[Estimated read time: 9 minutes]
Right now, a customer is trying to find your local business. How quickly are you delivering the NAP, directions and other details he needs, on the go?
Volumes of excellent free advice have been written for small businesses about creating quality, optimized local landing pages, but today, I’d like to talk about a topic that has received much less attention: helping customers discover locations when you’ve got a ton of them. This article is for the medium-to-large business with 20, 100, 500 physical locations and a pressing goal to have each one be found by the customers local to it. Let’s talk about store locators!
Shopping wisely for store locators
A business with 5 or even 10 locations can easily work them into a menu tab labeled ‘Locations’ and trust that customers hitting the site will be able to click to their landing page of choice to access NAP, hours of operation, photos, reviews, etc. But when your company has grown beyond this, it simply isn’t practical to list dozens of locales in your top level navigation, whether on desktop or mobile devices. The solution, then, is a store locator widget that enables customers to enter a city and/or zip code, or click on an interactive map, to be guided to the right resource.
There are six main things you are looking for when assessing the quality of a store locator widget:
- Does it let me build and/or link directly to a customizable, permanent landing page for each of my locations? If so, this is a good sign. If not, your SEO opportunities will be severely limited.
- Does it allow me to search by city as well as zip code? If not, then you’ll have a problem with all travelers who may be trying to find your business in a strange city and have no idea what the local zip codes are.
- Does it work properly on all devices? This is must these days, given that as many as 50% of mobile queries may have a local intent.
- It’s a must that the widget will work with your existing website, whether that’s running on WordPress, Magento, Shopify, or what have you. You don’t want to have to redevelop your website, just to get your widget to function.
- A bonus to look for would be automatic geolocation detection — the ability of the widget to detect where a customer is searching from. This provides convenience.
- And, finally, there may be extra features you’d like to have to ensure the best possible experience for both users and your business. This might include search text autocompletion, the ability to sync with Google Docs to upload location data, or search filters that allow users to refine results based on personal criteria.
Keep all of these necessary and optional features in mind when evaluating Store Locator widget choices. Captera has recently done a good job of profiling a number of popular options which should help you hone in on the right solution for your company.
Pricing varies widely, from free to upwards of a $1,000 initial investment with reduced rates for subsequent years of service. WordPress offers a number of free and premium store locator plugins with varying degrees of popularity. For any paid product, I recommend choosing only those which offer a free trial period of at least 1–2 weeks so that you can be sure the solution works for you.
Weak landing pages? Weirdly, not a big worry!
I’m now going to write something kind of shocking you thought never thought you’d read on the Moz Blog: you can evidently get away with thin and duplicate content on location landing pages — if your brand is established enough.
I’m writing this because, having looked at a considerable number of live store locators while researching this article, I found landing pages like this one with next to zero content on them, landing pages like this one with a very meager attempt at content that is observably duplicative, and landing pages like this one with some duplicate content, but also, some added value for local users. Not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but, with the exception of the last example, the sheer volume of locations operated by these companies has likely caused their marketers to settle on the most minimal effort possible to differentiate between landing pages. The last of these (REI) has actually done a good job of adding interest to their pages by including a regional event schedule. I like what they’ve done, but is it necessary?
The answer may surprise you
In a word: no. Google is correctly finding for me each of these businesses in the right cities, both organically and locally, when I search for them. While I would never advise a small business to take a least-effort approach with their store landing pages, it’s my conclusion from my research that established brands can get away with a great deal, simply because they are established. It seems you can get the right data in front of the customer with a very minor effort, and that the minimum requirements for data on those pages would be that they have correct company NAP on them and are indexable.
Am I handing out a lazy pass for all?
Are lax standards a good reason to go with the minimum effort and call it a day? In another word: maybe. The investment you make in landing page development for your brand is going to be dictated by:
If funding is modest, you may need to spend elsewhere in your marketing for now. If you have hundreds of locations, the cost of going the extra mile on your store landing pages may not show any easily-discernible ROI. If your marketing department throws its hands up in the air regarding differentiating store #157 from store #158, there may be a lack of available creative solutions to the scenario. But this last bullet point — competition — this is where things get interesting.
Besting your toughest competitors
Let’s say you’re operating one of three sporting goods stores in town. Competitor A has zero content beyond NAP and hours on his landing pages. Competitor B has thin, duplicate content on her landing pages. But, you, you smartie, have not only got a unique paragraph of text on your pages, but also store-specific reviews, and a maintained schedule of guided hikes in the region. All three of you link to your respective landing pages from your Google My Business listings. If you were Google, would A, B, or C look like a more authoritative resource to you?
And let’s look at this from the perspective of me on my cell phone on a winter’s day, looking for a high end snowboard and being given raw NAP by one competitor, a generic message by the second, but a promise of a free cup of hot cocoa (according to your reviewers) and a welcome message from you that states that every employee at your shop is a fanatical outdoors enthusiast, ready to show a novice like me the ropes of investing in sporting goods.
In a competitive scenario, if your store is the only one maximizing the potential for consumer engagement on your store landing pages, you are working towards impressing not just search engines, but customers, too. You could end up earning more than your fair share of those 50% of local-intent mobile queries, in city after city.
Supercharge your landing pages
Here’s a quick brainstorming list of both typical and optional content you could include on store landing pages to make them extra useful and extra persuasive:
- Hours of Operation
- Driving Directions
- Unique welcome message
- Proofs of local community involvement
- Store-specific reviews or testimonials
- Links to major review profiles for the store
- Social media links
- Live chat apps
- Store-specific specials, including coupons
- Location-specific schedule of in-store or topically related regional events
- A summary list of brands, goods and/or services offered at that location
- Indoor/outdoor imagery of the specific store
- Video content relative to the store or region
- A statement of guarantees offered at the store
- An interactive map
- Calls-to-action for how to communicate with the brand after hours
- Education about the availability of beacons or other in-store apps
Looking for more inspiration? Try this Moz Academy video to spark extra landing page content ideas.
You may necessarily end up with a minor amount of duplicate content, but by brainstorming a list like the above, you will be making a maximum effort to inspire bots to consider your pages authoritative and to inspire searchers to become customers.
Discovery and indexing: Making landing pages pay off
Now that you’ve made the effort to create all of these individual landing pages for your locations, your top priority is to be sure they can be discovered by customers and indexed by search engines.
The first is really easy: be certain your Locations or Stores link is in your top level navigation, at the top of every page of your website. Don’t count on users finding it if you’ve stuck it in a box somewhere within your homepage layout. Many users will not be entering your website via the homepage and you want to deliver the link to find the store nearest them immediately. Don’t make them search for it.
Take care here
- Be sure you are linking from the Google My Business listing for each location to its respective landing page on the website.
- Be sure your other citations also consistently link to the landing pages instead of to the homepage.
- Submit an XML sitemap to Google Search Console.
- Create a permanent sitemap on your website, that includes links to all of the landing pages.
- On the main Locations page of the website, include an alphabetical directory of all locations with crawlable links. You can see an example of this at REI.com.
- Earning inbound links to these pages from third parties and, also, linking internally to landing pages from other pages of the website or blog posts, where appropriate, are other forms of insurance that they will be discovered, crawled and indexed.
You say “local landing pages,” I say, “customer service!”
Comscore/Neustar Localeze have estimated that more than ½ of desktop local searches and more the ¾ of mobile local searches result in an offline purchase. The same study asserts that almost half of the searches surrounding services, restaurants and travel are performed by users looking for companies with whom they’ve never had any previous transactions.
In this lively scenario, the smart business will be that one which gets name, address, phone number and driving directions in front of the customer fast. The winning business in a competitive environment may be the one which not only extends the courtesy of basic data to the customer, but which offers extra inducements (in the form of additional useful information) to be that customer’s choice.
Store locator widgets and local landing pages have become an established component of customer service. Properly implemented and developed, they may be the very first sign you give to a major percentage of your incoming customers that you are there to serve their needs. Serve them well!