There are some words and concepts in the digital marketing world that aren’t formally recognized but are generally understood.
Geo-modified keywords are among them. The concept has no official definition among Google’s documentation, but as you work your way up in the industry and start spending time inside bigger Google Ads accounts, the idea becomes apparent. You see it in fancily-named campaigns and ad groups. Maybe you’ve seen it referenced in some oddly specific training presentations.
My experience is that the concept is always presented as if you already know what they’re talking about. There is no newbie guide — well, there wasn’t, until now. However, since none of this is formally agreed upon, I’m forced to make some assertions based on my years of experience dealing with them. As a consequence, I’ll present this all as fact. To the best of my knowledge, it is.
Who Should Care About Geo-Modified Keywords
Before I explain what geo-modified keywords are, you should know who they’re for so you can better understand why they matter.
(I’m getting tired of saying “geo-modified keywords”, so I’ll abbreviate them as GMKs from here on out.)
GMKs are important for businesses with a focus on local marketing. They’re especially important for local businesses that rely on leads coming from specific locations.
For example, a landscaping company offering services to Des Moines, IA and nearby towns and cities wants to receive leads from within that area. They aren’t interested in receiving leads from Canada or Australia because they don’t work there.
A lot of businesses fall into this category of “businesses focused on local marketing”. Companies that serve the global market or their entire country have big marketing budgets, but they’re outliers from the majority. Even so, it can be beneficial for those types of businesses to focus on GMKs. Thus, GMKs are beneficial at all levels:
- They work for small businesses with one physical location that only serves one city.
- They work for businesses with multiple locations, such as those using a branch or franchise model.
- They work for national and global businesses that want to penetrate resistant local markets.
It doesn’t matter if you work in-house at one of these companies or at a digital marketing agency that has them as clients. GMKs can help you either way.
What Are Geo-Modified Keywords?
Geo-modified keywords are keywords that have been tweaked to include a certain location — often a city, but can also be a state or even a country.
If we go back to the previous example of a landscaping company,
landscaping services is a keyword they would want to rank for locally.
landscaping services des moines is a geo-modified keyword. Get it? We modified the keyword to include a geo (i.e. location, or city).
Don’t get geo-modified keywords confused with outdated broad match modified (BMM) or modified broad match (MBM) keywords. They are separate things.
Geo-Modified Keywords for SEO
GMKs are a big deal for paid search campaigns (e.g. Google Ads), but they’re just as important for SEO.
That landscaping company in Des Moines wants to show up when people search for landscaping services in nearby suburbs and towns. A common way that SEOs target these types of searches is by building landing pages for each geo the business serves.
There are good and bad ways to do this. A bad way would be to make duplicates of a generic landing page for each location, then lazily swap out the city (geo) on each page.
A good way would be to customize each page with useful and applicable information. For example, a landscaping company could include pictures of local jobs done in the relevant geo.
As companies get bigger, this level of personalization gets harder to maintain. But bigger businesses have something smaller businesses don’t: brand recognition. As a result, the purpose of these types of pages is different.
Franchises often create pages on their corporate website for each business location. Similar to before, these pages are opportunities to target GMKs and rank locally. They’re simple, often only containing contact information for that specific location, which makes it easy to manage.
Geo-Modified Keywords for PPC
When it comes to paid search, advertisers generally assume that keywords that include locations are better than keywords that don’t.
landscaping services is a keyword worth bidding on and showing ads for, but if someone makes the extra effort to search for
landscaping services des moines, that’s probably even better, right?
At my digital marketing agency, we keep GMKs and generic (non-geo-modified) keywords in separate campaigns. With this data, we can determine just how much more valuable geo-modified keywords are compared to generic keywords.
Last year, on average across several accounts, GMKs outperformed their generic counterparts. Their clickthrough rates and conversion rates are higher. Their average cost per click and cost per conversion (intentionally excluded here) are lower as well.
Targeting GMKs alone was not enough to achieve these results. We also write ad messaging specifically for each geo too. When someone searches for a specific geo, we show that in the ad.
This level of detail can be big for businesses with lean marketing budgets because it allows them to prioritize the most cost-effective leads. At the same time, the extra effort from big businesses shows that you care enough to personalize your message for the local market.
Keeping Geo-Modified PPC Keyword Data Clean
Imagine you have two ad groups in Google Ads. In one ad group, you have the keyword
landscaping services. In the other ad group, you have
landscaping services des moines. If somebody searches for
landscaping professional services in the des moines area, which ad group serves an ad?
You would expect
landscaping services des moines to trigger the ad, but that’s not a guarantee since both keywords match the search. There are multiple reasons why Google Ads works this way. If you want to learn more, you can do so here.
But as it concerns us right now, the reasons don’t really matter. The fact is, keywords can bleed into other campaigns you don’t want them to unless you specifically tell them not to allow that.
The technical term for this solution is called negative keyword routing. It just means that, if you want to keep geo searches out of your generic campaigns or ad groups, you need to add them as negative keywords.
Geo-Modified Keywords for Digital Marketing Agencies
Strategies focused on GMKs are appealing to digital marketing agencies. Once an agency gets several clients in the same industry, they can compile data across accounts and create a strategy that works for the majority of businesses in that industry.
One example of this is a Google Ads template account. An agency can create generic campaigns that can be copied, pasted, then personalized for the client. This cuts down on setup time, and as long as that personalization still happens, there’s no downside for the client.
These template accounts often use GMK placeholders that can be quickly and easily swapped out by using find and replace.
The same idea can be used for SEO. However, it’s important to note again that personalization and quality control are necessary. A lot of digital marketing companies try and fail with this approach because they get lazy, stop personalizing the solution to the client, or just make simple mistakes like forgetting to replace GMK placeholders with the actual appropriate geo. When used properly, though, GMKs can play a big part in creating a profitable and scalable service.