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Keyword research essentials for local SEO

an image of author Celeste Gonzalez, accompanied by search-related iconography, including review stars, a map, and a magnifying glass

Understanding your potential customers has never been more valuable than it is today. “Speaking their language” isn’t just a marketing cliché—it can be very lucrative to know the precise language people are using to search for local products and services like the ones you sell.

Doing keyword research is how you can learn to “speak their language.” It can be as simple as describing your products/services and can involve identifying new ways to explain your offerings for different types of customers. It can even introduce your business to new audiences.

This process is essential for any local business that wants people to check them out online. To find out where to start, you have to do keyword research—so, let’s get started.

Table of contents:

What is local keyword research?

Local keyword research (or keyword research for local SEO) refers to the process of identifying keywords that potential customers might search for to find local goods and services. Regularly performing this type of research and executing a strategy based on it can help local businesses appear in the searches best suited to bring customers their way.

The difference between traditional and local keyword research

Local keyword research is best suited for when a potential customer searches online for a product or service available locally, otherwise known as “local search intent.” This makes it a valuable technique for local business owners (or the marketers and SEOs that work for them).

Traditional keyword research, on the other hand, is not limited to local search intent (more on this in the section specifically about search intent).

This means that the businesses that engage in local keyword research are looking to appeal to customers in their service area, whereas traditional keyword research would be more appropriate for businesses that serve customers regardless of their geography.

So, a larger company that operates in many markets, like Optimum Nutrition, might perform traditional keyword research to identify opportunities to get in front of searchers—such as those that want to learn whether plant-based or whey protein is better, for example.

A local business would essentially do the same thing, except to cater to their audience that is looking for products/services locally. So, for example, a falafel restaurant chain might perform local keyword research to identify an opportunity to get in front of people looking for falafel catering in the Boston area and create a page specifically for that purpose.

A screenshot of showing a menu of catering options.
An example of an offering page that caters to local searchers.

In practice, many parts of the keyword research process are similar whether you’re a local or global business, but there are important nuances, which I’ll explain next.

How to find local search keywords

In general, the content you create—whether it’s a local landing page or informational blog post or anything in between—should be informed by two perspectives:

  • What you offer

  • What your target audience wants

Let’s look at keyword research for local SEO from both perspectives, starting with your offerings. For this portion of the process, it’s helpful to break down your keywords into two categories: general and modified.

General local keywords based on your offerings

When you think of general (or broad) keywords, think of all the products/services your local business offers. These are the main keywords you want to target (i.e., create content based on).

Screenshot of a completed search on Google for “detailing burbank”
An example of a general search with local intent.

Targeting these general keywords can help improve your business’s visibility in the organic search results. That way, when someone searches for detailing burbank, for example, your page about your Burbank-based auto shop’s detailing services might appear in the search results, which brings you closer to winning over a new customer.

It helps to come up with a list of products/services you offer and organize them based on priority or how essential they are to your business.

For example, a medical spa might list the following services (which could also function as general keywords to create content about):

  • Botox

  • Juvederm

  • Restylane

  • CoolSculpting

  • Laser hair removal

  • Facials

  • B12 shots

Depending on the nature of the product/service (and the questions customers have about it), you could create one page that lists them all or create a dedicated page for each one.

Modified local keywords based on your offerings

You can modify the keywords you identified (in your list of general keywords from the exercise above) by finding long tail variations—variations of the keyword that have low search volume, but higher intent behind them.

This approach helps you appeal to potential customers that have a very specific need; for example, the way a local bakery’s page about their gluten-free, vegan breads appeals to a niche audience.

Going back to the medical spa example, this can be as simple as specifying the types of Juvederm offered.

  • Juvederm XC

  • Juvederm Ultra XC

  • Juvederm Ultra Plus XC

  • Juvederm Volbella

  • Juvederm Vollure

This also applies for home services businesses. If your home service business offers 24-hour or emergency services, you should add that to your main service keywords as well.

Lastly, another way to refine your list of keywords is by adding a relevant location to the front or end of the keyword. You can use “offering + location” (e.g., tacos near me) or “location + offering” (e.g., los angeles tax services) for your keyword research.

Identifying local keywords by search demand (using tools)

Other than listing out your offerings, how else can you find keywords for your local business?

Keyword tools like Google Search Console, Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Semrush, etc. can give you a sense of the keywords people are searching to find businesses like yours. You could even use Google’s autocomplete suggestions to help with keyword ideas.

Google Search Console is always a great place to start. You’ll be able to find out what queries your business is already gaining impressions and clicks from. You could easily use this data to create part of your SEO strategy.

For example, you can see the queries that a particular page has shown in the search results for. To do so, visit Google Search Console, then:

A screenshot of the main Google Search Console dashboard, with an arrow highlighting the location of the “Page” link to illustrate the instructions.

  • Select Search results in the left-hand navigation menu

  • Click + New in the filters section

  • Select Page

  • In the Page pop-up, select Exact URL from the drop-down menu

  • Enter the page URL you’d like to check out

The table beneath the chart shows you the queries that page has shown up in search results for. (Note: Google Search Console is not 100% accurate and does not reflect all data.)

Screenshot of Google Search Console’s Search Results tab where it is displaying top queries for a page from for the last 3 months. Queries include “starbucks cold brew orders,” “how to order cold brew at starbucks,” “best starbucks cold brew order,” “starbucks cold brew order,” and “cold brew orders.”

From here, you could enter these queries into Google Keyword Planner or Semrush to get local search volumes. You can then narrow down which keywords you’d like to target based on this list.

And, remember, targeting a term doesn’t always mean creating a dedicated page for it—it could also mean adding a section about it onto an existing page, for example.

Factoring in search intent

Once you have a narrowed-down list of keywords you’d like to target for your business, it’s time to address their search intent. It’s important to look at the search results for the keywords you are researching. This will let you know the type of content that Google serves to people searching for these terms, which will influence your success when pursuing the given keyword.

Take a look at what’s on the search engine results page (SERP) for a keyword you’re interested in. Are there videos? Are there mainly directories (Yelp, Angi’s, etc)? What you see in the search results can hint at the type of page and even the type of content you should include on the page for the keyword you want to target.

Let’s say I’m doing keyword research for my medical spa and I noticed that I’m getting a few impressions for what is botox. So, I might want to target this keyword on my service page. Let’s check out how what is botox looks in the SERP.

Screenshot of search results for “what is botox.” Mayo Clinic’s Botox Injections page ranks first, a People Also Ask section is shown underneath the Mayo Clinic. A knowledge panel for Botulinum toxin with photos is shown on the right.

If I scroll down, I see that Google is mainly showing medical resources.

Screenshot of search results for “what is botox.” Showing MedlinePlus, MedicalNewsToday, Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, and Botox Cosmetic in the results.

This tells me that this keyword (what is botox) is not a good match for my botox service page. The intent of the search is informational, meaning that someone searching this term isn’t likely looking to pay for botox just yet. The results also primarily display medical sources, meaning that it may be difficult to create a blog post and try to rank for this term as a local business.

A screenshot of the Google results for “botox lisbon” showing a local business pack of results and a regular organic listing for a clinic.
A keyword like “botox (city name)” carries local search intent, as indicated by local business listings and directories in the SERP.

If you look up another term like botox (insert city), you’ll see local businesses or directories appear (as shown above). These are signs that the intent is to make a purchase or pay for a service. It’s a good signal that a service or location page could rank for this type of keyword.

What you need to know about keyword research for local business blogs

There are some important benefits to keeping a blog on your local business site. It can help you:

Going back to the what is botox example from earlier, you remember that there weren’t any local businesses showing up in the search results—it was all informational pages or blog posts. However, they were from very well-known sites, like WebMD, not from local medical spa businesses.

This can happen with all types of blog post keywords. Depending on the niche, Google may operate with stricter standards for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, so the odds of a local business ranking for these keywords are lower. But, as long as you are producing quality content that is helpful to your audience, the blog posts will always be valuable.

Sometimes, customers simply expect you to have a blog post detailing why your product/service is unique, for example—just because ranking for the ideal keyword for it might not be realistic shouldn’t deter you from creating that content.

Ultimately, this is a marketing decision—you need to evaluate whether building credibility on a larger scale matters to your local audience. If it does, you can follow basic keyword research best practices, along with some of the tactics mentioned above, to get started with content your audience may be looking for.

Get found in more ways than one

What I’ve discussed above falls under the category of on-site optimization—just one aspect of controlling your business’s online presence. But, what goes on on your site is only half the equation for local businesses. Prospective customers may search for your Google Business Profile in Search or Maps, or look you up in a directory with reviews, like TripAdvisor or Yelp.

In addition to the local keyword research you’re doing for your site, make sure to build out your presence in all locations that potential customers might look for you:

Altogether, making sure that your website and profiles provide information that’s helpful to people looking for your offerings will be key to getting discovered by new customers.


celeste gonzalez

Celeste Gonzalez is an SEO strategist at RicketyRoo. She began her journey with SEO by doing what she loves best: learning. She continues to learn in public and share her experiences—good and bad—with the community through Twitter and the SEOBreakdown. Twitter | Linkedin


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