What Is Local SEO Keyword Research?
Let’s start broadly – what is keyword research?
Keyword research (KWR for short) is the process of determining what people are searching for in search engines (usually Google). You can uncover the following:
How many people in a certain region or city search for a specific business, service or product.
What types of questions are your customers asking?
What types of problems do your customers have?
Local keyword research is the process of uncovering what potential customers search for when they’re looking for a service or product in a geographic area.
Typically a local keyword will include [city / location] + [service / product].
Most small businesses pay several thousand dollars for their website and then barely spend any resources conducting local keyword research.
We’re going to discuss why it’s important and how to correctly execute a local keyword research campaign.
Why Is Local Keyword Research Important?
Understanding how to conduct local keyword research will ensure you put your business in the best position to show up when customers search for keywords relevant to your product or service.
28% of local search queries end up in a sale [source] which is why local SEO is so important for a local business. And great local SEO starts with great local keyword research.
There are three important elements to local keyword research
Search volume. How many times per month are potential customers searching for your product or service? What search variations exist?
Search intent. How likely is it that your product or service will fulfill the searchers needs?
Keyword difficulty. How difficult is it to rank for the target keyword? What competitors currently rank for that keyword?
You need to consider all three factors when conducting local keyword research.
How to Conduct Local Keyword Research
I like to break this down into a six step process to find local keywords.
What services do you offer?
What areas do you service?
Generate more keyword ideas
Determine search volume
Determine how competitive the search results are
Build out your sitemap
Bonus: Explicit Vs. Implicit Keywords
What Services Do You Offer?
Local businesses have two types of potential local keywords: Service based keywords and location based keywords.
If you are a contractor you may offer kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations, home additions and full home renovations. These are all examples of service based keywords.
You want to create a list of every service you offer and not just the obvious ones.
For example if you are a commercial cleaning business you may offer:
Grease trap clean outs
Post construction clean up
You also want to ensure you list keyword variations such as commercial cleaning services or office cleaners.
What we usually see are websites that just have two or three service pages. This is the wrong way to think about local keyword research.
It’s hard work creating dedicated landing pages for all of the products and services you offer. However, it is a very important component of a great local seo strategy.
Creating additional pages will give you the best opportunity to rank for the largest number of industry related keywords.
What Geographic Location(s) Do You Service?
If you operate a local service business that serves a specific geographic area you want to make use of multiple locations. You do not need multiple addresses for this to work you just need to create multiple city landing pages that have unique content. [link to how to rank multiple city pages here].
Google maps is a terrific tool to help figure out which of the surrounding cities are worth targeting. Start zoomed way out and slowly zoom in. The further you zoom in, the smaller the population of a city.
Create a list of the top 10 or 15 suburbs and cities in your service area.
In this video you see Austin then Round Rock and San Marcos then Pfugerville and Georgetown and so on.
Mangools, my preferred local keyword research tool will also allow you to look up search volumes in a specific area. This is useful in smaller cities where you service a larger region.
For example we have a client who services Oakland County in Michigan. You can use Mangools to determine how many people search for your services in that specific geographic location.
Strategies to find additional related search terms
You’ve exhausted all of the services and cities in your geographic area. Here are several more tactics to find more relevant searches.
Search terms from larger cities
Pick a much larger city, for our purposes we’ll use Toronto. Search for commercial cleaners Toronto. Open up the first 10 results that are actual businesses (not directory’s like Yelp). Write down every service page they have. There will be some gems in there.
This works well because companies ranking well in major cities (New York, Toronto, Chicago, LA etc.) typically have really good SEO.
Use Mangools to make sure you’ve found all the terms with high search volume
Remove the city and simply type in your primary keyword using the related keywords search function.
You’ll see office cleaning is a large, as is janitorial, window cleaning etc.
You can also do this using a free KWR tool like Wordstream.
Use autocomplete to find additional relevant keywords
Mangools has an “autocomplete” feature. You want to use your large seed keyword list, not specific to a city.
For example commercial cleaning gives us some interesting results including
Commercial oven cleaning. This might be a keyword we tack onto our restaurant page.
Commercial cleaning services list. We could build a unique page to address this common search term.
Professional upholstery cleaning. And so on.
You can also do this using Google’s search engine.
“Top” and “Best” local keywords
For local searches with high volume you can often append “best” before the keyword. For example “best moving company austin” gets 260 searches per month, not too shabby.
Typically these are going to be dominated by top 10 lists (which by the way, you should reach out too, to acquire links) but occasionally you can rank for these types of keywords.
We have a chiropractor client who ranks 7th for “best chiropractor + [city]”.
You can either do this by including “best” in a few non-spammy locations on your service page or you could even write a blog post 5 best Austin moving companies.
Other keywords that you can append to high search volume keywords.
Additional Keyword Research Tips: Get Creative.
As I outline above, most local businesses barely perform any local keyword research.
Use Quora to look at frequently asked questions in your industry. Research adjacent niches. Use Google searches to find more target keywords. Ask friends, clients, employees.
Determine Local Search Volume
I strongly recommend you use Mangools to help determine search volume. You can buy it for one month ($50) do all of your keyword research and then cancel it so it’s not terribly expensive.
Among other things, Mangools helps with two things
Find local keywords
Let’s continue with our commercial cleaning company example in Austin, Tx.
For every keyword and location we generated we want to check two keyword volumes.
[Keyword] + [City] searching globally. Eg Commercial Cleaning Austin (Screenshot)
[Keyword] searching only in Austin. Commercial Cleaning (Screenshot)
Mangools will also spit out related keywords which is very helpful. For example commercial cleaning services austin will also show the following related keywords:
office cleaning austin
office cleaning austin tx
commercial cleaning companies Austin etc.
It is important to note that this system isn’t perfect. It did not include Janitorial Services Austin which is another terrific local keyword.
In this example Commercial Cleaning Services Austin is the largest keyword with 130 searches per month.
Determine How Competitive the Organic Search Results Are
Once you’ve identified the right keywords you want to conduct competitor analysis. This will help you identify keywords worth targeting.
I use a three step process that involves three keyword tools
Mangools to quickly scan local seo keyword difficulty
Ahrefs to perform a link audit
SurferSEO to perform a content audit
Step 1. Find Local Keywords that meet your search volume and KD requirements.
Mangools provides us with a KD score.
Austin Movers KD score is 41 with 5k searches per month. This is quite competitive for local keywords.
Movers Pflungerville KD score is 20 with 110 searches per month. This is not very competitive for local keywords.
If I was working on a new site or a site that was relatively weak, I would focus on Pfungerville before Austin.
You want to perform this analysis (KD score versus volume) to build out your keyword rankings.
Target the largest keywords you can that you have a chance of ranking that also have high intent.
Once you’ve compiled a list of local keywords you want to target its time to properly vet them with Ahrefs and Surfer SEO.
Step 2. Competitor Link Audit
Using our local keyword: Movers Pflungerville let’s perform a link audit.
There are two important places to look
The entire site. How many quality backlinks does the site have?
The individual landing page. How many quality backlinks does their city landing page have?
Build an excel sheet with the top 10 results in the local SERP. You can omit directories and review sites. For example: Yelp and Expertise.com
To determine if a link is high quality exclude the following links:
Links from websites with <500 visitors from google search.
Links from subdomains eg: danspersonalblog.blogspot.com
Low quality link farms
It’s worth paying extra attention to the following links:
Backlinks with high local intent (eg: a blog about Austin) are worth flagging.
Backlinks from a highly relevant industry related websites.
Websites that rank for relevant local keywords.
Step 3. Competitor Content Audit with SurferSEO
SurferSEO provides a content score of your competitors. It does this by analyzing word count, keyword modifiers and topically relevant keywords that rank well in search engines.
If you write your content using Surfer’s content editor you can craft your own content to ensure your score is higher. Using a tool like SurferSEO can greatly improve your on-page SEO efforts.
Build a Sitemap for Your Local Business
Once you have conducted keyword research to determine all of your industry related keywords that are relevant to your business AND you’ve identified the cities that you want to target it’s time to build a sitemap.
A sitemap, which is sometimes called a wireframe is a layout of which pages your businesses site is going to include. It might look like this:
One of the most difficult skills is trying to determine which keywords deserve their own pages. Here are a few suggestions:
More is more. Keyword cannibalization does exist. But most of the time businesses under build pages. I would always lean towards building more quality pages, not less. In the above example I would likely build a page for office painters and commercial painters despite being similar keywords.
Check with Google. If you’re unsure check to see if the results are the same or very similar for both keywords. [image of janitorial services and commercial cleaning services side by side]
Quality first. If you have limited resources (what SMB doesn’t?) focus on building excellent landing pages for the high priority keywords (search volume x keyword difficulty x search intent x proximity).
Implicit vs. Explicit Keywords
Local search terms where the searcher does not include the location in the search engine.
For example moving company is an implicit search term.
Whichever city I search from I’ll be shown local search results. Depending on the keyword this will also likely include a local pack (local listings shown in map format).
Search terms that include the city. For example Austin movers
As you probably can imagine, most searchers aren’t going to include the city they’re currently sitting in. This is why it’s critical to check both implicit and explicit keyword volumes.
Checking explicit keyword volumes is straight forward. Simply enter the full keyword eg: Austin Movers.
To check explicit keyword volumes I recommend using a local keyword research tool. Once again Mangools is my keyword tool of choice.
Search for your explicit keyword Moving Company and select “Austin” as your location.
Keyword Research Tools
Several useful local keyword research tools include:
Mangools – All In One Keyword Tool & Rank Tracking Tool. Arguably the best local keyword research tools.
Determine local search volumes.
Provides a keyword difficulty score
Helpful for generating a local keyword list
Generates a list of searches related to a particular keyword
Keywords Everywhere – Chrome extension that displays a variety of keyword data including
Wordstream – Free keyword research tool
Displays volume and related keywords
Important Note: Competition refers to PPC competition not SEO competition.
Ahrefs – The GOAT of keyword research tools
Provides keyword difficulty, search volume and traffic potential
Displays keywords that match, questions related to a keyword and terms that other sites also rank for.
It does not provide hyper specific keyword data.
It is expensive. A required tool for agencies and SEO professionals, overkill for a local business.
Additional Local SEO keyword research tips
A huge part of generating local traffic is building a well optimized local listing with Google Business Profile. An optimized Google Business Profile is important, as is asking for reviews. The third thing you can do is guide clients and customers towards using local keywords in those reviews.
Pay attention to search trends. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that search volume for moving services in and around Austin has exploded in the last five years.
Include keywords in your URL, H1 Tag, SEO Title and Meta Description.
Avoid targeting the same keyword with multiple landing pages.
Blogging or content marketing can be a terrific way to capture additional keywords that may not warrant their own service or area page.
Spend a great deal of time and conduct keyword research. You will likely only ever do it once, so don’t skimp out.
To Long Didn’t Read: Summarizing Local Keyword Research
Local Keywords are search terms that display local search results. The search results are usually a combination of local businesses and local directories.
Local searches result in a purchase 28% of the time. This is why local SEO is important. Great local SEO starts with great local seo keyword research.
Local Keyword Research is a six step process.
Determine what services you offer. Dig deep, think of every problem you solve for local customers.
What geographic areas do you service.
Generate more local keywords. Look at larger markets, append keyword modifiers like “best, top, cheap, affordable etc.”.
Check search volumes of local based keywords.
Determine how competitive local search terms are.
Build out a keyword strategy and a sitemap.
Make sure you use a local keyword tool to check both explicit and implicit local SEO keywords.
Keyword research tools will be incredibly helpful for tracking down local keywords. While you can get away with free tools, finding keywords and determining how competitive the search engine results are is much easier with paid tools
Don’t ignore the local pack. Try to get reviewers to leave the odd target keyword in their review.
Pay attention to search trends
Make sure to perform on-page optimization – include target keywords in important locations (URL, H1 Tag, Meta Description, SEO Title etc.)
A group of target keywords should only have one page targeting those specific term(s).
Use content marketing (blog posts) to capture additional keywords.
Invest resources into conducting great local keyword research.