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Top of the Heap

Here's how to be sure your franchise's website pops into the No. 1 spot in an online search.
June 21, 2010
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/207144

Top of the Heap

Gone are the days when people picked up bulky phone books to find the nearest pizza parlor, dry cleaner or electrician. Now a click on a computer, GPS or smartphone does the trick--a great development for small business owners, if they know how to make their listing pop to the top of a search ranking.

But too many franchisees assume that their franchisor has that covered, when in fact, the task of search engine optimization, or SEO, rests largely with the franchisee. 'Even franchisors that do handle SEO often don't do a great job of it," says Erik Whaley of marketing company Location3 Media in Denver. 'So we really encourage franchisees to take the matter into their own hands."

Whaley is the director of Local Search Traffic, a division that specializes in helping franchisees with their search engine listings, for fees starting at $99 a year. His group manages more than 120,000 franchise listings--and found that a shocking 42 percent of them contained errors in basic information such as addresses, hours of operation and even business names.

It's not always a matter of benign oversight: Some companies will 'hijack" competitors' listings--signing in as the business owner and entering incorrect information--to keep customers from finding them.

So how can you be sure your franchise is well represented on the web? Here are Whaley's tips.

Check your listings.
At least once a month, search for your business on search engines such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Bing Maps, Superpages.com, Local.com, InfoUSA (a database provider) and NAVTEQ (a GPS provider). Look for a button or link that reads 'Are you the business owner?" or 'Claim your business's listing." This will allow you to edit your company's information--and keep anyone else from doing so.

Include basic info.
Update your address, phone number, hours of operation, brief description, categories, e-mail address and website. Be sure the description clearly defines what your business does.

Enhance your listings.
Include products or services, a logo, photos, coupons, videos, accepted payments, and other details customers should know.

Create a keyword theme.
Determine which search terms are relevant to your business's core products, services and location, and incorporate this keyword theme into your listing's content.

Encourage customer reviews.
Ask customers and business partners to write reviews. The more active the website, the higher its position in a search ranking.

Track and measure success.
Look at how you rank in the listings, and use coupon codes and in-store surveys to track how customers find you. Use web analytics for more detailed results; look at the referral report to see if visitors are coming from Google Maps or other local sources.

Use location check-in apps.
Mobile check-in apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp are huge. Make sure you list with these sites, too.