Why Most SEO for Franchises Doesn’t Work and How to Do it Right

Why Most SEO for Franchises Doesn't Work and How to Do it Right

Some people say trying to manage SEO for franchises is like trying to herd cats.

It’s a frustrating experience, full of  “No, don’t do that!” and “Oh, come on!”.

The main issue with SEO for franchises is the complexity added with the more locations and personalities you add into the equation.

But it can be done successfully… we promise.

To prove this, today we’re going to list the biggest problems facing today’s franchises when it comes to their SEO, and how you can work around them.

Problem #1: Lack of SEO Knowledge From Corporate

In most cases, the top level people have little to no knowledge of SEO for franchises or even SEO basics, for that matter. They just throw money at the problem and want to know why it’s not fixed yet.

Most often when it comes to SEO for franchises, they will just outsource the SEO optimization to an agency (like us).

This is the right move, but often creates a game of broken telephone. Best practices and updates now have to travel from the agency to the corporate contact to the franchise owners.

Or, the company may decide to build their own internal marketing team, which can take one of those layers of miscommunication out of the chain. But in-house SEO teams don’t always work out because corporate notices:

  • Their spending is going to employee surcharges (which can be 25-40% above their salary) like taxes, benefits, sick days, and mat leave, instead of SEO.
  • SEO employees tend to prefer working for an agency, so they get bored or frustrated working in-house and quit
  • There can be “culture clashes” as the “marketing minds” have issues meshing with the rest of the company

In either case, the problems and misinformation tend to start at the top and trickle down.

Problem #2: Lack of SEO Knowledge From Each Franchise

Let’s say you open a Midas Muffler location. You probably did so because you’re a car-person, not an SEO person. You know nothing of SEO for franchises. And why should you, right?

You’ve bought into a franchise because you want to go into business for yourself and attach yourself to a strong brand name that everyone has heard of.

You think “I don’t need to worry about SEO. Besides, I assume the computer eggheads at corporate will take care of it. Right?” Wrong, most of the time.

As a result, you would be amazed how many household names and massively well-known corporations have absolutely terrible local SEO presences.

The smaller “mom and pop shops” may actually be showing up higher in local rankings, because they actually know what they’re doing, or have clear strategy guidance from a local agency.

Problem #3: Problems Policing/ Tracking Each Location

Corporate’s role in managing SEO for franchises is to make sure everyone else is doing the right thing. And only the right things, with no “extra measures.”

Keep in mind, in many cases, they have little to no knowledge of SEO, and are merely acting as an informational middle-man for the best practices.

So the following things need to happen perfectly in order – or the whole thing falls apart.

  1. The agency or marketing team comes up with an SEO for franchises plan and playbook of best practices.
  2. The agency or team presents it and receive a sign-off from the corporate higher-ups.
  3. Someone from the corporate side of things communicates the important details of this plan to the franchisees.
  4. The franchisees communicate this plan to their employees to carry out the plan.
  5. Someone from the agency or corporate side of things monitors and audits the franchisees’ work to make sure it’s done correctly.*

*This person may or may not have any knowledge of SEO and may be working with nothing more than an SEO for franchises checklist they were given by the agency or higher-ups.

Misinformation Flows Downhill

See the fragility of this informational chain? If there is a missed step or a miscommunication at any level, you have a real problem.

Let’s pose a hypothetical situation. Let’s say Google announces that they are no longer indexing sites with keywords in their image titles.

Now, you need to remove the keywords from all the filenames from all the images on all of your franchise sites.

The agency tells the corporate contact, who misunderstands. They think you need to remove the keywords from the image captions (not filenames). So they send a mass email telling all the franchise owners to do it.

As we’ve already said, most of the franchise owners aren’t SEO experts. So some owners remove the keyword from the captions, as requested. But some remove it from the filename and others remove it from the alt tags. Others do nothing.

Now, it’s up to the corporate contact (who started the misinformation train, to begin with) to audit and police all of the changes to make sure they’re done the correct way… when they don’t even know what the right way themselves.

Did you get a migraine just reading that scenario? Imagine living it… every single day. That headache is the very nature of SEO for franchises.

Problem #4: Franchisees “Going Rogue”

In some cases, the franchise owner having some SEO knowledge may be more harmful than them having none at all. Here’s why.

They may think that they know better than the information being handed down from corporate. So when information comes to them from the top, a franchisee may choose to:

  • Ignore it, because they don’t think it will work
  • Follow it, but with a twist of their own SEO knowledge
  • Follow it, but quickly try something else because they don’t think it’s working

This creates problems, obviously. For an SEO for franchises plan to work effectively, everyone has to be doing the same thing so you can accurately measure the results.

But franchisees are responsible for the success of their own franchise, which controls the amount of money going in and out of their own personal bank account.

So they may care less about the importance of an overall SEO for franchises plan, and will only care that they’re losing business to the local competition and need to do something to turn the tide ASAP.

Failure Through Success

Now, in another ironic twist, the worst thing that could happen is this franchise owner is right and actually sees some SEO wins because of their own rogue tactics.

This is going to be a big problem for two reasons:

  • Information coming from the top level has now lost all credibility to the franchise owner. They will second-guess or disregard everything from now on. They will always assume that they know better.
  • They could even pass on their SEO “tricks” to another local franchise owner that they’re friends with.

This leads to conversations like, “Corporate wants you to try ABC. But that won’t work. We’ve tried XYZ for the last 3 months and it’s been working. You should too!”

Now you have two franchises doing their own thing, and skewing the results across the board while developing a lack of trust in the top level of their organization.

Problem #5: Individual Problems Pop Up Without the Power to Fix Them

Google is constantly making changes to how searchers connect with businesses. These changes can come suddenly, without much notice, and create the biggest challenge facing SEO for franchises.

Let’s take the Google Hawk update, for example. This was an attempt by Google to crack down on businesses trying to cheat the local SEO system by creating multiple local listings for the same business to boost their ranking.

The Hawk update helped cut down on this but had a few unfortunate side effects. Namely, if you had a business name close to a competitor’s, Google might assume you’re the same business trying to hack the system.

A lot of businesses in the healthcare space will actually share a building with their competitors. You may find 2 dentists or 2 physical therapists in the same complex.

Now let’s say you’re a franchisee who’s business suddenly vanishes from the Google rankings. You don’t have any SEO knowledge, so you may:

  • Not notice the problem for months, and cost yourself a ton of business
  • Assume the problem is something you’ve done to screw it up, and make matters worse trying to fix it on your own
  • Report the issue to corporate, who will take some time to get back to you

The third scenario isn’t great, but it is still the best one out of that list.

Now that we’ve identified all of the problems, let’s discuss the solutions.

Solution #1: Ensure Corporate Level Expertise

Whether your SEO for franchises strategy is being handled by an agency or an in-house team, you need to ensure whoever is responsible for communication to the franchisees has a firm knowledge of SEO and a complete understanding of everything you’re doing.

You could have the agency communicate directly with the franchise owners, but that’s not ideal. This information should always come from the company.

You need someone knowledgeable in place to ensure that they can answer any questions as they come up, without having to lose time going back to the agency for clarity.

This also builds trust at the top level in the eyes of the franchise owners. They will trust that this “expert” knows what they’re talking about, and has each franchise’s best interest in mind.

Solution #2: Ensure Franchise Level Buy-in and Understanding

Just sending a mass email doesn’t count as training. So you can’t really expect your franchise owners to know what they’re doing if that’s all they have to rely on.

You need to properly train them and offer them information as to why they need to do what they’re about to do. Giving them an SEO for franchises checklist to follow is only giving them part of the equation, which is setting everyone up to fail.

Your franchisees need:

  • Walk-through videos
  • Webinars to explain changes
  • A central information hub to store best practices and FAQs
  • An accessible contact person who can field questions and issues immediately

No, your franchise owners aren’t going to become SEO experts overnight, and there will be some growing pains. But this will pay off over the long term.

Solution #3: Corporate Control Over Local Listings

Did you know that over 50% of businesses admit that their Google My Business information is wrong or incomplete? And this will absolutely kill your local SEO rankings.

You can’t reasonably expect your owners to stay on top of this listing, nor ensure they’re doing it the right way.

Nor can you expect all of the franchise owners to follow SEO trends and know that the Google Penguin update just killed the value of half of their links, which is why they’ve plummeted down the rankings on crucial keywords.

This has to be monitored and policed from the top levels. This information needs to be communicated and constantly re-communicated to ensure everyone is doing the right thing at all times.

You also need to communicate to the lower levels that these best practices are not optional, and how all franchise owners are expected to do things. This will help curtail the number of owners going rogue.

If the information is good and clearly communicated, the owners will have enough faith in the company that they won’t want to go off and try their own things.

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