Franchises and multi-location businesses are growing at an incredible rate, but so are the SEO challenges that come with them. In fact, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the franchise sector will increase by 5.6% to $552 billion in 2016, according to the International Franchise Association’s annual report on the state of the industry.
And as more and more of these entities realize the value in search marketing, franchise SEO has become an increasingly important aspect to a franchisor’s digital strategy. But When it comes to marketing multiple locations online, franchise SEO can often be a complex endeavor. These five elements to multi-location SEO should help your brand successfully attract customers for your franchisees by harnessing the power of search.
1. Optimize Your Site
Before your your mind starts to boggle over all of the locations you have to manage, first take the time to optimize the main pages of your site. These are typically the homepage, sitemap page, about page, blog, and any product and/or service pages. These pages will hold immense SEO value in the long-run, and will likely be some of the most visited pages on your site. They will also be the pages that most commonly appear in the organic search engine results.
Among the most important aspects of optimizing your site is taking care of any technical issues inhibiting SEO. I suggest checking out Paddy Moogan’s post on Most Common Technical SEO Problems & How To Solve Them at Moz. But in a nutshell, some of the most detrimental issues to fix are:
- multiple versions of the homepage
- soft 404 errors
- 302 redirects instead of 301 redirects
- broken/outdated sitemaps
- query parameters added to the end of URLs
2. Grow Your Online Footprint
Beyond your own site, other sites that feature, discuss, and/or promote your brand are often a significant differentiating factor in more competitive markets. Take an investigative look at your brand’s online footprint (or off-site presence) that extends outside of your own site. In the search marketing community, we call this off-site SEO.
Does your brand have a presence on all of the major social media platforms? Are your social media pages active and updated with regular posts (and are you engaging with your audience?) Are legitimate online publications covering newsworthy events and products/services surrounding you brand?
In the context of off-site SEO, backlinks (or inbound links) are essentially other sites referencing your site for more information on a certain topic. I like to think of backlinks as votes of credibility. But instead of striving to get the most votes, focus more about the quality of your votes.
Parallel to this frame of mind, ensure those references are coming from reputable and relevant sources. Google and other search engines are a lot like intelligent humans in how they perceive these references or links back to your website. Would you trust the recommendation for auto repair parts on a popular mechanic website or food blog?
When it comes to investing in franchise SEO services, these ideas spawn good questions to bring to the table (i.e. what kind of resources and strategies does an SEO company offer to generate backlinks?)
3. Create Dedicated Location Pages
Now that we’ve covered the importance of having a well-optimized site and promoting your brand as a whole, the next vital step to franchise SEO is to ensure customers in each geographic market are easily able to find your local franchises on the web.
First, each location must be properly communicated to Google. In essence, creating dedicated pages for each location is SEO best practice. Make it easy to present all of these pages to your users. Leveraging clickable maps, search functionality, and lists are great ways to direct users (and search engines spiders) to where they need to go.
Having unique and properly-optimized location pages enables Google to see that each location is unique and should be displayed in local search results accordingly.
When it comes to the technicalities of optimizing each location page, here are the essential ingredients to a SEO-friendly location page:
- Name, Address, Number, and other contact information (aka “citation” of the business.)
- Embedded Google Map
- Link to corresponding Google My Business page
- Unique content about the location/franchisor
- Photos of the location
- List of products and/or services
- Directions from surrounding cities
- Links review pages and social media profiles of the location
You can take this process one step further by integrated Schema, or structured data markup, to further enhance the SEO potential of the site.
4. Build Listings & Citations
In the first bullet point above, citations (or mentions of a business’s name, address, and phone number) are a similar “voting” mechanism as backlinks. Citations are bits of information that Google crawls to determine the credibility and popularity of a business. The focus for franchise SEO is to build citations (via business listings) on sites like Yelp, Manta, Superpages, Yellowpages, and hundreds more.
In addition to building more citations, this cumbersome process also involves removing duplicate listings and correcting any listings with outdated or inaccurate data. The objective is to clean-up each location’s citation profile so that it’s 100% accurate and consistent across all listings.
Tools like Moz Local and Bright Local are invaluable for this process (particularly when doing franchise SEO for 100+ locations.) At Captivate Search Marketing we leverage Bright Local to help us scan, audit, and build citations for our clients (and that includes removing any duplicates and fixing listings to ensure accurate and consistent information.)
5. Leverage Your Franchisees
There are some elements to multi-location SEO that are difficult to control. This where your franchisees, and further, individual location managers can either support or hinder a fully-actualized SEO program. One of the best examples of this is customer reviews.
A poorly managed location can lead to poor customer reviews on its Google My Business listing. And poor customer can destroy a franchise’s reputation.
Conversely, implementing a review generation strategy (or further, an unhappy customer strategy) can help protect the reputation of your franchise. And because customer reviews are a local ranking signal, racking-up a significant number of 5-star reviews will only support the business’s rankings.
In Scott Holstein’s 5-Step Setup Guide to Franchise SEO, he recommends making available:
“webinars covering best practices and standards for social media, claiming online profiles, reviews, and testimonials and how to handle local media. When given some instruction and the proper resources, your franchisees can be your greatest advocates.”
For more information about multi-location SEO for franchises, visit Captivate Local a branch of Captivate Search Marketing that specializes in local SEO solutions.