Local Search Keyword Analysis

Armed with an index finger, pencil and an analytics package (other than google’s), I set out to see what I could I learn about those folks searching for local service businesses by looking at what they typed in. Here is what I found. (I included a scanned page of the “notes” so you could appreciate the “scientificness” of this study. I also find it useful to examine 2 campaigns separately, so that differences can be observed, as well as averages.)


I studied the campaigns of 2 different businesses and business types in different states. Both are service businesses with average customer worths in the $thousands.

Local Search Campaign NY

  1. Out of the 529 queries tracked, 253 contained a geographic indicator.
  2. 176 typed the business type first and then the geography; i.e. widget maker timbuktu
  3. 60 typed the geographic indicator first, followed by the business type; i.e. timbuktu widget maker
  4. Of the 127 queries where the searcher used the name of the county, 91 omitted the word -county- and 36 included it; i.e widgets orange vs. widgets orange county.
  5. 108 included the state as part of the query.
  6. Of those 21 typed out the state and 87 used the 2 letter abbreviation.
  7. 116 typed only the name of the city or county without including the state.
  8. 2 used a zip code
  9. 27 queries included the word -in-
  10. 40 were navigational queries for competing firms.

Local Search Campaign NJ

  1. Out of the 298 queries tracked, 177 contained a geographic indicator.
  2. 105 typed the business type first and then the geography; i.e. widget maker timbuktu
  3. 36 typed the geographic indicator first, followed by the business type; i.e. timbuktu widget maker
  4. Of the 107 queries where the searcher used the name of the county, 2 omitted the word -county- and 105 included it; i.e widgets orange vs. widgets orange county.
  5. 85 included the state as part of the query.
  6. Of those 15 typed out the state and 71 used the 2 letter abbreviation.
  7. 86 typed only the name of the city or county without including the state.
  8. 4 used a zip code
  9. 47 used the word -in-
  10. 17 were navigational queries for competing firms. 42 were navigational queries for this business and these seemed to accelerate as the year went on.


  1. I believe queries that include a geographic indicator are more likely to convert into sales for local businesses so I begin there. And I would not pay someone for “clicks” unless the report somewhat resembled this. For instance, if you get your click report and you see that only 25 out of 2000 queries include geography and you’re a local service business… run for the hills.
  2. People are more likely to use the sequence: “business type + geo” than “geo + business type”; about 75% -25%
  3. (answered in 2)
  4. Whether a “county searcher” includes the word -county- or not can vary wildly from place to place. Here is an example where an average would be of little use. In the NJ campaign, nearly every searcher included the word and in the NY campaign, the majority omitted it. The conclusion is to test for each county in which you advertise.
  5. About half the queries that include a geographic indicator, include the state. This occurred in both campaigns.
  6. Most people use the two letter state abbreviation (>80%). At least in New York and New Jersey they do.
  7. (concluded in 5,6)
  8. Zip Codes are nearly worthless.
  9. The word -in- is fairly common in queries that include a geo indicator, as in ‘widgets in Timbuktu.’ More than 10% in geo-queries in the NY campaign and 25% of geo queries in the NJ campaign included the word.
  10. Re-read #10 in both campaigns above: If you don’t have a website that can be found by searchers that are looking for you, you are losing a ton of business.
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28 Responses to Local Search Keyword Analysis

  1. Nice job! Your research confirms my informal observations.

    Whether folks search like this as a natural outcome of their thinking or have learned to search this way as they have been trained by better results would be an interesting question. Although I have no idea how to begin to answer it.


  2. AhmedF says:

    Just wanted to drop in and say good stats and accompanying analysis.

  3. thanks guys… that is a good question Mike. One of the more interesting things you see when doing this is the queries that have been re-typed with more info. That would indicate there is some learning happening. I noticed this especially when they were looking for a competing firm.

  4. earlpearl says:

    Nice research. I’ve been doing this for years for several businesses.

    I suggest there are more variances and methods to search based on whether a business service is in a city or a suburb, if it is more local or more regional, if the area is more rural or more urban. For instance in a very rural area without a big city, long county names…would people search by town names, regional names, etc.

    here is a wierd one….for the same type of business in different cities….in one there is a slight skewing toward geo phrase first and the service second. In a different market (different state) the skewing was toward service first and geo area second. It very well could vary all over the place contingent on states/regions and services or even if the city name is long or short.

    This focus on service first or region first could become important if business names and urls become critical to who gets ranked first in the engines among competitors.

    After years of research, our conversion traffic clearly is best for long tail phrases that include some variation on the service(s) and appropriate geo terms.

    Of very high value also are PPC ads that define the service and region for the generic industry term searches in a region.

    On small words like “in” other variations are near…and there are others.

    Nice research.

    Heheh…I got a couple of years of this and thousands of searches. Ugh it gets complicated when you start looking at the long tail.

  5. Thanks for stopping by earlpearl… that’s awesome info. Ultimately correlating conversions with keyphrases is going to be the most important info. Sounds like you are well ahead of the pack… thanks for sharing.

  6. earlpearl says:

    I love that stuff. I went back and looked at some greater volume of detail rather than commenting off the top of my head.

    For descriptive words “in” has shown up the most. Other variations are near, + , – and then really wierd ones.

    I think the engines don’t worry about those words much.

    The comparisons are most valid contingent on where the site ranks versus the competition. So if you are ranking first for service/state name and a competitor is ranking first for state name/service you’ll see differences in the stats for your site. You should account for that.

    Here is a little tip. Suppose you are trying to rank for some service in someplace like Bergan County or any of those dense counties in Northern New Jersey, or similarly dense population areas.

    Get a lot of town names on your site.

    So if your service were Divorce Attorney…and the client was in some town in Bergan, somehow add town names like Teaneck, Tenafly, etc to the content of the site.

    You’ll pick up traffic.

    Get into G, Y, and MSN maps.

    My businesses never saw searches for phrases with the zip codes until maps started appearing in organic google results.

    After that we started seeing the searches with zip codes. Now I’ve added zip codes into the content and we can show up in both organic results and a map for those types of searches.

    It is a small number, as you suggested, but as you also suggested these are the most valuable types of searches, with service type and geographic description. So a search for my service and a nearby zip code is better than a search for the service and the word NJ or New Jersey if the searcher with the phrase is actually miles and miles and counties away.

    Love your research..Now I gotta read other stuff here. LOL

    BTW, found this from the reference at Mike Blumenthal’s blog.

    Really nice post

  7. MiriamEllis says:

    Wow, I’m really blown away by this post ,Tim. It is terrific of you to share these stats!

    Can I ask for clarification on a term used in your results? I’m not sure I’m correctly understanding ’40 were navigational queries for competing firms.’ I want to make sure I’m understanding what you mean by that. Can you give an example?

    Again, this was fantastic!

  8. Thanks Miriam and sure.
    The searcher typed the name of a competing business. An example would be if McDonald’s were checking their logs and they found folks ending up on their site that typed Burger King into the search engine.
    That is why I say… everyone needs a website that can be found by SE’s or else even referrals can fly out the window. Crucially important stuff.

  9. earlpearl says:

    Hey Miriam: (I gotta get back in touch, sorry)

    Say there are 3 businesses in Napa Valley that sell wine stain removal services; The Miriam wine stain removal company located in the town of Smallville, Dork Wine stain removal in Metropolis, and Clunk Wine stain removal located in Gotham City. Say that Dork and Clunk are the biggest oldest most well known wine stain removal companies in the region and that the Miriam company is newer, less well known…(but we all know it is the best!!!!)

    Some searchers will search for Napa Valley Wine Stain Removal. Of course you have to be seen and rank well for those type of most generic phrases for the region.

    Some might search for Dork wine stain removal or Metropolis Wine Stain Removal. In either case we know the searcher is trying to navigate towards Dork located in Metropolis.

    Say some searchers are using phrases like Clunk wine stain removal or Gotham City Wine Stain removal. We know the searchers are trying to navigate toward that old wine stain removal that is somewhat known by it sloppy old premises in Gotham city, a town in Napa Valley.

    If Miriam’s site somehow shows up for searches for Dork or clunk or Metropolis or Gotham City wine stain removal and some of those searchers are landing on Miriam’s great website describing her great and better services…..we know she captured some navigational traffic meant to go to the other businesses…..along with the natural search traffic for more generic phrases like Napa Valley wine stain removal.

    Getting one’s business name/location/some sort of identification/ that is more specific than a more general search….like wine stain removal service……something that points to a specific wine stain removal service is more navigational.

    That is good data above. The more navigational traffic one gets…that is directed to one’s own site/business the better the indication is that you are getting the name out about one’s own site.

    Its a great observation by local hound.

  10. This is more great info EarlPearl… thank you. Great insight about the zips.

    As far as -in- goes… I noticed a competitor in the top spot in Adwords who is using -in- in the title. I am going to do some experimenting with that in the exact phrase thing.. to see if I can pick up some additional advantage.

  11. MiriamEllis says:

    Hi Tim,
    Okay, that’s what I THOUGHT you meant. I wanted to be sure and your example confirmed that. I thank you for that.

    EarlPearl -
    As always, I get smarter every time I read something you write! Thank you for the vivid example. So glad we caught up with each other today!


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  13. Altaf says:

    Thanks 2 Local Hound & EarlPearl,

    This is the fabulous research you guys has posted here… I am glab I had find this page. This has been a knowledge adding time, reading this post.

    I look forward to hear see something such good here…

    Keep it up. Nice work !!! Hats off to you.

    Heartily Appreciated.

  14. TJPhilly says:

    Regarding the zip code search, did your research look at searches that were second or third attempts. That is, did the zip code become more prominent as a narrowing tool for searches after a failed attempt?

  15. TJPhilly… that’s an interesting question but there were so few zip code searches that I would not be able to do that with any reliability.

    I was only really able to see that with name searches.

  16. bilalseo says:

    Nice Post.. appreciated!! I have done the same research and doing this since 1999. But I never found sucha great cacluation :) Nice work done.


    Bilal Qayyum
    Renowned SEO/SEM/SMO/MLM Expert

  17. PLOng says:

    Hi, I am very amazed at your studies and the figures that you have reported.

    I am in a service industry (Hospitality), incharge of e-commerce. Corporate has engaged a service partner to manage the SEM, however, I would like to do my own research on how people search for this service industry in my country(Asia, SG).

    How can i do this research my myself? Reason, we have different focus in generating revenue in different periods, SEM providers have little idea on how our trade really works.

    I would appreciate greatly if you can share how your research is done.

    Thank you.

  18. Hey Plong, good news for you! All of this data was captured by Google Analytics. It’s 100% free though you may need some help setting it up.
    It will provide you with nearly every bit of datat you can imagine.

    Good Luck with it

  19. PLOng says:

    Thank you! Does it capture how tourist search for lodging in Singapore when they are planning to travel?

  20. Dan rogers says:

    I know what you mean with the county to county differences. We are on the border of NC and SC, and residents of York County use the county qualifier, while people in Mecklemburg rarely search for anything but Charlotte. Good call!

  21. stuart says:

    just wanted to say this is a great post & thanks for the info.

  22. Grant Burton says:

    Very interesting post. I designed my law firm’s website, and I have been struggling to determine how best to target local search phrases. Your research confirms that I should probably target “lawyer hillsboro or,” rather than “hillsboro lawyer.” Thanks!

  23. Emily Olah says:

    Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Very useful information specially the last part :) I care for such information a lot. I was looking for this particular info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  24. Nyagoslav says:

    Hey guys, are you planning to update this research and share some newer sets of data? I would love to reference to you for a large article I am preparing.


  25. Saurabh says:

    Very insightful indeed – hope I can replicate the same in my geography (India).

    Any suggestions which tool (preferably cheap/ free) which can offer a City wise keywords for India?

  26. Interesting that you did this without using Google Analytics, not that I think they’re the end all be all of the internet, but so many people use them.

  27. Billig Flyg says:

    good post about, however! i do not wish to be so negative but i think that your web site could look better if you would have a little bit of red on it :) No…, you don’t have to agree… that is merely my simple view. Thanks for a good post anyhow! :) Thanks, Billig Flyg