For multi-location and franchise brands that have hundreds or thousands of locations, there are many challenges to implementing and evaluating local marketing strategies. Launching a successful local SEO strategy is certainly at the top of the list as being one of the most challenging initiatives for an organization to embrace holistically. What makes local SEO challenging is, in part, the variety of strategies that must be considered in order to ensure you are addressing all potential ranking factors. Let’s take a look at some of the most crucial strategies for successful ongoing, and foundational, local SEO. The necessities:
Many brands currently have sites that were built without consideration for local SEO ranking factors. These same sites often do not have location pages for individual retail stores, and do not have properly grouped geo pages such as “Metro” or “State” pages. As a result, these particular sites are going to face challenges ranking locally, now and in the future, as Google’s Venice algorithm continues to evolve. For example, some of the benefits that come with employing a solid local pages strategy on your website are as follows:
- Driving consumers to the most relevant store location. This creates a much better user experience than driving them to a home page or a dynamically generated map application results page, and then requiring them to exert more effort (clicks) to find their desired location.
- Shoring up internal linking strategies to and from the location pages, and carrying over the weight of the root domain to those local pages. Note: in order to carry the domain authority down to the location pages, the pages are best served when built in a sub-directory vs. a sub-domain.
- Having your location pages built in responsive design allows the pages to render properly on consumer screens for a growing number of varying devices.
Ultimately, the primary goal for a local page is to drive actions (calls, directions, coupon usage), so the page layout should be tested with different usability tools, like heat mapping analysis, in order to increase conversion percentage. Having well-defined usability paths laid out on the location page also sets you up for future localized paid search success.
Google needs to be able to easily understand the content of your pages so that it can create rich snippets. Google currently appears to prefer structured data sets (e.g., Maps, products, etc.). Results that incorporate rich snippets yield a higher click-through rate within the search engine results pages (SERPs) themselves, so this is an important element that should not be overlooked. Using the Google Data Highlighter is one way to help ensure that you are tagging your data properly.
Citation Building and Paid Local Citations
It is important to have the same content (citations) syndicated across all channels that mention the retail locations. The links created by having those citations in place will pass page rank to the location page URLs from the citation source URLs you are looking to rank on for hyper-local, non-branded search terms.
Paid local citations should be viewed as a paid inclusion program, and not on par with engaging in a comprehensive organic data management program for your local listings; they are really two distinct strategies that each have their respective value. Much like the Yahoo paid inclusion programs of old didn’t allow you to forgo your SEO strategy, paid local citations do not allow you to forgo your local citation creation and data management strategy. One of the distinct advantages to paid citations is the speed of publishing for the updates. This is an important consideration for brands that use coupons, and want to make changes immediately and frequently.
The notion of paying for speed to rank higher on Google does not correlate, as you are still required to wait for the Googlebot to crawl the updated listings, and for the algorithm to update the positions within the SERPs.
One potential risk is that paid citations do not have “nofollow” links associated with them, and if Google is consistent with some of its recent algorithm updates (e.g., Google Penguin), then this could be a concern.
Link building for multi-location businesses can get complicated, and in most cases, finding an effective, scalable, and creative way to write content about the same brand for all of the different store locations can exhaust resources and strain budgets. One solution that has proven to be effective involves writing content at the metro level and pointing links back to the individual location pages from the metro-level content pages. Passing page rank down to the location pages can be quite impactful in achieving your ranking goals for your targeted local search terms and is much more scalable than writing content for hundreds or thousands of individual locations.
Social Media and PR Integration
It is evident that the impact of social media and PR efforts on SEO is not going to diminish any time in the near future. A distinct advantage that brick-and-mortar stores have in this area comes from the relationships that they have with the customers who visit their store locations, and whom often write online reviews about their in-store experiences. Review content has an enormous impact on purchasing decisions, so leveraging that user review content to manage your customer community and build relationships is invaluable. Additionally, engaging in a well-formed local content publishing strategy on your social platforms, using technologies like Google’s Wildfire, can yield fantastic results due to the higher engagement levels on local store content vs. brand-level content.
Parent-Child Integration on Facebook, Foursquare, Etc.
Multi-location companies certainly have challenges like scaling content initiatives, but they also have unique advantages such as being able to create an online/offline experience. For example, they can bring in-store consumers online to increase their level of engagement, or help drive the intent to purchase. Managing promotions and specials on check-in sources can be one way to support the online engagement, but before you can even go down that path you need to have a solid foundation in place. Proper parent-child integration and data management need to be employed as a foundation from which to engage the in-store customers. It is important to make sure that you are not segmenting your assets by having user-generated duplicate profiles out there. A user experience that drives social engagement will lead to sharing of produced content, and ultimately conversions. Additionally, this will become an even stronger search engine ranking signal moving forward.
Other elements to consider are image search, the local carousel, video optimization in relation to universal search results, and ranking of local citation profile assets on Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs).
At the end of the day, leveraging the advantages that multi-unit/franchise brands possess, while also using their respective challenges as an opportunity to push the industry forward, is what makes local SEO a brave new world with endless possibilities. Google’s algorithm changes, for Venice in particular, are letting us know that Google wants to index more relevant local content. So even if you cannot yet budget for (or scale) ongoing local content creation, there are still many other areas that can be impacted for great results. To start out on the right path it is important to get the foundational elements in place that will put you in a good position to rank better locally, and to be ready to embrace some of the more challenging ongoing local SEO strategies thereafter.