For SEO strategies that continually struggle to meet lead generation goals of its organization, or that rely heavily on traditional media for new prospects and brand awareness, the website strategy may be the issue that needs further examination. Some clear symptoms of a poor strategy include reliance on traditional media spend, poor overall ROI on marketing spend, high acquisition cost per customer, consistently see smaller competitors rank higher in search results in Google, Yahoo, or Bing, or a complete absence of the company’s website when searching for it online.
Generally with most franchise marketing systems the franchisor maintains a central command and control system for most if not all advertising and marketing decisions for its franchisees throughout the country, including online marketing. From this central command and control structure comes a centralized single national website from which each franchisee or location gets a single page under the corporate umbrella for SEO efforts.
The problem with this strategy for an individual franchise is that it severely handicaps SEO and online marketing, lead generation efforts, and sales growth online. A single page representing a franchise location in a competitive metro market cannot be an effective Internet marketing tactic, and certainly not an effective local SEO strategy. Centralized website marketing will handicap significantly online lead generation efforts.
The solution to the centralized franchise website strategy is to implement a regional online marketing strategy with stand alone URLs nationwide that provides a localized platform for growth while still maintaining brand control.
The general concerns from the franchisor against decentralized and regional websites is that they compete with the national brand and inhibit the ability to sell franchises. However, this is a misguided concern. To the contrary, decentralized regional websites outperform national websites by such a large margin in local searches that the additional exposure achieved not only grows revenue far beyond what a national site could ever achieve, it consequently gains an equal increase in brand exposure. Localized regional websites, when SEO is done correctly, rank for local phrases, not national terms and do not compete with the national website.
When franchise Internet marketing is done correctly with regional, locally focused websites the result is greater sales, higher profits, and overall more effective marketing spend. Our work has shown that franchisees with regional websites outperform their single web page corporate peers by 30% or more in revenue! With numbers like that it makes selling franchises that much easier.
Market Drivers Impacting Franchise Marketing Strategy Online
What is driving the SEO strategy to regional websites? One of the key factors for a regional localized online strategy is that search is going more local. Right now it is estimated that 1 in 3 searches entered into Google’s search box (closer to 50% on mobile devices) are about locations, or places (source: Ed Parsons, Google). Many expect that number to jump to 50% sometime in 2013. This is particularly important considering the rapid increase in mobile devices such as smart phones. A national website where each franchise location has a single page is simply not capable of capturing the growth in local organic search.
Example of Why Local Content is Necessary for Franchises
The screen shot below shows what is possible with regional websites and local content. The search engine results page (SERP) for a very valuable organic query, “Valentine’s Day Gifts for couples in Houston.” For this particular franchise client Valentine’s Day was one of their busiest periods throughout the year so it was important to capitalize on that with organic listings above the fold. None of these rankings, nor the associated lead generation coming from it, is possible with a national franchise website that does not have localized content. Competition is local and you have to push the franchise online strategy down to that level.
A couple important notes regarding these results:
- Valentine’s Day is an extremely competitive term online for both SEO and PPC. Bidding for any of these keywords through Google Adwords is extremely expensive. Organic search can be one of the most effective tactics to capture traffic. But notice how many people have PPC ads? To name a couple of the competitors here, FTD Florist, Gifts.com, both aggressive online competitors.
- Google’s index for this search is showing 22,700,000 results for a localized query – in other words, lots of companies have local content about Valentine’s Day gifts in Houston.
- There isn’t one listing here that does not have the local geo keyword Houston as part of the content — only localized content.
- Our franchise client has 3 pages above the fold and is dominating the Google organic results of this page and capturing leads and thus growing sales.
Problems of Centralized Franchise Website Strategies
- Decreased lead generation: As was presented above with the Valentine’s Day example, SEO is greatly inhibited in its ability to capture leads from organic queries online without regional websites. To understand what there is to gain in qualified traffic we only need to look at what it looks like when a regional website strategy was implemented successfully and then taken away. Below is Google organic traffic drop when moving a site from a regional localized website strategy to a centralized national website strategy. The Google Analytics graph below depicts an 85% decline in just Google organic traffic over a 1 year period, which was never regained. What this drop represents is a significant loss in prospects and leads from organic efforts, more reliance on paid search and traditional marketing, lower marketing ROI, and an overall loss in revenue, and profit.
Make no mistake, organic search traffic to your website through SEO efforts is the lowest cost per lead out of any advertising tactic, often times representing 1/10 the cost per lead of what traditional media can deliver. Cost per lead with organic search traffic is so low because the leads are pre-qualified, meaning the searcher was actively searching for your product or service as they had to type it into Google’s search box.
- Localized Content: the national site has links pointing to it from all over the country, and it has geo related content from all over the country. For example, a single page for a San Diego location, a page for the Houston locations etc. None of this sends a strong local signal for the dozens, if not hundreds of different search terms Google and the other search engines receive daily for local queries in a particular metro area. Compare this to a regional website, for example, that is solely focused on franchise sites in Los Angeles. All the pages on this site have Los Angeles all over them, many of the links pointing to the domain are locally based, everything is sending a signal that the site is highly relevant for Los Angeles. But not only is beneficial to the search engines, it’s also beneficial to the end user, your customer.
- Usability is a problem: When a local client lands on a page buried in a national website looking for information it is very easy for them to click away somewhere else on the website. This is a problem because the customer now may have clicked over to the home page on the national site with no easy way to get back to the regional page. And to make matters worse, there certainly isn’t a phone number on the home page for the regional location the customer was interested in, nor any contact form specific to that location. Making matters worse yet for any hope of converting the customer to a lead is that if the client is willing to hang out for this long, they now have to find a national location page and scroll through all the other locations until they find the one they were on. That’s awful usability and most likely you can kiss that lead good bye. At this point the customer has left and the lead is lost for good! Any website visitor is just a click away from leaving and never coming back.
- SEO Rank Ability: A single page on a website can only effectively rank for 2-3 main search phrases. It is simply not possible to rank for the hundreds of variations of how people will look for products and services with one page, and it is certainly not sufficient to discuss all the different products and services a company has to offer.
- Your big brand won’t save you! Many people may naively hope that people will look for the company online by brand name and that this will drive leads because the franchise has a large national presence. The reality is that unless you’re Starbucks or McDonalds, even for what may seem to be a large franchise group (500+ national locations), local competition is tough and many times local more savvy smaller businesses can be found easier than a franchised business regardless of the big brand name. From our own research, we found that almost two thirds of the organic traffic to a well optimized local site with a national brand presence was from non-branded search traffic.
The Solution: Online Marketing Through Local Regional Websites
The solution to the centralized national website strategy problem is to build out regional websites with the same branding, same exact look and feel of the corporate website, but a full website with content that is unique and focused on the local market, not duplicated national content.
The benefits of this solution are many. For one, there is a substantial gain in revenue, improved cash flow, better marketing ROI because of more effective lead generation through SEO. As I had indicated earlier, our work has shown that franchisees have on average 30% or higher revenue per location with a localized website strategy versus franchisees that are buried in a national website. Because franchisees with regional websites have better financials and more localized exposure it makes it easier to also sell franchises. What better way for a regional developer to sell a new location than to present a proven lead generation model, and a strategic competitive advantage over the local online competition.
What To Look For in a Solution Provider
Implementing a solid regional SEO strategy with regional websites is not an easy task and to be truly effective at building an online lead generation strategy you should consider several things. Most franchisors are not experienced in SEO, nor online strategy, and do not have anyone in-house with that type of expertise and will need to hire out for the skills. So what do you look for when hiring a digital marketing agency to build out your franchise Internet marketing strategy?
Questions to ask:
- Has the agency ever implemented a regional franchise website strategy across multiple markets for a franchisor? Experience speaks for itself.
- What successes has the agency had with other SEO projects? And is this all you do? Your best solution is with an agency that is focused specifically on online marketing, not a traditional ad agency focused on branding that happens to have one person internally, or an IT, coding, or web development type of agency. Digital marketing is a distinct skill set.
- Does the agency understand how to measure and track lead generation? How will this be implemented?
- Can you guarantee first page placement?
- Answer: run from anyone that promises #1 ranking.
- How is content produced? What are some examples of great content you have produced and marketed online? How important is content?
- How often will we have meetings and discuss progress? What do those reports and meetings look like?
- Do you provide financial analysis of results?
- Do you understand the difference between direct response marketing and branding?
The best SEO is through stand alone local websites where each market has unique content dedicated to that market. At 39 Celsius we have successfully implemented such strategies in more than a dozen markets throughout the United States. The opportunity is there for the competitors that are creative and willing to think outside of the traditional franchise strategy.
We found on average the franchise locations we had worked with implementing our localized strategy had 30% or higher revenue compared to those that had only a single page under the centralized corporate website.
Revenue was not the only benefit. Overall there is less reliance on wasteful traditional media spend. In one market alone during the peak of The Great Recession, we were able to lower marketing spend by 60% and at the same time increase revenue by 30%.
If you are a franchisor or franchisee and are interested in growing your business at quicker rate than what you thought possible, the first step is to call us at 866-202-6412 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org