Third-party provider Rio SEO has helped the bird feeding franchise to optimize their digital presence in a huge way
1851 Franchise interviewed Justin Whitaker, Wild Birds Unlimited’s digital marketing specialist, about the franchise’s digital strategy.
1851: What is your background?
Whitaker: I’m a digital marketer with 10 plus years of experience. Previously I worked for enterprise level companies with some of the most cutting edge technologies in the world of digital marketing. I became connected with this digital marketing opportunity and really loved the culture and thirst for growth WBU talked about. Personally, I’m a naturalist and digital marketer by trade and truly love what I do for a living. Most people look at analytics and see boring number along with charts, but for me, I see an opportunity to peek into the future. Working for enterprise level companies in the past taught me a great deal about what I do. The personal, friendly and accepting nature of WBU’s culture was such a refreshing feeling to be part of.
1851: What role does location management play at WBU?
Whitaker: Location management plays a huge role in retail business. The companies doing this are mostly the Fortune 500 level companies. It’s important to Walmart and other big companies to be found by their consumers. At WBU we want to make sure that when customers are finding our brick and mortar locations ahead of the competition. We want to do what is best for consumers so we can connect with them better at store-owner level. In location management consistency is key, we are a retail franchise that sells bird seed and bird related products. We communicate this by categorizing our stores on every available website that displays local businesses.
The necessity of having a digital presence in retail is vital to a stores performance. If a store is not found the first time it’s searched for on a phone, the customer spends their money somewhere else. It’s a necessity to make sure we are found first. Some of this process interacts with search engine optimization and paid searches, but location management is an equally big part now. Google are the pioneers of the web for local business listings, when Google makes a change all others follow.
When doing local searches, 48 percent of people visiting the web are using mapping products. Of those 48 percent, 44 percent of those people are visiting retail store locations within 24 hours. The necessity of having store information correct on Google, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo!, MapQuest and Yelp are more important now than ever.
1851: How has WBU optimized its digital location management?
Whitaker: We’ve partnered with a company called Rio SEO to help make organizing location management scalable for all of our stores. The main things we want our customers to know are the store address, phone number, web address and hours of operation. We want to make certain all that web traffic using mapping products are finding our stores when they are searching. After this important layer, l information like in-store and outside photos, local landmarks, customer reviews, specialty products and detailed store information is unique to each location and displayed for the customer so they have a feel for the store before they visit. Rio SEO manages over 30 different websites at one time, ensuring information is up to date for every store. If Google is your preferred source of information (like the rest of the world) every other website will make sure you get where you’re going thanks to Rio SEO’s software.
SEO, search engine optimization is a big part of how the local listings are delivered to the person searching; SEO is the information I provide search engines to crawl for on the back end of a website, local listing and e-commerce platforms for our stores. I identify what consumers are searching for and drive those search results to our listings based on the relevance of the customer’s search query. For example, if a person is looking for bird feeders in Nashville, TN I want to ensure that every possible search drives traffic to that store. I have been doing this job for a long time so I can identify ways that are efficient and not efficient. The hardest part of doing this with a large company is making putting together a scalable program for the company system wide. We always look for a scalable solution, if it’s not scalable may help one or two stores but not system wide. Rio SEO manages all of our retail locations giving us unified branding and detailed store information for all of our customers in the US and Canada. Our social media management tool provided by Facebook works in conjunction with Rio SEO providing Facebook with the most up to date store information. The best part of the social media management tool is that each store owner still has the benefit of managing their stores Facebook page using it to market and communicate with their customers on a local and personal level.
1851: How have operations improved since the implementation?
Whitaker: In the past, each store owner managed all of the local listing websites and Facebook themselves on top of all the tasks they had to do to on a daily basis to manage their business. They didn’t have time to see if their address was one digit wrong on Yelp and manage 30 different websites. Now we provide that benefit for store owners more efficiently than they could alone. This service offered by the franchise support center is yet another reason why it’s better to be part of a franchise than to be independent.
Local searches are up, map requests to stores are up and finding our stores is easier now than ever before. The operational side of things are optimized and structured in a scalable way making location management helpful system wide. It’s still early since the long setup process of over 300+ listings on 30 websites on the internet, but the analytics already look better than before. Driving retail traffic is a tough game for any industry, but consistency and accurate information help.
1851: How does the digital strategy benefit the WBU brand as a whole?
Whitaker: My goal is to increase the brand name of WBU on a national level so that we are a household name. Our culture is to bring an individualized level of service to each store. We are concentrating on pushing and driving more people into each store to get that great customer experience our store owners provide
Our current customers love being inside our stores. I see their feedback from surveys, web analytics, sales, customer reviews and from the customer themselves. The benefit to store owners is that they are getting the same level of service as a corporate owned business like Target or Walmart, making sure every store is visible everywhere. Digital marketing changes every day and making sure to keep up with current best practice is important in retail.
1851: How does WBU use social media?
Whitaker: Facebook has evolved a great deal over the years from a social media platform to a marketing for profit powerhouse. The myth of Gen-X and Baby Boomers not using Facebook couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our most engaged audience is women between the age of 45-65+. They have a larger expendable income, click on more ads and engage with more content than any other audience. We are using all of our Facebook pages to give customers an extension of the great experience you would get in our stores. We can see analytics and insights about how our customers react, share, like and comment on our content. Facebook has become a vital tool for reaching people on a very personal level. Facebook has proved a very high conversion rate to amount spent for paid ads. Facebook has recently started to get in the local business listing realm and do a pretty good job, but are still far behind Google.
1851: What would you say to another franchise that is less concerned with their digital presence?
Whitaker: All the winning companies right now are doing same things we’re doing with location management, and other profitable franchises are following suit. The folks that are not doing this are not thriving. Commodity companies that rely on their name and products alone without focusing on their front-end listings are hurting. We are thriving, and our location management strategies providing our store owners with top of the line support and the most up to date practices.