Franchise SEO – A Guide for Optimizing Local & National Search

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Franchise brands face unique challenges when it comes to SEO.

Unlike other industries where audiences and demographics are straightforward, franchise brands must consider national and local SEO with completely separate strategies. They also need to target both prospective franchisees, and end consumers who buy from those franchisees.

This guide has been developed to help you make sense of the mess that can come about from franchise SEO.

Importance of Franchise SEO

“Why should I invest in a long-term SEO strategy when I can just buy leads now?” We hear this question a lot.

SEO is a long-term play and doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a lot of hard work upfront to drive long-term gains. So why invest in SEO when you can just buy leads via PPC or from a list vendor?

First of all, in those other lead models, you pay for every lead you get. If you’re not actively paying for leads, you’re not getting them. SEO is different.

Getting your site ranked for keywords that your audience is searching for gives you a position in front of searchers for years at a time, whether you’re actively creating new content or not.

Also, one piece of content can continue to drive content while you produce new pieces. This leads to an escalating effect when it comes to traffic and leads. An article from last month will continue to drive results for months, if not years to come, without any additional investment in it.

Finally, looking at the shear numbers of organic search clicks compared to PPC clicks paints a bleak picture for proponents of PPC-only strategies.

# of Clicks (Organic & Paid) in Google.com (USA) November 2015 - October 2017

Paid search ads only receive about 2.8% of clicks in search results. If your website isn’t found organically and you’re just relying on PPC ads, you’re missing out on 97.2% of your potential audience. That’s not a good strategy.

Major Challenges of Franchise SEO

If SEO were easy, everyone would be doing it well. The truth is, SEO isn’t easy. And franchise SEO is even harder.

First, there is no one-size-fits-all model for SEO when it comes to franchise brands. Every franchise brand has its own business model and geographic targeting that requires custom strategies. (We’ll get into what some of those strategies look like.)

Duplicate content is a major issue for franchises, especially when individual franchisees have their own websites. A franchise can’t create one piece of content and have all of their franchisees post it on their own individual sites. Search engines will see this as duplicate content and ignore or even penalize each of the sites as a result. If this is your current content strategy, you may be doing more harm than good.

Deciding on a localized vs. distributed strategy needs to be made early in the SEO strategy. This decision has ramifications across not only the SEO/content marketing strategy, but for the entire digital marketing strategy of a franchise brand. For example, should a franchisor control all of the SEO and content for franchisees, or should franchisees own it locally?

The answer is: it depends! We’ll get into the ins-and-outs of this decision-making process further down in this post.

Google Local SEO is always changing, perhaps faster than Google’s core algorithm. That makes it really hard to target for a lot of franchise brands that need to focus on local areas to drive customers to franchise locations.

There is also a lack of understanding about SEO in general at corporate and franchisee levels in many companies. As we mentioned, SEO is a long-term play, and that may not sit well with franchisees who bought into a franchise because it offers quick, battle-tested marketing help. Also, some franchisors don’t have a full grasp on SEO or how it can impact the entire digital marketing strategy for franchise development and end-customer marketing.

Let’s address how to work with these challenges.

Two Main Types of Franchise SEO

As we mentioned before, franchise SEO is complicated.

For simplicity sake, we’re going to break out franchise SEO into two types:

  1. Franchise Development SEO – focused on franchise development and bringing in new franchisee prospects
  2. Franchise Growth SEO – focused on getting customers to local franchises

Franchise Development SEO

Franchise development SEO’s main goal is franchise development in the form of driving leads and making franchise sales. The target audience is potential franchisees. From a content standpoint, the goal is to build trust with individuals who are looking to make a major change in their life – starting their own business/buying a franchise.

The cycle for franchise development SEO is long.

Building trust with this target audience requires multiple touchpoints that may occur over the course of months, if not over a year. Most of the “buying” is done before the potential franchisee requests information. 70% of the buying decision has been made before online prospects reach out to sales people.  The target audience is focused on learning as much as possible while they work on a short list of companies to talk to. If your content isn’t showing up in their research, your brand is invisible to them.

In franchise development SEO the key is to be a trusted thought leader. The approach is similar to many B2B marketing campaigns that have long sales cycles.

Common Issues that Sink Franchise Development SEO

When potential franchisees are researching potential franchises to invest in, they care about one person: themselves. And this isn’t a critique on them at all. They should be focused on themselves, it’s their future, their time, and their money on the line.

While they do care if your brand has a good reputation, your good name isn’t important. It’s that your good name will help them be successful.

Issue #1: Focusing on Yourself Instead of on the Audience

So the first issue that sinks franchise development SEO is a franchisor’s focus purely on the franchise brand and not on the potential franchisee. This is the most common issue we see with franchise brand websites. They talk at a prospect and not to a prospect.

The focus of franchise development SEO content should be on the pain point the target audience has. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. What information would you be interested in researching? How can your brand answer that question in a relatively objective way? Here at 919 Marketing, we utilize our content marketing analysis platform to understand what topics your audience truly cares about, and where your best content opportunities are.

Issue #2: Creating Random Acts of Content

The above research helps create a keyword and content strategy that is focused entirely on the end buyer, not on the franchisor. The result is a larger presence in search for the keywords that matter most for prospects, helping you build trust with them before they ever talk to you.

This strategy isn’t just a list of keywords. It’s a full calendar of interconnected pieces of content that help guide your target audience from curiosity to conversion.

Issue #3: Having Separate Franchise & Consumer Domains

One of the most important aspects of SEO is how much trust your website has in the eyes of search engines, which can be measured in Domain Authority. A brand new website without many links from trustworthy sites is not likely to rank in search engines. However, larger domains with many links back to them have a higher probability to rank well and have a higher Domain Authority.

For many franchise brands, their consumer site (let’s say it’s xyz.com) will have a significantly higher Domain Authority than any other site the brand owns.

Stand-alone franchise sites, such as xyzfranchise.com, often suffer from having low Domain Authorities. This puts them at a disadvantage right away compared to their consumer-facing counterparts.

Instead of hosting franchise content on a separate domain with low Domain Authority, move your franchise content into a subdirectory of the main consumer site with the higher Domain Authority, such as xyz.com/franchising. This enables all of the franchise content to inherit the Domain Authority of the main site, giving it a better chance to rank well in search engines.

If a subdirectory is not possible, you can also create a subdomain of the franchising site to live off of the consumer site, such as franchising.xyz.com. This setup may inherit some of the Domain Authority of the consumer site, but it is not as effective as the subdirectory approach previously mentioned.

Consumer-focused Franchise Growth SEO

The main goal for consumer-focused SEO is to draw customers to your franchisees’ locations. Depending on the industry and franchise, this could be getting people in a physical store, buying something online, calling for more information, or any other action a franchise would want its end consumers to take.

With SEO that drives end-consumers to franchisees, the creation and housing of content can take place on the franchise’s main website, or on one of many franchisee-specific sites. Where should the content live? It really depends on the audience.

Nation-wide Focus or Local Focus?

If the franchise is nation-wide, like a large donut and coffee franchise, then a national focus on content may make the most sense. Content at the national level would be focused on trends and pain points that people across the franchisor’s territories may all have, such as “What fast-food restaurants have healthy salads?” This search isn’t location-specific, so it will be delivered by Google’s core algorithm like most other content. For searches like this, having a site with a high Domain Authority will help that query rank better than if it were written on an individual franchisee’s site.

On the other hand, a pest control franchise with many local franchisees may want to focus on local SEO so their franchisees’ individual businesses can be found in local searches such as “pest control near Lincoln, NE” or “how to get rid of bugs in Florida.” These queries will utilize a different search algorithm in Google – Google Local Search.

In queries like this, something strange happens in Google search results. Instead of it focusing on Domain Authority, it seems to give more weight to a website being focused to a certain geography.

We’ve seen this in many local searches. A huge corporate franchise site will often get outranked by a much smaller local site for queries that are specific to a region.

Local franchise SEO search results

Notice how none of the pest control results in this query are large franchises, despite large franchises being in this area. Google seems to put the little guys (or at least the local ones) first in many local queries. So consider creating separate website domains for each franchisee if your franchise targets very specific local services. In fact, Orkin, which has more positive reviews than the second and third place listings above, ranks #5 in local search results behind four companies with local websites.

The challenge with local websites is that content must be created on them to help them rank well, but that content can’t be the same across every site. That means either the franchisor needs to come up with unique content for dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of sites, or each franchisee needs to keep their site updated with helpful content that is optimized for search. With the right direction – either having a large writing staff to take care of individual franchisees, or a great training/recommendation program for franchisees to create their own content – this can absolutely be done at scale.

Another key to local search is to ensure that your Google My Business listing is created for each franchisee. Once that is created, make sure you emphasize that your local franchisees get a lot of good local ratings on their GMB page, as it appears to be a ranking factor, but more importantly, high ratings will mean more clicks and trust with your brand. Afterall, which will you click, a service with 1 star and 1 review, or one with 5 stars and 429 reviews?

Conclusion

Franchise SEO is complicated and there’s no one-size fits all answer to it. Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the nuances and given you a place to start with your SEO strategy. If you’re still unsure of where to start, or you need help making it happen, our content marketing and SEO services are tailored for franchise brands. We’d love to hear from you.