We all know Google is an amazing trove of information, but what’s less widely known is the simple search tools Google provides that make researching your online presence a breeze. I’m going to show you seven Google search hacks that will give you a competitive advantage with your local SEO efforts.

These tips are all based on Google’s “search operators”, which are little instructions you can insert into Google searches to hone the results to help your SEO research.

For some of the examples I give below I’ll be using the website www.hda-architecture.co.uk as a case study. Of course when you do your own searches just replace HDA’s website URL with the address you wish to research.

Hack #1 How many of my web pages are in Google’s index?

Here’s the query to search:


Key it in like this:

Google search operator example

Make sure you don’t leave a space between site: and your URL.

With our example Google has found 96 results, and if you scroll through the results you can see there’s a range of results: some fixed pages, some portfolio project pages, that sort of thing. Check you have a good spread of page types so you know Google’s picking up all of your site content.

If your pages aren’t even ranking in Google no on-page SEO tweaking you do will be picked up by Google. This little search hack is the very first step to making sure your pages are indexed by Google in the first place.

Hack #2 Find out what your competitors have written about a specific keyword

You’ll get ahead much faster if you target your content where there’s lower competition. Finding out how much your competitors are talking about a topic may highlight some low-hanging fruit: topics that they’re not talking about so much that could help you win a position in the market.

This is the query:

site:www.hda-architecture.co.uk house extensions

That gets us this:

Simple keyword Google search result

As we can see here HDA have 81 pages mentioning those keywords, even if they’re only mentioned once.

Now, a well optimised page would always include in its title the main keyword that it’s intended to rank for. We can use the following search operator to narrow the previous search down to just pages on that site that include the relevant phrase in their page title:

site:www.hda-architecture.co.uk intitle:house extensions

Now we’re down to just 6 results. This is useful because it filters the results down to just the pages that are optimised to rank for those keywords. You can now browse those pages to find out what your competition is doing on those pages to rank for that keyword.

Hack #3 Identify content gaps

Have your competitors created any content that you haven’t, that you should consider adding to your site? Try this search operator, replacing the blue word with something that your rank for already:

site:www.hda-architecture.co.uk -intitle:extensions

The hypen tells Google to exclude pages that have the term you specified in their title. Are there any page topics now shown that you could do with also talking about on your website?

Hack #4 Find some keywords you haven’t thought about

You can use Google’s autosuggest feature to find commonly searched for terms that you may not have thought of.

However this can give quite a limited list, but fear not, you can use a wildcard search operator to hone your results further.

Best Vegan_New York

Using an underscore will prompt Google to give you search suggestions that replace the underscore with words that people commonly search in its place, like so:

How to Do SEO Keyword Research for Free Using Google 1

So if you were putting together a menu for your vegan restaurant in New York, this search tells you that there are plenty of people searching for vegan pizza, vegan breakfasts, vegan cheesecake etc. That will give you some ideas of potentially popular items you could add to your menu.

Hack #5: How much competition is there for my keyword?

Not all keywords are worth pursuing. You want to target keywords that hit the sweet spot of being highly relevant to you while having low competition (relatively fewer other websites ranking for that keyword).

Let’s take a search operator from a previous hack. If we search for Best vegan burger New York as it stands, that search brings up 56 million hits! Crazy. To truly understand the level of competition for this search phrase you want to find just the pages that include all those words in their title. Here’s how:

allintitle:best vegan burger new york

Now we’re down to just 63 results, and even if we only look at the first page all the results we see will be much more helpful to us.

Hack #6: Find internal linking opportunities

We all know that the holy grail of SEO is getting high quality external links pointing to your site, but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of internal linking. That’s what this hack is about.

Internal links are important for two reasons:

  1. They help your users navigate your site
  2. They inform search engines like Google and Bing so they can get a true picture of what your site’s about, helping your pages rank as they should.

Search your own site with this query:

intext:”house extensions” site:www.hda-architecture.co.uk

This tells Google to find all pages on the site in which the exact phrase “house extensions” is mentioned anywhere in the copy. The quote around the keyword makes it match the exact search term, in that exact order.

Now we just need to browse through those pages and pick out some pages in which we can turn that key phrase into a link to the page on your site that we want to rank for that term.

Hack #7: Find external link opportunities

This is a bumper tip.

Good external links to your site are the strongest signals any website can get to rank higher in search results, and for local businesses, local external links are especially important. But because they are very valuable, they are often hard to get.

Here are three ways to find link opportunities:

1. Find local blogs you can reach out to

“city name” + “industry” + “blog”

Here’s an example for a Northampton barber:

How to Do SEO Keyword Research for Free Using Google 2

Just by scanning the search page we can find some blogs that may be up for writing about or linking to one of your pages. Try offering them a resource on your site that may interest their readers, like tips, an infographic, a freebie, a discount, a photo gallery or whatever.

You can also try replacing your city name with a postcode, zipcode, county or state.

2. Find sponsorship opportunities

Another way to find external links would be to find sponsorship opportunities. To uncover potential organisations try this:

inurl:sponsorship “city name”

or alternatively:

intitle:sponsorship “city name”

Please remember this is not an exact science, so you’ll still need to do a bit of digging.

3. Industry and location specific directories

For the last tip to finding external links here’s a list of commands you can try to find industry-specific directories:

“industry” directory
“industry” inurl:directory
“industry” intitle:directory
“industry” inurl:links

And here’s a list of commands for location-specific directories:

“City industry” intitle:directory
“City directory” intitle:industry
“City” intitle:directory
“City” inurl:directory

Give that a go and you may find some directories that you can list your business on, with a link back to your site.

Don’t forget to check whether or not the links provided by those directories are rel=nofollow links, though they’d still give you a little boost by referring traffic and providing citations of your website online.

If you’ve found this post useful please consider giving it a comment, a like or share it online to pay the helpfulness forward to someone else. Thank you!

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Author: Aidan Ashby

Aidan is a web and branding designer living in Bristol, UK. He’s a cautious optimist and is loathe to discuss himself in the third person. He loves pancakes and has a perpetual desire to just be sat in the woods with his feet up in front of a bonfire.

Connect with Aidan on LinkedIn.

1 Comment

  1. Mervin Regier

    Really informative, thanks for sharing this!


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