Hummingbird. So much has been written, discussed, tested and exhaustively debated around the new algorithm and its effect on SEO. Admittedly it did affect things and will continue to do so, but it’s not all gloom and doom. With it came some very real opportunities within the local space.
Disclaimer: This is not another dissection of Hummingbird, don’t worry.
It has been well documented that the local pack became increasingly prominent with the update (as well as introduced more local spam), and with semantic search, it is clear that many of the queries that previously returned more generalized results are now more specific. In many cases “more specific” equates to “more local” and with plenty of local data to go around, success hinges upon being properly organized.
A noticeable shift regarding regional directories has been seen since the update, with these directories carrying increasing levels of influence within the SERP. The idea of a regional directory, or regional site, is basically creating a hierarchy of sites that all funnel down to the most locally influenced site. Similar to a family tree, is it creates structure around the organization of local sites and how they all tie together. There are many advantages to this strategy, which we will explore, and it can be implemented in a variety of ways. The good news is that this tactic is not widely employed by brands with multiple locations and therefore can be a differentiator.
Purpose of Regional Directories
These sites are not an easy endeavor and without knowing their benefits it will be very difficult to get buy-in. There are a few reasons for implementing this tactic which we will discuss, but the one worth noting above all else is that regional directories are meant to drive more traffic to local sites.
In many instances regional directories can be thought of as the wizard behind the curtain. Ensuring that regional directories rank well for a variety of keywords is not their intention. They are fuel to the local site fire; there to help build credibility and a hierarchy among the landscape inclusive of all local sites pertinent to that brand. They help organize the structure and make it easy for both users and crawlers to follow, leading to a better understanding of the local site structure. They bridge the gap, and do so in a way that joins the two lands of national and local.
The other specific purposes of these sites include enhanced user experience and an additional citation for local NAP. When a search is being done for “[BRAND] stores/agents in [CITY, ST], these sites should rank. Here the consumer is looking for options in their area and should be presented with just that, as well as the contact and location information specific to that entity. Not only are you providing a more catered experience in terms of options, but you are also strengthening that NAP by adding another source for reference.
First, for this tactic to be effective, a local site strategy must already be present. This is a huge part of the regional site success and without local sites in place the purpose changes and the strategy carries far less impact. These can be executed without the local sites piece but the value will be drastically limited and will provide almost no quantifiable ROI. Remember, the purpose of these sites is to drive more traffic to the local sites, so without local sites…well you get the idea.
Another major factor that plays into these sites is data, and ensuring that it is kept up to date. For the most part these should be data-driven sites that are not individually customized but rather managed at a global level. Depending on the company there could be hundreds or even thousands of these in existence, and to manage those on an individual level is not only unfeasible but creates an environment for mistakes and frustration. It is also important that these sites do not become static and outdated, because if this happens they become more of a liability than an asset. Making sure that data is accurate and fresh is one of the most important aspects to success.
If these first two components are present, the third should take care of itself which is flexibility in development and maintenance. Brands will lose stores/agents, they will change their location data and contact information, the cities represented will fluctuate and so on. Being able to build this solution in a flexible way is going to make ongoing work much easier and the solution far more effective.
With regional directories the hierarchy is an integral aspect that sets the stage for an understandable flow of sites that are all working together for a common cause (kind of sounds philanthropic when phrased that way). A great way to think about this, and a really easy way to explain it to those less savvy with link structure, is to compare this to a family tree. All starts with the highest tier, the last name, and branches down from there. Goes into families, marriages, kids and the like but the hierarchy is what makes it understandable. This is also the case with regional directories and depending on your situation it can look different.
The important thing to remember is just that the more intricate the structure, as long as it is providing value, the better. A real simple example would be a national retailer with locations all over the country where regional directories are simply the middleman between national and local, and break the locations down by city.
NATIONAL > REGIONAL DIRECTORIES (by city) > LOCAL SITES
Working with a location finder this can be a powerful tool for organization. State pages are also a great way to add another valuable step to this scenario, organizing the regional directories themselves and improving the user experience.
As you can see there is a logical structure to this approach. While not always easy to implement, it is easy to see the hierarchy for both users and search engines. The complete tie is made when those locally branded sites link back to the national site, completing the circle while providing a branded experience all the way through.
Okay, so what goes on these sites and how are they structured?
There are multiple ways to show information on a regional directory and different data that can be included, but the idea is to keep the info concise and accurate and the structure consistent across sites. Let’s start with the information for inclusion
NAP: As mentioned previously NAP is the greatest value-add present on these sites.
Local Site Link: The name of the location should be the primary link to the local site and also optimized with <h1>. Another link to the local site can be provided, if necessary, but don’t want to overdo is so as to not come off as spammy.
Map: A Google map will be of great advantage if it can house all the locations that the regional directory represents. This will provide both a mild SEO boost as well as a better user experience, and allow a visual representation of what the page includes.
Lead Form (if applicable): Depending on goals, paid search may be worth considering. These sites can act as great landing pages if a company is trying to drive more awareness into a region and by integrating a lead form into the sites an ROI can be established quite easily. The conversion can always be tracked through to the local site, but if these are acting as separate entities or perhaps even managed by different agencies this can be of benefit.
Ordering will also become a topic of conversation, and in the scheme of things will not have a significant impact on SEO value. A structured approach (i.e. alphabetical, best-selling, longest standing, etc..) is likely where you will see most companies having gone. However, my personal favorite is the randomized approach that displays the locations in a new order each time the page is refreshed. This alleviates complaints of favoritism among locations and helps to keep the site looking fresh.
In terms of technical applications around SEO, these sites are fairly simple. There are not multiple versions, no sense of duplicate content and really are not optimizing for much in terms of key terms. Due to this the only real SEO considerations are of the basic type. That being said it is also important that they are done just right.
URL structure: Biggest thing here is to include the region in which you are focusing on. If you are using cities as your directories for example, you are going to want to integrate that into the URL. In addition ensure you include the country code, if applicable, as not only a second identifier but also to alleviate any confusion. Example of this might look like: example.com/seattle-wa/us. This will help tie in the city and state to the NAP of each location.
Title Tags: There are different methods for this, but once again a major point of emphasis is getting the location data into the tags. Depending on functionality, a good use of this would also be to display the number of locations within the city or region. This will not only provide a better user experience but will be a data driven metric that shows the site is fresh and accurate. This would look something like: 19 [BRAND] Locations in [CITY, ST].
Sitemap: As with any local site, the sitemap is an integral piece. With regional directories this should be submitted separately from the local sites for two reasons: 1. It will allow separate management as it will likely be updated more frequently 2. It can be submitted in webmaster tools separately and become a stronger internal link.
<h1> – <h6>: Your header markup, depending on your situation, can vary. The important part is that it is included and focused around the location NAP.
What is the Goal?
Since implementing this approach for a national brand that we handle, we have seen an organic increase of 11%. Now this cannot be directly tied to this implementation but there were no other major changes during this timeframe. What is more impressive is that the local sites, of which these regional directories link, have seen a 24% increase in crawl rate! That is very exciting to see. These sites have been around for over 2 years, and are now being crawled more than ever while still gaining more organic traffic as a result of this tactic.
The best thing about the regional directories is that they are perfectly in line with best practices. This is not a magic wand or some type of short term solution, but rather it enhances the search experience which should be the goal of any search tactic. The user experience is improved, the understanding of the sites and their connection is clear, the data is fresh and content relevant. If applicable and implementable, this underutilized tool could provide your client/company with a noticeable SEO boost.
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