The Complete Guide to Local Keyword Research for SEO

Written by: Oreoluwa-Nathaniel Oreoluwa Nathaniel – Content Manager

Reviewed by: John-DeGrazio John DeGrazio : Head of SEO

Local keyword research discovers the words local customers use when searching for your products or services.

You want to rank for these keywords to attract more local customers to your website and Google listing.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

How to do local keyword research

  1. List all your products/services

    Your keywords will be based on your products or services, so the first step is to identify these products/services and put them on a list.

    Consciously include all the services you offer, as it’s easy to forget a few. For example, if as a tree care service, you probably do the following:

    • Tree removal
    • Tree pruning
    • Stump grinding
    • Emergency tree removal
    • Tree transplanting
    • Tree planting
    • Land Clearing

    This list may not be comprehensive enough, as there may be other services that are seasonal or more specific to your region. For instance, as a tree service in Wisconsin, where emerald ash borer disease is frequent, you may offer “emerald ash borer treatment” as a service too.

    People also search for specific services too, so just make sure to list everything you offer.

  2. Get more ideas with a tool

    You might still end up missing a few things (and that’s okay). But a keyword research tool can provide more ideas and help catch any forgotten terms.

    Keyword research tools bring up actual search terms used by real people. If you input “tree service” in a keyword tool like Google Keyword Planner, it’ll deliver several more related search terms.

    Google keyword planner local keyword research

    Simply put in the words from the initial list—these are called seed keywords—and scroll through to pick more keywords that are related to your business. This way, you can expand on the list and be certain you are targeting terms people are actually using.

    There are several keyword research tools that can do this, including Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Semrush, and Ubersuggest.

    For absolute beginners, I would recommend Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest. They are not as advanced as the other tools for keyword research, but they are easier and cheaper to use (Google Keyword Planner is totally free).

    As a local business, it makes sense to measure the popularity of certain keywords within your city or locale.

    How to discover local keywords using Google Keyword Planner

    Google Keyword Planner is free, which makes it a good place to start.

    To use the tool, you need to have a Google Ads account (this is assuming you already have a Google account. If not, create one).

    If you already have a Google account, simply go to the Google Keyword Planner site. Click on Visit Keyword Planner

    Visit keyword planner

    The next page will ask to confirm your profile details and create your Google Ads account. Simply choose the options that apply and Submit. On the next page, click on Explore Keyword Planner.

    You’ll be taken straight to the Keyword Planner interface in Google Ads. You have two options:

    • Discover new keywords
    • Get search volumes and forecasts

    Since you’re just trying to find new keywords, click on Discover new keywords.

    Google keyword planner discover new keywords

    On the next interface, you’ll be able to input a seed keyword (one of the words from the original list) and choose a preferred search location.

    Google keword planner find keywords

    You can actually enter all your seed keywords at once if you want to. However, the results might be overwhelming and irrelevant.

    I’d recommend checking one keyword at a time to get more relevant keyword suggestions.

    As a local seller, it makes sense to choose your operating cities/locations instead of the whole United States. This helps to gauge the local popularity (search volume) of any keyword—the search volume is the estimated number of searches a keyword gets per month.

    The smaller the territory, the fewer the numbers, which is to be expected. For example, here are the results for checking “tree service” within Milwaukee.

    Google keword planner search volume

    Note that Keyword Planner’s search estimates are generic—only providing a bracket volume i.e 10 – 100, 100 – 1K, etc. Other tools, like Semrush, will give you more detailed figures.

  3. Use location modifiers

    At this point, you should have a longer list. You might notice that some of the suggested keywords have ending phrases like “near me” and “nearby.”

    Those are location modifiers. They are used to make Google offer search results that are more relevant to the searcher’s location.

    Location modifiers also include location names. For instance, instead of just typing “tree pruning,” someone in West Allis might type “tree pruning West Allis.”

    Keywords with location modifiers are called explicit keywords and those without are called implicit keywords.

    To be honest, you don’t want to overemphasize explicit keywords. Google will serve up localized results to users whether or not they use location modifiers.

    In fact, searchers are catching up to this, and many people don’t bother including location modifiers anymore since they know the results will be targeted to their location in any case.


    Source: Think with Google

    But here are a few reasons you could include explicit keywords in your strategy:

    • Google may not show the same results for explicit and implicit keywords, and you want to show up for as many relevant searches as possible.
    • You want to rank for searches in surrounding cities, beyond your immediate area. I’d recommend doing this only if the business has branches in those locations, or if you’re a service-based operation and the service cities are no longer than an hour or 30-minute drive from your home base.

    Trying to rank in locations that are not close as a brick-and-mortar store will be quite tricky. Frankly, it’s not recommended. Google wants to show reputable businesses closest to the searcher’s location.

    It might backfire even if it does work, as most people won’t bother patronizing a “far-away” business.

    Tip: Use local vernacular in your keyword research e.g., “sneakers” should be your keyword if you stay in the US, as opposed to “trainers.”

    People don’t always use the officially recognized city name for their Google searches. Your location modifier has to be what the locals call it.

  4. Check competitors’ keywords

    Another way to get more keyword ideas is to discover what top competitors are ranking for. But first, you’ll have to know who they are.

    The easiest way to do this is to check the top search results for some of your keywords. If you are within the location you want to rank for, simply type in the search term and see what Google pulls out.

    You’ll find competitors in the map pack

    local keyword research competitors map pack

    And the organic search section.

    google keyword research organic competitors

    You will see local directories too, but focus on the local business websites.

    If you are not in your desired location, use a location modifier in your search. So instead of “tree services,” type “tree services Milwaukee.” The search results will be relevant to Milwaukee, and from there, you can find your top competitors in that location.

    This approach may not generate the most accurate results, so you can also use a tool like I Search From:

    I Search From competitor analysis

    Once you’ve discovered your top competitors’ websites, you can now check what keywords they are ranking for using a keyword research tool.

    Most tools can do this, including Google Keyword Planner; just switch to the Start with a website tab on the Keyword Planner interface and input a website address.

    Google keyword planner competitor keyword research

    The results will show what keywords that website is ranking for. You might see branded keywords (that include the competitor’s name) in the results, but typically, you’ll have no business with those (unless you’re running a particularly aggressive ad campaign).

    Google Keyword Planner is a basic tool for competitive keyword research. Ahrefs, Semrush, and Ubersuggest will provide more detailed insights, such as what keywords competitors rank highly for and what keywords drive the most traffic to their sites.

  5. How to choose the best local keywords for your business

    Now you have a (possibly bulky) list of relevant keywords to try to rank for. To keep things simple, organize them on a spreadsheet or use one of those keyword tools I’ve mentioned.

    You can’t pour the same amount of resources into ranking for everything on your list. You have to prioritize certain keywords that make the most sense and start with those.

    Identify such keywords based on the following:

    • Relevance (are they part of your core services?)
    • Popularity (search volume)
    • Profitability (how much money they can bring in per customer)
    • Intent (are searchers looking to buy or do they just want information?)
    • Competitiveness (how difficult they are to rank for)

    Prioritization is needed, as it’s extremely difficult to rank highly for all KWs at once or even in the near future. Selecting the right crop of KWs will help you get results quicker and manage resources efficiently.

    Checking search volume

    High-volume keywords (at least 10K monthly searches) are a very competitive area.

    So while such keywords can be attractive, you might have to spend considerably more resources and time (than is probably available) to rank highly for them.

    As a small business without an enterprise SEO budget, the typical approach is to go for keywords with “reasonable” volume—not too high to be too expensive, but not too low to be worthless.

    We’re talking 100 – 5K monthly searches.

    The beauty of local SEO is that many KWs will fall within this range since you’re targeting cities and, therefore, smaller populations.

    Depending on your industry, however, this doesn’t mean those KWs will be much less competitive.

    Most SEO tools will indicate how hard it is to rank for a particular keyword. Google Keyword Planner has something like this:

    google keyword planner keyword difficulty ads

    But this only refers to how competitive a keyword is for paid ads, not organic search, which will be a major part of your local SEO strategy.

    To gauge organic search difficulty, look at paid SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and co.

    Note that some KWs in that list have a high difficulty level, even though their search volume is low. They are likely difficult to rank for because competitors see them as valuable and have placed high bids on them (which is how people run Google ads).

    While this applies to ads, it’s a friendly reminder that search volume doesn’t always translate to keyword competitiveness.

    Choosing low-volume keywords

    As a local business targeting cities and towns, many keywords will have super low search volumes, i.e., not more than 20 monthly searches.

    This doesn’t mean you should discard them. If the keyword represents a service you offer and if you (or competitors) have received requests for such a service, then it should be included in your strategy.

    Some of the most profitable keywords we’ve targeted for clients at LWC had fewer than 30 monthly searches.

    Choosing keywords based on intent

    Keywords can be divided into four groups based on intent—what people want to do when they search:

    • Informational
    • Transactional
    • Commercial
    • Navigational

    Commercial and transactional keywords sound similar, but they are a bit different. Whereas the former indicates interest in a product, the latter means the searcher is pretty much ready to buy.

    “Roll-off dumpsters” is an example of a commercial keyword, as the searcher is probably investigating if and what type of dumpster he/she needs.

    “Dumpster rentals near me” is a transactional keyword—the searcher is ready to rent a dumpster.

    How to identify keyword intent

    It’s not always easy to classify words by intent, as you’ll find keywords that can simultaneously fall under 3 categories.

    One way to identify keywords by intent is to check the Google search results.

    For instance, a search for “tree removal” turns up the map pack, which proves that it’s a transactional keyword. Via the map pack, prospects can immediately review and request a business’s services.

    transactional keyword intent

    At the same time, “tree removal” can also have commercial and informational intent.

    Commercial and informational keyword intent

    Google displays tree service websites to match the commercial intent. And then there is the blog with educational content for those who might just want to learn more about the subject.

    To spare you the hassle, some SEO tools, like Semrush, indicate keyword search intent.

    So which local keywords should I go for?

    Generally, commercial and transactional keywords receive the highest priority in local SEO—which makes sense since people want to see results (sales and leads) fast. They should be the focal point of a local keyword strategy.

    For keywords that have more than one intent, prioritize them as transactional and commercial keywords first if they match that intent.

    In plain English, searchers who want to buy should be the biggest targets.

    What about informational keywords?

    You should incorporate informational keywords too, as those make up the majority of searches, according to Semrush’s 2023 State of Search report.

    Besides, informational content is crucial to ranking. Now more than ever.

    Google has always “prioritized” websites that use content (blogs, videos, FAQs, etc.) to demonstrate their authority and expertise in their industry. The search engine giant took this a notch up by updating its content quality guidelines in 2022.

    Now, websites that can demonstrate first-hand experience with content may have a higher chance of appearing in the top search results.

    This applies to local SEO too. While informational content has often taken a backseat in this industry, it’s growing in relevance thanks to the changing SEO landscape.

    Most informational keywords don’t have local intent, meaning they’ll hardly generate local traffic. But they should still be a part of your strategy—they represent things your potential customers might be curious about.

    And your target audience should be able to answer their queries on your website, not competitors’.

    How to discover informational keywords

    Informational keywords are typically questions and curious queries. Many of them will be long-tail keywords—search terms that are more specific and longer in length.

    The keyword tool will provide informational keyword suggestions for the KWs you provide. You can build on this by checking those suggestions with the tool as well.

    An easier, sure-fire way to find query-based keywords is to use tools like AnswerThePublic and Keywords Everywhere. These services require premium upgrades, however.

    To get informational KWs for free, simply go to the People also ask section on the search engine result page (SERP).

    People also ask keyword research

    A search for “tree removal” also suggests related questions people are asking on the search engine.

    Check each of these questions in the keyword tool to gauge their search volume and even get more suggestions.

    Tip: Get informational keyword ideas by asking your sales and customer service teams for the most popular queries they get from leads and customers.

    Dealing with repetitive keywords

    You will notice that several suggestions from the keyword tool are simply variants of the same thing, e.g.:

    • Arborists
    • Tree arborists
    • Tree surgeon
    • Tree experts
    • Tree care experts

    Of course, don’t treat each keyword as a different entity or create pages to rank for them separately. That will be an enormous waste of time and resources.

    The smart move is to prioritize the one with the highest (or most practical) search volume in the desired location and treat the rest as variations. Essentially, you can distribute the variants strategically across relevant pages. But be careful about doing this and avoid keyword stuffing.

    Create pages for your local keywords

    Beyond discovering KWs, you have to know how to rank for them.

    The standard practice is to create dedicated service pages; the homepage will most likely not rank for all the services.

    “Bread-and-butter” services should definitely get pages. For example, as a tree service, you want to create pages for the following (as long as they are services you offer):

    • Tree removal
    • Tree trimming
    • Tree planting
    • Tree treatment
    • Stump grinding

    But you might wonder whether to create pages for certain services that are related but still somewhat distinct, e.g.,

    • Tree removal
    • Emergency tree removal

    It seems like a page on “tree removal” could also rank for “emergency tree removal” as long as the latter keyword is included in the page.

    An easy way to find out is to check the search results for the keywords you’re not sure about.

    A search for “emergency tree removal” turns up pages dedicated to that service.

    related service pages

    This means you probably need a dedicated page too to beat competitors in ranking for that service.

    Another way to find out is to go to competing websites and check the services section on the menu bar. If multiple competitors have pages for the service, then you should probably do the same.

    There is no go-to scientific formula for deciding which pages to create. Much of it boils down to knowledge of the industry and expert human judgment.

    Ranking for multiple locations

    The obvious practice to rank for multiple locations is to create location pages for them, but this may not always be neccessary.

    Whether to do so or not depends on how competitive the industry and location are.

    It’s possible to rank for other locations by simply mentioning them in your website’s content and meta-tags (meta descriptions and title tags).

    This website doesn’t have a location page for Brookfield, Wisconsin, but it’s in the first SERP for a search in the region:

    multiple location example 1

    It also makes the first page for a search in Waukesha:

    multiple location example

    Rather than having seperate pages for these locations, the site simply mentions Waukesha and Brookfield in its homepage.

    tree service example

    Some websites will list all their locations on their homepage and service pages and rank for a couple. This isn’t a surefire tactic, however.

    The most competitive way to rank for multiple locations is to create location pages. But unless you can afford it, I wouldn’t advise you to create all your location pages at once.

    Rather, choose the most important ones first based on population size, significance to your business, and how profitable the clientele is.

    If you are going to create location pages, especially for a competitive area or industry, then conduct keyword research for each one. The services/products that are popular in one city may not be as popular in the other. People also use different search terms in different cities.

    Basically, instead of just swapping location names with your chosen KWs, target relevant and popular KWs in each location.

    Create a successful local keyword strategy

    What’s the point of discovering keywords if you don’t know how to use them to get results?

    Read our local SEO strategy guide to discover ways to implement your keywords and optimize your online presence.

Our digital marketing expertise and consumer-led approach can help you land more of your dream customers