Business strategies for your Franchise you should not ignore

Outside forces and new technologies dramatically affect what happens to your Franchise. You don’t have to respond on a whim, but keep your eyes wide open when major changes occur.

Here are some marketing and business trends that are important to Franchises:

The Cloud – Although social media and mobile get more buzz, the great change-maker for franchises comes from the cloud. Using Internet-based applications to run your business rather than locating those applications on your servers or hard drives sounds pretty liberating, doesn’t it?

Going to the cloud is transformative. You gain powerful functionality, you can spend more of your time on your business and less on your infrastructure.  Now that YOU are mobile, you can access your applications and data from virtually anywhere.  Having your customer contact management, email marketing and document storage is essential. Continue reading

How Can Franchises Take Advantage of Everything Google Offers?

Google is the most popular search engine in the world for a few good reasons. Its simple uncluttered interface, vast number of webpages and great results are among the top reasons.

But that’s not all Google has to offer and we find Franchise businesses using Google more and more to market and advertise, enhance their social media and mobile marketing, analyze their website traffic and even optimize and split test how effective the conversion is on their websites.

So ELEMENTS has decided recommend some of the hottest Google tools we see Franchises using today. ELEMENTS will also be conducting a FREE webinar on this topic on June 21st (click here to sign up >>).

Local Search & Advertising

1) Google Places

One of the largest impacts to the local search arena stems from Google Places, an online local directory of businesses. Most importantly, Google Places is no longer a separate search product anymore. Google now displays Google Place’s search results blended directly into Google’s general or “Everything” search when the search terms indicate that the end user might be looking for a product or service that can be satisfied locally.

Google Places Local Blend

Franchises now must ensure all of their locations are setup properly and optimized in Google Places in order to show up when people perform searches that can be satisfied locally.

2) Google AdWords Location Extensions

AdWords is Google’s PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising platform. Google has added location extensions to their AdWords system which allows the owner of the advertisement to display their advertisements to specified locations. Location extensions help make the consumer aware that the product or service they are looking for can be fulfilled locally.

3) Google Keyword Tool and Google Trends

By using Google’s free Keyword Tool, companies are better able to determine what keywords people are searching for and which keyword term targets would just waste their website’s valuable real estate. To receive top rankings in Google a company must play by their rules, expand their offerings and monetizing the marketability of their products or services. Getting traffic is great, but converting traffic into sales or leads is the true goal of the SEO game.

The Google Trends Tool can help your company determine search traffic trends when comparing multiple sets of keywords. For example, the following search comparing Netflix, Block Buster and Hollywood Video shows the dramatic difference in searches for those three businesses:

Google Trends

Social Media

4) Social Signals Effect Rank

Recently both Bing and Google have admitted that mentions of and links to web pages found in public social media postings can positively effect a website’s search engine rankings. The idea behind this is that social media users will share links to websites that they trust and enjoy so the more users sharing these links through social media the more perceived value these websites have. However, not all social media personas carry the same weight. Search engines look at the “social authority” of the user that shared that link and give more value to links shared by users with more credibility.

5) Google +1

At the time of this publication Google +1 is currently in beta testing mode. The idea behind Google +1 is to use one’s social network (Google contacts) for recommendations on which search results they found the most for their own search queries. So if your friend marked a result as valuable, there is good cause for the Google search engine to think that you might like it as well because you both exist within the same social circle.

Today (June 1st), Google has launched their +1 Button which can be added to any website to encourage friend recommendations in the same way that Facebook users can currently “like” a website page. In a way, Google is leveraging its’ entire user-base as quality control staff. While Google states that under the current system recommendations only come from the user’s social network, we can foresee a time when Google will recommend websites from outside of your social circle based on the number of +1’s a website has received and the perceived social authority of the rankee.

Click here for more information on the +1 Button.

6) Google Places Reviews

Earlier we discussed the importance of Google Places to local search. Perhaps the most important factor in getting a Place’s page to rank well is the number of positive reviews a business has in relation to their local competition. The reviews found on Google Places can be drawn from several places. One such place is the social review website Yelp. Google also has its’ own social review system (formally called Hotpot) which has now been integrated directly into Google Places. Both Yelp & Google Places allow users to track reviews and interact with their friends within their social network. According to Google, they now have millions of users rating places more than a million times per month.

7) Google’s Realtime Social Media Search Results

Alongside their Everything and Places search Google has various other search types. One of these variant searches is Google’s Realtime search. Google’s Realtime search results display “up-to-the-second” updates from various social media outlets including news articles, blog posts and Tweets. The search result page is no longer a static listing, but instead updates when a new post relevant to your search query is detected by Google.

These real-time searches can be beneficial for businesses looking to leverage current trends in their marketing efforts or for franchises looking to react quickly to protect their brand when trouble arises.

8) Google’s Algorithmic Changes that Recognize Brands

Social media mentions of a company name will pass along a brand impression for that company. The more mentions of a company’s name Google can find the more likely it is to treat that business as a notable brand. Brands have become an important factor to Google when determining search engine rankings because Google now considers brand name products and services as more trustworthy and therefore ranks brands higher than their non-branded competition.

Franchises can leverage social media to expand their company’s brand impression. Companies should encourage their employees to create personal LinkedIn profiles and link them to their company. Facebook posts & Twitter tweets can now be found in both Google’s Realtime search and its’ Everything search giving more exposure to a company’s brand name than franchises with inactive social media accounts that are not engaging existing or potential customers through those social mediums. Serious and authentic blog commenting with a mention of your company’s brand is just another social media outlet that can garner your brand’s name more exposure.

Aside from social media there are other very useful ways to expose your brand’s name to consumers. Successful offline advertising can have a positive impact on brand recognition. Franchises could even publish an eBook or two about franchising and about their brand which not only will receive mentions from social media and traditional media sources like press releases, but these books can also be found in online libraries like Google Scholar.

Mobile Marketing

9) Google Mobile Location Based Ads

Google AdWords offers location centric mobile advertising to allow local businesses to target leads based on the user’s immediate location. These location based ads offer the interested user an expandable map with turn by directions and a click-to-call phone number. There is some chatter at Google about other new “rich ad units” for mobile coming down the pipe to further leverage the mobile platform, including ads meant specifically for tablet devices.

10) Google Places Offer Mobile Coupons

When customers find a specific local store or service on Google Places through their mobile device, that business can offer digital coupons directly to that device in order to convert that lead into a walk-in customer. Owners of the devices can then show the business their coupon directly on their phone without having to print it out on a piece of paper. One of the best benefits of Google Place’s mobile coupons is that the coupons get distributed for free, unlike many offline paper distribution methods.

Traffic Metrics & Conversion Optimization

11) Google Analytics Traffic & SEO Metrics

Google Analytics is a free traffic reporting tool that allows companies to tunnel deeply into their visitor and website metrics in order to better determine the success of their website. Just some of the valuable visitor and search metrics one can obtain from Google Analytics are the most popular pages on your websites, the keywords that are driving search traffic to your websites, what external websites are sending your website traffic and the level of engagement of your website.

Google Analytics has completely changed how businesses look at their website’s statistics. This free hosted solution makes adding metric tracking to your website a breeze and provides in depth reporting second to none. Along with these valuable benefits, Google Analytics also allows companies to integrate their Google AdWords & Google AdSense campaigns into its reports, to set goals with varying values for conversion tracking and to build custom scheduled statistical reports.

In the franchise space specifically, ELEMENTS has begun using Google Analytics to provide rollup reporting across an entire franchisee network of websites as well as offering franchisees access to their own individual Google Analytics reports.

12) Website Optimizer for Conversion Optimization

The success of a website cannot purely be determined by the number of visitors to a website alone. Most websites have conversion goals like a checkout through their shopping cart or a newsletter sign-up for future targeted marketing. This is where conversion optimization comes into play.

Conversion optimization is the process of altering a page on a website in order to increase the amount achieved goals. Sometimes this can mean changing the call to action text or adding a big green button to the page. Conversion optimization is an art form but with Google’s Website Optimizer almost anyone can learn how to better their conversions on any given page.

In its simplest form, Website Optimizer allows you to create to competing pages and then it splits the traffic between the two pages and determines which page has the best conversion or goal achievement ratio. Website Optimizer also allows a company to alter individual page snippets in order to determine which of these snippets on the page lead to the most conversions.

Google’s New Analytics

While it’s still in Beta, the Google Analytics dashboard is getting a facelift and it’s not all just cosmetic. There are two changes that really interest me, the addition of widgets and the ability to have multiple dashboards.

I have signed up for the beta, but it could take a while until I get access so for now I’m going off of the screenshots I found over at BlogSpot.

google analytics add widget google analytics delete dashboard

From my understanding the widgets will allow you to customize the look and feel of the dashboard.  So you could put in a timeline of views right near the top of the dashboard for those clients most interested in brand awareness or a pie chart of goal success for those clients most interested in goal conversion.  Then with the ability to create custom dashboards you could create both dashboards mentioned above for a single customer in different tabs.

I’m eager to test out the widget options and I’m curious to see if Google will add any new functionality beyond standard charts & graphs and how they work with advanced segments.  For now I’ll watch my inbox for acceptance into the beta program of the new Google Analytics and I’ll report what I find when I get approved.

Google’s Farm Update & How it Affected Franchise Traffic

At the end of February Google released an update to their algorithm that was supposed to penalize and deter content farms (sites that reproduce content from other websites or use low quality content purely for the sake of higher search rankings).  Google claimed that this would affect almost 12% of all US queries.  Some SEO experts have dubbed this algorithm change the “Farm” or “Farmer” update.

Now I’ve seen recent articles out there about the short term effect of the Farm update so I decided to check out some of the Google Analytics I have access to inGoogle Analytics Update Example order to see how a variety of our clients are fairing.  I got a mixed bag of results as you can see in the examples to the left.

While I saw several examples of traffic spiking, falling, bouncing or remaining consistent throughout our network of individual domains more often then not our domains took a noticeable of a dip after February 25th (31% as seen in the bottom example shown) followed by an immediate traffic increase (again in the bottom example shown an increase of over 50% above the average daily traffic). 

It’s all interesting, but what does it really tell us?  A highly trafficked website receives traffic from a variety of sources so a dip in a single traffic referrer - in this case Google - might not show much of a traffic loss.  A small website like our new affiliate blog which receives 90% of its’ inbound traffic from Google would definitely show an impact, but the low traffic volume means that we can’t trust the traffic drop to be directly correlated with the Google Farm update.

For the most part at ELEMENTS we focus on franchise companies which generally have hundreds of websites across the board and we are able to track those websites as a whole.  So how will traffic to 700+ like websites be affected by the Farm update?  Let’s find out.

Franchise A

franchise A traffic

Franchise B

franchise b traffic

Looks to me like there was very little if any effect at all on the overall franchise traffic for these two clients following the February 25th update roll out.  Other franchises I looked up had less than a 10% degree of variance after the Farm update, so thankfully not much changed across our franchise networks.

So who wins and who loses with this new rollout?  That remains to be seen.  Some have reported (EZineArticles for one)  a loss of up to 40% of their traffic since the Farm update went into effect and which describes itself as a knowledge sharing service has reportedly laid off 10% of their staff in response to the significant dip in traffic & revenue resulting from the Farm update.  On the other hand possible content farms themselves, eHow and Wikipedia are reported to have seen a traffic boost from the update.  My take is that websites with a strong offline brand (perhaps even some online brands) are not going to see much negative effect from the latest update.