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The Art of Keyword Selection for Search Campaigns

Are you localizing your keywords correctly?  I ask because many times we assume everyone searches online the same way we do.  We think that because we do something one-way, surely everyone else does it too, right?  That is not always the case, especially when we are trying to market to a specific location.  To take this a step further, most marketers are remote in relation to the locations they are targeting.

As a result, we have to understand how our own local bias can sometimes get in the way of our overall marketing success. We all have our localization tilts.  The trick to successful marketing is to be able to tilt our marketing toward the specific areas we target.

This can be difficult, so let’s do a quick keyword exercise. We will look at self-storage in Denver and Houston.  These two cities are close in that they are both in the middle of the U.S., but are far enough apart that I believe we will see some significant differences.

First we compile a list of potential keywords. This is called a keyword seed list. Here is an example:

  • Storage
  • Self-storage
  • Storage units
  • Mini storage

We will also use the following variations:

  • City + Keyword (Denver Storage)
  • Keyword + City (Storage Denver)

Take a look at the list below. Using Google’s keyword planner, this represents monthly search volume at the national level. Is this the way you would have ordered the keyword preferences across the U.S.?

Nationwide Keyword Demand – Monthly Search Volume

  • Storage – 165,000
  • Storage units – 135,000
  • Self-storage – 49,500
  • Mini storage – 6,600

Now let’s look at Denver. You will see the same list above, but with the addition of the city before and after the keyword.  Here is what we find once we make these adjustments:

Denver Keyword Demand

  • Storage units Denver – 1,600
  • Self-storage Denver – 320
  • Denver storage units – 320
  • Storage Denver – 260
  • Denver storage – 260
  • Denver self-storage – 140
  • Denver mini storage – 50
  • Mini storage Denver – 40

Based on this data, “keyword + city” appears to be the preferred method of search.  You will also notice “storage units Denver” takes the cake, even though our national demand shows that it should be “storage” before “storage units”.  To follow that, “self-storage” outpaces “storage” as well in the same format.  This is why we check.

In many cases marketers would have selected “Denver storage” as their primary term. This would have put you up against 19.5 million other pages in Google vs 1.13 million pages for the more heavily trafficked “storage units Denver”.  Why not target the less competitive keyword with six times more traffic?  That makes a lot more sense.

Reviewing the “city + keyword” configuration, “storage units” is still the winner, but “storage” outdoes “self-storage”.  We also see that “Denver storage” and “Storage Denver” are basically negligible in their search activity.  Finally, we know that mini storage is not a heavily trafficked term in Denver.  It is 4% of the volume of the top term nationally (6,600/165,000), but only 2.5% of the search volume in Denver.  Why?  That term is simply more popular in other areas of the country.

Before leaving the Denver example, look at the difference between “storage units Denver” and “Denver storage units”. We see five times more search traffic for “storage units Denver” than we see for “Denver storage units”. This simple variation in the order of keywords makes a significant difference in search volume.

Enough about Denver, what can we learn from Houston?

Houston Keyword Demand

  • Self-storage Houston – 480
  • Storage Houston – 390
  • Houston storage – 260
  • Storage units Houston – 210
  • Houston storage units – 110
  • Houston self-storage – 110
  • Mini storage Houston – 110
  • Houston mini storage – 70

Houston Observations

  • Search volume is significantly lower (1,600 for the top term in Denver vs 480 in Houston) which could be a result of:
    • People in Houston localizing their searches with more precise accuracy than just the major metro area.
    • Denver could simply have a higher demand for storage.
  • The most popular term is “self-storage”, whereas in Denver, the term “storage units” was significantly more popular than “self-storage”.
  • Like Denver, the preferred order of the keywords is keyword + city.
  • “Mini storage” is a more common term in Houston, representing 23% of the search volume of the top term, 19 points higher than the national average.

The Takeaway

So what have we learned from this exercise?

  • You must localize your keyword research to each market.
  • The “one size fits all” attitude of most marketers will not work at the local level.
  • Every area of the country is different and individual areas of a city can vary as well.

It all comes down to understanding the habits of the people you are targeting. If you have that covered, then your marketing efforts are more likely to find success.

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