Image by Atelier Teee via Flickr
by Frank Reed
I am knee deep in a project for a client that is designed to take their national presence and represent it locally (in Google primarily) through making sure their 28 local branches are found in local searches. It’s an interesting process and is not as easy or clear-cut as it sounds. The project, in fact, has made me wonder just how many companies like my client exist out there. My suspicion is that there are more than I can imagine.
The company I am working with is not small (about $100 million in revenue) and has a leading position in its industry. What has happened, though, is very normal for mid-sized companies with small local offices. The bulk of the marketing attention and dollars has gone to branding campaigns and product offerings (through co-op and marketing development funds—MDF) that promoted the company but not its locations.
Their CMO is a sharp guy who runs a very lean shop and has decided to make sure that the people who are responsible for the day-to-day sales and service get some local play, especially as it relates to search marketing. Search engine results pages (SERPs) for local search have become increasingly competitive. Part of that reason is that the local 7-pack which gives a map and 7 Google Place Page listings have taken up a lot of the first page SERP real estate above the fold. That means more competition for less classic blue-link search results. Here is a 7-pack for the uninitiated.
As a result the local Place Page listing is a critical component of local search. Google says that 1 in 13 searches now have a local map. That’s a lot of searches. Since these listings are associated with a picture (the map) they become the prime place for local searches to be vetted.
So where do you begin with this process? First, you have to look and see what Google already has in their database for each location. This is important to know because you can then determine which locations have already claimed listings and other valuable insights. In this case, there was only one claimed listing in the 28 markets, which is not as unusual as you might think. Most businesses don’t realize that they need to claim their local listing in Google and other search engine databases.
Once that was done, we needed to create an individual landing page for each branch within the company that had unique content pertaining to that branch. Why unique content? Because Google is not very keen on seeing the same thing said about a branch office in New York City as one that is located in Helena, Montana. Everyone knows that those markets have virtually nothing in common. Well, Google knows that too, so it is important for Google and for the Web site visitor to get local information that is important to them specifically. Google rewards this approach. Also, it is good to have the page listed as the destination URL for the Place Page listing. Don’t send everyone to your homepage so they could possibly get lost on your site before getting their information. Instead, send them to a page with a clean URL (such as “www.thecompany.com/thecity”) and with nice HTML text so everyone can get the information they are looking for.
With those pages ready, we could now do a bulk upload of the branch information to Google using their template. This would speed the verification process and avoid more than a few logistical headaches. Once the listing are in the Place Pages index we can then go in and have the other unverified listings removed, since we have supplied Google with the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding each and every local branch office. What has been done essentially is that we have helped Google clean up its database and everyone wins.
So you think it’s over now? No, it’s not. Now we have to go and optimize each Place page with video, images, and specific data to further “localize” the listing and increase our chances of being found in the local 7-pack of results when local searches are performed for the company’s products and services.
If it sounds like a lot of work, well, it kind of is. It’s not rocket science but it’s not easy-peasy either. If your company has a situation where its local Place Pages in Google have not been claimed and optimized, you need to follow this process pronto. With the increase in mobile devices and search, local will only get bigger as time passes.
For more information about what factors most influence rankings in this environment, visit this gathering of local search experts. It’ll answer many of your questions.
Best wishes and don’t forget that even if you are a huge international business, a lot of business happens locally. If you are not giving your local listings (Place Pages) in Google the attention they need you might be leaving money on the table.