In this new series, Local Search at Scale, Steady Demand’s Ben Fisher gets to the heart of the local SEO issues that matter to large brands and franchises with 100s of locations.
To say that local SEO can be a bit complicated is putting it mildly, and that’s just when speaking about small businesses with a single location. When you’re talking about an enterprise-level organization with numerous locations (i.e. franchises) across numerous markets, it can quickly become a mess.
For starters, before we dive into how to best approach local SEO as a large enterprise, let’s first briefly define what we mean when we talk about local SEO. Local SEO is a marketing strategy that has a singular goal—to help your business be more visible and rank higher in local Google searches. Any type of business that has a physical location or a particular service area (known as a Service Area Business, or SABs) can benefit greatly from a targeted, organic local SEO campaign.
Seems fairly straightforward, right? Why then do so many large enterprises usually fail with their local SEO efforts? Let’s discuss, and move on to five tips that can help improve your campaigns.
The Primary Challenges Large Enterprises Face
While large enterprises enjoy many advantages over their smaller counterparts (massive budgets, larger talent pool, etc.), their size can actually be a drawback when it comes to properly executing a local SEO strategy. Some of the main problems I have seen in my years of helping organizations both large and small with their local SEO are:
1. A lack of understanding of where their marketing dollars can be most impactful in terms of local SEO
I mentioned the budget up above, and enterprises aren’t shy about flexing their financial muscles when it comes to large ad buys that run in every market in which they have a franchise. However, when it comes to a targeted local approach that needs to be carried out at the individual franchisee level (such as getting local owners/managers to regularly post content and upload new photos to their Google Business Profile, or GBP), there is often a fundamental disconnect.
Because enterprises are typically used to larger spends (such as throwing a king’s ransom at a Google AdWords campaign) and because they are used to thinking in terms of hardline ROI (“we spend X amount of dollars and see Y amount of new business”), they often balk at spending on the individual level. They’d rather not “rock the boat” and instead keep it safe with the same old approach (which doesn’t move the needle at the local level).
2. A lack of communication between all involved parties at every location or branch
Organic, local SEO work takes just that—work. It’s not exactly brain surgery, but it does take real people doing real things, and being accountable for the process. In larger enterprises, this can prove to be a challenge.
Oftentimes, a campaign can be as barren as a global marketing manager emailing all the franchisees out about a promotion or effort they should undertake that can help bring in new leads. Some actually do it, many don’t, and some probably don’t even read the email. Then, when the results are—unsurprisingly—not there, executives at the enterprise level will pass the buck off to the local managers and claim they’ve done everything they can.
3. Too many involved decision-makers can grind the approval process to a halt
I mentioned above that one of the biggest benefits enterprises have over small businesses is often their massive pool of employees. There are bound to be talented and driven people who can (or at least should) work together to achieve stated goals.
However, with this many people involved in the process, things invariably fall through the cracks.
You have people who feel they are “too senior” to be doing things such as claiming local listings or hiring new vendors for the franchisees to work with.
Conversely, you might have people who are new to the organization and are hesitant to jump in because they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes (or they simply haven’t been told what they should and shouldn’t be doing).
Either way, nothing is approved and nothing gets done. This can be disastrous if the task at hand was something like making sure all the Google Business Profiles at every location were in compliance, as a suspended GBP can be a costly mistake.
4. The difficulty of deciding who should actually do the work
The situations listed above about employees and enterprises not being sure who is doing the work spill into a third situation. You might have a situation where there are a dozen or more “decision-makers” in a meeting, something is brought up that needs to be done (such as making sure each Google Business Profile for each franchise is in compliance), and everyone agrees that it’s important… but nobody volunteers to do it because they assume somebody else will (AKA – the Bystander Effect).
As you can imagine (or are aware of personally if you’ve worked for a large company), this is a common occurrence.
One of the best ways to mitigate this is having the enterprise control all of the marketing at the franchise level, including making small, yet critically important, updates to all the Google Business Profiles. This doesn’t totally solve the problem of slow decision-making processes and concerns about targeted local budget spending, but at least everything is happening in one place.
5. The difficulty of making sure the plan is executed across all locations
Some of the problems I’ve laid out above only get worse when an enterprise has hundreds of locations. Not only are there more people involved which increases the likelihood of tasks not getting done, but it also increases the scope of work (especially if the franchisor is in charge of local marketing efforts).
Let’s take something as simple as responding to a review on the GBP page for each location. If we allow five minutes per response and have an average of five reviews a month (which is a very conservative estimate for some types of enterprises), that’s about a half-hour of work per month per location.
If an enterprise has 200 locations, that quickly swells into 100 hours a month. That’s not an amount that can just be tossed to a single person or that can be assumed somebody else is tackling.
Here is my recommendation for how to ameliorate this particular issue: first, enterprises must clearly define who is responsible for what tasks, when they should be completed, and how they should be carried out. They must also create documentation for these processes and include a way to track the tasks. They should state the desired results from the beginning so team members know how they are tracking, and there should be a budget in place to help with vendor spends and anything else.
Top Five Local SEO Tips for Enterprises
In my opinion, the following list contains the top five local SEO practices that will not only solve the problems laid out above but also help you reach your discoverability goals and start outperforming your competition.
1. What should be on the website for each individual location
First and foremost, every location should absolutely have a website. That isn’t up for debate. I won’t go into too much detail about the SEO strategy for each individual franchise site, but the following should be considered the bare minimum:
- Title Tags: Make sure the store locator page on each site contains the city and state in the title tag
- Clickable Mobile Elements: This is especially crucial for things like mobile numbers and anything else indexed by Google and other search engines
- Schema Markup: Be sure to implement local Schema markup on all store locator pages
2. Managing Google Business Profile pages properly
The bottom line is that enterprises must make an effort to ensure that the Google Business Profile for each and every franchise location is optimized, a regular stream of relevant content is posted, and that they are all continually monitored to ensure that no erroneous information is present.
3. Link Building
Link building has long been a cornerstone of a successful SEO strategy, and it’s no different when it comes to the enterprise approach for local SEO. I’m not going to go over how to link build here (there are plenty of good guides on how to do that via a quick Google Search), but I will say that it’s not something you should ignore.
Many enterprises make the mistake of skipping link building due to the sheer number of locations they have and the fear that all that time and effort won’t have an appreciable impact. While it’s unfortunately not a scalable undertaking, link building is critical to the success of any local campaign.
4. Citation Management
Similar to link building, citation management is something that has been known to SEO experts for quite some time, and is also something that enterprises should absolutely do for their franchise locations. The good news and notable difference is that there are tools available that make citation management scalable across your locations.
Yext, Moz Local, and BrightLocal, for example, allow you to create, verify, and optimize listings for every location of your brand. They can help push citations, clean up duplicate data, adjust incorrect data, and defend the online presence for hundreds of franchises at once.
5. Soliciting and responding to Google Reviews
Reviews have quickly become one of the most important metrics a potential customer uses when making a purchasing decision. In fact, according to BazaarVoice, 78% of online shoppers trust reviews more than recommendations or word-of-mouth from family and friends.
That is an eye-opening statistic and perfectly illustrates why enterprises should encourage customers to leave reviews. But getting a high number of reviews is only half of the battle; you must also respond to them in a timely manner, and respond to both positive and negative reviews. Customers expect to see the occasional bad review from a brand, but how that brand responds to them is key.
Wrapping up, the best way for enterprises to handle local SEO is to take a clear look at their organizational structure, identify some of the pain points (particularly when it comes to workflow), and make informed decisions on who should be doing what.
Once you have people assigned to the critical jobs of citation management, Google Business Profile optimization, link building, and soliciting/responding to reviews, it’s also critical that you have implemented ways to track these tasks and measure performance against your goals. Once your team knows what to do, how to do it, who’s doing it, and where to track it, you should start to see a notable increase in your local SEO efforts.