Andrew Beckman – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Tue, 04 Oct 2016 16:32:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 Multi-location local SEO strategy: domain structure /multi-location-local-seo-strategy-domain-structure-259732 Tue, 04 Oct 2016 16:32:31 +0000 http:/?p=259732 How should brands with multiple brick-and-mortar locations structure their web properties? Columnist Andrew Beckman weighs in.

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Photo credit: Clark Street Mercantile

Enterprise brands with a major brick-and-mortar presence have a unique challenge in digital marketing: connecting with consumers online, with the intent of ultimately encouraging them to visit a physical business location to make a purchase.

By creating a more user-focused experience that includes individual location landing pages for physical business locations, franchise systems and multi-location brands can turn user queries into business visits.

Developing location pages that are an extension of the primary brand domain allows brands to capture valuable real estate on search engine results pages (SERPs) and rank more prominently on hyper-local search terms above online directories like Yelp, Insider Pages and more.

Often, during the initial research phase of the customer journey, a consumer is looking for a product or service but is brand-agnostic. Leveraging this type of local SEO strategy can help drive in-store sales from these brand-agnostic consumers by tapping into coveted geo-specific, non-branded search terms and phrases.

However, many brand teams and franchisors have adopted a policy of allowing their franchisees and location owners to create their own landing pages and website domains instead of creating location pages on the primary brand domain. This type of independently executed approach can be found across a variety of industry verticals, and it can lead to the creation of domains like this:

lawn-doctor-geo-url

As you can see, the domain is branded, but with a geo-modified URL.

Another version of this singular approach can involve using a non-branded, geo-modified domain, like this one for a men’s salon in Glendale, Colorado:

sport-clips-geo-url

There has been a debate going on for quite some time as to whether brands should take an approach that manages local SEO from the top down or allows individual locations to manage SEO on their own — a “centralized strategy” vs. a “decentralized strategy.” Let’s take a look at both approaches and evaluate the pros and cons.

Decentralized strategy

Establishing a decentralized strategy essentially involves allowing your individual franchisees to run their own digital marketing programs by themselves, with no guidelines, management or oversight by the brand or corporate teams. This approach can include both paid and organic media strategies and is often summed up in a fashion that resembles a “wild west” scenario with each franchisee responsible for its own local digital marketing.

When it comes to SEO specifically, the use of many domains — such as xyzdenver.com and xyzdallas.com — creates the challenge of having to manage each domain separately, costing the brand the opportunity to build valuable ranking authority around one primary domain. Each property also ends up needing its own web analytics setup, content strategy and more. Multiply that by thousands of locations, and you’re looking at a scenario that requires a massive amount of resources to manage.

Furthermore, if these sites are managed by a third-party vendor who decides to delete those previously indexed URLs when your relationship ends, you could find yourself in serious trouble trying to gain back the SERP equity you’ve lost.

The “holy grail” of search engine marketing is to drive incremental visits from consumers who are not familiar with your brand and thus tend to find you when searching with geo-modified and/or non-branded terms, such as “hardware store near me.”  Trying to compete for these desired phrases on thousands of different domains creates a vastly more complex world for your SEO practice. It necessitates vast amounts of content production to populate and maintain multiple sites.

Additionally, this strategy means that valuable links to your brand will be spread across many local domains instead of being concentrated on one central source. This creates an environment that ultimately doesn’t build a tremendous amount of ranking authority because the search engine signals are being spread too thinly across multiple domains.

Note: Some multi-location brands have employed a tactic that leverages subdomains for location pages, where the local property shares a root domain with the main brand website but is sitting on an entirely separate IP block. There is some debate over whether Google treats these subdomains as separate websites versus a single website, and it seems to depend somewhat on how the subdomains are set up. Use caution if employing this strategy.

Centralized strategy

Establishing a centralized strategy involves ensuring the franchisor or brand management team is in ultimate control over the decision-making on key aspects of both national and hyper-local strategies. These key aspects can include the brand position, messaging, important seasonal and direct marketing initiatives and more.

When a single primary domain continues to build authority over time, you afford yourself a much better opportunity for improved link acquisition, which is one of the main signals that helps drive up your rankings by allowing you to appear higher on non-branded geo-modified queries.

From a local search standpoint, it’s also important to create metro and location pages so that your brand appears in SERPs for non-branded and geo-modified phrases. Those pages (e.g., Google Maps, Apple Maps) can also be associated with your local business listings by using the appropriate location URLs. It’s important to ensure that those pages also have the appropriate content, metadata and structured data in place to appear on organic local search queries.

When using the centralized approach, an ideal location URL would look something like this: https://www.yourbrand.com/new-york-city-ny/325-manhattan-midtown-east.

Notice the location page is set up in a subdirectory of the root domain (not a subdomain) so that the root domain can assist this page with internal linking strategies to drive more ranking authority. If your brand is selling products in a physical store, creating pages under the primary location page to show things such as updated inventory by store location can help give the consumer more useful information as they decide where to make a purchase.

Furthermore, creating metro pages within the main brand domain also allows a brand or franchisor to go after larger geographical and regional phrases, such as “Brooklyn athletic club,” by populating several locations under one domain and structuring the content to focus on those larger regional phrases.

An example of this type of metro page structure looks something like this: https://www.yourbrand.com/metro/new-york-city-ny.

In doing so, your brand now has hyper-local, regional and state-level structure in place to compete on all geographical levels.

In conclusion

Local landing page subdirectories can be very beneficial for the overall health of your local SEO strategy, particularly if your brand has a multitude of brick-and-mortar locations. As Google continues to evaluate and leverage different ranking factors, centralizing your efforts with a focus on one primary domain will benefit lower-level location pages, giving the physical business locations a sound SEO foundation that is set up to allow for more prominent organic rankings.

As search engines continue to refine their ranking algorithms, the battle to drive greater traffic from the SERPs becomes more critical as time goes on. Having a solid, centralized foundation that focuses on developing individual location pages can give your brand the edge in helping capture the attention of brand-agnostic consumers in an attempt to turn them into your customers.

 

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Local SEO in 2017 and beyond: managed strategy vs. automation /local-seo-2017-beyond-managed-strategy-vs-automation-257690 Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:25:51 +0000 http:/?p=257690 There are many great software options for automating local search tasks, but columnist Andrew Beckman argues that a human-managed approach may still be necessary to see results.

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Over the past five-plus years, the digital marketing world has seen an influx of Local Search SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platforms emerge with different value propositions for brands with physical store locations.

Generally speaking, these platforms allow companies to store business location data (Name, Address, Phone Number) in one central location, and then subsequently push that information out to various channels.

While SaaS platforms allow digital marketers to manage local business listings on social media and search engine channels, brands themselves are actually expecting greater visibility in organic search results in the process, which does not always occur. 

Brand marketers are also realizing that using a SaaS platform requires that they must also budget the human resources to not only manage the platform on a day-to-day basis, but to also consider the various other organic ranking attributes that are needed for a successful SEO program.

While SaaS platforms are often presented as turnkey solutions that operate automatically with need for little else, the aforementioned internal resource expenses still need to be factored into an overall ROI in addition to the general SaaS subscriptions and fees.

While automation has some benefits, there are still many aspects of local SEO that need to be both monitored and managed by real human beings on an ongoing basis. These include:

  • Analysis of where individual business listings are appearing in Google, Bing, Apple, etc.
  • Data accuracy and ranking position.
  • Percentage of visible business listings for key search terms and phrases (mobile and desktop).
  • Content management and optimization for better user experience and SEO performance.
  • Analytics tracking, measurement and analysis to better inform key strategy adjustments.
  • Which channels are actually contributing to conversions.

While SaaS platforms can help streamline portions of your local SEO strategy to be more effective, a managed service approach that utilizes both technology and actual digital marketing experts can provide even greater dividends. Let’s break down the benefits of each approach and highlight some differences as well:

Using SaaS platforms for SEO

A large number of SaaS platforms allow brand marketers to centralize, authenticate and distribute business data and information across directories and networks. The syndication of data goes directly to various search engines, social media networks and other directories, which helps brands scale location data in order to rank organically.

It’s important to note that many SaaS platforms have revenue sharing agreements in place, and as a result provide paid inclusion programs that help update your listings faster and with additional enhanced content fields (for a price). However, paid inclusion programs can only be leveraged to improve ranking in local business directories, such as Yelp, 411.com, Local.com, etc. Major search engines and organizations like Google, Bing, and Apple do not allow these types of paid programs to influence organic ranking.

Here are some benefits to using a SaaS platform:

  • Ensuring business listings are updated with appropriate content.
  • Social content publishing.
  • Citation distribution to hundreds of directories.
  • Pin verification (giving you the exact latitude and longitude of a location).
  • Citation analysis (making sure NAP is relevant on all directory locations).
  • Compiling reviews from various sources.

In addition to pushing data to channels directly, you also have the ability to use database aggregators to distribute the location data to numerous directories that assist with citation building.  The main companies who have a list of channels they push data to include Factual, Acxiom, Infogroup and Neustar.

At the end of the day, SaaS helps automate aspects of your local SEO campaign, but automation can only take you so far.

Managed services + technology platforms (the agency model)

Technology obviously makes digital marketing much easier in many ways, but managing a proper local business listing and local SEO program requires actual human resources to dig into the data, channels, performance and strategy in order to better optimize for improved ROI.

Web analytics, Google Search Console and paid search data must truly be analyzed and interpreted in order for the right actions to be taken. Content needs to be created, distributed and optimized. Citations must be routinely monitored. Backlinks pointing to the primary brand domain must not only be in place, but continually evaluated for authority and ranking value.

After the Google Venice and Google Pigeon algorithm updates, there has been an ongoing integration of traditional organic ranking factors into local search results. It is wise to expect there will be more changes coming as the local search ecosystem continually evolves; and since Google has a significant investment in crawling and ranking the web, brands can be better prepared for those changes by focusing more on what lies at the heart of SEO: site structure, content, and links.

Although some of the automation platforms available on the market today can provide for a centralized repository for your brand data, it’s what happens to that data after you have it centralized that is the most important element to your local listings strategy. No automation technology or SaaS platform by itself can tackle the primary SEO elements that actually impact ranking — it’s simply not possible. Brands need to employ a comprehensive strategy that includes:

  • High-touch strategic analysis and execution for increasing exposure of your local assets and for assessing an ROI relative to a successful local listing management program.
  • Constant analysis of paid search performance data through web analytics, thus providing actionable analysis for an agency to make the beneficial changes.
  • Site structure, content and link analysis are the pillars of SEO and need to be managed and evaluated on an ongoing basis to maximize organic traffic opportunities.

As local listing management becomes more complex, the need for organic optimization is becoming even more important than ever for achieving higher rankings. Having a SaaS platform run your program ultimately becomes a challenge; other SEO factors are playing a part in impacting higher rankings, and by only using software, you’re essentially leveraging a single arrow out of the entire quiver of that is a comprehensive local SEO strategy.

Having actual human beings constantly managing the complexities of a sound local SEO strategy is always going to be much more effective in the long-term approach that is inherent to SEO itself, and simply checking a box by deploying SaaS tools is no longer going to pass as having a strong SEO strategy. While a SaaS platform gives you the ability to make some updates to your local listings, you still need to apply human resources that are responsible for actually getting involved in the day-to-day activity of optimizing the program in order to ensure the best possible organic ranking.

Furthermore, someone needs to be held accountable for performance and analysis, and SaaS platforms aren’t in a position to provide those details — their responsibility and accountability often ends at execution of the campaign.

Summary

In conclusion, the fact remains that legitimate SEO strategies cannot be automated, and taking shortcuts by using nothing more than automated tools will result in less-than-satisfactory performance. Furthermore, when you discontinue using a SaaS platform, your organic ranking authority diminishes because rich listing content like local images often get removed, while NAP info becomes increasingly vulnerable to changes (or lack thereof).

We’ll leave you with this analogy to clarify it even further: a SaaS platform is like a rented apartment, whereas a managed approach to SEO is like owning a mortgage on a home. At the end of the day, the apartment may be satisfactory, but you don’t actually own the equity you’ve worked so hard to build up.

When you take a strategic, hands-on approach that requires human beings doing the real work, the dividends pay off in both the short term and the long term. Brands should no longer be satisfied with minimal short term lift provided by SaaS platforms, but instead should be demanding tangible, long-term performance and results that can only be provided by implementing a managed approach to SEO.

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