Multi-location businesses are hot prospects for SEO agencies with the resources to meet their demands. Got your foot in the door and not sure how to proceed? Let guest contributor Kyle Goodchild walk you through the common challenges faced when dealing with these large companies, and find out how to pitch and win your next multi-location client.
Anyone who’s worked closely with a multi-location business knows that both challenges and problems arise from time to time. You can’t escape either of them, but you can be proactive rather than reactive. If you break down what challenges and problems actually are, you’ll see how different they can be.
A challenge can be considered a roadblock, something that needs to be overcome to achieve desired objectives, whereas a problem is often something difficult, something frustrating to deal with, something that involves uncertainty.
This article will highlight and seek to help with both the challenges and problems involved with managing multi-location businesses. It will shed light on opportunities and provide insights into how you can pitch SEO services to a multi-location business.
Are Roadblocks Preventing the Business from Success?
6 Challenges Faced When Managing Multi-Location Businesses
When was the last time you got excited about a challenge? If you haven’t, maybe now is the time to start. Look at the challenges a business is facing as opportunity. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity. The ever-changing landscape of digital marketing helps us to capitalize on opportunities faster, and more easily, allowing businesses to be nimble and enhance their ability to reach goals in a shorter time span. Below are some ways to overcome or prevent the roadblocks and challenges you might face when pitching to a multi-location business.
Understand your ideal customer
In order to create a successful SEO strategy, you have to make sure you are targeting your client’s ideal customer. Describing your clients’ customers’ wants or needs better than the client can describe it themselves builds trust, and trust plays a big role in influencing decisions.
Multi-location businesses can span over several geographical regions and cultures. Although customers in these areas are looking for the same product or outcome, they may be influenced differently and this will require an understanding of the diversity of the customer population. It’s important to research and listen to these customers to understand their perspectives and needs. This way, when you come to pitch to your potential client, you’ll already have a fantastic understanding of the specific issues reaching customers that they’re facing.
Form relationships with the right point(s) of contact
Communication is, and will always be, one of the biggest challenges. When you step into the multi-location world, chances are that you’ll have several people (of various positions) communicating with you. If you can have direct contact with the decision makers, you can avoid potential repeat meetings, emails or calls.
Host a workshop for all involved. This way, you can educate them early on, get everyone on the same page, and find out who the decision makers are. Establish your key contacts. Listen carefully during introductions and have them not only introduce themselves by name and title but by their role in the organization. Everyone retains information differently, and this is where you can agree on a communication style that suits all.
The last thing you want is for your strategies or recommendations to be passed through several people (from Marketing Manager to District Manager to Location Owner, for example). If possible, you should always try to include those that need to know throughout the process. Sometimes there’s already a disconnect or roadblock between location owners and the parent company, so plan for this. This way, you eliminate potential “broken telephone syndrome,” wherein information and explanations change when passed from person to person.
Set realistic expectations
Multi-location businesses want to move fast. Always keep this in mind. But just because they want to move fast, doesn’t mean they always do.
When you create forecasts and roadmaps in your pitches, make sure they are realistic and that they factor in all potential roadblocks. Don’t over-promise only to under-deliver later. It’s always better to set realistic goals and try to over-achieve. If you are working on a 50+ location website, you need to make sure that everything is correct and in place from a technical and content standpoint before you can scale strategies out. If your foundation isn’t strong, your strategy won’t succeed (which I touch on later). Making this known will help set expectations and minimize risk.
So have a plan in place and communicate, communicate, communicate! Like building a house, you start with a strong foundation, then comes the framework, then the wiring or interconnections and then the finishing touches. Without that strong foundation, the building doesn’t stand a chance.
Find out what success looks like to the business
Establishing KPIs and how success will be measured early in the process will help get buy-in. You want to make sure that the KPIs set forth are attainable and driven by the strategy being put in place, as the success of a business can depend on the success of your strategy.
Make sure your KPIs motivate your strategy, and that they always align with what the business views as a success or win. Some teaching may be involved early on in the process. One goal for multi-location businesses will always be to increase local rankings, so when you create your strategy, it needs to work to drive this KPI.
Establish one source of truth for data
There are so many tools and so many platforms out there that can report on data now (Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, SEMrush, etc). Agreeing that you will be using one source of truth is super important; the last thing you want is data inconsistency.
The chances are that there will be discrepancies between tools. One person using a tool and getting X conversions and someone else using a different tool (that collects data differently) and getting Y conversions can complicate things. You can avoid all this back-and-forth early on, by establishing one source of truth for all data reporting.
This can happen a lot with multi-location businesses. Most large businesses have someone that focuses on analytics, and you need to make sure that you involve them in the discussion. Be mindful that it’s their job to look at data, so you don’t want to go in and tell them how to do their job. Work with them. Make them the star. It all starts with agreeing on what you will use to pull and look at data.
*The table above is reporting on the same domain. Notice how the three different tools all have different data for the month of March. This is because they all collect data differently. This highlights the importance of getting agreement on which tool will be your source of truth for data.
Lastly, you want a solid thumbs-up and permission to move forward with your strategy. You’ve proven yourself (or your agency), you’ve shown what success looks like, now it’s work time. Two important things to remember when you are working with a multi-location business:
- They need to know that you have their back.
- They need to know that you are always there to help. Make the individuals that you work with the real MVPs.
All Is Not Lost, Here Lies Opportunity
Calling out the Elephant in the Room: 4 Problems Multi-Location Businesses Face
More locations equals more problems. Remember that. When it comes to managing multi-location businesses, you need to be aware of these common problems. Software and platforms are constantly upgrading to stay up to date with trends in technology, and you can now uncover problems faster and more easily, update information at scale (in bulk) and monitor your brand reputation across the world wide web.
Below are four key problems that multi-location businesses face.
Organization is the foundation of all things
This problem has two sides to it:
- a) Internal organization: Keeping data and information in one place almost sounds too good to be true. In my experience, good organization is the easiest way to set a business up for success. Spreadsheets are my best friend. Creating a systematic way to keep track of all projects, initiatives, changes, and progress is beyond important; it allows anyone, at any time, to check in on the status of a project or task. Here is an example of an internal task tracker spreadsheet you can use.
- b) Ecosystem organization: If you’ve ever worked with a multi-location business, you’ll know how frequently they can acquire new locations, close locations, or update location information. Why does this matter? Because the internet is like a living, breathing ecosystem. Users can access any and all information about a location (reviews, citations, contact info, etc.) at the click of a button. Changing location information can disrupt this ecosystem and cause issues. For example, if a business opens a new location (acquired from another business) you need to ensure that anywhere the existing address or phone number exists (on the internet) is updated to show your brand and not the previous company. Here is an example of a multi-location information tracker spreadsheet, which is hugely useful when managing multi-location businesses. Use tools like BrightLocal’s Citation Tracker to see where updates and opportunities exist for locations.
*Screenshot taken from Brightlocal’s Citation Tracking tool. Here you can see the citation opportunity for a location. The summary includes errors (items that need fixing), correct mentions and a reach score for top directory sites.
The power of reputation
Reputation is powerful, and especially so in today’s world of online review sites, so you want to make sure you have a way to manage and review this. The more locations you have, the more important this becomes; it can be difficult to keep an eye on 50+ locations!
The good news is that there are several reputation management tools out there that work at scale. Remember this, though: not every business review will be positive. You can’t escape negative reviews; they are going to happen. What you can do, though, is create a strategy that allows you to monitor reviews across the web. By doing this, you can respond quickly to negative reviews and address any concerns brought forth.
Responding to negative reviews can actually change a reader’s initial opinion. Mike Blumenthal of GetFiveStars once said: “Make a complainer feel like your most valued customer because, in some ways, they are.” If potential customers see your response to a negative review (or any review at all) it shows that you care. You want users to know that their voice matters. Responding to a negative review shows that you took the time to address the situation and provide a solution. You can use tools like BrightLocal’s Reputation Manager to monitor and track reviews.
*Screenshot taken from BrightLocal’s “Reputation Manager” tool. This allows you to sort your reviews by response score and respond accordingly.
Tracking issues and data inconsistency
Strategic decisions are based off performance. If you don’t have a reliable (and consistent) tracking tool to track performance, how can you make the right decisions for your business? Data is the key to the kingdom. Showing proof that the strategy is working will help you maintain trust and continued buy in, and allow you to scale it out.
It also allows you to identify new opportunities. You need to make sure that your tracking tools are accurate and set up properly. Think of data as your GPS; it allows you to know what’s ahead of you. Without data, you’re driving blind. Consistent data ensures that you remain on plan and shows the way to the future.
Scaling for success
We’ve all heard the phrase, “the proof is in the pudding.” Well, that applies here too. Scaling out a strategy for multiple locations takes planning, research, and time. Nobody likes rework, so why not try to get it right the first time? Every point above should be looked at, and considered before scaling out. You always want to future-proof!
These four phases can you help you scale for success:
- The Discovery phase. This is where you run your tools to audit the current situation. At the end of this phase you should have a list of opportunities. Don’t hold back on your discovery phase. You should be familiarizing yourself with the business as much as possible, looking at website score, online reputation, Google My Business, citations, etc.
- The Recommendation phase. Here we take our findings from the discovery phase and recommend strategies (or what you might call ‘fixes’). You should now have a sense of how much work is needed and be able to adjust expectations and timelines accordingly.
- The Implementation phase. This is the part business owners and managers get excited about. This is the phase where they see true progress as strategies roll out.
- The Analysis phase. This is the fun part for SEO specialists. Here, you want to deep-dive into analytics tools, keeping a close eye on performance. Remember, however, that nobody is perfect and not every strategy will run smoothly. That’s why we analyze what we implement: so we can see what works and what doesn’t. If something doesn’t work, we learn from it, and bounce back. Remember, data is our GPS. Don’t drive into unfamiliar territory without one.
Here’s the Pitch, Now Swing for the Fences
Using Challenges, Problems, and Opportunities to Sell to a Multi-location Business
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to put it all together. Use the below list as a guideline or checklist, but don’t be afraid to change and add to it.
Pitch to the right person
Multi-location businesses will have several points of contact. Ensure the IT team (or website manager) is present, along with any marketing personnel or strategists that are decision makers too. Getting in front of the right people at the right time is key to forming the best relationship with a business. You want people that understand your thinking so that they can report up to any C-level members or final decision makers.
Understand the current situation
What does the business currently seek? Where do they need help? What do they “fear” if no action is taken? These are questions you need to know the answers to. Your pitch should be tailored to the “needs” of the business. Highlight their “frustrations” and prescribe solutions to carry them towards their ”wants.” You also want to do an initial audit. Get a sense of the business’ current state (website, off page, Google My Business, etc). These will be used in your strategy pitch and make you the expert.
Proof of concept
Everybody seeks proof before taking action. Here you should be thinking about relevant past successes you’ve had and how they can apply to the potential client’s current situation. Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile, highlighting any initial quick wins that you see. Remember to use your knowledge and experience to solidify your pitch.
Educate the room
This is your opportunity to shine. You’ve shown your ability to drive results (proof of concept), now you have to explain how you will get the business to where they want to be. Break it down. There are 3 pillars of SEO:
- Technical SEO: This is your foundation. A strong foundation creates strong results. You wouldn’t build a house on a faulty foundation, would you? The same concept applies to your website. Explain how this exactly applies to the success of a multi-location business. Highlight things like website architecture/hierarchy, crawlability, and user experience.
- On-page SEO: Does the website have unique, location-specific content that deserves to rank? I won’t go into what a perfect local landing page looks like, but I will tell you this: locally specific reviews, social credibility, local flare, service details, NAP (name, address, phone number) are elements that users landing on your location page will be looking for. Remember the diversity and the local culture and how it will be catered to in the content on the website.
- Off-page SEO: Think of this pillar as credibility. How popular is your brand (or website) in the eyes of a search engine? Things like link-building and citation-building help increase your web prominence, which helps increase your website authority and business credibility.
Pitch your strategy
We’re at that time in the pitch where you talk about the current opportunity. We already know the challenges and problems these business can face, and the room is educated on the fundamentals of SEO. It’s time to address how you plan to proceed. Some key things to include in this strategy pitch are:
- Audit Findings: Again back to your homework: before you can prescribe a solution you need to evaluate the situation. As I mentioned earlier, an audit is the best way to ensure you are prescribing the best solution for the business’ current state. Leverage your findings to highlight great opportunities and quick wins.
- Google My Business: What is Google My Business? How can a multi-location business benefit from such listings? The do’s and don’ts. Lastly, talk about how Google My Business has made it easier to manage several listings at once (bulk uploads).
- Citations: Talk about the power of citations. I’ve already touched on credibility and how it’s important; now touch on citations. What is a citation? How do I find out if I have citations? How do I build citations? Where is the opportunity? These are all things you want to answer for your client. BrightLocal is perfect for this: run a citation report on one location and walk everyone through it. Discuss next steps and scalability.
- Social media: The power social media has on users is incredible, so leverage that for the brand. Some social platforms allow you to create multiple profiles depending on how many locations you have. This is a great way to increase brand awareness.
- Reviews: I touched on reputation management earlier and how multi-location businesses can thrive off reviews. You now want to pitch a strategy that helps the business manage their reviews. It starts with explaining how to build more reviews, then how to monitor reviews, and then how to respond to reviews. Explain the role and importance that reviews play in a potential customer’s decision-making process.
- Hyperlocal content: Does the existing content deserve to rank? How can it be better? You always want to create content that meets users’ expectations. Users landing on a location page are most likely nearing the end of their decision process. Does everything on the existing location page(s) give the user exactly what they need to make a decision?
- Roadmap. When you’re nearing the end of your pitch, present your roadmap. It should be a timeline of projects and events that lead up to the business’ overall goal. Remember that expectations should be realistic and KPIs should be measurable.
Feel More Prepared Now?
Pitching to multi-location businesses is exciting. Use the challenges that face the company to build your pitch. Recognize that there will be problems along the way as you become an integral team player and part of the success of the business, having turned those challenges into opportunities.
Also, do yourself a favor: when faced with a challenge or a problem, recognize it for what it is—opportunity. You’ll thank me later.