Whether you are starting up a new AdWords campaign, expanding on a current campaign using PPC Hero’s keyword research best practices, practicing a long-tail keyword strategy, or working on a B2B account, I think we can safely assume Google has branded some of your best keyword phrases with the low search volume keyword status.  Alas, all of the hard work put into a targeted, thorough, and proper keyword strategy, but AdWords questions the relevancy of these words due to the historical search volume.

Most days, when managing my pay per click accounts, low search volume isn’t an area that I have to worry too much about. However, after a few months working with some B2B clients in a very niche consumer market, I found that there is a lot to learn about the seemingly innocent low search volume keyword status. This is a post to remind us what a low search volume really means and how too many of these phrases can start to impact an account.

What is a low search volume keyword?

Google defines low search volume keywords as keywords that generate very little search traffic on Google properties. As a result, keywords labeled with the low search volume status are indefinitely suspended.

Really?! Suspended just like that?!

Well yes and no. In this suspended state, the keyword is still able to accumulate impressions at any time, as long as there is an increase in relevant search traffic. If it helps, consider it like this: All of your low search volume keywords are hanging out in purgatory.

Actually, although Google has temporarily branded a keyword with a low search volume status, it does not necessarily mean Google will forget about the word all the time. From my experience, even with the low search volume status, keywords are still able to occasionally make the ad auction and accumulated a small total of impressions.

Why is there a low search volume status?

While some may argue that Google’s greed is the reason for the 2008 introduction of low search volume status keywords (in other words, Google wants to force advertisers to bid on more competitive keywords, rather than these less expensive phrases), I tend to think that Google is probably truthful in their need for the low search volume label:

“A keyword can have low search volume for a variety of reasons, including a lack of relevance to users’ searches because of keyword obscurity, specificity, or a significant misspelling of the intended keyword. Keeping these keywords out of the ad auction helps AdWords serve ads more efficiently and reduces the volume of keywords on our system. Before stopping a keyword from joining the auction, our system evaluates the number of searches on a given keyword worldwide over the past twelve months. It takes very little search traffic for a keyword to be unsuspended, and for business practice reasons we don’t disclose our keyword traffic thresholds. Our system checks and updates this status once per week.”

Though business greed is an easy motive to point to, let’s be honest with ourselves:  if managed correctly, then low search volume keywords will not put any advertiser at a disadvantage. Which brings me to my next point…

How to manage low search volume keywords?

Google provides two answers to the low search volume dilemma: Don’t do anything and find additional keywords. Of course, these are valid solutions. It may be best to leave your keywords alone and hope that in the next few weeks or months, people will start to search with them. For example, maybe your product just needs a little branding. Alternatively, find more keywords that are not as long-tail that aren’t as specific to your industry’s services.

However, there are many times when advertisers should get creative and invest in low search volume keywords just as there are times when you need to eliminate the terms from your account.

1) Is their a pending product release? If your company is about to release a new product and the search volume will soon increase on your low search volume terms, then leave them in there. My suggestion would be to monitor these closely and make sure that your new product campaign and ad groups are performing as you have predicted. Keep an eye out for irrelevant traffic and keywords with impressions, but have 0% click-through rates.

2) Is it a competitor product? Similarly, are your keywords in preparation for a product your competitor is about to release to the market? Of course you won’t want to miss out on the opportunity for this new ad space, but again, be alert and follow the rules presented above.

3)   Is it a long tail, industry targeted keyword? Pick these words wisely. Certainly these terms can hit a very targeted audience, but be careful for carrying around too much dead weight in the account. Don’t be afraid to cut these words first if your account begins to get unmanageable.

4)   Is the term going to trend for any reason? Any chance for a big news event in the coming weeks? Temporary spikes in search happen all the time and there is nothing wrong with being a few steps ahead of Google. Take moments like this as an opportunity, but manage the performance closely as traffic can be unpredictable.

5)   Is it a seasonal term? For example, holiday specific terms can have the tendency to perform sporadically in search volume with predictable peak times during the year. Be aware of those terms that can underperform (especially in CTR) during the off-season.

6)   What is the current match type? Phrase or exact match terms not working? Maybe the broad match of the term will get enough traffic.

Final Concerns

  • Be weary of the power in numbers – Low search volume keywords won’t hurt your account quality score, unless you have a significant amount of keywords accruing small impressions with dismal CTR. If this is the case, it is time to do some house cleaning.
  • Reduce large ad groups – If possible keep the ad groups manageable and separate low search volume phrases from eligible ad auction keywords. With this strategy, you will be able to manage your low search volume keywords from the ad group level if needed.
  • Keep the account manageable – While I love to get a conversion from a very specific, long tail keyword, keep your account organized and under control. Cut keywords down you start to feel overwhelmed.
  • Make bids competitive – Last, but not least, give your low search volume keywords a chance to display in the ad auction. You may be thrown into an ad auction with competitors so don’t bid so casually on your low search volume keywords that you lose out in ad position when it is needed most.

And there you have it: The why, what, and how on low search volume keywords.  I hope you can pull a few words of wisdom from the post and reorganize your accounts for optimal performance when dealing with low search volume. If nothing else, I hope that you at least give this simple little keyword descriptor a little more attention the next time you are optimizing your account.