Local SEO Keyword Research: Top Guide 2017

Proper local SEO keyword research is crucial for creating a successful lead generation website. The success of the website relies greatly on finding good local keywords.

Good keywords have low competition while still getting enough volume (searches per month). Low competition keywords enable you to spend less time and money on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Step 1: Niche Selection

Before you can begin local SEO keyword research, you first need to choose a niche to target. This is the local business your website will be based around, such as plumbers, personal loans, dentists, etc.

Home Services

Home Services is a good niche to use for your first time for the following reasons:

  • Usually do not have to deal with a gatekeeper (e.g. secretary that may not forward your call to the business owner).
  • Relatively high call volume for most niches in this category.
  • Most areas have several businesses in the area to sell referrals.
  • Many cities available with low competition.

The only downside is that the payout per call is lower than some of the other niches. However, after you have gained some experience in the Home Services niche, you can move on to others with higher payouts if you wish.

Local Niches List

The Local Niches List was compiled to help you with choosing niches and get an idea of what the pay per call ranges are like. It is not all-inclusive and there are many more local niches available

Keep in mind that the pay per call amounts in the chart are averages from Pay Per Call Networks, which take a cut of the pay. For example, if the pay per qualified call is $12, they likely charge at least $15. Therefore, you should charge more than the figures in the chart. The only exception would be if there are only a few businesses in the area (e.g. less than 5), and you don’t want to risk overpricing them due to low competition.

Step 2a or Step 2b

If you look ahead at Step 2, you will see that there is a Step 2a and a Step 2b. Step 2b is optional and only applies if you want to use a Pay Per Call Network, which only target certain areas in the United States.

Skip Step 2b if you are targeting outside the United States, a niche not listed on the Local Niches List, or an area not covered by the Pay Per Call Network.

The purpose of using a Pay Per Call Network is to be paid for calls while you are trying to rank the site. You will still need to ultimately contact local businesses to sell leads. Remember, always cut out the middle man where possible.

While you will not receive hardly any calls until you reach the top of page 1 in Google, you can still get a few calls at the bottom of page 1 depending on the volume.

However, Pay Per Call Networks convert at a much lower rate than going directly with a local business. This is due to the networks requiring a longer call duration to qualify as a lead and the calls first being routed through a call center (which turns off some customers and they hang up).

In addition, the networks take a cut of the pay, so your payout per call will be lower. So as you can see, your revenue will be considerably higher by selling the leads directly to a local business.

The main goal should always be to rank the website at the top of page 1 and sell the leads directly to a local business.


Step 2a: City Selection

After you have decided on a niche to use for your website, it is time to decide on which city or town to target.

You may want to target an area nearby for your first time. That way you will be more familiar with the area. Also, it can be easier to sell leads when businesses realize you are from the area or nearby.

For the United States, you will first want to choose a state. If you are targeting a much smaller country, then you can simply research every town within the country.

Example

The best way to teach you the city selection and keyword process is to show you an example.

For this example, electricians will be the niche and Colorado will be the area that is targeted. This was randomly chosen so do not feel inclined to select this niche or area because it is shown in the example.


Step 2b: Pay Per Call Networks (Optional)

As mentioned in Step 1, only follow this step if you want to use a Pay Per Call Network. You will be limited to the United States and niches from the Local Niches List if you decide to use a Pay Per Call Network.

Here is a list of recommended Pay Per Call Networks with a short description of each:

  • RingPartner – Largest Pay Per Call Network and fast support, but typically lower payouts and longer call duration required to qualify as lead.
  • HyperTarget Marketing – Good Pay Per Call Network with several offers and high payouts.
  • Aragon Advertising – Not strictly a Pay Per Call Network as they have many CPA offers as well. They have several offers with good payouts.

Applying to Networks

Before you apply to any Pay Per Call Networks, you need to first create a website and familiarize yourself with the terminology.

You need to follow the steps in Module 2 and create a site before applying.

The reason you have to create a site is because Pay Per Call Networks want to make sure you are serious about promoting their campaigns when applying. They also have to screen for fraud. Unfortunately, some of those applying to networks want to follow fraudulent practices to generate leads.

This is also why many networks call applicants before accepting them. They will ask a few questions just to make sure you are legitimate and serious about promoting their campaigns (also referred to as offers).

They will ask about how you generate traffic and what niches you want to promote. You need to be prepared to answer these questions.

Simply tell them you will promote campaigns with SEO and which campaign or campaigns you want to promote.

Keep in mind the Local Niches List is a combined list of campaigns from Pay Per Call Networks. So you need to make sure the network you are applying to has that offer.

You can check that by using OfferVault. To do that, go to OfferVault.com and click the dropdown menu on the left where it says Select By Network. Then select the network like in the screenshot below:

local seo keyword research

This will give you a list of the campaigns offered by that network.

The network will probably also ask you about your experience. If you have any previous experience in internet marketing then mention it. If not, just let them know you are new but will be creating more sites and targeting more areas.

HyperTarget Marketing is the best Pay Per Call Network in terms of higher payouts and lower call duration times required. However, RingPartner has more offers available.

After Being Accepted

After being accepted to the network, you will still need to apply for the campaign you want to promote. All of these networks use the Invoca platform to track the calls (except Aragon Advertising has a different login platform that redirects to Invoca for their pay per call campaigns).

Scroll over the CAMPAIGNS tab and then click on Apply to New Campaigns as shown below.

apply

You will then see a list of all the campaigns available. Click on the campaign you want to promote.

Scroll to the bottom where it says Application and Agreement to Terms (as shown below). In the box, mention that you will be using SEO to promote the campaign and list your website that you have already created. Then click on the checkbox to agree to the terms and Apply to campaign.

apply-box

Zip Code List

After being accepted to the campaign, you need to take a look at the zip code list (also called target list or something else). The cities and zip codes that are covered in the campaign will be listed here.

You will use this list to find a city for your site to target. Choose a state from the list and go to Step 3 to find cities with enough search volume.

Generating Phone Number (Come Back Here After Creating Site)

After you have determined which city you want to target and created the site, you will then need to generate a phone number in the Invoca platform to list on your site. To do this, click on the Promo Numbers tab as shown below.

promo-tab

Then you need to search on Google to find out the area code used in that city with most businesses. You can use Wal-Mart and other stores or restaurants and see the most used area code.

Next, click on Add Local Number and under the Location box click on Add number from a specific area code. Enter the area code in this box. Where it says Media Type, select Online: Content/Review Site and then click Save. Look at the screenshot below:

add-promo-number

The number will then be generate below. This is the phone number to use on your website.


Step 3: Search Volume

The next step involves narrowing down the keyword list to the keywords that meet the search volume criteria.

Determining Keywords with Most Search Volume

You first need to find out which keywords for the area and niche you’re targeting have the most search volume.

For our example mentioned in Step 2a (i.e. electricians in Colorado), there are several possible keyword variations. In the United States, the keywords searched the most in major cities are usually service city while smaller cities are typically service city state abbreviation.

So for our example it could be electricians denver for a major city and electrician pueblo co for a smaller city. Keep in mind this may not always be the case, and of course it will be different for other countries. You also have to take into account whether the plural or singular keyword will be the most searched, such as electrician or electricians for our example.

Given the example of electricians in Denver, CO, these could be the possible keyword variations with the most search volume:
electricians denver
electricians denver co
electrician denver
electrician denver co

Search Volume Tool

Unfortunately, Google has discontinued exact search volume for their Keyword Planner Tool in Google AdWords. This means that when searching for the search volume of a given keyword (e.g. electrician denver), you will now be given a wide range instead of an exact number, such as 100-1000 instead of 150.

Therefore, we need to find another tool that gives us the exact search volume. Most of these tools, like KeywordTool.io, cost at least $60 per month to view the exact search volume.

Alternative Exact Search Volume Method

There is a way around this. Many keyword trackers provide exact search volume. However, you have to enter the keywords into the tool and wait to see the results. While they results are not instant as in the aforementioned tools, they are still provided and at a much lower cost.

So instead of paying $60+ a month just to see the exact search volume of keywords, you can pay less than $5 a month to do this same task. SerpLab.co.uk gives you the exact search volume for only $4.99 a month.

First, sign up for an account at SerpLab.co.uk. To view the exact search volume for keywords, you will need to sign up for a SERP bot. This only costs $4.99 a month.

Next, click on +New project to add a project and then enter a Project Name (any name) and a domain for your-domain.com. You can enter any domain, such as yellowpages.com or homeadvisor.com for example.

Then click on add keywords in bulk. At least 2 cities from the chosen state (or area) should be used. This will give you an idea of the keyword with the most search volume.

Electricians Example

For our example, Denver and Pueblo, CO will be chosen. So after entering the keywords into the box, your form should look something like this:

serplab

Then click on Add project at the bottom.

You will have to wait 2-3 hours before the search volume results are generated. This is why it is a good idea to do your local SEO keyword research in batches (multiple projects at a time) while you are waiting on the results.

Here are the results that were generated for the example:

serplab-results

As you can see, electricians denver and electrican(s) pueblo co where the most searched terms for their areas. The electricans denver keyword tends to hold true for most major cities where the state abbreviation is not included in the search term.

Both electricians pueblo co and electrician pueblo co had the same amount of searches. As a result, we could go with either keyword variation.

Most of the time (especially with the home services niche) you will be targeting smaller cities due to lower competition. However, if your niche is more specific and has lower search volume (such as some specific legal niches), then you may target larger cities where the state abbreviation is not included in the keyword.

You can now delete this project on your account to free up space to add other projects.

Compiling Keyword List

We will be using the keyword variation electricians city state since it has the most search volume. Now we are ready to compile the keyword list.

To compile the keyword list, we will be using Microsoft Excel. You can use Open Office as an alternative if you do not have Excel. It is free and the spreadsheet program has many of the same functions as Excel.

The first step is to search for a list of all the cities in the state or area you are targeting. For our example, we will start by searching in Google for cities in colorado.

There is a Wikipedia page as the first result titled List of cities and towns in Colorado. There are other sites as well that could also be used. We will go ahead and use the Wikipedia result.

If you scroll down the Wikipedia page, you will find a chart with a list of the cities in Colorado. Toggle the population column to get a list of cities by population from largest to smallest.

Cities with a population less than 10,000 will not have enough search volume, so we can ignore those. On the other hand, cities with a population of around 500,000 or more typically have too much competition. There are exceptions though if you are targeting cities outside the United States or a more specific, smaller niche (as mentioned earlier).

For this example, we will be selecting all cities with a population between 10,000 and 500,000. The selection will look like this:

colorado-cities

Then copy and paste the data into an Excel spreadsheet. Since we only need a list of the cities and not the other data, copy the cities in the first column like below.

co-cities-excel

Then paste the cities into Notepad.

co-cities-notepad

Open a new Excel spreadsheet and copy and past the cities into the second column (column B).

There may be blank cells between the rows depending on the formatting. To get rid of those, follow the short tutorial here.

Now it is time to add the term and the state abbreviation to get the complete keyword (e.g. electricians pueblo co).

Enter your term followed by a space into the first column (column A). So for the example, electricians followed by a space would be entered.

Then copy the cell where you just entered the term. Select all the cells below that next to the city names and paste the term followed by a space into all those cells.

Next, go to the third column (column B) and enter the state abbreviation with a space in front of it (you can skip this step if you are not using a state abbreviation). The example would be co with a space in front.

Again, copy the first cell with the state abbreviation, select all the cells below it next to the city names, and paste the state abbreviation into those cells.

Now we need to combine the cells in each row to come up with the complete keyword. Go to the fourth column (column D) and enter the following formula: = A1 & B1 & C1

adding-rows-excel

Press enter and you will now have the complete keyword. (Note: you will only enter = A1 & B1 in column C if you are not using the state abbreviation in your keywords)

Then we need to expand this formula to get the complete keyword for the other rows.

Go back to the first cell with the complete keyword. Then click on the solid box in the lower right hand corner of the cell, as shown below with the red arrow pointing at it.

excel-drag-down

After clicking on the solid box, hold and drag down the box to the last row. This will add the formula to the other rows.

You should now have a complete list of the keywords in the last column as shown below.

excel-finished

Now go back to your SerpLab.co.uk account and click on +New project to add a new project.

Once again, enter a Project Name (any name) and a domain for your-domain.com (any domain name). Then click on add keywords in bulk and copy and paste your keyword list in this box.

serplab-final-list

Click Add project and wait about 2-3 hours for the search volume results to be generated. Then go back to the project to see the results.


Step 4: Manual Review

This will be the most tedious step, but it is important that you pay close attention. You will need to manually review each keyword in Google.

The goal is to find low competition keywords that have enough volume to generate at least $300 a month for each keyword (and preferably more).

Why $300? Well, you need a cutoff somewhere, and if you get much lower than $300 a month it doesn’t justify the time and expenses of creating and ranking a site. A $300 a month site can easily be sold for more than $5,000 as well.

We need to analyze the volume and competition of each keyword.

Determining Required Volume

The search volume number is not the only criteria that determines the number of clicks and calls your site will likely get each month.

You should take into account the following three criteria when estimating the volume of a keyword:

  • Search volume number
  • Number of ads at the top of the page
  • Map pack results

Ads at the top of the page and the map pack results take away clicks and calls from your site, so it is important to consider these. The map pack is the map that is shown in Google for local searches and local businesses are listed below that (usually 3 but sometimes 2). This is separate from the organic listings.

So let’s say a site ranked at #1 for a keyword that does not return any ads or a map pack receives roughly 75-80% of the clicks (this is quite accurate from my experience). That same site may receive 20-25% of the clicks at most if there are 2 ads and a map pack of 3 sites above it. This is why you cannot go by search volume alone.

You can see in the example below a search with 4 ads at the top and a map pack. The ads take up so much space that you can barely see the top of the map pack. Even if you ranked #1 for this keyword, the user would have to scroll down quite a bit before they even reach the site.

electricians-aurora

Most of the keywords will have ads at the top and a map pack. However, there are still plenty of gems to be found that only have 1 or 2 ads at the top and no map pack or a map pack with no ads.

Typically, if your site is designed correctly, about 70-75% of those who visit your site will call. About 60% of those who call will qualify as paid calls (meet the call duration).

You also have to factor in that if your site ranks #1 for a local keyword it will rank for multiple other related keywords for that area. Thus, the search volume number of the main keyword can easily be doubled when taking all of the other related keywords into account.

Given all these figures and estimates, the table below has been designed to make things easier.

lead-estimate-chart

These are the most common scenarios when analyzing the volume of a keyword.

The first column is the number of ads at the top of the page. The reason 3 or 4 ads are not listed in the chart is because there is almost always a map pack when there are 3 or 4 ads. It is also a sign of high competition. However, if you ever run into the rare case of 3 or 4 ads without a map pack, simply subtract 5% from the figures above depending on the number of ads.

The second column lists whether there is a map pack or not. Usually if there is a map pack there are 3 businesses listed. Although, in some cases there may only be 2. If there are only 2 listings in the map pack, add 5% to the figure above depending on the number of ads.

In the last column, you can use this percentage to calculate the estimated number of leads (i.e. paid calls) per month to be expected for a given keyword if you rank #1.

For example, say we are analyzing a keyword with a search volume of 50 searches a month. There are 2 ads and a map pack in Google for the keyword. According to the chart, the lead percentage would be 20%. So we would use the following to calculate the estimated number of leads per month:

50 x 0.2 = 10

So the estimated number of leads per month for this example would be 10.

Also, take these other factors into consideration when analyzing the volume of a keyword:

  • Some ads use several extensions which can add services and site links to the bottom of the ads. These take up more space and should be considered.
  • Sometimes Google will show less ads if you do multiple searches in the same region. For keywords that meet the criteria, double check the number of ads for a keyword by exiting out of the browser and running CCleaner. Then search again that keyword again.
  • The number of ads can change in the future depending on the budgets of the businesses advertising. So there could be more or less at the top of the page at any given time.

Electricians Colorado Example

We will now go through the electricians Colorado example so you can have a better understanding of the process.

First, we need to determine about how much we will be charging per lead (qualified call). We can get an idea by going to the Local Niches List.

If we take a look at electricians in the list, you will see that the pay per qualified call is $10. However, this figure was taken from the payout from Pay Per Call Networks, so they are likely charging $15 per qualified call.

Therefore, we should be charging at least $15 per qualified call. In fact, if there is enough competition for a certain city (such as around 10 or more businesses), we may even be able to charge $20 per qualified call. You can get an idea of how many businesses are in a city by looking through the Google search results and sites like YellowPages.com.

Note: Do not expect to be able to double the pay per qualified call for higher payout niches since the payout is already high.

So our maximum pay per qualified call is $20, and that is if the city has several businesses. This requires about 15 paid calls per month in order to get close to the $300 per month average.

Thus, we are looking for cities that have the potential of generating around 15 paid calls a month or more. Now that we know the range of paid calls required, we can start going through the keyword list.

We need to go back to the search volume results for the keyword list in SerpLab.co.uk (from Step 3). Then toggle the Volume column to order the keyword list by search volume from largest to smallest.

Now we begin the process of narrowing down the keyword list.

We can automatically eliminate the keywords with a search volume of 10 or less, since we need around 15 paid calls a month or more. So no need to review those keywords.

Given that the percentage of a map pack even without any ads is 30%, we can eliminate the keywords with a search volume of 20 or 30 quickly. These keywords would have a maximum of 9 paid calls a month if they have a map pack (30 x 0.3 = 9)

Therefore, we can quickly search through these keywords and if they have a map pack they are automatically eliminated.

This process can be sped up by highlighting the keyword in SerpLab.co.uk, right clicking on the highlighted keyword, and clicking on Search Google for “your keyword”.

Here is an example:

right-click-google

After searching, all of the keywords with a search volume of 20 or 30 have been eliminated since they all had map packs.

This leaves us with only 3 keywords left for this example. The keywords electricians aurora co and electricians littleton co have too many ads and a map pack to meet the required volume.

The keyword electricians loveland co is showing only one ad and a map pack. It has a search volume of 40.

electricians-loveland

So given the percentage in the chart of 25%, the estimated leads per month would be 10 (40 x 0.25 = 10).

However, you also have to take the other factors into consideration. With only 1 ad, there is the possibility of it not showing up at times.

Also, if you take a look at the ad above, it is not targeted specifically for this city. It is targeting the general area of Northern CO. Therefore, it is not as likely to get as many clicks.

Even if the lead percentage is 30%, it would still only give us an average of 12 leads per month.

This is the best keyword in this list and worth noting in an Excel spreadsheet. It still has the potential of $240 a month.

All keywords that meet the volume requirements or are close to meeting them should be noted in Excel along with the potential of monthly revenue. So for this example it would be noted as below:

keywords-noted

For this example, we would move on and keep searching for keywords in other states and possibly other niches as well.

Always remember that there are tons of areas and niches to target. Do not get hung up on a specific niche or area.

Analyzing Competition

There is still one last step to take for the keywords that meet the volume criteria. We have to analyze the competition to see if it is worth going after.

Local search results mostly consist of small local business websites and large directories, such as Yellow Pages, Yelp, Angies List, Home Advisor, etc.

The small local business sites (usually around 10 pages or less) are generally easier to outrank than the large directories. Although, there is one exception. The large directories can sometimes be easier to outrank if the competition for a certain city is quite low (few ads and no map pack).

So if there is a map pack and no small local business site in the top 5, that is usually a sign of high competition. Preferably, we want a small business site in the top 3, but top 5 is acceptable if the keyword has good volume.

The exception is if there is no map pack. This is typically a sign of low competition itself. In that case, we can go after the keyword if a local business site is in the top 10.

Another sign of low competition is a Facebook page ranking high.

For our example of electricians loveland co, you can see that the site ranking #1 is a small local business site. So if the keyword had met the volume criteria, we would create a site for it.

low-competition-example

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