Alex Cavell, PR and marketing manager at Bluebird Care, explains why getting the entire franchise network onboard is vital when embarking on a search engine optimisation campaign
Britons rarely make a decision – whether it’s to enquire about a franchise opportunity or book a service – without turning to a search engine. Franchises ignore search at their peril, even those that don’t sell online. But for search engine optimisation (SEO) to be effective, it’s important to put a rigorous planning process in place that factors in a wide range of stakeholders from across the franchise network.
Firstly, you need to understand the behaviour of search engines and how they treat their rankings. Google, for instance, invests in monitoring and predicting human behaviour online. It collects data from a huge number of sources and is adept at putting together an accurate picture of a person’s interests, habits and online history. And while search engines try to work out how people behave, search marketers spend a lot of their time attempting to understand how search engines rank sites in a quest to get the first page.
For a search campaign to be effective it’s also important to decipher what you’re trying to achieve from a business perspective and judge how much time and resources it’s worth investing. It also helps you to define what success looks like and set measurable KPIs. Whether you’re growing, consolidating or reducing your market share, it’s important to reach an agreement on what success looks like. How will you identify and measure success? How are your competitors likely to react and what can you do to limit their ability to imitate?
How long is the campaign going to run for and who are the stakeholders involved? Strong, clear answers to these questions will stand any campaign in good stead.
But to get accurate answers, you’ll need to involve stakeholders from across the spectrum. This can mean anyone from senior management to marketers, the people responsible for uploading content and designers. Planning for SEO shouldn’t just consider algorithms and keywords: it’s also about people. Don’t just look at the people who would typically be involved in planning meetings from head office either. Customer-service reps who have a lot of customers interactions or local franchisees are often worth involving.
It’s important to identify which voices should have input into setting objectives and then who the strategy needs to be communicated to. While SEO campaigns typically fall under the remit of a marketing or digital team, in my experience they’re less effective if you fail to include key stakeholders or bring them in too late in the planning process.
In particular, franchises with large networks need to ensure their SEO campaign is a localised one that brings in people from across the network. At Bluebird Care, we recently overhauled our digital strategy to launch over 200 microsites for our UK franchisees. Each website required a locally relevant SEO strategy and what we discovered is that people are often searching for care using local colloquialisms and search terms. To succeed, we involved local franchisees by explaining the changes and preparing them for what was to come.
And because good SEO is also about adhering to best practice when it comes to content uploading, we created guidelines and toolkits to ensure the businesses felt empowered to keep their sites fresh and updated, safe in the knowledge that they weren’t damaging their ranking. It’s often the people implementing your SEO strategy, such as content managers, who are most crucial. They need to understand everything from how to enter meta descriptions correctly to best practice when it comes to alt tags.
SEO should also be on the radar of your PR team. Because search engines reward links from quality sites and a high number of shares from influential social media accounts, it’s important that your PR team understands this. It should actively scout for opportunities, such as bringing in guest authors or raising awarness of your brand so more people seek it out on social media or search engines. SEO doesn’t just belong in the online domain.
Finally, it’s important to remember to involve your stakeholders in the feedback loop. When you’re dusting off your monthly report on traffic and online conversions, ensure you’re also feeding back any lessons and future actions to the relevant people. Senior management will need to be able to see how their budget has been used to meet the objectives set at the start, while local franchisees may get a huge boost to know that all their efforts have translated into business success. You may even wish to set up a simple campaign dashboard that monitors the data and overall feedback, allowing you to gauge reactions along the way.
Whether your SEO campaign is local, regional, national or international, investing in preparation and the people critical to the campaign will almost certainly determine whether your investment is a success.