Understanding the Best Practices for Multiple Location SEO
Pre-2012, businesses realized that they could launch a website on a domain name containing the keywords they wanted to rank for, and then rank for those keywords with relative ease.
Want to rank for “Boise criminal defense attorney”? No problem! Just buy boisecriminaldefenseattorney.com and you’re golden.
It seemed too good to be true.
Turns out, it was. In 2012, Google rolled out the exact-match domain (EMD) update. With it, they aimed to lessen the power of keywords in the domain name as a ranking signal.
That’s not to say that having keywords in your domain is bad – not at all! They can even be helpful. Google’s goal with this update was to ensure that websites were ranking well because they deserved to be, not because of the domain name they happened to own.
What does that have to do with marketing your multi-office law firm? Turns out, a lot.
If you’re not down to read the rest of this post (it’ll take about 10 more minutes of your time), feel free to jump down to the “too long, didn’t read” section for an abbreviated version.
One website vs. multiple websites: Which is better for SEO?
The pre-2012 days of lawyer SEO led to law firms launching multiple websites for countless permutations of the keywords they wanted to rank for.
You had lots of attorneys launching websites by practice area:
But you also had a fair amount of attorneys launching websites by location:
A single law firm might have ten or more websites. It was bananas, but it worked.
When Google lessened the ranking power of EMDs, lots of law firms were left with multiple websites that weren’t performing. What we tended to see after this update was one stand-out website and the rest typically didn’t get much organic traffic at all. It’s important to note that this didn’t happen in every case. In fact, there are many local markets (particularly the less competitive ones) where EMDs still do appear to work better than they should.
But for the rest of us, does that mean Google doesn’t like multiple websites anymore? No. In fact, they tell us that every website has an equal ability to rank — but the operative word there is ability.
If DallasTaxLawyer.com, FortWorthTaxLawyer.com, and PlanoTaxLawyer.com are all created equal, how come only DallasTaxLawyer.com is ranking?
While all websites (all other factors remaining equal) have the same chance of ranking, it’s the effort required to earn those rankings that tend to favor one over the others when a single business has multiple websites.
What it typically looks like when a single business has more than one website
This is real data from a Texas attorney with whose campaign I’m familiar. They have five websites, each nearly identical to each other except for the city that they target.
Domain for city 1:
Domain for city 2:
Domain for city 3:
Domain for city 4:
Domain for city 5:
This diminishing domain strength paints such a clear picture of what tends to happen when a single business tries to maintain multiple websites. Inevitably, one takes priority (usually the one that best represents the business) and the others get the backburner, where they struggle to get the attention they need to perform well in search results.
Additionally, because your effort is spread thin across multiple domains, the business receives less of the benefits than they would with a single website getting all the effort.
In other words, if you were this law firm, would you rather have five websites most with fewer than 100 inbound links? Or would you rather have one domain with 2,768 inbound links?
Picking the latter would mean that you have a single domain with a strong link profile rather than multiple domains with weaker link profiles. Usually, these websites are better together than they are apart. I say “usually” because there are some scenarios in which multiple domains might be appropriate, which we’ll address a bit later.
If I don’t have more than one business website, how do I market each of my office locations?
If multiple websites are such a hassle, what’s the alternative for multi-location law firms? How do you market multiple offices on a single website?
I’m talking about johndoelaw.com/dallas/, johndoelaw.com/ft-worth/, and johndoelaw.com/plano/ instead of johndoedallas.com, johndoeftworth.com, and johndoeplano.com. On the surface, the difference may appear to be just in the formatting, but it’s actually the difference between maintaining and growing three websites versus one.
By hosting your office locations on subfolders, you get to focus all your energy on one domain while still advertising your presence in those additional locations. My friend Miriam Ellis touches on this in her blog post Not Actually the Best Local SEO Practices for lawyers– check it out.
SEO location pages or “geo pages”
Hosting your law firm’s office pages on a subfolder of your domain is often called a “location page” or “geo page.” When done well, these are a great option for marketing your multiple locations both on your website and on your Google My Business listing (by listing your city-specific URL in your corresponding GMB listing’s website field).
So, how do you do them well? In my experience, some of the best location pages contain:
- Unique content: The content isn’t shared with another location page, the only distinguishing factor being the city name.
- Relevant content: Content should match the intent of someone searching for “[City] [Practice Area] Attorney/Lawyer” — searchers want to find a reputable attorney in that locale, not Wikipedia-style information about the city.
- City optimization: Pretty straightforward – the page includes mentions of the city name in key places like the H1, title tag, and body copy.
- Local business schema: Structured data that indicates to Google what your unique location’s name, address, and phone number is.
- Office-specific testimonials: These are often difficult to get, but if you can get them, it’s great to feature testimonials from clients specific to that location.
- Office-specific staff: What attorneys and other staff work out of this location? Feature them on your location pages to give visitors an accurate representation of who they’d be working with.
Are there ever any benefits to having multiple websites?
There are some situations where I can see the merit in keeping multiple websites.
- Those multiple websites are ranking well, bringing in lots of organic traffic, and converting those visitors into leads. Why fix what isn’t broken?
- The business has had no real problems maintaining multiple websites. If you have the resources to maintain and grow, then more power to you!
- The law firm is very segmented and wants to keep each of their offices very distinct. This could be because the law firm goes by a slightly different name in other locations, has a different logo, targets a totally different area of law, etc.
Combining two or more websites into one
If you currently have multiple websites for your law firm, but now you’re considering a single-domain option, the question then becomes “how do I move from multiple websites to one website?”
It is absolutely possible to combine two or more websites into one, but this type of site migration poses risks to your rankings and traffic if not handled properly. If you move forward with this option, please do so under the guidance of an experienced SEO company.
What to name your domain when you have multiple offices
If you’re not maintaining a different website for each of your office locations, what should you name your domain? A personal injury law firm with offices in Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, and Downtown Los Angeles would not want a domain named GlendaleInjuryLaw.com because that would exclude their other locations. And if you tried to host office pages on subfolders, it would just look silly (GlendaleInjuryLaw.com/Burbank).
That’s exactly why I’m such a fan of branded domain names for multi-location law firms. Not only is this a cleaner option for hosting office pages on subfolders, but it also means that you’ll get more brand awareness out of your ranking keywords.
Think about it. If you’re ranking for “what are the penalties for DUI in California?” and you have an EMD, searchers are going to see “GlendaleInjuryLaw.com” ranking. But if you have a branded domain name, every time someone searches for that keyword you’re ranking for, they’re going to see your name!
Generally, they’re also easier for your audience to remember and tend to look more trustworthy to searchers.
If you’re still wondering what domain name is right for your law firm, check out Juris Digital’s Guide to Choosing Your Law Firm’s Domain Name.
How to handle multiple addresses in Google My Business (GMB)
Another question that owners of multi-location law firms have to answer is “how do I set up my GMB?”
According to Google, you can have one page for each location of your business. However, there are a few things you must keep in mind in order to avoid violating Google’s guidelines and ensure you’re optimizing appropriately.
Before creating a GMB listing for one of your law firm’s locations, ask yourself the following:
- Are all my offices staffed during stated business hours? If the answer is “no” for any of your locations, Google doesn’t want you creating a listing. In their own words, “do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours by your business staff.”
- Are all my offices staffed with my employees? If the answer is “no” for any of your locations, again, Google doesn’t want you creating a listing. Google specifies that the location must be staffed with your employees to qualify, so a receptionist who takes calls at the Regus or Davinci virtual office building you rent from doesn’t count.
- Are all my offices at different addresses or just different suites? If your law firm owns or rents Suite A and Suite B at the same address, create a single GMB listing and put “Suites A & B” in the second address line.
Google does allow you to set up separate listings for individual practitioners or departments within your law firm, but if they’re categorized the same as your main GMB listing is categorized, they could compete with each other.
The TL;DR of multi-location law firm SEO
- Is having two websites for the same company good or bad? The number of websites your business chooses to set up and maintain isn’t inherently good or bad. Every domain has equal ability to rank.
- Should your business have more than one website? Unless you have the resources to dedicate toward maintaining and growing multiple websites, or unless you have a really good reason for doing so, I personally wouldn’t recommend it.
- How do I optimize a website for multiple locations? A branded domain name with office-specific subfolders is my preferred option. Those location pages should be as unique to that specific office location as possible.
- Is it possible to rank locally for multiple locations? Yes!
- Should I combine my multiple websites into one? Maybe! If you choose to consolidate multiple weaker domains into one stronger domain, do so under the advisement of an experienced SEO professional.
- Can lawyers advertise for virtual office locations? Google doesn’t allow you to create a business listing for virtual offices that aren’t staffed by your employees during stated business hours. If you do list a virtual office on your website, it’s best to disclose that the location is “by appointment only.”
- How many Google My Business listings can my law firm have? As many listings as you have real, staffed offices.
There’s a lot that goes into marketing multiple office locations, but just know that it’s not always a black-and-white issue. Armed with this information, I hope you’re able to choose the route that’s most appropriate for your unique situation.