National vs. Local SEO for Franchises & Multi-Unit Businesses

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Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the free range, gourmet feed shop that he found after searching “corn store in pigeon forge” in Google on his iPhone and clicking on a localized organic result. If you liked that joke, you’ll love this less than smooth transition into the topic of why local search requires the helping hand of national SEO.

Because we work with a large number of multi-unit and franchise clients at Location3 Media, we often get asked to talk about specific services that focus solely on local SEO. In trying to process why we’ve had reservations in the past regarding launching a purely local SEO campaign, we found that a simple visual has helped to illustrate how we’ve been previously thinking.

A national SEO campaign for a franchise or multi-unit business typically focuses efforts on priority industry keywords and long tail phrases. The optimization across existing web pages, new content development and a backlink strategy will utilize variations of these targeted keywords to achieve search result visibility, thereby driving more site traffic and sales. This is a VERY simplified overview, but we’ll keep it for the sake of time. Well what if your products or services are so localized that you just don’t see the value in putting time and money into the national portion of the site?

The reason is that domain and page authority, built up from backlinks, optimizations, site traffic and a hundred other factors, are passed down to the local pages through the navigation and other effectively placed internal links from the homepages and strong sub-pages. By having some centralized link and content efforts (which coincidentally is a lot more manageable at the national level) you are still passing that value down to elevate the local pages in localized results. If all of your focus is only on local, those individual pages won’t have the benefit of a strong domain pushing them up. In addition you’ll find yourself spread too thinly, especially if there are hundreds or thousands of locations. Unless you have a massive budget and/or SEO team, you won’t be able to deliver effective SEO across all locations, so having that national campaign will make sure that all are benefiting.

This presents another big question for franchise and multi-unit systems: Are SEO Platforms worth the investment?

Starting back in January 2012, we came across a whitepaper produced by Conductor on the value of SEO Platforms. After reviewing the content, we spent months conducting trials and testing various aspects of the three industry leaders, Searchlight, Bright Edge and Search Metrics. The promise of the SEO Platform looked enticing: all of your SEO data, rankings, analytics and backlinks integrated to provide better insights for improving organic ranking, including the project management capabilities to streamline processes. Also included was the promise of combining all tools into one platform so that it would be unnecessary to pay for one-offs. While that sounded glorious at first, after almost six month of testing we found that none of these platforms would save us money, time, or truly improve our service offering.

We’ve outlined a few of the reasons that stood out for why Location3 decided against the SEO Platform for our needs. Before we dive into our criticisms, we do want to point out that while we decided a platform was not the right course for us, these are still really good tools that can absolutely benefit others, especially in-house SEO operations.

KEYWORD TRACKING

One of the first questions we asked each of the platform representatives to answer involved keyword tracking. All three tools pulled rankings once a week, which for a lot of people is more than enough. However, we’ve been using Authority Labs for our keyword ranking, which pulls the positions once a day. It was argued to Location3 that this was unnecessary, which in some cases we would agree. However that daily view has proven to be invaluable on many occasions in providing us deeper insights into how the search engines are ranking our websites. Another point worth noting is that all three tools base their pricing on the number of keywords, so as an agency servicing many clients (some of whom are local and require a significant amount of keywords) our pricing would be through the roof.

ANALYTICS

Location3 was probably most intrigued by the idea of pulling in analytics data to present web-based reports to our clients rather than using Excel. What we found with all three tools however, was that the view of this data was limited and therefore would be diminishing the value of our current reporting and analysis. For example, our keyword group analysis pulls in KPIs for ALL non-branded search phrases containing the selected keyword focus. The platforms only pulled in the data for the specific keywords within your campaign, which means all of those long tail phrases, the never-before-searched, the misspellings; all of those would not be accounted for.

BACKLINKS

Location3 is always on the search for a good tool to help discover link opportunities (although we’ll be the first to admit that we are also a bit skeptical after years of trying). We only ended up testing one platform’s backlink tool, so unfortunately we can’t speak for the other two. The one that we tried returned very few results, all of which were useless to us. The functionality was based off of finding mutual backlink sources across those competitors ranking for desired keywords. In theory, this should work although we’ve tried several tools that function this same way and we rarely find any results that aren’t sketchy directories and reciprocal link deals. Oh, and Wikipedia.

ANALYSIS

Analysis capabilities were really the biggest benefit to these tools in our opinion. It takes in the ranking and analytics data for the keywords, combined with the information from not only your top competitors but also those they identify as competitors related to the keywords you are focusing on and filters through to provide insights. These insights include optimizations that the website may need to better rank for terms as well as new keyword opportunities you may not know about based on what your competitors are doing. What we didn’t see was much (if any) integration of the backlink data into these recommendations which could potentially be very useful. While we would sometimes come across an insight that we thought could be very useful for us, at the end of the day there wasn’t much provided that we didn’t already have through our own processes, which also incorporate the deeper knowledge of the specific campaigns to weed out the unnecessary information.

So even though Location3 spent a lot of time exploring and being guided through each of these tools, we do acknowledge that there is a lot more to them than what we based our decision on. Tools like these require months of hands-on use, with multiple campaigns to truly understand them.

Before you implement any SEO strategy it is important to look at a variety of options for managing effective implementation of best practices, as well as future optimizations your business or company websites require to rank well within search engine listings.

Tarla Cummings is the SEO Manager at Location3 Media, a digital marketing partner built to increase the findability and performance of enterprise and multiunit brands.

For more information:

Web: www.location3.com