Posted by randfish
One question we see regularly come up is what to do if you’re targeting particular locations/regions with your site content, and you want to rank for local searches, but you don’t actually have a physical presence in those locations. The right track can depend on a few circumstances, and in today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand helps you figure out which one is best for your organization.
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking about geo-targeted or geo-specific local landing pages for companies that are trying to reach many geographic regions and need to have that scale, but don’t necessarily have a local physical location in every city they’re trying to target.
So if you can imagine I’m going to use the fictitious Rand’s Whisky Company, and Rand’s Whisky Company is going to be called Specialty Whisky. We’re going to be running events all over the country in all sorts of cities. We’re going to be trying to reach people with a really local approach to whisky, because I’m very passionate about whisky, and I want everyone to be able to try scotches and bourbons and American whiskies as well.
Okay, this sounds great, but there’s going to be a big challenge. Rand’s Whisky Company has no physical location in any city other than our main Seattle headquarters. This is a big challenge, and I’ve talked to many startups and many companies who have this same problem. Essentially they need to rank for a core set of terms in many different geographies.
So they might say, “Hey, we want to be in Nashville, Tennessee, and in Atlanta, Georgia, and we’ve identified a lot of whisky consumers in, let’s say, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But we can’t open physical, local office space in every one of those geographies. In fact, we could probably only start by having a Web presence in each of those. We haven’t yet necessarily achieved sort of scale and service in every single one of those geos.” It’s not like I’m running events in every one of these the day I start. I might start with Seattle and Portland and maybe Boise, Idaho, or Spokane or something like that, and then eventually I’ll grow out.
This presents a big challenge in search results, because the way Google’s results work is that they bias to show kind of two things in a lot of categories. They’ll try and show you the local purveyors of whatever it is that the person is searching for in the local or maps results. Obviously, Pigeon had a big change and update to these, changing the geographic areas and changing the ordering of those results and now many map results show up, and those sorts of things. But obviously they’re still very present.
We see them a lot. MozCast sees a very high percent of local intent queries even sometimes without the city modifier. If you’re in a geography, you search for a whisky store, and you know what? Liquor stores and specialty liquor companies and that kind of stuff, they’re going to show up in your search results here in Seattle in those Maps local boxes. So that makes it tough.
Then the other category is, of course, the organic web results. That’s where folks like this, Rand’s Whisky Company and other folks who are trying to scale their local presence, need to show up because you really won’t have an opportunity in those local results unless and until you have true local physical space. So you’re aiming for those Web results.
You’re oftentimes competing with people like Yelp and Angie’s List. A lot of the old Yellow Pages folks are in their directories and guides. Then sometimes, occasionally there will be a company that does a great job with this.
So there two companies that I want to call out. One is Uber, which everyone is pretty much familiar with, and Uber has done a great job of having their website contained in unique portals for each city in which they operate, unique social accounts, unique blogs. They really have put together a segmented operation that targets each city that they’re in. They do have physical space, so they’re cheating a little bit on this front.
Then another one is a company called Ride the Ducks, and Ride the Ducks has different websites for every city that they operate in. So there’s a duck tour in Boston, a duck tour in Seattle, a duck tour in Los Angeles, all this kind of stuff. You can ride the ducks in any of these cities.
Now let’s say that you’re a startup or a company starting out, and you’re thinking, “Okay, fine. I’m going to have my Specialty Whisky page for Seattle, and I’ll just put some generic information in there, and then I’ll replace Seattle with Portland, with Los Angeles, with Baton Rouge.” That’s my Baton Rouge page. That’s my Los Angeles page. This is called the find and replace.
Even if you push this out, even if you customize some of the content on this page, try and make it a little more specific, have a few addresses or locations, you will fail. Unfortunately, Angie’s List, who I mentioned, they do a really terrible job of this. They have a lot of pages that are what I call find and replace pages. You could just plug in nearly any city, and that’s what the results would look like. They do rank. They are ranking because they were early and because they’ve got a lot of domain authority. Do not think that you can copy their content strategy and succeed.
The next one is a little bit more scaled out. This is a little bit more like what someone such as a Yelp or TripAdvisor might do for some of their landing pages. They’ve got some unique info in each city. It’s the same for each city, but it’s scaled out and it’s relatively comprehensive. So, my Specialty Whisky Seattle page might show our favorite bars in Seattle. It might show some recommended stores where you can buy whisky. It might show some purveyors, some vendors, that we like. It could have some local events listed on the page. Fine, great. That could be good enough if the intent is always the same.
So if every city’s intent, the people who are searching for restaurants in Portland versus restaurants in Seattle, you’re basically looking for the same thing. It’s the same kind of people looking for the same kind of thing, and that’s how Yelp and TripAdvisor and folks like that have scaled this model out to success.
If you want to take it even one step further, my final recommendation is to go in that direction of what Uber and Ride the Ducks and those types do, which is they essentially have a customized experience created by a local team in that city, even if they don’t necessarily have a physical office. Uber, before they open the physical office, will send people out. They’ll go team gathering. Yelp did this, too, in their history as they were scaling out.
That kind of thing is like, “Hey, we’ve got some photos from some of our events. We’ve got a representative in the city.” This is Seattle Whiskey Pete, and Whiskey Pete says, “Yar, you should buy some whiskey.” It’s got a list of events. So Knee High is stocking up for the holiday (presumably at the Knee High Stocking Company, which is a great little speakeasy here in Seattle), and whisky at Bumbershoot. You can follow our @WhiskySeattle account on Twitter, and that’s different from our @WhiskyPortland, our @WhiskyLosAngeles or our @WhiskyNewYork accounts. Great.
There’s a bunch of top Seattle picks. So this is a very customized page. This experience is completely owned and controlled by a team that’s focused purely on Seattle. This is sort of the Holy Grail. It’s hard to scale to this, which is why this other approach can really be okay for a lot of folks trying to scale up and rank for all of those geo terms plus their keywords.
What’s the process by which you go about this? I’m glad you asked because I wrote it down. Number one, we want to try and determine the searcher’s intent and how we can satisfy the query and at the same time delight visitors. We’ve got to create a unique, special experience for them and delight visitors in addition to satisfying their query.
So for Seattle whisky, I can show them where they can buy whisky in the city. I can recommend some bars that have a great whisky selection, and then I can delight them by showing some tips and tricks from our community. I can delight them by giving them special priority access to events. I can delight them by giving them a particular guide that they could print out and take with them or the ability to register for special things that they couldn’t get elsewhere, buy whiskies that they’d never be able to get, whatever it is, something special to delight them.
Number two, I want to select the group of keywords, and I say group because usually there are a few keywords in every one of the verticals that I’ve talked to people about. There are usually between 3 and about 20 sets of keywords that they really, deeply care about per each geography. Do be careful. You’ve got to be wary of local colloquialisms. For example, if you’re in the United States, whiskey is often spelled with an “e”, W-H-I-S-K-E-Y, whereas in the U.K. and most of Europe, most of the rest of the English language speaking world, it’s spelled W-H-I-S-K-Y with no “e”.
Also you want to take those groups, and you want to actually combine them. So say I’ve got a bunch of keywords over here. I might want to say, “Hey, you know what? These three keywords, whisky tastings and whisky events, that’s the same intent.” I don’t need to create two different landing pages for those. Let’s take those and bunch them up and group them and make that one page. That’ll be our Seattle Whisky Events page, and we’ll target tastings and events and festivals and whatever other synonyms might go in there.
Third, I want to create a few of these, one of these two models of really amazing pages as a sample, as an instruction for all future ones. This is what we want to get to. Let’s make the best, most perfect page for Seattle, and then we’ll go make one for Portland and we’ll go make one for Los Angeles. Then we’ll see how do we get that into a process that will scale for us. You want that process to be repeatable. You want it to be well-defined. You want it to be so that a content team, who comes in, or contractor, an agency can take that document, can look at the examples, and replicate that on a city by city basis. That’s going to require a lot of uniqueness. You need to have those high bars set up so that they can achieve them.
The fourth and last thing for these pages you’re creating is you’ve got to be able to answer this question: Who will amplify this page and why? By amplify, I mean share socially, share via word of mouth, share via email, link to it. Who will amplify it and why? How are we going to reach them?
Then go get them. Go prove to yourself that with those two or three amazing example pages that you made that you can actually do it, and then make that part of your scaling process.
Now you’ve got something where you can truly say, “Yes, we can go geo by geo and have the potential to rank in market after market for the terms and phrases that we care about in the organic results.”
Long term, if you have a lot of success in a city, my next suggestion would be that you move from this model to this model where you actually have a local team, just one person, even a contractor, someone who visits. It doesn’t have to be a permanent resident of that city. It can be someone who goes there a month out of the year, whatever it is, every few weekends and owns that page and that experience and that section of your site for that specific geo that produces remarkable results.
They build relationships. That furthers your press, and that furthers your brand in that town. There’s a lot of opportunity there. So that’s eventually where you want to move to.
All right, everyone. I hope all of you out there who are building local, geo-targeted landing pages at scale have found this valuable, and I hope you’re going to go build some phenomenal pages. Maybe someone will even start a whisky company for me.
All right, everyone. Take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.
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