13 Sep 2016

Are Search Volume Estimates Reliable for Content Topics?

September 13, 2016Content Marketing

We spend a lot of time with clients on Step #2 of our 8 Step Process for content marketing called Ideation. We also feel it’s one of the most important stages to be done correctly. With almost every other step, you can miss the specifics by a little and you won’t have a big impact on your content marketing success. But if you miss some of the details with ideation, you could be setting yourself up for failure.


Over the last six years, our team at Vertical Measures has refined our ideation process based on new tools available, changes in the Google algorithm and our own hard-earned lessons.

The lessons outlined in this article were created out of a need to support our findings and recommendations with some facts.

Search Volume Tools Are Bad Indicators of Future Traffic

  • Since the roll out of Hummingbird, Google is focusing on understanding longer search queries, intent and topics. Not just keyword phrases.
  • Google states that as many as 15% of their monthly search queries are searches they have never seen before. That is a huge factor that gets lost in all the other numbers.
  • Data tools such as SEMRush, aHrefs and all the others are notorious for inaccurate search volumes. Many have been proven to be off by as much as 50%. Below we will provide some real examples of how they would have misled the ideation process and the decision to create certain content.

When Should I Use Search Volume Tools?

  • Many search volume tools and their supporting data are best used for PPC. But even then, the fact that their data can be so suspect, you should proceed with caution. Perhaps Google Adwords and Bing Ad tools would be best to use for these purposes.
  • With respect to organic search, we are certainly believers in using tools to determine the creation of keyword-focused content pages. Whether they are product pages, service pages or other landing pages, you will need some data to guide and help you prioritize your topic brainstorming.

Content marketing, and most digital marketing, is all about solving people’s problems and queries. People rarely enter a two-word or three-word search query these days. All the data indicates search queries get longer and longer every year. The sweet spot for higher click-through rate/conversions is 7-9 words. This is because it’s written in a form of a question (naturally longer) or because someone is clearer on what they are looking for. For example, someone might search for “hiking boots” vs “womens size 8 waterproof hiking boots black”.

We like using Google Suggest, but it’s not the only tool we use in our ideation. We employ other tools like KeywordTool.io, Q&A sites, interviews, and others that can help generate hundreds of possible topics for content development.

How Will People Find Your Content?

There are only two ways people are going to find their content on search: organically or via paid promotion. Period.

For organic search traffic, we strongly recommend focusing on titles that people are actually searching for, even if the tools mentioned above indicate they may have low search volumes. We would rather show up on page 1 of Google for 50 “low-volume” phrases than page 8 of Google for 50 “high-volume” phrases.


To make our point that search volume estimates don’t provide a clear picture of potential traffic, here are a few real-world examples from some pretty disparate industries. In the image below, you will see the title of the actual content that was created, what the research tools indicated were monthly search volumes for some of the keywords in the title, and then the actual views for each article. Note: This data is many months old, so by now their views far exceed what is indicated.

Keyword Search Volume Estimates Vs. Actual Traffic Numbers

Embed This Infographic On Your Site:

<code class=”embed-code aligncenter”><a href=”https://cdn.verticalmeasures.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Are-Search-Volume-Estimates-Reliable-for-Content-Topics-Estimators-Examples.jpg”><img title=”Why Search Volume Estimates Are Not Reliable” src=”https://cdn.verticalmeasures.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Are-Search-Volume-Estimates-Reliable-for-Content-Topics-Estimators-Examples.jpg” alt=”Why Search Volume Estimates Are Not Reliable” width=”670″ height=”3550″><a href=”https://cdn.verticalmeasures.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Are-Search-Volume-Estimates-Reliable-for-Content-Topics-Estimators-Examples.jpg”>Infographic by <a href=”https://www.verticalmeasures.com”>Vertical Measures</a></code>

How Does This Work?

All traffic estimators have strengths and weaknesses, and their level of accuracy can vary quite considerably.  As stated by SEMRush, “The main purposes of such tools are: see trends, compare performance, spy on competitors’ strategies.”

Also, they do not take into account two key factors that are critical to the whole content marketing concept:

  • Content is evergreen. Once you create a piece of content and publish it, it will keep pulling in the traffic for years into the future. This is akin to buying a house, rather than renting an apartment. Your content owns its own real estate online.
  • You won’t just rank for the phrase you checked in the traffic estimator. A well written, optimized piece of content will rank many related terms or semantic phrases that you didn’t initially target.

Take a look at the two examples below. Not only do they rank #1 in Google for many different queries, they are an illustration of how semantics comes into play as well (noted in red text).

Keyword Phrase Rank
How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost? (Article title) 1
Average cost of fiberglass pools 1
How much do fiberglass pools cost 1
What does a fiberglass pool cost 1
Fiberglass pool costs 1
Price fiberglass pool 1
Cost for fiberglass pool 1
How much does it cost to install a pool 1
How much does a fiberglass inground pool cost 1
Fiberglass pool prices 1


Keyword Phrase Rank
How Much Does Real Content Marketing Cost? (Article title) 1
How much does content research cost? 1
How much does a content strategy cost? 1
How much does content promotion cost? 1
How much for content marketing education and workshops? 1
How much does content optimization cost? 9
How much does content development cost? 12

Don’t Let Low Search Volumes Prevent You from Creating Great Content

Ideation is a crucial part of every content marketing strategy, but don’t let search volume metrics keep you from creating valuable content for your website. Use keyword research to help guide your efforts, not dictate them.

From the examples listed above, it’s easy to see that content can be successful even if the search phrases or keywords are less competitive and have lower search volumes. Some key takeaways:

  • Google states that as many as 15% of their monthly search queries are searches they have never seen before.
  • Data tools or website traffic estimators are notorious for inaccurate search volumes. Many have been proven to be off by as much as 50%.
  • There are only two ways people are going to find their content: organically or via paid promotion.

Remember, it’s better to show up on Page 1 of Google for 50 “low-volume” phrases rather than page 8 of Google for 50 “high-volume” phrases. After all, where’s the best place to hide a dead body? Page 2 of Google!

If you have questions about ideation, search volumes, or overall content marketing strategy, contact Vertical Measures today.