Use Google Keyword Research To Target The Long Tail In Local Search

There’s something of a void where local business marketing is concerned. Local marketers understand they need to target keyword queries in SEO and PPC campaigns, but they assume they know what people search for, and they miss out on valuable referrals because of it. Here’s a brief guide on local keyword research to close the gap.

Companies tend to get somewhat myopic about understanding how consumers try to discover their type of business. It’s natural to find out how some people find your business and then focus your efforts on building and reinforcing that successful vector — even to the point where you begin to doubt that there might be other ways people might find you.

Also, there’s the concept of what we sometimes call “vanity” terms. Business owners and CEOs often like to see their company in the number one position for the best-known or most-popular keyword term related to their business, often to the detriment of the vast number of other keyword combinations that could be bringing them customers.

For most sites and businesses, the most popular keyword terms may indeed have a much larger number of searches associated with them, but the combined number of searches from all the other various search queries could easily dwarf that of the top few keywords. This statistical distribution concept has been described as the “long tail” — the “head” terms may have strikingly large quantities of searches, but adding up all the lesser “tail” terms can be far greater.

The Long Tail - SEO Keyword Research

The Long Tail – SEO Keyword Research

In some cases, I’ve seen companies put all their eggs in one basket by focusing all efforts on ranking for their head term while ignoring all other possible keyword phrases. For highly-contested keywords in competitive markets, it could be more realistic and profitable to work on ranking well for the long tail.

If you rank poorly for the head, but rank well for much of the tail, you could still be very successful in business terms. It’s the bottom line you’re after, not the bragging rights that accompany ranking for your vanity term! You may lose one battle, but still win the war.

Once you accept that you ideally need to target multiple search phrases, the question is, how?

Very simply, you need to come up with a variety of the phrases people will use in finding businesses like yours, and then create content (typically, pages or blog posts) focused on those terms.

Here’s where Google comes in. If you know where to look, Google provides a lot of keyword information and hints. Here’s a brief guide to how you may go about gleaning the keyword phrases to use in your content development.

First, just perform a search in Google for what you think consumers may use as a typical keyword string for finding your kind of company. If you’re observant, you may see that Google highlights words throughout the search results that match your query. Significantly, Google also may indicate terms that it considers to be matching synonyms from its thesaurus-like functionality. For example, look what happens when I search for [auto shop, denver, co]:


From the screenshot above, you can see that a handful of similar terms are highlights in the Google SERP, such as:

  • Auto Repair
  • Auto Service
  • Denver Auto
  • Auto Repair Shop Denver Colorado
  • Denver Automotive

I also tried searching for [car repair], but didn’t discover all that many significantly different terms highlighted in the search results. It did turn up [Car Repair] and [Car Care].

Incorporating each of these terms throughout your website will help it to become relevant for how customers may search for you. While Google treats these terms as synonyms, more weighting is typically conveyed to sites and web pages that have an exact match to what the consumer uses in their search.

Taking each of the terms you may have discovered with the initial searches, now search for them, as well. (If you’re searching from within the geographic area for the business you’re working upon, you don’t need to include the city name, [Denver], along with your query. But, if searching outside the area, you should try customizing your search settings to the proper locality or include the city/location name when you search.) Doing this turned up additional term combinations:

  • Auto Repair Service
  • Auto Repair Shop
  • Denver Car Services
  • Denver Automotive Services
  • Denver Auto Parts
  • Auto Parts Stores
  • Denver Used Auto Parts
  • Auto Parts 80205

When doing each of these searches, be sure to pay attention to the “Searches related to” section at the bottoms of Google’s search results pages. While some of the related searches will be brand-specific terms, they may also reflect other closely related search phrases.

Related Searches in Google SERPs

The next question could be: out of these various search phrases, which one should be your primary keyword phrase? It’s important to know which keyword combinations should be particularly featured on the homepage, and used most frequently in referencing the business. To figure this out, Google has a few information resources.

First, try loading the keywords into the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You have to register and sign in to use this now, unfortunately, but it’s worth checking out. It can allow you to target a particular location, so set it for your city and then eliminate the city name from the search phrases before running the list to figure out relative search traffic. The column you’ll be mainly interested in is “Impr.” (or “Impressions”), which is essentially the count of searches. Here’s what I got when running the list for my Auto Repair keywords:

Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner

As you can see, [Auto Repair] has a clear lead with more impressions than any other term, followed by [Car Repair]. As a gut-check, I think it’s a good idea to double-check your terms through Google Trends. Google Trends may also be set with a geographic location, so do that to try to reduce out regional differences.

The AdWords Keyword Planner is great and all, but I’ve sometimes found that its advertising focus may not always reflect pure organic search. This is one of those cases. When I check out our example [Auto Repair] terms in Google Trends it actually indicates a lot more traffic for [Automotive] than for [Auto Repair]:

Google Trends - Auto Repair

Google Trends – Auto Repair

Of course, [Automotive] by itself is rather more generic than what will make sense for the business we’re interested in marketing. So, we might eliminate that as our primary keyword phrase, but still use it in other text on the site to key into some of the searches people may be conducting.

In some cases, the Keyword Planner tool can also over-emphasize the projected search traffic for a phrase which may be declining in popularity — Google Trends can show us if this is happening. If [Auto Repair] was declining in comparison to [Car Repair], for instance, and if it appeared that [Car Repair] might overtake it soon, I might opt to focus on the rising term as the primary phrase.

While in Google Trends, also be sure to check out the Related Searches lists below, for each phrase you’re comparing, and see if there may be yet more phrases that you can incorporate into your content marketing plan.

Google Trends - Related, Rising Searches for Auto Repair

Google Trends – Related, Rising Searches for Auto Repair

Once you’ve discovered the various phrases that Google research indicates are used by consumers seeking your type of business, you can work to incorporate that content into your local business website and raise your overall relevancy for numerous search combinations.

Your primary keyword phrase should be used particularly on your homepage, of course, but each of the keyword phrases your research uncovers should be included in various places on your site so that you might be able to become visible for as many of the qualifying phrases as you can.

In this way, the research should inform your content marketing efforts advantageously. The phrases can be used in page Titles, Meta Descriptions, page descriptions, articles, blog posts, social media updates, and in other areas.

Even if you have correctly divined your primary keyword phrase, it’s a very good idea to research out some other phrases that consumers may be using to find your type of business, and include those in your organic search marketing plans.

Targeting the tail in addition to your head term can translate into significant profits. Google itself is one of the best sources for this, and the information is free!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Beginner | Channel: Local | How To | Local Search Column | Search Marketing: Local Search Marketing | SEO: Keyword Research


About The Author: is President of Argent Media, and serves on advisory boards for Universal Business Listing and FindLaw. Follow him @si1very on Twitter.

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  • Jim Rudnick

    Great piece here Chris….and as a Canuck SEO practitioner with an automotive client, muchly appreciated! runs similarly to for most things too which is also nice to see too! Kudos!

  • Paul Sherland

    Chris, these are great ideas for free tools. I also use the Google suggest list associated with the search box to look for ideas associated with keyword phrase. For paid tools, I use Wordtracker, the Yoast SEO plugin, and Scribe by Copyblogger. As for vanity keywords, my biggest challenge is convincing businesses to develop copy about their products and services — not that they’re world-class, scalable & flexible, and believe in American values. Gotta deliver the information that the online customers are searching for!

  • Chris Silver Smith

    Paul, more keyword tools can certainly broaden the field when trying to find good, related long-tail keywords! I didn’t try to touch on all the other great tools out there since it would’ve broadened the scope too much for the article, and I was trying to keep it simple for small businesses that are doing it themselves and can’t afford some of the paid tools out there. But, I certainly use some of the tools you’ve mentioned, as do many other marketers out there!

  • Paul Sherland

    Absolutely! As you know, the various keyword tools, paid and free, are not always absolutely consistent. It’s best to sample from a variety of sources. If you’re a small business looking for keyword information, you can’t do better than follow the roadmap you’ve described in this article.

  • Tyson Downs

    Chris good ideas, thanks for the share. Gonna start implementing these.

  • ronellsmith


    It seems a shame that a piece such as this is STILL as valuable as it is. I find that far too many businesses–even some who’ve hired capable SEOs–focus on the short-tail keywords and veritably exclude the long-tail keywords, even though the latter might be far more valuable for their business.

    Thanks for writing such an accessible piece.


  • Michael S. Doran

    Nice article and much appreciated. I also like using Google Trends for a different perspective.

  • Samrutha

    Nice article! I use Google Trends and it shows the changes over time and has good keyword insights.. Is there any default keyword report document that shows a comparative analysis used by the tools we use?

  • Samrutha

    Nice article! I use Google Trends and it shows the changes over time and has good keyword insights.. Is there any default keyword report document that shows a comparative analysis used by the tools we use?

  • Jason Chesters

    Thanks for sharing this. I have found that a lot of people get caught up in trying to rank for 1 main keyword, but with the latest Google updates I think it’s important to target long tail and you offer some very good advice on how to do this!


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