Franchises need a web presence. Just consider the last four years. We’ve seen Borders and Waldenbooks fall to Amazon and eBooks. We’ve seen Blockbuster lose to online movie hosts, such as Netflix. We’ve seen Circuit City and K-Mart crash after falling behind in their internet marketing strategies.
Having a web presence is, indeed, tantamount.
Now let’s go a step further: franchisees need websites, too. And not just webpages on a franchisor’s corporate site. They need their own websites. They need localized webpages with relevant contact information. They need well designed and fast loading pages. They need a web presence to widen the franchise’s marketing radar. And, most important, they need to be mobile friendly, since one in three mobile searches have local intent.
Many franchisees have come to this same conclusion. And, when franchisors do not give a local internet marketing plan, franchisees often create websites themselves.
As for initiative, this is impressive. As for web design and brand consistency, this can be disastrous. Most franchisees are not designing experts, and their websites clearly show that. Errors, outdated information, and design quality can all create a bad experience for potential customers, which, in turn, reflects badly on the franchise’s brand.
Let’s look at some examples at how franchisee’s websites can misrepresent the brands they boast, as well as some ways franchisees can create better websites.
Website Appearance Affects Retention
Unprofessionalism: Franchisees and Website Designing.
The main problem with franchisee’s websites is their appearance. A franchisor can hire multiple web designers to make their corporate site look sexy. But a franchisee may be severely limited, resorting to bland pre-made designs and awkward font sizes that crush customers’ interest.
And, if visitors see an unprofessional website before the super-pimped-out corporate site, their first impression of the brand is not going to be positive.
An unprofessional web site may do more than just failing to impress. A bad website can turn customers away. Consider this figure from Econsultancy, “78% of client-side respondents stated that their company was extremely or quite committed to delivering the best online user experience.” In other words, 78% of McDonalds fanatics believe they will have a good experience on a McDonald’s website, despite if it’s corporate or local.
A bad franchisee website, then, can be very deadly.
Inconsistencies: Franchisees and the Parent Site
Even if a franchisee chooses platinum blue over poo-brown, they still rub against brand consistency. Remember the telephone game? You say “Joe is wearing green,” to your neighbor, and twenty 4-year-olds later, the phrase has changed to “Moe has a low self-esteem.”
The same principle applies to franchisee websites.
The corporate site tells the story, but franchisee sites often tell something different. In other words, the corporate site has the correct brand, colors, and history. The franchisee’s created site may not have any of this, or an incorrect version.
Brand consistency is violated when franchisees create websites that deviate from the parent site. Oscar Wilde once said “consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.” This is not the kind of brand consistency we’re talking about. Brand consistency is not uncritical conformity. No. Rather, brand consistency is accepted unity.
When a customer walks into a Smoothie King in Atlanta, he wants his Mediterranean Monster to taste the same as his local Smoothie King in Auburn. The same applies to websites. Franchise websites should create a constant good experience.
What to do.
Maintaining a poorly designed website is like maintaining a Porsche. On fire. Eventually, you and your website will crash. Or burn. But probably both.
What should franchisees do? First, check with the franchisor. Your franchisor should give a template, model, or something to help start your local website.
If they do not, do not create without help. Take the advice of many website designers. When you create a website, you make a monster: after its start, you must feed it content, update it with relevant information. You must find its dead links, fix its dead links, kill its unnecessary links.
And, when you’re not a designer, the monster will consume you.
If you’re a franchisee, you’re probably already managing, hiring, and marketing locally. Find a team of web designers, then, that can create your local site. Let them handle the brand, color, and image consistency. Then feed it when its finished. Which leads us to content.
Content is the Thing
Ghost Towns: Is your content relevant?
Imagine your website as a city. Your vistors are your citizens, your content is your city’s businesses, your design is your city’s look. What happens when the city is not maintained,when the shops are shut down, when the streets are empty?
We call this a ghost town. And the last thing a franchise wants is a ghost town for a website.
There’s something in a ghost town that scares us. Maybe it’s the past lingering around, the once loud and busy streets now just mumbling backroads. Or perhaps it’s strange, even paradoxical, to see signs of life and activity now dead and motionless. Whatever the cause, the conclusion is unavoidable: this place is eerie, and I want to leave.
The same attitude is caused by outdated and empty websites. If your recent blog post is from 2007, something’s wrong. If your webpages say “Coming Soon,” but the last update was from Jan. 2006, something’s wrong. If your home page still says, “Happy New Millenium!” your site is a ghost town. And visitors will leave. Immediately.
Just as a bad website can misrepresent a brand, so, too, outdated franchisee websites can lessen a franchise’s sales.
What to do.
Many outdated sites are caused by busyness, not laziness. Franchise owners and managers do not have the time to update their franchise’s Facebook, Twitter, or domain page. Thus, the site falls behind.
The first step, then, toward relevant content is to entrust the website with someone who can do the work. Professional web designers again come in handy: not only can they help create the site, they can help keep it updated.
But you can keep your content relevant in other ways.
If you own a smartphone, consider using social media as a way to show activity. Take pictures of events that your business hosts, special and deals on products or services that you offer, or even customers at your business. Create a twitter feed on your website. Then, simply update your twitter. As you update twitter, your feed will simultaneously update. It’s genius. Or use Google Plus. Google will rank your page by its relevance. The less activity you show, the more Google treats your site like a ghost town. The more activity you show, the higher you rank in Google searches.
Franchisee Sites are Necessary. Don’t let them be Deadly.
As Joel Libava, author of “The Franchise King” blog, argues, investing in a franchise is risky. Local internet marketing, then, can be a good stabilizer. But since the average page visit lasts less than a minute, franchisees must have high quality sites to keep their locals’ interest. They must be professional, relevant, and fluid.
So don’t let your franchisee website be deadly. It won’t be silent.