Keyword Search Volume Explained: How Popular SEM Tools Calculate It

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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If you were to start a conversation with experienced SEO professionals, you’d probably hear them stress the importance of keyword search volume. And rightfully so. This crucial metric has to be very high on your priority list, whether you are creating a new website, orchestrating a PPC campaign, or looking to boost your keyword research strategy and drive more organic traffic to your existing website.

In today’s article, you’ll find everything you need to know about keyword search volume explained through real-world examples. We’ll focus primarily on SEO as we bring closer to you some of the most popular SEM tools and the way they calculate this metric.

Table of Contents
keyword search volume explained

Keyword search volume explained

Keyword search volume refers to the number (volume) of searches for a particular keyword in a given timeframe. In other words, this metric reveals how many times people searched online for a keyword of your interest in a timeframe you define.

SEM tools typically present marketers and SEO experts with an average search volume for a particular keyword over a particular period so they would have a general idea of that term’s competitiveness and volume as well as see how the term generates traffic over time.

There are two types of keywords:

  • Seasonal
  • Evergreen

Seasonal keywords are time-sensitive regarding their search volume. For example, people are more likely to search for “Christmas gifts” at that time of the year rather than in May.

Search volume for evergreen keywords stays steady over time. They are searched for consistently regardless of the timeline.

Note that a keyword may be evergreen in one region but seasonal in another.

Why is keyword search volume important?

Search engines are one of the key sources for attracting traffic to your website. This is why it is of utmost importance to target keywords with real search volume in your content. If you target keywords that no one is searching for, people will never come across your content, as simple as that. On the other hand, if the keywords you are targeting have an extremely high search volume, you will find it difficult to compete with large websites for high-ranking spots on search engine results pages.

Your PPC bidding strategy also benefits from this metric as high-volume commercial terms are usually more competitive and therefore more expensive.

How popular SEM tools calculate keyword search volume

Ok, now that we have the term keyword search volume explained, let’s talk about how you can get your hands on this data. Just a quick disclaimer before we start: 

Since we will be talking about SEM tools, we should probably mention that you can use Google Search Console to see the search volume of keywords you currently rank for. We’ve dedicated an entire article to how to use Google Search Console for keyword research, so check it out.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s dive in.


This competitive intelligence tool offers an abundance of useful data, including keyword search volume. We typed in winter coats as a keyword, and the picture below shows our results. You should know that we used free search. Subscribing to one of their plans will give you more robust functionality and in-depth data.

sem rush keyword research volume

As you can see, the tool presents you with an at-a-glance dashboard overview for our keyword. You can check the approximate average search volume as well as the cost per click (CPC) and competitiveness of the keyword. There is also a graph overview of how our query’s trend changes over time and relevant related and phrase match keywords.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Besides having one of the best SEO and search blogs in the industry, Moz also makes various tools for digital marketers and SEO experts alike. One of its best tools for SEO is certainly its Keyword Explorer. Again, we used their free plan and typed in winter coats.

moz keyword explorer

While the overall search volume is quite broad (30.3k – 70.8k), there are also many other useful data like Difficulty (Moz’s term for competitiveness), a list of relevant keywords they suggest for our query, and SERP analysis that includes Page Authority and Domain Authority scores.

Though it does offer fewer features than the previous two tools, Google Trends can still prove to be very valuable for evaluating keyword search volume as it approaches this data from quite an interesting perspective. Here you can find info on geographic popularity as well as growth and decline data for your query.

Another interesting category is related topics. It can be useful for finding branded terms related to those more generic keywords, and identifying what to add or remove from your negative keyword list. Again, our go-to keyword is winter coats.

The graph above shows how worldwide interest for our query changes over the period of 12 months. It can also be refined to display data for specific regions, so let’s see how our term performs in the United States.

Moving on, let’s explore related topics as well as evaluate the popularity of related search queries.

Although keyword search volume here gets explained through some pretty interesting data, we still didn’t get any info on the competitiveness of our search query. Unfortunately, that’s a major downside of Google Trends.

Google Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner is part of the Google Ads interface. This amazing tool offers plenty of useful data, especially to those conducting keyword research as part of paid search campaigns.

Above, you can see the tool’s way of displaying keyword search volume data for our go-to keyword for today – winter coats. The graph shows average monthly search volumes, and you can also set specific time frame parameters. Keyword Planner also provides keywords related to your query as well as ad group suggestions. If you hover your mouse over each column, you will also be presented with useful tool-tip figures. However, recent Google Ads interface changes allow this data to be shown only to users that run active Google Ads campaigns. In contrast, others get simplified versions of the data with no graphs or visual representations whatsoever.

Keyword Sheeter

Keyword Sheeter is a free tool that takes an approach somewhat different from the previous tools on our list – it takes the data from numerous Google autocomplete suggestions. All you need to do is enter each keyword in a separate line and click Sheet Keywords. Like our previous examples show, accessing keyword search volume data through different tools is best explained through an example, so here it is:

Once you click on the button, you’ll get a list of ideas which you can then export by clicking on the Export Data button at the bottom of the screen. As you scroll further down, you’ll come across a detailed keyword table.

For more detailed info, however, you’ll have to purchase a report. Different report options are available, with some of the most useful being Search Volume + CPC Priority Queue, Google Organic Difficulty Report, and Top 100 Google SERP Queue.

How to find monthly search volume?

Monthly search volume (MSV) indicates how many times a particular keyword is entered into search engines each month. This metric plays a major role for websites that generate a large portion of their traffic through organic search. By examining monthly search volume, you gain knowledge on which topics and keywords are currently trending so you can better plan your content strategy. Here is how to find and use MSV:

  • Use any keyword research tool – Some of these tools can be downloaded for free, while others may require a paid subscription. Keyword research tools such as those we previously mentioned allow you to check the popularity of particular keywords as well as the context in which they are used.
  • Enter your target keywords – Enter your content-related keywords to see the number of online searches for them as well as related keywords with high search volume. We suggest entering as many keyword ideas as you can come up with, including long-tail keywords. This will help you figure out which keywords to include in your content to reach your target audience better.
  • Incorporate the relevant keywords – Once you get the data for a particular keyword, it is important to use it wisely. Create content that your website visitors will find valuable and include keywords relevant to your business and have a higher monthly search volume. Organically incorporating keywords into your content gives your website a better chance to rank high on SERP.

Which Keyword Search Volumes Are Best to Target?

Although often overlooked in favor of metrics such as CTR and CPC, keyword search volume is one of the most important data to both SEO and PPC professionals. Keyword search volume is perhaps best explained as a cornerstone upon which all your SEO and PPC efforts should be built. That being said, one question imposes itself: How to know which range of volumes to target? The following section of our article will be all about answering this question in an effort to have keyword search volume explained in the most comprehensive way possible.

You need to balance volume with competition

There are two primary factors to consider when determining which search volume to target:

  • Volume
  • Competitiveness

The higher the volume of a keyword, the more potential exposure or impression share it has. However, such a keyword is likely to be highly competitive. This means it will be much harder for you to rank for these kinds of terms since, in most cases, you will be competing against large and well-established websites and publishers. You can also expect a higher CPC when bidding on these terms in your PPC campaign.

Your situation and goals should determine the type of keywords to target. Newly established websites usually start by targeting low-volume, low-competition keywords in an effort to build domain authority. On the other hand, well-established websites that enjoy strong organic traffic rarely shy away from targeting more competitive keywords to maintain their edge.

What is domain authority, and how does it affect your targeting strategy?

From your location, the nature of your business, to your content quality, there are so many factors that affect how your website ranks on search engines. However, one of the most important factors is domain authority. 

While domain authority is a general SEO concept, it is also a metric defined by people at Moz. This metric evaluates the strength of a website or domain through about 40 ranking signals like the number of links to your domain, and it is presented on a logarithmic scale of 0 to 100. The higher the score your website gets, the stronger it is.

One of the most important signals that Moz examines is a website’s link profile. It is noteworthy to highlight that Moz’s data is strongly supported by independent research from the world’s leading SEOs. They found a correlation between strong link profiles and higher organic rankings.

Both the number of external links to your website and the quality of those links impact your link profile. This means that an external link from a well-known domain is worth much more than a link from a small blog.

Which keywords to target?

Well, it depends. That’s how things are in the world of online marketing. In the end, the keywords you choose to target will be affected by your domain authority, the goals you had set before yourself, as well as the competitiveness and the search volume of the keyword in question.

However, there are still certain guidelines you can follow in your SEO endeavors. As we have previously mentioned, if you have a newer website or one with lower domain authority, we suggest you target lower-volume, lower-competition keywords until you attract a significant number of external links and boost your domain authority. Once you manage to do that, you are bound to become more confident in the way you target keywords. However, always keep in mind that the keywords you are targeting should be relevant to your business and your website in general.

We know this is all fine and dandy, but what happens if you set your heart to those highly competitive keywords with tremendous search term volume? Going after these keywords presents a huge challenge even for seasoned SEO veterans. On the one hand, these keywords may be extremely valuable to your business, and they may bring huge amounts of organic traffic (a high number of searches) to your website and an abundance of external links. On the other hand, so many businesses are chasing after these specific keywords for the same reasons you are, and the keyword difficulty to rank for them is severe. So, how do you stand out among that intense competition and manage to grab that high-ranking spot? By creating amazing content.

High-quality content: Your ticket to high organic rankings

Although optimizing your content for maximum discoverability is extremely important, a sound content strategy rests on creating the most amazing content regardless of the search volume or competitiveness of the keyword you aim to rank for. Although we are not exactly sure how Google’s algorithms work, we know that quality and relevance are the most important signals for high organic rankings.

Perhaps we could draw some conclusions from how PPC campaigns work. As the figure below shows, Google Ads accounts with higher Quality Scores usually surpass the expected click-through rate for a given search query.

The fact that an ad attracts more clicks than its competition tells Google that the ad in question is strong. The same goes for SEO and content. If your content achieves a CTR that is higher than average, Google will see it as relevant and of high quality and therefore award you with rankings that provide greater visibility. With truly exceptional content, even keywords with high search volume and competitiveness are well within your reach.

Final thoughts

You mustn’t allow your SEO efforts to become a guessing game. We hope that this article has given you enough tools and resources to help guide your keyword choices and improve your search engine optimization strategy. Before we part for the day, here is another piece of advice: Always revisit your keywords. The SEO world is an ever-changing one, and search engine algorithms are constantly evolving. This is why you need to regularly check on your keywords to make sure they are still performing as they should.


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