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How to Protect Your Multi-Location Website from Being Penalized by Google’s Helpful Content Update

December 14, 2022

Why High-Quality Location Page SEO is Essential For Growing Multi-Location & Franchise Websites

Have you ever landed on a website that seemingly had pages for every city and town within five hundred miles? Or in even more extreme cases not only pages for every city but also for every keyword they were targeting in that city.

Well, chances are they were written with the search result pages in mind, typically with large amounts of low-quality or duplicate content. This type of website content is referred to as “search engine-first content” or “SEO content”. And this type of content was used to help businesses stay at the forefront of Google’s search result pages by some local marketing agencies looking for the cheapest content solution, but that is no longer going to do the trick.

As more and more Google users expressed their frustration due to search results not being related to their queries, in August 2022 Google released an algorithm update called the “helpful content system” and then followed up with a second update in early December.

Even though this update was announced on December 5th, Google stated that it got more noticeable on December 6th and will take up to two weeks to fully roll out.

According to Google, this update allows the engine to detect high-quality content and displays it at the top of the search result pages. On the other hand, low-quality content (including duplicate content) will be buried at the bottom.

If your site has too much unhelpful content it will lose rankings and visibility site-wide, not just the content deemed unhelpful.

But what is considered high-quality content? 

Google has published an article on how to create helpful content that is people-friendly, rather than search engine friendly. You can go through a list of questions included in this article and if your current website content answers them then you are good to go.

Content and quality questions

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
  • Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond the obvious?
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources, and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
  • Does the main heading or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
  • Does the main heading or page title avoid exaggerating or being shocking in nature?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book?
  • Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

Expertise questions

  • Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, and background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
  • If someone researched the site producing the content, would they come away with the impression that it is well-trusted or widely recognized as an authority on its topic?
  • Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
  • Does the content have any easily-verified factual errors?

Presentation and production questions

  • Does the content have any spelling or stylistic issues?
  • Is the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?

What happens if your content doesn’t answer Google’s questions?

Your website will most probably get hit by this update, which means that your site’s rankings on the search results pages will noticeably decrease. Therefore the chances are that you will notice a decrease in new clients, calls, and inquiries.

But don’t worry, Google also stated that once the content on the hit websites improves in quality and gets in concordance with Google’s new content requirements the rankings will start improving too. So every enhancement that you make to your website’s content will count.  

In a nutshell, if you observe any decrease in your overall online traffic in an upcoming couple of weeks, this new Google update might be the reason. If you need expert advice on how to overcome this update and rise your business to the top of local searches again, schedule a FREE  strategy session with one of our experts today!

How the Helpful Content Update is Affecting Multi-Location Businesses in Particular

Many local marketing agencies were using low-quality location page SEO tactics – purposely using duplicate content with only the city name switched out – which resulted in widespread de-indexing and ranking loss to affected multi-location websites.

Location pages are often referred to as “city pages”, and are pages that target specific locations for businesses that serve multiple locations. 

These local landing pages can still work, and when built with care and intent, they can serve a valuable purpose as we will show later on. But when done poorly or utilizing cheap methods can lead to disaster as happened to many multi-location and franchise businesses after the last round of updates.

This article goes on to state “The common theme with sites that were impacted the most seemed to be related to duplicate content, specifically location pages – in other words, doorway pages.

However, sites weren’t getting directly penalized by rank. Instead, pages were being automatically deindexed, which in turn caused ranks to drop for queries related to the corresponding location pages.”

One local agency owner admitted to seeing over 200 sites affected by these low quality pages falling out of the index and negatively impacting the client websites…

Schieler Mew… explaining what he saw with over 200 SAB sites… that sites with relatively low authority or a lack of helpful content throughout the site saw a deindexing of their “duplicate content” location pages en masse.”

The most disturbing thing is this:

“The mass deindexing of pages that heavily contributed to geographic ranking vanished, taking the rankings with it.”

The Case for Using High-Quality City Page SEO Tactics

We’ve been warning you since 2021 to avoid using duplicate content on location pages. While other SEOs focused on producing low-quality and cheap temporary solutions we warned you that Google will penalize sites with duplicate location pages…

And now multi-location and franchise businesses are being affected en masse. 

Location Pages are the foundation for all successful local SEO campaigns. Location pages tell customers where your business is located, how to contact you, your opening hours, and a map, so they can find you. 

Location pages are important and help you get more visits from both returning and new customers. Doing it right equals more organic and local SEO visibility but doing it wrong results in de-indexed pages and lost opportunity

Pro Tip: Don’t tank your rankings by using duplicate content on your location pages.

The Ultimate Location Page SEO Difference 

We start with a 20-point location page optimization strategy which we have been refining since 2015 across thousands of local SEO campaigns. This battle-tested on-page optimization process propels location pages up the SERPs every single time we deploy an Ultimate Location Page to our client sites.

Location Page Local SEO Optimization Checklist

✔️ Avoid Duplicate Location Pages and Duplicate Content

✔️ Include the Primary Local KW in Page Title

✔️ Include the terms Nearby or Near Me in H1 Tag or Page Title

✔️ Include the GBP Primary Category in H1 Tag or Page Title

✔️ Include the Main Services in an Unordered List

✔️ Include the Main Services wrapped in H2, H3, or H4 Tags

✔️ Link Main Services to Main Service Pages

✔️ Link Main Service Pages Back to Location Page

✔️ Include a Full NAP Section, including Company Name

✔️ Include Opening Hours

✔️ Include a GBP Map Embed

✔️ Include an Outbound Link to Google Map Listing

✔️ Include Outbound Links to Reviews

✔️ Include Outbound Links to Socials or Local Brand Mentions

✔️ Include a List of Zip Codes and Neighborhoods

✔️ Link Location Page to Itself with Primary Keyword

✔️ Assure Satisfactory Main Content

✔️ Verify Error-free Local Business Schema and Rich Results

✔️ Include Optimized Images

Incredibly Fast Ranking Results from Ultimate Location Page Optimization

Even with proper expectations, SEOs are under incredible pressure to rank websites and GBP listings, often under unrealistic timelines from the business owner or marketing department but our Ultimate Location Page optimization process helps us meet our client expectations for quick impactful, and measurable results.

Ultimate Location Pages can produce fast SERP movement organically and locally (2 to 7 days for organic results and 12 to 14 days to see local results). And while it might not rank you number one in that short amount of time, there are measurable and impactful results that can be expected for your brand.

Achieve Similar Results for Your Multi-Location or Franchise Business

If you want to skyrocket your business and safely navigate the complex realm of Google Search and Algorithm Updates work with Local Brand Advisor. We have a proven process that achieves massive results for clients in a variety of industries and locations.

You won’t waste valuable time figuring out the ropes. Our team knows exactly what your franchise or multi-location business needs to succeed.

We grew one regional marketing franchise’s phone calls by 347% in just 12 months! This allowed them to expand into new areas and open new locations. We can do the same for you.

Before you commit to anything, request a complimentary Local SEO Review. We will put together a strategic plan so you can focus on what matters most – running your business.

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