Targeting Local vs. Regional vs. National SEO Phrases

Searching Locally

One of the questions that many people have when researching target phrases in their SEO (search engine optimization) efforts is the following.

Should I target local, city based phrases or go after something more generic to start?

First off, I love using location based modifiers because for service based companies (or companies with service based offerings) it makes sense to connect with those people looking for location based services.  I generally tell clients to keep it simple, WHAT I DO, WHERE I DO IT.

Some services are even more critical than others.  For instance, a web developer offers services that can be performed from any city in the world.  A dentist however, is performing services for patients within a certain driving radius.  The dentist will need to maximize coverage for searches within that target radius.

Local Search Focus

I always recommend starting small with a local services business, then work out from there over time.

One of the services we provide for clients is web design services in Canton, Georgia.  That service is not physically constricted, so we work with clients all over the country.  However, since many businesses prefer to work with local web services providers it would be crazy in my opinion not to start there when targeting natural Google search rankings.

Progression for SEO targeting:  Local > Regional > National

I think of it this way, kind of like a dart board with the local targeting in the middle covering the smallest, closest (to the business) geographic area.  As we move out to regional, we are hitting the bigger city phrases and starting to get away from the backyard clients/customers so to speak.  Finally, national phrases are the most highly but most generic terms so starting there (to me) just doesn’t make much sense for service based businesses.

  • Local SEO targets potential customers looking for services in your immediate area (usually a small city or town).
  • Regional SEO focuses more on the larger city you might be in or near (like ‘Atlanta’ or ‘Los Angeles’.)
  • National SEO would be the more generic forms of your target phrase without location modifiers because it really speaks to any one interested in that keyword regardless of location (like ‘web designer’ or ‘dentist’.)

With that said, Google will make some assumptions even if you are searching in private mode based on your computer’s location (using IP address, location history if turned on and recent locations.)  So, even though I’m targeting ‘web design canton ga’ as one of my search phrases for this site, when I just search for ‘web design’ from my computer here in Canton, Georgia, our site comes up at the top of the first page.

Local, Regional, National SEO

I don’t know why any service business would’t take the time to identify the local area FIRST given that with your local descriptions all over your site that Google will automatically throw you in the mix for those more generic phrases.

Our website should be visible when people search Google for ‘web design canton ga‘, which is the most searched phrase for web design in this immediate area.  With a little planning and a single blog post, we were able to climb from basically ‘non existing’ to top 3′ on the first page of Google for this phrase.

The end result?  At the top of the first page, we are beginning to see new visitors using this search term and learning about Sisson Media who would otherwise have passed us by in past years.  Honestly, it’s not difficult to rank for phrases like this and it might only be searched for 10 times per month.

However, if I have the number one spot I could see a handful of FREE visitors looking for a service I provide in the exact town where I live and work.  I’ll take the time to setup that page, optimize it, then at least have my site pop up in the conversation month after month for that search phrase.

From there, I want to (over time of course) build loads of location optimized content that targets every service I offer from the inside out (immediate area to surrounding areas.)  It’s a lot of work, but it’s not difficult if well planned and executed against a content calendar.  As your site begins to pop up for these free searches month after month, you’ll be happy you did it.

Local SEO isn’t just for Services Based Searches

This basic concept is huge for service based professionals like dentists, medical specialists, plumbers, accountants, financial planners, interior designers, you name it.

If I’m going to hire a company to build a fence in my backyard, a swimming pool, or finish my basement, I’m going to be looking for companies that don’t have to drive 3 hours each day.  I’m going to focus on local search, or Google is going to show companies that go to great lengths to show that they service customers in my local area.

If my dental practice is in Woodstock, Georgia, then I want to be sure that I’m ranking highly for that area and a defined radius around it.  Even though Google is likely to kick in Google Places (now ‘Google My Business’) results for most modifiers, you never know.  There are no GMB listings for my ‘web design canton ga’ phrase currently so we are front and center.

When I type in ‘dentist canton ga’, there are three organic results BEFORE the GMB listings….you should be there if you are that dentist and you serve this local area!

What if my business rents out special equipment like inflatable bounce houses for birthday parties during the summer?  What if I want to buy a heavy (too heavy and large to ship) outdoor fire pit liner?  Do you think I want to buy from a company that is more than a half hour away?

No!  I want to do business with someone nearby so they can get to me in a timely manner OR I can go and pick up the big ‘whatever’ without driving a 6 hour round trip.  I’m going to search for a local company, and if I’m that company that provides rents or sells those things I want to show up in every search possible.

Should I still target local SEO phrases for remote services I offer?

For the business consultant who can work remotely (programmers, digital designers, business coaches, executive strategists, thought leaders, etc) we have more freedom to target a little more loosely.  In this case, it might be on a case by case basis.  Our experience building web sites over the years might shed some light on what I mean by that statement.

We work with clients all over the country, even in Aruba.  This is because we can perform and entire website and/or design project from start to finish without ever meeting face to face.  We’ve done this many, many times through the years.

However, I’ve lost projects simply because we were’t local to the potential client.  I’ve also won jobs that were competitive and I’m sure the client eventually told me that they ‘really wanted to work with someone they could meet face to face.’

So, although we work with many clients in Los Angeles even though we live around Atlanta, it’s in my best interest to load up my site with local identifying phrases because site unseen (not a referral), those search engine based contacts will likely convert into more business for us.

So, I will focus my company’s search visibility and ranking efforts on this site more locally in the coming years honestly.  There are plenty of businesses who are probably more comfortable with local services, face to face meetings, you get the idea.  However, that’s my call for MY business, what is yours?

Try Google’s Suggestions for Ideas!

Aside from local search based modifiers based on WHERE WE DO IT, Google often gives us some direction in terms of ‘popular searches’ based on our core WHAT WE DO statement.  This technique can be used for ideas on which markets and phrase variations to target.

Start With Google's Suggestions!For instance, if I’m a franchise consultant, I can go to Google and type ‘franchise consultants‘ in the search box.

As soon as I finish typing and hit my space bar, Google shows me about four variations of searches that it ‘suggests’ for me….longer phrases that contain the base search like ‘franchise consultants inc‘ or ‘franchise consultants jobs‘ or ‘franchise consultants usa‘, that sort of thing.

This is one way to go about getting ideas for phrases that are at least popular enough for Google to suggest based on historical searches.  The more you dig, the more ideas you’ll get right from Google.

Remember, I don’t care as much about ranking for ‘franchise consultants’ as I do about popping up in searches related to what we do like ‘how to franchise my business’ or something that could be more specific and likely to convert.

Why?  There are different ‘types’ of franchise consultants, so I may be spending tons of time to rank for a phrase that doesn’t convert because most searchers are looking for ‘the other type of consultant’ (the type of help you BUY a franchise rather than DEVELOP your existing business into a franchise.)

Also consider that these ‘suggestions’ are what your potential visitors will be forced to see when working with Google, so I always like focusing on these variations of a base keyword IF they are relevant to my business offering.

Different Business Models, Different SEO Strategies

Search phrase targeting is very flexible and personal from business to business.  With that said, my personal thought is that it doesn’t really matter what the ‘most popular’ searches are for my business services, it matters to me that my site appears for the phrases are the most likely to CONVERT when my site shows up for a search, regardless of how popular they are.

If Marietta, Georgia is a hotbed for you with past clients in your service based business, you might want to ‘corner the market’ in search over time for that area.  This is true especially if you have a sizable portfolio of existing business in that area.

Why?  Potential clients from Marietta might feel more comfortable knowing that you work with several other happy clients (their business community neighbors) and will more likely convert when they find your business site in those local search results.

I know I have a much better chance at getting business for a phrase like ‘custom basement design canton ga‘ because that person is looking for exactly WHAT I DO AND WHERE I DO IT (if that’s my target of course).  I want that higher conversion rate probability personally.

It would also be easier to rank for this very targeted local phrase for my site…less competition than fighting with the greater Atlanta area for the much more competitive phrase, ‘basement design atlanta‘.

Even if I did rank highly, odds are most people who find my site for this more competitive Atlanta based phrase may feel that they want to work with a company more in town anyway (less conversion if any….a wasted ranking many times).  I’d take the more localized phrase in this case and try to get the higher conversion on what less potential traffic there will be for that phrase (plus every other surrounding area).

If I was a ‘pediatric dentist’ for example (living in Marietta, Georgia in this case), I would certainly consider starting with phrases like (specific to Marietta, Georgia for instance) these, then choose one to focus on and the variations would also likely rank well from that one optimized page with back links over time if necessary.

  • pediatric dentist marietta
  • pediatric dentist marietta ga
  • pediatric dentist marietta georgia
  • pediatric dentist in marietta
  • pediatric dentist in marietta ga
  • pediatric dentist in marietta georgia
  • marietta pediatric dentist
  • marietta georgia pediatric dentist
  • marietta ga pediatric dentist

Again, these variations in local search are likely not super competitive so it should be much easier to accomplish rankings than for the generic ‘pediatric dentist‘ if that makes sense.  But, as I said earlier, Google will likely rank you for this generic term for searchers in your area anyway once you are ranking for plenty of local modifier based searches in my experience.

There will be fewer people searching for these types of phrases, but since the phrase is much more relevant for your business, I would want to ‘corner the market’ if possible to make sure people looking for these types of phrases are sure to find you.  I’d rather be first on Google for relevant, targeted phrases anyway, even if they are not highly searched….I’ll be there waiting when they are!

Think Like Your Customers Talk

I would also suggest that an effort is made to add synonyms from time to time.   Search engines seem to consider multiple variations of a keyword throughout site pages which makes sense.  After all, we want our content to reflect authority over time, not fly-by-night trickery.

Attorney or Lawyer?I might call myself an attorney in my pages, sure, but I also want to mention words like ‘lawyer’ or ‘counsel’ or ‘legal practitioner’, etc.  That overall feel suggests that my site is (or is attempting to grow over time into) an ‘authority site’ in this space, especially as the content grows over time with these variations.

So, we can sprinkle synonyms but still keep a primary version as our focus at the same time for our more popular core keyword.

I may like to refer to myself as an attorney on my firm’s website, but the fact is that most people actually search for the term ‘lawyer’.  In fact, given the quick research I did for this blog post, it appears that people search for phrases containing the word ‘attorney’ about 30% less than phrases containing the word ‘lawyer’.  This includes searches like ‘attorney in atlanta’ versus ‘lawyer in atlanta’ based on Google’s keyword search data.

Does it make sense to target national modifiers like ‘southeast’ or ‘northwest’ versus city based phrases?

From what I’ve seen over the years, people generally seem to use city based searches above state, and state over regional (like ‘lawyer southeast‘).  The only reason they are searching with a location modifier is because they want some product or service that is close to them I’ve found, so city is the most popular (and relevant for potential conversions) by far.

In the end, there are endless variations of ‘what we do and where we do it’ type phrases out there and we are all ultimately building our ‘spider web’ to catch more and more relevant traffic.

Just keep in mind that traffic for traffic sake may accomplish little more than useless noise on your business site.  Think like your customer….how would YOU find YOU?  What would you search for?

Not sure?  Start by asking your own past customers.  Then, put a plan together and start getting more rankings, more visibility and more business!