I’m not even going to ask you a dumb question like “do you want to get more customers in your area?” because the answer is obviously yes.
Every business wants more customers. And every business owner knows that to get them, you need a strong local SEO strategy. And what’s at the heart of a strong local SEO strategy? Local keywords.
But how do you find good local keywords for your business, why does it really matter, and how do you use these keywords anyway?
Let me be your guide to the world of local keyword research. Now when you read local keyword research, your eyes may glaze over just a bit. It doesn’t sound super exciting, does it? But listen, I’m here to make it fun. Because what’s more fun than finding keywords that are going to drive traffic to your website and grow your business? Right now, nothing. I’m PUMPED.
Here’s your local keyword research table of contents:
Plus, I even created a handy (FREE) local keyword research template just for you (skip to it here). Told you this was going to be fun.
Speaking of fun? Want to know exactly how to improve your website and SEO to get more customers? Try our free website grader to find out instantly!
What is local keyword research?
Let’s start with some basics, shall we? Local keywords make up the foundation of your local SEO strategy. Keywords are words or phrases you optimize your SEO around so you can increase your chances of getting found for relevant searches on search engines like Google and Bing. Local keywords are keywords modified for a specific location.
Local keywords: Dallas plumber, best plumber in Dallas, DFW plumber
Examples of local keywords from WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool.
Local keyword research is the process of finding the keywords you’re going to use as part of your local SEO strategy.
It’s been said that marketing is both a science and an art, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to local SEO keyword research. You have to do the research (AKA the science part) to find and understand the words and phrases to build your strategy around and then implement those keywords into your website and content in creative ways (AKA the art part).
Implicit vs. explicit local keywords
We can’t talk about local keyword research without talking about implicit vs. explicit local searches. No, I don’t mean explicit like your favorite Britney Spears CD. This is a different kind of explicit.
Let me explain: When it comes to local search, there are times when consumers are looking for local results but won’t include a location modifier as part of their query. These are implicit local searches. For example, if I search for “restaurant,” Google will show me restaurant results nearby because Google knows where I’m searching from. If I’m searching for a restaurant in my area, I’ll probably leave the location off because I know Google will give me results nearby.
Explicit local searches are searches that contain a local modifier, such as “restaurants in Dallas.”
When you conduct local keyword research, you’ll want to include both implicit and explicit local keywords to optimize your SEO around.
Why is local keyword research important?
Without local keyword research, it’s nearly impossible to know how customers are searching for products and services you offer and how to optimize your local SEO so you’re getting seen on search engines for those searches.
And because local keywords make up a big portion of your local SEO strategy, local keyword research is a must for success.
Another win for local keywords? They’re targeting a smaller subset of the global population, meaning they’re less competitive than non-local keywords. This can mean a big win for your business. By having a more focused SEO strategy, you can increase your chances of appearing on the first page for relevant searches and for targeting the searchers most likely to become your customers.
Local keywords can also translate into higher purchase intent. 88% of local searchers call or visit the business within a day. So by targeting those local searchers, you can increase your chances of getting new customers.
(Again, Google understands where a person is searching from, which is why optimizing for both implicit and explicit local searches is so important!)
Related: Learn about the other important types of SEO keywords to include in your strategy here.
Local keyword research tools
When it comes to local keyword research, there are a lot of options available. You can either conduct some manual research, use keyword research tools (free and/or paid versions), or use a mix of both.
To help you understand the full range of your options, I’ll share some free keyword research tools and some good paid keyword research tools that can help you on your journey.
Free local keyword research tools
These tools are free to use and can give you a really good starting point for your local SEO keyword research.
- WordStream Free Keyword Tool: Yes, I may be biased, but WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool is a great place to start with your keyword research. All you do is enter your website URL, your industry, and your location, and you get a whole list of keywords with associated keyword volume (the estimated number of searches in a month), and how competitive the keyword is.
- Google Trends: This is tool isn’t necessarily for keyword research but it can help you understand how people are searching, which can give you some good ideas to add to your keyword research list.
- Google Keyword Planner: Of course, Google has its own keyword research tool. This tool was built more for PPC keywords, but you can still use it to get an idea of search volume. It’s technically free, but you do need to set up an account and enter your credit card information (if you don’t have an account already).
- Answer the Public: This tool is helpful for finding keywords and phrases related to your business, which can help you identify and narrow down some good options to include as part of your strategy. It can also help you identify related questions you can answer in your content.
- Google Search: Yes, you can use good ole’ Google to find local keywords for your business. This can be done by completing some simple searches related to your business to see what shows up (we’ll talk more about this later) or using Google’s autofill feature to see full suggested searches for terms related to your business.
Our friends at WordStream put together 14 more free keyword research tools to check out.
Paid keyword research tools
Here are some other paid keyword research tools you can check out if you want more advanced results (and don’t mind paying a little premium).
Of course, if you don’t want to do any local keyword research yourself, you can find an SEO partner who can do it all for you (v. subtle 😉).
No matter what keyword research tools or matrix of options you choose to use, there are some foundational steps that will help you build a solid local SEO keyword list.
Let’s get to those now!
How to do local keyword research
Time for the extra fun part: How to do local keyword research. These simple steps can help you build your keyword list for your local SEO strategy.
Step 1: List out your core products/services
You’ll want to start your local keyword research by determining the core terms to incorporate as part of your strategy.
The best way to do this is simply to list out your business type as well as your services or types of products. This list can be relatively short if you have a niche business or predominately offer one type of service (i.e.; real estate), or it can be long if you have a range of services of products (i.e; plumbing).
Here’s an example for a cleaning services business:
- Maid service
Step 2: Build out your local keyword list with specifics
Once you have a list of a couple of core terms, you can get even more specific to build out your list.
Let’s continue with the cleaning services business. Their core terms were “cleaning,” “housekeeping,” and “maid service.” We can get a lot more specific from there:
- House cleaning
- Apartment cleaning
- Specialty cleaning
- Move in cleaning
- Move out cleaning
- Green cleaning
- Holiday cleaning
- Detailed cleaning
- After-party cleaning
- Floor polishing
- Carpet cleaning
- Best house cleaning
- Affordable housekeeping
- Best maid service
You can also use some of the free keyword research tools I mentioned earlier to see if there’s anything missing.
For example, Google Trends shows a couple of terms I can add, including “home cleaning services” and “best house cleaning services.”
Step 3: List out your area/service areas
Next comes the local part of local keyword research. You’ll want to begin incorporating your location as part of your keywords. Now, because you want to optimize for both implicit and explicit local searches, you don’t necessarily need your location every time you use your keywords as part of your strategy, but you’ll want to incorporate it in at least a few times to help search engines better understand your location.
This part also becomes more important for service businesses that serve a wider area than just one city or town.
Continuing with our cleaning services example, let’s say this maid service cleans homes in Dallas, which includes multiple areas and specific neighborhoods. They would then list out all those locations:
- Lower Greenville
- Highland Park
- Park Cities
Step 4: See what related searches show up for your products/services
Now it’s time to do a little searching to see what’s already ranking on search engines for specific keywords. (I suggest using an incognito window for this part.)
Do a few searches on Google and Bing for your top-level keywords and some of the more specific keywords you’ve outlined. What’s showing up? Are the searches related to your business and what you offer or are they missing the mark?
For any searches that don’t seem very relevant, it’s a sign that you might want to omit or refine that keyword. You can also see what results are showing up that you might want to add to your list.
For example, let’s say I have “cleaning services White Rock Lake” (which is an area of Dallas) on my local keyword list. I would do a search for that keyword and get these results:
It’s a little bit of a mixed bag with some cleaning services results but also roof cleaning and a result about protecting the lake. But, I do see a competitor targeted “residential housekeeping in Lakewood/Lake Highlands, TX” so I might want to add that to my list instead.
Step 5: Find questions related to your products/services
At this point, you should have a good list of some fairly basic local keywords. So now it’s time to expand your list to more long-tail local keywords and phrases!
Long-tail keywords are more specific keywords that often speak to a specific query or question. Long-tail keywords can also be used for voice search results where a user is asking a question like “what is the best cleaning service in Dallas?”
Long-tail keywords can also provide helpful content topic suggestions you can answer on your website either on an FAQ page or your blog to increase your chances of ranking for local-related queries.
The best way to find questions related to your products/services is by conducting a search on Google and looking at the “People also ask” section on the search results page.
When I search for “cleaning services Dallas,” people are very interested in cost and pricing. So this would be a sign to add a related keyword to my local keyword list for SEO.
Answer the Public is also helpful here. For example, if I search for “cleaning” on Answer the Public, I get a ton of suggested questions and topics related to my original search.
From this result, I might create a blog post on “cleaning to do list templates” or include “cleaning without chemicals” to my list of services.
Step 6: Search for your competition
Another way you can conduct or supplement local keyword research is by searching for your competitors. What keywords are they targeting? What areas are they going after? And what searches are they ranking for?
By seeing what your competitors are doing well, you can identify areas of improvement for your local SEO while giving yourself some ideas for more local keywords to add to your mix.
You can also look at the paid search ads that are showing up for your searches to see what search terms competitors are likely bidding on to show up for potential customers. This can give you even more ideas for your list.
How to use your local keyword research
So you’ve got a list of local keywords. Now what? Your local keyword research is going to lay the foundation for your local SEO because you’re going to want to incorporate your local keywords into your website and your content strategy.
Here are some ways to use your local keywords.
There are lots of places to put local keywords on your website. All of these together send signals to Google that you have authority in that area.
- Main navigation pages: Homepage, contact, about us page, services. (Here are some about us page examples we love for inspiration!)
- Blog posts: If you’re an event planner, you might do a round-up of the best venues in your area.
- Location-specific pages: Some service-based businesses break out their services pages into the particular towns or areas they serve, to include information and language specific to that area. (We put together multi-location SEO tips if you want more detail!)
Remember, if you’re targeting a keyword, you’ll want the keyword to be not just in the body content, but also in your meta title, meta description, page title, headings, and image tags.
This business included a couple of variations of their local keywords in their about us page.
Related: Tips for better SEO writing.
Listings and social media sites
There are other places aside from your website you’ll want to include your keywords to help with your local SEO strategy. Some of these places include your local listings and social media sites.
- Location field: This is obvious, but it’s important to be stated! You can optimize your social media sites for local search by adding your location. And your local listings are clearly built around your business address, so you’ll want to make sure those are locked and loaded.
- Business description: Your business description on social media and listings sites is another important place to incorporate your local keywords because it can help you rank for relevant searches and give potential customers a better idea of what you offer.
Here’s an example of a law firm’s Google Business description with location information.
Yes, we’re talking about local keyword research for SEO, but you can also look at some of these keywords for your local PPC campaigns. If you find high-value local keywords as part of your research, you might consider incorporating them into your paid advertising strategy.
You can also see what local keywords are driving the most clicks and conversions to your website and use that information to optimize your existing paid search strategy.
Get more ways SEO + PPC work together here.
How to measure local keyword success
Okay, what’s left? You’ve got your keywords, you know how to use them, so now it’s time to find out if they’re actually working to drive traffic to your website.
There are a few different ways you can see whether or not your local keywords are contributing to your local SEO success.
Related: Find out the top SEO metrics you need to know.
Here are some ways to measure local keyword success:
- Look for increased organic visits. Organic traffic is unpaid traffic to your website. You can find this information in Google Analytics to see how many people are coming to your website right from the search engine. If you’re getting more organic traffic, it’s a pretty sure bet that your keyword strategy is working.
- Track increased website traffic. You can also use Google Analytics to see if there are any increases in overall traffic to your website.
- Use a keyword tool. A paid keyword tool like Ahrefs is going to be your best bet for tracking keyword-specific performance. You can enter your website URL or specific pages on your site and see which keywords it’s ranking for.
- Google Business insights. Within the Google Business dashboard, you can see some helpful metrics such as where customers are seeing your listing, how many clicks it’s driven to your website, how many people have clicked to call your business from your listing, and more. These metrics can give you a good idea of how your local SEO is performing.
Local keywords are just one part of a successful local SEO strategy, so it’s important to focus on other areas such as your Google Business Profile, reviews, and your overall website structure. Being the best local keyword researcher in the world won’t do you any good if your website isn’t up to snuff and you’re not paying attention to other important ranking signals. (If you want to see how your website is doing, definitely try our free website grader!)
Get all details about this handy local SEO checklist.
Local keyword research template
I promised you a free keyword research template, so here we go! Simply download or make a copy of this spreadsheet and start filling in the blanks with your sweet, sweet keywords.
It’s built like a worksheet, so you can walk through the steps to fill in and identify the best local keywords for your business. Then use the second tab to list out your final local keywords and include keyword volume and competition if you have access to that information.
Start your local keyword research today
Local keyword research can be a fun journey to discovering the perfect blend of words and phrases that will have potential customers clicking to your site faster than I click on a marathon of Below Deck on Bravo. With these simple steps, you can help the perfect list of keywords to complement your local SEO strategy.
Here’s a recap of how to do local keyword research:
- List out your core products/services
- Build out your list with more specific keywords and phrases
- List out the area(s) you serve
- See what related results rank for your products/services
- Find questions related to your products/services
- Search for your competition
Related: Want to find keywords for your PPC campaigns? Find out how to do keyword research for PPC here.