To improve online marketing, should franchisors rethink website control? | January

To improve online marketing, should franchisors rethink website control?  |  January

Alicia Miller

The gospel of franchise marketing usually insists on a single website domain controlled by the company. Franchisees have a minimal presence, sometimes as little as a page, on a company-controlled domain. But in an age of artificial intelligence and increasingly competitive (and expensive) search engine optimization and digital advertising, is this still the right approach?

The central control strategy is based on the belief that a unified online presence ensures brand consistency, simplifies management and consolidates franchise marketing efforts while maximizing SEO. This control also means missed opportunities for local engagement and the risk of increasingly stale content because creativity is limited to a small team or an outsourced agency.

Innovative brands are adopting an alternative strategy: multiple web domains.

Multi-domain SEO advantage

Multiple domains offer a significant advantage in the world of search engine optimization. Each localized domain can be optimized for local search queries, increasing the overall visibility of local search results. This means more organic traffic, more leads and more revenue.

Content creation: The key is to use tools to create high quality, relevant and unique content. Brand consistency is maintained because the core themes are under the company’s control. But execution is distributed across multiple local touchpoints. AI-powered tools can help create unique content at scale while staying aligned with brand standards. It taps into the creative juices of the entire franchisee community in a structured and targeted way.

Location: The other advantage is that content can be localized and brand guidelines adapted to suit the preferences and needs of specific regions, improving engagement and resonance with local audiences.

SEO optimization: Today’s AI tools enable content creation at scale and also ensure content is optimized for SEO. Content is interesting and ranks favorably in search results to generate more organic traffic and digital visibility.

Does having multiple domains “fragment” ranking authority? According to Michel Leconte, founder and CEO of SEOSamba, a leading digital marketing and website design agency with specific expertise in maximizing SEO results, “based on our extensive experience, incorporating local domains alongside a flagship domain does not impede the ability of the flagship domain to accumulate its own backlinks or secure high rankings for local franchisee directory pages on Google. Adding local websites allows brands to maintain the same capabilities they would have on their standalone flagship corporate websites and creates opportunities to enhance franchisee directory pages and provide more comprehensive promotion of services and products.

“Local domains allow franchisees to cultivate their unique local brand narratives within their communities, significantly increasing their chances of gaining inbound links. When it comes to ranking authority, establishing a network of thematically interconnected websites and fully manageable can serve as a powerful means of improving the position of the corporate website and strengthening its link profile, especially as each local domain gains greater recognition over time.

Profits from the sale of franchises

The multi-domain approach also benefits franchise development. When combined with paid campaigns in target markets, there is a simultaneous improvement in market inquiries for available franchise territories in those markets. As anyone trying to build a footprint of metro outlets knows, customers on one side of town may not be familiar with outlets on the other side of town. But local market digital activity can improve local visibility and can facilitate the sale of infill territories as candidates see that the concept works in their area. These leads are usually more qualified and motivated, as they already know the brand through the digital footprint of existing franchisees.

Execution of the turn

It is not a binary shift from a domain to a fully decentralized model. This transition must be gradual, led by the corporate team. Brands still need a robust flagship corporate presence while fostering a localized franchisee presence. A combined approach to management and thoughtful deployment delivers the best results.

Think of it in terms of reflecting the expansion of the physical world of your brand’s retail outlets. A physical and powerful digital presence is needed to optimize brand visibility in an increasingly crowded world. Just as your operations team now trains franchisees to maintain brand standards while implementing and innovating through local operational execution, the marketing team can also maintain corporate brand standards but nurture the localized marketing execution and creativity.

The corporate team controls the core elements of the brand, including the main website and guidelines. A robust platform is needed to host and manage distributed websites, build digital assets at scale, and help generate AI-assisted content. Owners then have localized domains.

Domains can be customized to fit cohort use cases, local preferences, franchisees’ level of sophistication, and can encourage leadership and creativity while adhering to brand standards. Franchisees can create deeper conversations with their communities and employees and feel a greater sense of ownership. When paired with local market guerrilla tactics such as events and outreach, the result is a richer and more meaningful local presence.

Not all homeowners can take full advantage of increased digital access. But with simple training and borrowing content from franchisees who are good at this kind of creativity, this effort can create more content much faster and be locally relevant and brand-correct at the same time.

In a franchise market dominated by large platforms and private equity-backed brands, the rules of digital engagement are changing. A hybrid digital approach powered by AI tools that balance brand control with localized franchisee presence can enable brands to connect with customers in a more meaningful way, drive engagement and unlock new growth opportunities .

Alicia Miller is the founder and managing director of Emergent Growth Advisors. His Savvy Development column covers smart ways to market and grow a franchise. She is also the author of the forthcoming book, “Big Money in Franchising: Scaling Your Enterprise in the Era of Private Equity.” Email:


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