This article was written by Matt Goolding, a content strategist with Grow and Convert since 2019.
Over the past few years, we’ve published various posts that explain how we prioritize content topics and target keywords based on conversion intent, not search volume, including:
- Our guide to pain point SEO, which explains our approach to coming up with topics that drive leads and signups.
- Our guide to SaaS content marketing and our case study about expanding from bottom-of-funnel content to top-of-funnel, which both talk about the importance of targeting bottom-of-funnel keywords with blog posts.
In all these articles, we share data showing how posts targeting high-conversion intent, bottom-of-funnel (BoF) topics have a really high conversion rate. And we show how they tend to outperform top-of-funnel (ToF) posts for conversions, despite getting less traffic.
As a result, targeting BoF keywords has become the foundation of our content strategy for clients and our differentiation as a content agency.
But despite this data and our reasoning, we still get client pushback on proposed target keywords because SEO tools say the number of searches is low. Clients say they get that these BoF keywords may have higher conversion rates, but they’re worried that a high conversion rate is useless if only a few people are searching for it in the first place.
So this got me thinking: Is there a way we can clearly demonstrate the value of low-volume keywords so we can open up new topic angles for our clients?
The answer lies in the number of conversions they generate. I did this research and it revealed some pretty interesting data, which we’ll share in this post.
Key Takeaways: Why Are They Outperforming Estimates?
There was one overarching takeaway from our analysis: mini-volume keywords consistently generate way more traffic and conversions than back-of-the-envelope estimates predict. For example, people often calculate the value of keywords this way:
- This keyword gets 20 searches a month (estimate from SEO software).
- Best case scenario, we’ll rank #1. This gets around 30% of clicks, so that’s only around 7 clicks a month.
- Even if we get a 2% conversion rate from traffic to lead, that’s 0.14 leads a month.
Conclusion: not worth it!
This logic seems sound but in practice we’ve noticed that this conclusion (“not worth it”) is wrong. As we’ll show with multiple examples below, ranking in the top few spots for keywords with 20 estimated searches or less are generating multiple conversions per month—often way more than the ToF posts with high traffic generate.
This is because of two reasons:
- Monthly search estimates consistently underestimate the amount of traffic a keyword will generate if you rank highly for it. Often by a lot.
- If you follow our Pain Point SEO process, you should only be going after mini-volume keywords that have really high conversion intent. Those will convert a lot higher than more typical top-of-funnel posts.
Big picture: Taking a snapshot across 2 years and 17 of our clients, articles targeting sub-20 search volume generated more than 1,600 conversions for our clients (leads, signups, demos, etc. directly attributed to our content). But it’s hard to grasp what this means without digging into the strategy and examples, which we’ll do below.
Mini-Volume Keywords in Action: Real Client Data
1. Circuit: Competitor Comparisons and How-to Guides
Circuit offers an app for independent delivery drivers and software for midsize delivery teams. We published a full case study about our work with them over here: Scaling SEO traffic from 920 to 14,577 Sessions in 6 months.
As well as big-hitting posts that drive most of Circuit’s blog conversions, we targeted a range of lower-volume keywords that have also generated a load of free trial signups.
- 6 competitor comparison articles, all with less than 20 searches per month. We pitch Circuit against competitors like Routific, Route4Me, and RouteXL.In the 2 years between our starting date and the month this post got written, these 6 articles have collectively driven 149 organic signups. The average conversion rate for these posts is 2%. Alone, Route4Me Alternative converts at 4.5%.
- Niche how-to articles on starting a delivery service. For example, starting a medical delivery service, which had sub-20 volume when we decided to go after it. In the 9 months following its publication, this single post drove 31 free trial signups. It only started ranking on page 1 in month 3, so that’s 31 signups in 6 months—or 5 signups a month from a keyword that supposedly only gets 20 searches per month. (One big benefit of going after low-volume keywords is that you can get in early before competitors realize search volume is growing. In this case, lots of keyword variations of “medical delivery service” popped up over following months, and growth for our exact-match target keyword sped up too.)
- Use cases that are a perfect description of Circuit’s functionality, including how to create a delivery route, which drove 12 free trial signups in the 4 months following its publication on the blog.
Circuit is a self-serve B2B SaaS product, and they typically have teams with 10-15 drivers using their Circuit for Teams service. A “conversion” is a free trial start. Taking into account the free trial to paid conversion rate, we’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars worth of MRR that’s generated for Circuit by mini-volume keywords.
2. Geekbot: Getting in Early on Growing-Popularity Keywords
My colleague Daniel Levi has written an in-depth case study on Geekbot, where he explains how (and why) we started with BoF content and transitioned to ToF after two years of working together.
Daniel found that BoF posts converted 25X more than ToF posts.
And most interestingly, the number of conversions was vastly higher on BoF posts, despite those articles receiving 7X less traffic than ToF ones.
Bottom-of-funnel content drove 1,348 conversions from 28,000 organic traffic, while top-of-funnel content generated only 397 from 200,000 organic traffic.
But what does this have to do with mini-volume keywords?
Looking at some of Daniel’s BoF (in other words: high conversion intent) articles, we see a number of keywords that have sub-20 search volume:
- Our article targeting “free Slack standup bot” (20 vol) has generated 177 organic conversions since being published in December 2021, 7 months ago—that’s over 25 conversions per month generated from a keyword that according to SEO tools, like Ahrefs, only gets 20 searches a month.
- Our article targeting “daily standup app” (10 vol) collected a load of rankings for different keyword variations that have low-to-mid search volume—e.g. “daily standup tools” (30 vol) and “standup software” (40 vol). This one has generated 37 signups since being published—also back in December 2021.
- Our article targeting “alternatives to standup meetings” (10 vol) is a bit higher up the funnel than “bot” and “app” terms, which are both pretty descriptive of the Geekbot product itself. But this one actually converts pretty well. 20 organic signups and 30 via Google Ads since March 2020.
Important: Anecdotally, when we look at other bottom-of-funnel keywords that were sub-20 when we targeted them, we see they’re now registering a larger search volume on Ahrefs. For example, “best slack poll app” is now showing 40 monthly searches. The article targeting this keyword has since generated more than 300 signups for Geekbot.
What’s happened here is that Geekbot is in a new niche—one that took off as the Coronavirus lockdowns accelerated remote working.
So our content was in the right place at the right time.
As I detail below, this is one of multiple reasons why articles that rank for mini-volume keywords almost always get more pageviews per month than the monthly search volume estimate.
3 More Quickfire Examples from Our Clients
While we’re not including our whole client base in this study, we can confirm it’s safe to say we definitely see the benefits of targeting mini-volume keywords—pretty much for all the clients we work with right now.
Here are a few more examples to drive this point home:
1. With one B2B SaaS company, we saw that “for small businesses” qualifier on a “software” keyword had different articles on page 1 than the software keyword by itself. (As we explain in this post on content writing, analyzing what’s ranking is a key part of our process. Unique page 1 results between two keywords suggests different search intent.)
Ahrefs was showing 0-10 volume for this, but we went ahead and wrote a piece that now has a 6% conversion rate and went into first-place position on Google in a couple of days.
Note: Another benefit of targeting mini-volume keywords is that they’re quicker and easier to rank for. I’ll go into this in more detail in the next section.
2. For a marketing agency, we targeted a B2B SaaS keyword that was showing 0-10 monthly volume. Since being published in September 2021, that post has driven 7 organic inquiries and 2 paid (Google Ads) inquiries. With contract sizes in the tens of thousands of dollars, that’s well worth the investment.
3. For one company that offers software for digital asset management, we wrote a competitor comparison post targeting an “alternatives” keyword that has no more than 20 searches per month. This one has generated 11 signups so far. It’s a non-self-serve enterprise SaaS with a high price point. Similarly to the marketing agency we mention above, these 11 conversions are worth a lot.
Note: This “alternatives” angle also works for B2C companies—we targeted the competitor of a company that sells excessive sweating treatment products. Again, this keyword was only showing 10 monthly searches when we went after it. Over a 12-month period, this post generated 15 monthly subscriptions to their treatment.
You’ll see in examples 2 and 3 above that a high price point means mini-volume keywords are really important. You might get a meager 20 visitors to a post annually, but if that post is high-intent BoF, this can translate into a healthy return on investment.
Regardless of the monetary value of what you sell—if you’re ignoring mini-volume keywords, you’re leaving signups, demos, or inquiries on the table.
How Long Do Mini-Volume Keyword Posts Take to Rank? (Sometimes Just a Few Days)
We recently published a post about how long it takes to rank on the first page of Google. The answer from looking at our client examples: usually around 5 months for the first pieces, but it picks up pretty quickly after that because you build topical authority.
One reason why mini-volume keywords make sense to target is because your competitors ignore them. That means competition in the SERPs is generally lower, so you have a better chance to rank high. And you can do it pretty quickly, too.
To show this, I’ve gone through the historic ranking positions in Ahrefs and compared how long some of Circuit’s mini-volume articles take to rank.
What I found was pretty interesting.
Here’s a few of Circuit’s mini-volume competitor comparison articles:
- Route4Me Alternative: Position 2 within 7 days
- Postmates vs Onfleet: Position 1 within 4 days
- RoadWarrior Alternative: Position 4 within 30 days (now position 2)
- RoadWarrior vs Circuit: Position 1 within 3 days
Remember: Collectively, these types of posts have driven 149 free trial signups over the past 2 years. One of them has a 4.5% conversion rate. And they all took less than 30 days to rank in the top 5 positions—many of them actually in first or second place.
This is a no-brainer, really: Articles that rank fast and start converting immediately.
There are plenty of other mini-volume posts that beat the 5 month average and get well-placed within 1-2 months. That’s still good. In contrast, both our articles targeting keywords with more than 1,000 monthly organic took 3-5 months to get to the top-3. Not bad, but definitely slower—and we see a similar pattern across various clients.
There’s a logical correlation here: Small traffic volume is less appealing to marketers, and therefore there’s less competition. This gives you a better chance to get in on the action.
The irony here is that these BoF mini-volume keywords potentially have more value as conversion-drivers than the large-volume ToF ones—as shown by Daniel in his Geekbot case study (397 ToF conversions vs 1,348 BoF from 7X less traffic).
They should arguably be everyone’s priority. But they’re not.
Mini-Volume Keywords Often Get More Volume Than Their Monthly Search Estimates
As we saw in one of the examples above (“free slack standup bot”), articles that rank in the top few spots for a mini-volume keyword almost always end up getting a lot more pageviews per month than the estimated monthly searches for that keyword.
Here’s a detailed example from our own site: “landing page vs blog post”
We published that post targeting that exact keyword on February 18th, 2022, roughly 4 months before writing this.
That keyword, according to Ahrefs, only gets 10 searches a month:
We’re ranking in the middle of page 1 for it today—between #5 and #4.
Now to be fair, the idea that search volume in SEO tools such as Ahrefs is an underestimate is not new. Ahrefs themselves have this great video lesson in their course that says this precisely (definitely worth watching):
Their main point of why keyword volume underestimates organic traffic potential is that if you rank for one keyword, you’ll also rank for a bunch of other related keywords. They rightly suggest you check in Ahrefs for what else a given page is ranking for to see true traffic potential.
Ahrefs even has a “volume” column to factor this into an estimated organic traffic number for each page ranking for a given keyword. And indeed Ahrefs does estimate our page has a traffic volume of 350, because it also ranks for 63 other keywords:
But, when I check what those 63 other keywords are, none of them are rankings on page 1, where basically all traffic comes from:
It’s hard to believe that these page 2, 3, 4+ rankings are generating much traffic to our post—even if there are 63 of them. In fact, even Google Search Console doesn’t show this post ranking for any queries that are giving us clicks in the last 3 months:
And yet, that page is getting more than 100 sessions a month just from organic traffic.
In May alone, it was the landing page of 138 organic sessions. June is on track to hit 130+ organic sessions again. Remember: this is ranking #4 for a keyword that supposedly gets just 10 searches per month, not ranking on page 1 for any other keyword and is generating 130 organic sessions per month.
To further highlight how unintuitive that is, this is what percent of clicks you can expect by position on page 1 for a keyword:
Position 4 or 5 should get around 10% of clicks. So in theory, ranking 4 or 5 for a 10 searches per month keyword should give you, on average, one click a month. Again, we’re getting 130 sessions a month to this post just from organic.
We can’t emphasize this conclusion enough: If you rank for a given keyword with a given monthly search volume, you will get more organic traffic than the stated search volume for that keyword. And when this keyword is a BoF keyword, this traffic will result in conversions—perhaps a healthy amount of conversions, too.
We’ve seen this over and over again. But why? We think there are a few reasons:
1. The data we get from SEO tools is rarely up-to-date. Search trends happen fast. For example, Covid-19 searches exploded during spring-summer 2020, but the SEO tools didn’t show this info for a few months afterwards.
2. SEO software isn’t the one-and-only authority. The search volumes you see will differ between different tools, and fluctuate over time as they update their data. What you see often isn’t accurate. So it’s better to focus on pain points and look at keyword variations and volumes afterwards. Take them with a pinch of salt.
(This isn’t a critique of SEO tools—they say themselves that traffic volumes are estimates, and recommend you don’t base your whole content strategy on them.)
3. Keyword variations combined add up to healthier volume than is immediately obvious. So if our main target keyword has an estimated 20 searches per month but there are 10 variations that our piece could rank in top positions for, each of those might add 5-10 searches per month and boost the overall number of visitors.You may also rank for lots of extremely long tail low-volume searches that simply aren’t in the database of the SEO tool you’re using (which may be happening with the landing page vs. blog post article above).
4. Mini-volume doesn’t always stay that way. If you’re working on something that’s on the up (e.g. Slack standup tools), you might find yourself with a heavy-hitting keyword in a year or so—and you’ve had the jump on your search competitors.
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