What are Keywords?
Keywords (also known as key phrases or search queries) are the terms people type into search engines to find the information, products, or services they seek.
When a page on your site includes keywords that are the same as — or very similar to — the keywords people are typing into search engines, that page is more likely to show up in the search results.
If you are selling to an audience in a particular location, keyword research for local SEO is a must-know SEO tactic. Let's dive in.
What is Keyword Research for Local SEO?
Let’s face it — most local businesses have competition. Keyword research can help one local business gain a strategic advantage over other local businesses targeting the same customer base.
Keyword research allows you to identify the keywords people are already using when trying to find what you offer your customers. It also allows you to quantify which keywords people are using most often, and how much competition you’ll have when trying to rank locally for a particular keyword.
Keyword research can give you direction when considering what content you should be creating, as well as which keywords you should target to generate more local business through your website.
You can do qualitative keyword research just by looking at what shows up in the search results for a particular keyword. To get the most out of your keyword research, however, you;ll need to use a keyword research tool.
Keyword Research Tools for Local SEO
Keyword research tools allow you to plug in an individual keyword and see how many people are using it on a monthly basis. These tools measure search volume, which is the average number of times people type that keyword into search engines each month.
When you collect search volume for a variety of similar keywords, you can discern which keywords will likely deliver the most qualified traffic to your local business website.
Many keyword research tools provide additional data that can be extremely useful to local businesses. Localized search volume for specific towns, cities, or states is especially useful. You can also analyze competition metrics, which tell you how difficult it may be to rank for a specific keyword or phrase.
The best keyword research tools also suggest other keywords that could be productive.
How Does a Website Target Keywords?
Once you’ve used a keyword research tool to identify the keywords being used to search for content like yours, you can selectively target the keywords that will generate the largest number of visits and conversions.
To target a particular keyword, you need to create extremely useful content on your website that is highly relevant to that keyword. Then, you need to make sure your target keyword and its variants are included throughout your amazing content.
For example, if you are a dentist in Boulder, Colorado, you might do keyword research to identify whether people are searching for “Boulder teeth cleaning” or ”Boulder dental cleaning.” If you find out that people are only searching for “Boulder teeth cleaning,” you could create a page on your site to feature your “Boulder teeth cleaning” services.
For that page to rank as close as possible to the top of the first page of Google search results, it would need to provide more valuable and useful information than any other “Boulder teeth cleaning” page on the internet. It would also need to include the exact keyword you are targeting, ”Boulder teeth cleaning,” along with several close variants like “teeth cleaning in Boulder.”
Professional keyword research gets a little more nuanced, but that’s the general idea. If you don’t target the right keywords, your website will likely have a hard time ranking in search results and driving visitors who convert.
Keyword Research for Local SEO
When it comes to local SEO, keyword research boils down to keywords that are a combination of the geographic area you serve + your product or service, e.g. “Boulder dentist.” This can either be straightforward or more nuanced, depending on your location.
If you’re a dentist in a small- to mid-sized town, it’s unlikely people will search for something other than “your town + your product or service” e.g. “Boulder dentist.”
If you’re in a big city like New York, though, your customers may come from all over the city or they could come mainly from a particular neighborhood. This can make targeting the right keywords a bit tricky. Do you target “New York City therapist” or “Brooklyn therapist?”
You know where your customers are coming from and their willingness to travel. Using keyword research tools, you can estimate how many people search for each keyword each month, then decide whether to target the city level, the town level, or the neighborhood level.
You should also look for the words people are using when trying to find your product online. Do more people search for “interior designer” or “decorator?” “Attorney” or “lawyer”? “Plumber” or “plumbers?”
Keywords that Imply Local Intent
Google uses location data to “localize” search results. This means a person sitting in Manhattan who searches for “sushi restaurant” will only see sushi places in that area.
Google can understand when people want local results based on the keyword they use to search, even if they don’t include a location in the search. That’s because Google recognizes that some keywords have local intent, while others do not.
The quickest way to see if a keyword has local intent is to type it into Google and see if you’re given local business listings and a map of your geographic area.
You can use a keyword research tool to investigate keywords without geography and find out whether “attorney” or “lawyer” has more volume in your area. But when it comes to keywords to your content, you’ll want to include geographic modifiers — like the “Boulder” in “Boulder therapist.”
What About “Near Me” Searches?
It’s unnecessary to do keyword research specifically for “near me” search terms. Instead, just make sure that your website and Google Business Profiles each include appropriately-placed mentions of keywords that are highly relevant to your business.
This makes it easy for Google to understand the nature of your business, so you’ll be more likely to show up for relevant “near me” searches.
How to Use Keywords for Local SEO on Your Website
Keywords alone aren’t going to drive traffic to your site. They need the support of highly useful and well-written copy that’s full of contextual phrases in order to achieve their full potential.
Which words might add useful context to the phrase, “Houston architect?” Here are a few examples of contextual phrases:
— building design
— window placement
By adding these contextual phrases to your content, you’ll amplify the use of “Houston architect.” That’s because you’ve given Google enough clues to make sense of your content. If two “Houston architect” pages are trying to rank, and one is packed with contextually-relevant information while the other is not, the one with great context is likely to win.
Where to Put Your Keywords for local SEO
With keyword research in hand, you can apply it to your content and on-site optimization. Here are the main places you should incorporate your keywords for local SEO and how often:
- Once in your title tag
- Once in your meta description
- In the H1 header
- Somewhere in your copy near the top of the page
- Sprinkled throughout the rest of your page copy
- In the alt text of images on that page
- In the anchor text of internal links which point to that page
The biggest thing you DO NOT want to do is overstuff your content with a particular keyword. That’s a great way to get Google (and users) to completely ignore your site. Check out this resource for a better understanding of how to use keywords for SEO.
It’s important to note that after optimizing a page around a particular keyword, you should not optimize any other pages on your site around that same keyword. If you do that, your site is “cannibalizing” the ability of one of those pages to rank for another, unique keyword.
For example, the Boulder dentist would not want to have two pages targeting “Boulder teeth cleaning.” That’s because Google will only rank one of those pages for that keyword, so the second page will get buried in the search results, never to be found.
Instead, that second page should target a different relevant keyword relevant. If the content on both pages is highly similar, though, combining them into one powerful page often makes more sense than diluting the content — and your keyword efforts.
Where Else Should Local Businesses Use Keywords?
Once your keywords have been thoroughly integrated into your content and you’ve completed your on-site optimization, your keywords also need to be added to your off-site optimization efforts.
The two most valuable places for your keywords to live are in your Google Maps listing (via Google Business Profile) and in the anchor text of links on other websites that are pointing to your site.
It also doesn’t hurt to add your best keywords to your social media profiles where possible.
Take a Deeper Dive into Keyword Research
With keyword research for SEO, the quick and simple tips we’ve mentioned above will generally set you up for success.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive guide to keyword research, though, and want to take an in-depth, process-based approach, check out Pathfinder SEO's guided approach to SEO.