How To Do Local Keyword Research
The following is a summary of my local keyword research methods. The way I conduct local keyword research is often similar to my national keyword research methods, with the pesky addition of geo-modifiers.
The Tools and the Talent
Doing keyword research, and especially local keyword research, is often quite difficult, given the very low search volumes when dealing with narrow concepts and small geographic areas.
When I need to onboard a geo-specific SEO client, I use a process that leverages a few commonsense search concepts, mostly free SEO tools, and a few paid tools.
It’s important to point out that most of my process for doing local keyword research and plain-old keyword research is the same. The only differentiator is the geo-specificity of the keywords: the areas, counties, cities, towns or other colloquial methods of describing an area.
Like most things in SEO, the process is more important than the tools.
First Steps in Keyword Research
First thing’s first: I go through the current website and Google My Business (if they’ve populated it) and create a list of the client’s main services and/or products.
Without showing the client my list, I’ll next interview them to get:
- Their list of their most impactful products and/or services. This is key! Optimizing the client’s website for the most profitable things they sell will make them most happy, most quickly!
- Their top-of-mind keyword thoughts. These are most often the slang, buzzwords, phrases or colloquialisms they hear when they speak to their clients in person.
- Any customer inquiries or call transcripts. Nothing beats hearing an actual customer describe their problems and ask questions!
I then vet the combined keyword list with the client to see if there are any other products or services that we missed. Often I find that clients have difficulty describing what they sell, or the services they provide.
I also sprinkle in high profile company member’s, or client-facing employees’ names. For certain types of clients, name recognition is huge.
Of course, if we are lucky enough to have data in them, Google Search Console is a treasure trove of keywords. Google My Business also provides some very nice keyword data in their “Insights” section.
Next, I run the assembled list through the Google Ads keyword planner to get national search volume for non-geomodified keywords.
For certain types of products (bicycles) and services (financial advisors), the national search volume is often a reasonable relative indicator of local volume, especially which terms are searched more often than others.
In my experience, most searchers geo-modify using the area/city name following the concept. For example, a user would more likely search for “financial advisor bay area” than “bay area financial advisor”.
I will also bring in other good suggested “Ideas” keywords that pop up in the Google Ads planner. And if you run Google Local Ads GMB Smart Campaigns, you can also review the search phrases that triggered the ad to be displayed.
Google Trends can also be used as a good, free, keyword finding tool.
Next, I’ll check out competitor websites with Ahrefs or SEMrush to find other juicy search terms.
Again, by this point, the keyword list becomes quite predictable, but you can sometimes find gold using these tools.
By this time, I’ve often seen the same search terms over, and over, and over, and the 80/20 rule starts to seem like a pretty good rule!
Local Geography and SEO
It’s not always as easy to describe an “area” as a cursory discussion on local search engine optimization might have you believe. We don’t all fall into neat, clumpy “cities”.
For example, I live in a place known — by a few — as the “Tri-Valley”. I suspect this moniker was the invention of marketers with a common challenge. The cities that make up the Tri-Valley are all between 20K – 50K in population, and none of them are particularly dominant as a central rallying point.
A plumber in Pleasanton is just as likely to service a house in San Ramon, as a plumber in Danville or Dublin or Livermore.
It would be great to be able to use the term “Tri-Valley”, but honestly, no one really uses the term “Tri-Valley” in polite conversation. Everything here is nearly always in reference to a specific tiny city.
Therefore, my local search keyword-finding process involves the application of a ton of geo-modifiers: Walnut Creek, Alamo, Diablo, Blackhawk, San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore, Sunol…maybe Castro Valley…Hayward? Maybe East Bay?
And that’s not to mention the very popular “near me” queries.
Each of these geo-modifiers means that, for the purposes of local search, I need to “multiply” my entire keyword list by each one of these keywords.
So, how do I use the keyword list that I’ve assembled for the client?
First, I’ll assign keywords to conceptual groups, and thereafter, to specific pillar pages. I will also create a list of possible new pages, and optimize titles and content with geomodified variations.
Here, I can usually also start to see content gaps, which are often pillar content opportunities.
I will also create a list of content ideas for the keywords we weren’t able to connect to the main pages of the site. These content ideas can become blog posts or additional resources later.
As I assign keywords to pages, I check the primary keyword for each page in Ahrefs’ keyword explorer and Google Search, and select the keyword variation with user intent that best matches that page’s content.
Next, of course, we must create and/or optimize the content on the website’s pages.
Some fun tools for this purpose include Surfer SEO, Topic, or Clearscope which help clarify which terms and explanations are most impactful, according to a reverse-engineering of the highest-ranking pages.
It’s a bit of a crapshoot, but these types of tools can help drive more purposeful content creation.
Of course, you’ll also want to include the bells and whistles that user’s enjoy: infographics, photos and especially, videos, which you can assign to the client (only an elite few love this!)
Naturally after we implement all this new, optimized content, we want to monitor the visibility of these keywords and geomodified keywords.
I use Search Console, Google My Business and an external tool, Ahrefs.
The keys here are search impressions and clicks, and an analytics framework (Analytics Goals, typically) for measuring the hoped-for lift in visitor actions such as:
- Form submissions
- Calls to the business
- Users visiting and dwelling on pillar pages or blog articles.
Local Keyword Research Summary
Ultimately, I find the process of connecting the dots between the company’s view and their ideal prospects, using real-world search engine data, quite interesting. In any pursuit involving vast amounts of data, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the output of the various tools one uses. I find local and national keyword research to be most productive and enjoyable when I employ this well-defined and consistent process.
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