This is a guest blog post by Darren Jamieson.
The subject of individual websites for franchisees is something that divides the franchise industry. Some franchisors choose to give each of their franchisees their own domain name, or sub-domain, where they can run their own website and handle their own online marketing efforts, whereas others prefer to keep everything under one domain, retaining central control. But which is better? Is there even an answer?
You’ll be pleased to know I’m not one to sit on the fence on issues such as this and, quite recently, I had this very argument with a UK-based franchisor within the garden maintenance industry. He disagreed, quite vehemently, with my opinion on the direction for his digital marketing, further illustrating how the industry as a whole is polarized on this issue. Rather than impress upon you my belief from the outset, I prefer to allow you to draw your own conclusions based on the perceived pros and cons of the two opposing standpoints.
First off, however, we need to fully understand the two camps.
One Domain Under Central Control
This technique allows the franchisor to retain full control of the website for each franchisee under one domain name (e.g., subway.com). The individual listings of the franchisee’s location (including contact details, map, and address) are located on the main website. The franchisees themselves do not have separate websites where they can update their ‘sections’, nor can they engage in their own digital marketing efforts.
Unique Domain for Each Franchisee
This technique gives every franchisee their own domain name or website. The domain will be unique to the franchisees and will be for their sole use. They are able to update their own website as they see fit, and even contract out digital marketing to a third party if they wish.
So, those are the two basic schools of thought; let’s dig a little deeper into the pros and cons of each.
Having One Central Website
- Brand consistency can be maintained more easily, so the franchisor retains full control over what is published under their brand’s name.
- Combined strength. This is very important in the eyes of Google as the search giant moves its emphasis even more in the direction of brands and brand mentions. The websites for the better known companies will outrank the websites for smaller businesses (something which works in the favor of franchises). As a result, the more content you maintain under the one domain name, the stronger your website becomes.
- The franchisor is responsible for the digital marketing. This can be an issue without a strong, coherent strategy. It can also put off some potential franchisees if they perceive the online marketing efforts as being weak, and they’re unable to take the initiative due to the restrictions placed upon them by the franchise agreement.
Allowing Franchisees to Have Their Own Websites
- This puts the emphasis firmly in the hands of the franchisee, allowing them to invest (as they see fit) in their own digital marketing, taking the concern away from the franchisor.
- Having one website targeted solely to a specific geographic location could become more relevant in Google’s eyes.
- Brand consistency is harder to maintain, as the franchisor is not in control of what is published online in their name. Mistakes could be made, and these could be costly.
- This will work against the less technically savvy and those who just want to run their franchise, and could put them off signing with the franchisor in the first place.
- Having multiple domains for each franchisee will divide the strength of the franchise network, and reduce the overall strength of the main website.
So Which Method Do You Prefer?
At the end of the day, it is the franchisee who is buying into the business, and they need to know they’ll have a successful business online. If the digital marketing efforts of the business are not sufficient, they’ll lose out to competitors.
Much like the concept of franchising itself, a business’ online presence can be made stronger by the combined efforts of each franchisee, so keeping everything together under one website allows this combined strength to help the brand, and thus to help each individual franchisee. By splitting out the franchisees into individual websites, the franchisor is diluting the brand and, more importantly, diluting the website’s strength in the eyes of Google.
However, before franchisors go insisting their franchisees follow their digital marketing lead they need to ensure their lead is something worth following. Stopping franchisees from having their own websites and doing their own online marketing just because the franchisor wants to retain control and keep brand consistency isn’t sufficient enough a reason. The franchisor needs a coherent strategy, should be actively promoting the business online, and has to do all they can for their franchisees.
This will help their business grow, and help show potential new franchisees they’re making the right choice with the franchisor in the first place. After all, who would invest in a business where they’re not allowed to work on their own web presence, and the franchisor isn’t doing anything about it either?
So, the short answer to the question is they’re both the right answer depending on the franchisor’s position, and their attitude towards the Internet. If the franchise business isn’t particularly proactive in the digital marketing arena, and they have no intention of engaging an SEO company, they should let their franchisees have free reign when it comes to promoting their businesses online. Stopping their franchisees from doing so without a decent strategy of their own will hurt both the franchisees and the franchisor.
If, however, the franchisor is dedicated to investing in digital marketing, then they should take the lead and show the franchisees how it is done. There’s strength in unity and, when it comes to websites, this is even truer. With each new franchisee the business enlists, the website should become all the stronger for it.
Darren Jamieson is the Technical Director of Engage Web, a digital marketing agency specializing in the franchise sector. Engage Web has developed a bespoke digital marketing model for franchises, FranchiseXcel, which has helped franchises grow online within the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.