For Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists, maximizing a very large number of keyword positions can feel overwhelming. This is even more significant when maximizing keyword positioning at scale for multiple business locations, be they franchises or corporately operated.
Wiideman Consulting Group (WCG) completed a recent study of 300 website landing pages to uncover deeper insights into the best multi-location SEO strategies. In this article, we’ll:
- Unpack WCG’s findings from their study on high-ranking local landing pages
- Discuss which focal points to prioritize
- Share examples of graphic design templates that can be used to build location pages using WCG’s data-driven strategy.
Organizations whose physical assets include multiple brick-and-mortar locations tend to face a number of challenges — not the least of which often involve controlling and improving online visibility through popular search engines like Google and Bing.
Problems related to these challenges can often arise from multiple areas, from the development of content at scale to rogue franchisees or franchise managers competing against an organization’s corporate efforts instead of working collaboratively.
Implementing a data-driven Local SEO strategy can make all the difference.
An Overview of Multi-Location SEO
When digital marketing experts consider the best methods used to drive traffic to a web page, SEO affects the medium that yields the highest long-term return on investment (ROI): organic web traffic from popular online search engines like Google or Bing.
However, it is difficult for SEO specialists to argue that organic traffic is the largest driving force of traffic for larger brands with multiple locations or brands that manage digital marketing on behalf of their franchisees. It is equally difficult to deny that a company’s goals include maximizing the number of times they are seen within certain search engine results without having to utilize paid digital advertisements.
This ambiguity arises when attempting to understand if the organic traffic on a given website is resulting from specific searches for the brand, offline advertising, or unbranded search terms and keywords that introduce new customers to the brand even if they did not have a specific brand in mind when conducting their search.
As such, the goal of multi-location SEO can be defined as “continuously increasing the number of qualified visitors from unbranded searches.”
Below is an example of the multi-location SEO framework used by WCG with their clients that have included Skechers, Applebee’s, and IHOP amongst others. In each instance, provided that team members remained accountable for each step’s KPIs, unbranded search traffic gradually increased.
Business Data Management
Ensure the following data aggregators remain consistent within the databases used by navigation engines, search engines, and web directories to keep their information up to date:
- Each location’s name
- Each location’s physical address
- Each location’s local phone number
For this step in WCG’s study, the KPI goal was to improve the measurement and accuracy of data over time.
Business Data Visibility
Each data aggregator possesses a reach limit. Most competitors, regardless of which service or platform is used, and if using aggregators alone, will eventually hit a wall. While the value of business data visibility has allegedly decreased over the years, there remains an awareness of the importance of business citations (also referred to as business listings) that can shatter this eventual stalemate.
A location’s keyword rankings can be improved through these citations. One example includes well-known industry directories (e.g., lawyers.com). Local business directories (e.g., mylocal.latimes.com) are another example of citations that can improve keyword rankings.
For this step, the KPI goal was improving the quantity of industry and local business listings over time.
Search engine algorithms use artificial intelligence (AI) to find patterns of information to utilize when ranking and qualifying SEO results. A business’s ratings and/or customer reviews can more easily give searchers insight into the quality of products or services they can expect from a local business. As such, it’s no wonder that SEO specialists pay attention to increasing the attractiveness of local listings within SEO results.
After all, a listing with a higher rate of positive incoming customer feedback can much more easily rank higher in search engine results than a competing business with minimal (or no) new ratings or reviews.
For this step, the KPI goal was to increase the quantity and quality of customer engagement (i.e., responses), as well as the diversity of customer responses and feedback over time.
When a business is primarily focused on driving physical traffic to their location(s) via in-store visits, a vast portion of that incoming traffic comes from location pages for businesses with multiple locations.
A typical location page may reside on a URL such as “your_site.com/locations/ca/anaheim/12345-disney-blvd”
However, if there is only one location in the city, a business may instead use a URL such as “yoursite.com/locations/ca/anaheim”
These pages are used in lieu of a website’s URL in data aggregators and business citations. Thus, these pages drive referral traffic on top of boosting keyword rankings for the URLs within Web Search and Map Search results.
For this step, the KPI Goal was to increase conversion rates (Google Analytics), click-through rates (Google Search Console), and ranking factor utilization over time (i.e., January we are using 20% of the factors mentioned from this study, whereas in December we will use 80%).
Location Page Design
In designing location pages for SEO, WCG outlined 10 primary points to focus on in boosting page rankings. These points include:
- Creating content unique to each local page
- Using images and videos of each location
- Give visitors a way to interact via social media
- Link to directions via Google Maps
- List hours of operation and “open now” status
- Achieve high Core Web Vitals and page speed scores
- Showcase native (first-party) reviews
- Offer a coupon for barcode attribution
- Address safety and social distancing
- Emphasize keywords and location information
Scaling Local SEO Content for Multiple Pages
When businesses with multiple locations need local pages for each of those locations, creating custom content for each page by hand simply isn’t practical. Further, Google can easily discover content already contained in its database. As such, it may decide not to index local pages if its AI finds that a page or its content is too similar to other web pages.
Thankfully, there are nearly an unlimited number of ways multiple location pages can be differentiated from one another. This is, according to WCG, what can be defined as hyperlocal content. In their study on local pages, WCG found that “pages containing hyperlocal content had a 107% probability of outranking pages without it.”
Here is WCG’s guide on how to best create hyperlocal content, as a result of their study’s findings:
- Take high-quality images inside and outside of the location.
- Record high-quality videos of customers sharing their experience, team members at work, and B-roll footage of the outside and inside of the location.
- Have a Google Certified Photographer come out and record a 360 Virtual Tour for both the local page and Google Street View.
- Build a database of new attributes and then survey location owners or managers to complete the fields.
Off-Page Local SEO Factors
When SEO specialists consider the multitude of on-page local SEO optimization focal points, it’s first and foremost crucial to mention that rankings are a combination of on-page, off-page, and search appearance criteria.
Search appearance criteria can be impacted by the scaling of local SEO content (as mentioned above), as well as within Google Maps and higher quality ratings (star ratings) rather than competing listings.
What’s left are off-page local SEO factors. These factors may include the following criteria:
- Inbound Links: study results saw a 105% advantage to the page with the highest quality inbound link profile.
- The number of Yelp reviews: study results saw multi-location businesses with a higher amount of positive Yelp reviews offered roughly a 30% advantage over competitors.
- Google My Business reviews: study results were similar, albeit less, to the number of Yelp reviews analyzed, providing roughly a 15% advantage over competing businesses.
- Average ratings: study results found an approximate 9% advantage to businesses with 3 or more stars on Yelp and a 1% advantage to those with 3 or more stars on Google.
- The number of linking websites: study results found roughly a 3% advantage to businesses that had fewer linking websites in their local business web pages.
Final Remarks on WCG’s Multi-Location SEO Study
As WCG explains, the most important takeaway from their study and the points they covered on multi-location SEO is to set specific KPIs with your organization’s web developers, as well as its content creators, off-page visibility specialists, and customer service teams. While the tasks tied to those KPIs are valuable, managing the ongoing improvement of the goals tied to those KPIs can serve as the pattern of activity that AI-driven search engines – like Google – are paying the most attention to.
In working with multi-location enterprises and franchise-operated businesses, WCG has noticed a monthly cadence of monitoring what their clients’ competitors are implementing for their own multi-location SEO strategies and has recorded changes in monthly updates.
By using SEO ranking software, keywords can be tracked for each business location and further segmented using categories or tags. Running monthly reports of locations that were most impacted, and studying the competitors who showed the most movement, could give clues as to what users and search engines alike are searching for when ranking content in SEO.
As WCG says, “it’s the journey, not the destination.”