Any franchise owner will tell you that one of the biggest benefits of owning a franchise is leveraging the franchise brand with its regional or national marketing. However, truly successful franchise owners know that effective local franchise marketing is what makes all the difference.
“We coach our franchise owners to always make time and budget for local marketing,” says Craig Donaldson, president of ChemDry. “As a general rule, the franchise owners that generate the most revenue are the ones that really grasp this.”
In the past, local marketing consisted of mailers and coupon books (which for the most part have very low response rates) and was dominated by one major medium.
The Phone Book.
For decades, regardless of whether you were in the service, restaurant or retail industry, the local area phone book was a keystone of your local marketing. According to Scott Abbott, CEO of Five Star Painting (one of the top 100 fastest growing franchises of 2008), the phone book is still king. “We help franchise owners use local marketing for lead generation and for now our franchisees still get the vast majority of their leads from it.” Nevertheless, there are major changes happening on the local marketing front, and Abbott sees them heading their way. “Although we still see the most traction from the phone book, I suspect that will change in the next few years. That is why we’re investing in local online search marketing.”
By all accounts, this is a wise move. Online local searching is when customers use search engines to find information about local businesses. This is not a web-wide search, but one specific to the city or region of the searcher. The number of local business searches online increased over 20% last year (www.comscore.com), and according to a research report from the Kelsey Group (http://www.kelseygroup.com/), 54% of consumers have substituted internet search in place of their phone book. In these economically tight times, the majority of businesses are lowering their traditional marketing budgets while increasing their online marketing, especially in search engines (http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2008/01/18/online-advertising-to-reach-50-billion). Much of this is due to the ability of search marketing to focus on specific geographies, key words and tools that empower business owners to accurately calculate and predict ROI.
This isn’t to say that local marketing in the phone book is dead, but the tides are changing. For instance, as Scott Abbott said, the most effective local marketing for Five Star Painting is the phone book. This makes sense with the most recent data collected by comScore (http://www.comscore.com/). According to recent surveys, when asked, “In general, what is the first thing you use when searching for local business information?,” the phone book and online search engines went head to head with the phone book getting 30% and search engines getting 33% (the rest was made up of 8 different marketing mediums). Five Star’s claim makes even more sense when you consider their target audience. Five Star paints residential homes, meaning their audience is mostly 45+ home owners. The age breakdowns of the above question show that for this age group, 45% selected the phone book. On the other side of the coin, the phone book only received 18% by those under 45.
“And that gap is closing,” says Chris Bennett of the 97th Floor (http://www.97thfloor.com/) search engine marketing firm. “Every study and survey shows that the online age gap is closing, and it will get even smaller in the future.”
And what is the future of local marketing? “Mobile searches,” says Bennett. “Without a doubt, smart phones, like iPhones, are increasing local searches like crazy”. With this new technology, users are able to use Google-powered searches which are integrated with GPS technology. This gives users results the second they want them (not making them wait until they reach a computer or a phone book), and it gives them the results that are closest to where they are at that moment. In other words, local marketing won’t mean your city or neighborhood anymore. Local will depend on where your potential customers are when they make the search.
According to Bennett, franchise owners’ search engine results will mean more than ever. “When a customer wants a frozen yogurt they can search for it and find the one closest to where they are at that moment. The ones that show up are the ones investing in online search engine marketing now.”
For most franchise owners it makes the most sense to do local marketing using every medium possible. For now, the two that make the most sense are the local phone book and local search results in popular search engines like Google. While buying space in your local phone book is as easy as calling them, ranking in local search results is a bit trickier.
Here are 5 tips to help you get good rankings in local search results:
Use Google’s Local Business Listing (LBC)
The first step is to list with Google’s Local Business Listing. Almost 80% of all searches are done in Google, so if you can get listed there, the others will be much easier. The LBC is where you officially tell Google about your business and its information. Local search requires structured data to be effective. Google needs to be able to match the business to a location. By submitting a business listing, you’re giving Google the data confirmation it needs to make the association between your business and your place on the map.
Have a web page for your local franchise
In most cases your parent franchise will have a site. But increasingly, franchisors are empowering franchise owners with tools that allow them to have their own page or even sub-site. This is critical for local search ranking. Make sure your page is optimized for search engines. As a beginning, make sure your address, directions, phone number and all other contact information are in text (not an image) on every page. You can find more information on this here: http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/8-simple-steps-to-make-a-page-more-local/175/.
List in Internet Yellow Pages
These are often called online local directories. They include providers such as Superpages, YellowPages.com and dexonline.com. Paying to get listings in these directories is good for 2 reasons. The first is that it is another medium for which customers can find your business. The 2nd is that being listed on these trusted sites can help your local search ranking.
One of the ways to increase your local search ranking is to get reviews from customers. Google allows users to add reviews to local businesses. It also grabs reviews from other 2nd tier sites like Citysearch.com and Insiderpages.com. Getting good reviews can dramatically help your ranking. Make sure not to fake these or upload them yourself. It’s obvious when franchise owners do this and it will hurt your cause more than it will help it. However, you can suggest to your satisfied customers that they add a review.
Pay to play
Google breaks down its search results into two categories, organic (these are the majority of the results) and paid (these show in the “sponsored” section). Getting ranked in the organic section can take time, so in the meantime, you might want to use their “pay-per-click” system. Pay-per-click advertising allows you to bid on specific keywords, set a daily limit and not pay unless someone clicks on your ad. This can help you get your business noticed by local searchers while you wait for your organic listings to take hold.