Deep Dive Into Local series from Mar 20th, 2017. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.
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Mike: Hi, welcome to Deep Dive from Local U for the weekend in March 20th. Why don't you kick it off, Mary?
Mary: Hi everyone. Today we're going to talk about big brands, and how some big brands seem to be lagging behind others in local SEO. In particular, some big brands have problems with supporting their locations, doing good business locators and making it easy to find their locations so customers can locate & buy something. Mike, I know you had some ideas about why there seems to be this lag with a lot of big brands.
Mike: Some enterprise areas like hospitals, health care, and universities don't even have a canonical list of forward-facing phone numbers. In some of these situations they have not done the basic work of knowing what phone numbers or departments are public-facing. It's critical this information gets distributed through the Internet ecosystem! In many cases, these companies don't have an in-house way to update this information. In other words, they lack a dynamic database that pushes this content from their internal list out to their website, and then from there out to places like Moz, Yext or Google in a semi-automatic or automatic way. Some of this is just lack of understanding how the ecosystems works plus lack of internal organization to keep track of this basic information about their own organization.
In others cases, as Andrew Shotland was discussing, http://searchengineland.com/national-retailers-stop-ignoring-local-seo-271024 , large corporate sites are focusing more on e-commerce issues and are increasingly disadvantaged. As we discussed in Last Week in Local, even in searches like mattresses (Andrew's example), which are potentially national in scope where there may be an e-commerce play, Google shows local ads, the local pack and local sites are elevated in those search results even when you don't use a local geo-modifier. The e-commerce sites are pushed far down the page. Why is this happening? Why haven't these companies addressed this question more aggressively? I think is a cultural and historic issue. A lot of these corporate folks got into SEO early and were successful from the 2000s on. That SEO thinking about how to set things up, how to track attribution and what you should be focusing on, became baked into their culture. It was successful initially despite the lack of good attribution in local, but I think they're losing a lot of opportunities. What are your thoughts?
Mary: I think they have set things up so their people are competing internally with each other rather than cooperating with each other. There's no reason why you can't have good e-commerce sales and also have customers going to the local retailer when that's what they prefer.
Mike: Plus you and I have seen situations where the web dev was separate from either of those and you couldn't even get a solid link from the home page to the store finder.
Mary: Right! For a lot of big brands their developers are running the show, and that's not always what's right as far as search engine optimization is concerned. Just because it's easy for the developer, just because a developer thinks it's really cool, that doesn't mean it's good for SEO. I think that the people on the SEO side of things have to keep fighting this battle over and over and over again. I've found that one of the best ways to do that is to run little tests to try to prove things on one or two locations and then earning the right to test more locations from there.
Mike: Andrew pointed out that because they have such a web-centric view, they see their Google traffic dropping off to their website as a problem. But they forget to go back and see that the Google Local pack, Google Knowledge Panel, and the Google Local organic results are really where the action is. I am seeing that consumers are now taking action more frequently directly from the Google pages rather than coming through the website to take those actions.
I've projected this analysis across other sites and looked at a retail location, a large spa, a resort & a restaurant. I'm seeing the exact same behavior. The bulk of these transactions are occurring directly on Google. With the spa, for example, maybe 15% was occurring after the sale. With a spa or hotel you have click-to-call and driving directions. The driving directions in that situation are largely recovery. In this business, they weren't doing any online booking for either their spa or their hotel, they required a phone call, so the phone call is the critical KPI. The bulk of those calls were coming from Google. I then looked at another large data set for a national company with a strong local presence and found the same thing; a big shift away from their website towards Google. These transactions were occurring at Google even if you weren't able to monitor them quite as well because the analytics aren't as good. But they perceived that, all of a sudden, things weren't happening on their website. Well, right, they aren't. But they are happening someplace else, and it's Google.
Mary: Right. The other thing that I think a lot of the big brands get wrong is their store locators as Adam Dorfman was saying in his 10 Ways to Improve Business Locators. You can totally control what's happening on your business locator. There is no reason to not have that working flawlessly for SEO and for users. And if for some reason a brand, after all these years of being online, has not managed to figure out a way to do that properly, then they really need to bite the bullet and hook up with one of the big software-as-a-service outfits that can do it for them.
Mike: They may need to hook up with two companies because they also need original content on those pages. At GetFiveStars we see huge gains for the companies that have taken those local landing pages and put original content or consumer testimonial reviews on them. Huge gains, huge visual gains for conversion optimization plus huge organic gains in terms of showing many more local pages and local search results, plus relevance and rankings gains. We are seeing huge benefits to using review and testimonial content for local content.
To summarize, here's what is needed for a big brand to improve in local:
1) A canonical list of your locations with the data being distributed across all your sites, and then from there out to Moz, Yext or Google in a semi-automatic or automatic way.
2) A change in thinking about how to handle local in the context of your corporate structure. Everything is about local these days, and it's important to realize that the relationship to local plus the income and the ROI calculations have probably shifted.
3) Great store finders.
4) Great local, original, unique content on those local store finder pages. Anything else you would add to that?
Mary: The other thing I would add is that most people don't realize the impact that page rank still has in rankings these days. Plus you need to push some page rank down through those store locators in order to get those pages to shine in the search results.
Mike: Also needed is a distributed marketing plan that puts your locations at the fore of a larger marketing project. For example, there's no reason that if you did a scholarship, the local landing pages could be linked by the local high schools to the local landing pages where you would then have access to the scholarship form for that community where you could create larger marketing efforts that included the local pages. And the same at the content level, you could include them either through reviews or other social media.
Mary: And a lot of brands see what I would call, category/subcategory pages, like states, cities, neighborhoods...they see those as kind of a pain in the neck and don't know what to do with them or what kind of content to put on them. In essence, they're just like WordPress category pages, they can naturally accrue a lot of ranking potential just by making sure that these pages are used and usable and have good content on them.
Mike: All right, so that gives us six action items:
One, Canonical data with resources. Two, a shift in thinking internally. Three, a great store finder. Four, original content on the store finder. Five, internal link structures that pass the link juice down. And six, some strategy to develop external links into those pages.
Mary: Right, yeah.
Mike: Maybe there we have a good summary for folks!
Mary: Sounds good.
Mike: All right. With that we'll say goodbye and see you next week. Take care.