Keyword research is an essential component of any search engine optimization strategy. While this is true for most websites, it becomes even more critical when trying to rank for local keyword searches. This post will cover everything you need concerning local keyword research and how to use those insights in your SEO campaigns.
We’ll also discuss the differences in how keywords work on local and national searches.
Local SEO is a game of inches and one-ups. Whoever does proper keyword research and produces quality content fitting the searcher's intent will increase the odds of successful rankings.
If we imagine that your website is a car, then keywords are the steering wheel. They help you maintain direction and allow you to reach your destination safely and securely.
Local keyword research is essential to optimizing your site for search engines. To ensure that your site appears in the search results, you must ensure that it uses the appropriate keywords on each page of your website. Local keyword research allows you to do that effectively.
There are many different types of local searches, but they all have one thing in common: they are based on geographic location. A local search will return results within a specific distance from the location of the person who is searching whether it’s where they live or work.
Along with other factors, keywords help Google's algorithm determine the location of your business and give you the ability to rank for terms and phrases that your local clients would search for when looking for the products or services you provide.
Finding what people in your area are searching for online is one benefit of local keyword research.
Local keyword research is a process that helps you find the most effective keywords for your business. It involves finding the keywords your customers are searching for and then using those keywords to optimize your website.
For example, a plumbing site would likely have a few common words.
One may think that’s enough keywords on a local business site's homepage for Google to understand that business. But it’s not. There’s more to keywords for local companies than meets the eye.
Let’s imagine you have a water pipe burst at 8 PM on a Friday. What do you search for to get help? Would it be “emergency plumber”, “after-hours plumber [YOUR LOCATION], or a location request such as “emergency plumber near me”?
Searches for “busted water pipe, who do I call?” isn’t that far-fetched. Most would be shocked by the number of variations of keywords people search for when looking for local products and services due to differences in the way people talk from one culture to another.
Proper keyword research for a local business finds the hidden things people search for that convert them into customers and clients, often with little to no competition. Other great examples are leaking or broken water heaters, faucets, sinks, drains, garbage disposals, and much more.
The possibilities are endless based on your potential clients' needs and desires.
Some needs and desires of your potential clients are apparent, while others are not clear without digging and understanding keyword intent.
Keyword or search intent is the purpose behind the user's search or the context of the words or phrases. The concept is based on the structure and meaning behind the keywords used to solve any problem the client may have.
Let me give you an example of keyword intent. We reached out to Kyle Newton, who used to own an e-cigarette e-commerce site and holds multiple patents within that industry.
They had four main keywords to deal with. These are the top-level keywords for an industry with a large national base.
These are the four main keywords:
The top two keywords have the most search volume. The other two have less search traffic, but not a huge difference. Here’s what we learned.
The first two keywords converted close to 2%. The latter two keywords converted at +4%.
The primary phrase was the first search term used by people who had just learned about them and completed a search on Google. The other times with the keyword “E-cigarette” and the plural form were people who’ve done the research and picked up on the use of slang created and used by fans in online communities and forums.
They converted at over twice the rate of the leading name of the product in general because they were more educated on the product and further along in the buying cycle.
Google uses keywords to determine which websites are relevant to users' search queries. If someone types in "ice cream," Google will look at all the websites that have used that term in their content and rank them based on how well they match up with the query.
The more specific your keyword is to what people are searching for (not just "ice cream," but "best ice cream shops in San Francisco"), the higher up on the results page your site will be ranked. This can help increase traffic, leads, and sales for your business!
That’s the basics. Let’s break that basic information down and see where it leads us.
Local keywords work like national keywords; they simply identify a specific retail location or service area based on the business location.
If you search for plumbers in Boston, the odds are that you will repeatedly see two words in bold in the search results.
The words or phrases in the search above are from words in the meta description or the general content of the ranking page on the site for that specific search query.
The beauty is you can have hundreds of keywords on a page depending on the length of the content, but not a great strategy. A page or post for each service on your local website will increase your odds of ranking and converting the visitor into a customer.
Let’s look at other keywords for local results. This time, we’ll experiment with keywords related to restaurants.
Important tip: If you only target the top searched keywords locally, you will throw away 80% of your potential traffic, clients, and revenues. Let’s examine the screenshot below for more insight. Hold tight, and you’ll see this in action below.
There are several key points we need to cover from the screenshot above. Let's address them individually.
Number 1 shows us a related keyword that is a product offered and one of the hidden keywords a restaurant may miss doing keyword research.
Number 2 shows the word “Baja” in bold. In this case, it’s part of the company name of a specific restaurant in Nashville that makes Mexican food.
Most would consider this odd, but there is a logical reason for this result given the search query. This is where local results are set apart from national or international search results.
The company Baja Burrito is well known, and reviews and posts on their GMB are associated with fish tacos in Nashville.
There are other reasons, but this should give some insight into how Google connects related and primary keywords based on the location of the business or service.
The screenshot above shows more exciting information. What we covered above is now validated by Google with their information placard. Baja is a related term.
Keep in mind that Baja is only related to this company in a specific city. With local search, associated terms may be location-specific.
Looking at the bottom left, we see a “People Also Ask” section that gives us other related search terms that people actively search for. There are a few “hidden” keywords hiding in plain sight.
Common sense would tell us that “tacos in Nashville” is the top keyword concerning tacos in Nashville and addresses all types of tacos.
Let’s pull out a trusty keyword research tool and see what we can find with the keyword “fish tacos.”
There were over 50 variations of tacos. Let’s take a look at a few of the results.
Now we have slaw, keto, grilled, and near me. This shows possibilities with fish tacos. But what else did the keyword tool return to us?
There are still 49 variations of different tacos. There were close to 130 before culling them for brevity. Take any keywords from the list, search them and look at the bolded words in search results, then open the placards as shown above and investigate.
You’ll be surprised by the results if you are new to keyword research.
National keywords work just as local keywords minus the local identifiers. This could be a city or county name in conjunction with the targeted keywords.
Then again, you could use a national search term and rank locally based on the business's geo-location.
A national keyword may return results from a local business if it has content that fits the search query and is searched from within the area the company serves.
Here’s an example. Suppose you own a mold remediation company and you have an article on ozone generators (sometimes used in the mold remediation process). In that case, people in your local area will most likely see your site ranking well when searched. It’s essential to have a comprehensive content marketing strategy on local sites.
There are many options when planning a PPC campaign with local keywords. Below are a few key points that should bring PPC and keywords into perspective.
With partial and broad match keywords, you could pay for hundreds of unrelated keyword clicks that will never convert. This is why negative keyword lists are developed. You can remove specific words and phrases as they show up. “Lysol” and “mildew” are related keywords in this example.
With partial or broad matches, you will likely end up paying for clicks that include your competitors' company names, which will not convert as a general rule.
The reason PPC was included was to point out that Google's Keyword planner was created for PPC, which is completely different from organic rankings. This is why keyword tools are limited in most cases: most of them are designed for PPC, not organic SEO.
We’ll dig deeper into this in the keyword tool section below.
Now that we’re more familiar with keywords and how they work in organic search results, let’s learn about seed keywords and how to find, classify and identify them as exact, partial, or related keywords.
Seed keywords would be more at home in the exact match category. They are the most easily found for local sites via keyword tools. The best place to start is documenting what services you offer and accounting for the difference in language between professionals, workers, and the general public. This will make your time spent on keyword tools more effective.
Here’s an example of differences in language between the public, professionals, and workers.
“Drywall” is a professional and public phrase, but the people who do the actual work use the word “sheetrock” or simply “rock.” Ask a drywall installer (or “drywall hanger”) where they’re headed in the morning, and they are likely to reply “I’m going to hang rock all day”.
Drywall compound is lovingly referred to as “mud” by finishers. Which version should you use as a drywall installation and finishing company when you’re talking to potential customers?
Some keywords should be discarded. The general public is a much larger group compared to installers and finishers, so unless you’re targeting those people specifically, you should avoid keywords that only they would know.
However, if you are selling drywall tools, you should target the lingo-related keywords installers use in your content.
If you serve Mexican food, you should use “Mexican restaurant” on the homepage in various locations, but do you serve tacos and burritos? Do you have shrimp burritos or just shrimp tacos?
Your menu as a restaurant will provide most of the keywords you’ll need to bring in untold numbers of customers.
But, what else do you offer?
Do you offer catering, a luxury-based dining experience, or a casual dining experience?
If you’re a roofing company, you need to consider the products and brands you offer.
For brands you could use:
Then we need to address the types of materials
Add in services.
Add in the locations you serve. If you serve multiple cities, it’s best to have a corresponding page for each city. For multi-location validation, ensure your Google Business Profile (formerly GMB) is up to date and active for each location you intend to build a location page.
Once you have this list, sit back and imagine the different keyword possibilities when combining keywords from each category and write them down in a notepad or a spreadsheet for later use. An example of a combination: GAF asphalt shingle roof replacement.
Other than doing cursory research as we’ve done above in small steps, this is another similar, yet powerful tactic. Welcome to the wonderful world of keyword spying.
Competitor research is fairly simple when it comes to keyword research. Your better-performing sites give you a lot of insight into the keywords you’re looking for. Digging through established authority sites in local areas and their social media profiles is a literal keyword gold mine. Let’s cover a few options below and see where it leads us.
To start this process, let’s search for a “plumber in Houston” and find an authority site to investigate. Always do your cursory research from a major metro. Your better sites exist in these cities because they must have their site as close to perfect as possible to rank well.
Here is our first glimpse at the returned search results.
This looks promising, let’s dig into this site and investigate the inner workings of a local authority site for keywords.
These lists of services link to their respective service pages, and this is just services for residential plumbing. In other words, they have a keyword-optimized service page for dozens of residential plumbing services offered.
Gather a list of all services and move to a different major metro and repeat the process again. Do this in 4 to 10 major metros and you should have an extensive list of services for plumbers.
Congratulations! You have developed a nice list of pages and services that you can use to properly structure your site for maximum market saturation.
Let's choose a random service from the list on this site and see how it’s performing in maps and organic search results.
You can see that their service page for gas leak detection in Houston does a pretty good job of ranking well.
Let’s see how many keyword occurrences are in the right locations on the page that makes these rankings possible. This information shows you the most essential locations of keywords on any given page or post on a website or blog.
The main keyword is in the page's title, URL, Meta Description, and H1 tag. These are the 4 places you need your primary keywords. Here’s a list of steps to optimize your pages and posts for SEO once keyword research is complete.
If you look at their organic listing highlighted above, you see “Gas Leak Detection in Houston - Nick’s Plumbing” The displayed meta description also has the same phrase. Let’s look at the service page.
The bonus is they also have a video embedded, providing an option for people who thrive on auditory and visuals as a learning tool.
Now let's move on to the written content.
The phrase “gas leak detection in Houston” is on the page 4 times in the content alone, but notice the arrows. They added an extra keyword at the end of two of them. That is a strong hint that these words need to be in the content on any local plumbing site. Add “experts” and “testing” to your keyword list.
What other phrases or words might you need to add to your list based on that content? Follow the steps we’ve taken here on every service page on the sites you investigate.
Almost all modern keyword tools get their data from Google’s keyword tool, and they’re cumbersome and structured incorrectly to use for organic search results. It’s not because of poor programming, it’s because Google's keyword planner was not designed for organic search.
How to find local keywords using the Google Keyword Planner
Google's Keyword planner is the source of all estimated search volume in most keyword tools. It’s not the best tool for keyword research but remains the source of most keyword-related data. It’s a complex system that’s not beginner-friendly. You can do a lot with this tool, but there is a steep learning curve to get the information you need for proper keyword research.
You can see the basics of how to search for keywords below.
When you log in to keyword planner, you must click “Discover new keywords.” This will return a search bar.
Enter the service and location and hit “enter”, It will return a list of relevant keywords and a search volume column. This tool is entirely free. But remember that this tool was designed for paid advertising on Google, not organic search.
There are many articles and courses to learn to use keyword planner effectively, but most choose commercial keyword tools that make the process much easier. We will spend most of our time with the commercial keyword tools. They cost money, but the time, aggravation, and learning curve of keyword planner makes them worth every penny.
There are dozens of high-quality commercial keyword tools available on the market such as SEMRUSH, Jaaxy and Ahrefs. Most do a decent job with keyword research, we will use Ahrefs as an example.
How to use Ahrefs for local keyword research
Once you log in to Ahrefs and select keyword explorer from the top navigation and you get the screen below.
I use one keyword at a time to keep keyword sets separated for easy sorting. You can add as many keywords as you wish in this field with either comma separate seed keywords or line separated. Both methods work.
We enter the keyword “lawn care St Louis” and hit enter. You’ll get a large list of keywords to investigate. Here are the results.
Now click “Matching terms” as seen in the image above. This is what your results page will look like, absent the highlighted columns. It’s time to investigate the 3 highlighted columns.
There are 4 columns you need to pay attention to. The 3 highlighted columns and the far left column under “all keywords”.
We’ll start with the first highlighted column. These keywords are the pinnacle of your keyword research. These are the keywords that will be used to optimize your homepage. But the process is the same for every service page, restaurant menu items, and merchants' product lines.
Notice the similarities of the keywords in the first column. All of them are very similar with the same words used over and over with few variations other than plural forms.
The highlighted column in the center is the average monthly search volume for that specific keyword. The 3rd column is the parent topic associated with the keyword. Pay close attention to the differences in the parent topics. An example of what you’re looking for is “lawn mowing service” This will be the next step in adding more potential keywords to your homepage list.
Now we move to the left-hand column and we see the keyword “organic”. You can click on that word and Ahrefs will return results specific to that query. You can click any parent topic and collect their variations of keywords with search volume and display it as seen above.
Repeat this process for each page on your site. Keep each page specific to the topic. If you’re interested, there are a variety of quality keyword tools on the market that help with this process.
Bonus: We have a keyword generator that is 100% free to use to help with that primary list of seed keywords.
Local Facebook Groups
Join your local buy, sell, and trade groups and pay attention to what people say about local companies related to yours and why they called them. The outcomes are also helpful at times. You should be able to glean some excellent keyword ideas and a lot of confirmation of prior research if you followed this guide and made your keyword list.
The marketplace is where people sell things. Find products or services related to your business and start taking note of their headlines and descriptions as that’s where you’ll find keywords or different phrasing of long-tail keywords.
You could look at Reddit as a site with every topic on earth with active user-generated content. Each topic is a forum for that topic. Find subreddits by visiting Reddit and using their search function. Join the top 5 to 10 most highly related subreddits and read the feed.
Open related information and read the post. In most cases, you’ll find most of the juicy keywords that few ever find in the comment threads below the main post. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have doing keyword research.
Quora is a free Q&A site. Accounts are free and you can sign up in seconds. From there, they will ask you to pick your interest. You should know what to search for with the number of keywords and ideas you’ve collected thus far. Then all you have to do is read.
Highly related forums
There are many forums across the web on any business type or topic. Like Reddit, specific forums will give you a high probability of success in finding a few more hidden keywords.
Hashtag generators are a great way to get keyword ideas for your content marketing strategy. They can help you find terms that are popular but also specific enough to be relevant to your business and its audience.
A hashtag is a "#" in front of a word or phrase to help people find your content.
For example, if you're writing a blog post about the best places to eat in New York City, but you want to make sure people who aren't familiar with the city can find it, you could use hashtags such as #NYCFoodPics, converting it to a keyword that would read as NYC Food Pics. You could take it one step further and use NYC Chinese Food Pics. Now consider “NYC Crab Rangoon” as a keyword. Crab Rangoon is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in the U.S.
Hashtags are keywords. Sites that use hashtags to find the most recent content have a slightly different method than search engines. On social media sites such as Instagram, the most recent post shows at the top of results, but with search engines, it’s different.
Once you rank in organic search results, you stay there. In social media, your ranking degrades every second with popular hashtags.
While keyword research may seem scary to some, once you dig in and start the process, it will become obvious why and how to do proper keyword research. Follow the steps in this guide and you will have the keywords you need for your business site to thrive in local organic search results.
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