Every franchise has its own unique set of challenges regarding digital marketing and local SEO.
With this post I’d like to examine some of the common local SEO approaches being used by franchises, the challenges they face, and make suggestions as to the best local SEO strategies they could use.
Before going any further, it’s important to stress that local franchisees are, in fact, competing “locally.” Yes, a franchisee may be part of a national chain, but each location/region is competing locally. This is their playing field and, therefore, the importance of LOCAL search engine optimization must be emphasized for them.
The amount of searches that have local intent is increasing, especially when searches are performed on the go from mobile devices. Searchers are looking for best businesses nearby to service their needs.
To compete locally, a local business must strive towards becoming the local authority online. This involves having a great website, useful information, great reviews, and a social presence.
Common Local SEO Strategies Being Used by Franchises
I’ll outline what the ultimate local SEO strategy looks like at the end of this post (so stay tuned), but first let’s take a look at some of the most common local seo practices being incorporated by franchises today. A few of the key factors that tend to dictate the strategies chosen include the nature of the business, the digital marketing budget, and the amount of support/control given to each franchisee.
Listing pages (Not good for local SEO)
In this scenario, the franchise has a main site that includes all of the main information about the business. They may also have a blog and a set of social media profiles for the brand, such as a Facebook Page, Google Plus Page, LinkedIn Company Page, and Twitter account. For the franchisees, there is a page where they are listed which essentially consists of their contact information.
I guess if there would be any benefits to this type of system, they would be the lower cost for both franchisor and franchisee to set up and maintain, and that the franchisees don’t have to put much effort into their digital marketing. This lack of effort by both parties, however, will end up with the amount of traffic you would expect—not much.
Single pages under the national umbrella (A step in the right direction)
Similarly to the first scenario, the national franchise has a main site and social media accounts that profile their brand. There is also a Locations page and/or a form where you can enter your postal code. These lead to a regional page with listings within that or directly to a single location page for each franchisee.
Typically, these location pages have contact details and some more location-specific information. This is a step in the right direction and provides an opportunity for some local SEO. Benefits include ease on the franchisees, and increased relevancy for the main pages as they are linked to from these location pages.
On the downside, it is difficult to optimize one lone page for much more than a term or two, which isn’t really going to cut it against your other local competitors unless the franchisee is under a brand umbrella as big as McDonald’s, or you’re competing in a less competitive market. And if a visitor to the page needs some information from elsewhere on the site, they might have a difficult time finding their way back. Anything that creates confusion, such as navigation problems, leads to a loss in visitors. Remember, you are always just one click away from losing viewers.
If this is the setup of choice, make sure to do as much as possible to localize this page and increase the amount of ways people may find the franchisee. This includes optimizing for top local terms and providing unique local information for each such as hours, map, directions, images, and testimonials.
Local mini-sites using subfolders (Better)
Some franchise sites provide local mini-sites for each location/region as opposed to a single page. This is a “better” set-up as it provides each location an opportunity to really showcase themselves and to optimize their mini-site for more services. Pages can be set up and optimized for each service, a portfolio can showcase their unique work, and they stand a much better chance of competing in the local SEO arena.
Picture each location having a page dedicated to each service that can be optimized right from the page URL and page title down to the headings and page content. This along with a location finder in the main area of the national site provides a good combination of branding and local SEO.
A downside might be the increased effort and co-ordination required from all involved. This suddenly becomes a much bigger project to do properly.
An important tip here is to watch out for duplication. These mini-sites need to be as unique as possible to each location and can’t just be a few word replacements here and there.
Individual websites for each franchisee/region (Best)
Yes, this is best, but I know it’s not always feasible for one reason or another. The cost alone of setting up and maintaining a site for each location might not seem practical versus having one site.
Why is it the best? It provides the best opportunity to build authority in each local area. You can build a truly localized site (all local content) that is user-friendly and also benefits from the branding of the national site.
Franchisors might worry about losing control in these situations and that having a bunch of websites not directly under the national umbrella might dilute the brand or cause competition.
But, if/when done correctly, in fact the opposite is true. These sites would only help to reinforce the brand and support the main site. And with proper direction and communication, these individual websites can follow proper branding guidelines to keep a consistent look and feel, while posting unique, location-specific content.
How to set up regional franchise sites?
To set up individual sites for each franchisee use subdomains. Examples of subdomains would be Hamilton.brand.com and Toronto.brand.com which are subdomains of brand.com. Subdomains are considered separate websites so they should definitely be different than the other subdomains or will be penalized for duplicate external content. Subdomains are good for franchises that are going to be controlled individually (regionally) while some elements could be consistent throughout for branding purposes. Except for these common page elements, content should be different on each subdomain to reflect that region.
There’s an extra bonus here because there’s a chance you could rank more than once on a page. Perhaps a local site and the main brand site might get listed. Add in a Google Maps listing as well and you could potentially start dominating a search result.
With proper local SEO for each site, the resulting increase in traffic would only increase each owner’s enthusiasm and satisfaction and make for good case studies to show other potential franchisees.
In addition, the increased traffic from these efforts could lead to an increase in revenue and a decrease in advertising in other areas.
SEO is by far the cheapest when it comes to cost per lead when compared to offline marketing and pay-per-click options. Local SEO is so effective because people are actively searching for your services at the time they come across your site. If you show up as a legitimate solution to their needs and are nearby, you stand a good chance of being contacted.
Local SEO Checklist
I promised earlier to show what a proper local SEO strategy looks like, so here goes:
(Many of these things are discussed in more detail throughout our blog)
- Optimize your pages for your top local terms in the meta-tags and on-page content (URL, page title, meta-description, headings, text, links, images).
- Provide your hours.
- Provide a map.
- Give directions.
- Include your own images.
- Include testimonials.
- Include videos.
- Include local specials.
- Include local events and news.
- Provide easy and clear contact details.
- Provide your proper business name, address and phone number on each page.
- Include structured data.
- Include the proper language tags.
- Set up, verify, and optimize Google MyBusiness listing.
- Set up, verify, and optimize Bing Places for Business listing.
- Include the rel-publisher tag on your website linking to your Google MyBusiness page. This links your website on search to its social media brand page.
- Get listed on other important local directories (GG-RR-OO-AA-NN). I know, I know. This is a bit of a painful process to make sure you get verified and properly listed on the top local directories but it will be well worth it. Usually it’s just these types of painful processes that can help bring the rewards.
- Get reviews. Google typically rewards those companies with the best reviews by showing them more prominently in search. Accounts should be set up and verified with local directories such as Foursquare and Yelp. Reviews on social profiles such as Facebook are also helpful. Add links to these sites from your site.
- Provide links to each location’s OWN social media profiles (as opposed to just national site’s profiles). More on this below.
- Work at getting backlinks. Backlinks are still an important search ranking factor, so working at getting some high quality, relevant backlinks will pay off. If you are continually adding good content to your site, a lot of this will happen naturally, but sometimes reaching out to some of the higher authority sites is also required.
- Last but not least, strive to continually add fresh content to your site and pages. Google rewards fresh, unique content in search.
Should each franchisee have their own social media profiles?
It’s important for each franchisee to have their own social profiles including a Google Plus page, Facebook Page, Twitter Account, and LinkedIn company page. These are high profile networks and if local social pages are set up properly, with links to the local site (or page), they provide multiple opportunities to be found in searches.
Franchisees can be taught how to re-share company wide information (which again strengthens the national brand) as well as post content unique to their own location. Location-specific posts might include events, news, pictures, contests etc.
In summary, the more unique each individual location’s online presence can be made, the better. Of course there are a lot of factors to consider such as the nature of the business, the size of the franchise, marketing budgets, skill sets, and more – so each franchise will have to weigh these things all out and come to a decision as to their overall digital marketing strategy.
Once that decision has been made, look to optimize your site(s) using the local SEO tips listed above as best you can for your particular situation.
If you have any questions or need any help with your own franchise SEO, feel free to contact us.