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Franchise SEO: For Masochists Only
Performing local search engine optimization for franchise locations can be a real pain. Columnist Andrew Shotland explores some common issues for local search marketers, as well as solutions.
If you like getting repeatedly punched in the face with a boxing glove on a mechanical arm, then working on a Local SEO program for multi-location franchises is the right job for you.
While SEO for any multi-location organization can be tricky, the complicated dynamics of franchises can make a SEO engagement the equivalent of playing 3-D chess on the surface of a Rubik’s Cube. Here are some of the key challenges:
Lack Of Centralized Control Of Listings
The ownership of franchise location information is often a can of worms. Each franchisee may or may not have already claimed their Google My Business profile and local citations.
Maybe an ex-employee has the logins. Or maybe no one has the logins. Regardless, the listings are likely a mess, and trying to fix them across multiple accounts can be an arduous task.
Franchisees That Don’t Understand SEO
This problem is not exclusive to franchises. We often work with clients who have little to no knowledge of SEO. That’s why they hire us, right?
But a franchisee who has been told they have to buy SEO services from a vendor selected by corporate, when they don’t really have a good way to evaluate what they are buying, can lead to confusion, poor communication, acrimony and an ineffective program.
Franchises That Don’t Understand SEO
As difficult as it is to deal with location managers who are not up to speed on SEO, it can be even worse if corporate doesn’t really get it.
Often corporate marketing managers are checking a box because they are getting requests for SEO help from the field. So they bring on a SEO vendor without knowing much about how it works.
Often, this then requires the vendor to push the program through the organization without having the knowledge of where the landmines are. This often leads to stepping on said landmines.
Lack Of Control Of Franchisees’ Local Marketing Efforts
Franchisees can have their own local marketing strategies that may or may not jibe with corporate’s plan.
And often, franchisees have their own preferred local vendors who may or may not be a better option for them than a national vendor selected by corporate, which makes for a fun conversation about why you are better than their often cheaper local option.
Lack Of Control Of Corporate’s Marketing Efforts
Corporate often has its own idea of what each location should be doing and how they should be presenting the brand to potential customers.
This can cover anything from how the local brand is named to minutiae like specific words and images that can be used on their websites.
And in cases where corporate controls the franchisee’s website, implementing SEO improvements is often up to corporate’s schedule, which almost always is not the same schedule as the franchisee’s.
Even the best partnerships have some drama. In our experience, the franchise/franchisee relationship is a never-ending soap opera. One of the advantages to being an outside consultant is that you are not carrying corporate’s baggage so much when you are talking to franchisees.
That said, if you are representing corporate, you may get assigned that baggage regardless. As consultants working on behalf of corporate for the franchisees, you will often have to walk the fine line between prioritizing each party’s interest and keeping your eye on the ultimate goal, which is to make the business as a whole successful. Not an easy task.
Okay, so the world is screwed up. What else is new? So how can franchises get better at SEO, and how can SEO consultants get better at serving franchises? Some modest proposals:
- Start By Educating Corporate. Before you even begin to talk to local franchisees, your corporate clients/partners need to be educated about how SEO works and the types of interactions that will be required by them to facilitate communications with franchisees. Create simple communication materials they can share with their constituents. And make sure they buy into all of the communication processes up front, so there are no surprises when you start your program.
- Educate Franchisees. Corporate and their SEO vendor need to work together to educate franchisees on the SEO program, and more importantly, on the entire digital marketing strategy/roadmap. We are a big believer in webinars to educate large groups of locations and surface issues with implementation. Of course, many franchisees are not going to become master SEOs overnight, but the more you can give them the knowledge, the more likely they are to understand you when you ask them to do something to support the SEO program. In our experience, the education process is ongoing. Whenever we report on progress, we make sure to reiterate the key goals, why we are doing what we are doing and how this stuff works. Eventually they get it.
- Implement Corporate Control Of Local Listings. This is critical. If each location is managing its own local business profiles, there will be little standardization of messaging and most likely lots of NAP issues that will be difficult to repair unless the listings are rolled up into a single account. Start out your engagement by getting bulk control of over everything you can — GMB, Yelp and so on.
- Corporate Should Own The Review Strategy. Many local businesses have issues with online reputation and need a coherent strategy for responding to customer reviews. Corporate should implement a CRM system that can facilitate how franchisees can monitor and respond to reviews. And putting together a basic set of guidelines for using social media is probably not a bad idea, particularly in industries that are highly regulated.
- Set Expectations & Keep Repeating Them. This is pretty much part of educating your clients, but sometimes we find ourselves three months down the road with a franchisee engagement when he starts asking corporate what we are doing for them. Often, we are doing exactly what we said we would be doing — repairing citations, creating content, building links and so on — but since the client couldn’t “see” most of these activities, they started to suspect that we weren’t doing anything. Sometimes, there’s no avoiding this kind of reaction. It’s the nature of SEO work. But documenting expectations at the get-go and repeating them during every reporting call is critical to keeping the kittens in the herd.
Ultimately, doing SEO for franchises is not too different from any other local SEO program. You are often dealing with clients with low information and high expectations. That’s what makes SEO fun, right?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.