An in-depth tutorial to optimizing your business for localized search
Google’s campaign to deliver more relevant search results to users has led them down the path to personalization and localization. We’re not just talking about their country-specific search engines, we’re talking local cities and municipalities.
With the growing number of users on mobile and other portable devices, localized search results are in high demand.
There is a group that’s affected by this move towards localization. Brands with multiple locations, that generally rank on Google.com but are not necessarily targeting specific local areas in their campaigns, are at a disadvantage. This has particularly been the case since mid 2012 when Google's Venice update gave prominence to local business in the search results through maps and Google Places listings.
So, why is it better for you to target individual local areas even if you’re a brand with multiple locations?
Local Branding – At the end of the day, consumers from cities and municipalities patronize brands the old way: by choosing local brands they know and trust.
Effective, geo-targeted content management – In order for Google to deliver your content to your intended audience, you need to make it locally relevant.
No penalty from Google – Planned right, local SEO for brands with multiple branches will help you avoid penalties that come from being flagged as a link network.
In this post, you’ll learn how to get multiple branch locations to rank in Google Maps. The following should serve as your guide to getting your brand’s multiple branches visible on Maps and ranking on local search results.
On-Page Optimization with Local Focus
Local optimization for brands with multiple locations begins with setting up your website for local search. You’ll need to focus on the following:
Optimize the Five Main On-Page Elements
The first thing you need to decide is whether to use several top-level domains for each location of if you’ll use subdomains. While Google says there’s not much of a difference whichever you choose, you’ll have to take into consideration the possibility of your network of websites being flagged as spam.
Cutts answered this a long time ago, where he recommended in a previous Webmaster Help video to use top-level domains for country-specific websites. Meanwhile, multi-language websites have the option to use subdomains instead. Note however that you shouldn’t use Google Translate for the content – get a native speaker to write your content in other languages.
Aside from optimizing the URL, you’ll need to optimize the page titles, H1 tags, image tags, and the body of your website(s).
As I’ve mentioned above, don’t use Google Translate or any other automated translator for your content. These are inaccurate and sometimes incorrect, and the body of your site will sound unnatural both for readers and for search engines. Make sure to write in the vernacular of your target market for easier reading.
Implement Localized Schema Tags
Next, you’ll need to implement local schema tags in your website script to improve your local SERPs listings. The most important Schema tag you need to add is the “branchOf” tag, which indicates a particular store is a branch of a bigger chain. There are several other tags you can apply, such as:
Check out the example I have below. I searched for “Domino’s Pizza” and I set my Google account to Palmdale, CA. You’ll see they included different Schema mark-ups as they appear below:
Optimizing your Contact Page
I made this a separate item from the earlier on-page optimization discussion because it’s an important part of ranking for Maps. Google uses your contact page as one of the references to verify the legitimacy of your business listing in their Google+ Local and Maps platforms. You need to remember three main things:
Do not cram too many addresses in one contact page. This is why it’s recommended for you to have different sites / subdomains for each location your business has. Google will get confused if you have more than one address in your contact page.
Include links to your Google+ Local listings for easier referencing.
Remember to use a different phone number for each local address. Whatever happens, stay away from 1-800 numbers – Google+ uses the zip code of your business phone to determine your relevant location.
Local SEO Set-Up
Setting up your accounts in preparation for local SEO for Maps is your next step. You won’t be focusing solely on Google+ Local and on claiming your Maps listing. Google uses other trusted data sources to compare and verify your information, which is why you’ll need to set up your listings in other databases as well.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Create Google+ Local Accounts for each location
There’s been a debate on how to approach creating Google+ Local accounts if you’re a business with multiple locations. This is because Google hasn’t really given out specific guidelines on the proper referencing of Google+ Local listings on your main Google+ business page without being tagged as spam or as a link network.
Guidelines for creating Google+ Local Accounts
A discussion on Google Product Forums provides insight on this. The general rule is to create a unique listing for each location, and only businesses with physical storefronts should create multiple listings in one metro area. Here are your guidelines when creating Google+ Local accounts for your multiple locations:
Verify your listing and make sure all your information is correct - this is important because Google’s latest Maps updateonly displays verified listings on their platform now.
One phone number per business listing - Google will either merge or remove listings that use the same phone number, because they will see it as a duplicate listing.
Proper category inclusion - primary category should be your industry, secondary ones should be keywords, geo-targeted ones if possible.
Include keywords in your description for easier categorizing.
The example above shows some of Nordstrom’s Google+ Local listings in San Francisco, CA. Note how there are two separate listings for the two different branches in San Francisco Centre and in Stonestown Galleria, with two unique phone numbers.You’ll also see these locations pinned in Maps, which is displayed beside the Google+ Local search results.
2. Claim Listings from other major and trusted data providers
Google doesn’t rely solely on their database to check and rank local listings on Maps and on local search results. They also evaluate external sources that are known data providers to cross-reference your information and check if it is accurate. Make sure you claim your listings in the following groups of data sources:
Competitor search engines – Yahoo! and Bing are the leading contenders, but if you know of search engines that are relevant to your industry that offer local search options, claim your listings there first
Social Networks – such as Facebook, Google+ for Business (create a page), Yelp and Foursquare.
Review Sites – Google uses Zagat in Google+ Local – it’s a good idea for you to claim and optimize your listing here and on similar sites.
Other trusted data providers, like Acxiom, Localeze, Yext, etc.
Local Link Building and Reputation Management
Once everything is in place, you have to build your visibility to make your listing the priority in Google+ Local and in Google Maps. This is where local SEO comes in.
1. Encourage your customers to add Reviews and Rate your business online
High user ratings send signals to Google that your business is a trusted establishment. Encourage customers from different branches to rate and review your establishment online. Give them a link to your listings on your website (I’ve mentioned this earlier in the contact pages section) for easier reference, create a gate that requires them to rate you before accessing content, or simply advertise it in your stores.
2. Monitor and address negative comments or negative press online
Never neglect the negative comments, down votes, and negative press you receive online. There’s no removing these negative comments once they’re posted, unless you want Google to be suspicious if you get purely positive reviews all the time. Have a look at this negative review for Pizza Hut, for example:
While you can’t avoid comments like this from appearing on your page every now and then (there will always be detractors), you can show Google that you are listening to your customers and addressing these reviews.
You need to respond to these types of comments in a timely and polite manner, and in a way that helps the customer.
You can also neutralize the effects of these negative reviews by diluting it with good reviews and higher ratings. It’s important to maintain communications with your loyal customers and to maintain your good relationship with them. Monitoring and addressing negative comments requires diligence on your part. Remember that word spreads faster in local online markets.
3. Linking Profiles together
As mentioned earlier, Google doesn’t have any guidelines on linking local listings together to indicate that they’re branches of one brand. You have the following options:
Link each Google+ Local listing to their corresponding local page or local subdomain in your website, and use a Maps plugin on these pages. These will link your listings to your corporate website, indicating to Google that these are branches.
Create a corporate Google+ profile for your brand, and place the links to your different branches there. The first option might be better if you have a huge number of listings (applicable for national brands), but if you only have a handful or two branches to begin with, you may do this instead.
Placing too many links on your Google+ for Business profile might make Google think you’re a link network.
4. Local Link Building
Finally, you need to build your visibility and reputation across the local market by being published in locally relevant and influential online publications.
Make sure to use the location names in your target keywords whenever possible, but don’t focus on the keywords exclusively.
Creating and sharing location-relevant content will get people interested in what you have to say, improve your reputation as a local service provider and information source, and get you the links you need to rank better on local SERPs – and, consequently, in Google Maps.
Ranking your multiple locations in Maps may be challenging given Google’s algorithm updates and their recent Maps and Google+ Local updates, but it’s nowhere near impossible. Remembering to build local presence as your competitor local establishments do, linking local branches of your business to your corporate website for consistent branding, and maintaining your local online reputation are the key stepping-stones towards your Maps ranking success.
Thanks to Clayton Wood for sharing his thoughts and opinions in this blog post. Clayton is passionate about communicating the impact that technology has in online marketing. He is the Marketing Director of SEOReseller.com and managing partner of numerous successful online brands that offer white label SEO and other online marketing services. You can connect with him in LinkedIn or Google+.
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