In part 1 of this series, I introduced the concept of local SEO and illustrated its importance to digital marketing. In the second instalment, my goal is to provide actionable insights into two questions:
1. Why do regional or local business with a single or a small number of locations often outrank large enterprise brands with hundreds of locations (or more) for local discovery and ‘near me’ searches?
2. What important local SEO tactics should enterprise brands implement and track before they can start tackling ‘advanced local SEO 2.0’ strategies?
The search landscape is always evolving
In the last two months, a lot has happened in local SEO regarding Google search enhancements. These changes have amplified the importance of answering the questions identified above.
Major SERP changes hinted at the end of the summer were fully revealed by Google in late September as their Penguin 4.0 upgrade. They also announced new analytics and attribution capabilities around digital/mobile advertising and showcased their ability to accurately track offline local conversions from online advertising. (In other words, Google can now attribute a consumer’s in-store purchase to a search they performed on their phone in a 24-hour window.) So, how does this relate to point #1?
When I perform unbranded local searches in highly populated areas, I’m often impressed by the number of SMBs that show up ahead of major franchises and national brands. For example, if you search “men’s clothing store, Boston, MA”, the first five local results are SMBs – you have to click or scroll below the fold to find major brands like Bonobos, Jos. A Bank, Men’s Warehouse and J. Crew.
Upon closer examination, there are some obvious reasons why this is happening.
- Stores like “Ari Boston- The Men’s Store” and “Bobby From Boston” have the city in the business name. This is a very helpful ranking factor when used legitimately – but Google will penalise a business for adding a location identifier to their name unless the brand is actually called that (i.e. Boston Pizza).
- This makes it very difficult for enterprise brands to replicate this local performance because Marketing departments for enterprise brands rarely want to identify their franchises, stores, offices or agents, using a city or location identifier. In all structured and unstructured citations across the web (e.g. press releases, ads, marketing materials, store pages, listings, social media), J. Crew would never decide to use “J. Crew Boston” or “J-Crew Back Bay” because it would cause branding inconsistencies and could confuse consumers.
- Four out of the five highest ranked businesses have a good number of Google reviews. Google knows that listings with reviews receive more clicks so brands are rewarded for this. While it’s not impossible for enterprise brands to generate more reviews, it’s easier for a smaller brand or single location to focus on reviews than it is for the marketing department of a brand with hundreds or thousands of locations.
- Brand loyalty for a single location is primarily based in that one community, whereas brand loyalty for an enterprise brand might manifest itself without any tie to a specific store or location.
- The “top 10 list” phenomenon – where consumers love searching online for the best brands in their area. When an online review site or local publication with a lot of authority publishes an article or list, local brands tend to be featured more heavily and local editors often place an emphasis on promoting local businesses over national businesses. Just check out this list of Boston stores for men’s clothing, where 17 of the 20 businesses are not national brands. This is important because Local SEO experts Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm have noticed that being on the top 10 lists are a helpful Local SEO ranking factor for the ten businesses themselves.
- Google rewards unique content about a location’s products, services and geographical area. It is much easier for an SMB to publish this vs. a national brand where their franchises, stores, offices or agents provide very similar services that are tough to differentiate on store pages. A SMB can speak to its history in a specific location, where that doesn’t usually exist for a location that’s a part of a national network. Using the Boston example, if I click on “Riccardi” or “Ari Boston – The Men’s Store’s” link in Google, I’m taken to their website homepage. The navigation bar includes “About” and “Our History” options, which explores when the store opened and information on how the local founders were key contributors to the community. It’s not easy for a national brand to replicate this.
So what can enterprise businesses do to combat these issues and allow them to compete on both a local and national level?
You need to walk before you can run
To answer this we first have to identify the basics. If you’re lacking in these areas as an enterprise brand, this is the place to start:
Traditional SEO, link building and on-page optimisation
SEO teams can get caught up optimising their site for e-commerce and brand awareness while neglecting key complimentary tactics that ensure they are winning at local. You still need to have strong domain authority and index your website appropriately, but the brands that are leading the pack are gaining relevant backlinks and publishing pages of content that are unique to each store. They’re also setting up simple navigation and internal linking with the store locator and sitemap using local SEO best practices. (To see a company that puts this practice to action by making link building for non-profits their mission check out Zipsprout.)
This is more important than ever before because of the release of Penguin 4.0, which allows Google to analyse and interpret specific pages of a website in real-time, vs. focusing every-so-often on how a site is optimised as a whole. Now, if a brand is penalised by Google it will take significantly less time for this to be reflected in searches. This is great for realising the benefits of improving SEO, but also means organisations now need to be more diligent at continually monitoring their sites’ performance.
GoogleMyBusiness information must be thoroughly optimised for every location
This may seem like a no-brainer in 2016, but it’s amazing how many enterprise brands have claimed most or all of their locations while failing to optimise their listings in every sense of the word. This means:
- Inputting the exact business name
- Providing the correct address with latitude/longitude and pin on the map at the front door of the building
- Local phone number
- Correct hours (including holiday or seasonal hours when necessary)
- Correct or most relevant business category first (try to limit the number of categories chosen for each location)
- Unique, tagged photos of the store from the outside and inside, plus products and/or employees
Correct citations and listings on Tier 1 and niche publishers
Brands need to ensure that major directories and sources of significant potential traffic have the correct listing data for all of their locations. While every publisher accepts location data a little bit differently, it is vital that the consistent and correct location data is found on Google, Bing, Apple and Facebook (the same information that is found on your store locator and landing pages).
Beyond that, there are other Tier 1 directories that make sense for certain businesses, but not all. These include Yelp, Foursquare, YP.com, Yahoo, TripAdvisor, Nokia/HERE, Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List. While it used to be considered important to gain citations on Tier 2 publisher sites (creating a total of 30 or even 100s of citations), many newer studies are questioning the necessity of citations on sites that drive almost no, or literally no, traffic.
This one is pretty simple. Work on getting reviews for all your locations on Google, and other major review sites such as Yelp or Foursquare. Also, respond to all reviews, positive or negative, to show active participation with your consumers. If you don’t have a strategic process in place to encourage reviews, talk to your digital agency.
Once you’ve focused on the four areas above, you’re ready for Local SEO 2.0 tactics and best practices for enterprise brands with many locations. Stay tuned for the conclusion of why local SEO is such a vital component of your digital marketing strategy.