Fifteen years ago, I was invited to speak at my first Search Marketing conference in Dallas. Since then, a lot has changed in what people search for, what properties they use to search and, most obviously, what devices they use to search. For businesses, the goal is the same; can my customers find me when they search for my name, will my brand stand out if they search within my category, and will I drive additional feet in the door and dollars into my bank account?
Back then, people did searches on their desktop computers using search engines like Lycos, Alta Vista and Yahoo! (Google was just picking up traction amongst insiders) while on dial up modem connections. Today people have faster computers and connection speeds with the phone in their pockets.
The challenge for brands like Starbucks (and Shake Shack and Pluckers Wing Bar and Wayfair and Verizon — any brand with dozens or thousands of locations) boils down to two things: search and discovery. How easy is it for consumers to find the brand of restaurant, store or franchise branch? That’s search. And how likely is one to find a particular store over another through a category search? That’s discovery.
The number one secret to getting results in local SEO and being found by your customers is simple! It has been the same for the past 15 years. It is part of what I call the 5Rs of SEO.
At the end of the day, if you answer your customers potential needs and questions better than your competitors you will be found. It starts with being relevant to them. So what does that really mean?
Today we’ll start with a restaurant example:
The top questions people search for are:
1. Where is there a location near me? This can include both branded search and category discovery questions.
2. What hours are they open? How do I get in touch with them?
3. What is on their menu?
4. Is this the best option available?
5. Will they meet any of my requirements and restrictions? This could be anything from dietary restrictions, available tables at the right time, hosting my business meeting there or if they will be playing the playoff game tonight.
Step one: Deliver Relevant Content to your Customers
The foundation of any local SEO strategy is the store locator. Unfortunately, this is also where most multi-location businesses go wrong. Most businesses limit this to a technology solution that offers the customer a search within a map and return some very limited results from a database. They also occasionally allow you to link to a PDF menu file that your customers must download (and hate to on their mobile devices) that are formatted like the actual menu and are very difficult to read on their phones. If this function of your website is not fast and friendly for browsers on their mobile phones, it is likely costing you customers.
First, every one of your locations should have their own web page on your website. Preferably, they should be found on your website at brand.com/locator/northwestAustin. Here are some suggestions as to what should be on each page, not everything is mandatory, but they can all help. They should include the location name, address and exact lat/long coordinates (a map helps as well), contact information and hours (this includes phone, email and social media contact methods), a menu (with or without prices), reviews, press mentions or links to reviews (both 3rd party and reviews from sites like Google Places and Yelp), and some sense of content that is local community based to show that the business is involved in the community. From there you should be developing content to answer all their other questions, such as “I am eating paleo but my child is gluten free – what options do I have from your menu for both of us?” This could be done in the form of blog posts, videos or other types of content either developed by the individual location or the corporate office.
Step two: Syndicate your Location Listings
This bank of location pages should be the most accurate and comprehensive set on the brand’s locations. Once this has been established, these exact set of data must be syndicated to Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Bing, and 100+ other directories on an a regular basis. There are numerous technological services that can help you with this part of the equation (we’ll do a review of them soon).
Step three: Leverage Your Social Reputation
Social channels are a significant signal to the search engines on how to rank you. Google’s algorithm is using social signals (among thousands of other factors) — likes, shares, comments, reviews, ratings — to assess the relevance and rank of a location when they deliver their results. This is one reason it is important to maintain your Google+ Local pages. Other sites to consider are Facebook, Yelp, Twitter. Google, Facebook and several other advertising networks have also been offering location based ads to target people within a certain distance of your location. One of the methods is the Facebook Local Awareness ads. These are unique ads on a per-location basis that can either drive foot traffic to the physical location through a “Get Directions” call-to-action or else drive web traffic to the local landing page, Facebook Local Page, or Google+ Local Page through a web link. Here are 8 ways Facebook recommends using these local awareness ads.
The best part for our customers is that the data generated from this customer behavior in search and social can help us understand where are your customers are today, not just based on stale demographics, but on actual behavior on sites like Facebook and Google. Consider this a way to do customer location targeting.
There are other things you can do to further enhance your pages, like location walkthroughs, live chat etc.
What if you own a retail shop?
A recent study showed that 44% of online shoppers in the U.S. began their product searches on Amazon.com. Just 34% use search engines such as Google, and the rest use other retailers’ websites. We will look at how to deal with this as a local product retailer in a coming blog post.