10 Better Ways to Do Keyword Research for Local SEO

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3 main problems with most keyword research methods, especially for local search:

  • They tell you what searchers search for, but not what customers search for
  • They rely too much on third-party tools
  • They give you analysis paralysis

Most people’s keyword-research strategy is this (more or less):

  • Use the “Keyword Planner” in Google Ads
  • Use a third-party tool (e.g. SEMRush) to sniff around
  • Type search terms into Google and see what autocomplete belches out
  • Type a term into Google and see how many millions of search results Google touts for that term
  • Study competitors to get a sense of the keywords they abuse like rented mules

That approach – or some variation on it – isn’t terrible.  It has its place in the world, and some good resources (like this and this) can walk you through it.  It’s better than nothing, and usually it’s a good way at least to get your sea legs.  But it’s still stuck with the problems I mentioned a minute ago.

How do you pick?  How do you avoid analysis paralysis?  How do you tell a high-volume search term from one the most-relevant or best-converting term?  What if you don’t want to use only third-party tools?  How do you tell what customers really care about?

You need crunchier intel – either in addition to or instead of what you dig up with conventional methods.  At the very least, you need intel that can serve as a tiebreaker, to help you decide which specific search terms (or families of search terms) should be your highest priorities.

Below are 10 straightforward ways to research the local search terms that matter to your business.  I’m irritated by tutorials that are so step-by-step you never even finish reading them, and sometimes I over-explain things, so I’ll keep these points brief.  (Please let me know in the comments if any could use more explanation.)

1: Your reviews.  You don’t want more people to find you; you want more people to pay you.  In most cases, your reviews were written by people who paid you.  Mine those reviews.  Pay attention to the exact words those people use (especially if you know that they first found you online, rather than came to you through a referral).

2: Competitors’ reviews.  Similar reasoning as in point #1.  In many cases your competitors’ customers are the same as or much like yours – in terms of needs, knowledge, search habits, and so on – but they just hired the wrong company!

3: Non-competitors’ reviews.  I’m talking about businesses in your industry that aren’t in your immediate area.  You don’t wrestle with them in the local rankings, so you never or rarely see them, but you should go out of your way to study their reviews.

Whereas probably only a couple of your local competitors are good, if you look farther away you can find plenty more businesses high up the food chain.

4: The “Acquisition -> Search Console -> Landing Pages” area in Google Analytics.  Read my post on the topic.  You’ll probably find that you rank for (and get clicks for) terms you didn’t know you ranked for, because you don’t track them or check on them.  You may also find terms for which you already rank well, but want to get additional pages also to rank for those terms.  There’s no end to what you can find in there.

5: A “feeler” AdWords campaign.  The idea is you set up a Google Ads campaign (search network, not display) strictly to get data.  You don’t expect it to bring you a single customer, so maybe you run it only for a couple of weeks before pausing.  You scour the “Keywords -> Search Terms” report to see which exact terms people actually searched for, which often aren’t the exact terms you bid on.  You mine the data in “Reports -> Predefined reports (Dimensions) -> Locations -> User locations” to see exactly where people searched from – where the “hot spots” are.  If you get some business from your Ads campaign, great.  The data alone is worth at least few hundred bucks.

6: Google My Business “Questions & Answers.”  Not everyone who asks a question in there is a customer, but most of those people aren’t just casual browsers, either.  Look at competitors’ Q&A sections, too.

7: Names of Google My Business categories.  Just log into your GMB dashboard and sift through the list.  The phrasing of categories isn’t arbitrary.  When you research the terms a competitor uses, you learn from people who may have less intel or worse intel than you have.  When you research the terms Google uses, you learn from a Borg cube with more data than you can imagine.

8: Names of categories used in local directories and in directories big in your industry.  I’m talking about Yelp and YP, but I’m also talking about HealthGrades, Avvo, Houzz, TripAdvisor, and similar sites that cater to specific industries.  They’ve probably thrown more time and money at research than you have, and they have more data than you have, so at least see what phrasing they use.

9: Customers’ emails to you, especially their initial inquiries. Or call logs, if you record and transcribe calls. (A great point that Tony Wang mentioned in his comment.)

10: Wildcard searchesCheck out my 2015 post on wildcard searches.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a variation on the typical strategy of “type stuff into Google and see what autocomplete shows,” but at least you’ll probably see some search terms your competitors probably missed.)

What do you do with good search terms you dig up?

For starters:

  • You’ll probably want to create a page on each specific need or search term you unearthed (although that mostly takes care itself if you have an in-depth page on each specific service and/or product you offer, as I always suggest)
  • You’ll probably want to mention those needs / services / products on your homepage.
  • Consider adding to existing pages a section on whatever high-payoff search term you just learned about. You might phrase it as an FAQ, and put your answer right underneath (maybe with a link to a whole page on it).
  • Encourage more reviewers to go into detail. Don’t push keywords on them, though.  Most people will mention relevant search terms naturally, when their reviews are more than tiny blurbs.

Any great, less-obvious local keyword-research methods I overlooked?

Which methods have worked best for you?

Any questions about how to use what you find?

Leave a comment!

Google Maps Reviews Now Include “What Do You Like About This Place?” Prompts

In what is at least a test, Google now asks Google Maps reviewers to select attributes they like about the business they’re reviewing.  When I went to post a review yesterday, Google asked how I liked the “Quality,” “Value,” “Responsiveness,” and “Punctuality” of the business.

I haven’t been able to replicate that for other businesses, including for other businesses I’ve reviewed since that review.  So I also don’t know whether there are other attributes (e.g. “Reputation,” “Convenience,” etc.) that may show up under the “What Do You Like About This Place?” header, or why certain prompts might show up for one business and not the other.  I’ll need to see more to say more.

The prompts are very Yelp-like.  For many years Yelp has asked reviewers structured questions like those (e.g. “Price” or “Good for Groups”).  Google could use that info in all kinds of ways, most obviously in the search filters in Google Maps. It’s also possible that Google doesn’t care much whether reviewers click the attributes, as long as they see the prompts. In that way, maybe Google simply wants reviewers to sprinkle in more crunchy bits of detail.

Regardless of whatever way(s) Google wants to use those prompts, it’s probably a good idea to have your reviewers spoon-feed that stuff to Google.

 

Then there’s the “Tip: Let others know about the service” prompt, which may be a test or a new feature.  Thanks to Colan Nielsen for the intel (see his comment) and for the screenshot.

Have you seen the “What Do You Like About This Place?” questions when you post a Google review?  If so, when did you first notice it?

Any theories on how Google is most likely to use reviewers’ answers to those questions?

Leave a comment!

The Local SEO Data Jackpot You Missed: Google Analytics – Search Console Integration

If you’ve never done so, log into Google Analytics, then go to “Acquisition,” “Search Console,” and “Landing pages.”  There you’ll find a mashup of (1) Google Analytics data on landing pages and (2) Google Search Console data on how specific pages perform in the search results.  Whether you do local SEO yourself or you do […]

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Hardest Truths of Google Maps Spam

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It’s hard enough to keep a lid on competitors’ Google Maps / Google My Business spam.  That’s even harder if you don’t know what to expect, or or if you give up because you assume you’re doing it wrong. It’s easy to get your spirits crushed. As with Google reviews, you know Google isn’t too […]

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10 Basic Parts of an Effective Local SEO Audit

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There’s no shortage of info on the “ultimate” local SEO audit, and on all the checklist items big and small that people insist should be in your audit.  But there are two intertwined problems: a. Good SEOs aren’t necessarily good at doing audits.  Most audits are overblown and disorganized. b. Their audits often are tough […]

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Your Bunker Plan in Case Google My Business Pushes the Pay-to-Play Button

It may not happen soon – or suddenly or permanently – but the chances are good that sooner or later Google will monetize more of the Map.  Maybe all of it will become ad space, or maybe certain features of your Google My Business page will require you to load quarters into them.  Probably a […]

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Does Google Look the Other Way When a Local Pack Advertiser Spams the Google Maps Results?

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For better or for worse, you can “buy” your way to the top of Google’s local 3-pack if you have a Google My Business page that already ranks OK, and if you use AdWords, enable location extensions, and meet a few other criteria. It appears that’s also how you can buy wiggle room to spam […]

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Google Expands “Suggested Review” Google My Business Posts

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I always like when Google drops a subtle hint about what it wants you to do. If you haven’t done a Google My Business post recently, and if you have a good-sized pile of Google reviews, there’s a good chance Google will auto-generate a “Suggested Post” that quotes one of your Google reviews.  (As of […]

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One Good Reason to Offer Google My Business Post Offers

Two problems with Google My Business posts are (1) they’re not too visible anymore unless someone searches for your business by name, and (2) people without itchy mouse-fingers only see a tiny preview of the post in the sidebar. Those are valid concerns.  Though you can use my hack to keep Google My Business posts […]

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The Easiest Way to Get a Google Maps One-Box Result – without Spamming

I’m talking about a local search result like this (click to enlarge): Local “one-box” results (as they’re called) show only one Google My Business page, alongside some organic results.  It’s good for your business to have a one-box result any time you can nab one, because of how visible you are on the page: You’re […]

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