Investing in local SEO is one of the most basic fundamentals of operating a brick and mortar store that relies on the foot traffic boost generated by an appearance in the local pack.
But when a business has multiple locations under one company or serves multiple regions (perhaps with no physical location at all) things get proportionally more complicated as the number of markets to cater to with one website increases.
Do you have the sense that you might be serving customers that have different needs based on their location?
Work through these steps to determine whether your business needs a multi-location SEO strategy, learn how to optimize a local presence in each relevant market, and avoid the most common mistakes that our experts see their clients make during this process.
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Why bother with Multi-Location SEO?
Did you know that an estimated 46% of all Google searches are in some way looking for local information? And these searchers are high-intent too—18% of local smartphone searches led to a purchase within a day, whereas only 7% of non-local searches led to a sale. The answer seems simple: if you have a case for why your business’s online presence can be localized in each of the specific markets it can serve, then multi-location expansion is critical to implement into your SEO strategy.
How to determine if you should do Multi-Location SEO
Businesses that stand to gain from implementing location data into their strategy can sometimes simply be shops in different neighborhoods, but often may be less concrete in where exactly they serve. SEO Consultant Brodie Clark says:
“For my eCommerce clients, they definitely need a strong breakdown of how visible they are across different locations. Depending on the size of the client, it might just make more sense to do countries rather than getting too granular with specific cities/suburbs.”
Here’re how you can determine if the best practices below will optimize your traffic: Businesses who do have a case for starting these localization initiatives will likely fit one or more of the following criteria:
- You have multiple local brick and mortar stores.
- You have a virtual or eCommerce business, and the regions it serves differ substantially in language or culture.
- You have an international business.
- You are a directory that aggregates local businesses.
- You have a virtual or eCommerce business where search demand or content resonance indicates that you could benefit from localization.
For virtual or eCommerce businesses with no physical location, it can be difficult to determine if search demand or content resonance is affected by geography, and if you could improve conversions by increasing localization of your main site. For some eCommerce businesses, it can even be difficult to determine the extent to which you serve different regions if you haven’t crunched those numbers yet.
Luckily, there are a few simple steps a business can take to determine if searches and content performance are influenced by location.
How to find out if search demand and content resonance is affected by location
Geographic location isn’t always a factor that can impact your SEO performance data.
Brodie says, “It becomes more important if the rankings differ in each location. If they are all basically the same, then that can result in an unnecessary amount of tracking points.”
There are a few ways you can find out if the rankings do differ according to geography, or if the location of searchers is somehow impacting your traffic and conversion performance.
Hint: If you have multiple local brick and mortars, you can skip down to “How to localize your online presence.” This type of business by nature must implement multi-location SEO to surface on popular Google apps and featured snippets, and doesn’t necessarily need to look for hints about whether their performance is affected by geography.
- Look at keyword volume using Google Keyword Planner for long-tail keywords associated with those regions. This can include specifying the place’s name in queries for your site, replacing words with synonyms that are more common in certain regions, or any sort of longtail term that differentiates location, such as “with ingredients sourced from…”
- These keywords can get highly granular, so you’re most likely looking at a very low volume for each one. But trended together, each of these low volume searches can actually make up a substantial portion of searches you need to pay attention to. If these terms become comminuted down to the point where Keyword Planner is having trouble showing you the difference between low volume and no volume, you can still find plenty of actionable insights using the below alternative methods.
- Test it. You know your market better than anyone, so you may already have a strong hypothesis that your site content needs to better cater to certain regions. Document a baseline for your web traffic, and then create deeper locations for a small number of locations, starting with one or two as to not take too much traffic from your main site if your effort doesn’t prove successful. Wait a couple of weeks, and then assess your organic traffic and conversions to compare to your baseline.
- Use a tool like the AuthorityLabs Rank Tracker to search for your main site in the locations you’re considering. If this high-level page already ranks well when performing searches from different zip codes, you may not need to do differentiated iterations. If it doesn’t, that’s a gap you could remedy.
- Look at data from your internal site search. When people arrive at your main site, are they attempting to search for more localized information unsuccessfully? This could be your cue to create content that caters to that region, and then use AuthorityLabs to track the ranking success of that content for people in the place that it’s meant to target.
How to localize your online presence for your multi-location business
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve determined whether your business could stand to gain from expanding its online presence into multiple location-specific assets, you’ve investigated where those locations are, and you probably have some insights into which types of content are performing well in different locations.
Now it’s time to take your list of locations, and expand out localized subsets of your digital assets in a way that won’t earn you a penalty from Google or relegate you to the dark underworld of page 2 and beyond.
1. Create a GMB for each location
Setting up a Google My Business account is crucial to populating for potential customers using Google products like Google Search and Google Maps. The process is fairly straightforward, and you can find instructions to do so directly from Google.
What Google doesn’t emphasize as much in these directions is how easy it is to make your business disappear from these local queries through innocent inconsistencies with your website or your citations on aggregate sites.
The trick here is to make everything as consistent yet local as possible.
If your business name on Yelp is “George’s Flowers” and your Google My Business business name is “George’s Flowers (Dallas)” you’ve already got a recipe for disaster. However you choose to name your business, enter in phone numbers, or designate a website, just keep your process consistent across all locations (e.g. don’t use the main site URL for one GMB location but the location page URL for a different GMB).
Fields like your name, address, and phone number (NAP), should be one consistent version of that information that applies to that specific brick and mortar.
Does your company just have one main phone number and not a location-specific number?
Wrong. If you have the same number for GMB locations across the entire state of Texas, that’s a pretty strong signal to Google that something is wrong and that you probably don’t have a fully developed local brick and mortar at the place you made a GMB for.
Once you’ve got the basics down of entering the information users need to find you, make sure your profile is complete to bridge the gap between being found and driving conversions. Add photos, answer questions, and complete any other empty fields that you believe will drive value for your customers.
Obvious but crucial footnote: Don’t create Google My Business spam. If you don’t have a physical location (looking at you eCommerce businesses), don’t create a GMB for one as a shortcut for these efforts to get in front of customers from a certain region. On top of receiving a penalty from Google, check out the hashtag #StopCrapontheMap to see what kind of scrutiny you’ll be under if you do.
2. Build local listings on major aggregate sites for each location
Determine which aggregate sites are pertinent to your industry and create a listing on each one. There’s dozens of popular general listing sites that your business can create a profile for (many are even free), so start with those if you’re unsure where you should appear.
For more niche listing sites, try “*your industry* listing site” as well as searching your competitors and seeing which sites they show up on.
Again, this is a case of consistency being paramount. The more listing sites you curate a profile on, the more room there is for small errors and discrepancies between them that may hurt your rankings and site traffic. Keep consistent documentation, and consider implementing either a manual process or an automated platform that checks for changes to these profiles.
3. Generate reviews for each location
The customer experience differs vastly between locations, so you can expect that the stories they relay from these experiences will differ proportionally.
If your eCommerce sites sells different types of clothes in different regions based on climate, or if your suburb location has ample parking compared to your downtown location, these are factors that can resonate well with highly-targeted audiences just as quickly as they can be deemed useless by customers they don’t apply to.
Implement a review generation strategy that drives customers to leave reviews on the location-specific listings you created on Google and other listing management sites by including that unique link in all of your manual and automated review asks. These will also come in handy later on as location-unique content that will help you complete the location pages of your main site.
4. Create site pages for each location or region you serve
This is perhaps the most substantial undertaking of expanding your main site’s SEO strategy to cater to various locales, because it must leverage technical, on-page, and off-page SEO to provide content that specifically applies customers in different places, avoid Google penalties, and maintain the authority and “SEO juice” that your main parent site has accrued.
How to expand your main site for multiple locations
Ensuring that technical SEO fundamentals are squared away is your first step toward creating location-specific subsites that can still benefit from the authority and legacy SEO performance of your main site. After all, if Google can’t effectively crawl your site, it won’t matter which location-specific content you fill it with.
Create a logical URL Structure
Besides general technical SEO wins that you should be working through on a regular basis, one misstep that particularly plagues multi-location initiatives is URL structure.
Since you have one main “parent” site, and the locations are subsets of that business, you want to use a logical URL structure that signals this flow to Google—and to your users.
The way you decide to structure your URL will depend on many factors that rely on your knowing your business and the way that customers would most logically search. For example, the vastness of your businesses presence across multiple cities, states, or even countries could cause you to have a URL structure that filters these step-by-step, like this:
In this case, the first 3 pages would be listing pages of all the further more granular options, until it’s finally drilled down to the South Lake Union page, where your localized content should go. If you don’t have a presence across the United States or across Washington, then those steps will likely not be worthwhile for you, your customers, or search engines.
If you have a virtual or eCommerce site, your URL structure may also look different as you determine the scale of the regions where you begin to see differences in content resonance, internal search queries, or purchasing habits. This could look like:
Whatever you choose, just make sure that it’s logical, that it differentiates by regions where you see differences in behavior, and that you keep it consistent.
Once you’ve got a strong idea of how you’re going to technically implement the various new pages on your CMS, you can begin creating them to rank for those localized searches.
Don’t make the most common mistake of multi-location SEO: Having poor expansion quality
One of the most important considerations when embarking on a multi-location SEO strategy is whether you have the capacity to truly do it well.
Unfortunately, implementing multi-location SEO but not making it hyper-specific and relevant isn’t one of those things where you get credit for trying—you may be penalized for keyword stuffing, GMB spam, NAP discrepancies, duplicate content, or a myriad of other oversights that can leave your organic traffic in a worse state than if you had just continued on with your one general parent website.
Brodie Clark says that the biggest mistake he sees clients make that can really hurt their rankings as they try to vie for SERPS in multiple cities or countries is “not maintaining the quality of their expansion process. Can work in the short-term, but a Core Update will likely bring you back to square one.”
Chuck Aikens, Founder of Volume Nine echoes this sentiment by emphasizing that a “one-size-fits-all” approach would be a mistake.
“Many multi-location companies rely on a store locator template or a content template that is used for all of their locations or target service areas.
In many cases, we also see added functionality through an app or plugin that actually hides these locations from search. In those instances, we always recommend that the companies create content and digital assets that more specifically address the local marketplace and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, we as a digital marketing agency might talk more about travel and tourism on our Denver page while developing out more manufacturing content for Milwaukee.”
Duplicate content, spam tactics like keyword stuffing different city names into the same old page, or pages that are simply not any more useful to customers searching from different locations than your original site won’t rank very well.
Language and culture capabilities at your business are another important consideration. Let’s say you own a software company that can be used by anyone in the world, and, although you’re based in the U.S., you want to tap international markets.
At a minimum, you should have employees or contracted resources native to the region that can do the following:
- Create site content in the native language (do NOT copy your English text into Google translate)
- Be aware of cultural differences such as unique uses for your tool, appropriate pricing, preferred methods of communication, purchasing habits, etc.
- Can provide high-quality customer support in the native language
How to make each location page unique and impactful
Besides making sure contact information is consistent and everything is written in the right dialect, it can be hard to come up with truly impactful content to add to a location page on your website.
Try out any and all of these localized differentiators avoid duplicate content and better target that location’s visitors.
- Reviews for this location— Use social proof in the form of online reviews and testimonials. It showcases to visitors of your site that you serve their region and serve it well.
- Local flavor—
- Does your eCommerce site sell handmade goods worldwide, but you know that customers are more likely to buy when you showcase stories of artisans in their own area?
- Do you sell foods to restaurants nationwide but you can tout that you’re locally sourced within the one region you source ingredients from?
- Offer virtual personal training classes to anyone with a computer, but provide in-person training in the city you live in?
- Is your international eCommerce site the most popular place for Cubs fans to buy their jerseys? The possibilities of how you can customize content with local flavor are endless with a little brainstorming.
- Proprietary data—show the same little local tidbits you would use in local flavor, but with data behind it. This can be bestsellers, delivery times, employees from that region, local charitable contributions, etc.
- Current clients—Along the same lines as the social proof provided by localized reviews, if you work with clients in that region, you can showcase them and the great work you do for clients in that area, even if you aren’t physically located there.
- News— What’s going on in the area that’s relevant to your industry? Have any regional publications mentioned your business or linked to your site?
- Images—Use a gallery of images that tie your business to that region. This will give you bonus points in your rankings if you make sure to square away your image SEO fundamentals here, like relevant alt text and geotagging.
- Logistics— Delivery processes and time estimates for that location.
- FAQ’s – Brodie says, “For eCommerce product pages, there may be some components where content can be tweaked to localize it more. E.g. there may be an FAQ section on a product page where you can answer relevant questions about the product for a specific language/location.” Look to your social media, customer support team, or Google Q&A’s to find out if there’s a trend of questions by location.
- Feeds (or at least links) from location-specific social media channels— If you have the resources to expand and separate your social media profiles by location, you absolutely should— and then should include it on that region’s site page. Customers often look to social media for location specific information about hours, customer service issues, promotions and events, and it can also be a goldmine of user-generated content to share as customers document and tag their experience there.
- Links to your listings on popular aggregator sites
Use Location as a data point in optimizing content
When adding in this “local flavor,” it’s important to have a process in place to determine what written content will resonate with that audience and how you’ll judge its performance over time.
Because of a myriad of needs, cultures, dialects, and more, content on your site as a whole can have widely varying performance based on where the user is located.
Chuck Aikens explains why he believes adding this data into search performance is generally a best practice for businesses that have the capability to cover a large service area:
“For clients with national focus or larger service areas, we track their primary location and either a random target market or a non-geomodified search result. This type of tracking allows us to see the difference between doing searches as if they were in their physical location and searching from somewhere outside of this designated area. Then, we can see if there is a difference in regard to the overall keyword set or any specific keywords from one location to the next.”
Chuck describes how this cross-referencing of location data with performance can lead to actionable content-writing insights. In a situation where you’re able to tell that a piece of content overperforms in New York but underperforms in Houston, content developers don’t need to have a physical location in Houston to take advantage of this insight to better tap that market.
“There may be a whole slew of reasons why a page works in one city but not in another. To try and resolve this issue, it might be best to try and figure out why it works in NY but not Houston and address that issue with the content, without impairing your engagement in NY.
In plenty of industries, Houston and NY are two very different markets. It’s likely that the needs of a Houston audience are wildly different than a NY audience, and it’s also important to consider the competitiveness of each market. With two locations, you could duplicate the successful page’s content and update and revise it to resonate more with the Houston audience, without affecting the content that is working with the NY audience.
The key here would be to make sure to promote and optimize the Houston content for Houston audiences.”
Imagine you cross-reference your rank data with geographic location and see that no one in the southwest region of the country is landing on your site and reading your content. This may lead you to investigate why that is and make adjustments to better connect with them.
Do they use different vocabulary to describe common aspects of your industry that aren’t included in your site?
Are they concerned about working with someone who they think doesn’t understand the needs of their region and could be quelled by seeing testimonials and reviews from other southwestern clients?
This discrepancy in rankings based on location is a solid case to make any of those adjustments to appeal to them.
Final thoughts on when you should consider location in your SEO strategy
As the world undergoes rapid digitization—spurred forward more quickly by the onset of coronavirus and given staying power by new expectations of this virtual convenience—eCommerce sites and businesses with multiple locations have the opportunity to get in front of those increasingly-localized searchers now more than ever.
The tactical strategies we walked through will undoubtedly make your business’s information more clear to potential customers and to search engines. But by implementing location data into your strategy, even in efforts where it doesn’t seem immediately obvious, you can not only make but you can gain actionable insights that help you create a better site and better content meant to deeply understand the needs of customers living across vastly different regions.