Local search term research – 10 tactics for pinpointing best local terms

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After the Google Venice update in early 2012, local search became more integrated into the search results than with any other update. Since that time, local results have become a natural part of the search ecosystem and if you’re not optimized for these local terms then you are losing potential business. Before this update, the searcher might have to add a geo modifier such as a city name to see the local results. Now if you search for a generic industry term such as “Lawyer”, you will see local results based on your auto detected location.

This is the same whether you’re on a mobile device or a desktop/laptop computer. With so many searches now going local, let’s look at 10 tactics for pinpointing the best local terms to target.

Start by getting keyword ideas.

Tip #1: Do some basic searches

Although it’s super simple, it’s a great way to get the ideas flowing. Start by doing some searches in Google. Most local keyword results typically involve a category. If you own a restaurant you might consider using “Food”, “Restaurant”, or “Thai Food”. If you search for these terms you will see that many/most of them return local results within the search results. As you build up your list of keywords, make sure to check which keywords return local results – if local results don’t show then your local optimization efforts won’t yield as many new customers for your client(s).

Tip #2: Consider ‘Modifiers’ &  Create a Long Tail Strategy

Just because there are 10 people searching for Thai Food doesn’t mean they’re all using the search string “Thai Food”. It’s important to consider what modifiers people might use for your industry. Using the Thai Food example, you will notice that Thai Food and Thai Restaurant return local results. But maybe your searcher is looking for the “Best” restaurant. The keyword “Best Thai Food” also returns local results. These can vary depending on your industry, but it helps to think outside the box. As we dive further in you will see how many long tail keywords produce local results.

Tip #3: Google Places for Business Category Tool

Mike Blumenthal created a great tool intended to help you find the best category for your Google local listing. This tool is also very handy in determining which industries, and phrases within those industries, typically return local results. Using this tool, I did a quick search for “Lawyer” and was returned 10 categories (also keywords) and many synonyms including: Attorney, attorneys, law firm, lawyer, lawyers. So if you want to rank for Personal Injury Lawyer, make sure you’re also ranking for Personal Injury Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorney, etc.

Bonus Tip: When optimizing for local keywords consider the fact that rankings can change based on just the pluralization of the word, for example Lawyer and Lawyers.

Tip #4: Use Ubersuggest for your long tail strategy

Ubersuggest is a free online keyword tool that can provide tons of variants for your long tail keyword strategy.  As an example, I used the keyword Plumber and it returned with 370 results. Although all may not be relevant, you can easily sort through the data, isolate the ones that are, and perform a search to ensure they display local results.

Tip #5: *NEW* Google Keyword Planner

Local Keyword research has always been a bit tricky. Previously, it was rather difficult to find information about how frequently a given keyword was being searched in a geographic area. If you added the geo-modifier to your phrase, you could use the Google Keyword Tool to find search volumes for that “City Name + Keyword” variant.

However, just this week I stumbled across Google’s new Keyword Planner. This baby is robust and will show search volumes in geographic areas. Before this tool, you would see that the keyword “Personal Injury Lawyer” showed 12,100 exact match searches in the US, but there was no way to find how many of those 12,100 searches came from a given location.

Now, using the targeting options on the left side, you can remove “United States” and add a city name. This will show you the number of searches in that city! As always, I suggest checking the exact match option to ensure your search volumes are exact for each keyword.

Tip #6: Google Analytics

If your website has been around for a while, and you have Google Analytics configured on your site (which you need to!), you can leverage it for local keyword research. The best way to do this is to login and pull up the traffic sources by keyword. Using the built in search function you can then do a search for a city name. This will return all keywords with a city name that brought traffic to your site. You can then simply see which ones brought the most traffic and see where you rank for them. This will also help you establish a roadmap for keywords you should put more effort into. For example, if you’re ranking #6 for “Denver Personal Injury Lawyer”, and it brought you 6 visits, you might be able to get many more visits by targeting your optimization on that keyword.

Tip#7: Search for local events and write a post about the event.

This way, when someone searches for that event, they will see your business contributing. Be careful, however, with the content that you are posting here as there are some pitfalls if you get it wrong!

Tip#8 Steal ideas from your organic-search competitors

It’s not hard to tell which of your competitors are doing a good job with their local optimization. Visit the sites and local listings of your top competitors and check out things like how they are writing their meta’s, what variants they are using in their copy, what kind of text their inbound links are anchored in, etc. This will not only give you an idea of what they are doing right, but will also may help spark new ideas for you.

Tip#9 Steal ideas from your paid-search competitors

People who run paid ads on search engines often put a lot of time and money into their keyword research. You might as well steal their hard work. SEMrush is free (although the free version is limited) and allows you to see the keywords that your competitors are bidding on. Simply find a few competitors who are running paid search ads, put their URL into SEMrush, and you’ll get a glimpse into the keywords they’re paying for.

Tip#10 Have your friends perform searches in front of you

Have some friends over for a beer, sit ‘em down at a computer, open up Google, and tell them to search for the products/services your local business offers. Don’t tell them what to search, or why you’re asking this of them, just give them a simple prompt like: “you need your lawn mowed; what would you search”, and see what they type. Do this with 5-10 people and you’ll probably get some good, actionable keyword data.

We use these tactics nearly every day at Ethical SEO consulting. I hope you found them useful (hint-put them into action). Big gulps, huh? Welp, see you later!

Casey Meraz Casey Meraz

About the Author

Casey is the founder of Ethical SEO Consulting, a Denver based internet marketing agency. He is obsessed with local search and everything about it. I am blessed to have a great team of people behind me. On occasion I update My Blog with local tips, but I typically keep my posts with the company. Follow me on twitter – @caseymeraz Ethical SEO Consulting

4 Responses to “Local search term research – 10 tactics for pinpointing best local terms”

  1. Dave

    Hi Casey,

    Great post and 2 tips really stuck out, tip 7 and 10.

    I’ve seen many examples where if you can the first to write about a news story or event, this can lead to good short boosts around traffic.

    Tip 10 is good as it considers others, maybe there should be tip 10.1, how would you ask somebody, this considers voice search and further longer tail phrases.

    Thanks,
    Dave

  2. Matthew

    Casey,

    Your post on Local Keywords couldn’t have been more timely for me. I have been debating about local keywords with myself for a long time. I would do keyword research for these low populated cities, which gave me low numbers of course using the “Keyword + City + State”.

    But, when you click broad match there is a higher number of searches, which left me confused. So, I started using basic searches related to my specific niche like you mentioned above in different cities and found that the local results would appear.

    From the data I gathered, broad match does give you additional information of what type of searches consumers are using related to a specific niche in their city. Now, the next situation is finding out what keywords they are using, but after reading your article, you can easily establish this by using the Keyword Planner Tool.

    Thanks for the content.
    Matthew

  3. Mark

    Mathew,
    Good article. I have been looking for validation that you do not need to include the geotarget in your keyword search phrase as this will underestimate local traffic. However I like the tip that you need to test to see if the Search Engines are providing local results.

    Two questions.
    1. Do you use “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas” or “Get search volume for a list of keywords..”
    2. Would phrase match be more appropriate than exact match? I would think with Hummingbird, Google has evolved beyond an exact match scenario.

    Thanks

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