At MetaLocator, we build store locators day in and day out.  Each customer interaction has taught us something unique about how people use locator software.  This article highlights what we’ve uncovered as best practices when planning a store locator for your Web site.  There is a lot more to know about store locators and best practices, but these are our top 10.

  1. 0-click results.  Most users of a store locator are looking for the closest store to their current location.  Given that assumption, we can jump straight to the results by detecting the user’s location and presenting clear results without requiring the user’s interaction.  Of course, if they need to refine the search they can do so readily.  Presenting search results with zero clicks gives the user exactly what they need without having to ask for it.  This type of user experience leaves customers with a great impression.
  2. Ditch zip+radius search.  We are all familiar with the “Postal code within X miles” search prompt commonly found in store locators.  Given a bit of thought, this search interface is not very efficient.  In most cases, users want the 5 nearest results to them, regardless of how far away they might be.  For a user in Manhattan, NY, that might be 5 miles, for a user in Manhattan, KS, that might be 50.  Instead of making the user guess and possibly perform multiple searches, simply show the closest handful of locations regardless of distance.  Additionally, the postal code search should be replaced by a field that takes any type of geographic term input.  E.g. “Denver, CO”, 80202, “223 E. Larimer”, names of neighborhoods and so on.  Additionally the software should do everything it can to detect the user’s location automatically and pre-populate the search box with it’s best guess.  When the user of a store locator is not at home or work, they rarely know their postal code, so the software should work hard to place the user by auto-detection.
  3. Rich location detail.  Store locators have a wonderful ability to answer customer questions before they arrive at a location.  The location details should be presented directly in the search results, with the ability to provide full detail in a location summary page.  At a minimum, the details should include:
    1. NAP – Name Address & Phone
    2. Location hours with time zone
    3. Location contact details such as email address, location specific social media or links
    4. Services available
    5. Products available
  4. Cater to search engine spiders.  Databases with rich location pages and local content are one of the most important SEO assets your Website can have.  However, many hosted store locator software packages can not be indexed by search engine spiders because they use javascript and IFRAMEs to embed on your site.  MetaLocator provides a completely index-able platform that allows search engine spiders to crawl and index your location content right down to the location landing pages.
  5. Content with rich snippets.  Many search engines support structured content, a.k.a. rich snippets.  These are specially coded HTML tags that tell the search engine spider how to find important location information such as hours, phone number, address and phone.  Without structured content, the information may not be correctly gathered.
  6. Location landing pages.  These pages are at the heart of any location SEO strategy.  They represent a carefully architected page for each location in your locator.  This page contains all of the content available for each location.  We could write entire articles just on this subject, but it is essential to know that each location should have a dedicated landing page that contains as much unique, and non-repeating content as possible.
  7. Country, state and city-level landing pages.  Visitors to a store locator should be able to search by any geographic keyword, but they should also be able to browse the global presence from the country level, down to the city.  These landing pages show a list of all geographies where the locations are present at each geographic level available.  For example, if a store locator contains locations in 30 states, there should be 30 state-level landing pages that may also link to a list of cities where the locations are present.  They may also link directly to the locations depending on how many locations there are.   This helps for searches that mention the state or city name.
  8. Consistently correct external citations.  This is less a feature of a store locator and more of an important aspect of your overall SEO strategy.  For brands that own their locations it’s essential to control how branding, NAP and other details of those locations are displayed on 3rd party websites around the Web.  There are hundreds of such directories, and ensuring correct data in each one is essential to ensure your customers receive the right information, regardless of where they search.
  9. Call to action.  When a user finds the location they are interested in, what action should they take next?  This might be “Get Directions”, but it could also be “Email this store” or “Call this store” or “like us on Facebook” and son on.  A good call to action will continue and boost the engagement built during the user’s locator search.
  10. Responsive and mobile friendly.  Locator software is inherently serving users on the move.  If a store locator lacks a good mobile interface, expect to disappoint a large portion of users.  Mobile friendly locators should utilize the device GPS, and the software should also increase in size and scale to fit the device on which it has been loaded, whether it is a tablet, an older Android or the latest iPhone 6+.

Those are our top 10 essential store locator features.  There are some other important aspects we did not cover, but will save for other articles.  Social media integration, phone-based store locators, SMS text integration and much more offer further opportunity to present a rich and thoughtful experience for store locator users.