So you are running a local business.
This means you are optimizing your content to be found by locals. By people who are likely to become your clients.
To do that, you must learn to do keyword research based on locations.
Because people in one location don’t necessarily search Google using the same search terms as in another location.
In this post I’ll get into:
- What local SEO keyword research is
- How to find keywords for local SEO
What Is Local Keyword Research?
Local SEO keyword research involves finding popular search terms and phrases made by people in a particular location to optimize content for local search engine results.
So, for instance, if someone were to Google ‘dentist near me’ they are clearly looking to book an appointment to see a dentist.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Google understands when someone searches for a local business. And, in response, Google presents SERP results designed to help users find the local businesses that they are looking for.
SERP results include both text results and SERP features.
And since Google ‘gets’ when a user is looking for a local business, this means to be successful at local SEO, you must learn to spot a keyword with local intent.
Getting this right will help your business attract a steady stream of local customers from Google search results.
Getting this wrong could mean your business will end up under a couch in Google’s index (next to all of those dust bunnies and an old carrot left there by one of my kids.)
Now you might be wondering how Google figures this out.
What Are Keywords with Local Intent?
How is Google able to figure out if a user is searching for something local?
For instance, if you were to Google your favorite restaurant, you might see a local pack even if the restaurant has branches all over the world.
And, yes, sometimes the searcher will include a location in the query or include a modifier like ‘near me’. But, how does Google do it when there are no obvious local modifiers in the query?
For instance, this is what I see when I Google Pizza Hut. I didn’t add any modifiers such as ‘near me’ or location.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Google presents a Local Pack. More on this later in this post.
A lot happens when someone types a search query into Google. Google uses its natural language processing algorithms to understand the semantic meaning behind the query.
Within this process, Google also has a number of ways to identify if the query has local intent, including tracking user behavior.
Using these methods, Google is able to identify if a query has local intent.
Google has a database of popular user queries that all have local intent. This helps Google quickly identify if a user query is for a local business.
This means in order to get local SEO traffic, you need to identify and target queries in this database.
And, now you know that local searches are different from international search queries.
Now, let’s look at how you can find the right keywords to target for your business.
How to Find Keywords for Local SEO
There are two sides to the local SEO keyword research process.
- Finding local intent queries
- Creating content that specifically answers local queries
We’ve discussed how Google identifies and analyzes queries.
Google gets as much information as possible on user queries in order to help users find the best content that instantly satisfies their search intent.
It then helps users find the most relevant content for their search queries by presenting content in the results pages.
That means as an SEO, you must find queries that an audience looking for your services is asking.
Once you have a solid list of user queries that your specific business is designed to answer, you can go about optimizing your content so that Google chooses your content to answer the searcher’s queries.
This means having the most relevant content for the query.
Because SEO is all about matching highly relevant content with the right search queries.
Keyword research is how you do that.
To do this, start by brainstorming your services.
What Are Your Services?
Break your business down into specific services. Yes, this might seem kind of obvious. 😊
And, as I mentioned above, a keyword really represents a question that a user types into Google expecting an answer.
Your services should be the natural answer to those questions.
But think about it this way, what might seem obvious to you might not be obvious to your audience. How do they search for your services?
What phrases do they use?
At this brainstorming stage, you are making a best-guess estimate.
Don’t worry if you don’t get this right immediately. We’ll back your brainstorming up with data in the next step.
Just having a list of business services doesn’t mean you have a list of profitable keywords.
So let’s say you are an injury lawyer. Services you might offer are:
- Car accidents
- Construction accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and fall
Now take a look at competitor sites. What are their services?
Use Competitor Sites to Expand Your List of Services
Google your services and take a look at the top-performing competitor websites.
Focus on their service pages. This is useful for two reasons.
Firstly, you might find services that you didn’t think of. Secondly, there really is no need to reinvent the wheel.
So, for instance, I looked up the top organic results for ‘injury lawyer new york’. I clicked on the top text result.
I then went to their services page.
As you can see from the screenshot above, they list all of their services. Each one of their services links to a page specific to that service.
So, for instance, if you Google ‘car accident lawyer new york’ you’ll see that they occupy the top text result.
You can see how your services will eventually become target keywords.
And target keywords will turn into traffic.
Now that you have a list of services, it’s time to look at your keyword research tool to see how actual users search.
Because a little bit of data goes a long way.
It’s time to jump into your keyword research tool. By doing this you will see actual queries users are typing into Google.
I’d suggest searching for all of your services individually to see what you can see. You might find that your audience uses different terminology than what you would expect.
You also might find a few services that you never thought of.
For instance, I searched for ‘dental x-rays’ in the Similarweb Keyword Generator.
Now you’ll notice from the screenshot above that there are a number of keywords for pediatric X-rays.
This might be a service you didn’t think of that you can add to your list of services.
Make sure that your target keywords have local intent. This means they are showing local SERP features like Map Packs and Local Packs as well as local text results.
You can easily see this by Googling your target keyword.
Once you’ve done that, make sure that you are searching in the location of your business.
You can easily do this by adding &gl=[country code] to the URL in the search bar.
In the example above, the last two characters are ‘us’. This tells Google you are searching in the US. If you change that to &gl=ca, you will be telling Google to search in Canada.
Now just doing this is not enough.
You should be looking for search queries that are entirely focused on local results.
Beware of pages that have multiple user search intents.
Multiple User Intents Dilute Your Traffic Potential
Some pages have multiple search intents. This is especially true for broad terms but might show up more than you realize.
So for instance, if you were to Google ‘sushi’, you get mixed results. You find a Map Pack at the top of the results which has a clear local intent.
But you also see informational results such as a Wikipedia article at the top of the text result and a Knowledge Panel.
This means there are both local and informational search intents on this SERP.
Seeing multiple search intents on a single SERP is not uncommon.
But it means targeting this keyword will dilute your traffic potential.
Think of each intent as serving a different user segment.
Now if there are multiple user segments, even if your keyword research tool shows you a high search volume, a percentage of that search volume isn’t looking for your business.
This means to get to the top spot for this search you might end up competing with sites like Wikipedia. (Good luck with that.)
What’s more, even if you do get the top spot a large percentage of the traffic isn’t looking for your business.
This will either result in a low click-through rate or worse, will result in traffic that has more chance of stopping a freight train with a strand of spaghetti than converting to paying customers.
But, if instead, if you Google the keyword ‘sushi bar’ you’ll see focused local results. What I mean by focused results is, there is a Map Pack and when you scroll down, you also see text results for local businesses.
You should be primarily targeting focused keywords like these.
Because the more focused your keywords are, the more likely your business is showing up in front of an audience that is looking for your services.
Keyword Research Tools for Local Search Queries
Now, if you are looking for a shortcut, and who isn’t, try using keyword research tools that allow you to filter local keyword intent.
For instance, the Similarweb Keyword Generator tool does just that.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Log into Similarweb and go to the Keyword Generator.
For this example, I’ll start with a keyword and use filters to find the best keywords.
As you can see I’m searching for the keyword ‘sushi bar’.
The tool generates 319 keywords.
Now, click the keyword intent filter, select Local Intent, and hit Apply.
Now the tool only shows your 39 keywords all with local intent.
To find the most profitable keywords, you can now filter by:
The better you filter the keywords, the more precise you are.
Map Out Your Content and Create Keyword Clusters for Your Pages
At this stage you should have a solid list of keywords. You should notice that several of the keywords overlap.
- Kitchen plumbing
- Kitchen sink plumbing
- Kitchen plumbing cost
The question you need to ask at this point is should you create a separate page for each keyword or should you try to include many keywords on one page?
The rule of thumb is to think about this from an audience perspective. Would someone expect to see pricing information on a Kitchen Plumbing page?
If so, you should target both keywords on the same page.
This isn’t always clear.
For instance, if you had an orthodontics page, should you include Invisalign information on the same page?
If you are not sure if these queries are serving different audiences, you can either do a Google search, or you can look at competitor sites.
Once that’s clear, create content that details your service.
Create Your Content
Once you’ve created target keyword clusters for each landing page, you can create content that answers each keyword query. The key here is to think about what a user needs to see on a page.
Keywords may help you figure this out.
What’s more, if you are not entirely sure what to add you can easily look at competitor sites or People Also Ask boxes.
Your competitors are likely to have landing pages similar to the ones you are creating.
This means to create a successful landing page you can easily look at the top ranking pages in Google for your keywords.
Look at their headings such as H2s and H3s.
For instance here is a top-ranking personal injury service page on a New York lawyer’s site.
You can add all of these questions and more to your landing page.
Also, look in the PAA box for things that your audience are interested to know.
People Also Ask Boxes
Google’s People Also Ask boxes present the searcher with common topically related search queries. This means if you look through the PAA boxes on relevant search terms, you might find obvious questions that your potential customers are asking.
For instance, if you Google ‘plumber near me’ you might see this:
As you can see from the screenshot above, there are two queries directly related to questions a potential customer might ask:
- What do most plumbers charge per hour?
- How do I hire a professional plumber?
The first query relates to pricing and the second relates to how to hire a plumber.
To answer these questions on your service page, simply Google each one and see what ranks at the top of Google.
For instance, if you Google ‘how to hire a plumber’ you see this Featured Snippet.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the Featured Snippet tells the reader to read reviews and to look at the plumber’s license and insurance information.
We can infer from this that as a plumber you should include trust signals on your service pages. This means including your license information and as many customer reviews as possible.
Once you’ve mapped out your site and created your pages it’s important to track your keywords.
Finding Keywords for Local SEO: The Bottom Line
As you can see, doing local keyword research is vastly different from doing international keyword research. As far as Google is concerned, local keywords exist in a completely different keyword database than international keywords.
And, since keywords really represent actual users that are searching the search engine for answers to their queries…
This means the key to success in local keyword research is to find local keywords and create content that directly answers those keywords.
The more accurately you can do that, the more likely your business will see success.