Posted by MiriamEllis
Image credit: Abraham Williams
If you’re marketing big brands with hundreds or thousands of locations, are you certain you’re getting model-appropriate local SEO information from your favorite industry sources?
Is your enterprise checking off not just technical basics, but hyperlocalized research to strengthen its entrance into new markets?
Before I started working for Moz in in 2010, the bulk of my local SEO experience had been with small-to-medium business models. Naturally, the advice I was able to offer back then was limited by the scope of my work. But then came Moz Local, and the opportunity to learn more about the more complex needs of valued enterprise customers like Crate & Barrel with more than 170 locations, PAPYRUS with 400, or Bridgestone Corporation with 2000+.
Now, when I’m thumbing through industry tips and tactics, I’m better able to identify when a recommended practice is stemming from an SMB mindset and falling short of enterprise realities, or is truly applicable to all business models. My goal for this post is to offer:
- Examples of commonly encountered advice that isn’t really best for big brands
- An Enterprise Local SEO Checklist to help you shape strategy for present campaigns, or ready your agency to pursue relationships with bigger dream clients
- A state-to-enterprise wireframe for initial hyperlocal marketing research
Not everything you read is for enterprises
When a brand is small, like a single location, family-owned retail shop, it’s likely that a single person at the company can manage the business’ Local SEO, with some free education and a few helpful tools. Large, multi-location brands, just by dint of organizational complexities, are different. Before they even get down to the nitty gritty of building citations, enterprises have to solve for:
- Standardizing data across hundreds or thousands of locations
- Franchise relationships that can muddy who controls which data and assets
- Designating staff to actually manage data and execute initiatives, and building bridges between teams that must work in concert to meet goals
- Scaling everything from listings management, to site architecture, to content dev
- Dealing with a hierarchy of reports of bad data from the retail location level up to corporate
I am barely scratching the surface here. In a nutshell, the scale of the organization and the scope of the multi-location brand can turn a task that would be simple for Mom-and-Pop into a major, company-wide challenge. And I think it adds to the challenge when published advice for SMBs isn’t labeled as such. Over the years, three common tips I’ve encountered with questionable or no applicability to enterprises include:
Not-for-enterprises #1: Link all your local business listings to your homepage
This is sometimes offered as a suggestion to boost local rankings, because website home pages typically have more authority than location landing pages do. But in the enterprise scenario, sending a consumer from a listing for his chosen location, to a homepage, and then expecting him to fool around with a menu or a store locator widget to finally reach a landing page for the location he’s already designated that he wanted is not respecting his user experience. It’s wasting his time. I consider this an unnecessary risk of conversions.
Simultaneously, failure to fully utilize location landing pages means that very little can be done to customize the website experience for each community and customer. Directly-linked-to landing pages can provide instant, persuasive proofs of local-ness, in the form of real local reviews, news about local sponsorships and events, special offers, regional product highlights, imagery and so much more that no corporate homepage can ever provide. Consider these statistics:
“According to a new study, when both brand and location-specific pages exist, 85% of all consumer engagement takes place on the local pages (e.g., Facebook Local Pages, local landing pages). A minority of impressions and engagement (15%) happen on national or brand pages.” – Local Search Association
In the large, multi-location scenario, it just isn’t putting the customer first to swap out a hoped-for ranking increase for a considerate, well-planned user experience.
Not-for-enterprises #2: Local business listings are a one-and-done deal
I find this advice particularly concerning. I don’t consider it true even for SMBs, and at the enterprise level, it’s simply false. It’s my guess that this suggestion stems from imagining a single local business. They create their Google My Business listing and build out perhaps 20–50 structured citations with good data. What could go wrong?
For starters, they may have forgotten that their business name was different 10 years ago. Oh, and they did move across town 5 years ago. And this old data is sitting somewhere in a major aggregator like Acxiom, and somehow due to the infamous vagaries of data flow, it ends up on Bing, and a Bing user gets confused and reports to Google that the new address is wrong on the GMB listing … and so on and so on. Between data flow and crowdsourced editing, a set-and-forget approach to local business listings is trouble waiting to happen.
Now multiply this by 1,000 business locations. And throw in that the enterprise opened two new stores yesterday and closed one. And that they just acquired a new chain and have to rebrand all its assets. And there seems to be something the matter with the phone number on 25 listings, because they’re getting agitated complaints at corporate. And they received 500 reviews last week on Google alone that have to be managed, and it seems one of their competitors is leaving them negative reviews. Whoa – there are 700 duplicate listings being reported by Moz Local! And the brand has 250 Google Questions & Answers queries to respond to this week. And someone just uploaded an image of a dumpster to their GMB listing in Santa Fe…
Not only do listings have to be built, they have to be monitored for data degradation, and managed for inevitable business events, responsiveness to consumers, and spam. It’s hard enough for SMBs to pull all of this off, but enterprises ignore this at their peril!
Not-for-enterprises #3: Just do X
Every time a new local search feature or best practice emerges, you’ll find publications saying “just do X” to implement. What I’ve learned from enterprises is that there is no “just” about it.
Case in point: in 2017, Google rolled out Google Posts, and as Joel Headley of healthcare practice growth platform PatientPop explained to me in a recent interview, his company had to quickly develop a solution that would enable thousands of customers to utilize this influential feature across hundreds of thousands of listings. PatientPop managed implementation in an astonishingly short time, but typically, at the enterprise level, each new rollout requires countless steps up and down the ladder. These could include achieving recognition of the new opportunity, approval to pursue it, designation of teams to work on it, possible acquisition of new assets to accomplish goals, implementation at scale, and the groundwork of tracking outcomes so that they can be reported to prove/disprove ROI from the effort.
Where small businesses can be relatively agile if they can find time to man-up to new features and strategies, enterprises can become dangerously bogged down by infrastructure and communications gaps. Even something as simple as hyperlocalizing content to the needs of a given community represents a significant undertaking.
The family-owned local hardware store already knows that the county fair is the biggest annual event in their area, and they’ve already got everything necessary to participate with a booth, run a contest, take photos, sponsor the tractor pull, earn links, and blog about it. For the hardware franchise with 3,000 stores, branch-to-corporate communication of the mere existence of the county fair, let alone gaining permission to market around it, will require multiple touches from the location to C-suites, and back again.
Checklist for enterprise local SEO preparedness
If you’re on the marketing team for an enterprise, or you run an agency and want to begin working with these larger, rewarding clients, you’ll be striving to put a checkmark in every box on the following checklist:
☑ Definition of success
We’ve determined which actions = success for our brand, whether this is increases for in-store traffic, sales, phone calls, bookings, or some other metric. When we see growth in these KPIs, it will affirm for us that our efforts are creating real success.
☑ Designation of roles
We’ve defined who will be responsible for all tasks relating to the local search marketing of our business. We’ve equipped these team members with all necessary permissions, granted access to key documentation, have organized workflows, and have created an environment for documentation of work.
☑ Canonical data
We’ve created a spreadsheet, approved and agreed upon by all major departments, that lists the standardized name, address, phone number, website URL, and hours of operation for each location of the company. Any variant information has been resolved into a single, agreed-upon data set for each location. This sheet has been shared with all stakeholders managing our local business listings, marketing, website and social outreach.
☑ Website optimization
Our keyword research findings are reflected in the tags and text of our website, including image optimization. Complete contact information for each of our locations is easily accessible on the site and is accurate. We’ve implemented proper markup, such as Schema or JSON-LD, to ensure that our data is as clear as possible to search engines.
☑ Website quality
Our website is easy to navigate and provides a good, usable experience for desktop, mobile and tablet users. We understand that the omni-channel search environment includes ambient search in cars, in homes, via voice. Our website doesn’t rely on technologies that exclude search engines or consumers. We’re putting our customer first.
☑ Tracking and analysis
We’ve implemented maximum controls for tracking and analyzing traffic to our website. We’re also ready to track and analyze other forms of marketing, such as clicks stemming from our Google My Business listings traffic being driven to our website by articles on third party sources, and content we’re sharing via social media.
☑ Publishing strategy
Our website features strong basic pages (Home, Contact, About, Testimonials/Reviews, Policy), we’ve built an excellent, optimized page for each of our core products/services and a quality, unique page for each of our locations. We have a clear strategy as to ongoing content publication, in the form of blog posts, white papers, case studies, social outreach, and other forms of content. We have plans for hyperlocalizing content to match regional culture and needs.
☑ Store locator
We’ve implemented a store locator widget to connect our website’s users to the set of location landing pages we’ve built to thoughtfully meet the needs of specific communities. We’ve also created an HTML version of a menu linking to all of these landing pages to ensure search engines can discover and index them.
☑ Local link building
We’re building the authority of our brand via the links we earn from the most authoritative sources. We’re actively seeking intelligent link building opportunities for each of our locations, reflective of our industry, but also of each branch’s unique geography.
☑ Guideline compliance
We’ve assessed that each of the locations our business plans to build local listings for complies with the Guidelines for Representing Your Business on Google. Each location is a genuine physical location (not a virtual office or PO box) and conducts face-to-face business with consumers, either at our locations or at customers’ locations. We’re compliant with Google’s rules for the naming of each location, and, if appropriate, we understand how to handle listing multi-department and multi-practitioner businesses. None of our Google My Business listings is at risk for suspension due to basic guideline violations. We’ve learned how to avoid every possible local SEO pitfall.
☑ Full Google My Business engagement
We’re making maximum use of all available Google My Business features that can assist us in achieving our goals. This could include Google Posts, Questions & Answers, Reviews, Photos, Messaging, Booking, Local Service Ads, and other emerging features.
☑ Local listing development
We’re using software like Moz Local to scale creation of our local listings on the major aggregators (Infogroup, Acxiom, Localeze and Factual) as well as key directories like Superpages and Citysearch. We’re confident that our accurate, consistent data is being distributed to these most important platforms.
☑ Local listing monitoring
We know that local listings aren’t a set-and-forget asset and are taking advantage of the ongoing monitoring SaaS provides, increasing our confidence in the continued accuracy of our data. We’re aware that, if left unmanaged, local business listing data can degrade over time, due to inputs from various, non-authoritative third parties as well as normal data flow across platforms.
☑ In-store strategy
All public-facing staff are equipped with the necessary training to implement our brand’s customer service policy, answer FAQs or escalate them via a clear hierarchy, resolving complaints before they become negative online reviews. We have installed in-store signage or other materials to actively invite consumer complaints in-person, via an after-hours helpline or text message to ensure we are making maximum effort to build and defend our strong reputation.
☑ Review acquisition
We’ve developed a clear strategy for acquiring reviews on an ongoing basis on the review sites we’ve deemed to be most important to our brand. We’re compliant with the guidelines of each platform on which we’re earning reviews. We’re building website-based reviews and testimonials, too.
☑ Review monitoring & response
We’re monitoring all incoming reviews to identify both positive and negative emerging sentiment trends at specific locations and we’re conversant with Net Promoter Score. We’ve created a process for responding with gratitude to positive reviews. We’re defending our reputation and revenue by responding to negative reviews in ways that keep customers who complain instead of losing them, to avoid needless drain of new customer acquisition spend. Our responses are building a positive impression of our brand. We’ve built or acquired solutions to manage reviews at scale.
☑ Local PR
Each location of our brand has been empowered to build a local footprint in the community it serves, customizing outreach to match community culture. We’re exploring sponsorships, scholarships, workshops, conferences, news opportunities, and other forms of participation that will build our brand via online links and social mentions as well as offline WOM marketing. We’re continuously developing cohesive online/offline outreach for maximum impact on brand recognition, rankings, reputation, and revenue.
☑ Social media
We’ve identified the social platforms that are most popular with our consumer base and a best fit for our brand. We’re practicing ongoing social listening to catch and address positive and negative sentiment trends as they arise. We’ve committed to a social mindset based on sharing rather than the hard sell.
We’re aware that our brand, our listings, and our reviews may be subject to spam, and we know what options are available for reporting it. We’re also prepared to detect when the spammy behaviors of competitors (such as fake addresses, fake negative/positive reviews, or keyword stuffing of listings) are giving them an unfair advantage in our markets, and have a methodology for escalating reports of guideline violations.
☑ Paid media
We’re investing wisely in both on-and-offline paid media and carefully tracking and analyzing the outcomes of online pay-per-click, radio, TV, billboards, and phone sales strategy. We’re exploring new opportunities, as appropriate and as they emerge, like Google Local Service Ads.
When any new functionality (like Google Posts or Google Q&A) needs to be managed at scale, we have a process for determining whether we need to build or acquire new technology. We know we have to weigh the pros/cons of developing in-house or buying ready-made solutions.
☑ Competitive difference-maker
Once you’ve checked off all of the above elements, you’re ready to move forward towards identifying a USP for your brand that no one else in your market has explored. Be it a tool, widget, app, video marketing campaign, newsworthy acquisition, new partnership, or some other asset, this venture will require deep competitive and market research to discover a need that has yet to be filled well by your competitors. If your business can serve this need, it can set your brand apart for years to come.
Free advice, specifically for local enterprises
It’s asserted that customers may forget what you say, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel.
Call me a Californian, but I continue to be amazed by automotive TV spots that show large trucks driving through beautiful creeks (thanks for tearing up precious riparian habitat during our state-wide drought) and across pristine arctic snowfields (instantly reminding me of climate change). Meanwhile, my family have become Tesla-spotters, seeing that “zero emissions” messaging on the tail of every luxury eco-vehicle that passes us by. As consumers, we know how we feel.
Technical and organizational considerations aside, this is where I see one of the greatest risks posed to the local enterprise structure. Insensitivity at a regional or hyperlocal level — the failure to research customer needs with the intention of meeting them — has been responsible for some of the most startling bad news for enterprises in recent recall. From ignored negative reviews across fast food franchises, to the downsizing of multiple apparel retailers who have been unable to stake a clear claim in the shifting shopping environment, brands that aren’t successful at generating positive consumer “feelings” may need to reevaluate not just their local search marketing mindset, but their basic identity.
If this sounds uncomfortable or risky, consider that we are seeing a rising trend in CEOs taking stands on issues of national import in America. This is about feelings. Consumers are coming to expect this, and it feeds down to the local level.
Hyperlocalized market research
If your brand is considering opening a new branch in a new state or city, you’ll be creating profiles as part of your research. These could be based on everything from reading local news to conducting formal surveys. If I were to do something like this for my part of California, these are the factors I’d be highlighting about the region:
We’ve been blasted by drought and wildfire. In 2017, alone, we went through 9,133 fires. On a positive note, Indigenous thought-leadership is beginning to be re-implemented in some areas to solve our worst ecological problems (water scarcity, salmon loss, absence of traditional forestry practices).
Can your brand help conserve water, re-house thousands of homeless residents, fund mental health services despite budget cuts, make legal services affordable, provide solutions for increased future safety? What are your green practices? Are you helping to forward ecological recovery efforts at a tribal, city or state level?
We’re grumbling more loudly about tech gentrification. If you live in Mississippi, sit down for this. The average home price in your state is $199,028. In my part of California, it’s $825,000. In San Francisco, specifically, you’ll need $1.2 million dollars to buy a tiny studio apartment… if you can find one. While causes are complex, people I talk with generally blame Silicon Valley.
Can your brand be part of this conversation? If not, you’re not really addressing what is on statewide consumers’ minds. Particularly if you’re marketing a tech-oriented company, taking the housing crisis seriously and coming up with solutions for even a modest amount of relief would certainly be positive and newsworthy.
We’ve turned to online shopping for an interesting variety of reasons. And it’s not just because we’re techie hipsters. The retail inventory in big cities (San Francisco) can be overwhelming to sort through, and in small towns (Cloverdale), the shopping options are too few to meet our basic and luxury desires.
Can your brand thrive in the gaps? If you’re located in a metro area, you may need to offer personal assistance to help consumers filter through options. If you’ve got a location somewhere near small towns, strategies like same-day delivery could help you remain competitive.
We’ve got our Hispanic/Latino identity back. Our architecture, city and street names are daily reminders that California has a lot more to do with Mexico than it ever did with the Mayflower. We may have become part of the U.S. in 1850, but pay more attention to 2014 — the year that our Hispanic/Latino community became the state’s largest ethnic group. This is one of the most vibrant happenings here. At the same time, our governor has declared us a sanctuary state for immigrants, and we’re being sued for it by the Justice Department.
Can your brand celebrate our state’s diversity? If you’re doing business in California today, you’ll need bilingual marketing, staff, and in-store amenities. Pew Research publishes ongoing data about the Hispanic/Latino segment of our population. What is your brand doing to ensure that these customers feel truly served?
We’re politically diverse. Our single state is roughly the same size as Sweden, and we truly do run the political gamut from A–Z here. Are citizens removing a man-made dam heroically restoring ecology or getting in the way of commerce? You’ll find voices on every side.
Can your brand take the risk of publicizing its honest core values? If so, you are guaranteed to win and lose Californian customers, so do your research and be prepared to own your stance. Know that at a regional level, communities differ greatly. Those TV ads that show trucks running roughshod through fragile ecosystems may fly in some cities and be viewed with extreme distaste in others.
Money is top of mind. More than ⅓ of Californians have zero savings. Over½ of the citizens have less than $1000 in savings. We invest more in Welfare than the next two states combined. And while our state has the highest proportion of resident billionaires, they are vastly outnumbered by citizens who are continuously anxious about struggling to get by. Purchasing decisions are seldom easy.
Can your brand employ a significant number of residents and pay them a living wage? Could your entry into a new market lift poverty in a town and provide better financial security? This would be newsworthy! Have ideas for lowering prices? You’ll get some attention there, too.
Obviously, I’m painting with broad strokes here, just touching on some of the key points that your enterprise would need to consider in determining to commence operations in any city or state. Why does this matter? Because the hyperlocalization of marketing is on the rise, and to engage with a community, you must first understand it.
Every month, I see businesses shutter because someone failed to apprehend true local demand. Did that bank pick a good location for a new branch? Yes — the next branch is on the other side of the city. Will the new location of the taco franchise remain open? No — it’s already sitting empty while the beloved taco wagon down the street has a line that spills out of its parking lot all night long.
“What helps people, helps business.” – Leo Burnett
The checklist in this post can help you create an enterprise-appropriate strategy for well-organized local search marketing, and it’s my hope that you’ll evaluate all SEO advice for its fitness to your model. These are the basic necessities. But where you go from there is the exciting part. The creative solutions you find to meet the specific wants and needs of individualized service communities could spell out the longevity of your brand’s success.
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