Local SEO is a strange beast. To do it for a business, you need to know both how to do “national” SEO, Google My Business SEO, and how Google handles your target searches in different markets.
That means search engine marketers in Enterprise Local have an infinite number of challenges.
What are the most common challenges in local SEO for business?
- Prioritization of local with internal stakeholders.
- Having a single source of truth for location data.
- Optimization of the store search.
- Google My Business management and optimization.
- Establishing a local search presence for companies and marketplaces in catchment areas.
1. Local internal prioritization
It sounds strange, but I can’t tell you how many multi-location organizations we’ve worked with that didn’t prioritize the locations for the digital marketing organization.
With retailers, we found that the organization tended to focus on “national” ecommerce marketing. Locations were a nuisance that were invested as little as possible.
It makes sense. Dealing with hundreds or thousands of locations is complicated.
At the same time, the sites themselves are usually your greatest asset when it comes to SEO.
The challenge with each of these organizations was convincing them to prioritize “local”.
The solution is pretty simple: show them the money.
While there are many ways to do this, here is where to start.
Define the entire addressable market for top categories
Let’s say a multi-location e-tailer has 40 categories that are important to them from a sales POV. It would be helpful for them to understand how their website fares in each market for valuable keywords in these categories.
This is not an easy task because the more categories and markets a company serves, the more data you have to process. For a truly national brand, we would often start with 10 million keywords and 5,000 markets.
As I said, there is a lot of data. We won’t go into detail on how to work with this data, other than that the outcome of this analysis should show how the brand, by category, compares to its competitors in all markets.
You need to be able to see where the brand is strong and where it is weak.
Where it’s weak, we can see which competitors are dominating and how they’re doing it. In particular, we want to see markets and categories with only a few winners.
This is a signal that the brand has an opportunity. Once we have the categories and markets with opportunities, we can apply search volume data to get an idea of how big that opportunity is.
Assuming the opportunity is great enough, this now provides the rationale and roadmap for investing.
Test your plan in a limited number of markets
Once you have your plan, choose a small number of locations where you want to test your plan. Hopefully you will have access to an analysis team who can help you with the statistics necessary for the test to be valid.
Run your test, measure the results, and then let the statistics team estimate what the results would be if rolled out at all locations.
A successful test + multi-location math can often give the company the confidence to make larger assignments.
2. Have a single source of truth for location data
With the advent of local listing management companies like Yext and Uberall, this is no longer such a big problem.
However, we still come across multisite companies that don’t have a single source of truth for all of their location information.
If you don’t already have this, put it to work.
3. Optimization of the store search
Many brands outsource their store finders to third-party providers. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but there are a few ways we’ve seen this go wrong:
Store locators for searching only
For SEO, an effective store locator should be a basic linked set of state, city, and location pages that a bot or user can simply click to take them to any page. But many brands often create a locator page with a search box for their store finders to help them find your location.
A few years ago we looked at the locators for the top 100 US retailers and found that those with search-only rankings for ~ 50% fewer keywords than those with a linkable State> City> Location architecture.
So make sure your locator architecture is built this way.
Content of the location page
Often times, brands budget for building a locator on their website but leave nothing for the content.
There’s nothing wrong with a simple location page with company name, address, phone number, product / service categories, etc. But a location page with unique, spiced up content that is relevant to both the location and the topics you’re looking for can definitely improve SEO performance.
This is where your location managers can be helpful. We often see successful brands use surveys of their location managers to get unique local content.
Other sources can include local customer reviews, syndicated local point of interest data, and products that are popular in the respective market.
Most ecommerce queries these days show local results near the top of the SERPs.
We often see brands that win in Local Packs link from their location pages to their most important categories.
Think of it as a way to signal to Google that your locations are relevant to these categories.
4. Google My Business management and optimization
Google My Business (GMB) really shouldn’t be a challenge – I mean, it’s just a simple set of business directories for your locations – but there are a million ways it can go wrong for businesses.
Here are just a few of the challenges and opportunities at GMB.
Beware of duplicate entries
It’s amazing that duplicate listings are still a thing with GMB, but I just spoke to a company in a catchment area that was having ranking issues. It was pretty easy to see that they had duplicate GMB entries.
The minute they deleted the duplicate entries, their ranking rose 15 positions for the main keyword they were targeting. So keep an eye on them.
Monitor your GMB records
Your GMB entries are constantly changing. Users add photos and reviews.
Google can overwrite your data if it trusts another party’s data more than you do.
GMB is not a “set it and forget it” thing. Create a system to regularly monitor changes to your GMB pages.
While you can see a lot of changes from the GMB dashboard, it won’t capture everything. That’s one of the reasons we created this free, open source tool to monitor image changes on your GMB.
Scaling GMB contributions
GMB posts are brief announcements that you can attach to your GMB business profile. This can be an inexpensive way to generate high-conversion visits to your website. Posts can contain text, photos, or videos.
The challenge we often see is that companies are often not prepared to produce content for every location. If you want to create GMB posts for multiple locations, implement a system to create GMB-enabled marketing materials for new promotions so that they can be published.
This often involves creating a GMB-sized (400 x 300) version of approved marketing images and copies for GMB as part of any new promotion.
You should also make sure that you add a tracking parameter to links from your GMB posts so that you can measure the performance in your analytics.
5. Local search presence for SABs and marketplaces
Not every local corporate brand has locations. There are many local marketplace brands like Yelp, DoorDash, and Zillow, as well as service companies (SABs) like plumbers and roofers that target local searches but cannot appear in Local Packs. This is because they have no physical locations in their target markets.
And that means they are missing out on a lot of potential clicks and revenue.
This won’t work for every brand, but for those with the right business model, setting up a “store-in-store” at a partner brand’s location is a great way to get additional local visibility of the pack.
FedEx OnSite Services at Walgreen’s are a good example of how this can work:
And of course, if the leads are worth high enough, you might even want to consider opening physical locations in certain areas just to try and rank well in the local packs.
As I said above, there are an infinite number of local SEO tactics corporate brands can employ.
As with any other marketing channel, you can get creative, test, measure, and iterate to overcome these common local business SEO challenges.
Screenshot by the author, July 2021