We’ve all heard it when discussing search engine optimization (SEO) metrics, and many businesses have asked it when referring to traffic: “What is the search volume and is it enough?”

The answer is obviously two parts: a number and a response. The problem is that too many businesses and SEO companies treat search volume as if it were the winning ticket for the “SEO Super Lotto.”

What SEO firms and clients are looking for is a number that signals the keyword phrases in which to invest. The inevitable question becomes, “What search volume warrants an investment?”

In my opinion, there are no magical guidelines and no special numbers when referring to search volume. It is honestly impossible for anyone to tell you the expected merit of that phrase simply by looking at search volume. However, if we do a bit of critical thinking and look at some key factors, we can determine if a keyword’s search volume is high enough.

There are three things that need to be looked at to determine this:

1. Expected Conversion

I am not talking about the conversion rate numbers that come from months spent split testing and running surveys. I am referring to the number of people searching for a term who will eventually make a conversion on your site. This conversion is what brings in profit, sales, brand awareness or whatever you have determined as your online goal.

Let’s look at an example, using very generic numbers in order to determine whether a keyword phrase is expected to be profitable.

Search data tells us that the top-ranking site for a given search will receive up to 40 percent of all clicks. Some simple calculations show us that if a keyword phrase has 1,000 searches per month, then the top-ranking site for that phrase can expect to acquire up to 400 clicks.

Conservatively, we can estimate that 2.5 to 7.5 percent of those 400 searchers who clicked will complete an online conversion. This results in a range of 10 to 30 conversions per month.

Quick timeout: Conversions could be much higher or much lower than the numbers above. This is purely an example of how to determine the viability of a keyword phrase based on conversion and click-through rates (CTRs). I highly recommend finding a search marketing firm that explains expected conversions and conversion optimization while walking you through this type of process in order to set expectations.

Expected Conversion for a Number 1 Ranking for a Keyword Phrase:

(Search Volume x .40 CTR) x 2.5 = Expected Total Low End Conversions (ETLEC)

(Search Volume x .40 CTR) x 7.5 = Expected Total High End Conversions (ETHEC)

Once the expected conversion has been established, we can move on to the second metric.

2. Profitability

This is something that I would recommend businesses take a very active role in determining. You do not have to take all suggestions that an SEO firm provides. In fact, you can influence the direction they take, especially when it comes to meeting goals.

Determining profitability is actually very simple. All we need to do is take the 10 to 30 conversions a month and determine if they are enough to make a profit.

Quick timeout: For simplicity’s sake, I am using a situation where the keyword phrase we are looking at is the only one we are considering targeting. In a more real world scenario, you would run all, or at least any questionable keywords through the process of determining conversion, and then look at profitability.

Let’s assume that each conversion brings in $100 in revenue. In order to determine profitability, we simply have to determine if the $1,000 to $3,000 of revenue generated is greater than the cost to acquire it. Your cost may simply be a $750 monthly SEO contract or it may be a monthly contract plus the additional cost of manufacturing or shipping a product.


(ETLEC x revenue from conversions) – Acquisition Costs = Low Yield Profit

(ETHEC x revenue from conversions) – Acquisition Costs = High Yield Profit

The bottom line is this: If the potential revenue, based on conservative conversion rates, is greater than the cost to acquire that revenue, then you are on the right track with regards to keyword volume.

3. Viability

The final step to consider when looking at search terms and volumes is the viability of the volume. Is the volume trending up or down? Are the same searchers searching every month, or is there a new crop of searchers keying in this term?

What is actually being determined is whether or not the keyword in question is a long-term solution in terms of profitability. Keep in mind that targeted keyword phrases should be viewed as investments. It can take quite some time for keyword phrases to generate revenue, improve in rankings and convert searchers to leads. The last thing you want to do is target search terms that are not viable investments for the long haul.

Search volume does play an important role in SEO strategy, but there is no magic number that needs to be met. Companies with huge profit margins may be able to make use of low-volume, highly specific keywords, whereas small margin companies may need a large amount of volume to traffic their site for revenue to exceed cost.

By looking at expected conversion, profitability and viability of keyword phrases, businesses can decide which keywords to invest in with much more confidence.

So toss away the lotto ticket and make your SEO firm utilize their expertise, along with your knowledge, to correctly identify keyword targets.

Originally published Feb 17, 2012 1:00:52 AM, updated July 28 2017