyword research tools are drawing on clickstream data
This is data on people’s search habits that’s mined from browser apps like Avast's Online Security plugin, which collects data from every user who installed it with default permissions. Keyword research tools take this (admittedly small and biassed) pool of search data and extrapolate from there; using machine learning algorithms to predict the rough number of average monthly searches (source: Semrush).
The problem with this is twofold: Firstly, drawing from a small pool of data means that a lot of conclusions can and will be skewed, and secondly there’s an automatic bias for the sort of search behaviour exhibited by the sort of people that install browser plugins.
They might not be the average user, and their search behaviour may not be typical of the average person in your niche or industry.
But we’re not here to talk about general inaccuracies. We’re here to talk about the way these tools fudge the numbers for low-volume or ‘unpopular’ keywords. To be clear, the specific problem here is that many keyword tools mistakenly assume that low volume phrases with less than 20-30 monthly searches - like “web agency aberdeen” - actually get 10 or less monthly searches.
Despite the fact that we have hard and fast evidence to the contrary.
Does It Really Matter If
Keyword Tools Are Inaccurate?
Absolutely. But don’t take our word for it. Let’s pretend you’re planning to launch a new B2B content marketing campaign for Q4 2022. You can’t get started until you’ve profiled your potential customers, and worked out what sort of questions they’re asking Google.
To do this, you’ll probably start by turning to your favourite keyword tool and looking for phrases that have the right mix of:
- Decent search volume
- Plenty of relevance to your products/services
- Low/medium competition
You’ll also be keeping your eyes peeled for keywords with high-intent. For those that don’t speak geek, that just means ‘phrases that imply the searcher is actively looking to engage with a business like yours – and not simply browsing the web for general information’.
To unpack, lets pretend that you’re running a self-storage consultancy that helps investors set up profitable self-storage facilities.
Hitting up Google’s Keyword Planner, we can see that “self-storage” has a lot of search volume, but self-storage doesn't have any intent behind it. It might be used by people who’re looking to set up a self-storage business.
But it’ll also be used by people looking for somewhere to store their possessions, people who’re planning a house move, or people who just want a dictionary definition for the phrase for a research paper about changing business trends.
“Self storage setup” and “self storage installation” are much better prospects because - all things considered - they’re phrases that people are unlikely to use unless they’re actively looking for a company capable of helping them establish a new facility.
So Far So Sensible
So What's The Problem?
The issue here is that a lot of these ‘high-intent’ phrases seem to have vanishingly low search volumes. If you follow the process we’ve documented above on Semrush or another keyword tool, you’ll notice that “self storage installation” seems to have an avg. monthly search volume of 0, which implies that nobody’s actually searching for it.
Now, we know that’s not true, because we have a client in the space and their website gets approx. 30 monthly clicks from the keyword in question:
But if you took the Semrush data as gospel, you would - naturally - decide that going after “self storage installation“ would be a complete waste of time, and this would (potentially) cost you about 30 high-intent users every single month.
Is It Really Worth
Chasing 30 Clicks?
These low volume, high intent keywords are a potential goldmine. By dint of being at the ‘long tail’, they’re mostly used by people who’ve already done a lot of research; know exactly what sort of product/service they’re looking for and now want to find a specific vendor that can cater to their needs.
In the B2B space, where sales cycles are long and every conversion is hard-won, prospects who’ve already worked their way down to the bottom of the so-called sales funnel are a breath of fresh air; capable of facilitating rapid growth and driving down the average cost of acquiring new customers via your digital marketing campaign.
It’s also worth noting that most of these low-volume, high-intent search phrases are very easy to rank for. Take the “self-storage installation” keyword we’ve been working on above and plug it into Google with a couple of simple search operators, and you’ll note that barely any one is optimising content to rank for it:
Chances are that they’ve overlooked it completely, which means that you’ve got a golden opportunity on your hands. In a matter of days, you’ll be able to throw up a page of high-quality content, build a couple of good backlinks and enjoy a meteoric rise to the top of the page.
And when you compare this to the difficulty of ranking content for a much more popular phrase like “self storage” it’s obvious that you’d get far more bang for your buck if you focused on targeting a multitude of these low-volume, high-intent keywords that are supposed to have vanishingly-low (0-10) search volumes – instead of getting hung up on the ‘important’ keywords that distract the majority of marketers.
Simply put, you can spend a lot of time and money trying to get your content in front of people at a pivotal moment in the buying journey, or just scoop up the minority of people who’ve already decided to buy – at a fraction of the price associated with actively persuading people who are still dipping their toes in the water.
How Am I Supposed To Pick
The Right Low search Volume Keywords
Obviously your next question will be ‘how do I find the long-tail, low-volume keywords that are actually worth my time?’
We’ve established that we can’t trust the results provided by third-party keyword tools like Moz or Ahrefs, but we also know that some keywords at the long-tail of the search curve really do have less than 10 monthly searches. And we don’t want to waste time trying to rank quality content phrases that nobody’s actually using.
That’s where Google Search Console (GSC) comes in. Unlike your average keyword tool, GSC collects real-world impression data from search engine results pages. So if it says that 30 people saw your content by googling “self storage installation” this month, you can rest assured that at least 30 people have actually googled the phrase in question.
Google search console is also easy to query: it collects data for every phrase your website ranks for, and if you head over to the Search Results tab, scroll down to queries and order by impressions (low to high), you’ll get a big list of long-tail keywords.
Scrolling down, you’ll quickly find the point where the impressions are high enough to warrant a concerted content marketing campaign, and that’s where we think you’ll find a lot of high-value ideas.
What's The Catch?
There are some obvious caveats here: as mentioned above, GSC can only give you data for keywords you’re already ranking for, so if your content has never been served up for a phrase it simply will not appear in your search console and you’ll never know that you’re missing out on a potential opportunity – or whether there’s really any search volume around a particular phrase.
It’s also important to note that GSC impressions are only counted if your content is actually shown to a user. So if your page is way down at the bottom of page 4 and a user only looks at the first 2 pages of a SERP, GSC won’t count an impression.
For clarity then, for queries where you rank in positions 1-10 (ie. on the first page of the SERP) GSC will give you accurate info about the number of times that keyword has been searched in the last 1, 3 or 6 months.
But if you’re not currently ranking on page 1, you’ll only see a subset of the total impressions. Normally a very small fraction given that approx. 70% of web users never move beyond the first page of search results.
Wait A Minute
We Can't Trust Search Console Either?
Yes and no: Remember that we’re only looking for overlooked keywords that get more impressions than the 0-10 monthly searches reported by most 3rd party keyword tools would imply.
If you head over to the Search Results tab and take a look at your queries, you’ll notice that a fair amount of the long-tail keywords with poor rankings still get a fair number of impressions. For us, there are plenty of keywords on page 3 (positions 20-30) that supply 30+ impressions.
And that’s while they’re on page 3. If we can get them ranking on page 1 we could double or even triple that number, despite the fact that keyword tools like Semrush frequently tell us they’re not worth pursuing.
So our advice to you is this: Comb through GSC, looking for opportunities that you’ve overlooked. In particular, pay attention to the real search volumes associated with keywords that you’ve previously ignored because keyword targeting tools like Moz showed low or no volume.
We think you’ll be surprised by what you find.
What If I Don't Have
Search Console Set Up Properly?
Get in touch with your marketing agency. Or give us a shout. GSC is an invaluable resource that’s packed with useful information about your site’s digital footprint. It also gives you a good overview of any technical issues and allows you to check that all of your content has been indexed by Google.
It is, in short, an essential bit of kit and we think it’s pretty much mandatory if you want to run successful B2B content marketing campaigns.
It’s also completely free, although you may need a couple of hours of a developer’s time to implement the requisite header tags and set your account up properly. It’s generally poor form to plug your services in an informative blog post but we are keen to make sure that everyone has access to the data they need to run a successful campaign.
So if you are struggling to get Search Console set up, reach out via the contact form on our website. We’d be more than happy to help you – or point you in the direction of a friendly freelancer if you’re really strapped for cash. Once it's in place, you'll be spoilt for choice of high value but low search volume keywords.