If your company operates a large number of remote branches, stores, or franchises regardless of whether they are nursing homes, steel service centers, car dealerships, or insurance agencies, driving more organic traffic can mean all the difference. The secret to success on projects with a large number of similar sites is scalability.

Any Search Engine Optimization Practitioner can generate organic traffic to a single website, but how do you generate local organic traffic to one hundred or two hundred local websites simultaneously?

Most companies in this situation are organized with thin centralized marketing departments. All have made, or are trying to make, progress toward simplifying the management of many domains, the thousands of pages of content, and the brand they’ve worked so hard to build.

Sooner or later, the pursuit of timesaving brand-protecting activities leads them down a path which includes:

  • Selection of a single Content Management System (CMS)
  • Creation of single website design template and navigational structure
  • Access to web analytic data through a single account set up to allow cross-domain tracking
  • Population of each remote location website with a single set of fill in the blank content, where the blanks typically consist of the local business name and geographic modifiers relating to the areas served by the remote location

The good news is that much of the online chaos has been organized into a set of brand supporting websites that deliver a precise corporate message. The bad news is that the sites won’t generate much organic traffic.

Tightly controlling content and navigational structure negatively impacts SEO results. The Google Panda Update has shown that duplicate and thin content will not suffice. Further, the ability to pass link power within and between sites is diminished. In order for the search engines to consider your website content relevant in a specific geography, you need content that’s relevant to the people that live in that geography.

Initial SEO Efforts

Initially, you should focus on onsite factors – like selecting keywords, setting up webmaster tools accounts, creating robots.txt files and XML sitemaps, resolving canonical and code issues, and creating and implementing your on-site SEO plan (meta tags, content modifications and internal link structure).

First, divide your sites into manageable groups. The first group must contain the least number of sites and the last group the most. Create groups based on:

  • Available labor. Create teams. The leader of each team should have a solid SEO background, good people skills and the ability to manage a project with lots of moving parts. We have found that creating two or three teams with groups of three or four people (max of 1600 hours/per month) works well without over complicating communication.
  • Business Rational. Consider dividing sites by region, locations with excess capacity or by locations with a strong local champion. More on the importance of having a strong local champion later.
  • Website Performance. Which sites rank the worst, generate the lowest amount of organic traffic, or produce the lowest amount of conversions?

A few months into the project, results from the initial SEO efforts on the first group allows testing of the original assumptions about which keywords will drive the most traffic and convert at the highest rates. Get the entire team up to speed on the CMS and work through the push and pull that will inevitably be encountered between the centralized marketing department and the management of the remote locations.

The goal of transitioning from group to group is to reduce cost. As experience increases, more junior people can perform many of the recurring SEO tasks from keyword research to SEO plan implementation. Reserve more experienced SEO personnel to provide oversight and quality control.

SEO Support Efforts

With the initial SEO set up complete for at least the first group of sites, it’s time to create a long-term plan. We use a one-page business plan format consisting of:

  • A vision statement articulating what the results will look like at the end of one year.
  • Clearly defined metrics by which success or failure of the project will be measured.
  • Strategies aligned with each success metric.
  • Action plans based on the strategies and with individual responsibilities and due dates.

Action plans should represent overt ideas like developing an own-site linking strategy using the power of the corporate hub site and some or all of the remote sites. As actions are completed, goals reached or the situation changes, actions should be added or modified.

Unless you have an unlimited SEO budget, it will not be possible to work on several hundred websites at once. A list of priorities will need to be set based upon the ability to improve performance, business priorities, opportunity and availability of resources.

The main challenge will be the creation of unique local content targeting specific remote locations. A company-wide local content generation process and local champions will be necessary to make this work. Blogs, whitepapers, and case studies are the best content.

The content generation process should produce content ideas, collect source material (photos, outlines, press releases, company announcements, etc.), write content and gain approval to post content to the website. Your processes should be based on the unique aspects of each facility including: one-time events, facility renovations, staff appointments, new capabilities or event based human-interest stories.

The next part is critical. Local champions will be required. At the start of the project a small limited number will suffice. The reality is that getting local facilities to cooperate in the content generation process is difficult. Success requires leadership, training, and a system providing recognition to successful local champions and locations.

Once a system of generating quality optimized local content is in place, recruiting additional local champions will become easier and organic traffic will grow in proportion to content production.

Scalability is the key to success when it comes to optimizing many remote location websites for increased organic search engine traffic. Organization of the project into a series of phased activities, and staffing the with a balance of experienced and junior SEO personnel, will drive down project cost.  Recruiting a stable of remote local champions will lead to the generation of large quantities of local content. The result will be increased organic traffic and conversions.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

SEO Scalability – The Secret to Optimizing Multiple Small Websites