If you’re a franchisee, you may already realize that having an internet presence through SEO is important. The process of influencing natural search results, however, is complex and creates more questions than answers. Let’s take a moment to shed light on an especially unique situation:
What if you and your franchisor have set up your business online but searchers on Google still can’t find you when searching for your business name?!
That’s confusing. That’s frustrating.
Take Subway Restaurants, for example:
According to their website, Subway has over 50 locations in Houston, TX. But, a Google search for “subway restaurants houston tx” only lists three on the first page in the coveted maps section – less than 5% of the total store footprint.
For Subway franchisees, that means there’s a 95% chance your location is NOT listed on page one when people search for this phrase.
So, why do things like this happen?
1. Google’s user experience
It’s unusual that Google will show more than three locations on page one of local results for any brand search (August 2015). It doesn’t matter if it’s “jiffy lube seattle” or “jimmy johns new york city” – Google aims to provide variation in their search results and doesn’t want to bog them down with repetitive listings. Perhaps more important, Google learns what consumers expect from searches and presents their results accordingly.
2. The location is outside the city center or in a suburb
With Google’s “Pigeon” algorithm update in 2014, search results were made more localized than ever. For businesses outside a city center or in a suburb, this shift made it harder to outrank their centrally-located competition (or kin).
For example, Meineke has four Car Care Centers located in Boise, ID, but only three are listed on page 1 of Google (sound familiar from #1?).
The fourth, unlisted center has existed for over 5 years and has excellent Google reviews, but is located nearly 7 miles from downtown Boise. The three listed locations are all less than 5.
3. Google doesn’t trust new info immediately
If Google isn’t able to cross-reference a business’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) right away, it’s tough for them to confidently recommend it. Depending on the situation, it can take days or weeks for Google to start presenting new information.
Even with searches for the brand’s name, Google looks to historical clicks, reviews, and search activity to determine their presentation of local results (among many other factors). Without some initial momentum, it’s tough for the search engine to confidently present new locations.
4. The area is saturated with other locations
If a new franchise location opens up where others that bear the same name already exist, it’s unusual for this location to leapfrog the others in search results. The existing locations have earned certain degrees of trust and priority in Google’s eyes that only shift with time and effort.
So…when will I show up?
If a franchisee suspects their location is struggling, it could lead them to hire independent firms to try and outrank their competition. This can result in disjointed digital activities that often plague franchisors and multi-location brands. Franchisors struggle to take an inventory of the one-offs while franchisees have trouble identifying the program’s value.
While solid search rankings are important, they require effort and patience. If you’re a franchisee and aren’t where you want to be right now, it also doesn’t mean you’re failing on the web, and here’s why:
Google Localizes Their Results for Intent
To this point we’ve focused on one type of keyword: “[franchise name] + [city, state].” But this isn’t the only way people search, and what you’re seeing in search results is not what everyone is seeing.
Google personalizes results using three primary factors: location, device, and search history. For example, if searchers located in different parts of Houston type in “subway restaurants,” they will receive results catered to their pinpointed physical location.
Here’s a search for “subway restaurants” from a 77023 zip code, a specific east-side area of Houston. All locations are now based on that zip:
That’s because consumer intent is tied very strongly to whether or not a geographic indicator is used. If searchers don’t include a geographic location in their search (usually a city or town name) and only use the brand’s name, they are likely looking for the business located closest to them at the moment of the search. If the city is included, the searcher is likely expecting a handful of listings closest to city center.
Store Locators fill the gap
In the first Subway screenshot, Google listed the brand’s store locator page ABOVE their own map results. Even if the search engine can’t properly list your business yet, they may still recommend you visit the brand’s official site for your answer.
Franchisees can set themselves apart
Even though Google understands the interconnectedness of franchise and chain businesses, each one has a unique online footprint. By getting involved with the community, joining organizations that list the business online (like a chamber of commerce), and proactively engaging with online reviews, a franchisee can start to set themselves apart. Ask customers to review your business on sites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook, and treat the internet like an extension of your customer service process. Your location can start to gain advocates and grab attention.
Consumers are smarter than ever
It’s no surprise that people find products and services in many different ways online. In fact, the average consumer checks 10.4 information sources before buying.
Sources also cite that up to 70% of all searches online are “long-tailed” – longer, more specific searches that visitors are more likely to use when they’re closer to a point-of-purchase (like “cake bakery near 44139”).
With all the different ways consumers search, you may be higher up on their page than you think.
While franchisees may have initial concern about what they see online, it’s important to understand the complexity behind them and what can be done to improve. It may help prevent heads from banging against walls in frustration.
For franchisees, ask your franchisor what they’re doing to set up your business online. Make sure they’re spreading your NAP (name, address, phone) information across the web. Check that your business is listed properly in the store locator. Monitor and respond professionally to reviews of your business online and check to ensure your location’s driving directions are correct on different websites.
If you’ve opened up a new location, remember that it’s going to take a couple weeks for the internet to accept and recognize new information that your franchisor is distributing. As long as you and corporate are taking swift steps to set up your business on the web, traffic and visibility should naturally follow. In addition, setting up social media profiles or publishing a press release can help give new stores a boost. For those in saturated areas, remember the pivotal role that searcher location, device, and history plays in their experience.
For franchisors, it pays to develop a footprint for each location through a strong local listings management program, a dedicated page/URL for each location, accurate store locator, and some simple knowledge-sharing with franchisees. Build every location a robust Google My Business listing and communicate what you’re doing with franchisees to prevent rogue activity.
The internet space gets more complex every day – by taking the above steps while also being realistic about how search engines function, a platform for long-term success can be achieved.