SEO Keywords for Local Businesses

How to Choose Keywords for a Local Business

Keyword selection is fundamental to your SEO. Get it wrong and your SEO strategy will fail to get off the ground. But how do you choose the right keywords for a local business? 

Do you chase high-volume (i.e. highly-searched), competitive keywords in the hope of securing a business-transforming influx of traffic? Or do you try to dominate an easier keyword with a smaller, more obtainable potential prize?

The decision can be paralysing. 

Here at Advance Online, we’ve worked with hundreds of local businesses to help them select the best keywords for their website. In this article, we share our expertise to help you determine how to choose the best keywords for your business.

What is a Keyword?

targeting a keyword

A keyword is a search term that you want to rank for in the search results. 

Keywords can be short, such as ‘emergency plumber’, or they can be a full question or sentence, such as ‘how do you identify the stop cock in your house?’.

Typically, a webpage will target one ‘main keyword’ and several ‘variant keywords’. A web page targets a keyword by being relevant to that keyword, for example, by including the keyword in the title tag or containing useful copy about the subject.

Why is Keyword Selection Important?

Keywords are the foundation of your SEO strategy. They determine the amount of organic traffic you could receive should you rank highly enough, as well as the difficulty of achieving that high ranking. 

To put it another way, keywords determine the size of the prize and the cost of buying a ticket.

Keywords also determine the structure of your website, the content on each page and your approach to off-page SEO. Get your keyword selection wrong and your strategy is doomed to fail. Change your mind later and you’ll have to re-structure, rebuild and rewrite your website.

The Factors that Affect Keyword Selection

factors that affect keyword selection

Three main factors affect keyword selection: relevance, search intent and performance.


Let’s start with the obvious: a keyword should be relevant to the services or products your company offers. There’s no use targeting ‘builders’ when you are, in fact, ‘roofers’.

Search Intent

The search intent of a keyword reflects the most likely outcome the user desires from entering that keyword. 

If someone searches for ‘broken chimneys’, they could be seeking a variety of things: a picture for a school project, local chimneys due for demolition… the list goes on. Targeting this keyword might result in traffic, but the traffic won’t necessarily convert into leads.

If someone searches for ‘chimney repairs’, it’s far more likely they are searching for someone to come and fix their chimney. If they search this keyword, visit your website and find it satisfactory, chances are you’ll receive a call. 


Keyword performance is governed by two key metrics.

  • Search volume – This is the number of times over a given period users enter the keyword into a search engine. Various SEO tools provide estimates of this data. 
  • SEO difficulty – This indicates how difficult it will be to rank highly for the keyword based on the competition. If, for a keyword, the front page is dominated by websites with extensive content and thousands of backlinks, the keyword will have a high SEO difficulty and vice versa.

By comparing these two data points, you can weigh up the potential upside of a keyword in terms of organic traffic versus the work required to rank highly enough to receive a share of that traffic. 

Keyword performance is where keyword selection can get complex. It’s also where the SEO strategy thrives or fails, so let’s examine it in more depth, aided by a wonderfully extended metaphor.

Determining Keyword Performance: The Goldilocks’s Keyword Decision Matrix

Goldilocks has started a new business renting out other people’s (and bear’s) property. Wisely, she has decided that SEO is a great way to generate the leads she requires to take her idea to all four corners of the fantasy kingdom. First, she needs to choose her keywords.

By plotting search volume and SEO difficulty on a graph, and sprinkling on a bit of fairy dust, she arrives at the following decision matrix.


1. High Search Volume, Low SEO Difficulty

Why not just target a keyword that promises maximum traffic for minimum effort? Perfect! Goldilocks’ business is a success. Here ends our advice. 

Only… the internet’s been around for kind of a long time now, and if a keyword has a high search volume with commercial potential, you can be certain more than a few businesses are already targeting it. Competition will be fierce. 

Basically, a high search volume and low SEO difficulty keyword that’s commercially relevant is practically non-existent.

The closest you could get to such hallowed pastures is to capture a trend before it blows up, i.e. a low-volume, soon-to-be high-volume keyword. But that involves some soothsayer foresight, a lot of luck and more than a few failed attempts. 

Otherwise, Goldilocks is more likely to stumble across the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

2. Low Search Volume, High SEO Difficulty

This one speaks for itself. It doesn’t make sense to target a keyword that requires a lot of effort for little reward.

Keywords in this realm are a bit like Shrek’s swamp: best avoided.

3. Low Search Volume, Low SEO Difficulty

Now we’re entering more realistic territory. Given you could form a keyword by combining any words in the English language (or any language for that matter), there’s a near infinite amount of keywords that have a low search volume and low SEO difficulty. 

While there are exceptions, there probably won’t be enough traffic to generate a meaningful amount of new leads.

Like a spoonful of Mother Bear’s porridge, a lot of these keywords are just too cold.

(Caveat: In some cases, for instance when planning a blog or selling a range of niche products, targeting a large number of low-volume, low-difficulty keywords can make sense. But for a local business with a finite number of service pages, targeting a keyword with at least some volume behind it will be more profitable.)

4. High Search Volume, High SEO Difficulty

If a keyword has a high search volume with commercial potential, you can bet that it’s been bombarded by businesses with extensive SEO.

While it might be tempting to go after the search volume, in reality, it will be tricky to rank highly enough to receive a slice of the traffic, especially if you’re just starting out.

Remember, the top 3 search results obtain 68% of the traffic. Appearing on the third page isn’t going to get you the leads you need.

Goldilocks has tasted a mouthful of Daddy Bear’s porridge – and it’s too hot!

5. The SEO Sweetspot

Which brings Goldilocks (and this metaphor) to her final destination. To Baby Bear’s porridge, the magical middleground, the SEO sweetspot. 

Indicated by the green oval on the graph, in this central region you can find keywords with a large enough search volume to deliver meaningful traffic, but it won’t break the bank trying to rank for them.

It’s worth noting that within this sweetspot, there’s still a range of possibilities, similar though less extreme, to options 1-4.

By closely examining the volume and difficulty data, you can develop a clear picture of the benefits and risks of each keyword and refine your shortlist to the chosen few.

How to Choose Keywords for a Local Business

So, we’ve covered keyword selection more generally. But what about selecting keywords for a local business? 

First, let’s examine the anatomy of a keyword for a local business. Typically, it consists of two things: a service (or product) and an area. An example is shown below.

anatomy of a local keyword

The good news is this means you have two levers with which to hone the keyword’s search volume and SEO difficulty. 

For instance, you can target a broader service keyword, such as ‘car dealer’, which has a higher search volume and SEO difficulty. Or you can target a narrower keyword, such as ‘ford dealer’, with a lower search volume and SEO difficulty. 

The same goes for the area. ‘Guildford’ is a moderately sized town. Instead you could target a larger, more competitive area, like ‘Surrey’, or somewhere smaller and less competitive, like ‘Chobham’.

The challenge? You need to get both parts right.

How to Select the Best Service/Product Keywords for a Local Business

considering seo service keywords

Let’s start by examining how to determine service keywords for a local business. 

First, write a list of services or products you provide. For each one, consider the intent and relevance of the keyword, for example ‘car dealer’ or ‘second hand cars’ rather than just ‘cars’.

Enter your keywords into SEO tools, like Google Keyword Plannerahrefs or Ubersuggest. These tools will give you a number of related alternatives. 

related keyword suggestions

If you’re still struggling for inspiration, try googling your services in a major city, e.g. ‘car dealer in London’. 

You might not be interested in competing with businesses in London, but you can use the results to understand the keywords local businesses in your industry are targeting. The logic is that if these businesses appear on the front page of a highly competitive area, their SEO strategies have been successful.

Note down anything you think is relevant to your business, as well as any descriptive modifiers they use (e.g. ‘low cost’ or ‘2-year warranty’). At the very least, this exercise will have confirmed you’re on the right track. It might also have highlighted a service you offer but wouldn’t have considered targeting, such as ‘car valuations’.

For all that, don’t let your competitors cramp your creativity. If you think of a keyword you would like to target that hasn’t been targeted by others, add it to the list. Feel free to trust your gut!

How to Choose Which Area Keywords to Target for a Local Business

When it comes to target areas, the choice is limited by geography. But within these limits there are a range of options. 

For instance, you could target the local town where the business is based, the adjacent towns, the county, the region or the country. Or a combination of all of the above.

When choosing the areas, you should consider the following:

  • Where are you located? The closer the target area is to your address, the easier it will be to rank for. Google uses your business address on your website, on citations, and most importantly, on your Google Business account to pinpoint where you are so it can recommend localised search results to its users
  • Where do you operate? If you have a history of operating in certain areas, you can make better content to target these areas
  • How large and what is the population of the area? This information can be used as a proxy for the SEO difficulty of the area. If we assume that, on average, each area is served by a similar number of providers per person, a larger population will likely come with stiffer competition

The number of areas you can target depends on your budget.

For a local business, we recommend starting with between one and five areas. You can always scale up later.

How to Construct Your Local Keyword Masterlist

You can do this manually by combining each product or service with each area or you can use a tool to help, such as a Keyword Combiner.

The total number of keywords you should have is:

Number of service or products x Number of areas = Total number of keywords

3 service or product keywords and 4 areas gives 3 x 4 = 12 keywords

constructing keyword masterlist

How to Determine Local Keyword SEO Difficulty and Search Volumes

Now you have created your master list, you need to determine the SEO difficulty and search volumes of each keyword in an attempt to find that SEO sweetspot.

This is best achieved by entering the keywords into keyword research tools. We recommended the following.

For each keyword, the tool will produce something like the below (pictured: Ubersuggest):

plumber in guildford data

Note this data down for each keyword.

Some tools also return other useful pieces of information, which is worth making a note of too.

The ‘cost-per-click’ is the amount a business pays for each click they receive on their paid advertisement at the top of the search results. While it’s not directly applicable to SEO, it’s a great way to gauge the commercial viability of a keyword. The more businesses are willing to pay, the more leads and revenue they must be generating from the keyword. 

The average amount of backlinks and domain authority of the sites appearing on the front page is also useful. This information gives you a more tangible idea of the SEO effort you’ll have to put in to reach the front page.

What is a ‘Good’ SEO Difficulty and Search Volume for a Local Business’s Keyword?

The answer depends on the sophistication of your website and your SEO budget. But for the sake of being helpful, let’s try and be specific and take ‘plumber in Guildford’ as an example. Is this a good SEO difficulty and search volume?

For a local business undertaking SEO with a limited budget, a search volume of 590 and an SEO difficulty of 37 (out of 100) is towards the upper end of the sweet spot (somewhere between Daddy and Baby Bear). 

The traffic is good enough to generate leads, and it’s possible, but not necessarily easy, to rank. The keyword ‘plumber in Guildford’ would be a reasonable option to target on a local business’s homepage, if the business is willing to undertake regular SEO effort.

Going down the list to ‘boiler installation in Guildford’, we see a reduced search volume and an SEO difficulty that should be within the reach of a local business with a coherent SEO strategy. This keyword would be best targeted on a secondary or service page. 

boiler installation in guildford data

By cycling through the keywords, you can build a clear picture of your local SEO landscape.

Does a keyword seem too ambitious? Then focus on something else and come back to it when your SEO is stronger.

Does a keyword seem too cold? Then try changing the wording or broaden the reach.

But the Keyword Research Tools are Giving Me Bogus Information…

Keyword research tools don’t deliver live data. There weren’t exactly 590 searches for ‘plumber in guildford’ last month, and the SEO difficulty of 37/100 isn’t definitive. 

Instead, such keyword research tools calculate their numbers using a variety of data sources and proprietary algorithms. 

The result is that sometimes, keyword research tools return inaccurate information – this is particularly true for more niche keywords, which are often the subject of a local business.

You might enter your keywords into a research tool and it returns a search volume and SEO difficulty of zero or close to zero. But you know intuitively that people are searching for your services in your local area and that your competitors are targeting these keywords.

bogus keyword data

If the research tools keep coming up blank, and you’re pretty sure that’s incorrect, you may need to figure out the search volume and SEO difficulty manually.

First, try looking at the data for a global search for the service keyword, i.e. with the area removed from the keyword. This search won’t give you localised data but will give a comparative volume to judge the terms against each other i.e. ‘plumber’ vs. ‘boiler installation’.

Second, try determining the SEO difficulty yourself. You can manually audit the top search results for the keyword by putting each website into a backlink checker. This tool will tell you the number of backlinks and domain authority of the top performers. 

Gradually, you can build a relative understanding of which service keywords promise the best volume and build a picture of how difficult it will be to rank for them.

Failing all this, if you’re providing the service, it’s advisable to target the keywords anyway. The likelihood of converting into jobs is high even if the volume is low. And if the difficulty is astronomical, you’ll still have a website that makes sense. 

Local SEO Keywords FAQ

Does Local Keyword Order Matter?

Searchers in a hurry will lay down their search term in whatever order it comes to them. For instance, ‘car dealer in Woking’ could become ‘car dealer Woking’ or ‘Woking car dealer’. 

The good news is this doesn’t really matter for your SEO. If you rank for ‘car dealer in Woking’, it’s highly likely you will also rank for ‘Woking car dealer’. You don’t need to target both individually

What’s the Difference Between an ‘Implicit’ and ‘Explicit’ Keyword?

An explicit keyword has an area modifier, while an implicit keyword does not.

An explicit keyword is just a technical name for a local keyword.

What are Long-tail Keywords?

Long-tail keywords are highly-specific keywords with a low search volume. 

While ‘plumber in Guildford’ would be deemed a normal keyword in this respect, ‘what are the drainage regulations for Guildford Council’ would be deemed a long-tail keyword.

Although, generally, long-tail keywords are longer in terms of length, word count is not the origin of the term. Long-tail is a statistical term (i.e. keywords in the ‘long tail’ of the distribution curve).

long tail keywords

For a local business, long-tail keywords are typically targeted as variant keywords on a service page or by content marketing. For a plumber, an example might be ‘how to tell if your boiler needs repairing’ on a ‘boiler repair’ service page or as the subject of a blog post.

Is Data from Keyword Research Tools Accurate?

As previously mentioned, data from keyword research tools is drawn from various data sources and parsed through algorithms.

While for most keywords, this gives a relatively accurate reckoning, for long-tail or niche keywords, the data can be inaccurate or lacking. 

In such cases, you may need to build your own data profile or simply treat the data as a relative (i.e. for comparing keywords to each other) rather than absolute.

SEO Keywords for Local Businesses: Final Thoughts

Keyword selection is the basis of a local business’s SEO strategy.

By selecting keywords in a practical and data-driven manner, local businesses give their SEO strategy an excellent foundation. They set themselves up to rank highly and generate significant leads. 

If you are a local business owner and have any questions about keyword selection or would like to find out more about SEO for Local Businesses, please get in touch via our contact page. We would love to hear from you.

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