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A Guide To Local SEO For Large Enterprises & Franchises

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A Guide To Local SEO For Large Enterprises & Franchises

Local SEO is a pretty complex beast. There are many moving parts that are just not part of an organic enterprise strategy.

And, when it comes to franchises and Local SEO, it can get even more complex as the “who is in charge of local SEO” answer is vague at best.

In this article, we will discuss the challenges enterprises/franchises have when it comes to local SEO.

First, let’s talk about this: Why do enterprises tend to view local SEO as a grocery checklist?

In short, local SEO fails when businesses lack a well-structured plan.

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Common misconceptions include, “If I complete A, B, and C, then my local presence will improve,” or “If we’re doing traditional SEO, local will fall into place.”

Incorrect!

In order for local SEO to succeed, businesses must define what success looks like and develop an ongoing plan that is scalable.

While businesses of any size can fall susceptible to this mentality, it’s the large enterprise businesses and franchise systems that have the greatest risk of falling into this trap.

5 Challenges Enterprises/Franchises Face When Planning A Local SEO Strategy

Regardless of channel, large businesses have built-in advantages over small competitors including but not limited to:

  • Money.
  • People.
  • Access to industry tools.
  • Specialization.

While these built-in resources certainly help, if ignored, the cons of larger companies with over 100 locations will outweigh the pros – especially with respect to local SEO.

1. Budget

A common pain point I hear when in talks with an enterprise/franchise is how XYZ’s tactic is not in the budget.

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So, let’s say for grins and giggles that you have a scalable, frictionless way of getting local managers/owners to upload pictures to a Google Business Profile.

Now, this is going to help solve a huge issue that enterprises/franchises have. And every time I talk to one, they agree they need something like this.

But when it comes to financing, they will not pay for it. The funds can be better spent on something like AdWords, they say.

Why this line of thinking? Simply because most SEO activities cannot be traced back to a hardline ROI where you spend $X and get $Y.

The CFO or other stakeholders would rather play it safe, keep with the status quo, not rock the boat, and let their numbers continue to look good. #politics

2. Ignorance Is Bliss

If there’s never been a defined strategy across the organization, it may be difficult to earn buy-in from others. I see this in many organizations.

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If they have a loosely planned strategy and roles have not been defined, a stakeholder can easily say, “I am not sure what X or Y or Z is doing and I think they own local, or part of it and they really need to decide.”

So, the buck gets passed to another person who feels the same way.

And the cycle continues.

3. Slow Decision Making

Large enterprises are generally not as adaptive and flexible as small companies.

A simple decision gets caught up by including 10 people in the decision-making process, some of whom have nothing to do with the solution.

And then you have those #politics I mentioned.

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In dealing with a large enterprise, I ran into a situation where the social media team made decisions on local… and the head of that team was related to the CEO.

Guess who called the shots but never came to meetings?

On top of that, the only person qualified to be in charge of local was dealing with other aspects of digital marketing.

Consequently, tasks that should be no-brainers – claiming local listings, hiring a new vendor, etc. – can drag on for months.

I’ve seen businesses regret not having urgency with regard to claiming listings.

Something as simple as changing phone numbers can result in local traffic falling off the map due to data inconsistencies.

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In drastic cases, unclaimed and outdated listings have caused Google Business Profile traffic to plummet by more than 50%.

Then there is a simple conversation about how to be in compliance with Google Business Profiles, which if not addressed can result in account level suspensions.

Consider this real story:

A franchise had different naming conventions for each franchisee and was using home addresses for each location, so we’re not in compliance with Google’s guidelines at all.

I talked to them in January about helping them come into compliance.

The conversation went on for over eight months and included six departments. At the end of the day, the CFO squashed the idea.

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The solution would not have cost that much. But in month 11, suddenly 75% of the units went dark. It was an account-level suspension. This lasted two months.

That is two months of lost revenue, a few franchises going out of business, and a huge headache.

And it didn’t need to happen.

4. ‘Bystander Effect’

A lack of defined roles coupled with the fact that the enterprise has many people on the marketing team can lead to the diffusion of responsibility and a lot of finger-pointing.

A common local task that falls victim to the “Bystander Effect” is review management.

Who should be responsible for responding? Customer service? Store managers? Regional managers?

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The truth is, there is no right answer – pick one but make sure the job gets done. And make responsibilities clear.

One thing to point out here, franchisors have a unique issue when it comes to responsibility.

Enterprises can face this issue as well, but not as much as franchisors do as they usually working within one of a few types of franchise systems.

a. The franchisor controls marketing. 

This is rare but ideal because the responsibility lies with the franchisor. You may still have the above issues of moving slow, budget, and roles, but decisions are happening in one place.

b. The franchisor sets up the GBP and hands it off to the franchisee.

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The franchisee takes over their marketing from there. This causes a whole host of issues such as inconsistencies.

It also often results in inaction on the part of franchisees simply because they’re in the business of their franchise – not the business of marketing or local SEO.

c. Franchisees share a marketing pool.

The best system I have seen is where there is a fund in place for franchisees to spend on marketing.

They can make a decision and the franchisor has a marketplace of preferred vendors, where the franchisee gets a percentage discount for using an approved vendor.

5. Scalability

Volume is arguably the biggest obstacle to overcome.

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Let’s use the Google Q&A feature as an example: 100 locations x 3 questions/month x 5 minutes per response = 25 hours/month.

And that’s a conservative estimate that only accounts for one small component of local SEO.

The good news is that a well-defined plan not only overcomes the obstacles listed above but produces a successful and scalable local SEO strategy.

Before we expand on actionable local SEO plans, it’s important to point out often overlooked first steps:

Obligatory Digital Marketing Goals: Define what success means for local SEO.

Common objectives include increases in:

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  • Foot traffic.
  • Views of store locator pages.
  • Clicks from Google Business Profiles.
  • Sales/Quotes/Form Fills.
  • Calls/Driving Directions.
  • Phone calls made to the store.
  • New link acquisitions/PR wins.

Establish Roles and Responsibilities: Just like any other team effort, local SEO requires a team.

  • Define who is responsible for what and when.
  • Grant and maintain documents, resources, and a way to keep the data updated.
  • Outline workflows with desired results.
  • Give your team flexibility and decision-making powers.
  • Give them a budget.

5 Local SEO Best Practices For Enterprises/Franchises

Below are five local SEO practices that will help you reach your business goals. Each section has been broken into:

Basic Practices 

(In most cases, these should be implemented but thought of as more of a baseline. In some sections, the baseline doesn’t exist, so I’ve listed what not to do, instead.)

Essentially, some enterprises do the basics, and either think they’re done or choose to stick their head in the sand.

(See Local Link Building, Review Management, and Citation Management in the steps outlined below for examples.)

Competitive Edge Practices 

These will separate your business from competition – if for no other reason than most stick with the basic approach!

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1. On-Page Local SEO

Basic Practices

  • Include city and state in the title tag of all store locator pages.
  • Ensure store pages are indexed by search engines and display prominent clickable mobile elements like phone numbers.
  • Implement local Schema markup on all store locator pages.

Competitive Edge Practices That Require Ongoing Management & Planning

a. Create and implement a plan for local content opportunities. 

These can be incorporated on a blog or directly on store locator pages to help differentiate hundreds of similar store pages.

The content doesn’t necessarily even have to be about the products you sell.

In fact, focus most content around anything but selling your product.

Make it about something that’s useful and helpful to your customer/audience.

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b. Take a disciplined and consistent approach to adding new content to your store pages. 

Content ideas include unique store photos, videos, store manager profiles, or other local city information that is related to your business.

c. Make a plan for ongoing content production. 

I am talking about blog posts, white papers, case studies, social media, GBP, and other forms of content. Make plans for local content that matches locality tones.

One simple way of creating unique store pages is by adding short localized paragraphs to each location.

2. Google Business Profiles

Basic Practices

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  • Create and submit a Google Business Profile.
  • Update NAP (Name, Address, Phone) for all stores.
  • Upload a storefront image for all locations.
  • Select two to three relevant business categories within your profile.

Competitive Edge Practices That Require Ongoing Management & Planning

a. Invest in a tool like GatherUp or GradeUS.

These tools have enterprise-friendly features that enable managers to receive notifications whenever a user leaves a review, among many other local management features.

Next, create a few generalized templates that service reps can reference when responding to customer feedback.

b. Create a monthly calendar to use optional but helpful features like Google Posts, Product Posts, and Google Q&A.

Establish guidelines for how often Google Posts are used, what types of content to publish, and how to source non-stock imagery.

c. Upload images on a weekly basis, preferably from the location.

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d. Change store hours to reflect store closings and special holiday hours.

Google Business Profiles allow managers the option to bulk upload store hour changes.

(This is usually controlled at the corporate level if they are managing listings, or via a listing provider like Yext).

e. Establish a culture that consistently analyzes the competitive landscape in the Local Pack.

Regularly check local rankings for important keywords using tools like Local Rank Tracker, MobileMoxie, or Local Falcon.

These tools are great because they allow you to check local rankings without searching a location modifier (e.g., sushi restaurants in Austin).

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f. Report spam on Google Maps.

Be a tattletale on others that are spamming GBP. Common culprits are keyword stuffing or adding locations directly in the name of the business.

g. Append unique UTMs to your local directories and GBP.

Analyze traffic directly in Google Analytics. Although GBP provides data directly in the interface, I find it useful to have the data included in GA reports.

I use:

utm?source=local&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=store-name

h. Enable GBP messaging and quotes/booking/ordering (if available).

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Then decide who will be responsible for this feature.

Certain tools like Podium will help you scale this. (Sidenote: Enroll in Local Service Ads, if available.)

3. Local Link Building

Basic Practices

  • Don’t ignore local link building because of the sheer volume of locations or for fear of having limited impact. Many large enterprises make this mistake.
  • This is not a scalable activity but it is crucial to the success of any local campaign. As much as 15%!

Competitive Edge Practices That Require Ongoing Management & Planning

a. Large brands are involved in the community but fail to maximize their involvement from a linking perspective.

Take inventory of all PR events and set up an outreach process to make sure you receive a link back.

Get involved in your community. Sponsor events. Support other businesses. Host networking events.

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Most beneficiaries will gladly link back to your local branch store page, some just need a reminder.

b. Brands tend to think too big whereas local SEO is… well, it’s local!

Don’t get bogged down thinking nationally and overwhelmed by the crazy number of locations you manage.

Start small and gradually build out a process for other locations.

Better yet, once you experience success in a local market, let that local manager become your internal advocate.

c. Develop a cohesive process for local managers/owners to follow.

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Explore sponsorships, scholarships, workshops, conferences, and news opportunities.

4. Citation Management

Basic Practices

  • Create a Google Business Profile.
  • Many enterprises submit store citations using an automated tool but utilize the “set-it-and-forget-it plan.” (I recommend automated citation tools, but it’s not a “set and forget” checklist item.)

Competitive Edge Practices That Require Ongoing Management & Planning

a. Use Yext or Moz Local to create, verify, and optimize listings for multi-location brands.

These are scalable tools perfect for businesses with over 100 stores. They help push citations, clean up duplicate data, adjust incorrect data, and defend online presence.

b. Assign designated resources to actively monitor and update information.

Always look to improve the listings.

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Problems will undoubtedly occur, and you want someone to be able to make the appropriate brand decisions when they come across questionable content.

c. Create citations for TripAdvisor, Yelp, or other industry-specific platforms.

Look for those that are not automatically generated with a tool like Moz Local as well as local citation opportunities like the Chamber of Commerce.

5. Reviews

Basic Practices (That too many do, don’t be one of them!)

  • Choose to ignore customer feedback.
  • Reactively and randomly respond to customer reviews.
  • Have no company-wide proactive review acquisition plan and just hope that customers will leave reviews.
  • Respond to only positive or negative reviews.

Competitive Edge Practices That Require Ongoing Management & Planning

a. Prioritize timely review management.

Fully 78% of customers focus on the most recent reviews and 69% they’re more likely to use a business that has responded to existing reviews.

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b. Ask all customers to leave reviews (without incentives).

This can be managed through an internal CRM system or automated tools like GatherUp. Review acquisition is a simple numbers game. The more you ask, the more you receive.

c. Respond to all reviews, good and bad.

Consumers expect to see a bad review here and there, but the way you respond is key. Think about how another consumer will feel after reading your response.

Summary

When in doubt about local SEO, focus on tasks that provide value and solve problems for customers.

That’s it.

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This is an obvious point, but the underlying principle is valuable, and too many don’t do this.

In general, consumers are lazy and selfish (like we all are).

It’s our job to make their life as easy as possible.

  • Ensure hours are correct.
  • Ensure the phone numbers are right.
  • Make sure you not only have citations but that they’re consistent.
  • Answer Google Q&As.
  • Respond to complaints and identify how you can improve your offering.

Customers are more likely to support, seek out, and refer brands that they truly care about.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal




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Google Limits News Links In California Over Proposed ‘Link Tax’ Law

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A brown cardboard price tag with a twine string and a black dollar sign symbol, influenced by the Link Tax Law, set against a dark gray background.

Google announced that it plans to reduce access to California news websites for a portion of users in the state.

The decision comes as Google prepares for the potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a bill requiring online platforms like Google to pay news publishers for linking to their content.

What Is The California Journalism Preservation Act?

The CJPA, introduced in the California State Legislature, aims to support local journalism by creating what Google refers to as a “link tax.”

If passed, the Act would force companies like Google to pay media outlets when sending readers to news articles.

However, Google believes this approach needs to be revised and could harm rather than help the news industry.

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Jaffer Zaidi, Google’s VP of Global News Partnerships, stated in a blog post:

“It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content.”

Google’s Response

To assess the potential impact of the CJPA on its services, Google is running a test with a percentage of California users.

During this test, Google will remove links to California news websites that the proposed legislation could cover.

Zaidi states:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.”

Google Claims Only 2% of Search Queries Are News-Related

Zaidi highlighted peoples’ changing news consumption habits and its effect on Google search queries (emphasis mine):

“It’s well known that people are getting news from sources like short-form videos, topical newsletters, social media, and curated podcasts, and many are avoiding the news entirely. In line with those trends, just 2% of queries on Google Search are news-related.”

Despite the low percentage of news queries, Google wants to continue helping news publishers gain visibility on its platforms.

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However, the “CJPA as currently constructed would end these investments,” Zaidi says.

A Call For A Different Approach

In its current form, Google maintains that the CJPA undermines news in California and could leave all parties worse off.

The company urges lawmakers to consider alternative approaches supporting the news industry without harming smaller local outlets.

Google argues that, over the past two decades, it’s done plenty to help news publishers innovate:

“We’ve rolled out Google News Showcase, which operates in 26 countries, including the U.S., and has more than 2,500 participating publications. Through the Google News Initiative we’ve partnered with more than 7,000 news publishers around the world, including 200 news organizations and 6,000 journalists in California alone.”

Zaidi suggested that a healthy news industry in California requires support from the state government and a broad base of private companies.

As the legislative process continues, Google is willing to cooperate with California publishers and lawmakers to explore alternative paths that would allow it to continue linking to news.

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Featured Image:Ismael Juan/Shutterstock

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

Every week, we share hot SEO news, interesting reads, and new posts in our newsletter, Ahrefs’ Digest.

If you’re not one of our 280,000 subscribers, you’ve missed out on some great reads!

Here’s a quick summary of my personal favorites from the last month:

Best of March 2024

How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

tl;dr

Glen’s research reveals that just 16 companies representing 588 brands get 3.5 billion (yes, billion!) monthly clicks from Google.

My takeaway

Glen pointed out some really actionable ideas in this report, such as the fact that many of the brands dominating search are adding mini-author bios.

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Example of mini-author bios on The VergeExample of mini-author bios on The Verge

This idea makes so much sense in terms of both UX and E-E-A-T. I’ve already pitched it to the team and we’re going to implement it on our blog.

How Google is Killing Independent Sites Like Ours

Authors: Gisele Navarro, Danny Ashton

tl;dr

Big publications have gotten into the affiliate game, publishing “best of” lists about everything under the sun. And despite often not testing products thoroughly, they’re dominating Google rankings. The result, Gisele and Danny argue, is that genuine review sites suffer and Google is fast losing content diversity.

My takeaway

I have a lot of sympathy for independent sites. Some of them are trying their best, but unfortunately, they’re lumped in with thousands of others who are more than happy to spam.

Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updatesEstimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updates
Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele’s site fell off a cliff after Google’s March updates 🙁 

I know it’s hard to hear, but the truth is Google benefits more from having big sites in the SERPs than from having diversity. That’s because results from big brands are likely what users actually want. By and large, people would rather shop at Walmart or ALDI than at a local store or farmer’s market.

That said, I agree with most people that Forbes (with its dubious contributor model contributing to scams and poor journalism) should not be rewarded so handsomely.

The Discussion Forums Dominating 10,000 Product Review Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

Tl;dr

Glen analyzed 10,000 “product review” keywords and found that:

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My takeaway

After Google’s heavy promotion of Reddit from last year’s Core Update, to no one’s surprise, unscrupulous SEOs and marketers have already started spamming Reddit. And as you may know, Reddit’s moderation is done by volunteers, and obviously, they can’t keep up.

I’m not sure how this second-order effect completely escaped the smart minds at Google, but from the outside, it feels like Google has capitulated to some extent.

John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...

I’m not one to make predictions and I have no idea what will happen next, but I agree with Glen: Google’s results are the worst I’ve seen them. We can only hope Google sorts itself out.

Who Sends Traffic on the Web and How Much? New Research from Datos & SparkToro

Author: Rand Fishkin

tl;dr

63.41% of all U.S. web traffic referrals from the top 170 sites are initiated on Google.com.

Data from SparktoroData from Sparktoro

My takeaway

Despite all of our complaints, Google is still the main platform to acquire traffic from. That’s why we all want Google to sort itself out and do well.

But it would also be a mistake to look at this post and think Google is the only channel you should drive traffic from. As Rand’s later blog post clarifies, “be careful not to ascribe attribution or credit to Google when other investments drove the real value.”

I think many affiliate marketers learned this lesson well from the past few Core Updates: Relying on one single channel to drive all of your traffic is not a good idea. You should be using other platforms to build brand awareness, interest, and demand.

Want more?

Each week, our team handpicks the best SEO and marketing content from around the web for our newsletter. Sign up to get them directly in your inbox.

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Google Unplugs “Notes on Search” Experiment

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Google unplugs Notes On Search Experiment

Google is shutting down it’s Google Notes Search Labs experiment that allowed users to see and leave notes on Google’s search results and many in the search community aren’t too surprised.

Google Search Notes

Availability of the feature was limited to Android and Apple devices and there was never a clearly defined practical purpose or usefulness of the Notes experiment. Search marketers reaction throughout has consistently been that would become a spam-magnet.

The Search Labs page for the experiment touts it as mode of self-expression, to help other users and as a way for users to collect their own notes within their Google profiles.

The official Notes page in Search Labs has a simple notice:

Notes on Search Ends May 2024

That’s it.

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Screenshot Of Notice

Reaction From Search Community

Kevin Indig tweeted his thoughts that anything Google makes with a user generated content aspect was doomed to attract spam.

He tweeted:

“I’m gonna assume Google retires notes because of spam.

It’s crazy how spammy the web has become. Google can’t launch anything UGC without being bombarded.”

Cindy Krum (@Suzzicks) tweeted that it was author Purna Virji (LinkedIn profile) who predicted that it would be shut down once Google received enough data.

She shared:

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“It was actually @purnavirji who predicted it when we were at @BarbadosSeo – while I was talking. Everyone agreed that it would be spammed, but she said it would just be a test to collect a certain type of information until they got what they needed, and then it would be retired.”

Purna herself responded with a tweet:

“My personal (non-employer) opinion is that everyone wants all the UGC to train the AI models. Eg Reddit deal also could potentially help with that.”

Google’s Notes for Search seemed destined to never take off, it was met with skepticism and a shrug when it came out and nobody’s really mourning that it’s on the way out, either.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Jamesbin



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