Author: Miriam Ellis
Successful multi-location local SEO is exactly what it sounds like: multiple businesses working together to elevate themselves and the overarching brand’s visibility in search results. That means keeping records of branch/franchisee data, responding to reviews, updating holiday hours, managing social accounts, and more—for each location the brand has.
With a little bit of organization and communication, you can lead this effort and bring in more traffic to your locations—both in-person and online. Over my 10+ years of experience in local SEO, I’ve found that the most successful multi-location brands may approach their strategies differently, but they all follow the five steps I’ll explain in this blog post.
While you’ll start these steps in order, you’ll need to revisit them regularly to ensure that workflows don’t fall victim to the many moving parts inherent to SEO for multi-location chains and franchises. Let’s get started.
01. Collaborate with location managers
When launching a local SEO campaign for a multi-location brand, your first task is to acquire the contact information of everyone that will be involved in the project so that you can broadly communicate how this collaboration will benefit their branch/chain/location.
Getting genuine buy-in from stakeholders at each branch of the business becomes so much easier when you kick off with an email like this:
Hello [branch or franchise manager]! This is Miriam Ellis from [X agency/X department]. I’m coordinating with everyone at the company for our local SEO campaign. With some work and your cooperation, your branch on X street should start seeing better rankings, more positive reviews, and more customers/sales from this campaign. I’m writing to let you know that over the next X weeks/months, you’ll receive a few emails from me requesting some basic details about your branch. With your help, we’ll meet our deadlines, and you’ll be playing a big part in achieving important goals that should bring meaningful benefits to your branch. Thank you so much for the collaboration, and please reach out to me if you have any questions.
While this may seem obvious to some, it’s easy to overlook alerting people to a collaborative effort—which can leave participants feeling out of the loop. It can become much more difficult to secure a location manager’s cooperation if they’re not already aware and involved as you kick off your campaign.
This first step is easier for chains (as opposed to franchises) because a single department or agency is responsible for all marketing activity across the brand. It’s harder for franchises, not just because you need all the necessary contact information , but because you should make an effort to ensure that each franchisee is on board.
If you’re working with franchise owners, request that the franchisee write back to acknowledge receipt of your message (in your initial outreach email). If you don’t hear back within a reasonable timeframe, write again or pick up the phone. This approach will limit communication gaps and delays later on in the project.
Regardless of the particular multi-location business model, teamwork supports effective local search marketing in two key ways:
The overall website authority, recognition, and reputation built by the brand benefits each of its branches, both in terms of rankings and conversions.
The individual reputation of each branch contributes to the overall online (and offline) reputation of the brand, while also acting as a key source of content opportunities and assets for the brand in the form of pages, listings, social profiles, etc.
Busy branch managers and franchisees understandably want to know, “What’s in it for me?” when asked to invest time in a local SEO campaign. That’s why you need to communicate the benefits of participation early on and build a sense of allyship around the project.
Pro tip:When it comes to multi-location local SEO, you will have many stakeholders. Account for potential delays by setting very generous deadlines for yourself and everyone involved.
While some participants may respond to each of your requests fairly quickly, others will require multiple forms of outreach and lots of follow-up before they deliver. It’s reasonable to predict that the more people you involve, the more time you should allot to benchmarking progress as the work goes forward.
02. Collect and organize branch information
Create a spreadsheet and make a column for the names, email addresses, phone numbers, and any other significant contact information for the point of contact at each branch of the business.
Next, create columns for each of the following headings and outreach to each point of contact to fill in all of these fields:
Phone numbers (including branch numbers, toll-free numbers, and after-hours phone or text hotlines)
Hours of operation (including holiday hours)
Business email address
Social profile links
Business website landing page URL for the branch
X number of photos of the branch
X number of videos of the branch
Branch years in business
Payment forms accepted
List of main products/services offered by the branch
List of amenities offered at the branch (accessibility, parking, curbside service, late-night dining, etc.)
Other information you need specific to the campaign
If you’re doing local SEO from the ground-up for a multi-location business, this is the minimum information you’ll need from each branch to engage in competitive analysis, local listing development, and landing page content creation. Refine this sample list based on your campaign’s objectives.
Pro tip: Don’t skip verifying the name, address, phone number, and hours of operation of each branch with a person at that location. Clean and accurate contact data is the foundation of successful local search marketing.
Seasoned local SEOs have a backlog of scary stories about engaging in work for ineligible businesses at fictitious locations, wasting time publishing inaccurate phone numbers, or mistakenly distributing data about non-existent suite numbers because a business owner wrongly believed adding such elements to their address would help their SEO.
03. Delegate responsibilities between headquarters and local branches
Now we come to one of the key points of determination in a multi-location SEO campaign: how much control will each branch have over its marketing?
Whether the business you’re optimizing is a chain or a franchise, you need to communicate all opportunities, permissions, and responsibilities clearly to your location managers/point of contact to avoid confusion, delays, and detriment to the overall brand. Ask and answer all of the following questions:
Who is responsible for writing and managing the content on the branch’s website landing page?
Is a central department directly managing all the pages and creating all of their content, or are they receiving some (or all) of the content from point people at each branch?
Alternatively, are branch managers or franchisees given CMS permissions to manage their own pages?
Who is responsible for SEO?
Alternatively, is raw content delivered by branches to a centralized SEO team for editing and optimization?
What safeguards will you implement to ensure that an overall SEO strategy exists for the brand so that optimization actually increases opportunities to appear in search results (rather than being duplicative)?
Who is responsible for creating and managing the local business listings for each branch?
Who is responsible for acquiring and responding to reviews, and for analyzing review sentiment?
Who is responsible for managing the social media assets for each branch? (i.e., Is each branch allowed to develop and maintain its own social profiles, or does a main social team handle that for the entire brand?)
What is the support workflow within the brand when things go wrong with a branch’s online assets?
Who can a branch manager turn to when problems occur on pages, listings, reviews, etc.?
Answers to all of these questions paint a picture of the marketing structure for your multi-location business. There are risks and benefits of tight, centralized brand control versus a more cooperative approach across the organization.
Centralized brand control (e.g., corporate headquarters controls the main marketing for all locations)
Cooperative marketing with franchisees/location managers
Pro tip:Keep updated records of all login information and other permissions—regardless of whether you adopt a centralized or collaborative SEO approach.
Employees get new jobs, branches relocate (or close), and these day-to-day events will send you scrambling for emails, usernames, and passwords to manage digital assets (like local business listings) unless you keep excellent records.
04. Leverage your locations to diversify ranking keywords
Brands with multiple locations present an SEO challenge (because of how search engines handle duplicate content), but it is also an exciting opportunity to diversify the number of terms your business ranks for.
Multiple surveys over the years routinely indicate that a major reason customers patronize local businesses is that they are looking for unique experiences. If your various branches feature offerings that are unique to the locality, then you can bake authentic diversification into both your content and SEO strategy simply because you have different things to promote.
But what about when offerings are homogenous across a chain or franchise? How can you diversify your content, local business listings, and social profiles? Try some (or all) of these best practices:
Improve the diversity factor of each location’s website landing page. Include customer reviews associated with the branch, exterior and interior photography of the location, staff interviews and photographs, written driving directions, customer interviews/testimonials, awards, and proofs of community engagement by local staff (at a local event or charity initiative, for example).
Improve the uniqueness of local listings by diversifying non-primary categories. The guidelines for representing your business on Google stipulate that all locations of your brand should share the same primary category. However, you can parse up a large number of different secondary categories amongst several of your locations that are near each other. This SEO tactic can help the overall brand rank in the local results for more search intents than a single-location business ever could. Meanwhile, unique photos, reviews and owner responses, GBP Posts, questions and answers, and descriptions can further differentiate one listing from another.
Diversify social media profiles for each branch. This is best accomplished through a collaborative approach. No amount of localization can replace the lived experience that branch staff can bring to making local social connections. For example, staff at a branch location in San Diego is on the ground, understanding city culture, weather, history, and events that are all unknown to the SEO department at the corporate headquarters in Albuquerque. You can research towns and cities, but it’s hard to scale the hometown feeling that so many local customers value. Where possible, make the most of the talents and lived experiences of branch staff to tell social stories that resonate.
Pro tip: Pay close attention to Google’s guidelines to understand the number of listings your brand is eligible for. For example, service area businesses may be allowed multiple locations, but should not set a service radius of more than about two hours driving time. Google sometimes overlooks this guideline for franchises that are uniquely owned and registered, because customers cannot contact branch A to speak with someone at branch B (for example, if two branches of the same septic company are in the same town, but run by different franchisees, Google may not require adherence to their guideline on this). Study the guidelines and revisit them on occasion because they are frequently updated.
05. Analyze performance for red flags and winning strategies
Finally, good, sustainable local SEO depends on setting up three forms of analysis for each branch:
Professional-level analytics (like Google Analytics or paid SEO software)
Access to Google Business Profile Insights for each branch for more detailed information about actions users take on business listings (like clicks-to-site, clicks-to-call, and clicks for directions)
Sentiment analysis software (like Sprout Social or GatherUp, for example) for capturing social mentions and assessing review language
Working in concert, these three must-haves support your ability to analyze individual branch performance.
If, for example, your branch in Burlington experiences a sudden drop in clicks-to-call, or your Boise branch receives multiple negative reviews, or the community surrounding your Billings storefront begins a hashtag about your brand, you need to know that these things are happening so that you can assess the situation (and potentially take action).
Pro tip:In multi-location SEO, there is no such thing as being too detail-oriented.
There have been well-known cases in which a lack of quality control at individual locations has led to branch closure and overall negative brand impressions, as well as bad press. Ongoing analysis provides you with the necessary business intelligence to keep all branches performing well.
Multi-location local SEO: More locations, more opportunities
Multi-location SEO is both more complex and richer in opportunity than optimizing a single location. Communicating the benefits that all participants can enjoy (if you’re successful) is a good way to get buy-in, and organizing people and data will be key. Beyond this, today’s array of SEO tools make it possible to keep an eagle eye almost everywhere at once to ensure maximum ROI from your work, and if you can bring the local knowledge and talents of branch managers and franchisees into the mix, you should have a winning combination!
Miriam Ellis is a local SEO columnist and consultant. She has been cited as one of the top five most prolific women writers in the SEO industry. Miriam is also an award-winning fine artist and her work can be seen at MiriamEllis.com. Twitter | Linkedin