Updated: Jun 30, 2021
This is NOT going to be an SEO post. I will NOT give you “5 guaranteed tips to grow your traffic to 500k monthly visits”.
No amount of tweaking meta-tags or messing with robots.txt will fix low search volume on your target keywords. The fact is sometimes you just happen to be selling something people don’t search for that often.
So what WILL this post be about? It will be about different strategies to change that in the long term or lessen the effect of it.
I’m not gonna lie, it sucks. Search of course isn’t the only marketing channel, but it’s a damn big one. 53% of all trackable website traffic comes from organic search, with another 15% coming from paid search. 91.75% of that comes from everyone’s favorite behemoth, Google.
It’s even common for investors to evaluate business ideas based on the search volumes of target keywords. So what exactly do you do when those volumes are lower than you’d like?
Solution 1: Question everything
I’m going to start with only 2 assumptions:
You have already done some keyword research. If you haven’t done this yet, go ahead and do that. If you’re not sure how, little googling will net you some pretty nifty guides on that, to be sure. If you don’t want to do that, drop me a message if you’d like me to help you with that.
The results were less than what you have hoped for.
What I’m not going to assume is that you did your keyword research right. I mean no offense by this, but we all make mistakes. Especially when entering a new market, it’s easy to start with certain assumptions about what you think people look for, even when the reality can be very different.
You might be focusing on a facet of your product your customers don’t perceive as the most valuable. The industry you’re targeting can also have specific vernaculars you’re not accustomed to yet.
For example, a couple of weeks back, I was doing keyword research for one translation tool. After initial research, I discovered that despite me thinking it’s the same thing, “subtitles” and “closed captions” have very different meanings and use-cases.
The best way to avoid (or remedy) a situation like this is to talk to your customers beforehand. So what should you ask then? Well, asking “what do you search for” rarely works from my experience, as people don’t really tend to remember.
When I did this at Nicereply, I found that the most helpful questions were simple open questions. Questions like “What problem does Nicereply solve for you?” and (my favorite) “How would you explain Nicereply to a colleague?”.
Write down the responses word for word and look for similarities between different customers.
For example, at the time of doing this user research, we were trying to position Nicereply as this abstract “Omni-channel customer experience management tool”.
It turned out that our customers only cared about the core survey features. As a result of that, our messaging also evolved towards a much-simplified message of “CSAT, NPS & CES surveys for support teams”.
But what if you’ve done your research properly, but the search volume still comes out low?
Solution 2: Go super-specific on long-tails
In case you missed your “SEO 101”, long-tail keywords are keywords composed of several (more than 3) words. A short-tail keyword might be “iPhone screen replacement” while a long-tail might be “iPhone 7 Plus screen replacement in Bratislava Slovakia”.
We can see several things here. Long-tails are longer (duh) and more specific. They’re searched less often. Lastly, I should probably upgrade my phone.
It’s the specific nature of these keywords that we can use to our advantage. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I’m going to say that ranking for many short-tail keywords is already next to impossible. But creating a landing page targeted at a specific long-tail can get you a good position in SERP relatively quickly. If you correctly match your offer to the long-tail's intent, you can expect a much higher conversion rate.
So what’s the catch? It’s a lot of work. The long-tails I worked with usually had up to 10 searches a month. Yes, combining hundreds of these long-tails can put together a solid volume, but that still means preparing tens, if not hundreds of landing pages. Make sure your team is up to the task before going down this route.
Solution 3: Move up in your funnel
As opposed to the previous strategy, this time we’re going broad, not specific.
Let’s start by taking a look at your customer journey first. If you don’t have one, check out my post about running a Customer Touchpoints Audit where I also touched on Customer Journey Mapping.
As you’re examining your customer journey, look at what your customers do BEFORE they’re aware of the problem (the very beginning of the Awareness stage). Try to identify other topics they might be interested in, do keyword research on those, and see if the numbers come up higher this time.
This strategy is commonly used in content marketing. You just can’t keep writing about the same thing forever, so to branch out, you start covering a wider variety of topics relevant to the same audience.
For example, fitness trainers also write about cooking, clothes, and other lifestyle-related topics relevant to their audience.
The goal here is to engage as many people as possible and convert them later down the road.
The downside is that this is a long-term strategy. Creating content takes time, and converting people whose initial intent was education and not purchase also takes significantly longer. Bottom line, don’t expect many direct conversions from this.
Solution 4: Educate your market
A couple of years back, I was having lunch with Juraj Holub from Slido. At the time, I was the one complaining about low traffic, and Juraj was the one patiently listening. At the end of my rant, he asked me a question that stuck with me for years. “Is the problem, that no one cares, or that the market needs more education on the subject?”
To be brutally honest, this won’t apply to most of you (it didn’t apply to me back then either), but it might help a few. Some of you might, in fact, be sitting on something new, innovative, and groundbreaking. For those so-called “Category creators” out there, it’s necessary to consider that the market may not be ready for you.
This means you can’t expect your customers to come to you. Instead, it’s going to be your job to go to them. How? You guessed it, via outbound.
I can’t tell you what exact mix of channels will work for you but prepare to spend a lot on learning. Make sure your marketing budget is up to the task. The great thing is that after a while of running successful outbound campaigns, you should start to see an uplift in your inbound as well. As you continue to educate your potential customers, the ratio of inbound to outbound may even flip, but don’t expect that to happen for a long time.
Solution 5: Pursue other channels
Sometimes there’s no fix because there’s nothing to fix. One of your most important responsibilities as a marketer is to match your brand with the correct channels. Sometimes search just isn’t a match.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some SEO to make your site easy to find. It just means that the people searching have probably already engaged with you elsewhere. And that’s fine.
There are plenty of businesses not dependant on search. In fact, the further you stray from the self-service model, the harder it is to make search as a channel work (at least in terms of direct conversions).
If you’re unsure what other channels to consider, I recommend reading Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers. It’s a great book full of examples of how other businesses used different channels. It also features a simple framework to help you choose which channels to test first.
Come to think of it, this point feels a bit like cheating. Then again, I did warn you this wasn’t going to be a post about getting more search traffic. I hope you’re not mad.
What to do next?
First, think really hard and decide whether you even want to pursue search as a channel.
If the answer is “yes”, try implementing one or more of the solutions suggested here. My suggestion is to go from the top to the bottom. That way you’ll start with the easiest, and what do you know...it might just work.
Lastly, keep in mind that while search is fantastic when it works, it can also be a massive pain in the ass to get it to work. Most of the SEO tips tend to be situational at best and total BS at worst. You can try to influence the algorithm, but you don’t really have control over it. People who promise you #1 SERP are full of s**t.
If you can get it to work, great. If not, never forget that it’s just one of many channels for you to choose from.
If you have any questions, or if you’d like me to help with your search or other channels, reach out to me at jakub.slamka [at] gmail.com. If you’d like to read more stuff by me in the future, I’d be happy if you joined my mailing list below.