Keyword volume actually doesn't matter

PLUS: How NerdWallet spends $48M/yr on a single piece of content

Hellooooo content connoisseurs!

It’s your friendly neighborhood content guy.

Good issue this week, and if I was going to guess, I’d bet there were one or two ideas in here that might upend some long-held misconceptions. So watch out, and try not to grab your pitchforks ‘til you’ve read the whole thing.

Here’s what we’re going to cover (5-minute read):

  • Main course: Why keyword volume actually doesn’t matter (& what does)

  • Snack: Revealing the landing page that NerdWallet spends $48M/yr on

  • Morsels: Headlines from Neil Patel, CMI, & others dope content dorks

Let’s dig in.

Main course: Why keyword volume actually doesn’t matter (& what does)

Do you guys remember SEO 101?

If you got the same spiel as everyone else, the first thing you learned probably went something like this:

“…Blah blah blah keywords are important blah blah blah…”

And one of the first things you learn about keywords is that search volume is important. Search volume is the number of people who search for a given keyword each month. 

We’re taught that its important because, as content marketers, we’re generally trying to get the most eyeballs on our content as possible, so it stands to reason — and this is what we’re taught — that we need to go after the largest keywords we can.

If we end up ranking well for high-volume keywords, we get traffic, sling products, indoctrinate our users into a cult of rabid buyers, get rich, and retire laughing all the way down to the bottom of our mimosa.

That’s how the myth goes, anyway. Here’s the problem… 

If we publish a piece of content, and that content ends up ranking well, it doesn’t just rank for one keyword.

A winning blog post will rank for hundreds — or even thousands — of keywords.

Let’s look at an example.

This is The Wire Cutter’s page titled “The 8 Best Water Bottles”. 

The primary keyword they’re targeting is “best water bottle.” Spoiler alert: it’s a juicy keyword. Its search volume is ~25,000 searches per month.

Going by conventional thinking, we’d expect the page that wins that keyword to generate a percentage of that search volume. Right?

…now here’s how much traffic that page actually gets…

It’s generating an estimated 109,000 organic visits per month. More than quadruple the search volume of its primary keyword.


Because it also ranks for 38,900 other keywords. Look.

Crazy right?

So, let’s take a step back — allllll the way back in time to before that blog post was written, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and unwitting consumers were drinking out of paper cups because no one had told them which water bottle to buy yet.

Imagine we were working at The Wire Cutter, and it was our job to figure out the potential ROI of content we wanted to produce.

And imagine this keyword comes across our desk: “best water bottle”.

We could look at the keyword volume of that keyword, but we now know that it’s a relatively limited, arbitrary way of assessing upside.

We know that we need to stop thinking about single keywords and start thinking about entire topics.

How do we do that?

We instead look at traffic potential.

Ahrefs actually has a metric called “traffic potential,” and it’s designed to do a lot of what we’re discussing here: to provide a baseline estimate for how much actual organic traffic is available for a given keyword.

But it’s relatively unsophisticated. It’s not even a calculation. Ahref’s “traffic potential” metric is just the estimated traffic of the highest-traffic page ranking in the top 10 for a given keyword (they don’t count homepages).

It is a better approximation of the upside of a given keyword than keyword volume, but it still doesn’t give us the complete picture.

Luckily, it’s not all that much work to figure it out for ourselves. All we have to do is crack open the SERP.

Do do that, we can use any SEO tool (I like Ahrefs), plug in the primary keyword, and look at the SERP for that keyword.

Here’s the SERP for “best water bottle”:

Here are some things we can look for:

  • How much traffic do the highest pages get? This gives us a ceiling.

  • How much traffic do the lowest pages get? This gives us a “floor” as long as we can still manage to rank on p.1 of Google.

  • What’s the domain rating of these pages? Ideally, we see one or two low-authority sites doing well, which signals opportunity.

  • What’s the URL rating of these pages? We want to see some low numbers here, too, which means we can compete.

  • How many keywords do these pages rank for. More is better. The more keywords are available in a topic, the easier it is to capture at least some of the market share.

All of these together can be considered to estimate traffic potential.

So stop worrying about keyword volume.

It’s arbitrary. Any single keyword is usually a tiny, tiny piece of most topics.

Instead, learn to understand traffic potential.

How to apply this today to generate some quick wins:

  • Add a “Traffic Potential” column to your content calendar

  • Calculate the upside for a few of your keywords

  • Reprioritize content based on traffic potential

  • Note any major discrepancies between volume and traffic potential (chances are it’s a trend in your industry)

Snack: Revealing the page NerdWallet spends $48M/yr on

Okay, check out this crazy sh*t.

We all know NerdWallet by now, right? Gigantic website. Finance content. Retirement, mortgages, that kind of thing.

It was founded in 2009 by a couple of fellow nerds, Tim Chen and Jacob Gibson, with $800 and has grown into one of the most profitable affiliate sites ever created.

They’re an affiliate site, which means they make commissions when their readers click links & buy products.

I was looking through their data the other day — honestly because I hadn’t looked at them in a while, and I wanted to see how big they’d gotten.

On the organic side, I wasn’t super surprised. They’re still absolutely destroying, generating something like 26 million organic visits per month. Astonishing, but not surprising.

And then I started wondering whether or not they were doing any paid advertising.

Most affiliate sites who cut their teeth in the trenches of the golden days (or wild west, depending on how you experienced it) of SEO — those who survived, anyway — often don’t spend money to acquire traffic. Their traffic is free, so why would they?

The Wire Cutter, from our example above, spends exactly $0 on Google ads, for example.

So, on a whim, I took at look through NerdWallet’s paid data.

And what I saw almost gave me an ulcer…

First look at this page (it’s a NerdWallet page on car insurance).

Note how normal it looks. It’s literally just a blog post w/ a simple, minimalistic form inviting people to type in their zip code to get car insurance rates.

That’s it.

So you can imagine my shock when I saw that they spend an estimated $4.2 million per month running Google ads to that page.

They’re spending $4.2 million to generate 388k traffic from 529 ads across 1,095 keywords. For one page.

It’s not all that nuts to see those kinds of numbers on a landing page, but almost always, landing pages that attract that much ad spend actually sell something.

This might be the most arbitrage I’ve ever seen on a single affiliate or lead gen offer.

If you’re wondering what the second biggest page on that list is — the one they’re spending $2M/mo on — it’s this page about 0%-interest credit cards.

It’s a different kind of landing page — all tables, very little text content — but it’s similarly minimal, and it’s clearly performing well or they wouldn’t be chucking Benjamins at it.

Cool, cool example of simple landing pages converting like crazy.

Here’s how to put this into play in your own business (even SaaS):

  • Fire up a handful of new landing pages

    • Make them minimal

    • Make them short

    • Make them ultra-tactical

  • Spend some money to test them

*Bonus angle: make a “comparison” landing page with you and your competitors. Be honest, but brag. Make it look like they all have buttons you can click to navigate to the offers, but make your button the only one that works. Careful, might be against ad platform rules, but could be a good test. Just remove the extra buttons if needed.

Morsels: Content marketing news & headlines

  • “Audiences Don’t Care If AI Created Your Brand’s Content” (CMI)

  • “The HubSpot Blog's 2023 Marketing Strategy & Trends Report” (Hubspot)

  • “Twitter’s Google Rankings Plummet Following Actions By Elon Musk” (SEJ)

  • “Targeting Your Competitors’ Audiences on YouTube” (SME)

  • “How Marketers Are Spending Their Money in 2023” (Neil Patel)

  • “Diversify Your Content Strategy” (Moz)

  • “Don’t Let Economic Predictions Stop Your Marketing in the Months Ahead” (CMI)

  • “Crayola extends content strategy to Pinterest, TikTok following strong YouTube results” (Marketing Dive)

  • “The Top Types of AI-Generated Content in Marketing” (Hubspot)

  • “How to Do a Competitive Analysis the Right Way” (C&C)

That’s the issue.

Go forth and conquer.



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