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Local SEO & Multiple Locations: What’s the Best Way to Optimize Multiple Locations?

Are you a freelance SEO? Are you a business owner who’s trying to do their own SEO? Are you another agency spying on our back-link profile (it’s OK, we do it too). Regardless of who you are, and what your motives are (we also sell marketing services!), there isn’t a ton of information on this subject, save for forums and speculative posts. To make matters worse, Google hasn’t taken an official stance on this.

It’s worth noting that I’m not too heavily involved on the strategy side these days, but I do consider myself extremely well versed with Google Maps, Google Map Maker, Google My Business (formerly Google Places) and other related products (did I mention I’m a Level 3 Map Maker … goo!)

At the end of the day, local businesses who have more than one location need to implement a special strategy in the following areas to maximize their online presence to get more traffic, web leads and visibility:

  1. Schema Markup / Coding
  2. Website Structure
  3. Google My Business Optimization
    1. Naming Convention
    2. URL Structure
  4. Citations & Links

While there is no ‘correct way’ of doing this, in our experience, the following tips / suggestions have been effective for our team (so if you are another agency reading this, you’re welcome!)

1. Schema Markup / Coding

If you’re a single location business, this is super simple. All you need to do is put your company name, address and phone number in the footer of every page , as well as on the contact page (in SCHEMA markup of course!).

If you have multiple locations, our best practice is to have individual location pages setup for each location, and the SCHEMA markup should only be found on the location specific pages. Think, each location page is kind of like it’s own mini ‘website’ with hours of operation, NAP information, photos, reviews etc. In Canada, many local businesses have a ‘primary’ location or their company headquarters, so keep this in mind for Steps 3 and 4.

2. Website URL Structure

So, now that we’ve talked about using SCHEMA only on the individual location pages, what’s the best way to setup location pages on the website? In all honesty, it depends how your business is structured. For example, do you have a ‘catch all’ toll free number, or do you have individual local phone numbers for each location?

Let’s say Adster was a client of ours, and had numerous local phone numbers for each location. In our experience, a proper URL structure might look something like this (note: we don’t actually have this many locations and the pages don’t exist … doh!):

  • http://www.adster.ca/locations/
    • This would be the ‘parent’ page for all the locations, and wouldn’t contain SCHEMA markup, but it might mention something about your primary location or ‘head office’.
  • http://www.adster.ca/locations/edmonton-south/
    • This page would have SCHEMA markup & other goodies (photos, hours etc.)
  • http://www.adster.ca/locations/edmonton-north/
    • This page would have SCHEMA markup & other goodies (photos, hours etc.)
  • http://www.adster.ca/locations/calgary-south/
    • This page would have SCHEMA markup & other goodies (photos, hours etc.)

3. Google My Business Optimization (buckle up!)

**DISCLAIMER** – This section is heavily debatable, and in no way am I condoning one strategy over another.

a.) Naming Convention

Google has changed its guidelines on this several times over the last five years. Currently, Google has stated that your name should represent your business name exactly how it’s referred to in the offline world and to not use any geographic modifiers, like your city, or add marketing taglines or keywords but then again …. they should probably adhere to their own best practices.

Side Tangent / Interesting Observation

This ‘guideline’ also opens up a ‘whole other’ can of worms. How? Well, what happens if your incorporated business name actually has a keyword, or city name in it, (e.g The Edmonton Plumbers or Calgary Accountants Ltd) how can Google’s algorithm penalize you for this? It’s actually your business name isn’t it … interesting indeed.

That being said, in the past, if you had multiple locations, we found it good user experience to name your business on Google Maps by using the name of your company, and include the GEO modifier or area modifier since most users looked for a specific location, or something in their immediate area (north, south, southwest etc). We did not view this as spam, or trying to game the system, but simply offering a better user experience based on how users looked for things in Google.

Confused? Let me give you an example. Best Buy has many locations in Edmonton. Say you’re looking for their phone number because you’d like to call them to put something on hold. If you live in Edmonton, you’re looking for a phone number on Google (many users don’t search directly in Google Maps) so it’s not uncommon for your search to look something like this:

  • Best Buy South Edmonton OR Best Buy South Common

Over the past two years, Google has enhanced its search results and they’ve actually gotten better at showing the specific location that is closest to you, based on what they think you’re looking for, but it wasn’t always like this.

Verdict?

What we’ve got here is a dealers choice as there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. If you abide exactly by the Google book, then it’s recommended that you do not use GEO or taglines in your name. Some of our clients are still using the old GEO modifier structure, and others aren’t. If you’re looking to make a change, I’d recommend that you annotate this in Google Analytics, and make sure you check back in 30, 60 and 90 days to see if there’s been any positive / negative impacts.

Pro Tip!

Something to keep in mind, is if you ever have a “severe” Google Maps issue that you need to get resolved and it involves a Google Map Maker edit or a Google Maps Forum post, one of the level 3000 wizards might flag how you’ve got it setup, and submit an edit that can throw a wrinkle into your naming convention (check out the screenshot – note this isn’t our client)

Google Map Maker Edit

b.) URL Structure

By URL structure, I’m referring to what URL your GMB listing is pointing to in the back-end.

In our experience, if your business has a primary / headquartered location you can link to the home page of your website for that GMB listing. For your secondary locations, we typically paste the location specific landing page there to try and build authority to that page from a local SEO perspective. With enough authority, it’s possible to have multiple locations show up in Google maps for a users search as Google views them as separate businesses … which they are … which just makes sense doesn’t it?

4.) Citations & Links

Links / citations are important in boosting your website’s authority. What’s the difference between the two? Nothing really, but it depends who you ask. A link is a link to your website whereas a citation is a mention of your business somewhere online (usually a directory) which includes several / all / some of the following:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone Number
  • Link to your website

Much like link building, citations are links for your company address and help boost your visibility on the maps results BUT, how do you build citations when you have multiple locations, and should all the citations have links to your home page?

We talked in section 3a about what URL to use for building citations (homepage vs location specific), but what about the naming convention? Is it possible to build a citation called “Bob’s Plumbing – Edmonton South”. The answer is yes, depending on the directory. Directories like Yelp for example typically strips out GEO / keyword modifiers, but many others allow you to keep them in there.  Regardless of the naming convention, plan it out beforehand and keep it as consistent as possible. If you’re rolling with a GEO modifier make sure you store all your usernames and passwords in case you need to revert everything back in case you get in hot water or were trying to game the system.

In the end, you want to ensure NAP (name, address and phone number) are placed on directories such as Yellow Pages, Yelp & Industry Canada EXACTLY as they appear in the claimed Google My Business Page. If listings exist online where there are discrepancies, a duplicate My Business page may arise.

Final Thoughts

When all is said and done, SEO (especially local SEO) doesn’t have an exact recipe. Sure, there are guidelines that you *should* adhere to, but when Google themselves aren’t following best practices, and there’s a gaping hole in whether or not to penalize a business who has a GEO modifier or keyword in their name (remember The Edmonton Plumbers?) it’s safe to say go with what works, annotate, test, and make sure if you’re doing anything experimental your clients are on board for it, or face the wrath.

Let me know your experiences in the comments below!