Want to know a crazy secret about SEO?
The most important part of it has absolutely nothing to do with tech, coding, websites, or the internet.
Good thing, because most small businesses either hate or are totally bored by all those topics!
Instead, optimizing your website for search engines has everything to do with inside-info that you already have:
- your customers’ desires and common questions
- your knowledge of the service and products you offer
- the process of your business and the areas you do business in
- the things that make your offers unique
So when your website guy/gal is asking you for “keywords”, that is what they are really saying.
In this article we’re going to build a bridge between web designers and small businesses.
You’ll find a simple explanation of the Why and How of identifying the proper keywords. Then we’ll include a step-by-step worksheet you can download and fill out, to be able to choose the right keywords for your local business website.
What Are Keywords
Before we go too far, this is what we mean when we say “keywords”:
“A phrase consisting of 1 to 8+ words (but usually 3-4) that a person would type into a search engine (eg. Google or Bing) to find a service or solve a problem.”
For a local business, this is no different than someone asking around their community, maybe at the coffee shop or the bar, saying “hey, I need such-and-such thing, do any of you know a guy who does that around here?”
Since you’ve answered that question at least dozens of times already in your life, we’re sure you can do it for your own business.
But this time, you’ll use each page on your website to guide you.
The Essential DOs & DON’Ts
After building websites for over 15 years, we’ve noticed that people have a lot of different ideas on the best way to answer the question “what keywords should I use?”
So let’s start with some really easy rules.
First, the stuff to absolutely avoid, and then the ground level right ways to approach this.
- Don’t think in terms of one word
eg. “I want to target…. PLUMBING”
- Don’t use the same keyword over and over with slight variations
eg. “build, builder, builders, building, build good, build great, fast building, solid building”
- Don’t make a giant list of general keywords that sort of apply to your business
eg. “eat, restaurant, menu, food place, tables, hot food, cold food, dine in, take out, order food, get good food, sit down restaurant, pizza, steak, clean kitchen, good reviews”
- Don’t make a giant list of every single small community you serve
eg. “Edmonton, Sherwood Park, Millwoods, St Albert, Nisku, Beaumont”
- Do focus on one unique phrase per web page
- Do relate that phrase to the content that already exists on that page
- Do use words that your customers use
- If there are two different ways to describe the same topic, then do note them both
- If you think of a keyword that you need, and there is no content that relates to it, add a new page first
- Do focus on one or two main ways to describe your service area
Basically, you’re going to go through each major page on your website and identify three things to target: the area, the topic, and the modifiers.
We’ll explain each in the next sections.
Your Target Areas
The vast majority of local businesses should just target the city/town where they are located.
There are some exceptions or strange cases, and we have advice for most of those:
Your Business Is Located In A Small Town Just Outside The Main City You Serve
This one is easy.
For your Contact page, you will use the town name where the business is located. For all other pages, use the main city name.
You Serve A Rural Area That Covers Many Small Towns
It’s totally fine if you want to list every small town you serve somewhere on your site. But we are talking about keywords and not website content, so you need to pick a main area name to be effective.
For this, we recommend one of two options:
- Choose the most recognizable, popular, or largest of the small towns
- Use the name of the region or county
You Are Located In A Recognizable Community Within A Major City
This is especially important if your service or product is not totally unique. If no one else in the city can provide what you do, then don’t worry about it — just use the name of the city.
But if you are a Chinese restaurant or a dry cleaner, for example, you’re going to need to target a community within the city.
There is a popular area near downtown Calgary called the Beltline. If you knew you were going to be in that area, you wouldn’t search “restaurant in Calgary”, you’d search “restaurant in Beltline”… so it’s smart for websites in that area to target “Beltline”.
There Are Two Different Ways To Say Your Area
Continuing our example from above, locals have a few different ways to describe that area in Calgary. They could say “Beltline”, “central Calgary”, or “SW Calgary”.
This just comes down to common usage.
How would you say it, in casual conversation, if someone asked you where you were located?
If it’s really a coin-toss and there is no clear winner, note down both ways (but still pick a main one to focus on).
You Serve Many Distinct Areas Or Have Multiple Locations
First question to answer is: do your locations specialize in different things, or the same service/products are available for all areas?
If it’s the same, and you serve multiple provinces, then use a regional term like “Western Canada”, “Central Canada”, “Eastern Canada”, “Maritimes”, etc.
If you serve the whole country then just say “Canada”.
Then we recommend you have a different page for each location, where you can target the specific city or town of that location.
If you have a service or product that is only available in one place, then use that place name on the page that describes that service/product.
* * *
So unless you have a real head-scratcher case like one of those exceptions, you are just going to pick one area (the city where you are located) and use that as the Area keyword for every page on your site.
Okay, now let’s move on to the Main Topic.
Your Target Topics
This is whatever the page is about (usually a service or a product).
Remember, you are not just assigning a random list of keywords to random pages. The Topic Keyword for any given page needs to match the information that is on that page!
If you go through all the pages of your website and find that two pages have the exact same topic, you may want to combine those pages.
Anyway, for most internal pages, the topic will be obvious (and usually unique).
But you should pay attention to the way you say it. People typically search the web using conversational terms instead of technical terms. This is especially true when you are selling direct to the public (retail consumers).
We find that it’s generally better to use basic words (eg. “home siding” instead of “residential siding”).
But if your customer base has specific knowledge of your industry terms — this is common when selling B2B — then you can use more technical/official words (eg. “residential siding” instead of “home siding”).
If you have a particular brand your market knows about then use the brand term (eg. “Mercedes” rather than “car”).
In short, imagine how your customers would say it, not how you say it.
Some cases are not so straightforward, so let’s go over them:
There Are Two Different Ways To Say The Topic, & Customers Use Both
This sometimes happens. But not very often. So if you want to claim this, be totally sure that your customers use both terms.
One possible example is “video surveillance or security cameras”.
Pick the one you like the best as your main topic. But also note the second term, too. See, sometimes it is possible to target more than one keyword phrase per page. So in cases where there are 100% two different ways that the market would describe your topic, you should at least make a note of it.
If you want to get really fancy (which is not necessary, and can lead to a lot of wasted time), you can check both terms on Google Trends to see what is more popular right now.
What About Non-Service Pages Like Home Or Contact?
There are different schools of thought on the Home page and Contact page.
Personally, at Websites.ca, we like to target the company name on the Contact page. And for the Home page, we like to target the highest level general category of the business. We haven’t done extensive testing on this, but it passes common sense… and search engines are really just robot versions of common sense, so it works for our clients.
Let’s take a fictional Chinese buffet as an example. We’ll call them “Wong’s Palace”.
Home page topic: Chinese Restaurant
Contact page topic: Wong’s Palace
Menu page topic: Chinese Buffet Food
Once we assign the business name to the Contact page, the other pages become easy to figure out. We save the word “food” for the Menu page because it is a very close match (a menu shows you the specific food offered), and then the top level category is “restaurant” so we use that on the Home page (probably the Home page will mention that they are a restaurant, so another good match).
Another example (for an auto mechanic business this time), would be to use “Mechanic” for the About or Home page, and “Auto Repair” for the Services page.
The Topic Covers A Top-Level Category As Well As A Specific Sub-Category
If you specialize in a sub-category, and all the info is contained on one web page of your site, then always default to words that describe the sub-category for that page.
Just use the main (top-level) category on your Home page.
Example: Commercial Real Estate vs Office Buildings
If you specialized in renting, selling, or managing office buildings, and you have a page on your site talking about all your services related to it, we recommend using the keyword “office buildings”.
“Commercial real estate” is definitely another viable keyword, but it is too vague for a page that, once you get down to it, is talking about services related to office buildings specifically.
The “commercial” keyword can be used on another page of the site.
* * *
So now you should have an area and a topic for each page.
Next we want to drill down into the topics to see if we can make them more specific.
Your Unique Modifiers
Often a keyword that covers a top-level category is just too broad.
Let’s take “Plumbing”.
Even if you add an area (“Plumbing Calgary”), it’s still broad. Do you mean a plumbing service? A way to join the plumber’s union? A history course on ancient Roman plumbing hosted by the university? And so on.
So you need to think of at least one Modifier Keyword to really drill down to the specific topic of your page, that leaves no confusion about what you are offering.
Now, your topic keyword may already contain a modifier. If it does, see if you can think of anything else that would make it even more specific and/or give more context.
And a longer phrase will not disqualify you from ranking for a shorter phase within it:
“Emergency Commercial Plumbing Service” can still rank for the phrase “Plumbing Service”.
So you are covering all your bases by having a slightly longer keyword phrase. You may have heard the term “long tail keyword” before. That is all this term means: a keyword that is longer than a few words and that really narrows down on a specific subject.
For the main pages on a local business website, you should generally aim for a Goldilocks keyword phrase — not too short and not too long.
Too short = very hard to rank and poor context for users.
Too long = way less traffic and only covers a tiny niche of your potential customers.
Here are some examples of modifiers:
- Demographics… like Home Vs Business, Residential Vs Commercial, Mens Vs Womens
- Actions… like Sales Vs Rentals, Delivery Vs Pickup
- Timeframes… like 24 Hour or Emergency or All-Night
- Descriptors… like Fresh or Frozen or Bulk
You know your industry and clients better than any web guy ever will, so just take a few minutes and brainstorm some modifier words that really help describe your offer.
Like we already covered, if customers have brand-awareness, a brand name can be a modifier.
Or you can use product-type words, like New Vs Used.
Fancy marketers use modifiers all the time to jazz up otherwise boring offers. “Old Clothes” sounds like garbage, whereas “Vintage Women’s Fashion” commands some attention. As always, just make sure your audience is familiar with the modifier term and searches for it.
A Tip For Coming Up With Popular Modifiers That Customers Actually Use
Sometimes you just can’t think of anything.
Or maybe you want to make sure you’re picking the most popular keywords.
There is a quick and easy hack for this, and it doesn’t cost anything!
Go to Google (don’t search in your address bar… actually go directly to Google.ca or Google.com).
Now type in your topic keyword for the page. You can try it with or without your area keyword.
Once you do this, you’ll notice that Google is going to “suggest” how to complete your keyword phrase. They’ll give you up to 10 suggestions, and you’ll probably find a good modifier word in there.
If you don’t find a good word, you can actually go through all letters of the alphabet and Google will give you 10 suggestions for each. At the end of your phrase, put in the letter “A” and then see what happens. Do the same thing for “B”, and “C”, and so on:
By the way, just because the keywords don’t come up in Google Autocomplete, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t target them… as long as you absolutely know your customers talk like that.
But the cool thing about this Google feature is that you can be SURE people are using the keywords that Google is suggesting.
Checking Your Keywords On Google
Okay, so let’s say we’ve gone through all the above steps for a made-up example business called “Joe The Contractor”.
We have some very basic keywords for each page — this is sort of a bland example, but it still gives you the right idea:
Home Renovations Winnipeg (for Home page)
Residential Contractor Winnipeg (for About Us page)
Bathroom Renovations Winnipeg (for Services>Bathrooms page)
Basement Renovations Winnipeg (for Services>Basements page)
Interior Renovation Photos Winnipeg (for Gallery page)
Joe The Contractor, Winnipeg MB (for Contact page)
Now at this point most people just say they are finished, pass the list on to their web guy, and call it a day.
Don’t skip this next step!
What you are going to do is to make sure the keywords you picked are relevant. You will also check out the competition.
To do that, you just search for each of those phrases in Google and see what comes up on the first page.
It’s great to get the lay of the land and see what a potential customer sees when they are searching.
Also, you may find that your website already ranks for a certain keyword. Maybe for a different page than you had planned. But if you are already ranking high, you may just want to leave your page as-is.
No matter what, this step gives you a lot of valuable information.
Take each term and just pop it in the search box.
If the results aren’t competitors or business listings that match exactly what you do or are trying to target, then you know your chosen keywords will need to change.
You are basically just vetting your keyword choices.
For instance, for the About Us example above, when I search for “Residential Contractor Winnipeg” I get a few results that show home builders. If our made-up company only does interior renovations, then this is not a good match. We might want to check out some other terms like “General Contractor”, or “Renovation Contractor”. Maybe even “Interior Home Improvement Contractor”.
The point is to look at what results Google is showing, then decide if it’s an area that you could reasonably compete in, or if the context is just a little off and it wouldn’t even grab the right kind of viewers that you want to target.
Then adjust your keywords as needed.
Same thing if your keywords are a great match, but the entire first page of Google results is dominated by larger and more known companies who have been around longer and have bigger advertising budgets than you.
You may not want to compete on that level.
Instead you could try to add one more modifier to your keywords so that they become a little more specific, for a less competitive term that you have a chance to rank for.
You don’t need to get fancy here. A lot of SEO pros will say that you should get some software and compare keywords and check the estimated traffic and the backlinks of your competitors and blah blah blah.
There is a time and place for that, but right now we are using common sense and observation.
Take a look, keep it simple, if something seems off then tweak the words a bit and search again.
Once you’ve gone through all the keywords for each of your pages, and you are satisfied that they are relevant, you are done.
Free Worksheet Download
You can use this basic worksheet to help you go through your own site and identify keywords.
It will give you a summary of the main steps we talked about above, along with some examples, and finally a fill-in-the-blanks structure for each of your web pages.
Once you’ve filled it in, you can pass the info to your web guy or gal. It’s in a format that is really easy for them to understand. And then they will have a clear path to optimize your website for those words.
This doesn’t guarantee you will be first on Google for everything, or your business will suddenly double in revenue.
But it is an essential foundational building block for a decent local business website.
Enter your email to get the free worksheet now: