Local Search Intent: What It Is And Why It’s Important For Your Local Business

Local search intent is one of five types of search intents that SEOs commonly use to categorize types of searches. What makes it unique is it will often overlap with the other types of search intent.

We are going to explore local search intent and how you can use the four other types of search intent to grow your businesses online presence.

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent is the end goal a user has when they type in a query into a search engine. Search engines use AI to better understand what users intend to find when they search for specific queries. Search engines take this intent and optimize their results to show the best / most relevant results they can.

This is very important to understand as it impacts your website’s ability to rank.

Search intent can be categorized into five buckets:

  1. Informational intent
  2. Navigational search intent (sometimes called Brand search intent)
  3. Transactional intent
  4. Commercial intent
  5. Local search intent

We will focus on what local intent is: why it matters and how you can use it to rank your local business for more keywords.

What Is Local Search Intent?

Local search intent is when people search to find a local good or service.

Let’s use a few examples to help you understand what keywords would be considered to have local search intent.

  • Grand Junction Movers
  • Chicago Bakery
  • Thai food near me
  • Commercial window cleaning

Keyword Grand Junction Movers

Google search results that skew heavily towards businesses. Yelp and Angi.com are the only search results that are not businesses that operate in Grand Junction.

There are two types of businesses that are displayed: national or regional brands that operate in Grand Junction and local businesses headquartered in Grand Junction.

As far as this search result goes, there is a pretty even split between larger companies and small local businesses.

This is important because every single one of the large national brands has a much stronger web presence than any of their local counterparts and large national brands also reside on page two and yet several local companies rank on the first page.

Google is trying to deliver the best results possible and part of this is showing a blend of local and national businesses.

In addition to the typical organic results because this is a local search query I will be shown a local map pack.

Keyword Chicago Bakery

Delivers a mixed search intent. Some of the results are local businesses (eg: Lutz Pastry Shop) and other results are reviews of the best bakeries in Chicago (eg: Thrillist).

This is important because it is very difficult to determine how difficult it will be to outrank Thrillist. Google may have decided that the proper blend is 4 review articles in Chicago (eg: 27 best bakeries in Chciago) and 6 local businesses for this particular search query.

You are effectively competing for 1 of 6 spots instead of the usual 1 out of 10 spots.

I will also be shown a local pack (map pack) for bakeries in Chicago.

After that, I get a “People Also Ask” section which is slightly abnormal for a local result. This is because this search query is a blend of informational results and local results.

Keyword Thai Food Near Me

Terms containing “near me” have dramatically increased with the mass adoption of mobile devices, an increase in voice-enabled devices and location-based data.

Between 2013-2017 near me search terms increased by 900% [source].

While most local searches rely heavily on location to display the best results “near me” searches are heavily skewed by this (as you would expect).

Why is this important?

Within a few miles of my location we have half a dozen Thai restaurants. A small Thai restaurant might not show up for “Thai Food Calgary” – 2300 searches per month but depending on their location they will be able to compete for “Thai Food Near Me” – 900 searches per month in Calgary.

Keyword Commercial Window Cleaning

is an example of an implicit local search term. What do I mean by an implicit search term?

It means location is implied and the search results are going to be local businesses.

Compare this result to “Thai Cuisine” and I’m going to get a mix of results. The local pack still shows up and several local restaurants pop up as well but I also get delivered recipe websites, Wikipedia, review sites etc.

Why are implicit search terms important?

Because you need to look at the volume for “commercial window cleaning” while searching within Calgary and “city + commercial window cleaning” if you’re trying to determine how many searches occur in a specific local market.

How to Optimize for Local Keywords

For a detailed looked check out this blog post: how small businesses can use local SEO to drive traffic. Or partner with the best local SEO company (spoiler, it’s us)

The short version of how to build an SEO strategy for a local business:

  1. Optimize your Google Business Profile
  2. Collect customer reviews
  3. Build citations
  4. Build service and location landing pages
  5. Link Build
  6. Write great content

What About The Other Four Types of Search Intent?

As I mentioned at the start there are four other types of keyword intent

  1. Informational intent
  2. Navigational search intent (sometimes called Brand search intent)
  3. Transactional intent
  4. Commercial intent

These types of search queries are useful for local businesses.

Informational Search Intent

Informational queries are searches where a user is looking for a specific answer to a question. For example: how to cook a pizza would be an informational search term.

Because of the keyword difficulty, it is very unlikely a local business is going to be able to outrank the current top-ranking pages such as Simply Recipes, New York Times and the other mega sites that show up. You could however rank for a very specific long-tail keyword such as Dominos Pizza Cheese Type

Why do informational searches matter to small businesses?

If you were a local pizza shop writing blog posts on informational keywords can help build site relevance. Site relevance will help your site rank for local keywords such as “pizza shop San Antonio”

If you were a local cheese shop that happened to sell and ship the type of Cheese that is found on Domino’s pizza this content would also serve as top of funnel traffic AND it would help your physical location rank for “cheese shop Denver” by building relevance.

How to Optimize for Informational Keywords

As I stated above, as a local business there are two potential benefits

  1. Increase your site’s relevance by producing relevant content
  2. Drive top of funnel traffic for local informational search terms.
Create Content to Increase Your Site’s Relevance

To accomplish number one we need to do is create high quality content. If we rank on the first page for the target keyword that’s a bonus but certainly not a requirement.

Just creating content that is relevant to your business will help increase your odds of ranking for the local keywords your business is targeting.

High quality content is content that answers the user’s question(s).

Creating Informational Content that Ranks

This question deserves its own article but here is the short version.

It starts with keyword research to find target keywords to try and rank for.

You would want to look at search volumes and keyword difficulty. You can get this information using a keyword research tool such as Mangools. Understand that your local website is competing against large news and content sites so choosing long-tail keywords with minimal competition is vital.

By studying the search results you can determine keyword intent (more on that below) and begin to understand how long your content should be, which topics it should cover and how you can create content that will stand out.

This article is a good example. I’ve chosen “local search intent” as my primary keyword. First off, it’s small (40 searches per month) with a low keyword difficulty (21).

I notice that almost all of the sites (except one smaller site) that rank for this term are huge sites that are discussing all types of search intent. This topic (local search intent) is an afterthought.

My theory is if I write an article which puts local searches front and centre and helps the user understand how the four types of search intent impact local search intent I might be able to outrank these monster sites.

Whether this works or not remains to be seen.

Navigational Search Intent

The largest companies in the world get millions of people searching for their brand name each month.

The search term Dominos receives a staggering 24 million searches per month.

Dominos Pizza, Dominos, Order Domino’s Pizza etc. are all examples of navigational search queries.

The user is using the search bar instead of typing in the URL when clearly their intent is to land on a specific website.

Why do navigational searches matter to small businesses?

Truthfully, it doesn’t really. As your business grows the number of searches with navigational intent will also increase.

How to Optimize for Navigational Keywords

Optimizing for Navigational Keywords is less about what you do on your site and more about the other profiles you build up around the internet.

What do I mean by this?

If you search for Salt Water Digital you will find our website (of course) but you will also see our Linkedin page, our Facebook page, our Upwork page, our Instagram page and our Signal Hire page (no idea what this is).

Additionally, you will see another two agencies with similar names.

Once we build out our profiles on Clutch and Upcity (two big internet marketing review sites) that should give us all of page 1 for our brand name.

The other important piece is your Google My Business Page. This will pop up at the side when someone searches for your brand name. Spend time optimizing that as well.

Transactional Search Intent

When a person is ready to buy they will use a transactional search to find what they are looking for.

For example:

  • Buy iPhone 13
  • Cheap Office Chair
  • Price of SEO Surfer

Typically a transactional search contains a keyword modifier such as buy, cheap, price, coupon, discount etc.

Why do navigational searches matter to small businesses?

Transactional searches sometimes display local results.

During the onset of the lockdowns, we worked with a local brewery to build them an eCommerce store to capitalize on “buy beer online” searches. This will display a range of companies that deliver beer in my city.

If you search Buy Gouda Cheese you’ll notice it actually the search results actually display a local map pack.

For many local businesses, transactional keywords provide another opportunity for exposure.

How to Optimize for Transactional Keywords

As a local business, it can be harder to optimize for transactional search queries.

If you sell a physical product that can be shipped like any normal eCommerce store you can leverage product pages.

Ecommerce SEO is a category but the basics are this:

  1. Create great product pages. These should include schema such as price, reviews, brand, images etc.
  2. Create category pages where they make sense. You don’t need to have 100s of products to have category pages and different category pages can overlap in terms of products offered.

As I mentioned above “Buy Gouda Cheese” shows a local pack. Having a strong web presence can help you show up in the local pack for transactional keywords.

Commercial Search Intent

When a searcher is trying to find more information about a particular product or service they’ll use a commercial keyword.

A few examples of commercial keywords:

  • Ground Espresso Reviews
  • Best Coffee Shop
  • Mathrank vs Yoast SEO
  • Top cleaning companies

Why do commercial searches matter to small businesses?

Much like transactional keywords, commercial keywords provide an opportunity for more brand exposure. If we use “Best Coffee Shop” a local map pack shows up.

A term like this is going to be very heavily influenced by location. When possible the results will be within a few blocks of your location.

Optimizing your business to outrank competitors in the area is important.

A term like “top cleaning companies” will actually display a mix of review sites and local businesses. Again, these are highly desirable keywords to rank for.

Bonus Tip:

Every city has spawned a number of local and regional review sites. For example, Calgary has thebestcalgary.com. Reaching out to these sites to figure out how you can be included (hint, it often just requires some $$) is useful for two reasons.

  1. If they show up on the first page for a keyword with good search volume this means they get relevant traffic. This can drive leads directly.
  2. Anytime you can acquire a backlink from a company that ranks on the first page for a keyword you’re trying to target it’s immensely powerful.

How to Optimize for Commercial Keywords

There are two ways to optimize for commercial keywords.

The first is optimizing your service landing pages for keyword modifiers to your service eg: best or top or top-rated. To do this build a great landing page for your service and weave in “best”, “top-rated” keywords into your content

The second way to optimize for commercial search intent is by creating content. Similar to informational search queries you need to create high-quality content.

How to determine search intent

There are two primary methods we can use to infer search intent.

  1. Google Search Results
  2. Keyword Modifiers

Google Search Results

Informational searches will skew towards global or national search results.

Let’s go back to our Pizza theme (hungry yet?)

How much cheese on a pizza – 510 searches per month, keyword difficulty 20. This would be a great informational post for a local pizza shop to publish to build relevance.

In positions 1, 4 and 8 we get forums and Q&A sites (eg: Quora).

Positions 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 are held by articles (how much cheese should I put on pizza?)

This search also contains a featured snippet and Youtube videos.

These are very typical results for an information search.

Navigational searches will skew towards brand results. “Domino’s Pizza Delivery”

The entire first page (including a local map pack) shows the Domino’s Pizza website, reviews of Domino’s Pizza or information about Domino’s Pizza with one exception, Indeed.ca which shows me Pizza Delivery Jobs.

Transactional Intent will skew towards eCommerce sites. We need a chair to eat our pizza in, so we search cheap office chairs.

The first result is Google Shopping Ads which displays a list of chairs with reviews. After that we see a couple of Google Search Ads. Google Shopping Ads are a dead giveaway that we’re dealing with a transaction keyword.

After that we get a list of places to buy office chairs.

Walmart, Kijiji, Homedepot, Bestbuy, Canadian Tire etc.

One important note is we also get a local map pack of local stores. You’ll notice the third result is actually a local business outranking most of the big box stores. Being local matters to Google and we can often leverage that.

Finally, in the very last result, we get a “top 10 office chairs” article. However based on the other 10 results this is very clearly a transactional search keyword and not a commercial search keyword.

Commercial intent will skew towards review sites. Wirecutter is probably the most famous of the bunch as it sold to the NYtimes. Almost every major publication has added affiliate marketing to their revenue stack.

Let’s keep using our pizza theme and go with best pizza cutter.

Amazon is the lone outlier here (as they often are for these keywords) every other site is a news or content website. Google also displays “people also ask” box and “popular pizza cutters”.

Local intent will skew towards local businesses. As we’ve demonstrated local intent often overlaps with one of the other four search intents.

Pizza Shop Near Me will display a local map pack and then a mixture of reviews (top 10 pizza shops in Calgary), national brands (Dominos, again) and local pizza shops.

The local map pack will be hyper local to my area. Again important, when you’re determining how stiff the competition is.

Pizza Shop Calgary will show the same area for the map pack but it will have different results. Additionally for this keyword, every single result is a review style list or article.

Keyword Modifiers

The other way we can quickly determine which category a search term falls into is with keyword modifiers. Here are some examples.

Local Keyword Modifiers

Near Me

Informational Keyword Modifiers

How to

Transactional Keyword Modifiers


Commercial Keyword Modifiers


TLDR; Search Intent for Local Businesses

  1. Search intent is the goal users have when they type in a search query.
  2. Local search intent are specific types of searches that local businesses can leverage to drive more traffic and sales.
  3. The four other types are informational intent, transactional intent, navigational intent and commercial intent.
  4. Understanding user search intent and how to optimize for each search intent will give your business the best chance to show up in the search results.
  5. You can figure out search intent by looking at the search results pages and looking at the keyword modifiers used for a specific search.

The cover image is a photo of LOCAL a bar in my city, Calgary.


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