Effective SEO strategies place a company’s website at the top of search results pages by improving the website’s clarity, content, and authority, thus connecting the company with existing and potential customers. Simple enough right?
In the case of franchise operations, which involve a large franchisor providing a license to individual franchisees to market its products or services in specific areas it’s often not that simple. Franchise operations need to be concerned with overall brand uniformity while also optimizing franchisees for local searches but often times the strategies intersect in conflict rather than harmony. Unregulated local SEO practices among franchisees can lead to a number of problems, including brand inconsistencies and poor search rankings.
Fortunately, several strategies can be used to enable growth for both the franchisor and the franchisee. The best SEO practice for franchise operations comes down to establishing a corporate website along with corporate-controlled “local sites” within the corporate structure for its franchisees. This approach results in increased traffic, better search results ranking, local convenience for the customer, and strong brand recognition. Following these guidelines can mean mutual success for both the franchisor and franchisee, while ignoring them can mean major losses in customers and revenue.
Establish a Web Marketing Agreement
Franchisees may decide to improve their sales by taking online presence and SEO into their own hands. Unfortunately, this strategy can lead to bigger problems. If franchisees create their own websites with unique URLs and utilize their own local SEO, the franchise’s search rankings will be negatively impacted. The corporate and franchisee sites will be placed in competition, resulting in ambiguity and a lack of connection among domains. Ultimately, this leads to losses for both franchiser and franchisee.
Create a Central Corporate Website
Instead of leaving it up to individual franchisees to establish websites and implement SEO, the franchisor should create a central corporate website and oversee all SEO practices. A central website will ensure uniformity and brand consistency while preventing confusion for customers and search engines. The franchisor should use its central domain name for all website sections and related sites. This approach helps to create the legitimate page connections necessary for strong SEO and accessibility.
As with any company website, the central franchise site should utilize responsive web design that works on all formats, including tablets and phones. Responsive design is a particularly important component of contemporary web design, as many customers use their phones to search for local businesses. In fact, local searches are growing 50% faster than mobile searches overall and a third of mobile searches are local. Setting up a mobile-friendly website will not only help customers, but also further strengthen the franchise’s overall SEO.
Create Local Websites for Franchisees
Next, the franchiser needs to consider the best practice for the other part of a franchise: optimizing local markets for its individual operations.
A franchise’s central website should include an easy-to-find branch locator, offering convenient links to local franchisees. These branches should each have their own corporate-controlled “local site” accessible from the central website. To ensure consistency, these customizable local sites should maintain the corporate site’s appearance. As previously mentioned, they should also use the same domain name to transfer credibility to the main site and other branches.
Once in place, these sites can be customized for local search. Some examples of local SEO strategies include establishing geographical information, maintaining accuracy in local listings and citations, and building effective site structure. While the franchisor should work with a marketing partner to optimize these sites, franchisees should have flexibility to localize key areas of their sites from content, images, promotions, reviews and more. Your franchisees understand their local marketplace and what resonates better than anyone. Moving away from a cookie cutter insert location name here approach is critical to getting their buy in.
Social media presence is another critical part of SEO for local businesses. Linking subsites to social media pages for each branch is good SEO practice, as it can further legitimize businesses in search engine results. Here, it is also important for the franchiser to maintain some centralized control. One strategy is to offer corporate-approved content for distribution on franchisee’s social media pages, insisting on a preferred naming convention or utilizing Facebook’s Locations Framework. Like the subsites, these social media pages should contain information such as the franchisee’s name, address, phone, and business hours. A good web marketer will also customize these pages for local markets and consumers.
Once the franchise’s sites are coordinated and centrally controlled, the franchise and its digital marketing partner can work together to monitor data and analytics while looking out for potential issues such as duplicate content, branding inconsistencies, and web marketing violations. Together, these practices will contribute to the success of individual franchises and in turn boost the credibility of the corporate website and other franchises.