How Google's Filtering Affects Your Franchise
Do you operate a business with dozens of offices? Is it common occurrence for some of your franchise partners to fight amongst one another simply to get their fair share of inbound prospects via search engine referrals? Do you find that this infighting derails your team from their primary objective of servicing the customer?
While it may be beyond the scope of this article to solve all your marketing woes, the advice contained within may go a long way to cure your team of the dissention that plagues them.
If a prospective customer is confident in your brand and is ready to buy, they will in all likelihood begin the process by Googling your brand, coupled with their city or state to find the closest representative. For example, they may enter something along the lines of “State Farm Insurance Chicago” in the search field.
Now, unbeknownst to most, Google removes results they feel are duplicate. That means if you have a separate web page for each agent on your payroll, you might have a dozen pages to show the world, but only but 2-3 will be found in a search due to the inevitable duplication of information.
This may result in 75% of your salesforce without any kind of direct exposure—and if that’s the case your team dynamic can quickly shift from one that is collaborative to one that exhibits an—aggressive, ‘us versus them’ mentality. In this type of situation discord can replace any sense teamwork that you have struggled to build as part of your corporate culture.
This isn't an uncommon problem either—most enterprise level, business to consumer websites are built using the very structure that causes this problem; they may have hundreds of pages, but they have very poor signals to Google on which page should take priority.
Herein lies the rub—sites are often built this way because the company is making an assumption about how their customers will interact with their site.They assume that customers will go to the homepage, and click through several pages to find the right contact information.
The fact of the matter is people don’t generally act this way; in most cases they will follow the path of least resistance which means they will call the first phone number they find, and whomever picks up, gets the sale.
Are You At Risk?
At this point you might be wondering if your website is affected with this issue. In order to make that determination, there are two tests that we recommend you perform.
First, choose the city or state with the largest number of your offices or agents, then search for [Your Brand Name], near [Location].
Did all of your offices/agents operating within the specified area show up in the Google search results? How many (if any) were left out in the cold?
Test two is a bit more technical, so you may need to enlist the help of someone from your IT department for this one. Choose two of your sales agents that were not visible from the first test, and open up each of their respective web pages in separate browser tabs.
Copy the URLs of each page, and paste them into the CopyScape comparison tool. The CopyScape tool will tell you what percentage of the text on those pages is unique. Were you given a match percentage higher than 40-50%? If so, you may need to consider a different approach (a lower match percentage is a better score).
The Road to Making it Better
If your site failed either of these two tests, there are three recommended solutions:
- Merge: This is more likely to succeed with Google—works on the city, state, and agent level—but it is more complicated and more costly to implement.
- Rewrite: Rewriting is the most cost-effective option (on the agent level), but is less likely to get the desired results from Google, and needs assistance from said agents and their offices.
- Maps: A third option if you are only trying to even the playing field between offices and not agents.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall!
The first option listed above requires all the web pages be merged with the information of satellite offices, franchisees, or agents (on the state or city level) into fewer pages, or even one page.
Granted, this solution still leaves the problem of how to evenly distribute sales prospects, but at least now you have better options and greater control.
Being a backseat driver to Google is no fun.
To evenly distribute sales prospects within the city or state, you can randomize which office or agent shows on top, or have the office closest to the user show first.
A secondary benefit to the “merge” option, is that it can create a stronger overall SEO presence. With a smaller number of better organized pages on your website, Google is more likely to trust that your website will provide a good user experience. This can even contribute to you outranking your competitors for non-branded keywords.
I'm a Unique Snowflake… Just Like Everyone Else
If financial resources and time are in short supply, you could simply write much longer, unique descriptions for your agents or offices.
On your revised Agent or Office pages you should avoid any sidebar widgets that insert the same content on every page; this includes anything and everything that can, contribute to duplicated content—company news feeds are a prime example.
Also, investigate what zip codes, neighborhoods, or borough names can be added to office descriptions. Anything that can add value, and set the pages apart for each other.
To double check that your new written content is not duplicate content, use SiteLiner and the CopyScape comparison tool mentioned above.
Even if your website has enormous authority, and you have followed every bit of advice thus far to the letter, there are limits to how much can be accomplished using a rewrite strategy.
Remember that there are a maximum of 10 slots on a Google results page, and you are very unlikely to fill all 10 spots with pages of your website regardless of your strategy.
Stick a Pin in It
If a customer lives in a small town, they will likely use their state name to look for your brand.
So if you have chosen the “Merge” option to create equality on the city or state level, you should have a large, rich page with all your offices as pins on a custom map.
A second “Map” strategy is centered around creating and strengthening your “Google My Business” Listings. Both of these tactics are solid options, allowing the user to easily identify which office is closest to them, and they work well if used together.
For a branded search, depending on Google maps alone will usually only work for 3 offices per city, any more than 3 offices, and you will likely need to turn to the “Merge” strategy.
On the state level you will still only get 3 slots, but they will be the three offices closest to the user, making it viable without supplementing your total strategy with the “Merge” option
Making sure your website works the way you want it to is just as much a science as it is an art. It’s not enough to hire a web developer to simply create your site, it needs to be well thought out in terms of how easy it will be for users to find what they are looking for as well as equatable in the way it disseminates leads to your team. Each option has its merit - the key is identifying to what extent your website is ineffective and adopt a strategy to fix it.