How To Acquire A New Location & Avoid Screwing Up The Local SEO
Expanding your business by acquiring a new location? Columnist Andrew Shotland discusses how to preserve its existing search equity while rebranding.
Acquisition of competitor locations is a common growth strategy for multi-location businesses, providing quick entry into a market, economies of scale, etc. Typically, you’ll know exactly how much you can pay for a location — unless, of course, you don’t have good understanding of how easy it is to screw up its local rankings. It’s not uncommon for an acquisition that looks good on paper to look absolutely horrible on Google, often making the price a lot higher than expected.
If you’re going to buy some new locations, you would do well to hand this to-do list over to your deal guys and whomever is managing the digital part of the transition:
1. Get The Old Domain In The Deal & Keep It Live
Goes without saying right? Wrong. I can’t tell you how many times we have been brought in post-acquisition, and the old domain (which is typically the old brand) is 404ing. The seller stopped paying the hosting bill, and the acquirer didn’t even think about it because they were going to use their brand’s domain.
There’s no quicker way to lose organic, referral, social and direct traffic than turning off the old site. At a minimum, you should 301 redirect the old site to your new site, or to the page for the new location on your site.
2. Get Old Corporate Links In The Deal
If the old brand was part of a multi-location company and had a single landing page on the corporate site, then see if your Biz Dev guys can get the seller to agree to 301 redirect the landing page on their site to the new location page on your site.
If you can’t get that, then at least see if you can get them to agree to link from their site to the new location page on your site for at least a few months after the deal closes to keep the link juice flowing during the transition.
3. Get The Old Phone Numbers In The Deal
Consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone) data is a critical part of local SEO. When you rebrand a local business, you often go through a ranking rollercoaster as Google encounters inconsistent NAPs throughout the Web.
Keeping the phone numbers consistent can help. Also, if the business had print ads displaying phone numbers, those numbers may continue to generate leads for some time that you’ll want to capture.
4. Get Access To The Old Google My Business & Citation Pages In The Deal
It still blows my mind that, in 2015, you can spend a huge amount of money buying a business and not get the login for its Google My Business (GMB) page or its local citation profiles (e.g. Yelp, YP.com, etc.).
When you buy a car, you typically ask for the keys, right? Ask for the GMB and citation keys, too! In writing.
5. Get Access To The Old Google Analytics Data In The Deal
Funny story. A new client calls me up. Can’t get into her Google Analytics (GA) to give us the access we had requested. Turns out a former (disgruntled) employee has the login and wants $60,000 to give her access!
We worked it out with Google, and the blackmailer got bupkis. But come on, people — ask for access to the Google Analytics data… in writing! It’s easy enough to set up a new GA profile, but the historical data might be of interest to you.
6. Do NOT Mark The Old Business’ GMB Page As “Closed” *
For some reason, new owners love to mark the old brand’s Google My Business page as CLOSED. I am thinking there’s a certain perverse satisfaction in erasing the old brand from existence.
Too bad all this does is show that the place you just spent your hard-earned simoleons on is CLOSED. Remember, just because your brand is super-duper catchy doesn’t mean that people won’t still be searching for the old brand — and they’ll probably be searching for a long time.
A better strategy would be to update the old brand’s description to say that it is now known as your brand.
7. Do NOT Mark The Old Business’ Citation Pages As “Closed”
8. Update The NAP At The Main Business Aggregators First
When you update a business’ NAP information at the companies that supply the base set of business listings to many of the major local search services — Acxiom, D&B, Factual, InfoGroup, and Neustar Localeze — it can often take a long time for that data to make it out onto the Web in places Google can find. We tell clients that they should expect to see the results of data aggregator updates in about 90 days; in reality, however, many of the publishers that use this data update it sporadically, so there’s no telling when it will show up.
If you want to be really on top of your game, you may even consider updating the NAP at the aggregators before you rebrand. This could cause a bit of turbulence early on, but should make for a smoother transition once the new brand is launched.
9. Update The Old Business Citation Pages Next
Forgetting about the old brand’s citation profiles on the major local directories is one of the most common mistakes I see in rebranding. If you got the log-ins to these profiles in the deal (you got ’em, right?), then go in and update the business name and any other pertinent info.
Make sure you note somewhere in the description that this location was formerly known as the old brand. People are still going to search for the old brand, and you want to make sure these profiles still show up on the local search sites and in Google for these queries. I have seen businesses lose a ton of lead volume instantly by no longer showing up for these old brand queries in local search sites.
10. Update The Old Google My Business Page *
Now that you have seeded the Local Search ecosystem with your new NAP, it’s time to update the old brand’s GMB page. Remember, do not mark it as “Closed.” Just update the business name and other changed NAP info, and be sure to mention the old brand name in the description.
Of course, this kind of thing never goes quite as planned, so be sure to set expectations that this will be a bit of a SEO rollercoaster ride. Good luck!
* As noted in the comments, these items are technically against Google’s guidelines and rebranding the old GMB page may get over-ridden by Google, often via Google Mapmaker editors. If the GMB page gets closed by MapMaker editors then you should try to get it re-opened and continue on with what you are doing (that’s why getting the phone number & domains is important because it supports the claim that you own the listing when they call the location). And if you just keep hitting a brick wall with this, then just create a new listing and get them merged (again, having the old phone # is key) by getting on the phone with Google Local support.
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