Avoiding duplicate content and maintaining a steady social media presence are two ways to improve franchise SEO, experts say.
Search engine optimization is often a top priority for companies, the franchising industry included, And if it’s not, it certainly should be.
1851 Franchise spoke with digital marketing experts to garner their thoughts on best SEO practices for the franchising industry.
“It takes time, but it is the best long-term investment you can make in your marketing,” OuterBox founder and CEO Justin Smith said in an email. “The amount of time to achieve results will vary depending on how old your domain is, how long you've been around, brand recognition and much more. It will also depend on how technically sound your website is when you begin the process.”
Here are 10 tips for making franchise SEO better.
Make sure you have a quality website
DMA | Digital Marketing Agency CEO Solomon Thimothy noted in an email that SEO for franchises can be “notoriously filled with issues.” Franchise SEO, he said, begins with three main things: a good website, location pages and listings, and an online reputation.
“Just like any other business or industry, franchisors need to focus on having quality websites that are mobile-friendly and deliver accurate, relevant and unique content about each franchise location,” he said.
Take a team-oriented approach
Franchise SEO is a team effort between corporate and the individual franchisees, said SharpNET Solutions CEO and president Chris Sharp. The corporate team needs to stress awareness of SEO and the importance of SEO to its franchisees, he said.
“From a corporate perspective, I think awareness is very important so the franchisees are actually aware that it is important and [corporate team members] can provide some guidance and some tips so that they can do things that will help them,” Sharp said. He added that franchisors can get franchisees to participate in SEO efforts and that “these can be simple things, like getting their Google My Business system running and getting content involved and engaging in social media, which can also help with SEO.”
If a franchise provides services, for example, that brand would do well to make sure they specify those services, said Vizion Interactive founder, president and CEO Mark Jackson.
“A foundation for SEO is the curation of content that meets with searcher intent,” Jackson said in an email. “Do you provide services? If so, it would make a lot of sense that you have a unique page detailing specifics on each service, so that this aligns with a search being performed for that exact service. Too often, we see websites which list ‘all’ services on one page. Searchers – and search engines – are looking for more detail/more specificity.”
Keep your website up-to-date and fresh
“Websites must serve two masters,” Sharp said, one being people and the other, search engines. “Your website has to keep people happy, which means it needs to aesthetically look good, function well, have information that’s easy to find and not be dated. A dated website is like walking into a dirty grocery store. You just don’t want to shop. Your website is just as important as your storefront nowadays.”
Sharp added that the website must also accommodate the search engines, have ample and descriptive content and load fast.
Utilize a single domain
“Our suggestion, if you were to build a new website now, would be to keep all of your content and location on one main domain, meaning your location page URLs would look something like www.yourdomain.com/dallas-texas,” Smith said in an email. “This will then allow you to focus on optimizing one domain instead of potentially hundreds of domains (which becomes a huge pain and REALLY expensive!).”
Understand your customers
Any business that is looking to improve its SEO needs to prioritize understanding its customers, Thimothy said.
“That means they’ll give customers what they want, focus on the right experience, and take care of them,” Thimothy said in an email. “That can all be reflected in a website that delivers on customer needs and a focus on quality experiences that yield positive interactions with clients and reviews. From there, it’s all about doing things right and consistently. Just like weight loss, there are no magic pills. It’s consistent, quality work.”
Avoid duplicate content
Duplicate content in franchise businesses has always been an SEO concern, Jackson said in an email. He said his company often sees franchisees developing websites that use either the same or very similar content that has been provided to them from the corporation.
“Google wants to see unique content,” Jackson said in an email.
Sharp also warned against duplicate content.
“The biggest problem we see with franchises [is that] each franchise mini-website is just a copy-paste of another franchise mini-site and it’s nothing but duplicate content,” Sharp said. “Google will ignore the duplicate content, which means each individual franchisee has very poor opportunity to gain SEO and so the franchises need to recognize that and give the ability for the franchisees to write their own content and have their own message out there so that they have equal opportunity to capture rankings and not just get ignored by Google.”
Follow the rule of three
Individual franchise websites should have a minimum of three pages, Sharp said.
“A lot of franchises have just a one-page landing page, basically, that has almost no content and it’s the same content as another one,” Sharp said. “They need to think of this as a mini-website, not a landing page, and so they have the ability to really bring in content and capture rankings for their location and three pages or more is important for that to happen.”
Franchisors also need to give franchisees some content leeway.
“A lot of franchises definitely say ‘This is our message and you can’t deviate from it,’” Sharp said. “That is just a showstopper for SEO. Each individual franchisee needs to have the ability to have that unique content and say things the way they want to say them. There could be guidelines, they can even be very strict… but in the end, as long as the message is right, they need to have content.”
Maintain a social media presence
Franchises need to maintain their social media presence, Sharp said. Brands should also not forget to include URLs. Sharp said that when brands publish things via social media they’ll want to occasionally make sure they include URLs that go back to their website. This, he said, will help search engines actually see that there’s some social media buzz about the brand’s website.
“You don’t want your social profiles to be in a scenario where you haven’t updated anything for six months,” Sharp said. “You want to look like you’re in the game, that you’re caring about your customers and prospects and your company, and you’re doing some things on your part to market yourself and communicate with the public.”
Hire the right people
The best teams usually consist of a great partnership between an SEO agency and a few internal staff members, Smith said.
“Internally, it is important to have people who can help answer questions about the brand and can help to develop, or at least guide, content,” Smith said in an email. “While SEO companies provide content creation, it's still important to have someone within your company to review the content and make sure the brand voice is coming across. Once you're comfortable with the agency, this may not be needed forever, but it is very important at the beginning of a relationship.”
Depending on just one person to oversee all digital efforts can be tough, especially in the case of smaller franchises, Thimothy said.
“Although it may sound simple, there are many aspects of SEO that franchises need to focus on,” Thimothy said in an email. “Generally, this requires a well-rounded person with the ability to develop fresh and engaging content, engage with customers on social channels, manage business listings, and monitor an online reputation — all on top of knowing best SEO practices from keyword research to on-page formatting and optimized content writing. This can often be a tall order for smaller franchises where every employee plays a key role in daily operations. Many franchises choose to work with agencies to ensure their online presence is taken care of.”
Sharp stated that brands will want to hire someone who is familiar with digital marketing, as “the traditional marketing mindset doesn’t translate very well to digital marketing, in particular, search marketing” and that “search is definitely its own thing,” so brands will want to hire someone who knows how things work in that space or hire a separate company. He noted that being good at social media is “not going to translate into search, so someone that is specifically trained or experienced as a search marketing or SEO professional is what they would want to pursue.”