When Bad Franchise Development Sites Hurt Good Brands: The Top Five Things Not To Do
When Bad Franchise Development Sites Hurt Good Brands: The Top Five Things Not To Do

Poorly designed franchise development sites bury the ‘lead,’ at the expense of brand growth.

The idea of creating a great franchise development site for your brand may seem simple at first—after all, as a franchise development professional, you talk about the opportunities your brand affords prospective candidates every day. But being a compelling conversationalist isn’t the same as building a clear, engagement-driving website, as our pool of development professionals can attest.

Below are five mistakes to avoid when it comes to franchise development sites.

Bad Design Like Hidden Forms and Poor Navigation

“Forcing prospects to click through to get to a form is a no-no,” shared Thomas Scott, CEO of Brand Journalists. “Put the cookies on a low shelf and embed forms on every page. This is sales, not a beauty pageant and if you make it harder for people to convert, they just don't convert. Designers hate forms and there are some really beautiful sites that will perform at only 50% of their potential just because of this.”

Scott also said that poorly designed forms create “form friction,” and turn site visitors off. Reduce barriers to entry if you want to hold interest, Scott said, adding, “It’s 2019; you don't need a captcha on any franchise form. Limit the fields to as few as possible. Name, email and phone are all you really need.”

“The most glaring error is asking for too much personal information too soon on the website,” agreed Keith Gerson, CEO of FranConnect. “Certainly you'll want to collect their basic contact information, but to ask for financial information before establishing contact and a personal rapport is a mistake.”

But forms are only half the battle: first, you have to capture and keep a franchise candidate’s attention.

“In more than a decade of building franchise development sites, we've learned that the longer you can engage a prospect and keep them reading, the higher the chance you will recruit them,” Scott said. “To this goal, the way you design your navigation can make or break the flow through the site.”

Scott’s cardinal sins for an FD site include navigation that’s broken into subsections that were not connected in a relevant way to the other sections of the site.

“This causes readers to bleed off the site and you are never able to get maximum exposure to the story you want to tell. It would be the same if you had a 30-minute webinar and someone jumped in the middle, watched three slides then left, missing the beginning and end. It works against education,” emphasized Scott.

Pages That Are Not Optimized for Mobile and SEO

If there is not enough correctly written text on a franchise development site, Scott explained, brands will suffer for it. The blow to search engine optimization (SEO, or, colloquially, ‘Google juice’) means that prospective candidates will have to fight to find your site.

Scott also called out “not optimizing pages and indexing sitemaps properly; just too many simple-to-fix errors. Building an awesome site doesn't help if people can't find it.”

Poor coding, slow-to-load pages and lack of mobile optimization were also on Scott’s lists of no-nos.

“You need a text opt-in,” Scott emphasized. “Today, 70% of prospects start their journey on a mobile phone. Give people easy, trackable ways to opt in. Don't rely on forms alone. Any conversation you have with a prospect is a good piece of sales activity.”

Emotionless Stories That Don’t Put Your Reader In Motion

“I see no emotional connection [on FD sites] all the time,” said Brent Dowling, CEO of RainTree. Dowling explained that, in terms of sales, there aren’t many products out there that make comparable asks; signing on with a brand as a franchisee often means quitting a job, using savings and/or loans to get the business off the ground, and more.

“That makes for a highly emotional buyer process,” Dowling said. “Brands that have sites that speak to the emotion of the opportunity (lifestyle; philanthropy; making a difference in your community; creating jobs in your market, etc.) will find their website is much more likely to convert at a high level.”

For Scott, a huge part of nurturing the emotional connection with a prospective franchisee comes through via story.

“Storytelling is what makes people buy—that's the power of a well-told story; you don't realize you are being sold to,” Scott said. “A lousy looking site with solid storytelling will outperform a beautiful site with poor story elements every day.”

Talking ‘At’ Candidates: Not Answering Candidates FAQs Or Letting Franchisees Share

“In an age of immediate gratification, not giving a prospect answers to their basic questions will be a problem,” said Rich Batchelor, CEO of Qiigo. “Make sure to answer the top 10 or so questions that a prospective franchisee has.”

Scott said that a great way to do so is with testimonials, but only if they’re credible.

“[I’ve seen] lots of testimonials from franchisees but very little real, contextual validation content. What we saw was very basic—guys in logo shirts forced to say nice things,” said Scott. “What they said more often than not was not specific about them or their business; it just sounds like overused marketing language. A few sites did a good job of giving valuable insights into a typical day or documenting the daily lives of franchisees. This should be front and center, not buried or invisible.”

Going Too B2C When Your Site Needs to Lean B2B

Joe Matthews, CEO of Franchise Performance Group, said that he often sees franchise development sites that use business-to-consumer (B2C) language instead of business-to-business (B2B) language, at the expense of qualified leads.

“Sites are often written by marketing personnel whose consumer experience gets in the way,” Matthews said. “They don't speak to business people and tend to use marketing language that can deter a serious investor. Franchise sites can be ‘sexy’ without losing that business/white paper approach and appeal.”

Relatedly, many marketing professionals fear the ‘wall of text,’ but for investors who regularly read proposals and prospecti, a lack of text is more alarming.

“Why is it that when we try to market a $500,000 item like a franchise, we only put up a couple of pages and less than 1,000 words?” Scott asked. “When we try to sell a 99-cent taco, we spend a ton and give it a lot more real estate. If you want to really engage someone, do a better job of storytelling and resist the urge to skimp on written content."