Top 4 Issues Wrecking Local SEO For Multi-Location Businesses

10/07/2015 17:28

Why Your Locations Don’t Rank

So, you have partnered with a digital agency. You have been doing content marketing. You have even done some SEO. Yet, your locations are not visible in local searches. What gives?

Unfortunately, the backbone of local SEO relies on more than traditional authority and good marketing. The good news is that it is all very achievable given a bit of hard work and some consideration for individual locations rather than just the brand as a whole.

Following are the top five issues we see that are holding multi-location businesses back from achieving strong local visibility in search. Get these sorted, and (in most cases) your individual stores will begin ranking in the local and localized organic search results.

1. Website Issues

Your website is the center of your online marketing universe, so you need to get the basics right here and then work out from here. Google has a habit of providing vague and contradictory advice; however, when it comes to ranking individual locations, it has provided fairly clear instructions. The following list of common website issues:

  • No location pages. Ideally, each store location should have its own unique, well-optimized page. While it is possible to create a single page that covers a given area or region, think about it from a user perspective — it is rare that a regional page will be able to deliver the specific information a searcher is looking for as easily as an individual location page.
  • Non-discoverable location pages. If your location pages are only available through a search or branch finder on your site, then Google may not be able to find them. If Google can’t find your location pages, they won’t index them — and local searchers won’t find them.
  • Poor location page quality. Do your location pages provide the user with everything they need to contact your business? Are the opening hours there? Is there any specific local information? Do they link to other elements of the site that are relevant to this location? Is there a map? The more value you provide on these pages and the more they serve the intent behind the user search query, the better these pages will perform.
  • Poor overall site quality. Is the site over-optimized? Are the location pages largely the same, barring a few key details? Is the content well written? Is the site technically well put together? Is the site usable on a phone? Is it fast to respond? Quality, uniqueness and relevance should be your focus when working on your site else you risk a dampening effect from various qualitative components of the search algorithm.
  • Penalties. Are there any known or suspected issues that have affected traffic? Penalties? Dodgy links? Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) will detail manual penalties, but there are many different shades of filtering that need to be considered and addressed if the site has lost rather than gained traffic over the years.

This may be a giveaway that I am hungry whilst writing this, but I like the location pages on the Domino’s Pizza site — they are location specific and have unique offers for each store, opening times, links to online ordering for pickup or delivery, and a link to a map. What more can a hungry man (or search engine spider) want from a location page?

(Note: For those hungry for more information on how to structure location landing pages, check out my previous article, “Local SEO Landing Pages 2.0.”)

2. Google My Business

As most multi-location businesses know, getting set up with a Google My Businessaccount is crucial to getting your business information visible in Google products like Search, Maps and Google+.

Google provides a (relatively) clear set of guidelines regarding how local businesses should conduct themselves if they want any play in the local search results. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for pages to violate policy guidelines without any real nefarious intent. Factor in some overly aggressive SEO tactics, and you have a recipe for local invisibility.

Common problems tend to be with the following elements of a Google My Business profile:

  • Name. Make sure the business name you provide is indeed the exact name of your business. Not the name and the location. Not the name and some keywords. Certainly not just some spammy keywords. Your name should be your name. That goes for all locations. Really.
  • Address. Your business address should be accurate and consistent with how it appears elsewhere on the web (including both your website and external citations). I find it helps to make sure Google understands your address and move the pin if need be to get it correct.
  • Phone. Your phone number should be a local number that connects people directly with the local store. As with the address, the phone number should match the number on the location page of your website and be consistent across your various citations throughout the web. Additionally, if you only have one phone number for your whole business (rather than separate numbers for each location), that is not going to work.
  • Website URL. The website URL should be your actual website — ideally, the specific location page with a matching name, address and phone number (NAP).
  • Categories. Ensure you choose the most accurate category first and use the least amount of categories possible. Less is more.
  • Consistency. For multi-location businesses, keep it consistent from one location to the next. Ensure categories and names are the same, and try to use local numbers and location page URLs relevant to each location.
  • Completeness. Fill out your profile. Ensure it looks the part and is 100% complete. Include photos and good descriptive copy. Consider using a virtual tour if you believe it will add value.

Remember, Google is the sheriff here; it lays down the law for local search success (in Google, at least). In many cases, dealing with Google My Business issues can have some startling and instantaneous results (if, of course, that is your problem) — we have seen businesses go from nowhere to top three by fixing simple problems with the name, address, phone number and categories.

3. Citations & NAP Consistency

NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone Number, and a consistent NAP is crucial for local visibility. (We also have to consider the web address here, so this is often expanded to NAP+W.)

Every mention of your business around the web is known as a citation. Citations may feature all or part of the NAP. Ensuring a consistent NAP can be tricky for a single-location business — when managing multiple locations, there is an almost exponential potential for things to go awry.

Consider this very conservative example:

  • 10 x locations
  • 3 x name variations
  • 2 x address variations for each office
  • 3 x phone number variations for each office
  • 3 x website variations (.com,, old address)

Each location then has 54 potential NAP variations (3 x 2 x 3 x 3). We have ten locations, so we have a potential of 540 variations on addresses across a tiny, ten-location business. This is before we consider listings that totally goof the address. In practice, it is rarely that bad — but what happens when you have 100 locations? 1,000? 10,000? What kind of impact does this data inconsistency have?

Throw in a rebrand, some acquisitions, and several closed locations, and suddenly we can’t trust your citations and business information — and neither can Google.

(Note: There is no need to worry about common variations and abbreviations — e.g., “Street” vs. “St.” — when we talk about NAP consistency. Rather, we are looking at actual inconsistencies in the way the address is presented, as this undermines the trust a machine system like Google has that you are where you say you are.)

The best way I have found to visualize what we need here is to think of a video signal. If the signal is strong and clear, then the sound and video are crystal clear. If there is interference, then the signal becomes fuzzy and we can’t get a clear picture. If your NAP+W is a mess, then you are not sending a strong, consistent signal regarding your locations that Google can trust.

For a business with tens, hundreds or thousands of locations, ensuring clear, trustworthy location signals across your entire business can be somewhat tricky. The following are the most common issues affecting NAP consistency for multi location businesses:

  • Multiple phone numbers for a single location. Many businesses have multiple phone numbers at each location. There may also be national phone numbers. For each specific location, the phone number needs to be local and consistent across the location page, citations and Google My Business listing.
  • Name changes and acquisitions. If a business has changed its name or has name variations, this can cause problems. Similarly, where a business has acquired other firms and the name has not been consistently updated (or old listings have not been reclaimed), this can cause inconsistency and duplication issues.
  • Closed stores & moves. Business often locations close and/or move to a new address. When this happens, citations become out of date, and listings remain for business locations that no longer exist. Citation work must take into account closed or moved locations.
  • Multiple web addresses. If your site has changed its URL (or has URL variations), then having variations across your citations can have a negative impact. Think .com,, with a hyphen, without, old web address, etc.
  • Address variations. Your address should be something that Google understands and is 100% consistent across your website, location pages, Google My Business and citations. This sounds so obvious, yet many business addresses have unit numbers and other elements that make them a little more complicated than a residential address.
  • Less is more. The old SEO “more, more, more” mentality is alive and well in citationsville, yet this can be hugely damaging. It is difficult enough to keep 50 key citations accurate, but if you have 250 (and many of those are low quality and hard to update), you are doing yourself more harm than good. Many sites that are struggling have way too many citations at the root of their inconsistency problems.

With all of these points, we are looking for consistency across the location page on the site, the Google My Business listing and the citations.

There are some mature tools out there now for dealing with NAP consistency issues: Moz LocalBrightLocal and Whitespark are all worth a look. Tools aside, I am something of a fan of manual analysis here, using some Google-Fu to identify citations in the order that Google returns them, as this gives us some idea of which ones the search engine considers authoritative.

4. Local Content

This is less of a problem with what is there and more of a problem with what is missing. Throwing out clear location signals is easy when you have a single location. When you are looking at businesses with hundreds or thousands of locations, then things get a whole lot more complicated.

This is where local content comes to the rescue. Effort has to be made to connect the business with the local community and bolster location signals.

I am a big fan of creating sections in the site for each each location loaded with location-specific content (or what my fellow columnist Greg Gifford terms “local content silos“). These mini-sites exist within the crawlable architecture of your website, but provide additional detail relating to the individual location. If we also have location-specific news feeds and social integration, we are going some way towards illustrating that this is a physical entity in the real world and can be trusted as such.