3 Ways to Bring a Human Approach to Keyword Research for Local Business

Kathryn Hillis's picture

While most keyword research tools are effective on an international and national level, they can fall short when targeting a local search audience. Keyphraseology encountered that limitation while working with a garage door company. The client wanted to get found by people who live in the cities and towns they serve. We needed to know what motivated residents to search and which words were likely to be in their queries. After digging through countless phrases and calculations from keyword research tools, we still weren’t convinced that we had enough data to select quality keywords for the client’s intended audience. All we had were large-scale phrases and figures that, while useful, also drowned out any idiosyncrasies that may be present in the group we were tasked to reach. In other words, our findings were missing a localized, human element. We had thousands of possible phrases, but we didn’t really know how the voice of our target audience fit into them. To find that voice, it is useful to listen to potential or current customers. Here are three ways to find out what they are saying and how they are saying it.

Listen in

Keyword research tools were important in the development of our SEO strategy, but we knew that the data we had collected didn’t necessarily reveal local customers’ language patterns. To gain deeper insight in our audience, we stepped out from behind keyword tools and into the client’s call center. We wanted to hear what people said over the phone, particularly the opening sentences that reveal what’s important to them and how they tend to express it. To accomplish this, we listened to a couple hours of recordings provided by the client and real-time conversations on site. Our keyword focused eavesdropping revealed some interesting things. Big-picture insights Listening to customers directly gave us a glimpse into what is at the top of their minds when reaching out to the company, their level of knowledge about products and services, motivations behind a purchase, and even how many of them confused paid ads with organic results. That information presented an unfiltered glimpse into who the audience of the website could be. From a content perspective, it helped guide our decisions about which topics could be valuable for visitors and how best to approach them. Detailed language findings While national data may reveal general keyword trends, it is less effective at uncovering local phrases, particularly long tail keywords with multiple language possibilities. Analyzing calls granted us access to the exact words our audience uses, which we could then compare to data from larger-scale keyword research. Listening to the customers themselves pays off the most in this detailed area. Employees who deal with customers regularly are very helpful for relaying big-picture trends, but they are less able to provide accurate information about exact language usage.

Reach out to your social circle

Roughly how my sister looked after the garage door collision

Sometimes keyword insights present themselves out of thin air. For example, a couple weeks ago I was working on keyword research at my sister’s house for the garage door client. My sister got home, her toddler wailing beside her, and she was frustrated. She had just run into the garage door with her car. Somehow, I hadn't considered that angle in the research. After establishing that everyone was okay and that the damage was minimal, I asked, “So... what are you going to type in Google when you’re looking for someone to fix it?” Fortunately my sister has grown accustomed to me asking random questions, and despite not knowing what keyword research is, she rattled off several helpful queries. Even if you don’t have the same kind of serendipitous experience while hunting for keywords, still consider turning to your social networks for inspiration, especially the people who live in areas your client wants to reach. Give them a scenario and see which words spring to mind. Chances are at least one of them will bring a fresh approach that can kickstart a new line of thinking.

Pay attention to local social chatter

Social media is another great resource for uncovering potential keywords. Local reviews in the client’s industry or nearby tweets that reference the field often come packed with useful insights, such as what is important enough to make customers speak up and their go-to phrases for the industry. Those insights can help add a human element to keyword research data. Particularly when it comes to creating web copy, social chatter can nudge writers towards potentially impactful topics and can also offer a sample of long tail keywords. Keyword research tools are great, but be careful about letting them overshadow actual human beings. That holds especially true when you’re targeting a smaller audience about whom data is less available. Consider going beyond the spreadsheet, even if it’s only for a couple hours. You’ll be in a better position to attract your target search audience and connect with them on a human level.


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