Multiple Websites for Multi-Location Businesses?

Recently, I have been looking into different providers for a new website for our auto dealership. I am familiar with the process and strategies having worked with many businesses going through a website design and development project. But something was recommended to us during my research that really stood out to me.

It was recommended to us, by multiple automotive specific website providers, that we have a unique website for each of our dealership locations. We have locations in Sioux Falls, SD, Rapid City, SD, and Tampa, FL. Initially, this recommendation made sense.

Our closest locations are 350 miles apart, and our furthest almost 2,000 miles apart. Being that our locations are so far apart and in very different regions, it would make sense to have different strategies to market to customers in the different areas. But do we three websites to do this?

Google Pigeon Update

On July 24, 2014, Google launched the algorithm update known as Pigeon. This update affected how Local search results show up in SERPs. Pigeon was “designed to offer more relevant, effective, and precise search results that can be ranked similarly to the standard search function. This change will affect both Google Maps and Google Web.” Amir Alsayegh, Volume 9
Pigeon officially recognizes the importance of a solid, local presence. So how do you have a custom, local presence in Tampa and in South Dakota? Well, having unique, dedicated websites could provide local and relevant content for that location. Right?
Note: I have not read anywhere that Google recommends having multiple websites for multi-location businesses — in related to the Pigeon update or anything else.

Duplicate Content

Google defines “duplicate content” as: “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.” Duplicate content will get you penalized on Google. Right? The answer is “kinda”.
Jennifer Slegg from The SEM Post says, “Even though duplicate content is not technically a penalty, it is referred to as such because it does act similarly to a penalty because it will not rank duplicate search results unless a searcher clicks on the link at the bottom showing “display search results similar to the pages shown above”.”
Jennifer goes on to mention that people who steal content and don’t write their own content will be penalized after the Panda algorithm update.
Google has also gone as far and said, “Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”

Multiple Websites

There isn’t a ton out there, that I could find, about multiple locations having unique websites. Here is what a few experts have said:

Bill Hartzer for Web Marketing Today gives the following advice:

  • Link each local directory listing to your website’s business location page rather than to the home page.
  • Do not duplicate product or services pages for each location unless those you offer are unique to a given area. In that case, list them on a web page linked to the individual location’s page.
  • If your business has multiple sites — a website and unique domain name per location — consider consolidating them into one central site. Doing so makes the site more “powerful” and gives it higher Domain Authority

Yuyu Chen for Search Engine Watch references Antonio Casanova, director of SEO at Starcom. He Says to first is to establish a strong “on-site presence,” which is ideally built under one domain, with a folder structure with original and customized content for each location.

Andrea Kayal from SignPost has written about this a couple times. After Pigeon rolled out, Andrea gives some multi-location business best practices:

  • Use one domain for all of your locations, and create a unique page for each store using either a subdomain or directory (i.e. Tampa.MyStore.com or MyStore.com/Tampa). This will give you a powerful web presence and allow you to connect all of your sites without having to build a complicated link farm that could get you penalized.
  • Create unique, individual content for each page, optimized for zip code, neighborhood, and city or town. Absolutely avoid duplicating any content from one page to the next, or from the main domain to a subdomain or directory page. Duplicate content is considered spammy and heavily penalized by Google.
In a later post, Andrea says, “Experts have long agreed that the best approach for franchisors and multi-location businesses to take is to develop one main corporate website and create a sub-domain for each individual location. Since Google penalizes duplicate content, a franchisor would have to create a different version of the About Us, Services and other pages for each and every individual website in a multiple website scenarios. With one main website, all of that information can be centralized on the corporate web pages, and each sub-domain would simply need to contain information pertinent to that individual location.”

Non-SEO Factors

There are other considerations that should be evaluated when deciding whether or not you want/need multiple websites. A major one is cost. If you develop multiple sites, you will get some sort of a discount, but you will obviously be paying more than you would if you had just one website.
Depending on the provider and your design and development contract, you may need to pay for multiple hosting, content creation, design, optimization, and more when you have multiple websites created.
Management of the websites will be dramatically more. Do you have a special promotion? With multiple websites, you will need to create promotional landing pages on each site. Any change you make on one site will most likely need to be made on the other sites.
Find a bug or need to make a change that requires a developer to complete? You will have to pay a developer to make the updates or changes on all of your sites because the issue or change will probably be need to be made on them all.
It still doesn’t sit right with me — the idea of having a unique site for each business location or franchise. The only people I’ve heard that we need multiple sites are people that are selling websites. There are obvious reasons they would like to sell multiple websites for each client.
What do you think? Does your multi-location business have multiple websites? I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on this topic.
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