Brands and large, multi-location businesses are horrible at local SEO. That is a bit of a generalization, of course, but it certainly represents my experience working with larger multi-location businesses in the U.K.
If you have a recognized brand with a local presence, your general authority should make ranking in local search results somewhat easier; yet all too often, this is not the case. The purpose of this post is to outline the key areas for brands, franchises and multi location businesses to focus on for local search success.
Why should you care about local search visibility? What’s in it for you?
According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2014, 92% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in 2014. And that number is likely growing — a recent Google report noted that Google searches containing “near me” have increased 34X since 2011. The proliferation of mobile internet access via smartphones is largely responsible for this, and this shift towards a more mobile consumer base has made local visibility critically important for business of all shapes and sizes.
Local search has something of the Wild West about it (certainly lots of cowboys), and many small, single-location businesses are benefiting from great local visibility. The nature of local search and the importance of business data around the web has created an environment where it is harder for multi-location businesses to naturally have great local rankings. It is possible, but you must pay attention to the core local SEO principles.
The main takeaway should be that even titans of industry can’t ignore local search. Tight adherence to local SEO best practices is still needed for solid results. The benefits include increased visibility with local users, improved reputation at a local level, and a possible boost to PPC performance through the integration of local reviews via location extensions.
So, you have partnered with a digital agency. You have been doing content marketing. You have even done some SEO. Yet, your locations are not visible in local searches. What gives?
Unfortunately, the backbone of local SEO relies on more than traditional authority and good marketing. The good news is that it is all very achievable given a bit of hard work and some consideration for individual locations rather than just the brand as a whole.
Following are the top five issues we see that are holding multi-location businesses back from achieving strong local visibility in search. Get these sorted, and (in most cases) your individual stores will begin ranking in the local and localized organic search results.
Your website is the center of your online marketing universe, so you need to get the basics right here and then work out from here. Google has a habit of providing vague and contradictory advice; however, when it comes to ranking individual locations, it has provided fairly clear instructions. The following list of common website issues:
This may be a giveaway that I am hungry whilst writing this, but I like the location pages on the Domino’s Pizza site — they are location specific and have unique offers for each store, opening times, links to online ordering for pickup or delivery, and a link to a map. What more can a hungry man (or search engine spider) want from a location page?
(Note: For those hungry for more information on how to structure location landing pages, check out my previous article, “Local SEO Landing Pages 2.0.”)
As most multi-location businesses know, getting set up with a Google My Business account is crucial to getting your business information visible in Google products like Search, Maps and Google+.
Google provides a (relatively) clear set of guidelines regarding how local businesses should conduct themselves if they want any play in the local search results. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for pages to violate policy guidelines without any real nefarious intent. Factor in some overly aggressive SEO tactics, and you have a recipe for local invisibility.
Common problems tend to be with the following elements of a Google My Business profile:
Remember, Google is the sheriff here; it lays down the law for local search success (in Google, at least). In many cases, dealing with Google My Business issues can have some startling and instantaneous results (if, of course, that is your problem) — we have seen businesses go from nowhere to top three by fixing simple problems with the name, address, phone number and categories.
NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone Number, and a consistent NAP is crucial for local visibility. (We also have to consider the web address here, so this is often expanded to NAP+W.)
Every mention of your business around the web is known as a citation. Citations may feature all or part of the NAP. Ensuring a consistent NAP can be tricky for a single-location business — when managing multiple locations, there is an almost exponential potential for things to go awry.
Consider this very conservative example:
Each location then has 54 potential NAP variations (3 x 2 x 3 x 3). We have ten locations, so we have a potential of 540 variations on addresses across a tiny, ten-location business. This is before we consider listings that totally goof the address. In practice, it is rarely that bad — but what happens when you have 100 locations? 1,000? 10,000? What kind of impact does this data inconsistency have?
Throw in a rebrand, some acquisitions, and several closed locations, and suddenly we can’t trust your citations and business information — and neither can Google.
(Note: There is no need to worry about common variations and abbreviations — e.g., “Street” vs. “St.” — when we talk about NAP consistency. Rather, we are looking at actual inconsistencies in the way the address is presented, as this undermines the trust a machine system like Google has that you are where you say you are.)
The best way I have found to visualize what we need here is to think of a video signal. If the signal is strong and clear, then the sound and video are crystal clear. If there is interference, then the signal becomes fuzzy and we can’t get a clear picture. If your NAP+W is a mess, then you are not sending a strong, consistent signal regarding your locations that Google can trust.
For a business with tens, hundreds or thousands of locations, ensuring clear, trustworthy location signals across your entire business can be somewhat tricky. The following are the most common issues affecting NAP consistency for multi location businesses:
With all of these points, we are looking for consistency across the location page on the site, the Google My Business listing and the citations.
We worked with a U.K. flooring company that at one point had over 200 stores and now operates from 40 main locations. The citations and Google listings still existed for many of these old stores, and visibility of the brand in local search was pretty much nonexistent.
We also worked with a firm of solicitors that had recently acquired several other businesses and were rebranding them, but the citations and listings still existed for these old and more authoritative businesses. This not only eroded trust in Google, it had them competing in local search with the businesses they had just acquired!
In both instances, cleaning up the issues and applying a consistent NAP had a hugely positive effect and allowed for much greater visibility in local results.
There are some mature tools out there now for dealing with NAP consistency issues: Moz Local, BrightLocal and Whitespark are all worth a look. Tools aside, I am something of a fan of manual analysis here, using some Google-Fu to identify citations in the order that Google returns them, as this gives us some idea of which ones the search engine considers authoritative.
This is less of a problem with what is there and more of a problem with what is missing. Throwing out clear location signals is easy when you have a single location. When you are looking at businesses with hundreds or thousands of locations, then things get a whole lot more complicated.
This is where local content comes to the rescue. Effort has to be made to connect the business with the local community and bolster location signals.
I am a big fan of creating sections in the site for each each location loaded with location-specific content (or what my fellow columnist Greg Gifford terms “local content silos“). These mini-sites exist within the crawlable architecture of your website, but provide additional detail relating to the individual location. If we also have location-specific news feeds and social integration, we are going some way towards illustrating that this is a physical entity in the real world and can be trusted as such.
As a simple example, we may have something like this:
This provides a chunk of location-specific content that helps tie you into the local area, providing a good dollop of location proof and authority. If we can generate some local press or links to tie into these sections, then we are cooking with gas.
The content here has to match your business and the needs of your audience, of course, but the following should give you some ideas to get you started:
As ever, success in search is often about providing quality, unique, relevant content and just going that extra mile. For larger businesses, providing location-specific proof and demonstrating integration with each location’s digital ecosystem helps Google understand and trust your business at a local level — and local trust is rewarded with local rankings.
Larger companies tend to be hopeless at local-level reviews. There may be some action on social media or even a national review strategy using sites like Trustpilot or Feefo, but I am not aware of many national businesses that really look at reviews on a local level as they should.
Consequently, the only reviews most multi-location businesses have on their Google My Business and local citation pages are bad ones — terrible, awful, scathing reviews that provide an unbalanced reflection of your business from the vocal minority. Unfortunately, happy customers rarely leave reviews (unless of course you ask them to).
If you are serious about local visibility, then you must also get serious about local reputation. Building a bedrock of honest, positive reviews from real customers on your Google My Business page (and other local business review sites like Yelp) helps you stand out in the bustling local crowd — and, most importantly, helps prospects choose you over the competition.
Reviews from your Google My Business are shown in paid adverts using location extensions, in the local listings and with some rich snippet wizardry you can show review star rich snippets in the organic results for your location pages.
The major problems we see with reviews for multi location businesses are:
The big problem with reviews at a local level is simply that they are not being done, so be sure to consider your Google My Business and key citation listings at the minimum and work out from there.
This is all great in theory, but how do you make this work within the hierarchy of a large organization? If you are a marketing manager, can you action this across the business? If you have several locations, then possibly — but it can soon become too large a task for the marketing team to take care of.
One approach we have seen work well is to nominate local champions from within the business. Find individuals at each location that are willing to take control of the local marketing. If the marketing team can create a roadmap, then nominating the store manager or local marketing manager as the local champion is a more practical way to implement business-wide local SEO at the location level.
This approach can be easily incentivised with competitions at a store and regional level. Provide real benefits for those locations willing to go the extra mile, and reviews and local content can be woven into the culture of the business from the top down. A little friendly competition between branches never hurt any marketing manager trying to motivate his team!
In most cases, local SEO is for larger organizations is more a problem of scale than difficulty. A focus on these key areas — and on creating a culture of reviews and local content with sensible use of technology to enable this — should allow your locations to rise up the local rankings.
Ensuring your website, Google My Business, citations and reviews are taken care of on a per location basis will deliver strong results in most cases. Building on this with rich, local content and engaging with the local ecosystem for each location will only improve things further.
All too often, good SEO is all about common sense and serving your customers and prospects. Consider what your local prospects need to make an informed decision to use your business, and deliver that by the bucket load. If you can accomplish this, local visibility will be within your organisation’s grasp!
The post Top 5 Issues Wrecking Local SEO For Multi-Location Businesses appeared first on Search Engine Land.