Local Search is nothing new and has been around since the phone book. Google, however, is changing the way people search for information on local businesses. Mobile search in particular provides a unique opportunity for local businesses to drive new traffic to their stores; 76% of consumers who conduct a local search on their phone end up visiting the store within a day.
Franchise companies have a unique structure that provides both opportunities and challenges when it comes to local search engine optimization. In this blog, we outline how franchises and other multi-location businesses can improve local SEO and dominate local search results for each of their locations.
Local Search Results and Local Ranking Factors
Local search results appear when people are searching for businesses or places in their vicinity. They show up on multiple places across Google Search (including Local Pack) and Google Maps. Your business’ details that are displayed on Google come from a wide variety of sources, including your Google My Business listing, and are meant to provide customers with the most accurate and up-to-date information possible.
Google ranks local results based on relevance, distance, and prominence:
- Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for.
- Distance determines how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search, or in absence of a location query, the user’s location.
- Prominence refers to how well-known a business is in the offline and online world. This includes their Google review count and score as well as the business’ position in web results.
Moz has further analyzed Local SEO ranking factors and found that on-page signals, such as NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number), the presence of keywords in titles, and domain authority are the most dominant search ranking factor. On-page signals are followed by link signals, such as the volume and authority of back-links, My Business signals (Signals from your Google My Business Listing), and external location signals such as citation volume and NAP consistency. Last but not least, Review signals, social signals, behaviour signals, and personalization all play an important role when Google determines your businesses’ local search ranking.
Here’s how franchises and other multi-location businesses can use this information to improve local SEO and dominate local search rankings for each of their locations.
Improve Local SEO & Dominate Local Search Results
- Create a website with local content silos for each location
It is now clear that local SEO is closely tied to traditional ranking signals. On-page signals such as the presence of NAP (name, address, phone number), and more traditional SEO features (including the appearance of a keyword in the title, domain authority, and continually fresh content) are very important factors when determining your local ranking.
As a result, if you have a business with multiple locations, you have to create a website with local content silos. With local content silos, you create a microsite for each of your locations, linked to your main website. Each content silo will need to be treated as a self-contained website and needs to provide information about the specific location and the products or services you offer and be optimized to push out on-page signals. This includes:
- Optimized URL: Create an easy to understand unique URL for each location page (ex. brandname.com/city)
- Location optimized titles & meta-tags: Include your brand and product or service and your location in your titles. Add your city, state, or province, and zip code to your metadata.
- NAP: Add your business’ name, unique address and phone number to every page of each micro-website.
- Schema Structured Data: Use Schema tags to display the address and other location information. Adding Schema markup to your HTML improves the way your page displays in search rankings by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed beneath your page title.
- Map: Embed a Google Map into your location pages.
- Local content: Avoid duplicating content across multiple location pages. Create unique content related to the local business, provide unique store descriptions, create a locally About Us page showcasing each location’s staff, local promotions, customer testimonials, and more.
- Dominate Google My Business
Setting up a Google My Business listing for each of your locations is crucial if you want your business to appear in local search results. Because Google My Business listings with complete and accurate information are easier to match with the right searches, Google provided some guidelines to improve your local ranking:
- Verify your business on Google. A verified business has more opportunity to appear in the local search results and improves the chances that your business will display with a place label on Google Maps.
- Update your business info. Make sure your phone number, address, category and website are listed and update the information as your business changes.
- Update your opening hours. Accurate business hours let potential customers know when you are available.
- Manage and respond to all reviews. Responding to reviews shows you value your customers and their feedback.
- Add photos. Photos about your products and services provide more accurate information to potential customers.
For business with multiple locations, it is necessary to create a Google Listing for all your locations. With Google Locations, you can easily import, verify and edit multiple locations at once.
- Manage citations
Citations are mentions of your business name or address, phone number, or website on other web pages, with or without a link. They include listings on business directories like the Yellow Pages to mentions in blog posts or on social media. Business with a greater amount of citations is likely to rank higher than competitors with fewer citations.
Find or create citations with the following tips:
- Local Search Engines: List your business locations on Google My Business, Bing Places, Yahoo Local, Yelp, Foursquare, Yellow Pages, etc. for maximum exposure.
- Data Aggregators: These indexes compile approximately 20 million business listings across the United States. They license or syndicate their data to most search engines.
- Local Business Directories and Blogs: Local business directories and blogs are well-indexed by search engines and highly associated with a particular city or region. Business locations that are listed in these directories or mentioned on local blogs are viewed as trusted and relevant results.
- Industry Business Directories and Blogs: The membership directory of your trade organization or a blog that is popular among readers in your industry will both be crawled by search engines for citations.
Google wants to display the most relevant results and hence compares the address information on your website with the information on Google My Business and then validates this with the information on your business around the web. If your local data appears to be inconsistent or outdated, Google is less likely to rank your business in the local search results. As a result, it is critical to maintain consistent NAP (name, address, phone number) and manage your citations around the web. If Google detects a different address for your business, it is going to consider the information unreliable and won’t rank your business in the local search results.
- Master local link building for every location page
Local SEO is also heavily influenced by back-links. You will need to build visibility and reputation for all your locations in their local market in order to create local back-links. Creating back-links for every location that’s the page of a multi-location business can be a daunting task, but these tips will give you already a good head start:
- Local Clients: List your local clients and link to their websites.
- Local Customer Reviews: Post local testimonials.
- Local Case Studies: Write unique case studies for each location. Case studies not only result in great content, they also boost your business’ credibility.
- Local Photo Gallery: Create a photo gallery for each location and correctly geo-tag all pictures.
- Engage in your local community: Do something good for your community. Participate in local charity events or sponsor local initiatives. It even might get you a link in the local online newspaper.
- Local Awards: Participate in local contests and awards. Sometimes you have to win the award to get listed, other times just a nomination can earn you a link.
- Local content: Creating local shows you are a member of the community and with the proper efforts, it might get you additional links.
- Get qualitative reviews
With studies suggesting that 9 out of 10 users read reviews to determine the quality of a local business, a positive online reputation is key. Online reviews, furthermore, drive engagement to your listing and help your business rank higher on local search results.
Before developing a review acquisition strategy, it is important to first determine which review platforms work best for your business. People mistakenly believe Google values its own reviews more than those on other sites, but websites with a strong brand name or industry-focus rank especially well on Google.
Second, when developing your review strategy, keep in mind that Yelp and other review websites are using review filters to detect fake reviews, spam and other suspicious-looking content. Following factors tend to trigger filtration:
- Use of extreme adjectives or profanity in the review
- Overuse of keywords in the review
- Inclusion of links in the review
- First time or infrequent reviewers
Hence, it is important not to ask everyone to write a review, but instead build a slow, steady, and accurate pool of reviews on different review websites. Keep the following tips in mind when developing your review acquisition strategy:
- Link your local review profiles to your location pages.
- Request a review from your customers upon completion of service. Hand out cards, print them on receipts or just ask customers as they are paying the bill. Offering incentives for leaving reviews is not a good idea as it is against Yelp’s, Google’s, and other review sites’ guidelines.
- Put up signs in your business, and list the websites customers can review your business on.
- Follow up with an email and link to the websites where your customer can leave a review.
- Respond to reviews. Thank your customers for taking the time to leave a review and show your appreciation for their feedback.
- Exploit the indirect impact of social signals
Mentions of your business on social media have both a direct and indirect impact on your business’s local search results. The direct impact comes from the number of Facebook likes and shares, number of Twitter followers, number of tweets mentioning your business’ name, number of tweets or Facebook posts including a link to your website, and number of people that have your business in their Google+ circles. The indirect impact comes from:
- Increased Traffic: Social links drive more traffic to your website and improve your visibility, which in turn increases your ability to generate more inbound links and citations.
- Increased Domain Authority: Traffic to your website from trusted social channels is likely to increase domain authority.
- Increased Average Time on Site: Customers that are familiar with a particular brand on social media are more likely to become repeat website visitors and spend more time on the websites.
For businesses with multiple locations, it is important to create a separate profile for each location on both Facebook and Google My Business and to link these profiles to each local micro-website. With Google Locations, franchises or multi-location businesses can easily set up and manage a Facebook page for each of their locations. Meanwhile, Google allows you to easily import, verify and edit multiple locations at once with Google Locations.
By increasing your focus on local initiatives using the tips outlined above, your multi-location business can gain more visibility with potential customers and dominate local search results.