Local SEO for brands and franchises: Top 3 tips from 15 SEO experts

by Greg Lee, 02 Apr 2018

Local SEO is not a trend. It’s a business strategy. Franchise and business owners must master it to attract clients and generate profit; for brands, it’s the key to  online brand visibility and reputation.

Whether you have stores, distributors, installers or local reps, local SEO is important. You have multiple brand touch points scattered geographically that all create brand signals to Google, search engines and your audience. They can either work together for the good of all or work against you.

The job of the local SEO expert is to wrangle those signals and optimize them so they work to benefit all stakeholders. Here’s what you should know.

Local SEO expert roundup

We pulled feedback from a board of 15 local SEO experts to find out common issues and the best tactics. We categorized and charted the responses to find the highest areas of concern.

We started with one main question:
"What do you wish you knew before you started local SEO for brands and franchises?"

There were some commonalities we were able to tally in our chart. But there were also insights that showed the hard truth about creating successful local SEO with brands and franchises. I’ve pulled and summarized the top three local SEO issues/opportunities and provided my own view. If you want to dig deeper into the insights, feel free to browse the full responses from our 15 participants that follow below.

Top 3 tips for tackling local SEO

  1. Find a way to build content to outdo your competition (10x).
    The most common challenge for multi-location brands is to create unique, localized content on landing pages for each location. I find that most brands will push out identical pages for every store. Some attempt to create localized pages for various markets, but the result is low quality for the user. Be sure to read Shari Thurow’s comments below on ideas to create useful content for the user.
  2. Build out your listing in top directories (7x).
    No surprise, everyone agrees you need to claim your Google myBusiness listing. But you also need to determine the other top listings your audience will view while researching (their online, off-site customer journey). Google, Bing, Yelp, industry sites…and social channels. You may not push out posts on all social networks, but the big ones allow you to simply claim your local business listing and provide an accurate profile of the business, including imagery. How much do you spend in media? This provides free billboard space where your audience is already looking for you.
  3. Manage reviews. Just do it! 5x (tied for #3)!
    Sounds impossible, but it’s not! Several SEO experts agreed that you not only need to have reviews, but you need to actively ask for them and respond to them immediately. It seems every brand that doesn’t have a consistent process for managing reviews has one franchise owner who rocks at getting great reviews, but a majority are falling behind. The secret is to put a review management system in place. It takes some up-front work, but once set-up allows for more efficient management. If you want to see what one looks like, just ask us. As Chris Dreyer mentions below, it is essential to have a systematic approach.
  4. Structured data: get your schema right. 5x (tied for #3)!
    Like reviews, structured data is one of those things a lot of people are afraid to get involved with. It’s highly technical and requires knowing a lot of background information. However, without doing it, you can cause your brand to stop ranking for brand-term keywords. Oddly, this is one area I found fascinating when I first learned about it over 10 years ago. Back then it was all about marking up content with microdata. Now it’s about creating blocks of JSON-LD code. I still get a kick out of troubleshooting a client issue or coming across a new trick

Remaining local SEO issues and their mentions among expert responses

4x – NAP citations (listings with business name, address and phone number)

3x – Back links (some specifically call out local back links)

3x – Mobile SEO or usability

3x – Customer journey or experience

2x – Landing page per location

2x – Fighting local SEO spam

 

The participants and their full commentary

John Lincoln / https://ignitevisibility.com  https://twitter.com/johnelincoln

~ CEO of @ignitev - MBA, expert digital marketing consultant, columnist for Inc., Huffpo, Entrepreneur, Forbes, author, speaker - I want to help you win.

Local SEO is an interesting topic because it also plays into International SEO. Meaning, any country can be broken down by regions and by cities and in those cities there is a specific way to rank in each one inside of Google, the Google local pack and often inside of Google instant.

I think the most important thing that people don't realize about local search engine optimization, is it is not just about your Google my business listing.

In a recent study that I did, we saw that when people review a local vendor they not only go to the Google my business page. They also go to the person's Facebook page, the person's Pinterest page, the person's website, the person's Yelp page and in some cases the person's Instagram page.

The touch points which the customer goes to depend largely on whether the business is B2B and the services and products being offered. So, what do I wish I knew before I started local search engine optimization?

Well, today we have a map of every touch point that a consumer would potentially visit when doing research for a local business. We also have a map of every touch point that influences each of the most important ranking elements inside Google. I wish I would have understood this the day I started.

For any local business you need to be able to rank the Google my business page, the HTML page, multiple local blog posts that relate to the subject, you need a Bing Places page and often other local listing such as Facebook, Yelp and industry-specific sites. Lately people are looking at Glassdoor a lot as well.

Before you start doing local SEO make sure you take the time to really map out all the potential touchpoints your consumer will visit. Make sure you have a strategy to not only rank the Google my business page and the HTML page, but also completely own your branded search base and develop a positive view of your company inside of Google.

Finally, don't forget to take advantage of the easy stuff like moz local and yext.

Justin Herring / https://yeah-local.com/  https://twitter.com/JustinCHerring

~ Atlanta #SEO expert helping businesses succeed online! Hourly tweets about #SEO | #socialmedia | #video | review marketing | #contentmarketing

My key tips for anyone starting in SEO?

  • Citations and business listings are not crucial. Yes, you need the top 40, but that is really it.  After testing on over 40+ local SEO clients we have seen the NAP does not need to be perfect and the amount of citations does not need to be in the hundreds.
  • You only need high authority contextual backlinks in blog posts to rank a website. I have used Web 2.0's, .edu links, and other crazy backlinks to get sites to rank, but I've learned over the years it’s not needed.
  • Instead of contextual backlinks, Website Optimization and Basic Backlinks are the keys. Set-up the website structure properly and send great backlinks to the pages and you will rank quickly.
  • Franchises are much more cumbersome than individual brands. You usually have to work with the Franchise’s website platform and making changes can be a nightmare.  Just know going in you will be generally dealing with both the corporate Franchise and the Franchise Owner.
  • Keep it Simple. I see so many SEO experts testing all kinds of tactics and it really just comes down to website optimization (nothing fancy), content (needs to be decent) and backlinks (High authority).

Allen MacCannell / http://www.webceo.com  https://twitter.com/CloudBasedSEO

~ VP Sales Web CEO - Branded + White Label SEO Tools/Software designed for CMS Producers, Hosting Companies, Web & SEO Agencies. Also follow @WebCEO @WebCEONews

I wish I knew that we should work more on mobile search optimization, as most local searches today are from mobile devices. If you don't meet the mobile-first criteria and have not been included in mobile search results – you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Building citations was another secret goldmine for local SEO. Let NAP (name, address, phone number) be your local SEO mantra for the ages!

User reviews have been a more obvious SEO boost, and leveraging them was easy enough, but it took me a while to realize I could get more of them by simply asking.

Business directories seemed like a godsend at first, but finding the right ones for my website and figuring out how to use them properly turned out to be rather tricky when I started.

Schema markup was the most difficult to master, and I still find myself making missteps with it today. It’s one area I know can always use improvement.

 Shari Thurow / http://search-usability.com  https://twitter.com/sharithurow

~ Search & findability geek; information architect; website usability, UX, & search-engine friendly design pro; love London but Iceland ROCKS!!!

I have implemented local SEO for large brands as well as small mom-and-pop shops, and surprisingly, most challenges are the same for both types of businesses.

The #1 problem that franchises and brands have for their local websites is lack of unique content. If small-, medium-, and large-size businesses (or franchises) are to succeed with local SEO, each business or franchise MUST have unique content.

Here are some additional changes I often recommend to local businesses:

Product Pages:
Using the same product descriptions for 20 websites and waiting for user-generated content (such as product reviews) will not help each local site out of the starting gate.
Franchises and brands should allow some modifications of product descriptions (with permission, of course). And, if a franchisee can make the product image look better? Then allow that franchisee to use a modified graphic image with better alternative text and a caption where appropriate.

Customer Support Pages:

ALL local websites need a Support, Help, or Customer Service section of the website. This section should include a set of FAQs or Q&A. Leverage the feedback from the local business as customers and prospects ask different questions at different locations. Put the most common, unique questions in the FAQs section for each local website.

For example, one of my clients has multiple local store websites. Each product has a set of FAQs that is unique to the product. The Customer Service section has a separate set of FAQs.

People in the Marketing Department conduct reviews of customers’ concerns at each store every week. Then content is adjusted accordingly based on each local store. Since the local websites have different seasonal trends, the sets of questions at each store site tend to be unique.

Digital Content Assets:

Content assets help websites generate high quality link development. In a franchise business, the brand and the franchise owner should allow the local websites to have unique content assets, but also share assets across locations for efficiency (where appropriate). Types of content assets can include:

  • FAQ’s
  • Coupons/discounts
  • Articles
  • Guides
  • Fact sheets
  • Blogs
  • Glossary/Dictionary (for sites that use jargon)
  • Tools
  • Videos
  • Slideshows

Each local business owner should be able to select the best types of content assets for his/her website. If the brand wants to manage quality, they can put an approval process in place for monitoring the various assets. Communication among a franchise and franchisees should be open and honest.

Unique Photos of Business:

My final tip is the simplest one. Take photos of the entrance to the physical business. Put that photo on the website and in any trustworthy organization that allows photos in local listings.

In addition, if your local business is located in a place that has 4 noticeable seasons (spring, summer, autumn winter), then change the photo to align with the seasons.

In summary, franchise owners and brands should allow each local website to have unique content before user-generated content can exist.

Kaspar Szymanski / https://www.searchbrothers.com  https://twitter.com/kas_tweets

~ ex-Google web spam hunter, SEO consultant specializing in backlink risk analysis, penalty recovery assistance and in-house workshops.

Local SEO or optimizing landing pages for businesses specific to a certain area are all about very specific local information and structured data, all of which comes down to on-page signals.

That does not mean off-page signals are to be neglected but the priority clearly lies elsewhere entirely. Utilizing structured data to the full extent is the name of the game when it comes to local SEO.

Circling back to the original question, what is always of great importance and with local SEO more so is to fully understand the business model in the first place. An objective best achieved in collaboration with the site owner. Beyond that, truly understanding the target audience is a must.

The site owner can be helpful in sharing their insights. However, with franchise models, the relation between service provider and users isn’t always as close. Which is why a deep dive into the brands social media and outreach activity should be the first step. That allows you to paint a realistic image of the status quo, one that any SEO should have before they get started with their work.

Rick Ramos / http://www.rickramos.com/  https://twitter.com/ricktramos

~ #CMO of @HealthJoy - #HealthTech // Personal Blog http://www.RickRamos.com // Author of Content Marketing http://amzn.to/14kS4dc // Contributor to @VentureBeat

I’ve been working with SEO since the beginning of the industry in the 90’s. One thing that I wish I understood more was Content Marketing IS SEO.

I created a few wildly successful database driven SEO strategies early on in my career but it wasn’t until about 2011-12 that I really started focusing on content. That’s one of the reasons I decided to come out with my book “Content Marketing.”

At HealthJoy.com I still launch large scale database-driven projects but we’ve had more success with focused niche articles on topics most people don’t write about but our target audience appreciates.

An article on captive funding got us 250 social shares and a few huge leads, it was worth the 10 hours it took to write and research.

Marko Saric / http://howtomakemyblog.com/  https://twitter.com/MarkoSaric

~ Advisor and blogger at https://HowToMakeMyBlog.com . I write about content marketing, social media and blogging.

I started many years ago and the world has changed since then so the things I wish I knew then are not the same things I wish I knew if I were starting now or if I were starting in recent years.

Local SEO has changed a lot (like everything else really) since the mobile phone revolution. If I were starting again, that would be the most important thing to understand. The mobile basics need to be covered in order to get discovered locally these days. Nothing else will work as effectively.

On top of that, you need to keep everything up to date with your business page. Keep the correct address, contact info, opening hours and high quality pictures. Include relevant descriptions with all the popular keywords that people are looking for and links to your menu and reservations if you're running a restaurant).

After the basics are covered, the key is getting your customers to become loyal fans and review your business. And don't be afraid to ask for a review, it’s vital when people search “nearby” in Google Maps.

Anthony D. Nelson / http://www.northsideseo.com/  https://twitter.com/anthonydnelson

~ Digital Strategist & SEO. Consulting @NorthsideSEO. In-House @SwansonVitamins. Building @SSBWorld. Love being w/ @jennanelly & our two kids

My most important tip is to use structured data on everything and to build strong citations.

But, a frequent challenge with small, local clients is getting them to create content that thoroughly explains all of their services. Even though these small business owners know their industry inside and out, getting it written down can be intimidating and time consuming.

A good workaround for this issue can be to record a conversation with the owner. They are used to answering service questions daily on the phone and can talk about these issues easily.

Then, give your recorded conversation to your favorite copywriter or editor and have them use those insights and natural language phrases to create the on-page content. You should also include location info for the areas served, along with a review or testimonials.

Doing this simple process can help you break one generic service page into many focused pages or improve upon thin content, giving each service page a much stronger ability to rank.

Arnout Hellemans / http://onlinemarkethink.com  https://twitter.com/hellemans

Online fanatic who's interested in #SEO, #SEA, #CRO, #gadgets, #Android mobile phones and (offline) cooking. Online since 1992

If you have are a brand or franchise of shops get on Google My Business and use the .csv upload tool to get all the locations in Google maps. Once you’ve done that, there are a few things to make sure you get the maximum exposure; like:

  • Use a tool to fix all of your citations NAP hunter (free) or Yext (paid).
  • Ask for local Google reviews in store and through local listings.
  • Make sure the local franchisees can answer reviews that people place.
  • Create local pages on the brand domain with structured markup (local business in JSON-LD) and link to the Google My Business listing.
  • Update your GMB listing with video's, pictures and up-to-date opening hours.
  • Aim for local links, do local PR (local newspaper sites, local sports clubs, etc), there are some great possibilities out there.

Remember, consistency is key with local SEO.

Carrie Hill / http://ignitordigital.com/  https://twitter.com/carriehill

~ I'm passionate about search, social media, and Schema Markup! Tweet me to talk about it! Also love my Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox!

It’s critical to know how the hierarchy works for brands or franchises so that you can position the page structure and Schema markup correctly on the website.

If a brand is distributed by local shops, how do those shops relate to the brand?  Are they subsidiaries? Branches? Stores who feature the product, but not that brand exclusively?

With franchises, If you don't know how one location relates to another, where the regional headquarters are, where corporate is - how everything is organized - putting location-specific pages on a website is really difficult.

If you don't know the hierarchy, understanding how to sort out the Schema/structured data markup is very hit and miss.  A "branchOf" location is done different than a "parentOrganization", and a subsidiary is marked up different than a "branchOf."

Marcus Miller / http://www.bowlerhat.co.uk/  https://twitter.com/marcusbowlerhat

~ #SEO & #PPC Consultant. Founder of http://www.bowlerhat.co.uk . Columnist for @sengineland. Husband. Father. Mountain Biker. Gamer (board & video).

I am not sure if there is any one thing I wish I had known before I started working on Local SEO for brands and franchises. But, if I had to pick one thing it would have been some foresight regarding Google's gaps in dealing with the often aggressive spam in local. And subsequently, the approach needed to combat spammy competitors that can generate really solid results with simple hacks like changing the business name to include the targeted keywords.

You have to have a plan in place to combat spammy business listings, fake review listings and fake reviews. The reviews, in particular, can be fake good reviews on competitor sites and fake bad reviews on client sites. Google doesn’t monitor here and unless those reviews are really problematic they will often not be removed.

We have grown better over time, and by dealing with Google Support but all too often demonstrably bad reviews will still not be removed. By biggest learning in the space has been to not just focus on doing good SEO, but make sure address any spam.

Chris Dreyer / http://www.attorneyrankings.org/  https://twitter.com/Rankingsio

~ Rankings.io/ - Is a search engine optimization agency that supplies law firms, physicians, and small businesses with custom #SEO campaigns.

As it relates to larger brands with multiple locations, it has become apparent over time that you can’t have success with local SEO without a methodical and systematic approach.  That means you have to hit all the elements and make sure they are solid in order for the overall local campaign to be effective.

In no particular order, businesses should focus on building citations, getting reviews, building local links, improving the user experience, claiming top tier profiles like Google My Business, using location-based keywords, building location –based pages, improving site speed and generating location-based content.

If you can organize your strategy into an easily followed list of action items for local SEO, nothing will get left out and you’ll have a really strong local presence.

Venchito Tampon / http://sharprocket.com.ph  https://twitter.com/venchito14

~ CEO/Co-Founder of @sharprocketph, a word-class link building company, career coach and motivational speaker in Asia.

If there's one thing that I wished I had learned before - that would be technical skills (web coding for on-site optimization). Knowing how to code well is extremely important both for local and national SEO. It allows you to set the foundation of the website before actually proceeding to other marketing initiatives like creating new content assets and link building.

Brian Jackson / http://brianjackson.io/  https://twitter.com/brianleejackson

~ Dir. of Inbound Marketing @Kinsta High-Performance 🚀 #WordPress hosting. Obsessed with #SEO + #webperf. Blogger @mywoorkup Developer @_perfmatters @wpcouponsio

I used to work for an agency and dealing with SEO for 25+ locations around the United States was a daily routine for me. While some might think SEO is hard, local SEO is a whole other beast. In my opinion, local SEO is actually harder.

Things such as Google+ Business listings, directory listings, etc. can make quite a bit of difference. These tools have become easier to manage over the years, but it takes commitment. On-paage SEO also has to be customized per location. For businesses with a lot of locations, this could mean having to create multiple pages for similar topics, and then optimizing for local.

From having worked with local SEO for years and now ranking terms globally for years... I have high respect for those that do local SEO every day. It is a lot of work, but when done right, it can really pay off.

Colin Klinkert / http://www.serped.com https://twitter.com/colinklinkert

~ Colin is a full-time online business owner, investor, internet marketer and entrepreneur. Check him out at Platform.ly and you can follow him on Twitter here.

If there is one thing that I wish I would have known before starting local SEO for franchises is  - Local and unique content for each location page.

Fresh and high-quality content plays a crucial role in ranking your web pages.

Brands and Franchises these days are smart enough to have dedicated landing pages for each of their locations. But one thing that most franchises still ignore is - content duplication on these different location pages.

Usually, franchise’s offerings remain same, they just change the location name and address on the landing page. The remaining content does not have any differentiation.

There is a reason a franchise enters into a new city. But, unless it builds the trust with the people, it would be hard for them to grow. This is where going local or having the local content can help.

From the outset, it looks like a fundamental problem, still it is one of the most common Local SEO mistakes that most of the franchises commit.

Steve Wiideman / https://www.wiideman.com/  https://twitter.com/seosteve

~ SEO Expert and Consultant, savvy with Universal Search and internet marketing. Call (562) 732-4417. #seo #sem #analytics #searchmarketing #seoexpert

What I wish I knew before starting local SEO for multi-location and franchises was the common lack of communication between corporate and the individual franchises.

Over the years, we've learned that creating a learning portal is the great place to drop cheat sheet downloads, recorded webinars, and other resources for the individual location managers. We've learned to hold monthly webinars where our team plays a supportive role in answering tough SEO questions

I also wish I knew about enterprise platforms such as Brandify and Rio SEO, who do an amazing job handling fundamental data hygiene and syndication roles that would take hours to do manually, creating bulk sheets and migrating one format to another.

JR Ridley / http://gofishdigital.com/  https://twitter.com/ridley_jr

~ Digital Marketing Associate, specializing in SEO and Reputation Management. You'll never catch me without a smile. That's a promise.

Despite the increased prominence of local search results, local SEO rankings don’t always translate to organic traffic increases. This is something we’ve seen for multiple clients across a variety of industries.

Clients whose Google My Business profiles are appearing #1 in the map results and in local pack results have more often than not actually been experiencing a drop in organic traffic.

This is especially true over the last few months as Google has begun to roll out local packs for a wider variety of search results. More and more, searchers are engaging with businesses in the search results by asking for directions, calling the business, or looking up business hours directly from the business’ Google listing instead of clicking through to the website.

As an agency who uses organic traffic as one of our key performance indicators, this has required a shift in our client reporting to explain why sales numbers may be higher than before while organic traffic is declining.

What I wish I would have known before starting local SEO is to ensure that you have an effective attribution strategy in place.

When people call into your business, make sure the employees answering the phones ask how they found your company.

Did they find you on Google? Yelp? Through a referral site? Offline? The same is true for walk-in customers. Did they navigate to your business from Google? Was that the first time they’d found your business?

Asking these types of questions before beginning local SEO can often provide a much more accurate count of the effectiveness of your local SEO, rather than relying solely on organic traffic sessions.

Chris J. Everett / https://www.captivateseo.com https://www.linkedin.com/in/atlantaseoconsultant

~ Atlanta SEO Consultant, Founder & CEO of Captivate Search Marketing, Creator of the Search First Methodology.

There are several points I wish I fully understood about Local SEO before I got into the business nearly a decade ago. Among the items that stand out most to me are how Google has never really done a fantastic job of keeping SPAM out of the Local Pack. That sentiment extends beyond company listings that violate Google’s terms and conditions by stuffing keywords into their business names or using fake addresses.

It also applies directly to the incredible amount of review SPAM that Google just can’t seem to filter out. It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of Local SEO - trying to do things on the up and up, only to see companies that use shady SEO tactics with prime placements on the Local Pack.

When it comes to multi-location SEO and SEO for franchises, what I wish I understood going in was the politics of the Franchisor/Franchisee relationship. In all of the franchise SEO projects I’ve quoted or been a part of, it never ceases to amaze me how most Franchisors put nearly 100% of the digital marketing onus on the Franchisee.

Because of this arrangement, Franchisors end up going out and creating their own websites and investing (not always) in their own local SEO programs. The Franchisor sees the perceived benefit of deflecting the out-of-pocket cost of digital marketing to the Franchisee, but the downfall of this model is they end up creating a fractured local search footprint for their brand. As a top-level example, there’s no set standard for URL or Location naming conventions, and instead of having a massively authoritative corporate domain, they end up with dozens of small microsites created by the individual franchise owners. It’s a relationship I’ve never really come to terms with. If Franchisors could get past the short-sighted dollars and cents conversations, and were open to understanding how investing in multi-local SEO themselves could benefit them, they would greatly increase the power and financial value of their Franchise brand.

 

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