Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Google has made significant changes in the last few years concerning how it ranks websites for businesses that have multiple locations and now frowns upon many of the optimization techniques that were used in the past.
In this article, we will look at currently acceptable standards, review some recommended practices, and discuss the changes you need to make to rank well for location-based keyword phrases.
Use of ‘City+Keyword’ Pages No Longer Recommended
One of the typical SEO-related practices a few years ago was to create a web page for each city where we wanted to rank, even though we didn’t necessarily have a physical location in that area.
If our business resided in a town just outside of a metro area, we would build a web page for every city within 50 miles of that location. That way, when someone searched for a particular city using our preferred keyword, our site would show up in the search results.
Let’s say, for instance, that Joe has a garage door repair business located in the Dallas area. Since he can travel up to 50 miles to fix garage doors, he wants to rank for “Dallas garage door repair,” “Mesquite garage door repair,” “Garland garage door repair,” and so on.
Today, however, search engines no longer favor creating such local “city+keyword” pages unless we have a physical location there.
I understand that many businesses service large areas and don’t need to have a store front in every city. But search engines consider it to be spamming when we attempt to rank for a particular city+keyword phrase and we’re not resident within that locale.
Measures That Improve Local Search Ranking
Instead of using city+keyword pages, take the following measures to improve local search engine rankings:
- Remove any pages on your website that target individual cities or places where you do not have a physical location. Add a web page for each physical location that you do have;
- Update physical location pages with unique content. Include a local testimonial, paragraph about the place, and even photos and bios of each employee who works at that site;
- List your primary business address on the home page of your site;
- Mark up the site with “Schema.org” tags that indicate your location;
- Claim, verify, and optimize your listing on local business directories related to Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Include your company address, phone number, photos, descriptions, and operating hours;
- Link each local directory listing to your website’s business location page rather than to the home page;
- Do not duplicate product or services pages for each location unless those you offer are unique to a given area. In that case, list them on a web page linked to the individual location’s page.
Other Actions You Should Take
Combine multiple websites into one. If your business has multiple sites — a website and unique domain name per location — consider consolidating them into one central site. Doing so makes the site more “powerful” and gives it higher Domain Authority (a metric developed by Moz.com that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines).
Place subdomains under the primary domain. Another recommended practice is to place any subdomains you may have (e.g., Dallas.JoesGarageDoorRepair.com) underneath the main domain name (e.g., JoesGarageDoorRepair.com/Dallas).
Move your site to HTTPS. Consider moving your site to HTTPS, which is an Internet protocol that makes websites secure. Even though you may not sell anything on your site that requires credit card information, HTTPS is now considered a search engine ranking factor.
It will become more of a ranking factor in the future, so moving to a secure website now is a good idea, especially if you consolidate multiple sites or subdomains into one larger site.
Avoid keyword stuffing. I often run across sites that have removed city+keyword pages, but still include a list of cities they serve. Google considers the tactic to be “keyword stuffing” and makes explicit mention of that fact in its quality guidelines:
“Examples of keyword stuffing include … Blocks of text listing cities and states a web page is trying to rank for.”
We don’t know how many cities and states it takes for Google to consider it a “block of text,” but a safe rule of thumb would be ten or more. If you have such a list, think twice about whether or not you need it.
Get links that point to your site. Finally, don’t forget about the links pointing to your website. Links from local area sites say a lot about your business.
Even though Joe’s Garage Door Repair is physically located in Dallas, joining the local Chamber of Commerce in other cities where he does business is a good idea.
Those local website links will show Google that Joe’s isn’t just a Dallas-based company, but that he has a presence in other cities as well. As a result, he has a better chance of ranking for those city+keyword phrases even though he lists Dallas as his principal business address.