How do you successfully search engine optimise multi-location businesses? Do you need to create multiple websites or can you get a single site to rank for different locations? How do you ensure customers find the location closest to them?

These are some of the questions you’ll need to answer when running  SEO campaigns for a multi-location businesses, and below, I’ll share answers to some of these questions and show you how SEO is different when a business is run across more than one site.

5 Key SEO Issues for Multi-Location Businesses

These are some common issues you’ll run into when doing SEO for a business with multiple locations:

1. You have to build multiple websites

One of the first issues you’ll come across when doing SEO for multi-location businesses is whether you should build separate websites for each location, or just add each location on a separate page on your primary website.

Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on how to deal with this problem. Some SEOs advocate using sub-domains (e.g. NewYork.MyRestaurant.com) while others recommend using sub-folders (e.g. MyRestaurant.com/New-York/), and either of these solutions can work depending on the size of the business.

2. You have to manage dozens of listings in Google My Business

Google My Business is the foundation of any local business’ online presence on Google – the data you use here will show up in search results, maps and Google Places.

While Google has made it much easier to import multiple locations into My Business, there are still some concerns over data consistency. For example, if you run a retail store with a branch at the local mall, do you use the address of the mall (“MyStore at 1210 Main Street”) or the name of the mall (“MyStore at Galleria Mall”) in your store location?

Again, there’s no simple answer to this question. The names of local businesses are often linked with their locations, so mapping these in Google My Business can be a challenge for those with more than one site.

There’s also the problem of ensuring your Google My Business listing matches your existing citations, as small differences, such as West Paterson Street instead of W Paterson St, can cause issues.

3. You have to ensure NAP consistency

NAP (name, address, phone) consistency is critical for local businesses. While it’s easy enough to earn citations with accurate NAP data for a single-location business, things can get confusing once you scale up to multiple locations.

For example, a business with 10 locations will have 10 separate addresses, 10 (or more) different phone numbers, and 10 different websites. You might also have multiple name variations for each location (e.g. “MyRestaurant on Main Street” and “MyRestaurant at Main Street Mall”), along with multiple phone numbers. If you’ve changed addresses recently or shifted to a new URL, you will need to mention that as well.

Ensuring consistency across dozens of locations can quickly become incredibly complex, confusing, and time consuming.

4. You have to optimise content for each location

For your site to rank well for each location, you’ll need to produce content tailored around that location, and this can get very challenging when dealing with businesses with more than one address in the same city. For instance, how do you create optimised content for your location in Downtown, Atlanta vs. the one in Midtown, Atlanta?

At the same time, you’ll also need to collect things like news, driving directions, hours, menus, and people directories for each location. If a particular branch is closed for a month due to renovations, you’ll need to find a way share this information with customers. If you have a job opening for a specific location, you’ll want potential applicants to know about it in search results.

5. You have to work with multiple teams across multiple locations

Gathering data and co-ordinating with the local team is easy enough when you’re dealing with a couple of locations, but what if you have to optimise SEO for a business with 50 locations across 10 cities?

Working with the local team at each location becomes much more difficult when you’re doing it to a larger scale. In some cases, you might not have management buy-in for an idea at one location. In other cases, the local team might not be as quick to hand-off critical data, delaying rollout.

This isn’t really a technical issue, but something any SEO will have to deal with when working with a multi-location business.

How to search engine optimise multi-location businesses

The search engine optimisation process for multi-location businesses depends on a few key details:

1. Choose the right site structure

Your first priority in multi-location business SEO should be to create separate webpages for each location. How you choose to go about this will depend a lot on the nature and scale of the business.

A. Multiple locations in the same city – Create a separate directory for each location (like website.com/location1) and include all location-specific content within the directory. This is relatively fast and straightforward.

For example, consider The Palm restaurant’s website. Each location has a separate page, such as ThePalm.com/Tribeca for the NYC Tribeca location.

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The problem with this strategy is that you can’t organise locations by city. If the business expands to multiple cities, this can be a problem.

B. Multiple locations in multiple cities – Create a separate subdomain or directory for each city, then create a separate page for each location (e.g. website.com/new-york/location1).

Most large businesses follow this approach. Dominos, for instance, has locations organised by Stage > City > Post Code.

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This structure is recommended for growing businesses with expansion plans across multiple cities.

C. Multiple locations in multiple countries – You can either create separate subdirectory/subdomains for each country, or develop country-specific websites. What’s important here is that you give first-time visitors the option to select their country and language.

Here’s how Nike does it:

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Nike uses subdirectories for each country and language. The English version of Nike’s Portugal website, for instance, is at Nike.com/pt/en_gb.

Puma uses subdomains for each country. The German version of the site uses de.puma.com.

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Adidas uses separate websites for each country with country-specific ccTLDs, so you’ll find the German version at Adidas.de, while the Spainish site is at Adidas.es.

2. Organise content for each location

Regardless of what site structure you choose – subdomain, directory, separate website – it’s important to treat each location as a separate entity. Organise all your content in silos for each individual location.

So instead of this:

  • website.com/contact/location1, website.com/contact/location2

Use this:

  • website.com/location1/contact, website.com/location2/contact

Your job is essentially to turn each location page into a “mini-site” for that location. This mini-site acts as an authoritative source of content for that location, helping in local rankings.

So you might have a structure as follows:

Home/location1
Home/location1/gallery
Home/location1/contact
Home/location1/people
Home/location1/directions
Home/location1/reviews

What kind of local content you create will depend on the business type as well as the content creation budget. Restaurants, for example, should have menus and timings for each location. A B2B business with multiple branches should include information about key people at each branch.

3. Use Schema.org data

Schema.org adds metadata to your content that helps Google show appropriate information in SERPs.

If you see data like this in SERPs, it is because of Schema.org data:

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Schema.org data helps you in three ways:

  • It helps notify search engines about your primary, secondary, etc. branches.
  • It helps search engines figure out your prices, ratings and exact address for each location.
  • It helps customers find the above data in SERPs and increases CTR.

Schema.org for multi-location businesses is another article in itself, but for starters, refer to this page on Schema data for a local business.

4. Build citations and ensure NAP consistency

Local search doesn’t work the same way as regular organic search. While the number of backlinks still matters, the number and quality of citations are equally as important.

Building citations for multi-location businesses can be challenging, especially for larger businesses. You will have to create citations for each location while also ensuring NAP accuracy. This can easily scale to hundreds of NAP data points for a moderately-sized business.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when building citations for multiple business locations:

  • Use local phone numbers for each location – Many businesses have a national number that redirects to a local number, but this can be misleading to Google when you’re building citations. In order to create a strong signal that your business is actually where you claim it to be, use a local number specific to each location.
  • Update old citations with new data – If you’ve moved addresses, closed an old location or shifted to a new website, you need to update existing citations with newer data. Any old citation that doesn’t agree with your current data will make it harder to rank.
  • Ensure address consistency – Business addresses aren’t as straightforward as residential addresses. Ensure that you have the same address for each location in every citation, your website, and social media pages. Don’t give Google any reason to doubt that your business is exactly at the address you’ve specified.
  • Focus on accuracy instead of volume – When building citations for multi-location businesses, aim for accuracy over volume. You will see better results with 50 highly accurate citations than with 200 inaccurate citations.

5. Build a large library of positive reviews

Reviews play a critical role in bringing in new business via search. In fact, according to one study, 88% of surveyed consumers used reviews to determine the quality of a local business.

Earning reviews can be challenging for a business with multiple locations. You have to get reviews for each location separately and ensure that they show up in SERPs.

Follow these tips to build your library of positive reviews:

  • Focus on top ranked websites – If Yelp doesn’t show up in the top 10 results for your target, it makes no sense to prioritise getting reviews on it. Figure out what sites are ranking in the top SERPs for your target queries, then focus on getting reviews from those sites.
  • Prioritise Google My Business – Google listings dominate local search results. Make your Google My Business listing a priority when you’re trying to earn reviews. Be as responsive to reviews and comments on My Business listings as you are on Yelp.

Get reviews from blogs and media outlets – In some industries (such as dining & nightlife), Google shows reviews from large media outlets and blogs in its listings (called ‘critic reviews’). These typically occupy the top half of the screen above user-reviews. In such cases, make it a priority to earn positive reviews from top publications.

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6. Don’t forget on-page optimisation

While citations, reviews and site structure are important, you can’t just ignore on-page factors. Make sure that you have optimised title tags, headings, metadata, etc. There are site audit tools available to make sure your site is up to snuff.

At the very least, your pages should have:

  • A properly optimised title tag that includes location-specific keywords (“Best wine bar in Midtown Atlanta”).
  • A well-optimised and CTR-focused meta description. This should include your target keyword(s) while also enticing visitors to click through in the SERPs.
  • H1 tag with targeted local keyword phrase.
  • Optimised article text that uses the local keyword phrase naturally, preferably in the first paragraph of the article.
  • Substantially unique content for each location page. Instead of simply changing the location keyword, try to create unique content for all your locations. This requires more investment but will yield substantially better results.

Of course, you should also build backlinks as you normally would for any website. Backlinks might not be as important for local search as they are for regular search, but they still have a massive impact on your rankings.

Conclusion

Doing SEO for multi-location businesses is significantly different from conventional search engine optimisation. You need to choose the right site structure, ensure data consistency and manage multiple websites – issues you wouldn’t face in regular SEO.

So follow the above guidelines to kick-start the search engine optimisation process for any local business with multiple locations.