What To Do When Google Keyword Planner Gives You Zeros for Your Keyword + City Name

by Joyce Grace

Last updated on April 27th, 2018

You know that moment, when you’re trying to find out how many people search for “banana stand Balboa Island,” but Google Keyword Planner gives you a “-” under “Avg. monthly searches”?

Not to worry. There’s “always money in the banana stand.”

You might not own a banana stand, but if you’re reading this you probably have a local business in a town with a small population. Thus, few people are likely searching for your product or service to warrant any significant records of those searches in the Google Keyword Planner.

This happens all the time, and just because there isn’t enough data in the Google Keyword Planner to give you numbers that would indicate hope for your business, you can find ways of figuring out what words will get you search traffic.

google keyword planner city name sad results

Following the steps below will help you find out how to do niche market SEO.

Believe it or not you can pick targeted keywords for your business even if you are not able to find precise data about it in the Google Keyword Planner. Internet marketers use this way of thinking all the time.

Learn the benefits of Keyword Planner, hot to use this free tool and improve your SEO.

Remove the city name, but add it back in later

Let’s clarify this one. If your location is a small city or neighbourhood, chances are you’re not going to get significant results for your target keyword if you always combine it with a geographic location in the Keyword Planner.

Heck, sometimes even keywords with big city names won’t reveal that much in terms of search volumes, especially when using long tail keywords.

So do yourself a favour and disregard the city name when searching for keyword ideas. Don’t worry so much if you have to add it back in later when doing your website copywriting.

google keyword planner city name searches went up

You might see your keyword show up with other city names in Google Keyword Planner, but that doesn’t mean people don’t search for your keyword in your city. It just means there’s very little or no data on it.

Besides, you can bet that if people are looking for a frozen banana stand in one beach town, they’ll be looking for it in another beach town too.

What is meant by “add it back in later”?

Good question. It simply means you should be logical: Assume people do search for your keyword in combination with a city name. (Because they likely do.)

Sometimes the keyword research tool of your choice does give place names with your keywords, and based on those results, you can get an idea behind how users are searching for keywords in combination with city names.

For example, you may find great results when searching for a broader keyword like:

“banana stand California”

But you will find not-so-motivating results when you search “banana stand Balboa Island.”

So just assume that people will search for a banana stand in Balboa Island, and you can throw it back in there with the keyword “banana stand” as you’re writing your web copy.

This is necessary when you have a brick-and-mortar business that requires people show up at a physical location to experience your product or service.

Even if they’re few and far between, you will get the right people landing on your site because the key phrase is highly targeted and localized.

(By the way, as you’ve probably figured out by now, no one searches for banana stands anywhere, probably not even in the Arrested Development TV show, so take these as working examples of what we’re trying to accomplish with your business ;p But hey, here’s a photo of some guys who found Bluth’s Frozen Banana Stand in New York!)

bluths banana stand ny
Photo Credit: *Bitch Cakes* via Compfight cc

When in doubt, go for the nearest big city

I live in a metropolis where the big city is Vancouver. But when people say, “I’m from Vancouver,” they often live in the many suburbs surrounding it.

I’m sure it’s like that with other cities as well. So we can assume that when people are searching for a local service or product, or thing to do when they’re bored, they are going to type in a keyword with the name of the nearest big city.

This is especially true if they can’t find the results they wanted when searching in the suburb they’re located in. That’s ok.

For example, I may want a “hamster sitter in Coquitlam,” but there may not be many hamster sitters that have optimized websites ranking well for my search query in my small suburb.

So the next step up would be “hamster sitter Vancouver,” and from there I could pick from my list of hamster sitters who would certainly drive to Coquitlam to service my hamster’s needs.

google map nearest big city is not that far

If you serve multiple cities, start with one

Sometimes business owners get stuck on the fact that they service a list of 10 or 20 (or more) geographic areas. Then they want to do keyword research to find out numbers for every single suburb and neighborhood that might come up in the Google Keyword Planner.

It’s time to move on — what is the point of knowing when you could be doing? Stop learning and start executing, you’ll get better ROI for your time spent that way.

Let’s learn why:

If you want to start doing SEO for every city you service, you are going to have to write a lot of content using those city names.

Each keyword is going to be its own effort and your site’s pages are going to need to target one focus keyword each (at least when you are first starting out with SEO). That means if you want to target:

“banana stand Balboa Island”


“banana stand San Diego,”

well, now you have doubled your workload, because you’re going to need to create a page all about your banana stand in Balboa Island PLUS another page about your banana stand in San Diego.

Then you’re going to write Meta tags for these, do link building for both of them, set up two Google Plus location pages for them, write two guest blog posts, along with two of everything from now on.

Two locations are not that hard to deal with. But when you have 10 or 20, you really have a long way to go.

If you try to do SEO for all of them all at once, you are going to dilute your efforts, will probably get lost in the mix and (more likely) will get overwhelmed and want to give up because you won’t see the fruit of your labor for a long time.

Start with one target — let’s say your home base, or the new location where you want to drum up more business — and stick to it.

In all reality, unless you have a team of content producers and internet marketers working around the clock for you, it’s going to take you at least a few months to do the actual work it will take to get ranking for that one key phrase + location name.

Then, when you’re ready to target other cities, because you have man hours available, that would be the time, if any, to do another keyword research report.

Over time, the results may change. For example you may start doing a lot of branding and marketing through other channels. You’ll become a recognizable brand. Then people are going to start searching for your product or service by name.

It’s just like how we might search for a “Holiday Inn” as a hotel to stay in, versus just any “hotel in ________,” because we’ve come to know that brand as one we like.

google holiday search

Do keyword research in small bits over time, to keep up with trends in Google Keyword Planner tool

Google trends vs Keyword Planner?

Another thing that might change your keyword research results over time is if something big happens in the news related to your industry. A new trend might emerge.

This is why Google Trends exists (do we hear a lot of “aaaaah’s” in the room?). Those new trend phrases will start showing up in the Google Keyword Planner.

(Like, let’s say suddenly it’s a trend that everyone wants frozen peach skewers because Oprah was seen with one at a ball game. Then people might start searching for “frozen peach skewers Balboa Island.” You will want to know about this for competitive business decision making reasons.)

If you try to know too much about your keywords long before you start executing on them, you could end up working off an outdated report months later. You’ll have no clue what better business opportunities you have.

It’s best to start small. Keep yourself updated as time goes by. Spread out your keyword research time and refresh your reports when you are realistically ready to start doing SEO on your findings.

Don’t be afraid of being a trend starter

Speaking of the above, we need to know that the reason we get zeros in the Google Keyword Planner (or keyword research tool of your choice) is not only because you live in a small town.

You may have started a trending business idea many people don’t know about yet. If they aren’t aware of your new trend, they won’t know to search for it. So in these cases, you’ll have an even smaller group of people looking for your business online.

Don’t give up on SEO: trend setting gives you an edge

Sometimes being the ‘first’ in your industry means people will start to search for you by your name brand. This will have long-term impact on your search traffic.

People who love cars and electronics, for example, always know the brand of whatever speakers, wires and paints they want to use.

If you’re providing something new to these loyal followers of existing brands, you’ve definitely got your work cut out for you. But once you catch their attention, you’ll have long term ‘wins’ in the industry.

Another benefit to being the first trendsetter is that sometimes you don’t have to do much in the way of SEO later on, even if your brand name doesn’t catch on.

You may be the only person offering neon fur dye for dogs in your region (another Arrested Development joke…).

So anyone looking for that is going to find you and you alone, even if your website’s SEO is not as hot as it could be (as would be the need in more competitive industries). You basically won’t have competition until people realize a little too late that you’ve struck gold.

Conclusion – Start using Google Keyword Planner Free

In most cases, low search volumes, especially zeros, in a keyword research effort would be a red flag to stay away.

But as we’ve seen above, not in all cases. If you are servicing a special niche geographic area or service, you will need to assume that Google’s Keyword Planner is not going to be as smart as most people think it is.

It’s up to you to put the pieces together and make it work for your needs.

Recognize the potential for your keywords to drive targeted traffic to your site. Find out what similar words, or broader level keywords, people are searching for to combine with your place name. Then keep on top of the trends.

Do keyword research often to capitalize on key terms that are new. They may have long-term potential, even if their search volumes are low right now.

Thoughts? Additional pointers on how does Google Keyword Planner work? Share them in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.



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Joyce Grace

Joyce Grace writes about WordPress, SEO, marketing, and other related topics at ManageWP, the WordPress management dashboard for managing any number of WordPress sites. In her other life, she runs a small Internet marketing business in Vancouver, Canada, where she helps clients market their companies online by performing SEO, copywriting and making websites.


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  1. Spook says:
    December 11, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Hi Joyce,

    Thanks for this very informative article. I discovered this several months ago and I excluded the location temporarily. When I already made some changes, I was able to get lots of traffic. Anyway, I find all of your tips really useful. Thanks a lot!

  2. James Hughey says:
    November 13, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I have founded this Keyword planner very confusing. Loved the way Google Keyword tool worked. Now it becomes very annoying when it returns 0 local searches or no data for a keyword whereas we know people at those area perform those searches. Thanks a lot for this blogs post which will help people like us who are finding it hard to use GKP.

  3. Adam Kreitman says:
    November 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Good tips, Joyce.

    One thing I’d add to the mix is to use Google AdWords… it’s the only way to get truly accurate data on a local level. Here’s an article I wrote about this for Crazy Egg last year.

  4. November 13, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Well written – soooooooo, do you think we should open a “frozen banana stand” in Vancouver now that you’ve got Google’s attention! Many thanks for the good info.

    • Joyce Grace says:
      November 14, 2013 at 12:15 am

      Ha ha, thanks Valentina! To be truly honest, I think every city should have a frozen banana stand. Who WOULDN’T want to enjoy chocolate covered anything? 🙂 At least now we know how to optimize locally for our ingenious business idea, eh? Let’s be trend setters 🙂

  5. Mike Wilton says:
    November 12, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Great post and it’s good to see you’re not telling people to shy away from those localized keywords. Another thing users can do is consider some of the data in Google trends. You can run some keywords on a more broad scale without the local modifier and plug them into Google Trends and then drill down to the city level to better understand how people are searching for your product or service. This can help when choosing one keyword or another when it comes to your local search space. I wrote a bit more about it here on Search Engine Watch

    • Joyce Grace says:
      November 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      Hi Mike! Thanks for the additional resource and affirming words!

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