Why Franchises Should Use Regional Websites

Are smaller competitors ranking higher than your website? Is your acquisition cost per customer too high? These are classic signs of a poorly designed SEO strategy. Other signs include not being able to find the company’s site on search engines, relying on traditional media too much, a low ROI and being unable to meet lead generation goals. If this sounds familiar, it is time to rethink your approach to SEO.

Most franchise marketing systems rely on a central command center provided by the franchisor. The franchise makes most of the marketing decisions and decides how money is spent on advertising. Online marketing is usually part of a larger marketing strategy. The franchise’s main website is the only official source of information for customers and individual locations only get a single webpage on this website. The franchise is responsible for the SEO strategy that brings visitors to this central website.

There are a few issues with this approach. Relying on a central website operated by the franchisor is not ideal for SEO and for online marketing efforts. Generating leads on a local level is not easy and this is the right approach to generate online sales. Each franchise location is competing against a number of businesses in their respective areas and a single webpage on a franchise website is not enough to attract customers. Relying on a centralized marketing strategy is not a good way to compete against businesses that use local SEO techniques.

How Should Franchises Do SEO?

Each franchise location or region should have its own URL and its own local platform for online marketing. The franchisor should still maintain some level of control over marketing efforts but locations or regions should play a more active part in developing their online presence.

Franchisors are usually reluctant to adopt this model because they feel that decentralizing their marketing efforts will result in a multitude of websites that will not allow them to compete against other national franchises and that selling franchises will be more difficult. This is not true. Regional websites perform a lot better than national sites in local searches. This results in more exposure for these franchises and in more sales. As a result, franchises are able to generate more revenues compared to what they would have been able to achieve with a single national website. With the right SEO strategy, a regional site can rank at the top of search results for local phrases and be easier to find for local customers. Regional sites will not rank for national search phrases and will not compete against the national site of the franchise.

Switching to a model that favors regional sites over a national one results in more sales, higher profit margins and in marketing dollars being spent more efficiently. We have found that regional sites perform better than the single webpage they used to have on the main website of the franchise and that revenues typically go up by 30%. Selling franchises becomes a lot easier when franchisors can show numbers like these!

Why Are Regional Sites A Better Option?

Why are regional websites a better option for SEO? One of the reasons is that searches are more local than before. One in three searches issued from a desktop computer is local and one in two searches issued from a mobile device is local. These numbers will probably grow even more in the future. Smartphones are often used to find nearby businesses when users are on the grow and this trend is growing. A national franchise website with a single webpage for each location cannot match the growing demand for local search results and Internet users are not likely to find the information they need on these single webpages with limited content.

Local Content Benefits Franchises

Let’s take an example based on Valentine’s Day. A franchise that does a lot of business afor this holiday needs to capitalize on local searches that mention Valentin’s Day. Organic queries like ‘Valentine’s Day gifts for couples in Houston’ will bring traffic to sites with local content for that specific area while a national franchise website would not rank for this query. Keep in mind that competition happens at a local level for franchise locations and that SEO needs to target local users. Otherwise, they will find the websites of local independent businesses or the regional sites of franchises that already use this strategy.

Content Marketing For Local Franchises

Creating regional sites with local content is a good way to target a number of popular queries that are issued by local users on Google. Let’s go back to the example of Valentine’s Day. Since ‘Valentine’s Day’ is a popular keyword, ranking in the top results for this broad keyword would be very difficult and bidding on PPC ads to target this keyword is expensive. Major franchises like FTD Florists and Gifts.com can afford to target this broad keyword with their PPC strategy.
Google index shows 22,700,000 results for the Valentine’s Day query that mentioned Houston. A lot of websites have local content specific to Houston about Valentine’s Day gifts.
This shows there is a ton of localized content about this specific holiday. Google is showing organic results for the location and the only way to capture these leads and to generate sales is to create local content that is helpful to users looking for a specific product or service offered by the franchise.

The Main Issuees With Centralized National Sites

There are a few different issues associated with relying on a centralized franchise website.

Fewer leads are generated. A centralized SEO strategy cannot capture leads that refer to a specific location like in the Valentine’s Day gifts in Houston example. Unless a franchise has regional sites, a lot of organic traffic will be missed on. We did a simple experiment to assess the impact of switching to a regional strategy. We transformed a regional strategy into a centralized one. Google Analytics showed a drop in 85% in organic traffic over the year that followed. This organic traffic was never regained by the centralized website. As a result, a centralized website would have to rely more on paid search and on traditional marketing. Marketing ROI would be lower and there would also be a loss in revenues and a lower profit margin with this strategy.

Organic Strategy Mistakes

Organic traffic can drop by as much as 85% when a franchise switches from a regional model to a centralized one for their online marketing strategy. Organic search traffic is the most affordable and efficient way to generate leads online. The cost of each lead is usually only 1/10th of what other advertising methods cost. Most organic traffic leads are pre-qualified since local users will look up a specific product or service in their area.

Local content is not enoug to capture organic traffic. Most franchises that rely on a national website have geo related content for their different regions but users will only find a single webpage for each location. A franchise will for instance have a single page for its Houston locations and another page for its San Diego locations with addresses and business hours listed. These webpages will not be able to compete against regional sites from other franchises for these specific areas when local queries are issued. Regional websites have quality content related to Houston or San Diego, back-links featured on other local sites and more details about each location. As far as search engines are concerned, these regional websites are a lot more relevant for local searches compared to the single webpages with business listings featured on the centralized site of another franchise. Regional sites rank higher in search results because they are more relevant for local searches and because they are beneficial to users.

Usability is not always ideal. Internet users who find the national website of a franchise after issuing a query might have a hard time finding relevant information. They will probably land on the webpage that is about nearby locations but clicking on any other links on this page would probably take them to another section of the website that is not relevant to their location. Not all franchises list phone numbers and other contact information for their different locations, which makes it very difficult for potential customers to get answers to their questions. Some franchise websites offer a location finder tool that requires visitors to enter their location and to scroll through all the nearby locations before finding the right one. This is not a good way to generate leads since most users will not take the time to browse through a centralized website if they want an answer to a specific question.

Targeting more than two or three search terms is difficult. Webpages about single locations usually rank in search results for a couple of search phrases. There are countless variations of how Internet users could issue a keyword asking for a product or service in their area and a centralized website is not the right way to target all these variations. Most franchises have very little content on their pages about locations which does not allow them to explain the different services offered.
Don’t assume that customers will specifically look up your brand. Even franchises with thousands of locations like Starbucks or McDonalds can be outranked by smaller franchises or individual businesses who are more savvy with SEO. We have found that two-thirds of organic traffic to a local site associated with a national brand came from searches that did not mention this brand.

Using Local Regional Sites For Online Marketing

Relying on regional sites does not mean a franchise has to give up its branding and identity. The regional sites can have the same design and structure as the centralized website. The user experience would be very similar and the brand easily identifiable but the content would be focused on the local market. This would provide visitors with a better experience and increase search result rankings.

There are many benefits associated with relying on regional sites. The revenues of a franchise will go up with this model. Cash flow should be improved and marketing ROI will go up as well since regional sites are a more efficient way to target pre-qualified leads. We have helped several franchises in the past and have found that this strategy increased revenues by an average of 30% for each location that started using this strategy. This approach results in better financials for franchise locations and in more exposure. Selling new franchises is easier since there is a proven lead generation model. Regional sites give franchises a competitive advantage over other franchises and local businesses and provide consumers with a better experience.