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Identifying the Best Keywords for Local Search

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If your business offers services or products to your local area, then getting involved with local SEO (as we call it) could easily bring in more sales.

Local SEO involves researching your competitors in the immediate neighborhood, then optimizing an SEO strategy that targets your city and/or region and gets you noticed online specifically by potential clients in the local area.

Done right, you can expect a nice upturn in business. Makes sense, right?

If you run a dental office in Akron, Ohio, then showing up in search results for someone who needs a tooth capped in California doesn’t do anyone much good.

Often, it’s easier to get top search results for local search queries. But that doesn’t mean that local SEO cannot benefit from smart and strategic planning. There are particular elements that support local SEO but that we wouldn’t have to bother with in other marketing campaigns.

Here, we’ll focus on a few key items that are essential for successful local SEO.

Finding the Best Keywords to Target

As you undoubtedly know, keywords are the terms people type when they search for something. For instance, if someone searches for Akron dental implants then “Akron dental implants” would be the keyword.

The Google Keyword Tool is probably the most-used keyword tool out there. It’ll give you a great start and it’s free, but if you stop with that, you’re selling yourself short. If you’ve never used it before, you can learn about doing keyword research here.

Let’s say you’re a cosmetic dentist in Houston. If you search for the terms “cosmetic dentist houston” and “cosmetic dentistry in houston,” you can see in the screenshot below that the terms look like they get almost the same amount of searches.

Whenever you’re searching with this tool, be sure to select the “exact” checkbox on the left. That limits the number of searches to searches done in the local area instead of the entire U.S. (Click on the image below to see larger version and hit the back button to come back here).


Screenshot of keyword research in the Google Keyword Tool

But let’s head over to Google Trends, where we can dig deeper for locally relevant search information over time or for specific time periods.

First, you’ll see a plain kind of screen like the one below. Just enter in one of the search terms you’re looking at and hit enter (or click the Explore button).

Google Trends home page screenshot

On the left you will see “Search Terms.” Click “Add terms” and put in the other keywords you’re researching. You’ll also see a map. Click on the map until you zoom down to your area.

In our example, it’s Houston. Now the data and graph will change. In this instance, you’ll see that “cosmetic dentistry Houston” (in red) is almost always searched for more often than “cosmetic dentist Houston” (in blue).

There are a few little peaks where they were close in terms of the number of searches that web surfers entered for them, but not most of the time. Nice to know, right?

Data from Google Trends search

Another thing to consider when you do this is that many people wouldn’t even include “Houston” in the search term. They would just search for “cosmetic dentistry.”

If you use Google Trends and drill down to your area on that map, you can compare that too — i.e., “cosmetic dentistry” versus “cosmetic dentistry Houston.”

Ranking for local terms sometimes means more than just keyword research and optimizing your own site, though. When you’re searching in Google, a local keyword phrase like the ones above will often bring up “local search results” as seen in the image below.

Local, organic and paid search results example


Getting into the local search results ballgame is an entirely different monster. It includes ensuring you have a Google Places listing that is perfectly optimized, gaining valuable citations (mentions of your business, URL, and address) around the web (think Yelp and other review sites), and more.

Warning: Do not buy into “local SEO services” that offer dozens of rave reviews for your business that they claim will boost your Google Places page rank. Don’t take a chance on buying reviews directly from anyone, either.

This is bad business, and these review sites are taking notice. Yelp has recently slammed down on this, publicly outing businesses they caught doing this. If they catch you doing it, there’ll be a huge warning to any visitor who visits your listing that resembles the one below.

Example of Yelp's new warning about buying reviews


There are many ways to get reviews and citations naturally. You just have to come up with the right marketing plan!


Ranking for local keywords can sometimes be easier than normal search terms, but it can also be a real challenge. It all comes down to the competition and a well-thought-out SEO strategy that’s perfectly executed.

Contact us to start your site’s climb to the top of local results that people in your area are actively looking for. There’s no reason to hand over all that business to competitors.

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Veronica has been writing online since 2007. She enjoys helping clients with copywriting and content needs, as well helping with SEO campaigns. Her experience ranges from helping small websites succeed with SEO and internet marketing campaigns to writing for Planet Green (Discovery Channel).

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