By now, the term local search engine optimization has entered the vocabulary of most franchise or multi-unit marketing departments. More than 20 percent of all searches are localized, and this number is quickly increasing. This means ensuring that paid and organic search campaigns reflect this trend is vital to any brick and mortar business.
Local SEO means different things to different businesses and industries, but with a franchise company it is a whole new ball game. If anyone has been on a corporate marketing team for a franchise business or has maintained an agency relationship with one, you know that there are often hundreds to thousands of people to please. Not every franchise owner is going to be aware of their online presence, however there will be those that watch it like a hawk and will know when they are not showing up. Even in a highly successful SEO campaign where 90 percent of the locations are showing excellent results, 10 percent are not going to be very happy. This is their business, their blood sweat and tears and if they are not showing up in Google, you’re probably going to hear about it.
You will encounter various levels of involvement working with franchise owners. There are those that will want to change their webpages, run their own PPC campaign, or manage their own Google Places account. There are also those that won’t know what any of those things are, and many that are in between. When it comes to SEO, some amount of corporate regulation is necessary to get the best results. Here are some of the common problems we see when there is no consistent guidance:
Corporate should always control the important branded elements of the local webpages. The last thing you need is someone who really loves beveling and shadows to get a hold of the logo. Avoid this by creating a master template for all franchisee pages that includes the branded header, location and hour information, calls to action, and any other element that needs to be consistent across all pages.
It is rare for a franchise owner to have a graphic design background, but there is SEO value in an owner customizing their page. A great solution is compromising within a franchise CMS solution. This way corporate can designate certain elements and areas within the franchisees webpage that they can make personalized additions. Be aware though that in the case that you offer open areas for custom HTML, you may run into some interesting design. The placement may work well with the page, but anything goes with what the look and feel of that box is going to be. The best solution is to offer template boxes where they may be able to include personalized text or an image, an environment that is more controlled. Also offering fully developed items that the franchishees can choose between, such as photo galleries (fully SEO optimized) and testimonials, helps personalize the page while keeping it on-brand.
One of the most difficult topics for a franchise company is local keyword competition. What do you do when you have multiple stores located in the same area that all want to rank for the same city keyword? The first recommendation would be to create “city” pages that provide information and links to all the stores within that city so that they rank well and get equal exposure. However, when it comes to the optimizations that go on the local webpages, it is important that the local keyword be regulated to best minimize competition. Corporate should designate an approved location keyword for each store, which would then be used in the URL, title tag, META, header, and copy. For example, a Chicago area pizza place might designate by neighborhood: “Logan Square pizza,” “Evanston pizza,” “Wicker Park pizza,” etc.
A local store from a company I worked with decided to hire their own SEO agency. What they did was submit the location to a bunch of spammy online directories. Despite my wish that sites like these would have lost their effectiveness, in this case the tactic worked. Here’s the catch: the franchisee told his agency to target a different location keyword, let’s say “San Diego” when they were actually located in Temecula. Now the Temecula page has bumped the legitimate San Diego page out of the rankings, which as you can imagine did not make the store owner in San Diego very happy.
Regulating hundreds or thousands of individual business owners is no easy task, but it is a necessary one when it comes to keeping a strong brand image and managing your franchisee relationships. There are many scenarios to consider, and certainly not just when it comes to SEO, but these are a few I’ve experienced in most every franchise situation.