This post was written by Darren Jamieson.
Having worked within the field of online marketing for some 15 years and, within the last five of them, extensively with franchises, I have seen many examples of why some companies get their online strategy so wrong. The biggest sin, and perhaps the easiest to correct, lies in the content franchises use on their own websites and those of their franchisees.
The issue stems from the fact that many franchises, by the very nature of the franchise model, require consistency across their franchisees. This extends to their web presence, whether they have their own websites under their own domains, they are managed by the franchisees themselves, or they have a ring-fenced section of a more central website that offers little to no control.
The ‘consistency’ required means, very often, the content across each of these franchisee websites is the same, with the same message, the same ethos, and the same text. This may be great for brand consistency but, as far as Google is concerned, it’s about the worst thing you can do to a website.
Google has a very simple mantra when it comes to websites, and what it likes to place at the top of its pages when people make a search for keywords related to your business – it wants to give the user what they’re looking for. If it continues to do that, to answer the user’s questions quickly and effectively, they’ll come back and use Google again (and Google likes people to come back because it makes billions of dollars every year from paid advertising).
So, you see, Google isn’t doing this for your benefit – it makes a lot of money from it, and it does this by keeping its results clean from spam, duplicate results, and general poor-quality sites. This is where the issue comes in for franchises.
If the websites of your franchises all have the same content (that franchisor-approved ‘consistent’ brand message), it isn’t going to be what Google is looking for when it chooses which websites should be ranked at the top of the search results, and that’s bad for both your business and your franchisees.
So, whether you have two franchisees or two thousand, you need to ensure the content used as part of their online presence is unique to them. This may seem like a lot of work but, if you wish to maximize your online potential, it is required. Duplicate content, whether across many different domains or on different pages of the same domain, is a serious issue for many companies – and it is magnified within the franchise industry.
While many businesses and franchises have this as a weakness to their online marketing, you will be able to turn this desire for fresh content into a strength for your franchisees once you identify and act upon the issue. For instance, if yours is a b2b (business to business) franchise and you target a particular sector (for example, serviced offices), your business will be heavily focused towards geographic locations. It is therefore imperative that your website, and the locations of your franchisees, show up within Google for geographic searches, and for searches made within geographic areas.
It should be pointed out that, even if someone makes a search for a service or product within Google and they don’t use a geographic keyword (for example, ‘serviced offices New York’) Google will still know the actual location of the person making the search, and will offer results based on their locality. Yes, it’s all very frightening and futuristic, but Google knows where you are, and whether you’re using a smartphone, a tablet, or a desktop machine.
So, how can you take advantage of this? You need to make sure Google knows your franchisee is located in the area, and offers the services for which the person is searching. This can be done in a variety of ways, and your competitors may not be following suit.
The first piece of advice is to use Google Local. This is the fastest and most accurate way of telling Google where your franchisee is based. By creating a Google Local (or Places) listing you can tell the search engine exactly where you’re located, the areas you cover, and the services you offer. You can even use the ‘upgrade’ option to create a linked Google+ Page for your business.
If you already have a Google+ Page, you’ll have to scrap it and create a new one linked from your Google Local/Places listing. Google claims it will offer people the chance to link existing Google+ Pages with Local/Places listings, but it has been claiming this for some time now and nothing seems to have changed.
Secondly, content! You may have heard the old adage ‘content is king’ with regards the Internet. It’s a cliché and is trawled out by every content marketing agency across the globe, but it’s also true. However, it can’t just be any content; it should be engaging content. Google doesn’t want to see reams of pages of uninteresting dross churned out by disengaged writers purely for the purpose of filling websites. No, it wants to see content that engages the audience, and gets them to comment, share, link to, and interact with via social media. Social interaction of your brand is a big ranking factor, and something you should take advantage of to help promote your franchise and your franchisees.
To ensure Google knows your franchisee is local, your content should reflect this. There’s no point in someone from Anaheim, California writing about what’s going on in Yonkers, New York. The issue could be made worse by using writers from another country entirely or, worse, those whose first language is not the one in which they’re being asked to write.
Use a local writer for each franchisee location (which could be the franchisee themselves if they’re willing and able) and write about local news relating to your business. Cover local events and remember the importance of linking to websites for local businesses and organizations. All of this helps Google identify the fact that your website is local to that region, and that it’s active, relevant, and of high quality. All of this is, oddly enough, exactly what Google is looking for when it chooses a website to appear in its search results.
Give Google what it wants, and it will give you what you want in return.
Darren Jamieson is the Technical Director of Engage Web and writes for franchise clients in the US and throughout Canada, Australia, and his native United Kingdom. He has extensive knowledge of the franchise industry, and of running a business, having helped many franchise clients through Engage Web.