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  • How to Perform Keyword Research for Local SEO

    How to Perform Keyword Research for Local SEO

    Keyword research has always been the foundation of SEO, and while that hasn’t changed, search engines are constantly altering the impact of each ranking factor, including keywords. This is why proper keyword research is imperative.

     When search engines first launched, all you needed were clusters of keywords relevant to local businesses and visitors would find you easily.

    Over the years, online competition has grown and there are now millions of websites, forcing search engine algorithms to evolve and serve results based on more than just keywords.

    Today, getting seen in the search engines requires various elements like helpful, relevant content, quality backlinks, and earned authority in your niche.

    Still, local keywords remain a fundamental basis of search engine optimization (SEO), especially since some 40%+ of searches are local.

    If you haven’t dialed in your local SEO keyword research, now is a great time to start.

    Local keyword research drives the following benefits

    • Generate more sales and qualified leads
    • Get more fast purchases when people see your positive business reviews in the search results
    • Rank higher in search results served to local users
    • Generate more targeted traffic to your website
    • Capture mobile leads easier

    If you want sales, you need clicks. To get clicks, you need visibility, which comes from good SEO. Ideally, you want your website to show up on page one or two of the search results for a given query. According to the data, the first result on page one gets an average click-through rate (CTR) of 27.6%, while the first result on page two generates a 15.8% CTR. If you want a chunk of that traffic, solid local keyword research will help you get there.

    Why you need local keyword research

    Most people new to SEO perform the process backwards – they come up with a list of local keywords they think they want to rank for and then spend all their time, money, and effort trying to rank for those phrases. This method is hit or miss because it doesn’t help to rank for competitive keywords unless people are searching for them. You can get first-page results for a lot of phrases, but if nobody’s searching for them, you will remain invisible.

    Local keyword research will tell you what keywords and phrases your local target market is using to find the products and services they need related to your business. Sometimes people in a geographic area use specific, local keywords that you won’t realize are important until you start researching. Proper research ensures you won’t waste your time trying to rank for local keywords that won’t increase your revenue.

    Why local SEO is different

    Before going too much further into keyword research, it’s important to understand why local SEO isn’t just an extension of standard/national SEO so local keyword research makes more sense.

    Local SEO works the same at a basic level, but it’s much more powerful. In fact, businesses with a local presence have an easier time getting traffic from search engines than businesses that only sell services and products online without any identifiable locale.

    If you run a local business, keyword research will help you generate traffic despite any national competitors you may have. While it’s true that it’s impossible to rank for certain highly competitive local keywords without a million-dollar budget, local SEO changes the game by drastically narrowing down your market and competition, which increases your ability to reach your local market. For example, you may not be able to rank generally for the search term “get a cheap website,” but with local SEO you can rank for this term when people from your area search for similar phrases. There might be four million cheap web developers competing nationally, but in your specific city, there may only be a handful and that’s who you’ll be competing against.

    You might still compete with national competitors who have locations in your general area, like chains, but when you optimize your website specifically for local SEO, you’ll reach locals who are specifically looking for your services. Your total reach will be smaller, and that’s a good thing because local leads are highly targeted and more likely to buy your products or services. They already want what you have to offer.

    Local SEO targets people specifically in your geographic area and considers the following as ranking factors:

    • A user’s location
    • Your star rating on Google Maps
    • The content/sentiment of your Google reviews
    • Local keywords from your Google reviews
    • Your optimized Google Business profile
    • The presence of your business’ name, address, and phone number across all listings that matches the information on your website

    If you struggle to rank for phrases in general or you aren’t reaching your desired market, local SEO is a better way to reach your local market.

    Local SEO reduces your competition

    With local SEO, you aren’t competing against everyone in the same industry. For instance, say you run a restaurant in San Francisco, CA and there’s a similar local restaurant in Houston, TX. You aren’t going to compete against that business when people are searching for phrases like “best steak and seafood near me.” Outside of local searches, you may never rank for a phrase like “best steak and seafood,” but you don’t have to – in fact, that shouldn’t even be your goal. Ranking nationally for having the best steak and seafood won’t fill your dining room with hungry guests – ranking locally will.

    There are numerous factors that will help you rank, but it all begins with your keyword selections. You have to get these right to get results.

    How to perform effective local keyword research

    Now that we’ve established the importance of local SEO, it’s time to dive into some research strategies and tips.

    There are two main ways to conduct local keyword research: free and paid. Paid research requires a monthly or yearly subscription keyword research tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, Keyword Magic, or SECockpit. Some come with free trials and it’s worth checking them out. You can also use some free keyword research tools especially if you’re just getting your feet wet with local keyword research.

    1. Start with simple tools

    If you’re looking for a free way to do research or you’ve never done it before, start with tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, or Google Trends. Begin by brainstorming a list of your best local keywords related to your industry, and then type them into your tool to see if they’re popular.

    If you’re using a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs, with each word you type in, you’ll get additional suggestions branching off the original. Keep using each keyword suggestion as a new “seed keyword” until you find the right phrases.

    Let’s say you’re a cosmetic dentist in Houston. If you search for the terms “cosmetic dentist Houston” and “cosmetic dentistry in Houston,” you can see in the screenshot below that the terms look like they get almost the same number of searches.

    Whenever you’re searching with this tool, be sure to select the “exact” checkbox on the left. That limits the number of searches to searches done in the local area instead of the entire U.S. (Click on the image below to see larger version and hit the back button to come back here).

    cosmetic dentistry keyword research

    But let’s head over to Google Trends, where we can dig deeper for locally relevant search information over time or for specific time periods.

    First, you’ll see a plain kind of screen like the one below. Just enter in one of the search terms you’re looking at and hit enter (or click the Explore button).

    Google Trends

    On the left you will see “Search Terms.” Click “Add terms” and put in the other local keywords you’re researching. You’ll also see a map. Click on the map until you zoom down to your area.

    In our example, it’s Houston. Now the data and graph will change. In this instance, you’ll see that “cosmetic dentistry Houston” (in red) is almost always searched for more often than “cosmetic dentist Houston” (in blue).

    There are a few little peaks where they were close in terms of the number of searches that web surfers entered for them, but not most of the time. Nice to know, right?

    Data from Google Trends search

    Another thing to consider when you do this is that many people wouldn’t even include “Houston” in the search term. They would just search for “cosmetic dentistry.”

    If you use Google Trends and drill down to your area on that map, you can compare that too — i.e., “cosmetic dentistry” versus “cosmetic dentistry Houston.”

    Ranking for local terms sometimes means more than just local keyword research and optimizing your own site, though. When you’re searching in Google, a local keyword phrase like the ones above will often bring up “local search results” as seen in the image below.

    Local, organic and paid search results example

    Getting into the local search results ballgame is an entirely different monster. It includes ensuring you have a Google Places listing that is perfectly optimized, gaining valuable link citations (mentions of your business, URL, and address) around the web (think Yelp and other review sites), and more.

    1. Select the optimal targets

    Look for keywords and phrases with a high search volume (at least 100 searches per month) and low competition. If you’re in a specialty niche, go for the lowest hanging fruit first, especially if you find terms with a high search volume and really low competition. Even if a phrase only has 50 searches per month, if those searches are targeted and you can convert them, you’ll profit.

    1. Prioritize intent

    In general, when people use search engines, they’re either looking for information/entertainment, or they want to make a purchase. Focus on finding keywords that carry buying intent and you’ll have a better chance at ranking for searches people conduct when they want to buy something.

    However, don’t ignore the local intent to gather information. Those are the people you want to get signed up for your newsletter so you can nurture them as leads through email marketing.

    Warning: Do not buy into “local SEO services” that offer dozens of rave reviews for your business that they claim will boost your Google Places page rank. Don’t take a chance on buying reviews directly from anyone, either especially if your budget for local SEO is limited.

    This is bad business, and these review sites are taking notice. Yelp has recently slammed down on this, publicly outing businesses they caught doing this. If they catch you doing it, there’ll be a huge warning to any visitor who visits your listing that resembles the one below.

    Example of Yelp's new warning about buying reviews

    1. Use modifiers

    Local SEO is more effective when paired with modifiers. For example, adding phrases like “near me,” “local,” and “in my area” to your existing phrases will help search engines know your content is local and it can boost your rankings.

    1. Look at what your competitors are doing

    While you can’t see anyone’s SEO strategy outright, you can catch a glimpse of the local keywords and phrases they’re using. Use an online tool to find out both you and your competition rank for the phrases you want to use. If they come up at the top for everything, start taking notes on what they’re doing, from their overall website design and content down to their page titles.

    Look at your top successful competitors’ websites and see what they’re using for headings, blog titles, and page titles. Look at their source code to see what they use for meta tags and descriptions. Don’t copy them word-for-word, but extract the relevant keywords and industry phrases and use them for yourself.

    1. Pay attention to search intent

    Not all local keywords are equal; some will bring in more sales, while others will bring you more leads.

    It all boils down to search intent. For example, phrases like “buy my online marketing course” tells search engines you’ve got a marketing course for sale. Understanding local intent helps you rank for searches related to someone buying/looking for a marketing course. If you use a phrase like “learn about marketing mistakes to avoid,” search engines will consider your content more educational.

    It’s crucial to use explicit local keywords intentionally because you’re more likely to generate a sale when someone is searching for buying local keywords compared to just looking for information. If you don’t make it clear on your sales page that you are selling a marketing course, you’re not going to be included in the results when people search for a marketing course to purchase.

    Local keyword research will always be relevant for local SEO

     No matter how many ranking factors exist, and no matter how many times Google and other search engines state they aren’t weighing keywords as heavily as they used to, it’s still fundamental to search. Local keywords are all search engines have to go on when they categorize your content and the intent of every web page, which is what the algorithms use at a fundamental level to determine the relevance of your site to various queries.

    Keyword stuffing is dead, but local keyword research is alive and well and while you can’t use only keywords to rank your site, local keyword research will always be fundamental to successful local SEO efforts.

    There are many ways to get reviews and local citations naturally. You just have to come up with the right marketing plan!

    Let us perform a local SEO website audit and find out how we can take your business to the next level by improving your rank for local searches!

    Chief Revenue Officer at SEO Company
    Industry veteran Timothy Carter is SEO.co’s Chief Revenue Officer. Tim leads all revenue for the company and oversees all customer-facing teams for SEO (search engine optimization) services - including sales, marketing & customer success. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & Digital Marketing, assisting in everything from SEO for lawyers to complex technical SEO for Fortune 500 clients like Wiley, Box.com, Qualtrics and HP.

    Tim holds expertise in building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams.

    When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach...preferably in Hawaii.

    Over the years he's written for publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, ReadWrite and other highly respected online publications. Connect with Tim on Linkedin & Twitter.
    Timothy Carter