Why Your Multi-Location Business Might Be Experiencing Lower Rankings Post-Pigeon and What to Do About ItAs Google’s most recent update to its search algorithm, nicknamed “Pigeon”, settles into the roost, many businesses with multiple locations have seen their organic traffic drop by as much as 5 to 10 percent.  SEO experts have been analyzing the situation and they’ve come to several interesting conclusions.

Emphasis on Brands

Google’s over-emphasis on brand identification is causing its search algorithms to misinterpret search queries as brand queries.  For instance, if someone were to type in “Tampa florists” any business exactly matching “Tampa florists” would place at the top of the search engine results page (SERP), and any businesses with Tampa florists in their name or domain would have a higher ranking than others that might otherwise be more relevant.  This is a flaw that Google is said to be working on, but for now it’s causing lots of spammy search results.

It’s All About the Location

Google’s latest mantra is “the user is the new centroid,” and searches are increasingly returning location-based results.  Unfortunately, even desktop searches are being treated more like mobile searches, and results are focusing on locations within just a few miles of the user.  Big brand stores with multiple locations often tend to be located on the edge of town, hurting their search results under this new location-based algorithm.

Google Plus Redesign

In May of this year Google completely redesigned its Google+ app, in an attempt to achieve consistency across all platforms.  While the new features greatly enhance the user experience, the redesign has created a backlog in getting all of the listings upgraded to the new layout.  Google engineers have been tackling the simplest cases first, and complex multi-location businesses are the last to be upgraded.  Since Google+ Local listings are heavily weighted in search results, businesses who have gone through the upgrade are reporting a significant increase in traffic.  Experts caution against the temptation to delete listings and create new ones, however, as this may simply create more complexity and delay upgrades even further.

Best Practices for Multi-Location Businesses

Here are a few simple practices to help businesses with multiple locations to ensure they’re getting the best possible ranking for each location.

  • Use one domain for all of your locations, and create a unique page for each store using either a subdomain or directory (i.e. Tampa.MyStore.com or MyStore.com/Tampa).  This will give you a powerful web presence and allow you to connect all of your sites without having to build a complicated link farm that could get you penalized.
  • Create unique, individual content for each page, optimized for zip code, neighborhood and city or town.  Absolutely avoid duplicating any content from one page to the next, or from the main domain to a subdomain or directory page.  Duplicate content is considered spammy and heavily penalized by Google.
  • Include descriptive keywords in your individual page titles, to include location and business description.
  • Create a Google+ Local page for each location, and ensure that each one displays the location’s unique URL rather than just the root domain (i.e. Tampa.MyStore.com or MyStore.com/Tampa rather than just MyStore.com).
  • Create and update listings on Yelp, Google Places, YP and other directories for each store, and ensure the name, address and phone number (NAP) is correct on each one.  NAP consistency is crucial for getting a good SERP ranking on Google.

As with each of Google’s updates, Google Pigeon has created a micro-industry of SEO “black-hatters” rushing to exploit weaknesses in the algorithm, such as the heavy emphasis on branding.  These practices might improve your SERP ranking temporarily — until the next update comes out, but they could also get you penalized at a later date.  Google’s ultimate goal is to improve the user experience and provide useful, relevant results, and businesses who play by the rules and strive to create useful, relevant content will be better off in the long run.

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