One of the problems with keyword research tools on the web like Keyword Discovery or Wordtracker is that their data is often unreliable, especially for low volume searches. How many times have you entered in a medium-tail keyword like “baltimore tanning”, only to be told that nobody ever searches on that term?
Well I know that somebody out there is searching for tanning in Baltimore, they’re just not doing it in the right Meta engine or through the right ISP.
This presents a big problem for local businesses that have to choose between targeting different regional keywords on their site.
How Do I Decide Which Location Keywords to Target?
If you’re an acupuncturist in Rockville, MD, how do you choose between targeting “acupuncture washington dc” and “acupuncture maryland”? Should you go after “acupuncture rockville md” or would it make more sense to target “acupuncture bethesda”?
Or maybe people are searching at the county level and “montgomery county acupuncture” would make the most sense.
Let’s try an example in Keyword Discovery. This first search is for “rockville md acupuncture”:
These results don’t tell us much. This is supposed to represent all traffic in Keyword Discovery’s database for the last 12 months. Does that mean that nobody searched for “rockville md acupuncture” in the last year? Color me skeptical.
Let’s try Bethesda, a suburb of Washington, DC:
More results, but this data is still useless. We need something more accurate.
Using Google AdWords to Measure Keyword Traffic
If you want real, accurate search data, try using Google AdWords. This is a technique that I learned from the SEOmoz’s Keyword Research Guide (premium membership required) and it works perfectly for local keyword research.
Here it is, in 10 easy steps:
1. Select your topical keywords. Let’s take the example of acupuncture and add another related term that people might search for–acupressure.
2. Make a list of all the regional keywords that might be used by someone in your area looking for a local acupuncturist. So if you’re based in Rockville, MD, you might choose:
- Washington DC
- Southern Maryland
- Southern MD
Depending on your budget, you can expand that list to more local areas. Are people searching more for “acupuncture in bethesda” or “acupuncture in bethesda md”? Keep it relavant; the further afield you go, the more difficult it will be to rank and to actually convince a customer to make the trip.
On the other hand, if you have a hunch that customers are searching within a particular area, this is the time to test it out. Money spent on AdWords now could save you hours of time ranking number 1 for a search query that nobody ever uses.
3. Combine the topical keywords with the location keywords. Use a tool like Keyword Lizard to make a list of the various keyword combinations.
4. Set up an AdWords campaign for your research. You can put all the keywords in one AdGroup or you can group them by location. It’s not a big deal because at this point we’re more concerned about the impressions than the actual click-through rate.
5. Enter all the keyword combinations from Step 3 as exact matches (they should go in brackets).
6. Set the cost-per-click (CPC) high enough that your ads will show. This will depend on how competitive your niche is. You want to set it high enough that your ads will be showing on ALL of the searches during the testing period–this will give you the most accurate data.
7. Set the daily budget high enough that your ad budget will not be met. If the campaign reaches its spending limit early in the day, then you won’t get accurate data.
Note: This keyword research technique may require a significant investment up front, depending on how long you let the ad campaign run. How much you’re willing to spend depends on the expected ROI of a top ranking. My opinion is that the insights you gain will be worth the money invested up front.
If you’re going to spend dozens of hours or thousands of dollars optimizing your site for your target keywords, you want to make sure that there’s a payoff. Ranking for a keyword location will be a waste of time and money if nobody searches on that keyword combination!
8. Make sure you uncheck the Content Network box in the Settings page of your AdWords campaign.
9. Wait a day and tweak if necessary. If you’re spending too much then you may have to cut your research short. On a positive note, the money you’re spending will be bringing in traffic to your site, so make sure the ad is sending visitors to a decent landing page with some information about your business and a way to contact you.
10. Collect the data and analyze. Ideally you would run this test for at least a month to get a meaningful sample size. The actual search volume for a given keyword will be the number of impressions listed in the AdWords interface.
Once you have your data, you can see which locations perform the best and target your website accordingly, taking into account traffic volume, competition, and relevancy.