SEO and Social Media : How to Successfully Market Your Franchise

Adam Heitzman, Higher Visibility

This article appears in the January/February 2014 issue of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand


Franchise marketing has always been tricky, and the constant Google algorithm changes don’t help make things easier (just last year there were 14 algorithm updates made).

As search continues to evolve, your SEO strategy is going to need to evolve with it. Unfortunately, constantly altering and improving your SEO efforts is tougher when you’re dealing with multiple franchises because this means multiple locations, managers and staff, and different audiences or customers. The way that you structure your SEO is going to need to be different than back when you just had one branch and one management system.

This leads to a long set of important questions: How do you get started with SEO, social media, and content management when you own a franchise? Should the national branch be in charge of marketing, or is this something that should be put into the  hands of each individual branch?

SEO: Top Reasons To Put Your Franchise SEO Efforts Into the Hands of Your National Branch

For those who are unfamiliar, a franchise occurs when one person or a group of people earns permission by a company to open up another branch of that company. In other words, earn the rights to that company. These people are called ‘franchisees’.

When it comes to SEO, it’s usually best to put all of your efforts into the hands of your national branch as opposed to giving each franchise it’s own power when it comes to optimising a website for Google (which includes not only on-page optimisation, but off-page promotion and link building as well). A few reason include:

• Organisation and control.

Because SEO can be so intricate and complicated, it’s easy to get confused and make mistakes. Having too many people trying to make decisions can be tough, so it’s best to try and control everything from one branch. Different branches may have different needs when it comes to SEO, but let your corporate marketing team or your one marketing agency take control so that the same set of people are in charge. This will help create a bigger picture and make sure there is no overlap and things stay uniform (our next point!).

• Keeping your brand uniform.

Although you might have different branches with different needs, everything should remain uniform across the brand. Because SEO is all about branding and creating that visibility, it’s important that there is a big-picture goal and good communication. The easiest way to make this happen: Have the same people in charge of SEO for all branches.

• Avoid a lack of SEO knowledge.

If you put SEO into the hands of managers, they may not fully understand how SEO works. This could potentially cause each branch to feel the need to either A). Hire an SEO agency, which would be quite expensive, or B). Do SEO incorrectly, which could get you into a mess, such as a Google penalty, that could take years to clean up. There are also a lot of people out there who claim to be SEO experts who really are not, so putting the decision to hire someone or some agency into the hands of a manager who doesn’t understand SEO could be detrimental overall.

• Local ranking factors.

If you have a few different branches in a similar location (usually just very large brands), you could run into some local ranking issues. If all of your brands are trying to rank on local search, each branch will probably be targeting similar keywords and therefore becoming competition. The best way to solve this problem is to have the same set of people working on SEO so that they can see what keywords each branch is targeting and at what times. If you split up your SEO efforts this would be nearly impossible.

• More cost effective.

Finally, it’s usually more cost effective to run your SEO this way. A good agency will work hard to give you a good deal and meet your needs if they know you have franchise work that needs to be done (you’ll be a bigger client to them).

So When Should Each Franchise Location Take Control of Their Own SEO?

It’s true that in the majority of cases SEO will run smoother if corporate is taking control, but there are always those companies that don’t fall into the majority. If you’re only working with one franchisee, and particularly if that location is very different
than your corporate location (eg: rural vs. urban), you might benefit from letting that branch take over their own SEO efforts. Communication won’t be too difficult since there aren’t that many people involved, and you’ll have very targeted control over what’s going on because the agency and/or expert will only have one location to worry about when creating a strategy.

Social Media: Should Each Franchise Have It’s Own Social Media Strategy?

Social media work typically falls under the SEO umbrella, so it only makes sense that your social media accounts would be managed at the national level as well, right? This is definitely sound logic, but there are a few reasons why social media might be something a franchise manager could control.

It’s first important to understand that social media no longer means simply tweeting out a piece of content. It means analytics and data regarding social success, developing posts and designing pages, a system of who will manage all accounts and keep up with comments and engagement. In other words, it’s now a pretty complicated job and something not to take lightly. Consider some of the pros and cons listed below:

When Social Media Is Best at the National Level

This strategy means that your company would have one account on each social network—Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, etc.—that represents all of the branches. Those at the corporate level would then manage the accounts. You should use this approach if:

• Your customers don’t use much social media.

Plain and simple, if your audience isn’t using social media to interact and make purchasing decisions, keeping your social media strategy simple and unified is the way to go.

• Your business deals with sensitive information.

Industries such as the health industry or a news organisation have to be very careful when it comes to sharing things on social media. This is a quick way to get information out to the public, so you don’t want to trust just anyone to have access to
your accounts.

• You’re trying to be cost effective.

Obviously every company is trying to be cost effective, but some are willing to splurge in certain areas. If social media is not your top priority (if you fall into one of the two points discussed above), this is the approach that will save you the most money overall.

• You have a large company with many locations.

This point encompasses all of the points discussed in the SEO section above. One account and only one team of people managing those accounts will ensure better consistency and no overlap.

When Social Media Is Best at the Local Level

This is by far the riskier approach, but it doesn’t hurt to look at the few times this actually might be the best move for your company:

• Your locations have significant differences.

Social media is a marketing tool that should be specific to your audience, which means it’s a great place to advertise local deals, contests, etc. By having different social accounts for each of your branches, you can better analyse the demographics of your customers and customise your content.

• You gave your franchise managers SEO control.

If you decided that putting SEO tasks into your branch managers hands was best for you (maybe you’re a small company with only one other franchise location), looping social media into those responsibilities will help keep things organised best.

So what’s the case for LinkedIn? This social network is a little bit different because it doesn’t focus quite as much on engagement. It puts a focus on connecting with others in the industry who want to know more about the company (often to potentially find a job), so one LinkedIn account is all you need.

In the end, creating a strategy will be similar to how all businesses would create a strategy—analyse audience, look at data, test and retest landing pages, link building, targeting keywords, etc.—but it’s the management that can really make or break a franchise’s marketing initiative. Once you know who will manage all of your search and social tasks, you can start to get into a routine that makes franchise marketing seem like it’s not so tricky after all.

Adam Heitzman is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at HigherVisibility, a recognised SEO firm that offers a full range of internet marketing services.