Too many brands are letting their most effective tool go to waste.
Sean Fitzgerald, chief development strategist at No Limit Agency, doesn’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of a great franchise development website.
Your [franchise development] website is your first impression to the world,” he said. “When somebody learns about your franchise brand, their first reaction is to Google you. When they land on your website, that’s how you’ll first meet them. Even if you’re the greatest franchise in the world, if you don’t look the part, they won’t bother.”
Fitzegerald’s sentiment was shared by Nick Powills, chief brand strategist at NLA.
“In today’s franchising world, all leads filter in through the website,” he said. “Before they turn into an inquiry and then a lead, they want to do their homework. They want to know how much it costs and how much they can make. They want to know what franchisees they should talk with. If your site doesn’t guide them, they probably won’t return your calls if they become an inquiry.”
Of course, talking about the importance of an exceptionally designed franchise development website is far easier than actually designing it. Fortunately, there are basics brands can keep in mind to ensure their site is more aaahhh than blaaah, and believe it or not, they go far beyond SEO.
Don’t be cheap … but don’t be stupid
According to Rob Goggins, COO of Great Clips, one of the biggest mistakes a franchise can make when building its franchise development website is trying to do so on a shoestring budget.
“I’ve been involved in the development of several websites over the years, and I regret the times we either tried to have a modestly qualified internal person build the site, or we went with the lowest cost external vendor,” Goggins said. “It always shows up in the final product, and does not properly reflect what you’re trying to accomplish.”
At the same time, Powills said it’s important not to spend your last penny on a site aimed exclusively at potential franchisees.
“A franchise site should always cost you less than $20,000 on the highest end, as the consumer site should hold the highest cost for bells and whistles,” he said.
Put people first
Humanizing your brand is also essential, according to Powills.
“Focus on people,” he continued. “Humanizing your brand will make it real. Show that over-average Joes can be successful in your business.”
Knowing the people you’re going after is also imperative, according to Goggins.
“There’s no sense in building a vanilla website that appeals to the masses, but does not really speak to a few key groups,” he said. “Do the necessary research to understand who succeeds in your business, and then build a franchise development website that appeals to them.”
Don’t forget the how while focusing on the what
Having the right information aimed at the ideal individuals is key, but it’s also essential to make sure site visitors are able to easily access this data.
“Three or four years ago, I would have said the most important element of a franchise development website would have been a strong call to action, letting people clearly know what to do once they land on your page,” Fitzgerald said. “Now, with technology advancing the way it is, I’d say providing your information in multiple formats for candidates is No. 1. Whether someone’s looking at your site from a cellphone or a computer or a tablet, they should have options for how to contact you, whether to fill out an inquiry form or be able to download a PDF to look at later. Everyone is mobile these days, and your site should take that into account.”
Pictures can be worth far more than a thousand words
The information your site provides may be the most important factor, but how it looks to the people accessing it can be just as vital.
“It’s got to be aesthetically pleasing,” Fitzgerald said. “It needs to capture attention and be engaging and get its information across in a way that’s easy to understand.”
Beth Caron, director of franchise development at Great Clips, spoke to how visuals should align with the brand’s overall image, as well.
“It all needs to be part of the same package,” she said. “If your brand is kind of flashy, your site should be, too. But if it’s a simpler, more home-grown brand, a flashy website wouldn’t make sense. Your site should fit your concept. It all goes back to who you’re appealing to.”
Context is key
There are a million technical factors to consider, from use of videos to how easy it is for visitors to navigate the website. However, according to Caron, million-dollar design doesn’t do much if it’s not resonating with candidates.
“A good website could be very informative but not connect with a candidate because they can’t put themselves in those shoes,” she said. “A great website can take that info and put it into a context where the person can see themselves be the hero of that story. It’s all about crafting a story.”
If franchise development websites tell a story, it’s safe to say all brands are looking for a happy ending. For those who could use a little more “happily ever after” in their sales, now may be the time to revisit their sites and get to work. The first step, after all, is admitting you have a problem.