How To Appear In Multiple City Searches With One Website

A common issue plaguing a great many local businesses is the fact that they provide services to many cities within a major metropolitan area, but they only have a single website and a single yellow pages listing. These businesses rank well for a local search where their office is physically located, but there’s no clear answer for how to also rank for the sometimes dozens of other cities in the immediate area where they also provide services.

If this is an issue you’ve faced, read on to learn how to make a site appear in multiple local searches for an area, even if it doesn’t have a physical brick-and-mortar office in all of them.

Now, I should say upfront that this issue has come up a number of times in various flavors and the overall industry hasn’t had a best-practice developed for it. The issue affects a lot of businesses including independent contractors who may not desire to have a physical store location at all, but who work out of their trucks and vans all over major metro areas. Just slightly over a year ago when asked what such businesses should do in order to appear on Google Maps search results, Google Earth’s VP Michael Jones suggested that these businesses should try to obtain a physical mailing address, perhaps by renting a post box in the area.

But, Google has since waffled a bit on this solution. Members of their search team have since told me that they feel this may not really be an ideal practice, and they don’t consider it to be a good idea. Yet, there’s still no optimal solution or uniform recommendation from them.

Major Metropolitan Area Composed of Many Small Cities

Those businesses who do have a local store footprint still have the problem of needing to appear for all the cities which may make up their metro area. And, they deserve to have a chance to appear in all those local searches.

Playing the devil’s advocate, I can imagine that some will say that if a business doesn’t have a physical location in a specific city, there’s no reason for such a business to appear in search results for that city. Taking this further, I’ve heard some commentators suggest that attempting to have one’s business appear for all metro city searches is “spam”, but I beg to differ. If the business truly provides services in each of those locations, appearing in those search results is relevant to the consumer searchers.

How to rank in multiple cities in Google

There are essentially three main places a business site can appear in search results for local searches.

  1. Google Maps search results
  2. Web search results within the “10-box” of ten local business listings along with a map (this is content inserted from the same Google Maps search under Google’s “Universal Search” of blended results).
  3. Web search results as just another web page listed in the organic keyword search results.

Google's 10-Box & Organic Keyword Search Listings

Ranking in web search

First, let’s address the basics — ranking in the regular, “organic”, keyword search results. All criteria that influences rankings here also helps with rankings in local search, so this is important. Also, there are a good many cases where local business searches do not seem to invoke Google’s local 10-box under Universal Search, so these regular SERP listings still potentially bring in good traffic.

Primarily, search engine associate webpages containing a keyword phrase with users’ searches for that keyword phrase. In order for your site to be found for that phrase, you need to have a page that includes it. Where there are many sites/pages already ranking for the phrase, you might ideally need to have a page that’s all about that phrase for best chance at ranking well.

So, if you’re an Accountant in Los Angeles, and your site ranks well for “Los Angeles Accountants” searches, you should be looking to see if you could also rank for “accountants” phrases including other top metro city names like: Glendale, Pasadena, Whittier, La Habra, Torrance, Long Beach, Culver City, Inglewood, Pomona, Santa Ana, Anaheim, etc.

You will have a very good chance of ranking under the many city+category/product search combinations if you create pages about doing your type of business for each of those localities. However, you should not attempt to merely create a single template and write a script which spits out dozens of virtually identical pages but with differing city names. (Attempting to autogenerate without individualizing the content will cause duplication issues, and could be considered by Google to be a type of spamming attempt.)

Instead, you will need to carefully develop some unique content for each one of those pages. To do this, you might write a brief article about accounting within each of those cities — perhaps mention the tax rate of that city, the local governing bodies, unique income brackets common to that area, common accounting problems seen by people in that area, and more. You could include a map of that area and perhaps photos of the best known landmark. You might also include a video with you discussing doing accounting for people in that area.  Make the entire page all about “{business category} in {city name}”.

Pushing the envelope: Ranking in Google Maps

Now the problematic part: ranking well in Google Maps, and the Google local 10-box.

If you’re the only provider of a type of service in your area, Google may go ahead and list your business in the 10-box and in Google Maps. Most local search engines and online business directories automatically expand their proximity search to include businesses further away if they don’t locate a matching business in the immediate area. Under this automatic geographic expansion, you may already be showing up if you’re providing a unique service and don’t have any competition.

However, the far more common scenario is that there will be providers listed that have physical addresses in each of your local cities for a major metro area. Under this scenario, really the only way you would have a chance to appear in the early results would be if you actually have a phone number and address unique to each of those cities in your area.

If you physically will travel to each of the cities in your area to provide service, you might then consider obtaining a phone number that is local for those areas, and renting a post box that would give you a street address in each of those areas.  It’s relatively easy to obtain additional local phone numbers and have them connect up with your main phone lines. I’d then suggest you register those listings individually with the main data aggregators such as InfoUSA and Acxiom — and from there they’ll eventually feed into the various business directories and major search engines.

NOTE: this method should be carefully considered before you do it! Google has signaled that they do not endorse this approach, so if you do it you could risk getting delisted entirely. However, I believe that if you validly do business in a locality and if you do this with some measure of restraint and conservatism, I do not think it should result in any sort of penalization for you. Be honest with what you’re doing.

In my opinion, it is ethical to do it if you physically offer services in each area for which you set up a listing, and if you are a local provider. It is not spam, per se, because you validly do business in the location, and your content is entirely relevant for the enduser/consumer seeking this service. In fact, it is potentially a better overall user experience for endusers if your business has a chance of ranking among all providers for that area — it is good to have competition in the marketplace so that consumers may have a chance of finding lowest prices, better quality, and alternative providers.

Get pages relevant to local phrases first; later optimize further to compete

If there is considerable competition for the local phrases you’re targeting, these tactics will not guarantee that you’ll rank high enough to be found. But, it’s a sure bet that if you don’t have content pages targeted to your local search phrases, you won’t have a chance of being found there, ever. Creating the locally-targeted content pages is the first step. Further optimizations may be required to actually rank well in those local results.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: is President of Argent Media, and serves on advisory boards for Universal Business Listing and FindLaw. Follow him @si1very on Twitter.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.insurancelongisland.net sunkist219

    This is a great post! You answered one of the questions that I’ve been asking for a long time!

  • Cathy R

    Chris -

    With all due respect, this has to be one of the swiftest ways to futher pollute Local/Maps and confuse users.

    What about the guy who’s using his iPhone to locate a locksmith to get copies of a key made. Maps shows the street address for a dummied-up PO Box and he wastes valuable time driving to the MFM (Made for Maps) ‘location’. There are an infinite number of variations to this MFM theme, all which ‘serve’ the business far more than the user/consumer.

    Local locksmiths, carpet cleaners, movers, florists and darn near any type of business that includes an affiliate model or offers come-to-you services all deal with not-really-local ‘locals’ in their respective categories.

    As a business owner who services multiple communities via delivery, I understand the desire to appear in as many city and zip code queries as possible. Yes, SEO and locally targeted Adwords take work and dollars, but resorting to the display of false location addresses to game Google or any other SE speaks volumes about the integrity of the business as well as its owner.

    No matter how it’s sliced, renting multiple PO Boxes to mislead consumers as to the physical locations of a business is less than honest and I hope local business owners think very hard before heading down that road.

  • http://www.distilled.co.uk/blog/ willcritchlow

    One interesting extension to this is if you genuinely have physical addresses in multiple locations and need to list in multiple languages (e.g. a hotel chain in Europe with hotels in Germany and France and website in French and German). There is currently no supported way of registering both locations in both languages (even though the business has a physical presence in both places.

    Any thoughts on ways around that?

  • http://silvery.com Chris Smith

    Cathy R – what you’re describing is already the current situation. There were already mere mailing addresses appearing within Google Maps. Indeed, you can’t appear within Google Maps without a street address.

    This situation is something that Google Maps could fix, if they chose to immitate some of the more sophisticated work that online yellow pages have done in the past. They could show a non-pinpoint icon for an area, when it’s a service provider for the local area who does not offer a brick-and-mortar storefront. (Indeed, Google Maps has been doing that already to a tiny degree, when they’ve received business listings from online yellow pages partners of theirs, and when those listings do not have a street address!)

    A basic issue is that Google Maps has presented themselves as something of an equivalent or replacement for online yellow pages — so, consumers expect to find all the same types of businesses such as plumbers, electricians, building contractors, chimney sweeps, locksmiths, towtrucks, etc — all who may not have street addresses at all.

    To refer to this as “pollution” or “dishonest” on the parts of those many small businesses is imperceptive of the big picture. At base, consumers expect to find all their local businesses within Google Maps, so, leaving the businesses out of the interface would be a much poorer user experience than including them.

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

  • http://silvery.com Chris Smith

    Will, I think the best approach for what you describe would be to supply each of those listings with a single URL and use content negotiation to sense the preferred language settings of the users’ browser.

    In that way, if a user prefers French, you deliver up a French webpage to them. If they prefer German, deliver up German — English, deliver up English — etc.

  • mbeijk

    @willcritchlow

    I would also suggest adding custom attribute, as used in the Google Local Business Center.
    Add a custom attribute for the service area, countries served, languages spoken, or ‘other locations’.. be creative!

 

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