This local SEO keyword research guide will teach you how to find what locals search for. So you can make sure your business appears in all the right places.
- How to do local keyword research
- How to target the keywords you find
- How to track your website’s rankings
Let’s get started.
What Is Local SEO Keyword Research?
Local SEO keyword research is the process of finding keywords people search for when looking for products, services, or amenities in their areas.
Local keyword research tells you exactly what your target customers are searching for. If you rely on local business, that’s valuable information.
Optimizing for the right local keywords can increase your organic visibility on relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). Helping you generate more unpaid website traffic, foot traffic, and inquiries.
For example, here’s the SERP for “plumbers in san diego.”
The paid results are at the top.
But Anderson Plumbing has the top organic (non-paid) result.
This page gets an estimated 10,000 visits a month from organic search alone. (It should also attract traffic via social media, backlinks, and other sources.)
(SERP Analysis section in Semrush’s Keyword Overview tool.)
This business also appears in the “local pack” (the section with business listings and a map). Which gets the business even more attention.
Using keyword research for local SEO can help you earn a coveted top placement in the organic results. And the local pack.
Implicit vs. Explicit Local Keywords
When people search for local products, services, or locations, their query has local intent. Meaning they’re looking for something in a specific area.
This local intent can be explicit or implicit.
Explicit local keywords specify a location or include a spatial term like “near me.” It’s obvious that the user is searching by location.
For example, a London resident who has lost their keys might search “locksmith near me.” Or “locksmith London.”
Implicit local keywords, on the other hand, don’t specify a location or include a spatial term. But the user is still searching for something nearby.
For example, someone might search “locksmith.” Because they know Google will understand their desire for local results.
Google has sophisticated algorithms to detect local intent. And various ways of determining a user’s location. So it can deliver local results either way.
How to Do Local Keyword Research
Ready to find what locals are searching for? This four-step process is the best way to do local keyword research for SEO:
- List Solutions and Locations
- Find Relevant Local Keywords
- Check Competitors’ Ranking
- Map Your Keywords to URLs
And as a bonus, we’ll cover how you can use local keywords to optimize your Google Business Profile.
1. List Solutions and Locations
Listing words and phrases that are relevant to your business will help you find local keywords later.
Start by brainstorming the solutions you offer. These will be starting points for your keyword research (seed keywords).
Think about the general terms people might use when searching for your type of business:
- Auto repair
- Car shop
The specific products and services people might search for:
- Tire repair
- Brake replacement
- Car oil
And your customers’ problems or pain points:
- Punctured tire
- Check engine light
- Steering problems
Next, list location terms. These are keyword modifiers searchers use to make their local intent explicit.
People everywhere use spatial terms like “local,” “nearby,” and “near me” to search locally. So add these to your list.
Then add place names specific to your location. The cities, towns, and areas that customers might base their search around.
For example, if your business serves the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, you might add the following locations to your list:
- St. Paul
- Brooklyn Park
Tip: People might also search using local landmarks (e.g., “restaurants near Big Ben”), ZIP code areas (e.g., “restaurants in W1”), or street names (e.g., “restaurants on Oxford Street”). It all depends on the population and geography of your location.
You’ll use your solution seed keywords and location modifiers in the next step.
2. Find Relevant Local Keywords
You’re now ready to use keyword research tools. These tell you exactly what people search for. And give you associated data, like the average number of searches per month.
Start by entering one of your solution seed keywords from step one. (Note: A free account gives you 10 searches per day.)
Choose your target country and select “Search.”
Your results are keywords that contain the seed keyword or a variation.
To narrow down to keywords with local intent, apply filters.
The quickest way to find explicit local keywords is to add your location modifiers (from step one) to the “Include keywords” filter.
Make sure to use the “Any keywords” option.
Save any relevant keywords. This will make it easier to build a keyword strategy and track your results later.
If you have a Semrush subscription, select the check boxes next to the keywords you want to save and click the “+ Add to keyword list” button. (Keep them in one list for now. You will categorize them in step four.)
The keywords you save will go to the Keyword Manager.
Alternatively, use the “Export” button to download your keyword data.
Tip: Overwhelmed by the results? Try filtering for a “KD%” (Keyword Difficulty) score of 0-49%. These keywords are “Possible,” “Easy,” or “Very Easy” to rank for.
Next, look for implicit keywords.
Move your location modifiers from the “Include keywords” filter to the “Exclude keywords” filter. This hides the explicit keywords you’ve already found.
Then, filter for search queries that trigger the local pack. This shows that the keyword has local intent.
- Go to “Advanced filters”
- Open the “SERP Features” drop-down
- Select the “Local pack” check box
- Click “Apply”
Again, add relevant keywords to the Keyword Manager.
Repeat this step with as many seed keywords as possible. This will reduce the risk of missing anything important.
Tip: Google Keyword Planner is a local keyword research tool that lets you search by country, territory, region, or city. However, you don’t get as many keyword insights or filtering options.
3. Check Competitors’ Rankings
Fill any gaps in your local SEO keyword research by looking at your competitors’ rankings.
To start, find your biggest online competitors by searching a local keyword in Google. If you’re not located near your business, use a tool like I Search From to see what locals see in the Google SERPs.
Or specify a place name in your search.
Let’s say you own an auto shop in Philadelphia. Based on results for “auto shop philadelphia,” Don’s Auto Repair and Philly Auto Repair are two of your main rivals.
You can also use Semrush’s Domain Overview tool to find competitors that rank for similar keywords.
Enter your domain (e.g., site.com). Then select your country and click “Search.”
Tip: If you have different pages for different locations, go back to the search bar at the top. Replace the domain with your location-specific URL (e.g., “site.com/locations/city”). Then change “Subfolder” to “Exact URL.” and click “Search” again. That way, you can find rivals for this specific location.
Scroll down to the “Main Organic Competitors” section. Jot down your top competitors’ domains straight away. Or click “View details” to see more.
Once you’ve identified your biggest online competitors, compare their rankings against your own using Semrush’s Keyword Gap tool.
Start by entering your URL and up to four competitors’ URLs. (Again, use location-specific URLs where available. Making sure to search by “Exact URL.”)
Then select your target country and click “Compare.”
Scroll down to the “Untapped” tab. These are keywords at least one competitor ranks for, but you don’t.
To find your rivals’ most relevant keywords, look at those they rank highly for. Go to “Position,” “Competitors,” then “Top 10.” Click “Apply.”
Then exclude keywords that contain your competitors’ brand names. (You likely don’t want to target these, although there may be some rare exceptions.) Go to “Advanced filters” and set up “Exclude Keyword Containing [Competitor Name Here].”
Finally, filter for explicit local intent using your location keywords (from step one). Go to “Advanced filters” and set up “Include Keyword Containing [Location Keyword Here].”
Save or export your target keywords like before.
4. Map Your Keywords to URLs
You should now have a comprehensive list of local keywords to target. (If they’re saved in different places, combine them in Semrush’s Keyword Manager. Or a spreadsheet.)
The next step is keyword mapping. Which is matching each target keyword to the page (or theoretical page) you’ll target it on—i.e., the target URL.
That way, you can ensure there’s an optimized page for each search term. A highly relevant result for every customer query.
To do mapping effectively, look at the SERP to see what kinds of pages are ranking well for each target keyword.
Search for each one in the Keyword Overview tool and scroll to “SERP Analysis.”
Here are the results for “mobile tire repair Philadelphia”:
Competitors are ranking with highly relevant service information pages. Like this one:
So, you should target this keyword on a similar kind of page.
In Semrush’s Keyword Manager, you can keep track of target URLs using tags. If the page doesn’t exist yet, use a placeholder URL slug like “tire-repair.”
Using a spreadsheet? Add a “Target URL” column.
As you continue your keyword mapping, it’s normal to come across keywords that share a target URL.
Like “brake pad replacement” and “brake pads fitted.”
This means most pages will have a primary keyword (the main keyword you want to target) and secondary keywords (other relevant keywords to target).
Tip: Read our keyword research guide to learn more about choosing primary and secondary keywords.
Use the same tag or target URL name to group them together.
Once you finish keyword mapping, view keywords by target URL.
And put together a plan for each:
If the target URL already exists, use on-page SEO best practices to optimize for target keywords.
Tip: Get guidance using Semrush’s On Page SEO Checker. It provides actionable recommendations based on the top 10 results in your chosen location (country, region, or city).
If the target URL doesn’t exist, create a page that meets search intent—that gives the searcher (and Google) what they’re looking for.
Not sure where to start? Enter your target keyword(s) into Semrush’s SEO Content Template tool.
It analyzes the top 10 results in your chosen location to provide content and SEO suggestions. So you can build a page that’s even better than your competitors’.
Tip: Work on existing pages before new pages—these often generate results quicker than brand new pages. For more help with prioritization, read our keyword analysis guide.
Bonus Tip: Optimize Your Google Business Profile
Don’t just optimize your website for local keywords. Optimize your Google Business Profile (GBP), too.
Google uses your GBP in the local pack.
And other Google Maps results.
Adding local keywords to your business description can help Google match your GBP to relevant queries. Which can mean more eyes on your business.
It can also reassure potential customers that you have what they’re looking for.
Here’s an example of a GBP description in view:
Local keyword research can help you select business categories, too. (Another factor that can affect your local rankings.)
But you should only choose categories that are specific and representative. Adding extras for SEO purposes is against Google’s guidelines.
Tip: There’s a lot more you can do to improve your GBP. Check out our Google Business Profile guide for tips on making it rank higher and drive more business.
How to Handle Multiple Locations
If you have multiple business locations, do local SEO keyword research for each of them.
(People search differently in different locations. And Google displays different results. So, if you just swap out the location names in your keywords, you could miss out on valuable SEO opportunities.)
Once you have location-specific keywords, map them to individual location pages (pages that are optimized for each location). That way, you can target your keywords more explicitly.
For example, let’s look at Fat Hippo, a burger restaurant chain in the U.K.
Its Newcastle location page (fathippo.co.uk/locations/newcastle) targets keywords like “best burgers in Newcastle.” As the SERP shows:
While its Cardiff location page (fathippo.co.uk/locations/cardiff) targets keywords like “best burgers in Cardiff.”
These location pages also provide highly relevant information to searchers in each area. Which should help the restaurant score more customers.
Here are some of the unique elements on each location page:
- Restaurant photo
- List of amenities
- Contact details
- Social media links
- Opening hours
- Location description
Important note: Don’t use boilerplate content for location pages and only change the location name throughout. This is an example of a “doorway page” meant to manipulate search rankings and funnel users to one primary page. And it’s against Google’s guidelines.
Fat Hippo has a Google Business Profile for each location, too. This can help their rankings in the local pack and Google Maps. And ensure users get the most relevant information.
To continue learning, check out our guide to ranking in multiple cities.
How to Track Your Local Keyword Rankings
Tracking your local keyword rankings shows whether your local SEO efforts are paying off.
In other words, are you ranking for new keywords? Are your current keywords improving?
It’s also a good idea to watch out for any ranking drops so you can take action straight away.
Here’s how to keep tabs on your local rankings in Google Search and Maps:
Track Your Google Search Rankings
You can track your Google Search rankings with Semrush’s Position Tracking tool.
It shows where you appear in the organic results. And whether you appear in the local pack (as well as other SERP features).
To get started, enter your domain and click “Set up tracking.”
If you have multiple locations, set up tracking for each location URL:
Otherwise, go ahead and complete the page. It’s a good idea to:
- Set the “Device” to “Mobile” to track mobile rankings
- Set the “Location” to track rankings by searcher location (choose your target audience’s location)
- Enter your business name (exactly as it appears in the local pack) to track local pack rankings
Once you’re done, click “Continue To Keywords.”
Export your local keywords from Keyword Manager or your spreadsheet as a CSV file. Then use the “Import from” button to add them here.
Once you’re ready, click “Add keywords to campaign” and “Start Tracking.”
The “Rankings Overview” tab displays your current and previous ranking for each keyword (based on the time range selected).
The “SERP Features” column shows whether the keyword triggers a local pack. And if so, whether your business appears in it.
Tip: Triggers alert you about important movements. Like when a keyword you rank for enters or leaves the top three search results. To set up your own, click the gear icon then “Triggers” and “Add new trigger.”
Track Your Google Maps Rankings
Use Semrush’s Listing Management tool to track your rankings in Google Local Finder (which appears when you expand the local pack).
And Google Maps.
To get started, enter your company name and select the right result from the list.
Then click “Try it now” to purchase a premium location.
Go through the checkout and get to the “Edit Location” page.
Where you should complete the following details (at least):
- Brand name
- Phone number
And your full business address. (Make sure the “Map marker” is correctly placed.)
Click “Save changes” once you’re done.
Next, go to the “Local Rankings” tab. There, you will monitor Local Finder rankings.
Click on your location. Then, go to “Select keywords.”
And add up to five local keywords to track. Save your changes with “Apply keywords.”
Then look at “Your Local Finder Position” for each keyword and ZIP code combination.
(Your business’s ZIP code is already filled in. But you can add one or two others.)
To view your Google Maps rankings, go to the “Heatmap” tab. This shows your business ranking according to precise searcher locations.
You can customize the search radius and grid size. And track up to 10 keywords.
Watch this video to learn how:
Improve Your Local Visibility
Local keyword research is an essential part of any local SEO strategy. But there’s a lot more you can do to increase your business’s local visibility online.
Learn all the basics in Semrush’s free local SEO course.
Or start your free trial to explore Semrush’s full local SEO toolkit.