SEO and franchises
In the past few decades, the internet and growing popularity of smartphones has changed the way people shop at local businesses. No longer chained to a desktop, Americans are free to research local businesses and make purchasing decisions on the go. Consider these statistics:
- 81% of Americans own a smartphone.
- 58% of Google searches are on a mobile device.
- 28% of local searches lead to a purchase.
- 76% of local searches result in a visit to a business within a day.
With more people using the internet to find local businesses, your franchise’s digital storefronts are becoming almost as important as your physical ones. This means making your franchise and each of its locations as attractive and easy to find as possible.
Local SEO may be your best tool for achieving these goals.
What is local SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of strategies used to make a business more visible on search engine result pages. The main goal of SEO specialists is to get onto the first page of results, because 75% of searchers never look further.
They do this by employing a wide range of web writing, design, development, and reputation management strategies (to scratch the surface) that make web pages as appealing as possible to searchers and search engine algorithms.
SEO specialists focus mainly on Google, since its engine dominates the search market. However, some strategies are tailored to other engines, like Bing or Yahoo.
Local SEO refers to specific search engine optimization strategies that local businesses use to attract customers who live in their geographic area.
Odds are, your competitors are aware of SEO too, and will do whatever they can to make it onto the first page of Google search results ahead of you. In order to compete, franchises must harness the power of local SEO for each of their locations. Here’s how you can get started.
The challenges of local search for franchises
Franchises may face logistical challenges because they often have many locations run by franchisees, and it’s not always clear who should be managing each location’s web presence.
Plus, franchisee websites and corporate franchise sites have different audiences. While the primary goal of a corporate franchise website is to attract potential franchisees, local franchisee websites aim to attract customers to their location.
Issues may come up when a certain location’s website doesn’t match the corporate branding, or when franchisees don’t understand how local SEO works but must manage their own site and listings.
In this post, we’ll walk you through 6 steps you can take to optimize your franchise’s local SEO and attract more customers to your franchise locations.
Step 1: Get your corporate marketing team and franchisees on the same page.
Make sure that both your corporate marketing team and your individual franchisees understand the basics of local SEO. Share educational resources with your corporate marketing team and host a webinar for franchisees in order to give them the chance to ask you questions.
This can help everyone get involved and on the same page. It can also help franchisees who are not interested in SEO understand its value to their business, particularly if they will be assisting in local SEO efforts for their location.
Step 2: Take corporate control over franchisee websites.
To ensure that your franchisees follow your corporate brand guide and messaging, take control of any existing franchise location websites.
It takes less than a second for a visitor to judge your website based on its appearance.
Professional website design is important for any business, because it helps you look more authoritative and legitimate. Consistent branding is especially important for franchises, because customers expect a uniform experience no matter which location they visit.
If franchisees have to create or maintain a website without guidance, they may not follow your brand guide at their location. As a result, customers may not be presented with the colors, fonts, and brand voice they have come to associate with your franchise, which can distort your brand identity.
Which website do you trust more? Even if your services are top-of-the-line, if your website looks unsafe or dated, it might turn off customers. Often, part of the problem is that franchisees are not experts at web development, SEO, design, and content writing. They have other fish to fry.
As a result, taking corporate control takes the burden of learning these skills off franchisees and ensures not only brand consistency but website(s) optimized for local SEO. If your franchise doesn’t have time to learn about local SEO either, then it’s easy enough to find a partner who can do it for you.
After taking corporate control, you’ll want to take stock of your franchisee websites.
If the website receives a lot of local search traffic and is ranking well in Google search results already, then you might consider letting it be. However, if there is anything that can be improved to optimize the site and keep it on brand, then you should carry on to step 3.
Step 3: Give each franchise location multiple pages on the corporate website.
Franchises may display information about their locations in a number of different ways, such as
- Listing all locations on a single page of their corporate website: this is not great for SEO because you miss the opportunity to generate traffic with separate pages tailored to each region you serve.
However, if all the locations are within a specific region, then it could be a convenient way for visitors to find their nearest location. If this page provides links to location-specific pages, then you can provide more useful information and improve your local SEO.
Source: Vom Fass
- Giving each location its own web page on the corporate website: This is better than the previous method, but still not the best for SEO. Multiple pages with optimized content tailored to that location have a better chance of ranking well than a single page.
A location on their corporate website; Source: Kwik Trip
- Allowing each franchisee to have their own website: This may not be the best choice for every franchise. Sometimes franchisees do not follow brand guidelines, and there is the possibility that franchise websites will compete with the corporate website for search rankings, undermining SEO efforts.
On the other hand, franchisee websites help a franchise target local keywords for each location, potentially helping your brand to rank higher in searches for local businesses. It also reduces the digital marketing burden on the corporate team and allows franchisees to hire outside help if they are less familiar with websites.
A separate franchisee website; Source: Made in the Shade
- Creating multiple web pages within the franchise’s website: This method may offer the biggest SEO payoff for the least tradeoff. It allows locations to customize their content for each city without confusing Google. It also allows franchisors to maintain brand guidelines.
A franchise location with pages under the franchisor’s domain; Source: A1 Concrete
If possible, franchises should house their location pages within the franchisor’s corporate website. There’s a lot of jargon surrounding websites, so let’s break down exactly what this looks like in practice for those who aren’t familiar.
A URL is a web page’s address on the internet. It contains all sorts of information about the location of your page, including
- The name of your website, or “domain,” (a1concrete)
- The type of website it is, or “top-level domain” (.com, which indicates it’s a commercial site)
- Which subsection of the site contains this page, or “path” (/locations/kentucky/louisville).
Let’s say you’re visiting this website. You have the street address (a1concrete.com), but you don’t have the room number (locations/kentucky/louisville). You need to find the correct path to the room (page), so you walk into the business and start looking around. You want to visit a particular location, so you go to the “locations” floor.
Source: A1 Concrete
Now that you’ve reached the locations floor, you look for “Kentucky,” since that is the state where Louisville is located.
You find the Kentucky wing.
Then, you see a large room labelled “Louisville,” and you step inside.
Source: A1 Concrete
You have successfully followed this URL to the Louisville page: a1concrete.com/locations/kentucky/louisville. By organizing your site this way, you can guide site visitors to each location (like Louisville) logically, and nest relevant pages under each location.
In the above example, the Louisville location of A1 Concrete has pages for services it provides, team members for that particular location, location-specific reviews, and more.
If the Louisville page is like an auditorium, each of these pages is like a small office that branches off of it.
Source: A1 Concrete
This is not exactly a microsite, but it feels like one. Microsite is another term that gets thrown around a lot, but it usually refers to either 1) a website within your website, or 2) a subdomain, which is connected but separate from your main website and has its own address.
Franchises commonly use subdomains to create sites for recruiting franchisees. However, we think it’s best not to use subdomains for franchise locations.
Instead, use subfolders (a type of site organization) under the corporate website’s domain, like in the A1 Concrete example. Subfolders often require less time and work than subdomains and do not run the risk of confusing Google.
Franchise location pages and franchisee websites should have these elements
Pages optimized for the most commonly-searched local keywords. Identify which local keywords your customers use to find each web page, and include them in your title tags, metadata, and the text on your page. To learn more about keyword research, check out Moz’s resource.
- Your location’s hours of operation. It’s important to list each location’s open hours so visitors can determine when you’re open or closed.
Source: Vom Fass
- An interactive map that displays your location. Most franchise websites have a map embedded into one of their pages (often an individual location page or location finder page) that allows visitors to zoom in and out and find nearby stores, which are pinned on the map.
Often, business embed Google Maps, which allows users to look up directions, as in the example below. Here are Google’s instructions for embedding Google Maps.
Source: Vom Fass
- Original photos and/or videos from this location. Real, location-specific photos help reassure visitors that your business is legitimate by proving that the location really exists, and that other customers have gone there and enjoyed their experience.
Can you think of a time when you’ve viewed a sketchy website or business listing? Odds are, any photos you may have seen were stock photos or extremely generic shots that could have been taken anywhere.
- Real testimonials and reviews from customers. Any business website worth its salt has social proof on their website such as reviews, testimonials, star ratings, accreditations, or awards that show potential customers that past customers and other community members approve of their business.
In many cases, the logo of the client, shield of the accrediting organization, source of the star rating, or name of the publication that issued the award will be listed, so a skeptical visitor could fact-check it.
However, in the case of reviews from past customers, how do you know that they weren’t edited or made up by the owner?
A citation of the source (e.g. Google, Facebook) will often enable a skeptic to find the review. However, this may require too much work.
Another way to do this (which allows a visitor to validate the review at a glance) is to use a review plugin tool, which automatically pulls the review from another platform and displays it on your site. It often includes the source’s branding and/or a link to the source so that the visitor can validate the review in a seconds.
Which tool you choose will depend on how your site is built (WordPress, HTML, or another platform) and which review sites you use (Facebook, Google My Business, Trip Advisor). Wordpress has a plugin library that you can browse. However, as always, be cautious about what you download to ensure that you use safe, secure tools. Here are some plugins for four popular local business review platforms.
Google: Google Reviews Widget (for WordPress); embedSocial’s Google Reviews Generator (HTML)
Facebook: EmbedSocial’s Facebook Reviews Generator, Social Reviews and Recommendations plug in (WordPress)
Yelp: EmbedSocial’s Yelp Reviews Generator, Yelp Reviews Widget (WordPress)
TripAdvisor: offers its own widget
If you already have GatherUp, ReviewTrackers, Whitespark, Bright Local, or Grade.us, for managing reviews, they include a review widget feature.
Yelp and Facebook also allow you to embed individual reviews manually.
- (bottom of page element) that displays your business’ name, address, and phone number at the bottom of every page of your website
Source: Madison Marketing Group
- Structured data: this is “organized data that conforms to a certain format” (Ahrefs). It is a tool, almost like a language, that is used to structure the code of web pages in order to help Google identify types of pages and key, on-page information that will be valuable to searchers. If you want to learn more about structured data, check out this resource from Moz.
- Well-written content: well-written web content follows web writing best practices. Write concisely. Use headlines, subheadlines, and lists to organize your content. Use images to illustrate your points. Copy-edit before publishing.
- Clear, easy-to-navigate design: make sure that your website is designed according to web design best practices. It looks great when viewed on any device, is easy for visitors to navigate, and is appealing to look at. You can learn more about website design in our guide to franchise websites.
- Links to social media profiles and review platforms.
Source: A1 Concrete
Step 4: Take Corporate control over your franchise location citations.
Take corporate control over your franchise’s citations on review sites, social media, and online directories.
Citations, (listings or mentions of your business’s contact information online) are important for local SEO. They help Google verify that your business is legitimate, because your consistent business information appears many times across the web on different, reputable sites.
Perform an audit to determine 1) On what platforms your franchise locations are listed, 2) whether those listings have been claimed, 3) what major platforms your business isn’t on, and 4) the quality of those listings.
A citation in an online business directory; Source: Yellowpages
Citations can help you gain visibility on websites that rank well in search, such as popular directory sites like Yellowpages or places where your customers like to spend time, such as Facebook.
A franchise location’s Facebook listing; Source: Facebook
Citations range from listings on review platforms, directories, and social media sites to references to your business information in blog posts or articles, for example.
A citation in an online article; Source: Isthmus
Unless your business is brand new, you may find that your business is already listed on platforms like Yelp or Google My Business, but your franchisees have not claimed these listings. Claiming listings allows you to change and manage them. Other listings may be managed by a franchisee but are inaccurate or incomplete.
You can find or create listings manually by searching on Google and checking different sites. However, this can be a long and tedious process since there are many platforms, from industry-specific ones to sites like Google My Business that serve multiple markets.
Some review and directory sites for local businesses include
- Google My Business
- Bing Places
- Apple Maps
- Open Table
- The Real Yellow Pages
- Yahoo! Local
- Angies List
- Better Business Bureau (BBB)
For more local citation sites, check out Brightlocal’s list.
Alternatively, you or a partner can use software like Moz Local or Whitespark, which can comb through the web for citations that you have and help you find opportunities for new listings.
Our Google My Business listing; Source: Google
GMB also has features for businesses with multiple locations you can take advantage of. Create a distinct listing for each location of your franchise, and then use a location group to allow multiple people to manage them if you like. If your franchise has multiple service areas without brick and mortar stores, you can create one GMB listing for your franchise and indicate up to 20 service areas.
Next, you need to ensure that the information on each of your listings is correct, complete, and up-to-date.
An unclaimed listing; Source: Yelp
Every listing should at least list the correct business name, address, and phone number for that location. This is called a NAP citation. Google rewards your franchise for
- Number of citations (The more the better. Focus on popular review sites, industry-specific sites, and places where your customers are likely to spend time.)
- Accuracy (Everything is correct and up-to-date.)
- Consistency (You supply the same information on different websites.)
- Completeness (You provide as much useful information as possible, such as your location’s NAP, geolocation, hours of operation, photos from that location, links to social media, and a link to your website.)
Optimizing your citations ensures that customers at all locations get a good user experience and the information they need to make a purchasing decision.
Plus, by consistently providing your customers with a good user experience, you may be able to improve your search result rankings.
Step 5: Set up a customer review management system.
Every franchise location should have a system for review management in place. Reviews are a major factor for local SEO. Potential customers use reviews to research their buying decisions, and Google’s algorithms use factors such as your review quantity, positiveness, and recentness to help determine your search ranking.
As a result, it’s important to monitor and reply to reviews, especially if they are negative. One way to do this is to use software which will alert you when you get a new review.
Some review programs for local businesses include:
Since franchisees know the most about their locations, employees, and customers, they should reply to reviews for their own location. However, it’s a good idea to create a set of corporate guidelines for replying to reviews and train franchisees to adhere to them. This ensures that everyone knows what to do and responds in a consistent way that reflects your brand.
If you don’t already have guidelines for replying to reviews, here are some general rules of thumb:
- Respond promptly.
- Be polite.
- Thank them.
- Express regret and apologize for negative experiences.
- Offer a link to a solution, or an email or phone number the reviewer can call to resolve their issue.
- Reply to negative reviews with a cool head.
- Pass on compliments for particular employees.
- If they mention a particular thing they love about your business, thank them and mention something about it in your reply.
- Address them by name to make it feel more personal, and sign your own name.
- If a review seems to violate a platform’s guidelines, report it.
- Tell happy customers that you look forward to seeing them again.
For more about reviews, read “Asking for Local Business Reviews in 2020: The Owner’s Guide.”
Step 6: Earn local backlinks from franchise sites
Another major SEO ranking factor is the number and quality of backlinks your site earns. These are links from other people’s sites to yours. On the web, links are channels for social credit and trust, similar to a “like” or “heart” on social media.
A backlink from a reputable site tells Google that the reputable site trusts, or “likes” your website. A lot of links from different reputable sites mean that many people like and trust your site. Google’s algorithms reason that if other reputable sites trust yours, then your site must be reputable, too. This can help your site rank higher in search results.
There are many different strategies for earning backlinks, including
- Claiming your Google My Business listing, and linking to it from your site.
- Sponsoring local sports teams, clubs, or charities. You might get a backlink from a sponsor page.
- Getting into the local news. If your franchise location participates in local events, you may be able to get into the local news and score a link from an online article. You can also write press releases when your franchise does something newsworthy.
- Finding mentions of your franchise or product in online articles and asking editors if they would add a link to your website.
- Listing your website on online directories, both general (think yellow pages) and ones that are specific to your city, region, or industry. One easy way to search for these is to type “[name of your city or region] + business listings” into the search bar.
- Hosting events that local event calendars will want to link to, or creating your own event calendar that your community might find useful and therefore link to.
- Offering scholarships: You might get backlinks from scholarship lists.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the technical details of local SEO, but these best practices can help you take control of your local franchise’s search presence and hopefully earn you a higher rank from Google, attracting more customers as a result.