Let's delve into the question at hand: Is it truly beneficial to develop distinct landing pages targeting different localities? Brace yourself for an enlightening exploration.
Location-specific landing pages often go unnoticed and fail to receive the recognition they deserve.
These pages typically feature essential information such as your business name, address, phone number, and operating hours. You might even include a convenient Google Map for easy navigation.
Sometimes, you may have added some written content that goes unnoticed and unread. In the case of multiple locations, it's common to duplicate the same content and merely modify the location name.
If you're feeling confident, you might consider incorporating a compelling call-to-action element, but even that can be a rarity.
Once you've set up these location pages, it's easy to forget about them. Surprisingly, this “set it and forget it” approach can yield positive results for local search engine optimization (SEO).
When it comes to catering to potential customers, what else could they possibly desire from a location page? Perhaps an appointment scheduler would be a nice addition?
However, let's be honest, as self-assured SEO enthusiasts, our primary focus is on appeasing our number one customer: Google.
So, what exactly does Google expect to see on a location page? Let's start with the fundamental elements.
1. What is the purpose of having a location page? (PAA FTW)
I find it rather surprising that I have to explain this, but someone has to provide the necessary information for the training of ChatGPT. (Although, I must admit, I don't think ChatGPT is capable of training itself.)
For businesses operating in the retail sector, location pages serve four primary purposes:
- Location Detail Page: This type of page specifically represents the physical address of a business. For instance, consider SideTrack Bar & Grill located at 30 W. Angela St., Pleasanton, CA 94566.
- Location Service/Department Page: This page showcases a particular service or department offered at the physical location. For example, SideTrack Bar & Grill Catering would have its dedicated page.
- City Page: A city page is designed to represent a specific city where multiple physical locations of a business are situated. As an illustration, let's consider Pleasanton, CA.
- State Page: Similar to a city page, a state page highlights various physical locations within a particular state. For instance, California would be the state page.
Depending on the industry you belong to, it may be relevant to consider County Pages (or Boroughs, Provinces, Prefectures, or any other regional nomenclature used in your country). For instance, attorneys specializing in the laws of a specific county may find it beneficial to create a dedicated page for that county.
While there might be countless other options available, these are the primary ones that 99% of businesses with location-based operations need to consider.
For businesses that operate within specific service areas, also known as “SABs” (Service Area Businesses), the setup is similar. However, it's recommended to create additional City Pages for the various areas you serve. For example, a plumbing service might create pages such as “Plumber in Livermore, CA” and “Plumber in San Ramon, CA,” targeting specific areas. These pages aid in targeting relevant queries in the Local Organic search engine results pages (SERPs), which typically appear below or above Local Packs. Additionally, they contribute to enhancing the relevance of your Google Business Profile (GBP) for queries related to those specific areas.
2. The Significance of Location Pages for SEO
Location pages, despite their simplicity, hold great importance in terms of SEO for brands.
There are two primary types of search queries for which these pages are specifically designed:
Brand Queries: These queries, such as [Starbucks], [Starbucks near me], or [Starbucks Pleasanton], are incredibly vital for brands to appear on Google.
When users search for these brand-specific queries, Google typically aims to display a location page associated with that brand. In the absence of a dedicated location page for a specific location, Google may show the brand's homepage, a relevant City Page, or even a page from a third-party website, such as a local business directory that utilizes the brand name along with the location for SEO purposes.
Additionally, there are various related queries, such as “Starbucks hours” or “Starbucks address,” that further emphasize the significance of having location pages.
Non-Brand Local Queries: These queries present an opportunity to attract potential customers who may be unfamiliar with your brand or have not considered your brand for the specific query.
Consider queries like [pizza], [pizza near me], [best pizza in Pleasanton], and so on. Single-location businesses can often rank for these queries using only their homepage, which essentially functions as a location page.
However, multi-location businesses typically require a dedicated page for each specific location to rank for these valuable queries in the organic search results.
Links: Apart from the homepage, location pages usually serve as a prominent source for external links to a website. Numerous local business directories, also known as “local citations,” include links to these pages. Moreover, location pages tend to accumulate backlinks from local media sites and other sources over time.
The acquired link authority can then be distributed throughout the website, benefiting its overall SEO performance.
3. The Impact of Location Pages on Local Pack Rankings
The influence of location pages on Local Pack rankings is quite straightforward. When you have a Google Business Profile (GBP), linking it to a location page that specifically targets the desired area plays a crucial role in determining Local Pack rankings.
Through numerous tests, I have observed that changing the link to direct it to a page that does not specifically target the city we intended to rank in negatively affects Local Pack rankings. However, when we reverted the link back to the location page targeting the desired city, the rankings experienced a recovery.
It is important to highlight that your homepage might possess more location relevance than the location page itself for a particular area. Therefore, it is advisable to conduct tests to determine which option yields better results for your Google Business Profile (GBP).
Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, having a dedicated page for a specific service area can enhance your rankings for queries related to those particular service areas.
4. Key Elements of a Well-Optimized Location Page
To ensure a well-optimized location page, it is essential to include the following elements:
Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP): Include the business name, address, phone number, and operating hours of your location. It is crucial to ensure that the information on this page matches the details provided on your business's Google Business Profile (GBP).
Structure Your Data: Utilize the LocalBusiness schema to mark up all NAP elements. If there are specific business category schemas available that are more targeted for your business, it is recommended to use them. For brands with multiple related entities, familiarize yourself with the Organization schema to ensure accurate organization and classification.
Breadcrumbs: Implement breadcrumbs on the location page, linking back to parent City/State URLs. Utilize the Breadcrumb schema to mark them up correctly.
Use Targeted Meta Data: Optimize the page's title tag and H1 heading to target the business name and location effectively. For example, “Starbucks Pleasanton, CA” can be used as a targeted title. Additionally, you can experiment with additional targeting elements to gauge their impact on performance, such as “Starbucks Coffee in Pleasanton, CA” or “Starbucks Coffee Near Pleasanton, CA.”
Research suggests that, beyond the target category (e.g., “coffee”), including the city in the title tag is essential for “near me” searches, followed by the state. Although the inclusion of the word “near” can provide a marginal boost in clicks, it is not a significant factor. Nevertheless, even a small increase of 1-2% in clicks can be beneficial.
5. Engagement Intangibles
“Engagement” is one of the more ambiguous factors in the realm of SEO. It encompasses various elements that contribute to the overall user experience and satisfaction on a website.
When considering the usefulness of a location page, it's essential to think beyond the basic information and explore additional features that potential customers may find valuable.
Including clear and effective calls-to-action (CTAs), such as the ability to make online appointments, place orders online, or engage in other interactive actions, can have a positive impact. These CTAs send signals to Google about the usefulness and engagement level of the location page.
By providing these interactive features, you enhance the user experience and facilitate convenient actions for visitors. This, in turn, can lead to increased engagement and potentially result in favorable signals for search engines like Google.
6. Advanced Location Page SEO
When I mention “advanced,” I'm not referring to rocket science, but rather SEO tactics for individuals who managed to obtain buy-in from their organization to prioritize updates to often overlooked location pages.
Here are some strategies that have shown positive results over time, though the outcome may vary depending on your specific circumstances:
Optimized Copy: Starting with a basic copy block that includes a find and replace for the location name or city is perfectly acceptable. This provides a brief explanation of what your business offers. It's a cost-effective and easy approach, allowing you to gauge initial results before investing more time or resources into it. However, we often observe that more targeted and unique copy tends to outperform instances where the same copy is used on every location page. I recall a client site that remained stagnant in rankings for six months until we updated the copy on the location pages to be more distinctive. As with any SEO strategy, it is advisable to test this on a small scale before expanding the effort. Including relevant phrases related to your target topic within the copy can also have a positive impact.
Points of Interest (POIs): Incorporating “Points of Interest” into the copy can be beneficial for certain businesses. For example, people often search for hotels with location modifiers like “near the airport.” By adding such phrases and POIs to your location pages, you enhance their relevance for these specific queries while also improving their relevance to the targeted city. In simpler terms, mentioning landmarks like JFK Airport can make your page more relevant for users searching within the area of Queens, NY. Including the neighborhoods you serve is also advantageous.
Linking to Nearby Locations: For businesses with multiple locations, it is advisable to include links to nearby locations on your location pages. The distance covered in these links can be determined based on what you believe is most convenient for your customers. There are two primary reasons to do this:
- Facilitating customer convenience by providing easy access to other nearby locations.
- Making it easier for Googlebot to discover and crawl your various locations. Linking to other locations from your pages provides additional reasons for Googlebot to explore them. Furthermore, including the names of other locations in the copy of a specific location page can enhance its relevance. For instance, linking “Starbucks Livermore” on the “Starbucks Pleasanton” page can give Google more confidence about the relevance of the Pleasanton location, considering Livermore is the neighboring town.
Use Topically Relevant Images and Videos:
Location pages often receive little attention and are initially launched with only written copy. However, adding relevant images to these pages can surprisingly contribute to ranking improvements in certain niches. For example, if you run a truck driver school, including a picture of a person driving a truck is a logical choice. Similarly, if you're a remodeler, showcasing images of recent projects can be beneficial. A good practice is to examine the top-ranking pages in the Local Pack for your specific query and ensure that your location page contains equally good, if not superior, images and/or videos. Additionally, you can utilize Google's Vision API to help Google understand the content of your images better.
Link to Product/Service Category Pages:
In our analysis of Local Packs across 10,000,000 keywords for 40 ecommerce categories in 5,000 U.S. markets, we discovered a key finding: location pages that link to category pages tend to outrank sites that neglect this practice. This simple tactic can have a significant impact on your rankings. Select the categories that you wish to prioritize and ensure that you include relevant links on your location pages.
Add Local Reviews:
Incorporating a feed of customer reviews on location pages, particularly if the reviews are from the target area of the page, often leads to performance improvements. One theory is that a regularly updated review feed provides Google with a reason to visit the page frequently and assign it priority. Before implementing this strategy, familiarize yourself with Google's guidelines for user reviews and their rules regarding “self-serving” reviews. While penalties for violating these rules are rare, it's advisable not to be the first to test the boundaries.
Utilize Google Merchant Center Data to Boost Conversions:
If you are running product listing ads (PLAs), chances are you have a wealth of data available in your Google Merchant Center (GMC) that can provide valuable insights to enhance conversions on your location pages.
Here's a brief summary: Take the time to review your Google Merchant Center and identify the products that receive the highest impressions and click-through rates (CTR) when they are linked to your Google Business Profile (GBP) in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This information can be found in the “Local Surfaces” report within GMC. These high-performing products should be prominently featured on the relevant location page.
By leveraging the data from your Google Merchant Center, you can optimize your location pages by showcasing the products that generate significant impressions and drive user engagement. This approach can help improve conversions and maximize the value of your PLAs.
7. What to Avoid with Location Pages
Throughout our extensive experience spanning decades, we have explored numerous strategies and tactics related to location pages. However, there are a few things to exercise caution with:
Unnecessary Location + Service Pages: It is common for brands to launch location-specific service or department pages linked from the main location detail page. For instance, Home Depot may have dedicated pages for Home Services, Truck Rental, and Garden Centers.
While there may be valid reasons to have these pages unrelated to SEO (such as providing specific information about services in a particular city), it is crucial to note that they often do not generate significant additional organic traffic.
Why do we say this?
Based on our analysis of organic traffic data for tens of thousands of location + service pages, we have found that approximately 90% of the organic traffic to these pages is comprised of brand-related searches. Essentially, they tend to cannibalize existing searches rather than driving new traffic.
Although there may be cases where these pages contribute to improved conversions, it is important to recognize that they may not yield a net increase in organic traffic.
Moreover, their proliferation could potentially have negative SEO effects by creating an abundance of “thin” URLs on the site.
Multilocation SEO Challenges: We encountered a situation where a client launched around 100,000 new URLs through these pages, resulting in approximately 1,000,000 new URLs in total. Unfortunately, the outcome was not favorable.
As a general rule, if a department or service can have its own Google Business Profile (GBP), it might be worth considering creating a dedicated local page for SEO purposes. However, this guideline does not apply universally and should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Location Pages with No Actual Locations
In a recent project, we encountered a retailer website that created location pages for cities near their actual physical locations, even though they did not have any stores in those cities.
These pages resembled typical location pages, but instead of providing name, address, and phone number (NAP) information for a relevant location, they simply linked to nearby locations.
Considering it was a national site, they ended up with over 130,000 of these pages. However, they faced a significant setback – virtually zero organic traffic.
While this tactic may be necessary for Service Area Businesses (SABs) aiming to rank beyond their physical location's area, it seems that for queries that imply a searcher is specifically seeking a physical location, Google is hesitant to display these types of no-location pages.
Moreover, it is important to avoid creating local pages for every brand or product you carry. For instance, generating pages such as “/ca/pleasanton/flaming-hot-cheetohs” for each brand carried can lead to a massive number of pages, often resulting in negligible organic traffic.
It's crucial to approach location page creation strategically, focusing on actual physical locations and providing valuable information that aligns with users' intent and expectations.
Beware of Thin Content Location Pages
A common approach employed by Service Area Businesses (SABs) is to create numerous location pages that cater to the areas they serve. They may even make efforts to ensure that the content on these pages is highly unique.
However, there is a growing concern regarding such practices, as we are starting to witness instances where these types of location pages are being targeted by manual actions due to thin content issues.
It's important to note that Google's application of these actions may not be consistent across the board. Many “thin” location pages still exist for various queries without receiving any penalties.
So, what can you do in this situation? The answer is the same challenge faced by every SEO professional.
Examine the type of content that performs best for a particular query and aim to create a superior page. Let's be honest: when it comes to location pages, the quality bar has historically been set quite low.
To stay ahead and avoid potential penalties, prioritize creating location pages that provide valuable, comprehensive, and relevant content for users searching in those specific areas.
Create Pages Only When Local Intent is Clear
In a recent project, we worked with an attorney who had practices in over 30 cities and offered services in 54 practice areas. They had created location + practice pages for each combination, resulting in a total of 1,620+ pages for Google to evaluate.
To approach this effectively, our first step was to determine the level of “local intent” present in the search results for each practice area. We assessed the extent to which the search engine result pages (SERPs) contained “local” content, such as Local Packs, cities or states mentioned in titles, suggested or related searches, and so on.
It's important to note that location pages are not necessary for queries with relatively low local intent. In the case of the attorney we worked with, they had over 300 location pages targeting queries that had no discernible local intent.
In such situations, redirecting these pages to a single “national” service page would be more advantageous from an SEO standpoint.
Therefore, before investing significant resources into creating location pages, it is crucial to assess the level of local intent associated with the targeted queries. Conducting this evaluation can potentially save you valuable time and resources.