Multi-Location Businesses: How to Optimize for Local Search at Scale

Multi-Location Businesses: How to Optimize for Local Search at Scale
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Key Takeaways
  • Set up Local SEO Setup Guidelines covering preferred vendors and requirements so that all locations are playing by the same book.
  • Smaller businesses have an advantage over brands in that they can make changes and pivot very quickly compared to massive companies bound in red tape.
  • Social media has a lot of power for multi-location businesses as they can you have that ability to communicate a larger brand message and disseminate it out through the network of locations.
  • Google's algorithms always reinforce what people want. Look at user behaviour to learn where the issues are, and you can fix them before your ranking gets affected.
  • Think about the content your visitor wants to see when visiting your location page, and make it prominent. This could be service details, phone number, address, or all of the above.
  • Create unique content for location pages by including customer testimonials and staff details.
  • It's far easier to manage citations when engaging an agency if you have a centralized document containing all location details (NAP, opening times, services, area served, etc.)
  • Multi-location businesses can build reputation and review ratings by incentivizing location managers on ratings and numbers of reviews received.
  • Create standardized review responses for location managers so it's easier for them to respond on-brand.
  • To get buy-in on a new initiative when working with a multi-location business, seek out the most influential location managers and pilot the scheme with them.
  • Getting two or three good backlinks to a location page can mean the difference between invisibility and being number one in Google.
  • Educate marketers in multi-location businesses to get relevant backlinks directing to location pages rather than the home page.
  • Calling backlinking 'Digital PR' can help to explain the process to in-house marketers in a way they're more likely to get on board with.

Local SEO can be tricky just for a single local business with one location, but for those with numerous locations across the nation, the same playbook just doesn’t apply. Knowing how to structure your corporate site to accommodate pages for multiple locations, and then working out how to boost their SEO individually, brings with it a host of difficult, and potentially risky, questions.

In March’s InsideLocal webinar, ‘Multi-Location Businesses: How to Optimize for Local Search at Scale‘, we discussed local search for multi-location businesses.

Video: Multi-Location Businesses: How to Optimize for Local Search at Scale

‘Multi-Location Businesses: How to Optimize for Local Search at Scale’ InsideLocal Webinar Recap

Working with franchise businesses vs owner-operated multi-location businesses (00:04:11)

Cori Graft, Local SEO Team Lead, Seer Interactive: I would say probably the biggest difference between working with both of these business types is the relationship that you’re going to have and the ability you’re going to have to influence the marketing strategy.

So, typically, we found with franchises that it can be challenging to be coming in as a third party and building trust, especially without anyone on the corporate level that’s going to have your back on that and make sure that they know that we’re there to help and not stifle their individual marketing efforts. I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges that we face as an agency.

Working with the owner-operated side of things, there are bureaucratic challenges that come about as well, but I think the relationship side of things is the toughest with the franchise model.

Matthew Hunt, CMO and VP of Sales, Powered by Search: I’ve worked with both these types of businesses. I try to steer away from working with the individual franchisees versus the owner-operated, corporate stuff. Just one point of contact is easier, and trying to educate 500, 600, 1,000 franchisees is very, very difficult.

In fact, we usually recommend that if it’s not in control at corporate, that they need to reel it in as a first step, because it just doesn’t work the other way. You always end up having sort of some cowboy franchise that wants to roll out and do their own thing, right? We need to reel them back in and make sure that they’re following the rules and regulations of local SEO.

You have to remember there’s a love/hate relationship with a lot of those organizations with their franchisees, so they need them and love them and want to support them and make them grow. But at the same time, they have an education gap that’s going on all the time, where they don’t understand what’s happening and they can get a little noisy and it can become a challenge that way.

We know that as a problem, historically, so what we do set them up with digital training in advance so that we can actually educate all their franchisees and answer all those questions that they have. Even doing a group webinar with them, that can be recorded, and later that they can use to catch up to understand the importance of following the rules in a certain way.

So one part of it is just educating. The second part is looking at how we’re going to organize this and help them achieve their main KPIs, which is always expansion and more revenue, and how that all ties together and how we track that and manage that. So there’s a lot of expectation setting to begin with as well as foundational work before you go do the work.

When you work with these types of companies, it’s not uncommon that you’re spending a quarter or two quarters just getting their house in order, and setting the scene for the work that needs to be done and how everybody needs to operate. And we’ve learned not to let them lead that; we lead that conversation. We call it the foundation.

So we have three stages: the first is foundation. The second stage is acceleration and then the third stage is multiplication. So what we do is we tell them, “Hey, look, the foundational stuff,” depending on the organization, “will be one month or one quarter.” We usually try to go: first month, first quarter, first year.

The first month is all about planning, because planning is hard and thinking is hard. Documenting things on paper is important, having a framework to go about doing this work is important, especially in these larger organizations. It’s not like working with a small business that can just make a decision like that. There are things that we need to do to set up our processes.

Number two is building something that can give some proof of concept and gets everybody excited and gets buy-in, both at the c-suite level of the organization as well as all the franchises. You need to have buy-in from both sides, kind of like a start-up with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

The third phase is that, once you have buy-in, everybody gets excited and then they listen to what you tell them to do. And then you get into the multiplication stage, which is like scaling it out and making it run on automation without having to revisit it and do rework again later.

Adam Dorfman, Founding Member, SIM Partners: I Agree with what both Cory and Matthew said: when possible, it’s much easier to work with owner-operated organizations, as there’s a lot more control there, and bureaucracy is typically easier to work through than a lot of the difficulties that have already been explained.

One thing that we did with both, and it’s even more important with franchise businesses, is make sure that, similar to how these large organizations have brand guidelines, there really needs to be local search setup guidelines showing what the best practices are. Oftentimes we’re not the only vendor that they need to work with, so the guidelines will show: what vendors they should and shouldn’t be allowed to work with; whether or not there are subsidies; what the preferred vendors are and things along those lines.

A lot of planning can be done at the beginning, very similar to what Matthew said, to help start getting rid of the edge cases, the cowboys, the people that are doing things that they think are having a really good impact, but in fact could be damaging the brand as a whole by doing things that are outside of best practices when it comes to local search.

Matthew Hunt: I’m so glad you said that. You know what they understand? They understand there’s a brand book. Everyone goes, “oh yeah, brand book, we got one”, but no-one puts down a local SEO book. They need a documentation framework on how we do that part.

Adam Dorfman: I’m thinking of it as you think of a style guide for brands, that says you have to the logo in this color, the font should be this, these are the secondary colors you can use. You can almost think of it as a style guide for a website, but for our offline and online materials as well, too, including messaging and things along those lines.

Think about it from a local search perspective: here are companies that we want to work, here is how you need to write your business name, because spammy titles can do very well on Google My Business, and improve your visibility. Is that the best practice for the brand as a whole? Maybe, maybe not. It can vary depending on their tolerance level for risk.

Again, the guidelines should get all of those things locked down. For example, how should we name each of the different franchise business? That often takes a lot of work because there’s usually a lot of disparity when franchisees are managing this themselves.

What advantages and disadvantages do multi-location businesses have in marketing? (00:13:04)

Adam Dorfman: I’ll speak to the advantages first. When I think of the opportunity that these multi-location brands have and continue to have, it really comes back to Google using brand as a signal of authority, as well as their shift towards entities. It’s much easier to build an entity around your business if it’s attached to a larger brand that has a lot of additional signals, so you’re going to be able to do that. That’s just from a pure signaling perspective.

If you can take that and tack on a really smart internal marketing team that really gets digital marketing, and that’s working with companies like Seer Interactive or Powered by Search, organizations that know what they’re doing and that are willing to break down those big bureaucratic barriers and implement things.

The opportunities are absolutely huge because there are ways to scale content, and there are ways to get that hyper-local information out there. That could conceivably be more difficult at a multi-location level, but in reality it’s just processes that you need to figure out. Yeah, I think they have a huge advantage over SMBs.

Cori Graft: Anybody who’s worked on an SMB campaign knows that it can be tough enough to keep data consistency and brand consistency in line for one or a handful of locations, let alone when that’s multiplied to 500, 5,000, 15,000 locations. It’s a whole other can of worms and it kind of opens up a lot of problems.

But, as Adam said, they’re most easily addressed with process and just making sure that you have guidelines in place that everyone is clear on and that can easily be communicated and disseminated through the organization.

Matthew Hunt: I like to put it like this: the benefits of brand is that, you know, Amazon and Walmart don’t have a quality score issue. If you’re talking about AdWords, everyone clicks on their ads. You could be ranking number three organically, and just because you’re Walmart or Amazon, you’re going to get clicked on, and it’s the same thing with your ads. You’re never going to have to pay as much as a small business.

You don’t have to prove the trust of the brand as it’s something people know and trust. So brand is really, really helpful in that, once you do get the rankings that you want, and if you fix the technical issues with local SEO, often there’s a stickiness to it that maintains it just because of the brand that’s there. So that’s a pro.

A con is… you’ve got to look at it like it’s the difference between trying to steer a cruise ship and steering a motorboat. The cruise ship is the big brand and you’re trying to dock it and you’re off course. There’s nothing you can do. It’s just going to crash. There are so many things in red tape that you need to do that it just keeps moving and it’s very hard to turn.

But the benefit of working with an SMB is this: it’s more like a speedboat. You can literally pivot at any time. With just one point of contact within the business makes it really easy to change course.

So there are pros and cons. I’m on both sides and the great thing is that Google’s somewhat equal and everybody has an equal opportunity to get the ranking that they want in local, in maps and the three-packs and so forth.

[Myles asks if Google’s Pigeon algorithm update benefited brands more than SMBs]

Matthew Hunt: It depends, right? I mean, did you make the cut or not? It also really depends on location because, today the signals have changed so much. I think in the past you could have a really strong authority, but if the location is just not where they believe that you are, you’re going to get a different set of search results.

So I’ll even give you an example: previously [Powered by Search] had a pretty good search presence for our own Google Maps listing if you typed in, like, ‘like marketing agency in Toronto’. No matter where you were in the city, we would show up. But right now, if I search that for us and I’m near my office, obviously I show up, but a 15-minute drive away from where I am today, I don’t show up anymore.

It also depends on the users at the end of the day, because the ultimate validation that Google’s using today, with RankBrain and all these different things, is what humans actually do. And I think it changes. It changes depending on so many things, like in rural areas people are prepared to drive further, therefore the radius will be larger for a geolocation like that.

If you’re in a major urban city like Toronto, people search by street or neighbourhood; they don’t search by city, right? So I think that you just have to look at the personalized search results that are showing up for your business. And a lot of this stuff you don’t have control over today; so you can do all the right things, but if your location’s not in the right place or it’s not what users actually want, you still may not have the option to show up for it.

Which digital marketing channels deliver best ROI for multi-location businesses? (00:19:20)

Cori Graft: It’s such a cop out answer, but it depends on who your audience is and where they’re hanging out. Imagine you’re Starbucks and you have a strong social following and a lot of people engaging with your content, social media might provide a better ROI than local SEO. I think social offers a lot of power, especially for multi-location brands, just because you have that ability to communicate that larger brand message and disseminate it out through your network of locations. I think it offers a unique opportunity to communicate that brand promise at the corporate level, and then push that to all of your locations.

Adam Dorfman: We work not predominantly, but essentially entirely, with enterprise brands that have, let’s say, 100 or more locations. What we’ve seen over and over again is a 1+1=3 kind of story, which means that if you’re doing local search correctly, and if you’re doing social media correctly, if you’re doing transparency and ratings and reviews correctly and all of these things, and you start putting all of them together in a way where your social media campaigns are going to be highly optimized with a lot of CRO to these individual store pages or provider pages or professional pages, you start seeing your overall costs for your KPIs start going down significantly.

We’ve seen that repeatedly and the tactics are constantly changing. While there’s these big ones, even things like when Google Posts came out, if you’re not testing all the time, you could be missing out on a lot of opportunity.

One recent case study that we did was for a client of ours that has 99 locations: we created a Google Post test, and after a week of two of experimenting with messaging and experimenting with what pages to send them to and all that kind of stuff, we were able to generate 20,000 clicks in seven days across 99 locations.

So I don’t know if there’s a channel or tactic or anything. It’s really, for me, all of the above, and constantly looking for new things and connecting all those dots together. There were a lot of outstanding factors in terms of seasonality and things like that, that all attributed to that. For us it’s just a new way to test and see what can potentially be done.

And again, we think it’s not for all of our clients. We’re not seeing that sort of success for all clients, but for the right clients. As Cori says, it depends. It can be a very powerful way to do that, especially when you connect the dots and make sure that the conversion rate paths are really heavily optimized when people get to your own properties.

We were posting similar Google Posts for each location. They were localized for each location, but with a similar sort of message in the same campaign. I believe there’s now a bulk upload option for Google Posts, but at the time this was managed manually through our professional services team.

Matthew Hunt: When we started out as an organization, 10 years back, we had a few SMB clients. Today, most of our clients are larger brands, multi-locations in the hundreds if not thousands. So we have more data on that type of business, but at the end of the day what’s right to look at is what the human wants.

It’s different for every search result and every business. If you are a multi-location, a home improvement service business, let’s say HVAC or something like that, or plumbing, then Google’s pretty good about serving up a different type of three-pack to searches for things like hotels where you can book directly online.

With plumbing, you probably don’t even need to send them to your website; Google already offers the phone number as a click-to-call. It’s the same thing with the ads. You probably just want to click to call, at least on mobile, right?

I know we’re getting into paid versus organic, but my point is I don’t really care. I’m agnostic to all of it. What I care about is what’s visually showing up, what Google is showing today (which changes regularly), and what users want at the end of the day. Because if you just figure out what the users want before, during and after visiting your website and you actually really figure out what that is and give it to them, then not only will users reward you by doing what you want them to do, but Google will also reward you because ultimately that’s the only thing that they care about.

In all of Google’s algorithms, it always reinforces what humans what. So I tell people to think about that. What do your customers want before, during, and after? Look at what served up, give them that and then you’ll make the right choices of what to invest in.

On-site optimization and content creation at scale (00:27:00)

Cori Graft: I think you can think of the website as the ‘home base’ for the brand, for people and search engines to look to, is that guiding light of okay, who is this business? What are they offering? How do they talk about themselves? How do they talk to their customers? And I think that that’s really perfect, Matt, what you just talked about: understand how your customers want to interact with your company, what they care about, what they want to read about, and touching on those key points on your landing pages to make sure that you’re speaking their language and you’re connecting with them at the level that they want.

I think that’s really your first opportunity to do that. You can get to some of that offsite with relationships through linking or with their party listing sites, but you control the message the best on your own location pages and on your own branded website.

You’re going to find some businesses with really robust customer personas and journey maps and then you’ve got people who think that they know who they’re talking to and then you do some user research and really dig into their analytics and talk to people, survey people and find that they might be off the mark a little bit.

I think our goal as consultants is to help people find that balance of who they want to talk to and who they’re currently talking to, and then make sure that we can straddle that and guide them into speaking with the right people.

Adam Dorfman: If you’re talking about multi-locations, you’re going to want a clear hierarchy down to those locations. And it can get complicated, too, especially if you think about businesses that might have multiple different business types that they’re supporting.

So let’s use a healthcare system, for instance. You might have a hospital and beneath that hospital there might be different departments like radiology clinic and there might be offices that doctors work out of and then there are the doctors themselves. Oftentimes what we found is just geographic isn’t often enough. It needs to be geographic and then business type as well, too, so that everything can flow down and all the dots can be connected by Google. That’s from a pure architecture standpoint.

I would say, number one, of course, linking to that page that these directories live in, not just from like a single link on the homepage, but ideally multiple links from within all of these owned assets that this company has. A big part of the consulting we do is look for opportunities to link to these state city business type location pages from as many places as possible. It’s oftentimes a huge opportunity to quickly drive authority to these locations and their landing pages, too.

If they just have some linking and they have well architected pages that are already being indexed by Google and things along those lines, those recovery searches, the branded searches and so on, they’re probably already pretty visible within Google and the different search engines. And by significant it can be as much as going from rank 15 on page two of Google to number eight on page one of Google for those discovery queries, those non-branded ones, the ones that really can drive all of that incremental traffic that they weren’t likely to get before.

Matthew Hunt: Generally speaking, as a best practice, the less steps that someone needs to do to do what they need to do, the better, right? Because people are usually not coming to the website, especially with multi-location stuff, to get ‘how-to’ information. They’re looking for transformation and the transformation is usually to go to a location or phone it.

We want to get them to stuff that they’re looking for specifically as well as just understanding who the audience is, right? There’s three different types of buyers that are out there and you have the traditional, who have cable television, get the newspaper delivered, do everything offline. Then you have the transitionals; people who have a smartphone and Facebook, but they research online and then buy offline. Then you have digital natives, who just do everything online. They believe in Netflix and Amazon.

So you have to know who your audience is and then know what to serve for them and what they’re looking for in that journey. So everything’s a little different. If I’m searching for a business to call then I want the phone number being really, really present and I want to remove steps from them to have to fill out a form, so putting those things on the page that are important to them and first and upfront and making it really, really clear why they should get in touch with you now is key. And then everything else can go below the fold.

Adam Dorfman: The rule of thumb that we always use when it comes to whether there should be individual, let’s call them sub-pages, underneath the location pages, is: is there unique content that warrants it? And in our experience, for the vast, vast majority of multi-location businesses, there isn’t.

Typically, if they have a services page, the services are either the same or they want to go into details about a specific service. Let’s say they’re a shoe store and they do custom shoe fittings or something along those lines. That custom shoe fitting process doesn’t change from store to store, so you would want to link that to a specific page on the branded websites. It’s also going to help ranking for custom shoe fittings for non-local search terms and things along those lines, as opposed to creating all of this duplicated content that exists beneath the page. So a good rule of thumb is typically you want a single page but it can change.

Matthew Hunt: If you need some unique content, there are really simple ways to do it. And again, it’s not hard. It’s just getting unique testimonials for that location, unique staff, maybe there’s something special around or even driving directions from major arteries to there willl give you that boost on the page so it’s not so thin. They’re very, very tactile.

But again, you want to try and make it so that it’s scalable and even done through automation or APIs so that people are not involved in that process. I think that we’d get obsessed sometimes about thin pages as opposed to just giving what’s right for the user. The search engines and the Googlebots just know when you’re doing what’s right or not. If a user is pogo-sticking back and having to research the search query again because you didn’t give them what they were looking for, then you’ve done wrong by them.

So do no more, no less than exactly what’s just right for the user. Don’t try and ‘SEO’ something – that’s the biggest mistake you can make.

Cori Graft: We work with a regional gas station chain that has 50, 100 locations around the east coast of the United States and they do have individualization pages for every single one. Reason being that they all offer different services. Some of them have car autobody shops attached to them, some have oil changes and those are important details that people are going to want to know. Of course, with GMB attributes, that’s kind of getting pulled into the circle a little bit more easily now, but at the time when we originally set those up, that was the best way to communicate that.

[Cori now refers to case study slides for the next section – please refer to the video at the 00:37:00 mark. This transcript will pick up from the next section of the webinar]

Data and citation management at scale (00:47:00)

Cori Graft: As long as you have the basics and the foundations strong, for better or worse, you get a little bit of leeway if you’re a multi-location business with this kind of stuff. I think it was Matt who mentioned earlier that Google gets it. You don’t need to obsess over hundreds or thousands of individuals citations on sites that are very influential as long as you’ve got the main aggregators squared away and the important vertical directories and obviously the ones that your customers are going to be actually manually going through and searching.

I think those are the best ways to prioritize. I would not recommend going down that rabbit hole of monitoring every single time that an inaccurate version of your address or your phone number shows up tied to the wrong location. It’s tedious. It’s maddening. There are certainly tools that can help you monitor that, but at the end of the day, I think as long as your foundations are squared away on the important ones, you can set it aside and move on to bigger and better things.

Adam Dorfman: I think citation management is important to do, but it’s also important not to get sucked into the weeds of worrying about every individual listing and citation on every tier of directory sites where this data might exist.

I’m a big believer in the idea of fixing the data once on those top-tier sites and then continuing to try and keep that data correct by sending those same sets of data to the aggregators and at that foundational data layer. The way that I think about citations now and these aggregators now is: citations, as we’ve seen in surveys and in studies and so on, have become much less important in the overall algorithm.

They’re still a factor, but they’re not as big as they were five years ago, certainly. However, with these aggregators, all that data is also being fed directly to these top-tier sites. They’re all accessing this data. To me, these aggregators are a very inexpensive way to send your information to the second and third-tier sites, but also to send confirming signals to Google, let’s say, saying, “Hey, this business exists at this location. We’re not just managing it directly with you, but all these other places that you’re buying data from are also saying the same thing as well, too.” So from that standpoint, I still think there’s a lot of value there.

Matthew Hunt: With how we work with citations, there’s always the audit section of where are they at, where is it coming from to start with? And then it’s collecting it all and figuring out a way that you’re going to continue to keep collecting it internally as well, too, because things change, right? Even multi-locations, businesses change, they close, you have to have a process on how you continually update this, but you need to do it in an automated way so you want to try and fix it at the source first and that usually is the fastest way to solve it.

And then if you have fringe cases that aren’t getting cleaned up, you might need to go in manually and identify those and do some manual work on something like that, but generally speaking, when you’re having this many locations, it’s not possible to do anything that way. It really comes down to having the right system. So it’s got to start with how you collect data from the business and what kind of data you need to have and then what the aggregators need specifically from that data, and make sure that it matches up in the right way, and then you can start the syndication process of getting it out.

Adam Dorfman: Working with large, multi-location businesses, typically when we’re beginning to work with them, the hardest thing, without a doubt, over and over again, is getting them to find out where this data exists and ensuring that it’s accurate and correct.

Every single time, onboarding or implementations could be halved if they had that in order. A lot of times it’s in spreadsheets that sit on a single person’s computer, or maybe half the data’s there and half of it’s in this other data store and so on.

Cori Graft: It used to surprise me every time when we kick off a project and we’d say, OK, you’ve got 1,500 locations. Give me your list. You’ve got to know where they are, and they’re like “Oh, I’ll go ask libraries, I’ll go ask sales.” There’s 10 different databases sometimes in these companies and a lot of times I think that first step is just like helping them realize how disorganized that is and helping them get their ducks in a row and then you can really start the real work.

Adam Dorfman: So for any digital marketers that are working inside multi-location businesses right now, if you’re trying to push this through and start doing some local search optimization and hiring a company like one of ours, or just make some initiatives as you’re trying to evangelize internally to make this happen at the same time, start doing the work and find out where your location information is because you’re going to need that immediately.

Reputation management at scale (00:53:54)

Cori Graft: Reputation management is something that we as an agency try to really push. I think there are competing schools of thought on this, but we think that this is something that really should come from the inside of the organization. I’m kind of pushing why this is important to monitor and then also how they’re going to use the data. What we found really valuable is once you start getting reviews monitored and are actually paying attention to what people are saying about you online you reveal some bad eggs in the locations basket that were flying under the radar for a while.

But that’s not something that as an agency we can really push to fix. I think monitoring is the first step to that, but when it comes to actually enacting change from that feedback, that’s got to come from in-house somewhere.

Matthew Hunt: At the end of the day it’s a leaky bucket for a lot of businesses. So if there’s a poor reputation, people are going to see when they search it, because usually most of these will serve up the reviews next to the search result or the review snippet with it. So it’s there, it’s in people’s faces and then even if it’s not, a lot of times you know, everybody today has a phone and the next thing they’re going to do is type in ‘business name+reviews’ right before they pull the trigger.

So if you don’t have a great reputation or are even being responsive, it can be a huge leaky bucket in the business. It’s a real issue that needs to be addressed and talked about. The challenge with multi-location businesses is, again, there’s so many hands that are in the pot to make it work that you really need to try and find a way to automate the process where it just gets done and you’re more offensive about it.

It’s not about necessarily being worried about getting bad reviews, but just having more good reviews than bad reviews. There’s some great multi-location businesses that are so good they’ll get on a webinar and educate them, will teach them how to respond and even give their franchisees the ability to respond to stuff in real time, which is great because you’re going to get a bad review.

Just the fact that you’re not arguing with them and instead saying, “Hey, I’m sorry you had that experience. Can you email me here?” says so much about you, that at least you were responsive and that it was replied to in real time. It looks like you’re really on top of it around customer support. So I think anytime that you can wow your customers and be on top of this, it’s important.

And users are in control at the end of the day, not businesses. This is not like traditional media anymore. It’s something that we’re very vocal about and very loud about because you can do all the work in the world and great SEO, but if there’s a crappy reputation, you’ve just lost most of the business so you can’t prove your value and you, as an agent, you’re going to get thrown under the bus for it.

So be very vocal, very loud, very educating and arm them with that. Give them the email templates on how to respond. Make it easy.

Adam Dorfman: One of the most interesting things that I’ve seen so far is there are companies out there that bonus their store managers based on the volume of reviews and the percent that are replied on a quarterly basis. So there’s companies out there that are doing this at scale and creating and using tools and processes and things along those lines that enabled this to happen.

And what they’ve seen is that by implementing something like that, not only are you increasing the velocity of the reviews and the frequency of the reviews, which is great from a ranking perspective and visibility perspective and so on, but you’re also increasing the average rating because at that point you’re not just getting reviews from people that are disgruntled necessarily, but you’re also driving and requesting additional reviews from all of your clients.

And again, you’re actually going to get more bad reviews overall, but the ratio of good reviews to bad reviews is going to improve drastically, like on an exponential scale. So there’s certainly ways to scale this internally. I’ve seen the results of it and it’s pretty amazing.

Matthew Hunt: If you’re having trouble getting buy-in, here’s something that we’ve done. Find out which of the franchisees are most influential within a business and get them onboard with a pilot. Once you build the pilot and the case study with them, you can present it to everybody else and everybody else looks to them going, “Oh yeah, this worked really well. I’m doing so much better.” They want to aspire to be like them, then they’ll then start adopting those processes going forward.

I think anytime you can remove people from the process the better. So you want to empower people and educate them and you want to crowdsource things, you know. Many doing it versus one is good. So yes, you want to empower them that they’re all encouraging reviews, yes. But do you want the review funnel controlled by them to trigger it? No, you want to just automate it so that they don’t actually even have to push a button so they get a customer, it automatically gets sent out.

Adam Dorfman: For review responses, you could potentially write a pre-selection of 15 different reviews and allow the store manager to choose one of those 15 different responses so that they can respond immediately, be aware of the review, take ownership of it, but still not be going off the rails or outside of brand guidelines and things along those lines too.

Matthew Hunt: Reviews are literally a goldmine. A poor review tells you what people are frustrated with and what they fear and even good reviews tell you what they want and their aspirations. So you need to understand that when people are looking to click, when people are looking on your website and even when they’re in your location, you’re selling to them. So, believe it or not, a lot of big brands want to sweep it underneath the rug about reviews and ignore it and not play with it, but what they need to realize is they need to embrace it.

There’s so much gold in these areas and even not just in their reviews, in their competitors’ reviews well, too. They should be really studying the words they’re using. What are the words the customers are using? What are they frustrated with?

Adam Dorfman: As an example, there was a healthcare system that was monitoring their reviews and what they saw over and over again was a parking lot. The work parking kept coming up over and over again. And they’re like, “well, we just had our parking lot repaved. We don’t understand why this is.” And then they go deeper and they started responding and asking for more details and what they found out was people were in the parking lot when the main parking lot was filled. They had no idea that there was another parking lot for overflow literally across the street.

So by spending $25 putting two signs up, suddenly they were able to solve a major problem that was a legitimate one for their customers. And it really turned the tide of reviews.

Link building and acquisition at scale (01:04:16)

Cori Graft: Aside from the basics of local link building, chamber of commerce, we tend to focus actually more on building links at the brand level and finding ways to connect the brand to the geo area that they have locations in.

An example of that: we’ve used proprietary content to build assets that we can then market and pitch to certain areas. So say, for example, you are a multi-location business that sells wine and beer and then you slice and dice your sales and say Pennsylvania is way more into wine and Massachusetts is into beer. Pitching that to news outlets, we’ll get hyper-local news outlets excited to cover that. That’s worked really well.

Adam Dorfman: We don’t actually do the link building ourselves. What we will do is act as a strategic partner for them and help them create a strategy for building local links at scale and potentially deliver webinars with ways and examples of how to build local links, and using the Phil Rozek guidebook and asking: “Are you affiliated with any churches? Are you sponsoring little league teams? Are there any charities nearby? Are there any educational institutions that you can go with?”

It’s one of those things that is hard to scale, local link building. I liked what you said, Cori, about focusing on the brand. I think that makes a lot of sense as well, too, but it can be done at scale when it comes to doing these webinars. Typically, there’s four or five outliers that just embrace it and you can see the results when they do, you can see the links being grown and things along those lines, but at the end of the day, these business owners or store managers are managing a business and it can be difficult for them to try and acquire links themselves or find the time or resources to do that themselves, even with a guidebook handed to them.

Matthew Hunt: Backlinking is super, super important. It can be the difference between being number one and being invisible. The great news is this: with multiple locations it’s really not difficult to do. The challenge is that a lot of times when their local page doesn’t rank, it’s the difference of just needing one to three backlinks to it.

And they have unlimited amounts of backlinks and brand mentions already to their website, usually to the root domain or just floating out there on their name and it’s never been claimed. So the number one thing that people should do is just reclaim the actual brand mentions and links because they’re a large enough brand. It’s really easy to get if you just pick up the phone or email them the link back to the individual local page as opposed to the domain page.

Two or three of those will usually get you the rankings you want. Now the other thing you can do is you need to educate these brands. A lot of times these brands have a person that has a job title of a Director of Sponsorship Marketing, which means they’re literally getting sponsorships at events already. That’s all they do as a full-time job. Just teach them when they’re negotiating those sponsorships and those contracts, that it must include a backlink to a very certain page. So they’re doing a local event in that city, have them link to the local page instead of the root page.

What I do is usually we look at locations that are not already ranking naturally, and then if we can find those ones that are not doing it yet, I backlink will do it for them. So don’t ignore it. It’s a real thing. We call it ‘Digital PR’, though. If you want to be enterprise friendly, don’t say ‘back-linking’. Call it ‘Digital PR’ and then they understand what’s going on.

And a lot of times this stuff is just sitting there for you – it’s like low-hanging fruit. We always start there. I mean I’m lazy, (not my company, me personally) so I always like to take the path of least resistance. Like, what can we do that’s low effort, high impact, and let’s do that first. So yes, we can get on and try and pitch journalists and do all this work and create a 10x campaign, but if there’s a shorter path to it that’s going to give us the results, I prefer to take that path as long as it’s kosher white-hat at the end of the day.

What’s the most important thing to get right to ensure successful delivery for multi-location customers? (01:11:30)

Adam Dorfman: So to me it’s tracking. Reporting to me is so important because if you’re not making data-driven decisions, you’re missing out on huge opportunities. And an example of that is looking at the rise in mobile traffic and how mobile is outperforming desktop by such a large margin across all channels right now.

By tracking everything, one thing that we noticed is a certain link on a page that was one of the primary KPIs or actions that we’re trying to promote on the page, had a higher click-through rate on desktop than it did on mobile, even though mobile was generating more traffic. So we did some analysis and what we started looking at first was getting that data and seeing that data and then saying, “OK, well what can we do about that?”

And then it becomes a conversion rate optimization, which I would say tails right into that. By tweaking the placement and the call-to-action on the mobile device versus the desktop, just changing it slightly to make it more mobile friendly, we were able to increase the amount of clicks into that conversion path by over 300% just by making that small change, which again had such massive impacts downstream in terms of revenue being generated.

Cori Graft: In addition to living and breathing all the data that you can, I would say make friends as much as you can within the organization. It’s always easier to get things done. If you know the people to talk to and you can go to the right person at the right time, pull that lever, scratch their back a little bit. That’s been a real make or break for a lot of our client relationships, when we have exposure to different people in different teams that actually have influence to help us push through the initiatives that we’re trying can, can be a huge, huge difference maker.

In terms of the best people to approach, technology is a big one, who manages the website, not just the content on the website, but the actual technical structure of that. I think they’re, they’re tough to find sometimes because a lot of times we’re brought in from the marketing side and the brand side.

Sometimes SEO falls under tech, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s probably one that consistently pops up as a challenge: then you end up with brand competing with tech and that’s just a recipe for bottlenecks that nobody wants to really deal with.

 

Our Expert Panelists

Cori Graft Cori Graft Seer Interactive

Cori Graft leads the Local SEO team at Seer Interactive, a digital marketing agency with offices in Philadelphia and San Diego. Cori specializes in developing an executing strategy for enterprise local search accounts, and mentoring team members on local search. Cori has spoken at conferences across the US, including Mozcon Local and Pubcon Las Vegas.

Adam Dorfman

Adam Dorfman is a founding member of SIM Partners. He leads the product team responsible for the local automation platform Velocity. Adam is a noted expert in the local search space. He speaks regularly at conferences like the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) and Healthcare Internet Conference (HCIC).

Matthew Hunt Matthew Hunt

Matthew is the CMO and VP of Sales at Powered by Search and leads the digital marketing for companies like Fedex, RE/MAX, Belairdirect, Allstate, and many more. He works daily in the “real world” of Fortune 1000 marketing. Since 2007, Matthew has worked with over 30 Fortune 500 clients and he’s helped more than 350 CEOs and business owners through his company’s Intent Engine™ process.

Host: Myles Anderson Myles Anderson, BrightLocal

Myles is Founder and CEO of BrightLocal. He has worked in the local search industry since 2009 and has been a major contributor to the Local Search Ranking Factors Study. Myles also writes a regular column for Search Engine Land and talks at SEO conferences such as BrightonSEO and Inboundcon (Toronto).

Multi-Location Businesses: How to Optimize for Local Search at Scale

Time & Date:
  • 1pm EST
  • Wednesday 7 March 2018
  • 1 hour

This entire series of webinars around local SEO have been so valuable to me and my team. I can't thank you guys enough for putting these on and getting great speakers!

Genna Carbone
Genna Carbone Lead to Conversion
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29 thoughts on “Multi-Location Businesses: How to Optimize for Local Search at Scale”

  1. This was such a helpful and timely webinar with valuable tips. It was also helpful to remember us SEOs involved with multiple locations have *a lot* of the same struggles especially with having an internal source of truth. I can definitely attest to it being concerning when such large organizations don’t know this or have built it, but I suppose that’s always the opportunity.

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      So glad to hear you found the webinar useful. It’s true, the larger the company, the more you’d expect them to have their house in order but I suspect it’s a case of it not being a priority until a Local SEO expert comes in and tells them it is!

      Thanks

      Jamie

  2. We are working with a tour company in Hawaii who is wanting to rank in cities like Seattle, LA and New York- so that tourists/potential customers can find them online before they actually come to visit Hawaii. How can we achieve this if they don’t have physical locations in those cities? Thanks for the insights!

  3. Comparing my site vs. competition.

    I have higher Moz Rank, better and more content on homepage and local pages, more images on GMB. They essentially copied our SEO strategy and started ranking higher on maps for local searches. The only thing they have more of is backlinks and majority seem to be spammy. How do i battle / compete with this?

    1. Hi Gene

      Backlinks do have a big impact on both organic & local ranking, but quality & relevance trump quantity.

      Have you done much link building for your business yet as some wins in this area could really benefit you. If you want some useful resources to help you with local link building here are 2 fresh ones –

      1. Local Link Building Survey – 20 local experts share their know-how – https://www.brightlocal.com/learn/expert-local-business-link-building/
      2. SEMrush webinar – Local Link Building – https://www.semrush.com/webinars/show-me-the-links-local-link-building-in-2018/

      Have you considered their physical location vs your location? Are they closer to the search location you’re using/setting? Location is a big factor in results ordering and this could be skewing the results towards them.

      And have you done a citation comparison vs them and looked for errors or gaps in your citation coverage?

      Myles

  4. We have about 55 branches that fall under 12 different branding, how do you manage multiple locations with different branding? Would I have to simply treat them as separate companies or just update the names and links?

  5. We are an online tool hire affiliate business and we are using the same depots/locations at the company as we are affiliated with. There is a couple of other affiliates who do the same and we all have branch pages for each depot (100 depots) and we all compete on the same search terms tool hire

    How can we slightly distance ourselves from our competitors so google doesn’t think it’s the same company with multiple websites?

    what do you recommend for affiliates who try to compete with multiple branches?

  6. Over a year ago my client hired me to help him grow his business online as the previous developer had failed to do so. But when the client hired me, the outgoing developer deleted everything the business owner had. Website, Google Account, Analytics, Search Console and that ALL IMPORTANT Google My Business page.

    I spent an incredible amount of time helping the business owne restore this, including help from Google to get his GMB page back with all his reviews saved.

    But the problem – The WEBSITE link button on the GMB page will not come back. The direction button is there, but no matter what we do, the website button fails to appear.
    Google said to send them pictures of inside the office, the outside of the building, a sign on the wall that says the business does reside there etc. We did all of this and yet ONE YEAR ON and the button is still not there.

    We have lost count of how many different agents at Google My Business we have spoken to who don’t seem to be able to help.
    I shall put the client website link in this submission to you. The brand name should also signpost you to then the GMB page.

    1. Hey Brian,

      That sounds really strange. There shouldn’t be a reason for the website button not to be there if they have the website entered in GMB. Do you mind sharing the link to the listing?

  7. I have a client who has this address:
    5370 Greenwood Plaza Blvd Building I, Suite 105, Greenwood Village, CO 80111

    We cannot put both the building name and the Suite Number in many of the listings. Should we put the suite number in the other (non GMB) listings?
    Should we change the GMB page to only have the suite number?

    Thanks!

  8. I do local SEO/SEO for a number of healthcare providers. They have a GMB page for there Doctors name and practice name. How should I handle these, these are what I see as my options:
    1-Ignore the doctors’ listing
    2-Ignore the practice name listing
    3-Shut Down the doctors’ listing and optimize practice
    4-Shut Down the practice name listing and optimize doctor
    5-Optimize Both with the same address and phone number
    6-Optimize both, but change the doctors’ GMB to have a different phone number and add an “A” to the suite number-in other words, differentiate them
    7-Any other ideas?

    1. Definitely don’t ignore them. You also can’t get rid of them unless it’s a solo practitioner (Google will merge these). I would try to make sure the doctor listings have a different category than the practice (something like “doctor”) and that they link to the doctor’s profile on the website, not the homepage.

  9. Hello,

    We are working with large chain in the UK and we are trying to make sure that all their listings display the same branding. We have added the specific logo and cover photo, however, in search results their listings never show any of these images – only the street view (which at times is incorrect as well, even though the map pin is in the right place). How can we make them look like this: http://bit.ly/2FcgxgW

  10. We’ve followed “best practices” for a local business with three area locations. The locations all had slightly different names, but we’ve changed that in our citation work and on GMB. All citations now point to the individual location pages. Still, when someone does a brand search for “client city B” they are getting results only for “client city A.” This is highly frustrating for call-in orders as the customer thinks it’s all the same but shows up at the location they THOUGHT they were ordering from. It doesn’t help that the street that “Client city A” location is on is the same name as the CITY for “client city B.” How do we begin to solve this?

    1. This usually comes down to what page ranks organically for the search and then Google pulls in the corresponding GMB listing that links to that page. If you can influence the page that shows organically for that query, you should be able to fix the issue.

  11. We have a client with about 50 locations and growing. How do we improve the likelihood that the citation sites will pull in the correct data for each location? We get quite a few citations that pull in the NAP for the wrong location of our company or even a completely different company. How do we cut down on those occurrences so that we don’t have to spot check quite so often?

  12. We have several office locations / local towns we are trying to target, so how would you structure the town related content within the site, internal links, url structure, etc

    i.e. would you have:

    http://www.domain.com/locations/town1/personal-injury
    http://www.domain.com/locations/town1/divorce
    http://www.domain.com/locations/town2/personal-injury
    http://www.domain.com/locations/town2/divorce
    etc

    or

    http://www.domain.com/town1/personal-injury
    http://www.domain.com/town1/divorce
    etc

    How would you then work on internal linking so that the search engines (aka Google) would know that these are all associated with each other?

    Any working examples would be appreciated, thank you.

  13. We have 5 physical locations that are in separate neighborhoods in a large metro city. They each have their own local business page as well. What is the best approach to target keywords for the neighborhoods, as I can’t use the targeting feature with Keyword Planner since the neighborhoods aren’t options.

  14. I am also interested in best practices for JSON Schema for multi location business. We have 1 website, featuring 3 offices in 3 different counties.

  15. There’s seems to be a lot of terrible information online about this topic, esp the whole “local content silos”which suggests creating unique product pages for each location, which are borderline duplicate content. We found this made our content rank much worse rather than combining these pages. So ideally I’d love to see some actual examples, of SMB’s with multi-locations that actually rank well. Theory is nice. But seeing it in practice is much better.

  16. I have four locations in four counties and three websites (attorney). One website is a general website and two are specialty websites. The one website is for all types of accidents and the other two are for motorcycle accidents. The two motorcycle accident websites were optimized for two different geographic areas. All of the sites have a considerable amount of content, none of which is duplicate.

    I’m interested in hearing suggestions for this situation.

  17. Good morning,

    We are starting an online tax return preparation business and we have to be found in all 16,000 Australian suburbs.

    What is the best strategy to achieve this? The operation office will be located only in Sydney.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Elina

      Because you don’t have a physical office in each suburb you won’t be able to get a GoogleMyBusiness listing covering these suburbs. The same for citations – you won’t be able to build these without having a local address & phone number for each suburb.

      So this means that you need to focus on achieving strong organic rankings for the relevant keywords. But you still struggle to rank for location-modified keywords – e.g. ‘tax return service in Rushcutters bay’. To rank for these terms you need location signals on your website that tell Google that your site is relevant to those locations (e.g. address, phone number, localised content) and also in your offsite signals (e.g. links from local websites, location-relevant anchor text).

      Creating content and links to rank for local keywords for 16,000 suburbs would take a vast amount of time & money to do well. I would recommend that you not do this and focus your efforts on ranking for non-localised keywords. Create detailed and rich content around each of the services you offer and start to build links into those pages and other blog content & resources that you build.

      If you wanted to have a location-angle to your content then maybe pick 10-20 major cities and start to create content focusing on those.

      Thanks Elina,

      Myles

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