Franchisors have a lot on their plates, so it's understandable that things get missed and pushed to the back burner, especially when it comes to local marketing support.
But given how critical local search engine optimization (SEO) is nowadays for most franchises, it's surprising how many times I see fundamental best practices missed - which in turn results in poor search rankings, lower traffic, and fewer conversions.
I thought it would be helpful to give a recap of the most important, no-brainer SEO best practices that franchisors should ensure for their corporate website and franchisees' local sites.
Top Level Domains or Subdomains for Local Sites?
If you only have a listing page with all of your locations, or basic landing pages for each location with duplicate content, I strongly suggest setting up local websites. Now, when it comes to what you should do regarding domains for your local sites, one of the most practical approaches is the use of subdomains (i.e. city.franchise-corp.com).
When done right, your local franchises can come up in search results for their target geographic area.
The other option is to use a top-level domain for each of your locations, and here's what Matt Cuts - Director of Web Search at Google - has to say about this topic:
"If your company has a bunch of store locations, please don't hide that information behind a search form or a POST. If you want your store pages to be found, it's best to have a unique, easily crawlable url for each store. Ideally, you would also create an HTML sitemap that points to the web pages for your stores (and each web page should have a unique url)."
The main downside to using top-level domains like "city-name-franchise.com" for each location is all the time it takes to register and track dozens or hundreds of domains. Subdomains are a very good alternative in most cases, and the use of a CMS (content management system) that provides an easy to use and practical dashboard for you and from franchisees is key.
There are many CMS options you have to choose from, but of course I recommend going with one that is specifically designed for managing franchise sites, like Empowerkit!
The aspects of on-page SEO for each location (and your corporate website) are very important, and you can handle all of the key items in a simplified manner. The use of tools like Google Webmaster Tools, and Google Docs can aid in keeping track of on-page adjustments.
Here are the main on-page SEO components you should account for:
Page Title Tag
Your page title is prime real estate, and including service or product keywords is important, along with some geographic terms specific to each franchise location (i.e. the city and state each location services should be included in their site's page titles), and some terms about what the page content entails. You may consider looking at your competitors' page titles to get ideas, and I'd also recommend creating a standardized page title structure for your local sites.
Page Description Tag
This acts as a back up to your page's title. Including synonyms and semantically related keywords within a concise description of the page's content will help the search engine identify a page on the site as relevant to the search query that a potential visitor enters in a Google search.
H tags and Section Titles
(Attention Grabbers) H tags, also known as headings, serve two very important purposes. For search engines, they show you are placing emphasis on the content that you are including in that section. And for visitors, it's an easy way to scan and identify a specific section. So include your keywords and related terms as part of your headlines, and make sure use h tags!
Who are you talking to and what do you want them to do?
Content is a major part of SEO, in fact the most important piece by far, and it's also the hardest to do correctly across a network of local sites.
Whether you develop the content at home office, hire a content writer, and/or allow franchisees to make some content updates on their own, the important thing is that you a.) have as much unique, locally relevant content on the location sites as possible, and b.) publish new content updates (i.e. through a blog) as often as possible.
Think about who you are writing for, and what specific actions you'd like them to take when they visit a local site. Who is the target audience? What are they interested in reading?
Answering these questions can help in setting up a scalable content strategy for your franchisee websites. Don't forget to include geo-targeted terms like city names and communities along with your target keywords.
A simple way to develop geo-targeted content is to be in touch with the community that your franchise serves. Write about current events, upcoming seasonal events and or sponsorships.
What I usually recommend is that corporate leads the content strategy, providing ongoing ideas, templates, and other content resources to franchisees. Then franchisees can participate in producing content updates for their own local website - after all, they probably know their local communities best, and just need a proper framework and strategy to get moving.
There are many other SEO and content focused tasks that you can undertake depending as part of your online marketing strategy.
However, these simple initial best practices will get you moving in the right direction, and help your franchisees be more competitive in local search.
In a follow up article, I'll talk about tracking your on page SEO efforts and how you can identify key areas of opportunity based on your current results. Have questions or comments? Please share below in the comments section, and feel free to contact me directly: (510) 859-8452 or firstname.lastname@example.org