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What is search volume?

Author: Crystal Ortiz

A graphic of a search volume chart, with other graphics highlighting SEO concepts like intent, keyword difficulty, etc. There's also an image of author Crystal Ortiz in the bottom-right.

Search volume can be a powerful predictive tool in a marketer’s arsenal. It can show you which topics are attainable as well as ones that may be more aspirational. It can guide your content strategy and help you reach the potential customers that are actively searching for the content you’re considering producing—thousands of them per year, even.


With context, you can understand how to leverage this metric to build a powerful brand website that helps people buy, learn, find inspiration, and make decisions in their everyday lives.

Let’s dive into the topic of search volume. Here’s what we’ll cover:



What is search volume?


Search volume measures the average number of times a keyword is searched in a given time frame (typically monthly). All search volume estimates vary in accuracy, especially for local search, seasonal, and trending searches.


That said, search volume can provide valuable insight into how many people are searching for a given topic. By studying which search terms are relevant to your business, you can find opportunities for your website to appear in search results.


Why search volume can be important for content success


By studying which search terms people use and how often they search for those topics, you can make informed decisions about what to create, and write content that generates traffic and resonates with your target audience.


For example, if you’re a brand catering to first-time parents, you might want to write content addressing common questions, like How often to bathe infant? or What is the best infant car seat?


Two screenshots (side by side) of the total volume, related keywords and keyword difficulty for the search terms “How often to bathe infant?” and “What is the best infant car seat?” The monthly search volume for “How often to bathe infant?” 189,300, and the monthly search volume for “What is the best infant car seat?” is 1.1 million.

While researching these topics, you can see these questions and their variations have a search volume of 189K and 1.1M, respectively. This tells you that there are, on average, that many searches per month about those topics. By creating thorough content for those searchers, you can increase the likelihood that they’ll view your brand as trustworthy, which increases the chances that they’ll buy from you (or book a consultation, fill out a lead form, etc).


On the other hand, a less common search, like Halloween baby wigs, may have little to no search volume. That might suggest the opposite scenario as the one above: Nobody (or almost nobody) is looking for that topic, content, product, etc., which means investing in that topic is akin to selling something nobody is looking to buy—not the best business model.


While insightful, keep in mind that search volume isn’t the only factor to consider. And, conversely, just because the search volume for a particular keyword is low, you shouldn't necessarily rule it out just yet. We’ll discuss the other considerations to keep in mind a little later on in this article.


How to find search volume


Finding search volume is relatively easy, but you’ll need a keyword research tool. There are a wide variety of options, including:


  • Free tools - Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, etc.

  • Chrome extensions - Keyword Surfer, Keywords Everywhere, etc.

  • SEO tools - Ahrefs, Mangools, Moz, Rank Ranger, Semrush, etc.


Keyword research tools will typically show you an estimated search volume for either your target keyword or a list of keywords (Google Trends, however, shows relative search volume over time, instead of monthly average volume). Let’s explore specific options for validating and expanding your target keyword list.


Google Keyword Planner

Google Keyword Planner is a tool that’s free to use if you have a Google Ads account (which is also free to sign up for). It provides average monthly search volume as a range (e.g.,10-100, 100K-1M, etc).


Image of Google Keyword Planner’s research options. The left side shows Discover new keywords with a lightbulb drawing, while the right side shows Get search volume and forecasts with a chart and arrow pointing upwards.

Google gives you the option to Discover new keywords or Get search volume and forecasts (as shown above): If you already have a list of keywords and just want their volume, select Get search volume and forecasts. However, if you are still researching keywords and haven’t created a list yet, select Discover new keywords.


Going with the Discover new keywords option, you’ll enter any keyword you want to start with. In this example, we’re using dog groomer. As you can see, there are options to save, sort, and filter the data so that you can more quickly identify relevant keywords and use them in your content.


Image of Google Keyword Planner’s research results for the keyword “dog groomer”. The results show 1,074 keyword ideas, including “dog grooming near me” and “groomers near me.” The results show avg. monthly searches, YoY changes, and competition.

You can also broaden your matches with similar keywords, or groups of keywords in the “grouped view” (accessible in the top-right corner drop-down menu). This option is helpful for understanding a group of keywords, such as “dog haircuts,” “salons near,” and “animal grooming” (shown below).


Image of Google Keyword Planner’s research results for the keyword “dog groomer” in group view. The results show grouped keywords, including “dog haircuts” and “animal groomers.” The results show avg. monthly searches, YoY changes, and competition.

Google Keyword Planner is a great free keyword research tool, but the data may not be as detailed as you’d like it to be. In that case, it’s best to check out some of the other tools available.


Keyword Surfer

SEO chrome extensions like Keyword Surfer and Keywords Everywhere are especially handy when you want to do a quick search volume check, since they show estimated volumes in the Google Search box and on the search engine results pages (SERPs).


Google Search Results for “leather jacket,” and related search terms and their search volumes (via Keyword Surfer).

SEO browser extensions such as these allow you to assess SERP features you may be competing against (more on that below) while referencing how large the potential audience is, enabling you to better pick and choose your content battles.


Ahrefs, Semrush, and other similar SEO tools

SEO tools like Ahrefs, Moz, Rank Ranger, Semrush, etc. offer more of an “all-in-one” experience, which typically includes keyword research data as well as rank tracking and so on.


Semrush search volume dashboard showing “wedding ring size” has a global search volume of 1.7K and 1.4M for its variations.

You can search individual keywords for details about the search volume and related keywords, or a list of keywords for high-level information.


More advanced tools such as these are great for professional digital marketers, in-house marketing teams, and dedicated SEOs. However, they may be overly complicated for an average business owner, depending on the involvement in everyday marketing efforts.


Wix’s keyword research integration with Semrush

For Wix users, the integration with Semrush provides another convenient option to find search volume. This integration allows Wix site owners to run 10 keyword searches per day (paid Semrush users have as much access as their subscription allows).


To access the Semrush integration:


  • Go to your Wix dashboard.

  • In the left-hand navigation panel, select Marketing & SEO, then click on SEO Tools.

  • Select Get Found on Google and click on the pencil icon next to your business or brand name (as shown below).


The Wix SEO Setup Checklist in the Wix SEO Tools section of Wix.

  • In the window that pops up, select Find the best keywords with Semrush.


Next, simply enter your chosen keyword in the search bar, select your target country, and select Analyze. This will populate the target keyword’s search volume, along with a trend graph, difficulty rating, and search intent (shown below).


The Semrush keyword insights tool in Wix, showing keyword variations and search volumes for “waterproof pillow cases.”

How search volume can mislead


While it might be exciting to target keywords that receive 100,000+ searches per month, focusing purely on search volume would be a disastrous oversimplification. Below are some considerations that will help you contextualize search volume so that you can choose the right content to pursue for your brand and audience.


Accuracy

SEO tools should not be considered 100% accurate. They may exclude, inflate, or miscalculate search volume data, and every tool calculates search volume differently. This can result in different volume estimates across tools.


For example, Keyword Surfer may tell you Brussel sprouts has a monthly search volume of 301,100, but Semrush’s estimate is 165,000 searches per month (about 55% of Keyword Surfer’s volume).


So, why the discrepancy? Well, the data is collected either directly from Google or from clickstream data. But often, it’s a combination of both.


Semrush sources its data from third-party data providers, according to its documentation, and then uses a proprietary algorithm to “examine live data and historical data about position changes and domains ranking in organic and paid search positions to create [a] suite of reports that show... every keyword’s search volume...”


While search volume is not 100% accurate, that doesn’t mean it should be discounted completely. Search volume can still help you find which topics and keywords are more popular than others so you can focus on how you’ll grow traffic to your website.


Local searches

Another factor to consider is that keyword research tools break down search volume by country. While some tools can differentiate local search volume, it’s not the default.


What you can do in that case is carry on with your keyword research, but remember that what’s important is to compile the list based on ratios. Top keywords in the United States are likely to be the same top keywords at the local level.


One way to get around this is to add explicit search terms (search terms in which the user explicitly references their location; e.g., used bookstores in Coruscant) into your research and set up rank tracking.


You can also add your local keywords to Google Keyword Planner and update the location to your market. This will give you more accurate search volume data compared to the wider country-level search volume estimates.


Trends and seasonality

Because search volume is a monthly average, the total volume can ignore fluctuations in seasonality and trends.


So, if a keyword is trending, the search volume will be inaccurate, since it shows a 12-month average, not a real-time number. A keyword could have 10,000 searches in the last month, but 0 searches in the 11 months prior, bringing its monthly average to roughly 800 monthly search volume.


Similarly, a monthly average won’t help you account for timing and seasonal changes, like winter coat searches peaking in November but looking absolutely hopeless in May.


Chart of Google Search Trends for “winter coat” over the last 12 months. The graph shows a peak for winter coats in October-December, and a sharp drop throughout the rest of the year.

Low-volume, high-intent keywords

One unfortunately popular myth is that keywords with high search volume are the best ones to target. This is not entirely true—as a matter of fact, in competitive industries, it is unrealistic for all but the most authoritative brands.


If you’ve been doing SEO for a while and have built topical authority with lower volume keywords, you might want to try ranking for keywords with a higher volume. But, if you’re just starting in SEO, you’ll generally get more traction building content for topics with lower search volume.


There are a couple of reasons for this:


01. These are usually keywords with lower competition, which means you might be able to rank for them more easily because fewer brands and businesses are trying to compete with you.


02. Keywords with low search volume can include long-tail keywords, which are typically search terms people use when they’re trying to find something specific. These terms can be considered “high-intent,” as the more specific a keyword is, the more likely it is that the searcher knows what they are looking for and are further down the marketing funnel (and closer to conversion).


For example, the keyword Cats has a search volume of 550K and a 100% difficulty score, according to Semrush (side note, whoa, that’s a high score), while How long do fat cats live has a search volume of 320 and a 36% difficulty.


Semrush search volume dashboard showing “how long do fat cats live” has a global search volume of 1.2K and 414K for its variations.

So, if you sell healthy cat food or are in the pet industry, you would likely have a better chance of ranking for How long do fat cats live than Cats. Not to mention, behind one keyword are potentially thousands of people with potentially thousands of reasons for searching for Cats, while behind the other keyword are specific people looking for something in particular.


Consequently, more search volume isn’t always better. The solution is to find a happy medium between search volume, intent, and difficulty.


Keyword search volume is not search traffic

An important point to consider is that keyword search volume is not the same thing as search traffic. If a keyword has 49,500 monthly searches, that does not mean your website will drive 49,500 visits. Nor does it mean your website will appear in the top search results or even at all for competitive search terms.


Generally, the higher a page ranks in the search results, the more traffic it gets. That’s why so many marketers focus on getting the top spots on page one, because they know that’s where the majority of the traffic goes.


Additionally, search volume has to be considered in the context of search intent, keyword position (your content’s ranking for a particular search term), competition, and SERP features. While a particular keyword might seem like a great opportunity to pursue, there are many factors that go into whether or not your website will rank for that keyword.


So, how do you know when a keyword is worth pursuing? Sure, it sounds great to be on page one for a valuable keyword, but when is it possible?


Using search volume to find the right keyword opportunities


Layering your search volume data with knowledge of the types of content your audience is actually looking for, who you’re competing against in the SERPs, and whether you’re competing against the search engine itself, can help you spot the right topics to build visibility for your brand.


Here’s what to keep in mind.


Intent

Your users’ search intent can influence whether or not your website might appear in search results, which means, even if a keyword has a high search volume, your website may not rank for it.


For example, a transactional page is unlikely to rank for an informational keyword unless Google shows both result types in the search results.


Let’s say you’re a salon looking to rank for Eyelash extensions. Well, you’re in luck: Eyelash extensions have a local map pack at the top of the search results, which indicates that Google views this keyword as carrying a local intent. This means your salon may be able to rank for the keyword.


Google mobile search results for “eyelash extensions.”

However, for a salon, it may be harder to rank in anything other than the local pack for this keyword. Why? Because the remaining top results are from highly authoritative publications like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.com (we’ll discuss competition in the section below). The keyword Eyelash extensions also has a difficulty score of 86% (according to Semrush), meaning it’s very hard to rank.


So, even though this keyword has a search volume of 165,000, as a salon, your opportunity is limited to how many people in your area search for Eyelash extensions.


Competition

Like any competition, more websites competing for the same high-volume keywords mean it’s going to be harder to rank for those keywords. Competition is generally indicated as a percentage, number, or as a rating (“High,” “Medium,” or “Low”).


As you’re deciding which keywords to pursue, consider how fierce the competition is. If a similar website is ranking for a keyword, you have a better shot at ranking for that keyword than if, for example, your competition was Wikipedia (as Wikipedia is an established, highly authoritative website).


Semrush example of search volume and difficulty score. The volume is 3.6K and the difficulty is 23%.

In the eyelash extensions example from above, the primary keyword may have a difficulty of 86%, but Eyelash extensions before and after only (shown above) has a difficulty of 23%. Looking at the search results, we can see that this keyword (which has 3,600 monthly searches) is a lot more attainable than its shorter, more generic variant.


Semrush SERP analysis showing the top 19 links for eyelash extensions, their search traffic and number of organic ranking keywords.

Consider the brand authority of your search competitors. Bigger brands typically have more links, more consumer trust, and more content. In the example above, the SERP isn’t dominated by authoritative brands, meaning that you don’t need to be one to rank for this term.


The same is true even at the local level. For example, a big-name, multi-location ophthalmology practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico will likely need to do less than its smaller competitors to rank on page one for certain search terms.


Depending on your brand and competition, some keywords will be harder to rank for than others, potentially at lower search volumes as well (such as in the medical industry).


SERP features

A simple way to evaluate a keyword opportunity is to look at the keyword’s SERP features. Depending on the keyword, there are many types of search results that can appear: FAQ, People also ask, recipes, local pack, Shopping results, Images results, etc.


For illustrative purposes, let’s pick one SERP feature to zoom in on: FAQ rich results.


Google search result for “Best electric guitar strings” from guitarworld.com, showing FAQ questions and a drop down button.
An example of a FAQ rich result.

If you’re looking at a keyword and think that it’s right for FAQ rich results, you could add FAQ schema to your product or blog page to accompany the content you’ve created answering those questions. Search engines, like Google, may pick up on that schema and decide to enhance your result with an expandable list of questions (like in the example above). In this particular instance, this would enable your brand to help potential customers before they even visit your page, which may entice them to click through.


Examine the SERP features for your list of target keywords. Are there People also ask questions you could answer in a blog post? Are there images you could optimize to appear in the image pack?


Conversely, the presence of SERP features may also suggest limited opportunity. For example, the presence of a featured snippet may indicate that you’re unlikely to get traffic from a particular search as the answer the user is looking for may be right there for them on the search results, without the need to click through to another site.


Search volume can guide you, but don’t let it lead the way


While search volume is an important piece to the puzzle, it’s just that—one piece. A wide variety of factors go into how people search and how search engines (especially Google) decide what to show in the top spots.


What’s important is that you know which opportunities have the most potential, and how to leverage that information to create helpful pages and content for those already looking for it.


 

crystal ortiz

Crystal Ortiz is an SEO consultant with experience across fashion, health, travel, automotive, and fitness. She teaches digital marketing classes at various universities across the US. Crystal lives in Indiana with her husband, son, and dog.

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