A sometimes overlooked part of the small business community are those businesses that are part of a bigger franchise. These businesses contribute to their local communities in a very valuable way. Franchise businesses are no different than any other small business, and can benefit from SEO in the same way. Similarly, if you have a company you want to turn into a franchise, it’s important to have an SEO strategy in place. SEO helps to boost the discovery of the business. It also increases how often search engines offer up content from the company in answer to customers’ queries.
In spite of this, marketing for franchise businesses is far more complicated than for individual small businesses. There are two main reasons for this. Companies must balance cohesiveness with local differences. Corporate must also find a way to get competitors to work together in specific regions as a team. This is often easier said than done.
What Is a Franchise?
In everyday conversation, many people use the word “franchise” to mean a business that has several branches. If a local cafe expands into six different spots across town, for instance, people may begin to refer to it as a franchise. The technical meaning is a little different. The cafe is only a legal franchise if the business owner grants rights or licenses to someone else to sell the same products under its brand umbrella.
In most instances, the owner of the umbrella company maintains control of the marketing and promotions. This person is the franchisor. The franchisee owns the individual branch(es). This person may need to contribute a percentage of sales revenue to the marketing budget. In turn, franchisees get to hit the ground running. They can do this without worrying about the usual startup considerations that come with opening a new business.
What Are the Challenges?
Franchisors often pay more attention to growing the umbrella business than boosting sales in individual locations. Business Insider also estimates that only 65.3% of franchises remained open after four years. It contradicts a longstanding, century-old estimate that 95% of franchises make it to at least their fifth year. The more recent estimate also better reflects some of the challenges franchises face.
Corporate must decide how it plans to balance the marketing needs of corporate with the needs of individual locations. This may become more important in two scenarios. The first is when franchises have to consider cultural differences. The second is when the franchise enters regions that speak a different language. The balancing act also stretches into choosing keywords. Geo-tagging is one of the main ways to boost the ranking in local searches using keywords.
To customers and onlookers, a franchise is one company with several locations. Whether they eat at the franchised cafe up the street or the one 10 miles away, it’s the same company. For franchisees, all the other locations of the business that they do not own are competitors. This can lead to infighting within the company. It may also cause reluctance to contribute to the corporate marketing fund. At the individual level, owners may feel reluctant to promote too much because it may drive business for another location as well.
Both franchisors and franchisees may notice a disconnect in marketing. Limited information collected by and communicated between the two groups may cause this. The umbrella company may not pay keen attention to local differences and how effective different campaigns are in certain areas. Meanwhile, the individual branches may lack access to the data analytics of the parent company to see what drives their sales. This disconnect can make it difficult for either party to draw a straight line between marketing efforts and sales results.
Most franchises do not want local branches to create their own websites or social media handles. These are difficult to keep track of and would compete with the corporate website and handles. There is also the potential for misrepresentation of the overall brand due to unauthorized content. This may present problems for not just the franchisee responsible but the other locations and corporate as a whole.
What Are the Solutions?
In spite of the challenges, both corporate and its franchisees can work together to come up with mutually beneficial solutions. This requires creativity and compromise.
Providing SEO services at both the brand and individual level helps reduce infighting. One way successful franchises do this is to give each individual location its own webpage to manage on the corporate website. The franchisor may review any potential changes before they go into effect. This ensures cohesiveness. Facebook also has tools in place to break up official pages into separate franchise locations.
Franchisors are often appalled to discover “rogue” media created by individual franchisees who want to promote their business. Granting some independence may prevent these from popping up. Corporate may provide franchisees with a style guide, as well as the criteria for approved marketing agencies they can work with at the local level.
Paid search allows companies to target customers in specific locales. Both corporate and franchisees may use this to drive customers to specific locations. This is where geo-specific keywords may come in handy. The franchisor may also use paid search to target a more general geographic area for regular ads and promotions.
Franchisees should take advantage of the many perks offered via Google for small businesses. Chief among them is Google My Business. This allows companies to list specific franchise locations. Unfortunately, franchisees often stop here. Instead, they should spend some time on adding high-quality photos and soliciting reviews from customers who do business with them. Better reviews may help branches differentiate themselves based on service and aesthetics.
Is It Worth the Hassle?
While difficult, doing SEO for franchises is neither impossible nor ill-advised. When done correctly, it contributes to improved brand recognition for the umbrella company. It also provides increased sales for the small business owners who manage the franchise.
People tend to gravitate toward what’s most familiar. When ads tune in on the idiosyncrasies of a particular area, it may resonate more with local consumers. For instance, consider the difference in effective marketing styles for a cafe shop catering to techies in Silicon Valley versus the same one in a community of artists.
When properly executed, SEO campaigns for franchises prevent discrepancies in the messaging that customers may read as false advertising. SEO tackles the word content of websites and even ads. While not the primary function of SEO, that focus ensures everything lines up the way it should. That cohesiveness can help prevent confusion among customers.
Building a business from scratch takes time. Buying the rights to one is a much shorter process if you can secure funding. Generating revenue and turning a profit is also faster due to the sales and marketing momentum from the overall company. SEO further amplifies this momentum by introducing organic search to the mix.
Every so often, new trends circle throughout the marketing field. These may include the use of specific memes or pop culture references. When incorporated into annual Super Bowl ads and seasonal website copy, they may create a boom in sales. Once the trend passes, marketers are back to the drawing board again. SEO is a long-term strategy that requires very little tweaking or adjusting over time.
In short, yes, franchise SEO is worth the investment of time, money, and compromise. Without SEO, franchises would struggle to gain the popularity necessary to attract more small business owners. However, franchisors must learn to compromise so as to boost local businesses in all the areas in which it operates.