How to Estimate Keyword Traffic without PPC (or Google is a Liar)

How many times have you found a great keyword with a keyword tool, a keyword that is supposed to get tons of traffic and has little competition, but once getting ranked for it you’ve got little to no traffic?

Chances are that happened to you once or twice. It has happened to me. A classic example is the keyword “internet marketing tools”. This baby should get 246,000 monthly searches on exact match according to Google’s Keyword Tool. That means even at a 1% CTR being at the bottom of page 1 you should get about 82 visits per day. That looks like a great keyword and with a relatively low competition too.

Well, guess who is ranking on the first page for it and how much traffic he gets? I’m not gonna point fingers but that keyword gets 1 or 2 visits from the bottom of the first page on Google. Now, of course ranking at #1 spot for this keyword would get some more traffic and perhaps it would pay off… perhaps. But the point is, it’s not nearly as advertised!

So what to do to avoid these situations? As I find, most keywords have a very inaccurate traffic data in Google’s Keyword Tool and all tools based on it, so it’s a big deal.

One way is definitely to use PPC. That’s the surest way to know how much traffic there really is. But who wants to spend money and fiddle with the mean Adwords just to get some estimates? A much faster yet pretty accurate way is to use the Google Insights for Search.

It’s amazing but what Google breaks, Google fixes. I don’t know why their traffic estimates are so off, but the Insights for Search tool does a pretty good job at comparing keywords. All you need is one keyword that you already rank for and know how much traffic it gets. With the latest Webmaster Tools improvement you can even factor in the CTR rate and get even more accurate estimates.

All you have to do is compare two keywords and calculate the approximate traffic volume. If you don’t have a known keyword, you can compare it to its broader version. For example comparing “internet marketing tools” to “internet marketing” gives very interesting results that are very inconsistent to those of the keyword tool but are exactly what they are in reality.

Other “interesting” results include keywords such as “make money online” that gets 70-80k monthly searches, and not 368k as advertised and the list goes on. As I said, if you check most keywords get 2-5+ times less traffic in reality (and that’s comparing exact match vs phrase match as the Insights for Search Tool doesn’t have a match options!). That especially applies to big high traffic keywords, which aren’t so big after all.

So when researching keywords, always use the Insights for Search tool and avoid wasting your time trying to get traffic that doesn’t exist.

13 thoughts on “How to Estimate Keyword Traffic without PPC (or Google is a Liar)”

  1. Yep, I have definitely had that happen to me before. I’ve thought I scored big many times only to find out it wasn’t even close. Thanks for the tip on Insights for Search. I don’t think I have run across that before and if I have I forgot about it, so either way this post was very helpful. I retweeted it also.

  2. Thanks for the info on Insights. I like the new Google interface on WordTracker and SpyFu is also a useful tool

  3. Yep, I have definitely had that happen to me before. I’ve thought I scored big many times only to find out it wasn’t even close. Thanks for the tip on Insights for Search. I don’t think I have run across that before and if I have I forgot about it, so either way this post was very helpful. I retweeted it also.

  4. Thanks for the validation. I am a noob at IM and I’ve seen already that the numbers are off, way off. I had a number one spot as a goal that google claimed got about 90 clicks a day, but once I got there it was only about 1-2. I’ll check out the goog insights.

    Thank you

  5. Thanks for the insight, I’ve just spetn 6 months getting to top spot on page one, to find I got a couple of click a day.

  6. HI
    Just wanted to point out that CTR is affected by more than just position. It is also affected by title tag and description, so someone may read those, and decide not the click through. That might not be the case for your particular page, but just wanted to make the general point.

    BTW, right now you are at #15 for the same keyword phrase 🙁
    as of July 25, 2010.

  7. Hi,

    For sure, there are many factors to CTR.

    You mean “internet marketing tools”? It has a life of its own and I stopped interfering even before this post. I think it was #2 at one time, probably will get back to similar positions sooner than later. Not much traffic from there anyway, and it doesn’t convert that well either (not that I’m trying much).

  8. Imho, trying to get clicks on dilute keywords like “making money online” or “internet marketing tools” would be a waste of time and SEO money if your intent was to make a sale. The competition is ridiculous, the search traffic grossly overestimated, the CTR bad, and actual conversions to sales on such untargeted keywords would most likely be nil. The best thing to be said about trying to get good search results positions for these keywords is that you’d probably have lots of company for your misery, since no one else would be making any sales either.
    As far as PPC goes, I can’t imagine why anyone would actually pay for clicks from these keywords either. The prices seem to be insane, especially if your goal isn’t to make a quick sale. It seems to me that there are lots of cheaper and much more effective ways to build a list. I’m just wondering why anyone would bother to compete for these keywords anyways.. Am I missing something?

  9. Well, there are probably two reasons, a) their value per customer is much higher than they pay per click, or b) they don’t know what they’re doing.

  10. Hmmm. I guess so.. I’d have thought probably a little of each, with the majority consisting of the latter. I still can’t quite see the value, though..

    To value a customer that much you’d have to eventually earn a decent return.. but how? Maybe a good squeeze page could get a few of them onto your list. Maybe use a free “branded” giveaway, or send them to a site full of related affiliate-linked products? But even with the “quality” discount for good CTR, how much could you ever afford to pay for broad clicks that might only convert 2% at best? Could any CPA offers justify those prices? I’m clutching at straws here, aren’t I?

    Imho, broad PPC keywords are generally pure Evil. They don’t make money. Perhaps it’s just the competition among a small group who don’t know what they’re doing that bids up their prices, and whenever one goes broke and wises up, another steps in to fuel the lunacy. Maybe there isn’t that much overall competition (from those who know what they’re doing) because the ROI is so bad!

  11. It’s been a while since I’ve written this post and Google’s traffic estimates are much more accurate now. Still it’s always a good thing to make sure.

    As for PPC, you wouldn’t test broad keywords, you would test exact match keywords. Also, if all you want to test is how much traffic it gets, you don’t need to get many clicks, you just need to see the impressions. That can take 1-2 clicks and you’re out, and sometimes you might even get away with 0 clicks.

    Since you’re there, though, it’s good to test if the traffic converts too. That will cost you more but you’d get invaluable data there. If it doesn’t convert, you’d know not to waste your resources pursuing the keyword in SEO. And if you know your value per customer and it brings in a positive ROI, you might as well keep running the campaign.

  12. I have a theory on this. I think the estimated traffic is for all google search engines (Google USA, Google Canada, Google Australia). You’ll often find that you rank #1 in the USA engine but not well in the others. You would think though that the actual visits would still be much higher though. I have a keyword where my estimated visits should be 7080 a month, but instead its 68. This is factoring in CTR etc. And of course, this is how I found your article, trying to figure out why the big difference in actual visits.


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