I always think of an armada of ships when I look at a franchised company. You’ve got a large battleship, directing the path of the smaller craft—yet the smaller craft must navigate on their own, especially when the instructions from the battleship don’t make sense. And oftentimes, because the franchisees are busy navigating their own murky waterways, they can fail to see the logic behind the battleship’s directions and forge their own paths, sometimes to disastrous effect.
Creating search engine marketing strategies for franchised companies is some of the most challenging work I’ve done in my career—and also some of the most rewarding. In this column, I’ll outline some lessons learned when working with franchisees and at the corporate level of the franchise itself.
Rule #1: A heavy hand at the beginning saves heartache down the road. The franchisees have already thought about search engine marketing. Most likely, some of them are already doing some form of search engine marketing with local firms or on their own. For some reason, franchisees seem to fall victim to the numerous “snake oil salesmen” in our industry more than the average business owner.
It is important at the beginning to set firm rules about what franchisees can and cannot do with their own sites in terms of search engine marketing. This is especially true if each individual franchise site resides on the main domain of the company. There is damage that can be done to everyone if one franchisee breaks the rules. A franchisee using disreputable SEO tactics can damage an entire domain, so it’s best to nip the problem before it starts.
In PPC, setting limitations on the types of keywords that can be bid upon by franchisees, or better yet creating a central PPC campaign that meets the needs of the franchisees. There are a number of ways a centeralized campaign can work, including co-op dollars from different regions, etc. Don’t be afraid to get creative to make this work, as it will save tons of time and frustration down the road.
Rule #2: You can’t please all the people all the time – pick a strategy and stick with it. In the course of planning a search engine marketing program for a franchised company, you will come across challenges from everywhere. Every franchisee is, for good reason, protecting their own turf. They want to make sure that the tactics employed will benefit them. Many times, it is a challenge to please everyone. And the simple fact is, if you do please everyone, you probably have a mediocre program that isn’t doing anyone any good.
Whether you plan to conduct a top-down program where all of the search marketing comes from corporate, or you plan on implementing a best practices program where each franchisee is given a set of guidelines and rules and sent off to implement the tactics by themselves, the result will be the same. Someone is going to be pissed off. Typical problems include geographic skirmishes (who gets the customers that are equal to two franchisees), problems with restrictive rules (why can’t I bid on the company name for just my store?), accusations of favoritism among franchisees and an overall disagreement with the SEM strategy (too aggressive vs. not aggressive enough).
The bottom line is that you need to create a comprehensive strategy and act upon it. I’ve worked with some franchised companies who are so scared of their franchisees that they fail to put a program in place at all – and that hurts everyone.
One best practice is to create a beta group of franchisees and test some programs there. Then, you have data to show the others when you launch systemwide. While this tactic can bring its own headaches, it seems to alleviate some problems others have, especially if the franchisees picked for the beta are some of the more successful in the program.
Rule #3: You have limited resources. Realize this and plan accordingly. No matter how many stores your franchise has, you have limited resources. Much of the search engine marketing for franchises takes place in the local search arena. Local search, by its nature, is more time consuming than traditional search. There are more moving parts in local search – just keeping up with the localities and all of the data collection points (IYPs, directories, aggregators, etc.) is a full time job. Doing that for 1000+ stores could require a full staff, which probably wouldn’t be profitable for anyone in the long run. The secret is to create processes whereby the stores can help themselves, but also control is maintained at the top. This is tricky, but not impossible. The secret is a well-thought out road map at the beginning of the project. Centralized campaigns can be a good thing, but if you don’t have the resources to run them, they quickly become nightmares that make everyone mad.
Creating a search engine marketing program for a franchise system is challenging, but the rewards can be great for everyone involved if done correctly.
Tony Wright, CEO and Founder of WrightIMC has spent his career helping businesses of all sizes be profitable on the Web. He serves as President of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Search Marketing Association. His blog is at www.shavingoccam.com. The Industrial Strength column appears Mondays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.