So you have a rapidly growing local business, and you are looking to expand. You have the brand, the capital, and the processes to open a second or even third location.
You’re in a growing metro area with lots of opportunity and open real estate.
And yet, you know that every real estate agent and business analyst will tell you that long-term success depends on “location, location, location.”
Now, if you were a national retail chain or a franchise owner, you could hire a location consultant to comb through census data and expensive proprietary business intelligence.
But you aren’t sure it’s truly worth the price. After all, your local real estate agent knows most of the metro market. And you generally know what the Census data says…even though the Census data is almost 10 years old.
So what can you use to gather hard data about what locations are most likely to succeed?
That is the question that EZ Dent of Athens, Georgia faced in early 2020 while scoping out new location opportunities for 2021. To answer the question, my team at ShivarWeb turned to EZ Dent’s existing digital marketing data.
Here’s how we combed through the data and how you can too.
Using Google Trends
Google Trends is a tool that allows you to see the relative popularity of search queries. It’s a little counter-intuitive to use since it measures total popularity of a query or topic in relation to all queries or topics in a specific region.
For location scouting, though, it can provide a general picture depending on your industry. You can find out what cities within a metro are “hubs” for your industry.
In our initial research, Norcross and Smyrna both have known automobile repair shop hubs in their city. It’s good to see that observation confirmed with Google Trends.
It’s also good to see that those hubs show up in search data. Google Trends doesn’t work for low volume or specific queries.
But since our observations hold with a larger data set, we can assume that they’ll work on a smaller scale (i.e., small cities with an automotive hub will have a similar percentage of search traffic).
Takeaway: Use Google Trends to get a sense of general location trends in your area.
Using Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a tool that tracks user behavior on your website. Whenever a visitor arrives on your website, it captures location data based on IP address.
Under the Audience → Geo → Location report, you can drill down to the city-level of all your website visitors. For location scouting, this data allows you to see not only where your website visitors are located, but also where your best website visitors are located.
Based on anecdotes, we knew that we had an outsized number of visitors from Hall, Barrow, and Rockdale counties.
Now, that data could show that there are a lot of prospective customers in those locations. But it could also just show that the website we were working with performed well in those locations due to a range of factors.
To look at the opportunity for different locations, we needed to look at a few other data sources.
Takeaway: Use your location report in Google Analytics to find locations where you are out-performing.
Using Google Ads’ Search Performance
Google Ads will provide the largest store of information for location scouting, especially if you have been running ads for some time.
Within Google Ads, we looked at several data points.
First, we looked at what locations drove the most clicks and impressions. From that data, we could understand both the total market (from impressions) and interest (click through rate).
Second, we looked at competition based on cost per click and impression share. These numbers varied wildly depending on location, so it’s a really good data point. If you see lower costs per click but consistent volume, you are likely working against less competition.
Third, we looked at actual keyword search terms in our historical data. This data will have the keywords with both location names and “near me” modifiers.
The location names can indicate how people refer to their location (e.g., city or ZIP or neighborhood, etc), and the “near me” modifiers can show how many people prefer a location nearby over a location within moderate driving distance.
Fourth, we looked at the Keyword Planner Forecast tool to understand seasonal and geographic variations. Google will only provide ballpark, averaged volumes. But this data exists nowhere else in the world.
Takeaway: Use Google Ads to find the most granular data about where your prospective customers are and what they are looking for.
Using Google Search Console
Google Search Console will show you how your website performs organically. If your website has more than a year of history, you can drill down in the Search Performance report not only with the geographic filter, but also with your keywords to get a sense of opportunity and performance for different locations.
With Search Console, we looked at data points similar to Google Ads.
First, even though we couldn’t drill down to city level filters in Search Console, we could connect the data to Google Analytics. We could look at search queries by location within Google Analytics to get a sense of organic search behavior and performance by location.
Second, we could sort keywords by location modifier and by near me. Pair that data with our Google Ads to understand search behavior and terminology by location.
Takeaway: If you have a strong presence in organic search, you can find lots of useful location data within your Search Console Performance report.
Using Google My Business Data
Google My Business is Google’s hub for local businesses. It has an Insights tab that can provide data from your local listing in Google Search & Maps.
With Google My Business, you can pull search query data specifically from searches that trigger a local listing. It might be similar to your Search Console data, but it also might be wildly different, depending on how your website performs for local searches.
Even though this data can’t provide predictive data for locations that you are scouting, it can provide hidden gems to help you understand how people find your current location. You can roll those gems into hyperlocal marketing.
We were able to take those insights and roll it back into our Search Console, Ads, and Analytics data to understand how & where the best potential customers searched.
Takeaway: Google My Business is the only place where you can gather Google Maps & organic call data from Google. You can use it to understand how your customers interact with your locations on Google.
Using Facebook Ads Data
While Google operates in the world of customer behavior, Facebook operates in the world of customer demo- and psycho-graphics. Facebook’s Ads and Insights products allow businesses to see characteristics of their best existing customers…and then take those characteristics and perform a “lookalike” search in prospective locations.
We were able to take this data and find the total available market of ideal customers within a radius of our prospective locations.
Takeaway: Facebook has the best data around potential customers of any source on the Internet. Use it to carefully scout for high-impact locations.
Using CRM Data
Hubspot (or whatever CRM you use) allows you to track customers from the beginning of their journey all the way to after the sale. Hubspot and many others track location via IP addresses within each customer’s profile. Hubspot in particular has a Map My Customers integration which allows you to visually see where your best customers live – and how far they are from your current location.
In our location scouting, we were able to take this radius data and pair it our other data. We created a few location options that would provide the most productive location for the business. These locations were as far away from the current business as possible without going too far for support, all while capturing as many customers as possible within a certain radius.
Takeaway: Use your CRM data to map your existing customers. It’s a location scouting technique that large organizations pay millions for that you can do with existing digital tools.
Putting it all together with Google Maps
Google Maps is a ubiquitous tool that also has a map making tool. We used it to plot existing automotive real estate hubs in different cities.
From there, we ranked the best prospective locations and used Google Maps to outline rent prices and options.
From there, we found two locations that offered the best promise to move forward with a real estate search.
Takeaway: Use Google Maps to quickly narrow potential locations in areas where you aren’t familiar. Look for industry clusters to create a spreadsheet of locations to tour with a realtor.
Location scouting doesn’t need to be an expensive, consultant-led operation. It also doesn’t have to be an exercise in intuition or professional guessing.
Your existing digital toolset likely has all the data that you need to make an informed decision. The key is to gather it, sort it, and make it useful along with your existing business data & business goals.
If you’ve done your job right, you’ll be set up for success beyond opening day.
*For my client, we had all this research done. And then a hail storm hit. Using all this previous research, he was able to jump in and get a new Covington location started up quickly to seize the opportunity..