How to Choose the Best Keywords for Your Local Business

Picking the right keywords for your business can be tricky. Most business owners miss out on a lot of opportunities because they don’t choose the right keywords, or worse yet, they don’t put any thought into their keyword strategy at all. Here are some tips to help guide you down the path to choosing the best keywords for your business. 

Before you get started, create a system to capture your keywords. I like to use a Google spreadsheet because it’s easy to share and you can create multiple sheets if needed. You can start with a whiteboard or notebook, but eventually, you’ll want to migrate into a digital format that you can easily sort, delete, copy and paste. 


A good place to start is to write out a list of all the keywords you would use to search for a business like yours. Try to put yourself in your customers' shoes and think of how you might search. Your intimate knowledge of the business gives you an inside track on behavior. 

Be careful not to trust your own instincts too much, though. Sometimes you’re too close to it to see some big opportunities that “normal people” are searching for. Get input from your employees, friends, and family. Be sure to ask people who aren’t as familiar with your industry to make sure you get a balanced view. 

Your customers are another great source of keyword ideas. Ask them what keywords they searched to find your business. The sooner you can ask them, the more likely they’ll be to remember the exact search phrases they used to find you. 

Competitive Analysis

While I recommend that you don’t obsess over your competitors, you can get some good ideas on keywords by watching what your competitors are doing. You can identify which competitors are worth emulating by seeing who shows up in Google. 

Search your top keywords and notice the specific phrases that the top sites include in their page titles and descriptions. Click through and look at page headings and content. Look at their blogs and other content pages to see the topics they are writing about. Look at which companies have ads for your keywords. 

There are several competitive analysis tools that will show you both organic (unpaid) and paid keywords that your selected competitors are showing up for. Some of those tools even give an estimate of how much they are paying per click for specific keywords and their total ad budget. A couple of these tools include SpyFu and SEMrush. Just enter your competitor’s domain name and they’ll show you a list of paid and organic keywords for that site, rank ordered by popularity. 

Analyze Your Existing Keyword Flow

An often overlooked source of good keyword ideas is your existing keyword traffic. Unfortunately most Google searches are encrypted, so you can’t get a lot of data on those searches from Google Analytics, but it’s worth looking at the referring keyword reports to see what’s there (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search). 

Your best source of insight into your organic keywords is Google Search Console. Sign up for an account to see your top keywords along with a bunch of other handy tools for optimizing your organic Google rankings. 

If you’re doing any Google keyword ads, Bing Ads or any other keyword ads, the keyword reports from your campaigns can give some good insights into keywords that are most popular. If you’re tracking conversions from your campaigns, you can focus on the keywords that generate the most leads or calls, rather than just the highest traffic keywords. 

Keyword Research Tools

Once you have a good list of keywords you can start plugging them into keyword tools. The purpose of running your keywords through these tools is to help validate your assumptions about which keyword phrases are most popular. You will also find additional keyword phrases that you didn’t already think of. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to start. 

This is the tool that Google uses to sell its keyword ads. Since Google gets 90+ of all of the billions of searches every day, you could say they have a decent database of search behavior. Other keyword research tools to try are Wordstream, Moz Keyword Explorer, as well as the two mentioned above for competitive analysis, SEMrush and SpyFu. 

Google also offers some good keyword ideas through their search suggestions that show up at the bottom of each search results page, and the autocomplete suggestions right in the search box. Those suggestions are based on actual searches, so make note of those and add any relevant ones to your list of potential terms to target. Google Trends can also give some good insight into localized keyword search popularity as well as related searches. 

Where to Use Keywords

Once you’ve done your keyword research and prioritized the words and phrases you want to show up for, you need to know where to use your selected keywords. There are several different ways to use keywords, and the approach for each should be a little different, depending how keywords are used in each application. 

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - For the purposes of this discussion, when we say SEO, we’re talking about the organic placement of your website, or more accurately, the pages of your website. You should include the 1-3 most relevant keyword phrases in the HTML page title for each page of your site. Include keywords where appropriate in the page headings and within the body text. Include local qualifiers to give your site the best chance of showing up for localized searches. You don’t want to force too many keywords into these areas. Think quality over quantity. And don’t worry about using the exact same phrase throughout the entire page. In fact, Google, is getting really good about recognizing different phrases with the same meaning. If you use the exact same words every time, you limit your reach for all the different variations, and you could actually trigger spam filters with Google for having a website that is  “over-optimized.” Note: it’s not necessary to include a list of your keywords in the meta keywords tag. It has long been known (and verified by Google) that the keywords meta tag is not factored into the Google algorithm at all. 
  2. Paid Search Ads - If you’ve got an ad budget, keyword ads are a great way to get targeted keyword traffic to your site. The ads are typically bought through an auction-based system where you set your maximum bid price, which is the highest price you are willing to pay for clicks on your ad. Because pricing is completely market driven, you’ll pay more for clicks if you have a lot of competitors bidding on the same keywords, and you can get clicks for cheap in less-competitive industries. The nice thing about paid search ads is that you can control how much you spend, and you can turn entire ad groups or specific keywords on and off at will. The main drawback of course is that you’re paying for every single click, so if those clicks don’t convert to paying customers, you could give Google a whole lot of money for a whole lot of nothing in return. 
  3. Local Listings - The main local listing to focus on is your Google My Business (GMB) listing. There are hundreds of other local directories and citations that include a business description along with your basic business info such as name, address, and phone number. Don’t go nuts and stuff a bunch of keywords into your company name or description, but be sure to include relevant keywords where appropriate. Whenever possible, select one or more categories for your business that match your target keywords.
  4. Content Marketing - Let your keyword research guide your company’s content strategy. Whether it’s blog posts, checklists, ebooks, or videos, you can create valuable content that you already know people are searching for. You can explore keywords that tap into different stages of the buying process through the content you create. Look for questions people are searching where you can provide an answer. The more value you can provide through your content, the better it will perform in search, and it will build more trust with your audience. 

Your keyword strategy will likely evolve over time as you see what works and what doesn’t work. Keep an eye on which keywords are driving the most traffic and leads. Repeat this process occasionally to find new keyword opportunities as they emerge. 

To learn more about how it all works, check out our local search guide

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