When social media meets SEO
Over the years, I have heard dozens of franchise salespeople lament the social media efforts of their franchisors. They often feel the money spent on social media is wasted when it comes to franchise lead generation. And while there are numerous ways that a franchisor can ineffectively utilize social media, savvy franchisors have found that social media, done right, can have a profound impact on their franchise marketing efforts.
For franchisors to make their social media efforts worthwhile, they must focus on the right places and measure the right outcomes. If the focus of social media efforts is solely on generating measurable franchise sales leads, then the franchisor should probably abandon Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest of the truly “social” channels and focus on LinkedIn, where there is some opportunity to network with prospective buyers.
But if we look at it holistically, there is much more to social media than simply directly attributable leads, with lead generation just the tip of the iceberg. Social media in today’s Google-world is about improved validation and search engine optimization, but the leads generated through SEO are often attributed to “the webpage” instead of to the marriage between social media and SEO.
Almost every relationship begins with signals—some indication of mutual interest. In the social media context, these come in the form of likes, followers, friends, re-tweets, shares and comments. When signals happen on your franchise sites, these expressions of interest—from Google’s perspective—means popularity.
Granted, there’s been some debate about the degree to which “social signals” affect search rankings, and while Google’s search algorithms are a closely guarded secret, those that have studied it statistically have verified that SEO relies deeply on social media. In fact, according to statistical research conducted by Searchmetrics, some seven of the top 11 factors that affect your positioning on a search relate to social media signals.
The thought is that articles receiving a high number of social media shares will get an additional boost in perceived authority, as search engines assume there’s relevant and quality content. This suggests that searchers have the power to signal Google to give a particular shared article more credibility. Since properly constructed social media sites will reference back to the corporate site, that corporation has more authority by association.
It’s important to remember that fresh content is paramount. In fact, according to Hubspot, businesses with websites that have 401 to 1,000 web pages get six times more traffic than those with 51 to 100 pages. And websites with a blog tend to have 434 percent more indexed pages.
Many moons ago, keyword stuffing was the norm for blog content, but these days, Google punishes those that shoehorn keywords for the sake of SEO. When generating blog content, prioritize conversational language that flows, inserting keywords where they make sense.
Some social sites can have a direct impact on your lead generation efforts. Because of the business focus of sites like LinkedIn, people you engage are more likely to be interested in business relationships and means of improving their financial lot in life.
Start by optimizing your profile, which needs to demonstrate your credibility and expertise, but must also include the kind of keywords that will direct searchers to your profile.
You can then engage targeted groups and contacts using a researched-based audit of LinkedIn groups or by doing searches based on keywords that would be relevant to your target franchisee. Posting relevant content in those groups drives shares and creates backlinks, further improving your chances of finding an appropriate candidate. Networking with well-known influencers in your niche can be beneficial if they share your content with their large following.
Social sites like LinkedIn can also be valuable in attracting conversion candidates. Since most contain information about a current occupation, refining your search requests using advanced search functions enables you to very precisely engage specific candidates.
Happily ever after
One of the great things about social media lies in its ability to provide a built-in source of validation, both at the franchise and consumer level. Shared photos with long lines during a grand opening send a message of success. Stories about the sale of franchises convey the message that the brand is growing and vital, for example.
Of course, one needs to have a plan to deal with reviews—either from consumers or franchisees—that are less than favorable. For these instances, a rapid and caring response can be the best tonic. And if these responses are funneled through your blog (as opposed to public forums), you can better control the situation. Of course, you will need to monitor any public forum to ensure you are not promoting a message that your lawyers would disapprove.
Understanding how social and SEO go hand in hand, of course, is only the first step. Beyond that, you need to work diligently to correctly attribute leads to the appropriate efforts. While efforts on sites like LinkedIn can show measurable results, the ability to measure the impact of your social media efforts on SEO and on validation (and presumably increased closing rates) will only be measurable with statistical analysis over the long term—and even then, the many factors that will influence lead flow and conversions cannot all be accounted for.
Remember, just because something is difficult to measure does not mean it is not important. Sometimes, like affairs of the heart, one just needs to believe.
Mark Siebert is CEO of franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book is “Franchise Your Business: The Guide to Employing the Greatest Growth Strategy Ever.”