Should You Target Ultra Competitive Keywords?

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June 3, 2024

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Should You Target Ultra Competitive Keywords?

Should You Target Ultra Competitive Keywords?

I’ll never forget the day I discovered the secret to targeting those “zero search volume” keywords. It was a total game-changer for my SEO agency and our clients.

See, I used to be like most marketers – I’d see a keyword with zero monthly searches and immediately dismiss it as worthless. “Who the heck is actually searching for that?” I’d think to myself.

But one day, I stumbled across a Reddit thread that made me rethink everything. The post described how you can actually target your competitors’ brand names and URLs as keywords, even if they have super low search volume.

My mind was blown. I quickly realized that “zero search volume” doesn’t necessarily mean zero traffic potential. In fact, it can be a goldmine if you know how to work it.

So I dove headfirst into researching this strategy. I tested it out on some of our clients’ campaigns. And the results? Well, let’s just say I’m never overlooking those “worthless” keywords again.

In this article, I’m going to share everything I’ve learned about targeting ultra competitive keywords – even the ones with zero monthly searches. By the end, you’ll have a completely new perspective on keyword research and how to approach those tricky low-volume terms.

Sound good? Alright, let’s dive in.

The Reddit Thread that Changed Everything

The Reddit thread that opened my eyes was this one: Is it Worth Targeting a Competitor as a Keyword in AdWords?

The key takeaway? Apparently, it is very much possible to target your competitors’ brand names and URLs as keywords in your AdWords campaigns. The Redditor who started the thread had read an article about this strategy and was curious to hear others’ experiences with it.

As I read through the comments, a few things became clear:

  1. Targeting competitor keywords can absolutely work – several people chimed in to say they’d seen great results from this approach.

  2. The catch is that your quality score for those keywords will likely be pretty low. Google seems to punish you for piggybacking on your competitors’ brand equity.

  3. There’s some debate around whether low-quality keywords like that can actually hurt your overall account-level quality score. Some say it’s a myth, others swear it’s a real thing.

Needless to say, I was intrigued. I couldn’t wait to experiment with this strategy and see the results for myself.

My First Foray into Competitor Keyword Targeting

The first client I tried this with was a Manchester-based SEO agency, MCR SEO. They were struggling to rank for some of the most competitive keywords in their industry, so I figured this could be a perfect opportunity to test out the competitor keyword strategy.

I started by compiling a list of their top competitors’ brand names and URLs. Then I added those as keywords to their AdWords campaign, despite the fact that most of them had zero or extremely low monthly search volume.

At first, the results were a bit disappointing. Our quality scores for those keywords were indeed very low, just as the Redditors had warned. And our click-through rates were abysmal.

But then something interesting happened. Over time, we started to see a trickle of traffic coming in from those “worthless” keywords. Not a ton, mind you – but enough to make me raise an eyebrow.

And the real kicker? That trickle of traffic was converting at a shockingly high rate. Our conversion metrics for those competitor keywords were actually outperforming some of our “main” keywords that had much higher search volume.

I was floored. Clearly, there was something to this strategy that I’d been missing. Those low-volume keywords weren’t as worthless as I’d assumed.

Uncovering the Power of “Cluster Keywords”

As I dug deeper into my research, I started to notice a pattern. Many of the “zero search volume” keywords I was targeting weren’t just random long-tail terms – they were part of larger “clusters” of similar keywords.

For example, let’s say I was targeting the keyword “when is the grocery store least crowded.” That specific phrase might only get a handful of searches per month. But when I looked at the related searches, I saw a whole bunch of other variations on the same basic question:

  • “when is the grocery store the least busy”
  • “what time of day is the grocery store least crowded”
  • “what day of the week is the grocery store the least busy”
  • “best time to go to the grocery store to avoid crowds”

All of these were essentially the same query, just phrased slightly differently. And most of them were also showing up as “zero search volume” keywords.

It dawned on me that these “cluster keywords” were actually a goldmine. Even though each individual phrase might not get much traffic, the cumulative traffic from all the variations could add up to something substantial.

I decided to start targeting these cluster keywords more intentionally, rather than just going after the one-off “zero search volume” terms. And sure enough, the results were impressive.

One post I wrote targeting a “zero volume” cluster keyword about dishwasher energy usage started pulling in 200-400 pageviews per month. Not bad for a keyword that was supposedly worthless!

The Difference Between “Island” and “Cluster” Keywords

Of course, not all “zero search volume” keywords are created equal. Through my experiments, I started to recognize two distinct types:

  1. Island Keywords: These are the super niche, hyper-specific terms that only a tiny handful of people are searching for. They’re like little islands in the middle of the ocean – hard to find and not worth the effort.

  2. Cluster Keywords: These are the keywords that are part of a larger group of similar queries. Even though each individual phrase may get almost no searches, the cumulative volume from the whole cluster can be substantial.

The key difference lies in the related searches. With an island keyword, the related terms are usually completely unrelated to the original query. But with a cluster keyword, the related terms are all variations on the same basic question.

For example, the keyword “how to count steps without fitbit” would be an island keyword. The related searches are all about using a Fitbit, not about counting steps without one. That tells me this is a super niche query that probably won’t be worth my time.

On the other hand, the keyword “when is the grocery store least crowded” is a prime example of a cluster keyword. The related searches are all focused on the same basic question, just phrased differently. This suggests there’s real potential there, even though the search volume for the exact phrase is low.

Putting It All Together: My Approach to “Zero Search Volume” Keywords

So, what’s my approach to targeting those tricky low-volume keywords now? Here’s the step-by-step process I follow:

  1. Identify Cluster Keywords: When I come across a “zero search volume” keyword, I immediately check the related searches to see if it’s part of a larger cluster. If so, I make a note to target the whole cluster, not just the one specific phrase.

  2. Analyze the SERP: Next, I take a close look at the search results for that keyword. Are the top-ranking pages actually relevant and on-topic? Or are they kind of all over the place? This can be a good indicator of whether it’s a worthwhile keyword to target.

  3. Consider Search Intent: I also try to get a sense of what the searcher’s intent is. Is this a research query, a transactional query, or something else entirely? Matching my content to the user’s intent is crucial.

  4. Write Naturally: When I actually sit down to create content around these cluster keywords, I don’t try to force the exact phrases in everywhere. I just write naturally, using the various keyword variations organically throughout the piece.

  5. Monitor Performance: Of course, I always keep a close eye on how these “zero volume” keyword-targeted pieces perform. If they start to gain traction and drive meaningful traffic, I double down. If not, I reassess and try a different approach.

The beauty of this strategy is that it allows me to uncover pockets of search demand that my competitors are likely overlooking. Those ultra competitive keywords may seem impossible to rank for, but the “long tail” variations could be a path to success.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

At the end of the day, my experience has shown me that “zero search volume” doesn’t have to mean “zero potential.” In fact, those low-volume keywords can be a secret weapon – if you know how to wield them.

By identifying keyword clusters, understanding search intent, and writing naturally around those variations, you can tap into traffic and conversions that your competitors are missing. It’s like the old saying goes: a rising tide lifts all boats.

So the next time you come across a keyword with zero monthly searches, don’t write it off just yet. Take a closer look, do your research, and see if you can make it work for your business. You might just be surprised by the results.

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