Many franchises know they need to improve their online search rankings if they want local customers to find them on the Internet.
But what many don’t realize is the importance brand marketing plays in their ability to become the leading business a customer sees, and ultimately chooses.
In this post, we explore the current landscape of organic search, as well as how franchises can use brand marketing to bolster their visibility in search engines (and acquire customers in the process).
To start off, here’s a look at how Google’s search engine results page (SERP) has evolved...
There’s an ongoing battle for visibility in search engines
Ranking in the organic (unpaid) search results of Google is harder than it used to be, and that’s because of all the changes the search engine has been making to its platform over the years.
First, Google introduced pay-per-click (PPC) ads that pushed the organic results further down the search engine results page (SERP). (While Google introduced its PPC platform at the turn of the century, these ads evolve every couple of years, and they’re now a focal point for searchers, taking up a good amount of real estate at the top of the results page.)
Next, Google sought to improve the user experience by making answers to search queries available directly on the page.
These answers are called “featured snippets,” and they highlight content that Google believes best answers the searcher’s question, as well as a link to the website from which the information is pulled. (See the example of a featured snippet below.)
Google additionally added the “People also ask” feature, which shows even more answers directly on the results page.
What does this mean for franchises?
Searchers no longer need to click onto a site to find the answer they’re looking for—which means websites are losing traffic.
(As of now, 40% of searches do not result in a click—and that percentage is likely to climb as Google continues to change its platform.)
However, there’s a caveat that benefits franchise brands...
Google is increasingly shifting its focus to brand authority
While decreased web traffic may seem like a negative for franchises, the good news is that Google seems to be shifting gears and increasing the favor it gives brands in its search results (compared to small businesses).
One way Google has been doing this is by increasing emphasis on its knowledge panels, which are becoming more prevalent in search results. (The knowledge panel is the section that appears on the right-hand side of the results page that provides information about a specific business or brand, as shown below.)
Over the last two years, there has been a reported 10.5% increase in brand knowledge panels and local knowledge panels. (You can learn more about these types of knowledge panels here.) Meanwhile, the use of featured snippets has decreased by 10%.
One important thing to note about featured snippets is that they’re reserved for content that delivers the best answer for a searcher’s query...which means anyone can get a coveted featured snippet spot if they offer the right information—franchises, small businesses, informational sites, whoever!
Meanwhile, knowledge panels have traditionally been displayed for search results with business information intent—when searchers use branded queries or ask questions about a company. In order to get featured in a knowledge panel in the search results, a business or brand must have demonstrated to Google that its establishment is well-known and reputable in both the online and offline world.
With Google’s increased focus on knowledge panels, it appears that the search engine is favoring providing branded results to searchers—most likely because brands tend to have high online authority and are considered trustworthy by search engines.
Your SEO and brand marketing go hand-in-hand
Just like with anything concerning SEO, it’s important to remember that the relationship between your organic search campaign and your brand is a two-way street.
As much as SEO feeds into brand marketing, brand marketing feeds into SEO.
Improving your online branding efforts can significantly impact your organic search campaign in more ways than just people looking for your company by name on Google.
Take online reviews, for example...
Using your “identity” for discoverability
Mike Blumenthal presented some astonishing findings in 2017 about how “identity keywords” used in online reviews could shape a business’ organic rankings.
He found a bar in Olean, NY that had one review with no mention of “bar” and almost no engagement. By leaving reviews with the keyword “dive bar” in the text, he was able to take the bar from obscurity to appearing for “dive bar Olean NY” searches—using only reviews!
The identity created in the reviews literally shifted their rankings and visibility.
3rd Base Bar & Grill went from being invisible in the search results to ranking at the TOP of the first page when you searched for a dive bar in the area.
What does it all mean?
It means your crafted identity can shift your search results.
Lean into your identity keywords and use them to help your franchise get discovered. By leaning into the “dive bar” terminology in their reviews, 3rd Base now has their “identity” working for them and making them more discoverable to potential customers.
Don’t be afraid to leverage your franchise’s brand identity online.
Make sure to optimize your website for branded keywords
When looking at franchise development campaigns and how franchises sell themselves to potential franchisees, a common selling point is the benefit of the franchisee attaching themselves to a brand with a known name (and their ability to boost sales and revenue because of that affiliation with the brand).
Furthermore, in consumer campaigns, franchise brands bank on name recognition to win the trust of potential customers and get them to spend money on the brand’s products and services.
Branding is just as powerful in the world of SEO.
Not only does strong brand marketing help franchises better appeal to searchers (who gravitate toward names that are familiar to them), but it also helps them improve their online authority, which benefits the franchise’s overall search presence.
To improve brand marketing, the name of your franchise should definitely be considered an important keyword in your organic search campaign. (When thinking about the consumer’s online journey, the keywords that are frequently used right before the point of conversion are branded terms.) Be sure to implement your brand name and keywords into the meta titles and descriptions of your web pages.
Since your name means something to people, use it to bring in traffic.
Don’t shy away from letting your potential customers know which result is yours on the results page!