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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.

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!

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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.

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.

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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:

  • 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.)

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Competitive Edge Practices 

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

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

  • 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.

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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.

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.

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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).

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.

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!

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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.

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.

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

Always look to improve the listings.

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.

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).

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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 Clarifies Course Structured Data Requirements

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Google Clarifies Course Structured Data Requirements

Google updated the Course structured data requirements for appearing in the Course rich results. Failure to follow the guidelines may result in not qualifying for the rich result.

While the added requirement is not new, it was previously missing from the Course structured data requirements page.

Course Structured Data

The Schema structured data for courses is what schools use to appear in the associated rich results, which can appear as a carousel.

The official Schema.org website defines the Course structured data as:

“A description of an educational course which may be offered as distinct instances at which take place at different times or take place at different locations, or be offered through different media or modes of study.

An educational course is a sequence of one or more educational events and/or creative works which aims to build knowledge, competence or ability of learners.”

As long as schools follow the Google Search Central structured data guidelines and requirements for the Course structured data, students can find courses they’re looking for in the rich results triggered by educational course search queries, and everyone wins.

Unfortunately, the Course structured data guidelines were incomplete because they were missing an essential requirement.

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Google Clarifies How to Be Eligible for Rich Results

The change to the Course structured data was to add a requirement missing from the guidelines.

The change is described in a Google changelog:

“Clarified that you must add three courses to be eligible for the Course rich result. This is not a new requirement; it was previously only documented in the Carousel documentation.”

Google added additional sentences to the section of the Course structured data guidelines that is titled Technical Guidelines.

The new wording that was added is:

“You must mark up at least three courses. The courses can be on separate detail pages, or in an all-in-one page.

You must add Carousel markup to either a summary page or an all-in-one page.”

Previous to this clarification, developers and SEOs who followed the Course guidelines would not have known about this requirement unless they had looked at the Carousel structured data requirements.

All schools that failed to mark up three courses and add Carousel markup will not qualify for the Course rich results.

Additional Changes to Structured Data Guidelines

Previous to Google’s clarification of the Course structured data requirements, the word “carousel” appeared only two times.

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After the change, the word “carousel” appears six times in the new documentation.

The Carousel structured data requirements were important all along, but the previous documentation did not communicate that importance to the search community.

Check Your Structured Data

If the Course structured data has failed in the past to result in a rich result, it may be helpful to review the current structured data that’s on the pages to ensure that there are at least three courses marked up and that the Carousel markup is also used.


Citations

Read the Updated Course Structured Data Guidelines

Use Schema for Course Carousel

View an Archive of the Previous Guidelines

Archive.org Snapshot of Google Course Structured Data Guidelines

Image by Shutterstock/Maxim Gutsal

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