from Jason Stone, vice president of sales and marketing for Engage; and Will Scott, founder, Search Influence.
Are you using your website to effectively market your franchise?
When you walk into a Starbucks in Hong Kong, you expect the coffee you order to taste, look and smell the same as the coffee you order at a Starbucks in St. Louis – right? Just as your franchise must ensure consistency in the products or services you offer from location to location, you must also establish a consistent brand across the board as you grow your business. Otherwise, your marketing message becomes ineffective in promoting the franchise among both potential franchisees, as well as consumers.
However, in the franchisor/franchisee relationship, it is challenging to balance centralized control with localization. While every franchisee must comply with the franchisor’s overarching branding standards, it is equally important that each location appeals to the local demographic and retains their individuality. After all, franchisees are entrepreneurs and want to feel as though they are in charge of their own business. This balance is especially challenging when it comes to your franchise’s website, which is one of the most vital tools for growing your enterprise.
The problem is that franchisees will sometimes launch their own website, independent (and often unbeknownst) to the franchisor. This more than likely goes against franchise rules and creates confusion, as various iterations of the brand are now floating around the Internet. Moreover, these separate URLs and inconsistent information will impact your search engine rankings and ultimately direct leads away from your franchise’s “main” site.
To best promote your brand, grow your overall business and create a “win-win” situation for both you and your franchisees, you need to take a strong look at your web presence and search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. So, are you using your website effectively to market your franchise? Consider the following tips, tactics and tools.
- Think of Your Site as a Directory. Ideally, your website should serve as a directory of all your individual franchisees. At the top, you have your corporate site, which showcases your branding (colors, logos), includes clear marketing messaging, and follows web design and SEO best practices. But, from there, it is crucial that visitors be able to search or “drill down” to franchisees by location. Each location should link to a page, or microsite, specific to that franchisee. However, these pages are hosted within the franchise’s corporate site. How? Read on.
- Opt for a Multi-tenant, Multi-site Management Solution. By using a multi-tenant or multiple-site content management solution (CMS), franchisors can create an environment that houses an unlimited number of franchisee microsites. Not only can franchisors quickly create additional sites as new locations open and easily update existing sites, but also maintain control of branding across locations. In addition, these solutions allow franchisors to establish user levels with varying permissions. This gives different users – whether administrators in the corporate office or franchisee power users – the appropriate access to the site without sacrificing user experience or marketing message. Furthermore, when an update is made to a local site, the national franchise is notified and can review the change to make sure it meets corporate standards.
- Localize Franchisee Microsites. While branding consistency is important (and possible through a multi-tenant environment), you certainly do not want to silence the franchisee. To improve SEO and to appeal to the local audience, it is essential for each site to provide information relevant to that location. For example, a convenience store may offer a unique product line, such as local produce. These items are not offered at any other location, yet it is still necessary to promote them on the website.
Also, products and services should be described in the language that your customers are likely to use in their search terms. Consider different dialects and the way people talk about your products in different areas of the country, or even the globe. Although you may call a long sandwich with cold cuts a “sub,” other areas refer to it as a “hoagie,” “grinder” or “po’ boy.” Ensure that each location’s site speaks the same “language” as their respective region.
- Generate Prolific Content. Your corporate site shouldn’t be the only page filled with high-quality content. Franchisee pages, too, should include prolific, unique, text-based content. This is critical to effective SEO. It is often the case that the franchise or parent company is good at continuously generating content, but the franchisee’s site falls short. The same goes for social media – your franchisees should be posting frequently to all channels.
On a similar note, franchisees should integrate rich media with their sites. This content is useful for SEO and helps customers get to know the business before they walk through the door. Post videos of a grand opening, share employee news, or create a photo gallery of the facility or product line.
- Take advantage of “Barnacle SEO.” It is entirely possible that third-party websites – like Yelp – outrank your site, especially if your business is new or if you aren’t following SEO best practices. In these instances, you want to make sure you are listed on these sites or “claim” existing listings. Think of this as “barnacle SEO” – like a barnacle, you attach yourself to a large, fixed object on the Internet and wait for the searchers to float by in the current. However, it is vital that each franchisee’s information (name, address, phone number, etc.) is 100-percent uniform wherever it is listed, be it Yelp, Google Maps, Facebook or the Yellow Pages.
- Go Mobile. Is your franchise’s website “mobile ready?” If not, it’s time to invest in responsive design – a methodology that ensures your site is optimized for browsing across the device landscape. When more than half of today’s web traffic is coming from mobile devices, it is imperative that your website (and franchisee sites) is easily accessible, whether users are browsing on their phone, tablet or desktop computer. Plus, Google now uses “mobile-friendliness” as a ranking signal for mobile searches.
No matter if you own 20 or 1,000 locations, your website, as well as your franchisees’ websites, should be top of mind. Make an effort to ensure that not only your corporate brand, but also your individual locations are well-represented across the Internet. If your franchisees don’t have the resources to maintain their sites, optimize SEO and deliver prolific content, lend a hand, provide some guidance or connect them with an expert. Remember: at the end of the day, the success of the franchisee is the success of the franchisor, and vice versa.