An introductory guide to digital marketing for franchisors and franchisees
Whilst there are many avenues for a franchise to pursue when marketing itself, such as trading publications, radio and television, the results of a properly planned digital marketing strategy are much easier to measure.
Author: John Paiva, Mayfly Internet Marketing
You may be given rough estimates from PR agencies or advertising salesmen, but with a well-implemented digital marketing strategy you can get a clear overview of how many people are seeing your marketing messages and what impact they are having.
This empowers you with the data to make informed decisions on what actions you should take next to better market your franchise business.
Both franchisors and franchisees can benefit from a well–planned digital marketing strategy, however, before you take any further steps, it’s important to ensure synergy between both parties.
Should franchisees manage their own digital marketing?
One of the key draws for choosing a franchise is the brand recognition that accompanies the business from day one. Granting franchisees a degree of autonomy over their digital marketing is by no means a bad idea, but it’s worth considering the extent to which this happens, as each franchisee will be responsible (to a lesser or greater extent) with upholding the brand voice and values.
Whilst most franchisees’ training is likely to involve an element of education in regards to the importance of upholding brand values, you may decide that franchisees may not either have the time or appropriate skills required to market their business effectively, whilst sticking within the pre-arranged company values.
This article serves as an introduction to digital marketing for both franchisors and franchisees. For franchisors at the start of their journey, this article can provide a starting point for your digital strategy. For those currently in the midst of a strategy, you may spot opportunities to improve what you currently have.
Website Design Divide your franchise and service content
Your website should serve two audiences – those interested in the services or products of the business, and those interested in the franchise opportunity.
All content should be kept on the same website. Splitting out content across different websites will just multiply your marketing efforts and lead to cannibalisation of the keywords that you’re targeting.
Franchising information should be signposted on the website, but not in such a way that detracts from the typical service-user audience. A link to this section of the site can be included in the main navigation, or you could create a banner in the footer that highlights your franchise opportunity.
From a structural point of view, it’s also important that all franchising content is kept in its own sub-folder. For example, your guide to starting a franchise could be placed on a URL as such: myrestaurant.com/franchise/how-to-open-a-franchised-restaurant
Not only will following a logical URL structure provide users with a clear understanding of where they are in relation to the rest of the website, but this will also assist Google’s bots in better understanding how content relates to each other and its importance.
Basic content requirements
Setting aside the ongoing content strategy that you’ll need as part of your long-term search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy, there are crucial pieces of content that visitors to your website will expect. Whilst some of these may seem like ‘no-brainers’, you’d be surprised with how many are omitted in some new website builds.
Content required for both audiences:
Basic contact information – Essential information such as your business’ HQ address, phone number and email should be included in the footer of your website.
Contact us page – Provide all the contact information in the footer, along with any additional contacts for franchising enquiries and a contact form.
About page – This should detail your company history and show-off any USPs, awards, experience or notable people within your organisation.
Environmental Policy – Depending on the niche you’re operating in, it may be prudent to provide a policy laying out your organisation’s impact on the environment.
Press/media page – Listing the places where your franchise has been mentioned (either online or offline) is a great way to build trust with both audiences.
What’s required for potential franchisees:
Price of package – Providing transparent pricing information gives users the opportunity to accurately assess and compare your offering to other franchises.
Monthly fees or commission – The same goes for any ongoing fees or commission you charge as a franchisor. Don’t hide this information behind an enquiry form.
Testimonials – These are one of the most popular selling tools at your disposal. The more you can feature, the more appealing your offering will appear to newcomers.
History of your franchise – A more in-depth article detailing your organisation’s history can help provide much-needed context for visitors unfamiliar with your brand.
Information about founder/lead franchisor – Similarly, a profile detailing the career and experience of the lead franchisor will lend authority to your offering as a whole.
‘What’s included’ guide – In addition to an overview of the features and benefits that your franchise offers, a more detailed guide can help visitors envisage the on-boarding process you have in place for new franchisees.
Franchise specific FAQs – The questions that potential franchisees have will be different to those of service-users, you should endeavour to research and answer as many as possible.
What’s required for potential service users:
Information regarding service/product – Potential customers require basic information such as prices, your processes and locations covered. Have you covered everything your competitors have mentioned?
Location/branch pages – Depending on the type of sector you’re in, you may consider setting up locally-targeted landing pages to support each location or branch in your franchise network.
Service specific reviews – Reviews from other customers should be placed prominently across the service-focused elements of your website. Location pages should be supported with location-specific reviews to provide users with an accurate portrayal of the kind of service they’re likely to receive.
Service specific FAQs – Every sector will have its unique set of frequently asked questions that you’ll need to answer in order to assist customers in making an informed choice.
Supporting top-of-funnel content – Providing supplementary content that is topically relevant to your niche can help build trust with potential customers and can provide the foundation for a strong flow of organic traffic from search engines.
Calls to action (CTAs) are a crucial element of web design. They’re a core element of the user experience of all websites, helping to nudge web visitors into taking action on a website, instead of passively absorbing the information and bouncing away.
Whilst there’s plenty of research that has been done over the years in terms of the best approaches to take when using CTAs – this can be distilled down into a handful of points that should cover a variety of use-cases and niches:
Place them prominently on the page – For landing pages whose purpose is to drive enquiries or sales, you should ensure that your call to action is placed as high up on the page as possible. If the content you’re publishing is particularly lengthy, then you may want to consider placing a handful of them throughout the page.
Don’t forget mobile – Depending on the niche you’re operating within, you may find that more visitors browse your website on mobile devices rather than desktop. Don’t forget to test your new pages on mobile devices to ensure that CTAs are just as prominent and enticing as they are on desktop.
Choose contrasting colours – Your CTAs need to stand out from the main body of your web page. Choose a contrasting colour or accent for your CTA, so you can guarantee that it’s not missed by users. Remember that many people will be scanning your page for an answer instead of reading – can you ensure it’s spotted by those speedy readers too?
Make your CTA text clickable and inviting – Don’t skimp on this part. Your CTA can be so much more than a simple ‘Contact Us’ or ‘Get In Touch’. Hone in on what you’re offering, as well as what you’re asking of the user. For example: ‘Get A Free Franchise Consultation’ or ‘Download Your Guide Now’.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is too diverse of a subject to be neatly boxed off in a few paragraphs. It’s a constantly evolving discipline which no individual can truly master. With that being said, there are a handful of tactics that can be implemented by the uninitiated.
Before work begins, however, it’s vital that you take the time to do the necessary research before jumping into implementation. All decisions that you do make in regards to SEO for your website should be founded on data-driven research, as opposed to mere guesswork.
Your competitor landscape
Your success when vying for organic search visibility depends as much on your website content as your online reputation and the competitive landscape that you operate within.
For example, if you operate an extremely niche or unique business franchise opportunity, then you’ll be well positioned to gain visibility for search terms related to that niche (although few people will be searching for you).
Meanwhile, those operating in more competitive franchise landscapes, such as the cleaning sector, may find it much more difficult to take the top positions for non-branded search terms – although at least more people will likely be searching for them!
Understanding the competitive landscape that you’re operating within will give you the best opportunity to gather your keyword research, which will heavily inform how you structure and write the content for your website.
Keyword research is a process used to discover the search terms that your website content should be focused around. By mapping relevant search terms to each page on your website, you can focus your content creation efforts and provide both search engines and people with the best page experience possible.
The better you can meet the intent of your target keywords with the content you publish, the more likely you are to have your pages appear higher up in the search results pages, which then results in more clicks through to your website and more enquiries or sales.
Keyword research is simplified through the use of a purpose-built SEO tool (such as SEMrush or Serpstat), however they’re not compulsory. Free tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner can be just as useful when conducting keyword research, providing the ability to scan competitor websites for keywords opportunities and compare search volumes for keywords.
Basic on-page optimisation
If your franchise is in a competitive landscape then there’s only so far that you’ll be able to get by putting these basics in place. However, they will at the very least, clearly communicate to the search engines what each of the pages on your website is about.
Basic on-page optimisation of webpages is only possible once you’ve completed keyword research and mapped out realistic target keywords for each page of your website.
The following on-page elements should be optimised across all pages of your website:
Page titles – This element informs both users and search engines of the topic of your page. Use a unique, genuinely useful title that is informed by your keyword research. Google may use this title as the main link to the page on their results pages, so try and make it as enticing as possible.
Meta descriptions – This element performs a similar role to a page title, however where a page title is a few words, a meta description will typically be one or two sentences. These may be used on Google’s search results too, so it makes sense to feature your target keyword here as well.
Headings – The headings in your content should be wrapped in HTML tags which look like this: <h1>text</h1>. They’re a simple tool to assist structuring content and indicating the important themes you’re writing about. Only use one H1 tag, at the top of the page, and then use the other tags as subheadings to make your content easier to read for both search engines and users.
Image alt tags – These elements are attached to each of the images on your pages. They should accurately describe the image, so that someone who can’t see it can understand what it is portraying. Alt tags will appear when an image fails to load or when assistive technologies such as screen readers are used to view your website.
Ongoing content plans
All franchise websites should have a content plan in place to ensure that the business can best leverage organic search traffic and better serve all target audiences. SEO is an iterative process which is constantly being driven by innovation of both content creators and Google’s own algorithm changes, of which there are thousands every year.
Many websites confuse the term ‘content plan’ with writing generic blog updates or news articles. Whilst these may add some value to the overall user experience, they’re unlikely to contribute to improving organic traffic.
To ensure that your website is best positioned to generate organic traffic from search, you should have a process in place to regularly audit all content on your website. Auditing content includes identifying which pages are currently ranking well, driving organic traffic or generating conversions.
Once you have a clearer understanding of how the pages on your website are performing, you can create a plan of action. In broad terms, you can decide whether to leave pages the same, update them or remove them.
During your competitor research you may notice that competing websites have pages on topics that you’re currently not covering. Taking note of these will allow you to add to your content plan, so that you can make your website more competitive in its niche.
Collecting reviews and testimonials
Social proof has become a vital component of SEO. If you’re trying to convince a newcomer to your website of the value of your service or franchise offering then there’s no better way of doing it than with a glowing review from one of your franchisees or service users.
Collecting testimonials from your franchisees
Your potential franchisees will likely require more convincing than your service users, due to the higher entry-level of investment required. As such, testimonial and case study content is vital to providing the social proof required to drive consistent franchise enquiries.
It’s worth putting a process in place to ensure that you have the necessary information to hand when compiling case studies and testimonials. For example, you may wish to include a clause in your franchise contract that gives you permission to share your franchisees’ stories in marketing materials.
You may also want to file away important information about your franchisees, including their previous occupations or work experience, before coming on board. After they’ve been operating for a reasonable length of time, you can then get in touch for a testimonial of their experience, along with supporting sales/business statistics.
Review collection strategy for service users
How you go about collecting reviews from service users will depend on the type of franchise business you operate. For example, restaurants may choose to print a QR code on their receipts which takes customers to a custom page with options to leave a review on different websites (ie. Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor etc.).
If you’re managing a service-area based franchise business, then you may wish to utilise a review collection system that can be easily rolled out to multiple locations. These tools can be used to automatically reach out to customers after they’ve been served, requesting a review to a platform of your choice.
What review platform to choose?
There are benefits and drawbacks to all review platforms. If in doubt, however, you should favour Google. The number of reviews that you receive on your Google Business Profile has a direct impact on how high you appear in the local map pack (the map that appears on Google’s search results page). The drawback to requesting a Google review from your customers is that they will require a Google account to do so, something which the older generation are less likely to have.
How to show reviews on your site
Collecting reviews on 3rd-party platforms is great for building the off-site reputation of your franchise business, but each review can also serve a dual purpose by providing unique, trust-building content on your website. When it comes to how many reviews you should have on your website: the sky’s the limit.
You can never show off enough about the success of your business on your website, but the message will have much more penetration when it comes from a happy customer, as opposed to your franchisees or marketing team.
Google doesn’t have an official widget, however there are plenty of affordable widgets and plugins available that allow you to easily embed all your reviews on your website. Some 3rd-party platforms make populating reviews on your website easy, providing widgets implemented using simple code.
Optimising your Google Business Profile
The Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) is vital to all types of service-area businesses and branch/location-based franchises. In addition to providing an easy way for customers to review your business and supporting your visibility on the search results pages, your Business Profile can serve as a valuable form of social media.
Optimising your Google Business Profile includes ensuring that you’ve selected the appropriate categories for your business, along with providing relevant information regarding your services.
Google has guidelines in place prohibiting the act of ‘keyword stuffing’ in Google Business Profiles. This is the term used to describe placing your target keywords unnaturally in a bid to manipulate Google’s algorithms for greater visibility. Unfortunately, whilst these guidelines may be in place, it doesn’t stop some from bending the rules.
Businesses can benefit from taking this approach, however, there’s a robust system in place which allows all users on Google to report such bad actors. Google has automated and manual processes in place to review these reports and amend Business Profiles based on these reports. So whilst you may benefit initially from keyword stuffing your profile, you may not benefit for that long!
Social Media Marketing
Depending on the sector that your franchise is operating within, social media can be an important weapon in your digital marketing arsenal. Whether you’re posting reels on Instagram or videos on YouTube – social media offers you the unique opportunity to promote your business in a way that can engage people from all walks of life.
Which platform to choose?
There seems to be a new social media platform cropping up every year, making choosing which one you want to focus on a difficult task. Whilst franchise businesses with large budgets at their disposal have the freedom to experiment with any and all of them; franchisees balancing running and marketing their businesses will need to be more prudent with their choices.
Below is a quick summary of the current social media platforms and what type of businesses they’re best suited for:
Facebook – Suitable for a wide-range of businesses and content. Associated more and more with an older age demographic ie. 30-60
Instagram – Suitable for businesses who can present a compelling visual element with images or videos. Demographics skew younger between 20-35.
LinkedIn – A primarily B2B platform that could benefit franchisors seeking to connect with potential franchisees. The majority of users are between 25-34 years old.
TikTok – Suitable for businesses who can produce short-form video that is both reactive and trend-following. Majority of users are female and aged 18-24.
Google Posts – Suitable for all businesses with a Google Business Profile. Shown to all Google users, so it’s applicable to a wide demographics of users.
Twitter – Suitable for all businesses. Ideal for connecting with other business owners and posting service updates. Bear in mind that 70.4% of users are male.
YouTube – Suitable for businesses with the time and resources to create longer video content and market it via this widely used platform.
Organic content ideas
Once you’ve chosen your platform, you’ll need to decide what content to post and what topics to cover. If you’ve settled on Facebook as the main focus of your marketing campaign then you may be overwhelmed at the breadth of options that you have.
It’s important that you plan out your social media content ahead of time, so that you can post strategically. Just like website content, you can theme your organic social media content around different stages of the customer journey: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy.
Awareness – Content that quickly and succinctly communicates either your franchise offering or service, its key selling points and how they can benefit the reader.
Interest – Deeper dives on the processes involved in your franchise, showing the evidence and proof behind the claims you’ve initially made.
Consideration – Focused messaging pushing the user to take action and interact with your business.
Purchase – Harder-hitting, sales-focused content that pushes engaged users over the finish line to make a purchase.
Retention – Follow-up content that targets those who have already purchased, offering assistance or customer support.
Advocacy – Content designed to activate those customers or franchisees who hold your business closest to their hearts. Request reviews or ask them to share their experience on their own pages.
The above guide has just scratched the surface of the potential that digital marketing has to promote your franchise business.
Ideally, your digital marketing strategy should work in tandem with your business’ goals and all your marketing channels (SEO, Social Media, Pay Per Click advertising, emails, PR, TV) so that you can deliver a consistent, strategic message that has the best impact possible.
If you’re not sure how to go about piecing the puzzle together and require a nudge in the right direction, then you can get in touch with me via email to find out more.
About the author
John Paiva has worked across the full range of digital marketing channels with dozens of clients in a wide range of industries including private schools, independent hospitals and international franchise businesses.
In 2020, he completed the Chartered Institute of Marketers’ Level 6 Digital Diploma in Marketing. His work with Mayfly Internet Marketing includes managing Google Ads accounts, developing organic content strategies, managing web design projects and designing email marketing campaigns.