Focused Keyword Strategy for SEO: Determining Suburb vs City vs State vs National

The up-front strategy for SEO is crucial. If you pick the wrong markets or try to overexpand, it can be costly.

Take our digital marketing agency for example. We knew Columbus, Ohio was a top 15 U.S. market and there were a lot of businesses that could become clients in the fastest growing city in the Midwest.

Rather than try and rank nationally or even statewide for keywords like “Digital Marketing Agency” or “SEO Company,” we first wanted to gain market share in our own backyard.

Ranking well in Columbus has been one of the most important reasons we’ve been able to continuously grow. When I’ve consulted with other digital marketing firms, overlooking local is one of the biggest mistakes I see that stunts their growth.

Important Question to Ask – Revenue Breakdown

One of the first pieces of information we receive from our clients is a revenue percentage breakdown per suburb and per city. This is a great way to determine what markets to target and where you should invest time and resources.

Make sure to ask the business you are working with for a revenue percentage breakdown by zip code, city or state.

Another example of a strategy shift based on revenue breakdown is an Ohio based personal injury attorney. 70% of their business comes from Columbus. Yet they have offices throughout the state of Ohio.

What tends to happen is an attorney will go to an agency or to their marketing associate and say, “I want to rank in each market throughout Ohio.” Too often, the agency or employee will do what they’re told, which isn’t in the best interest of the business.

When we determined that this P.I. law firm did 70% of their business in Columbus yet didn’t even rank in their own backyard, we changed the entire structure of their site to be more centered on Columbus versus all of Ohio (and it worked).

Google is smart and they know where most of your customers and website traffic is coming from. Before trying to rank in 10 different markets throughout the state, focus on the city where the most revenue is being generated before expanding.

Each Business is Different

What’s challenging about the up-front SEO strategy is each business is unique, meaning each strategy is different. If you have physical store locations in 10 different cities throughout Ohio, your strategy is going to be different than the P.I. law firm, where they might have opened up a satellite office for the sole purpose of ranking well (which I don’t recommend).

For a local dental practice, they very well could be better off ranking for “New Albany Dentist” (a suburb of Columbus) versus “Columbus Dentist.” Not only is there less competition in New Albany, conversion rate percentage would be higher since dental practices are a type of business that’s extremely hyperlocal.

Acknowledging and comprehending where you need to target is more than half the fight.

Depending on whether you want to target a suburb vs. city vs. state vs. national makes a big difference in terms of how long it can take you to rank well on Google. Good luck ever moving newegg.com or chewy.com from their spots in the SERPS on a national level without a ton of time, money, and an entire staff of employees.

If you pick the wrong strategy of what area to target, it can set you back years, which is costly. People like to imagine that “local SEO” is just about targeting cities, but oftentimes there’s some more thought needed to figure out the exact size and scale of your SEO campaign. Think about whether your business thrives based on how conveniently close you’re to people’s homes. If you operate a local gym, think about whether you should be primarily targeting neighborhoods instead of cities. Or maybe you offer marketing services, and in that case targeting an entire city in order to gain clients would probably be best. Target your entire state? Go national? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.

We’ve gathered this long list of examples to give you a deeper look at determining your keyword strategy for SEO.

Suburb Level (location and proximity to home is crucial):

  • Oil Change
  • Dentist
  • Beauty Salon/Barber Shop
  • Restaurant
  • Bank
  • Apartment
  • Gym
  • Small Hardware Store
  • Tailor
  • Laundromat
  • Dog Kennel
  • Pet Groomer
  • Local Bar
  • Mom & Pop Grocery Store
  • Boutique Wedding Shop
  • Antique Shop
  • Yoga Studio
  • Mechanic
  • Coffee Stand
  • Cellphone Repair

City Level (proximity isn’t as important because there’s less face-to-face interactions)

  • Marketing Agency
  • Law Firm
  • Hotel
  • Local Car Rental
  • Accountant
  • Ice Skating Rink
  • Hospital
  • Auto-shop
  • Mall
  • Pawn Shop
  • Thrift Store
  • Music Store
  • Landscaper
  • Pest Control
  • HVAC Repair
  • Car Rental
  • Arcade
  • Go Kart Raceway
  • Equipment Rental
  • Recording Studio
  • Newspaper
  • Cable Company
  • Plumber
  • Real Estate Agent
  • Mortgage Lender
  • Auto Dealer
  • Cosmetic Surgeon

State Level (Businesses with multiple locations and also services consumers will drive to)

  • T-shirt company with a focus on local t-shirts throughout the state of Ohio
  • Company with multiple offices/locations throughout the state
  • Law Firm (if your business is truly diversified throughout the state with numerous physical locations)
  • Marketing Agency (if your business is truly diversified throughout the state with numerous physical locations)
  • Cable Company
  • Accountant
  • Casino
  • Tourist Attraction
  • Specialized Healthcare Service (Children’s Hospital)
  • College
  • National Park
  • Historic Monument
  • DMV
  • Rental Car
  • Movie Theater

National Level (typically eCommerce stores, affiliate sites, or national brands)

  • Amazon
    • This is obvious. They are a national company selling to everyone.
  • eCommerce → DermWarehouse
    • Sells skin care products throughout the country)
  • Unique services like Delta H (heat treatment ovens and industrial furnaces)
    • They deliver to air hangers throughout the country
  • Car Insurance company
    • Example: SafeAuto – They want to rank nationally for search terms like “cheap car insurance” but they also have a local SEO strategy in the markets where they offer insurance. While they have a national play, they also have a local and statewide play.
  • Lowe’s
    • Lowe’s wants to rank nationally for their eCommerce business. They also want to rank locally for their individual stores so this combines national and local SEO.
  • Sears
  • Best Buy
  • Target
  • Walmart
  • Rental Cars
  • Health Insurance Companies

As you can see, some businesses should be targeting both city, state, and even national in some cases like rental car companies. The point of this list is to get you thinking about all of the different location keywords that you can begin targeting for your own niche.

Whatever you decide upon, the best strategy is to simply get moving. Once you’ve attempted targeting either suburb, city, state, or national you’ll start to see what is working and what’s not having any impact at all after about 90 days. From that point, you can begin to adjust your initial strategy until inevitably you’ve carved out your own keyword path.