Why Local Websites Make Sense For The Customer & For Home Services Businesses With Many Locations

National brands such as Vivint, TruGreen, Davey Tree, Terminix etc. are more than just national brands. With their network of local stores and representatives, they are a network of local businesses. While a national brand, these types of home services businesses are also your neighbor. National brands create jobs in the local area. And because customers look more than ever to buy local and have a local experience, national home services companies must give them that buying experience. Customers want the local buying experience because it feels personal, they know you understand them, and they know the local store can better answer their questions.

In fact, according to a recent study by Yodle of 6,000 consumers, “The majority of consumers find that local businesses outperform national chains on service and quality. For example, 96% think that local businesses offer more personalized service.”

Multi-location businesses should put as much care and focus at presenting themselves as a local business online as they do offline. Because you wouldn’t try and service the whole US out of one location. So why should you service the whole internet out of one domain, that isn’t customized to the local market.

While we know and understand that local home service company locations operate much like a local business and are truly their neighbors, customers aren’t going to often see it that way. Because for all that national businesses do to be local in their market in the physical sense, they often don’t take the same care to make a truly local online buying experience.

What Customers Look for in a Local Online Buying Experience

So, what is a local buying experience in an online context for the customer like? Currently when a customer goes to a well run local-only business website:

  • They go to a domain that is all about that product or service in that local market
  • It has a local phone number all over the site. It doesn’t feel like if they call the number they are calling a call center
  • It has the local address all over the site
  • It might have a picture or information about the local manager
  • It might talk about local charities that they sponsor
  • It’s going to use local terminology when talking about the areas that they cover. This could include copy that uses things such as demonyms that reference people in their area.
  • Its product images on the site might look like homes in their area or even have pictures of famous local places
  • The copy is going to mention throughout the website the area that they serve and make references to it so that customers know you are in their area, even if they don’t come into the site from the homepage or a “local store page”
  • They know if there is pricing or bundle information that the listed prices and bundles will be available in their area
  • The social profiles on the site will link to local social profiles and not a corporate profile, and the content on the social account will have locally relevant content.
  • The copy won’t talk about having to deal with snow if there is never any snow there, and won’t talk about ocean views if there are no oceans there. All copy and product feature benefits will only speak to needs that are relevant locally.

So, if you truly want the customer to feel you are local, then these are the kinds of things a customer is going to expect. The problem has traditionally been how do we deliver this level of experience that a local-only business can provide, but do it at scale for every local office or store? National businesses have been able to do this kind of localization and personalization with their physical stores and local salespeople. So why can’t they do it with their website and create digital-personalization? 

We know that if we create a local online buying experience that this kind of personalization pays dividends for local stores, as local businesses often see higher conversion rates than a national brand online when all things are equal. This is because their site only talks about their local market, and generally only gets traffic from their local market. 

How to Create a Local Online Experience as a National Brand

So is it possible to provide this level of customer service online at scale for a national brand? Historically no, or at least not without an incredible amount of investment. The reason it isn’t possible is because of the amount of manpower it would take for a national brand to have hundreds of local websites that are consistent in brand feel, while maintaining a local experience. And this manpower effort has made it be too prohibitive for businesses to do. 

But with the right technology platform, such as Campfire by Flint Analytics, it is possible. That’s because you can easily create unique local content across hundreds of websites and manage them as if they are one. And this can be done while still letting truly unique local customization or digital personalization that customers want. So instead of having to repeat the process of managing a site 100 times for 100 stores, we can do it with the effort of managing 2 websites for 100 stores or the effort of managing 3 websites for 1,000 stores.

This platform truly lets your national brand be as local online as it is in its physical stores. All the effort to locally hire a knowledgeable sales team and customer service reps or to find good retail locations can be hindered if you present your local store as just another cog in the corporate wheel online.

And when you have locally personalized sites customers love it. Our clients generally have a corporate site with a local directory structure that you might find on almost any multi-location business site. And they can perform very well. But, our clients also have a local website or domain for every store as well. The local store’s websites organic visitors generally convert at more than 2.5 times as well as the corporate website. 

*Does not include phone calls that increase the conversion rate by 50%

And if you are thinking that’s just because local pages convert higher already than the main corporate pages, so that is to be expected. It’s true corporate local pages convert better than the rest of the site, but local websites convert even better than the local corporate pages. Because when comparing a local directory page on corporate to local sites we generally see a bump of between 20% to 50% increase in conversion rate. 

Common Concerns About How Search Engines Work with Local Sites

So customers like the experience better, but we are often asked about what Google and the search engines think. When doing anything online, we need to pay attention to how it affects the search engines and how they view your site or in this case “sites.” Does Google also like local websites? And will it hurt traffic to the primary domain? Or am I just cannibalizing my current efforts? What about duplicate content?

These are all important questions to ask. And issues we have studied and experimented with for years. So let’s start with these questions one by one.

Does Google Like Local Websites? 

We have researched over and over and have found that Google loves local-only websites. Google loves local websites for many of the same reasons that customers do. The CTA’s are normally clear as to who to reach out to. The content is about one specific location. The sites generally aren’t trying to do too much. Local sites are simple for Google to understand. Google also likes that they are only trying to rank in one specific area. They know they aren’t trying to rank outside that area. 

Google Often Ranks Well-Managed Local Websites Above their National Competitors

There are several things that help us understand this. First and foremost, Google often ranks well-managed local websites above their national competitors. This is true not only in the local pack but in the regular organic results. At the link here you can find just one of many examples where local sites are outranking much bigger websites with much greater authority for local terms. 

In this example, the search phrase we used was “pittsburgh windows”. In the local pack, you will notice that the top spot was held by Pittsburgh Window & Door co. Also, notice another local company held the top organic spot. Notice using the Moz extension the top 3 organic listings have the lowest domain authority of any site in the regular organic listings, yet they rank first. This listing not only beats out Renewal By Anderson, but Anderson Windows, & Pella windows which are much larger nation window companies. And not only did they outrank the big companies in the space but they outrank aggregators such as Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List and others. This is very common as it isn’t even the only local only site that is ranking above much more difficult competitors. 

Notice how using the Moz toolbar you can see small domain authority sites competing well against national competitors.

This type of result is repeated over and over again for local searches in the home security space, in the window treatments space, and in the garage door space. Pick any industry and do test searches for things like Window Shutters Indianapolis, Roofers Louisville, Kitchen Remodel Miami, Lawncare Phoenix, etc. and you will find local businesses outranking their large national competitors.  So what would happen if you could scale local sites? 

We have worked with many home services businesses and have seen how effective creating local sites for each store can be. For example, one of our clients in home services who we have been working with for 5 years is using this strategy. When we started with them they had a series of local pages and had all local listings such as Google My Business pointing to their corporate site. 

When we set up these local sites and pointed their local listings to the local site, we quickly began to see these sites start to rank. And the corporate site has not just maintained organic traffic but has continued to gain organic traffic. 5 years later corporate site organic traffic is up 105%. This is great news, but it is nothing compared to what has happened with the local sites. When you combine the new local traffic with corporate traffic compared to the same time period in 2015, traffic in 2019 was up 17x. 

And these are highly converting keywords we are getting because remember the traffic on the local sites converts better than the traffic on corporate ever did as we see conversion rates for the local sites when combining calls and forms of close to 10%. And the traffic growth continues as in January 2020 YOY growth of the local programs was up more than 20%. 

There Are More Spaces to Rank for Locally-Based Searches

The reason local traffic continues to grow is that there is so much space in locally-based searches. In fact, it is bigger than most marketers realize because when you only have a single page or even a series of pages targeting localized search you miss out on all the other terms people might be using to find your products in your service area. Also, most on-site directories are only able to effectively rank for the terms in their store’s main market.

For example, if you had one store in Fort Lauderdale, you might have a page about Fort Lauderdale, but you might not have pages for Pompano Beach, Oakland Park, etc. that are areas you service. Our sites target both the primary market, in this case, “Fort Lauderdale,” and the secondary markets such as Pompano Beach and Oakland Park. This gives companies a lot more coverage to rank in searches. And when you rank for all this local content, you have a much greater opportunity to get into more local packs as well. 

So this not only improves representation in the local results but improves representation in the local pack as well. Most of our clients see 30% of their organic SEO traffic coming from the local pack or maps listings and the rest coming from a regular search. However, the local pack is more valuable as it makes up 50% of local leads. 

We track about 5000 keywords for the stores in our Sunburst program. These are both secondary market keywords and primary market keywords. Across all stores, we rank on the first page for 98% of the keywords and in the top three for 77% of them.

Will It Hurt My GMB Rankings?

We often hear that people think this will hurt their GMB rankings. It is quite the opposite. In fact, it often increases the number of times you are able to show up. When your GMB page only points to a local page and there is no other content for that store in that region, your site will only show up for so many search terms. But with a whole site dedicated to that market, the amount of times you can be shown in Google My Business grows, which increases your local traffic and GMB impressions.

Will Local Sites Cannibalize My Traffic?

This is a common question we get, and we like to talk about how big the local keyword universe is. And we can’t expect a single page about a service in a given city to be effective at capturing all the search share for the various ways people will type in information about that business. The keyword universe is huge with local search. And if your business offers: blinds, shades, curtains, shutters, roller shades, etc. it is going to have a hard time ranking for the following keywords with a single webpage:

  • Roller Shades Indianapolis 
  • Shutters Indianapolis
  • Curtains Indianapolis
  • Blinds Indianapolis
  • Shades Indianapolis

But this is what most multi-location businesses are trying to do, and it isn’t working. They might be able to rank for a couple of those, but they won’t rank for the rest.

Our data backs up that our local website strategy doesn’t cannibalize corporate site traffic. For example, with Sunburst we saw interesting things happen. We saw the amount of local search traffic the corporate site captures remains the same even 5 years later. So all their organic growth came from head terms or terms that weren’t local in nature. This is a great opportunity for the SEO and content team to spend less time on local search and more time on high funnel traffic to build the authority of the corporate domain, which will only help the local sites.

Also, not only does this strategy not cannibalize traffic, but it takes away spots in the search results of your competitors. If you rank the corporate site and the local site for the same term, that is one less spot on the front page for your competitors to get. In fact, we get many of our clients for highly competitive terms to rank 1 and 2 for terms. Most often with the local site outranking the corporate site. And if you are running paid ads, you are making up a significant portion of the search results page.

Will Multiple Domains Hurt My Corporate Domain Authority?

We also get asked about what having multiple sites effects are on the domain authority on the corporate website. This is a vital question as people are concerned that it will harm rankings for other parts of the site. As mentioned in the Sunburst Shutters example, there was no negative effect on corporate website traffic or domain authority. GMB and other listings sites generally aren’t passing much authority or not enough to make a difference to the corporate site and the kind of links they get don’t really help for the broad terms the corporate site is focused on. While there might be short term cannibalization, Sunburst’s corporate traffic very quickly had increased to well beyond what was there before.

Also, while you no longer have these local listings links pointing to you, you gain an entire network of locally and topically relevant sites linking back to corporate, which is often even more powerful for corporate.

And perhaps most importantly, since the only links that are changing are the links from local listings and GMB, these are the easiest links to change back. So if for some reason it wouldn’t work it could always be changed back and there wouldn’t be any long term effects on your business if you were to try it.

Won’t This Create A Lot Of Duplicate Content?

Our system creates a lot of content and a lot of content at scale, but none of it is duplicate for several reasons:

  • We create extensive variable lists about each location and use that information in our copy to make it unique.
  • Our writers and system rewrite the content where we know every variation, but the software picks the variations our writers put in for key phrases, synonyms, and variables. This creates unique content that is drastically more unique than most corporate directories that are out there. Because, most corporate directory pages on the internet have the exact same copy on every local page, with only the name of the city changed.
  • These sites are only meant to rank in their local area and Google recognizes that. Very rarely will you see more than one local site rank for the same search term and this only ever happens if someone uses a search term without a geo-modifier where we wrote a better piece of content then everyone else out there. In cases like these, we can take up the first several pages for that term.

Don’t you just recommend this to everyone?

While we think our system is great, it isn’t right for every client. There are businesses with many stores we don’t recommend it to because they are either too small or they’re too big or their product isn’t sold this way. i.e. This specific approach isn’t good for a Starbucks or even a good user experience for their customers. But for businesses with considered purchases where research is involved and where there are many stores that each serve a large area, this can be a powerful tool.

Is A Multi-website Solution Right For You?

Your customers want to buy locally and have a local experience. They also are going to not see you as much of a local organization by default. You have to work harder to help them realize how local you are. A local site strategy gives the customers that feel of being a local business in an authentic way that doesn’t trick them. It also increases your conversion rates and gives you access to the much larger local organic search universe.

And with a system like Campfire you can also run a local website strategy that gives corporate strong brand controls. To find out if it’s right for you give us a call at 317.658.0831 or fill out the form here.

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Tim Flint

Tim Flint

Tim Flint is the Principal and Strategist at Flint Analytics. Having founded Flint Analytics, Tim strives to use data driven marketing to grow multi-location businesses.