This is probably the most debated of all the SEO strategies. It's a typical scenario. You have a business with multiple locations. Imagine a business with a physical location in Dallas, Houston and Austin. How does one go about executing this from an SEO perspective, so that the business show's up in an on-line search for every keyword in all three cities? Well keep reading for the answer.
Now there are many different ways to implement a multi-location SEO campaign. I will break it down by two types of scenarios. Ideal refers to those blessed businesses with a large SEO budget. Modest is for businesses on a shoe strong SEO budget. Please keep in mind, both these strategies assume that your business actually has a unique physical location in each city that you would like to rank in. In terms of local SEO, this is by far the most important ranking factor out there. If you do not have a physical location in the city you would like to rank in, then this strategy is not for you. There are other ways to get around not having a physical address, but that is outside the scope of this article.
I have worked quite bit on these types of campaigns. In ideal situations, clients have a fairly large budget and want to maximize the impact of SEO in all the cities their business operates in. For example, I had a client located in California that provided glass repair services in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. The owner wanted to be visible for every type of keyword + geo modifier combination. That meant ranking for keywords like window repair San Francisco and also window repair Los Angeles and so on (See the example below. Though its a poor representation of an ideal multi-location SEO strategy, it does provide a visual representation of what a strategy like this would entail for multiple cities and services).
You will notice that the website above has an individual page for each city and service. This is an important aspect of this type of approach. It is almost imperative to have a site where all the pages and products are targeting all the geo modified keywords (Manhattan, Brooklyn etc). The only way to achieve this from a website perspective is to have a site where there is a tab for "Locations" with a drop down for all three cities. Once a visitor clicks on a city, the entire site changes, so that all the pages represent a city + service. For example, if the visitor clicks on Los Angeles, all the pages on the site become service + Los Angeles. Essentially, it's like having three sites in one because you are trying to target every service + city geo modifier. If you have 10 services being offered in three different cities, that means creating 10 x 3 = 30 pages (10 services x 3 different cities). That way you can target every service in all three city locations. Why is this strategy so effective? Well, for one, all your URLS have the city geo modifier and service (www.example.com/san-francisco/service.com). Second, your title tag has the service and city geo modifier. And lastly, the H1 has the service and city geo modifier. Adding all these elements together will help you rank for that particular keyword + city combination. Also, make sure you claim individual Google Places accounts for all your business locations. This is considered best practice and advocated by Google itself. Each business with a separate physical location can have a separate Google Places page (and should). Google Places pages signal to Google that you have a verified local address in all three locations. This is critical for ranking in a particular location. Lastly, be careful about the content! Always use unique content for all the pages. Even though the services are the same (except for the change of city), the content needs to be worded and written completely differently. This is crucial to avoid being slapped with a duplicate content penalty. Please be mindful here. Next, lets move on to multi-location businesses on a modest SEO budget.
I have also worked on some of these types of SEO campaigns. Lets say you have a business that is located in multiple cities (lets take Manhattan, Queens, Long Island, Staten Island and the Bronx). These are not really separate cities, but for SERPs, they are different localities in search results. This example business also has a presence (verified address) in all the 5 boroughs and wants to rank in those localities as well. The only problem is that the owner does not have a large budget to create 5 separate sites to target every service + geo modifier combination. Say the business offers 5 different types of services. That would mean creating 5 (services) x 5 (cities) = 25 total pages to cover all the service + city geo modifier combinations. Since the owner cannot afford to create so many pages, the best approach would be to only create 5 individual location pages with the separate business address listed on each. For example, the site would have a navigation tab called Locations (please see example below taken from Chick-Fil-A).
When a searcher clicks on the Locations tab, there would be a drop down for each of the individual locations (i.e. Manhattan, Queens, Long Island, Staten Island and The Bronx). Each page will list the physical address of that location and other content information. Please note, it is also very important to make sure that each physical location has a separate Google Places account already setup, so that Google knows that your business has a legitimate and verified business address for each location.
For all the actual service pages, you should target only the keywords without any geo-modifier. That means, if you are offering plumbing services the title tag should read:
Plumbing Services | Brand Name.
The Meta Description is where you want to indicate the locations. Google does take notice of the content in the Meta Description. For example, your Meta Description would read something like:
XYZ company offers plumbing services in Manhattan, Queens, Long Island, Staten Island and The Bronx. Call today and speak with an expert.
The combination of a specific location page, plus a verified Google Places account in each city along with the Meta Description should provide enough signs to Google that you can rank for plumbing services + city combinations. On the downside, a website with a large SEO budget as outlined earlier can outrank the site with a modest SEO budget. This is true as long as all other elements (citations, backlink profile and social signs) between the two sites are 100% equal. Toe to toe, the website implementing everything outlined in the Large SEO Budget scenario would win in the eyes of search engines because every page has a clear signal of the city and the service.
There are many more additional factors that can influence local search results. These could include:
- Quantity of Local Citations
- Quality of Local Citations
- Consistency of NAP
- Physical Locations
These are just some of the local rankings factors that Google takes into account when ranking a business in the SERPs.
Whats the moral of this long story? In a nutshell, the more signals you provide to Google, the easier it will be to rank a website in a particular location. To be at the top of the SERPs, you should have a dedicated page for each city that also has (i) the city and keyword in the URL (ii) a title tag with the city + keyword (iii) H1 with the city + keyword (v) Meta Description and (iv) a verified Google Places listing for each target location. All these elements send a very strong signal to search engines that your business should rank in the SERPs for that keyword + city combination. And in all honesty, if you do have a business in a separate city offering a service, its only good business sense to have a page dedicated to that city at the very minimum. There is no way for search engines (or people for that matter) to know that your business is located in several cities, if you do not have a page for each location.
I hope this lengthy tutorial will help guide your future multi-location SEO strategy. Its also worth mentioning, there is always more than one way to skin a cat. These two methods have been personally tried and test by me over the years.
The best strategies are always those that have been tried, tested and implemented. These provide the most realistic expectations and outcome.
Good luck and may the SEO force be with you!