The 411 on Low Search Volume Keywords

The world of paid search can be challenging to navigate, even for the folks who have been in the weeds for many years. As you may imagine, our customer-facing teams at WordStream get a plethora of questions from marketers and business owners of varying paid marketing expertise. One question that comes up time and time again is, “What is the deal with keywords marked ‘low search volume’ by Google?!”

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What is a “low search volume” keyword?

First off, we should address the obvious question. What is a “low search volume” keyword?

You may notice when sifting through your keyword lists that certain keywords are marked as “Limited Approval” due to “Low search volume.” These terms are associated with very limited search traffic on Google – in other words, not very many people are searching on these terms. For this reason, Google temporarily makes these keywords inactive.

To get confirmation as to how these keywords are truly defined, I spoke with some of WordStream’s top paid search experts.

“Generally ‘low search volume’ keywords are just keywords that are not searched for as much as other keywords,” says WordStream Customer Programs Manager Chris Pierce. “It could be a small niche.”

This does not mean these keywords will disappear from your account though, so how should you deal with them? Stay tuned for this answer, but first, let’s discuss how Google makes these determinations…

How does Google determine if a keyword has low search volume?

According to Chris, “Low search volume keywords are associated with very little search traffic on Google, an indication that they’re not very relevant to most customers.”

There can be a variety of reasons that Google makes this determination, including…

  • Your keywords are not relevant to the majority of your customers’ searches
  • Your keyword are too specific, long-tailed, or obscure
  • Your keywords are seasonal (and you’re bidding during the wrong season)
  • Your match types are too restrictive
  • You’re bidding on branded terms

These are things to consider when looking at your “low search volume” keywords since they’ll help with the next question. For instance, if your keyword is an exact match keyword, try making it phrase or broad and see if that changes the keyword status.

It’s still important to consider if these keywords are worth keeping in your account, which brings us to the next Q&A.

Should I still bid on these low volume keywords?

While I’d recommend making this decisions on a keyword to keyword basis, Chris believes that these keywords are often worth hanging onto. “They can still bring qualitative leads and conversions to the website,” he says.

Chris has a point. According to Google, “If the number of search queries for these keywords increases even a small amount, they’ll be reactivated and will start triggering your ads to show again. Our system checks and updates this status regularly.”

As stated above, sometimes making changes like opening up the match types can help. “If your low search volume term is phrase or exact, you can try adjusting the match type to broad or modified broad to cast a wider net and pull in search volume,” says Zina Kayyali, WordStream Director of Customer Programs. “If you are using modified broad on a super long-tail term, you can try removing some modifiers. In reality, if your keyword string has 3+ words and each of them has a modifier, you may as well be using phrase match.”

Will it hurt my account if I attempt to bid on these keywords?

Ok, so there is still hope that these keywords could get popular at a later date. But what about your account’s Quality Score? No one wants to be on Google’s bad side, so it’s important to consider if these keywords will hurt the way Google views you.

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According to Chris, these “low search keywords” should not have a negative impact on your AdWords account. “Leaving ‘low search volume’ keywords in your account will not necessarily have a negative effect,” says Chris.  “These keywords could be important depending on your industry and what you offer.”

On the other hand, if you’ve had these terms in your account for quite some time, and you are seeing little to no interaction with them, it may be time to say goodbye. “Often, low search volume terms in your account are just terms that are sadly not being queried. If no one is searching for these keywords, it may be time to toss those guys out,” says Zina.

You might be wondering what else can be done to get these poor keywords some traction. Well, luckily there is still hope…

Should I pursue other opportunities with these unpopular keywords?

So, you have keywords marked “low search volume” by Google’s search network that you had high hopes for. While this might feel disappointing, I’ve got some good news for your poor unpopular keywords. There is much more you can do then just hope that your customers will start searching for these words!

Zina recommends paring low volume keywords with campaigns outside of the search networks. For example, have you considered how these keywords will perform on other search engines?

“Cross-network searchers can have a big impact for advertisers! Starting with Bing as an example,” says Zina. “Advertisers who advertise on Bing don’t just reach new people searching on Bing, they will also see, on average, a 26% increase in searches for their brand on Google!”

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You also might consider taking your efforts outside of the search network. Zina encourages testing these keywords out in your ads on the Google Display Network. “Although CTRs are lower than search, we see a 31% increases in brand searches on Google which is amazing—especially given the fact that Display clicks tend to be much cheaper and the Display network is far-reaching (the GDN reaches up to 90% of internet users).”

Last, but certainly not least, consider making use of these terms on social media platforms. “Social ads are arguably the most effective way to boost branded searches, and advertising on Facebook will tend to increase the number of branded searches AdWords advertisers see by an average of 34%,” says Zina. Although Facebook ads don’t target based on keywords, you can still try using these long-tail terms in your Facebook ad messaging too see if it resonates with your audiences there.

Are you still unsure how to deal with these “low search volume” keywords? Let us know in the comments below. We’re happy to help out!


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