While working at the company formerly know as People To My Site, which has since been rebranded as The Shipyard, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many companies in the franchise business. Let me tell you, working with a platform of franchisees is a whole different animal than normal SEO.
SEO campaigns for large groups of franchisees requires a totally different mindset, as it would be far too time-consuming and simply won’t allow you to give each individual site the amount of attention of a normal campaign – unless you have massive amounts of time and resources.
If you’re working alone or as part of a small group, and you try to run SEO for a franchise group just like any other site you’re destined to fail. I liken it to butter spread too thin on a piece of bread. What you have to figure out is how to spread enough butter across each piece of bread to get by efficiently, while still doing a good job.
With that being said, here are a few tips for optimizing franchise websites. These should work both if you have total control over the site, or if you’re working through a third party.
#1. Think Big Picture
Don’t get caught up focusing too heavily on each minute detail. Although franchise-types sites are usually very similar (if not the same), there will be small differences – and that’s fine.
You should embrace the small differences in each site (that’s what makes it unique), without letting yourself get side-tracked and losing focus of the bigger picture. Think in terms of broad brush strokes when working with a larger groups of sites.
#2. One Size Fits All
This is the best piece of advice I can give. You must come up with a strategy that can work for each franchisee on an individual level while still ensuring that it works for all of them. Make decisions that work well for the group.
This isn’t always easy, and you’ll most certainly have to make compromises here and there. Be ready to deal with that.
#3. Research, Research, Research
Be sure to spend a lot of time on keyword research, as this is critical. Find keywords that are going to fit well for all franchisee sites. In my experience, most franchise-type units do pretty much the same thing, which makes it a lot easier to understand what they do.
Beware: If you make mistakes and target the wrong keywords it could be disaster. If you’re just optimizing one site, this can be fixed easily. However, if you make a mistake when working with franchise sites, it could potentially affect all of them (which can be hundreds). That’s not what you want.
#4. Find Commonalities
Once you’ve done your research, then you must find the keywords that are common among the whole group and target the crap out of them. These keywords (whatever they should be) need to be your “middle of the order hitters” so to speak.
#5. Remember the Local Focus
Most franchisees are locally-focused and target a specific service area. Be sure to collect as much information about services areas as possible so you can effectively target and expand their local reach.
When you’re working through the On-Site SEO strategy, make sure to there is a place for their local service areas. In addition, a good place to begin your Off-Site efforts would be within the local search engines (Google Places, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local).
#6. If You Have Programmers, Use Them
Programmers are meant to make our lives easier. Something that would take a person 2 hours to do manually can usually be trimmed down to the push of a button by a programmer.
If you have a programmer at your disposal and the franchise sites operate in a dynamic fashion, use it to your advantage.
#7. Utilize Formulas & Dynamic Place-Holders To Create Unique Differences Between Sites
Did I just say dynamic in the last point? Yes I did. This is a big thing to remember, and probably the point at which I’ll be most hotly debated. What I mean is, keep the structure of things like title tags, meta tags, content very similar across all sites and utilize placeholders to switch things in and out to make each site unique.
This can be done with the helps of your programmers (as illustrated above). They’re be the ones to help you come up with the dynamic placeholders you’ll need.
(Title Tag #1)
Acme Insurance Company - Columbus, Ohio Insurance Agency
(Title Tag #2)
Acme Insurance Company - Phoenix, Arizona Insurance Agency
(Meta Description #1)
An insurance company providing life insurance, auto insurance, and motorcycle insurance to people in Columbus, Dublin, and Powell, Ohio.
(Meta Description #2)
An insurance company providing life insurance, auto insurance, and motorcycle insurance to people in Phoenix, Glendale, and Mesa, Arizona.
The above examples are pretty much the same, while still maintaining their uniqueness. Many people will argue with me over this point, which leads me to my next point…
#8. Focus on the unique aspects of each location
It would be impossible to optimize a large group of very similar franchise websites if you focused on the one-by-one instead of as a group.
HOWEVER, you must not forget that each site is it’s own separate entity. THEREFORE, any smaller details you can provide to set each site apart from one-another is a good thing. Something as simple as mentioning “The windy city…” in the content for a site focused on Chicago would work fine.
Like I said above though, don’t get so hung up on this point that you forget to make decisions that are good for the whole group.
#9. Don’t Lose Site of Fundamentals
If you’re working on SEO for a franchise group, chances are the campaign is pretty large-scale. Don’t let yourself get so overwhelmed that you forget your SEO fundamentals. Remember the basic things that make sites successful as an SEO, gather baselines, and MOST IMPORTANTLY report all of your results! This way, you can always see what kind of impact you’re making.
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