Franchise businesses are growing at a startling rate, but so are the challenges that come with them. In fact, the gross domestic product of the franchise sector will increase by a projected 5.1 percent in 2015, outpacing the total U.S. GDP, which is expected to increase by only 4.9 percent, according to the International Franchise Association’s annual report on the state of the industry.
Among the many challenges of running a franchise or multi-location business, optimizing your online presence for every market with a storefront or office can be one of the most daunting. Are you asking yourself, “Did I do as much for this location as the other locations? Is all of the messaging coming from each location cohesive? Have I or one of my team members duplicated efforts or content anywhere along the way? Are my franchisees engaging in other activities online that are counterproductive to our efforts?”
When it comes to marketing your multiple business locations online, franchise search engine optimization can turn into a tangled mess in a hurry. This five-point checklist should help you successfully attract customers for your franchises and multiple business locations by harnessing the power of the Internet.
1. Get your site right
Before your head starts spinning thinking about all of the locations you have to deal with, first hone in on the main pages of your site. These are typically the homepage, the “about us” page, your blog, and your products and services pages. Not only will these likely be the most visited pages on your site, they will also be the pages that show up higher in organic search engine results.
Take care in curating unique, engaging content for each of these website pages, particularly your products and services pages. As long as what your businesses are offering is basically the same across locations, there is no need to create individual services pages for each location. Instead, each location should reference the same services pages. This will save you a lot of pain and suffering and build more authority for said pages.
2. Your brand’s online footprint
External sites that describe, feature, and promote your business are frequently a major differentiating factor in competitive industries and markets. But, before you start worrying about this for your franchisees, take a hard look at your brand’s off-site presence that exists outside of your own website (we call this off-site SEO). Do you have a brand page on all of the major social media channels? Are your social media pages updated and posted on regularly? Are your newsworthy events, products, and services being covered by legitimate online publications?
When thinking about off-site SEO, backlinks are essentially other websites recommending your site as a resource for more information on a given topic. I like to compare backlinks to votes, but instead of thinking about getting the most votes, think more about the quality of votes. Along this line of thinking, make sure those recommendations are coming from reputable sources. Google is a lot like people are in how it views these recommendations or links back to your website. Would you trust a recommendation more coming from a doctor or from a stranger you just met?
3. Location pages
Now that we’ve covered the importance of promoting your brand as a whole, let’s talk about how to make sure customers in each target market are able to easily find your local franchises online.
First, we need to let Google know about all of your locations, so make it easy. A search bar, map, or simple list are great ways to get users and search engines to where they need to go. SmartStop Self Storage has 167 locations, so they offer their users all three. (see below)
Having unique location pages allows Google to see that these unique franchise locations should be viewed as such and shown in local search results accordingly.
Here are the components for a search engine friendly location page:
- Google My Map with location info
- Unique content about the franchisor and location
- Directions to the location from surrounding cities, including landmarks
- Photos of the location
- Link to a review page for the location
- List of products and/or services
- Schema MarkUp
- Link to the location’s social profiles
- Link to franchisor and staff member profile pages
- Local phone number
4. Business listings
The most intimidating and most important piece of the multi-location puzzle is the consistency of all of your locations’ names, addresses, and phone numbers on the Web. The below graphic depicts the local search ecosystem and how your key business information is shared by business directories.
Moz Local makes a franchisor’s job of reviewing and maintaining consistent name, address, and phone number information considerably less troublesome. By submitting each location’s information to Moz Local, you are pushing this information through a handful of the most significant data feeds available in local search and this creates a beneficial domino effect. This process will take care of a significant portion of cleaning up incorrect information that may currently be found in the major business directories. As a result, many of these changes will also trickle down to lower level directories. Give this process about 90 days to percolate and then use the same tool to find any other discrepancies which require manual changes.
5. Leveraging your franchisees
Often, when dealing multi-location businesses, individual location managers and owners may be hampering your efforts unknowingly. To avoid this, put a cohesive marketing plan in place. As part of opening a new location, have a marketing checklist that clearly defines what activities your franchisee should and should not engage in.
I highly recommend making available webinars covering best practices and standards for social media, claiming online profiles, reviews, and testimonials and how to handle local media. When given some instruction and the proper resources, your franchisees can be your greatest advocates.
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