Going Rogue: Franchisee Websites That Don’t Meet Brand Standards

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Franchise organizations of all sizes face the ongoing challenge of developing and maintaining a consistent brand identity. With dozens, if not hundreds, of locations to manage, rogue franchisee websites are a recurrent issue that poses several risks to the enterprise brand.

Remember, we’re all on the same team! Here’s how to deal with rogue franchisee websites – from both perspectives.

What Is a Rogue Website?

Rogue franchisee websites are any domain owned and operated by an individual franchisee outside the enterprise site. In most cases, the franchise is contractually obligated to support the franchisee’s online presence with an SEO-rich, localized page within the franchise’s domain structure. While most brands allow the local franchise at least some control over site content, such as creating blog posts or contributing local photography, the franchise usually holds the reigns to most elements of the site.

We wrote the playbook on Franchise Branding Consistency.

Why Would Franchisees Make Their Own Site?

Discovering a rogue franchise site is a frustrating but all-too-common problem for brand managers. What drives franchisees to invest their own time and money into a new website? First, give the owner the benefit of the doubt. Even if they’ve gone off-script, their effort to improve shows they understand the importance of a strong digital presence. Next, see if your system could have prevented this by evaluating these common barriers experienced by franchisees.

They Can’t Customize Their Local Page

Even within a single franchise, no two locations are exactly alike – and their web pages shouldn’t be identical, either. When franchisees can’t make basic changes to their site, they work around the problem by creating non-standard assets, from Canva graphics to new websites. Make sure your franchisees can make basic changes to their pages quickly and conveniently, including:

  • Hours of operations
  • Contact information
  • Service or staff changes (if applicable)

They’re In Real Trouble

When franchisees are struggling, they’ll try anything. During seasonal slowdowns or broader economic uncertainty, even franchisees who have followed brand guidelines for years are more willing to roll the dice. That frustration can lead to off-brand promotions, blowout pricing and unsavory marketing efforts that hurt the franchise as a whole. Make it an organizational priority to support franchisees in all areas of the business, from marketing to forecasting to dynamic financial solutions. Franchisors need to provide consultation and resources to illustrate the importance of branding to benefit all locations over the long term.

They’re Doing (Too) Well

It’s hard to pump the brakes and take outside advice when things go well. When franchisees attribute a sudden boost in performance to their rogue website, they may lose sight of long-term growth (not to mention their contractual obligations). The added revenue may motivate some locations to ramp up whatever marketing efforts they see delivering results, even if they’re short-term gains. Creating a location-specific rogue website might offer some quick benefits but often contribute to a confusing user experience, keyword cannibalization and wasteful spending in the long run.

Going Rogue: What Could Go Wrong?

Franchisees don’t just put the brand at risk by creating separate websites; they also expose the owner-operator to additional costs and liabilities.

  • Operating cost. Effective websites can be relatively expensive to build and maintain. Hosting and subscription fees and the expense of content creation will add thousands to your marketing budget each year. That’s doubly wasteful if you’re already contributing a substantial portion of your revenue to a franchise fee!
  • Legal exposure. Are you ready to assume the legal liability of a website? From GDPR and other privacy regulations to ADA compliance, there are real consequences for sites that don’t meet federal and state regulations.
  • User confusion. When prospective customers find your franchise on the enterprise site and a separate website, they may assume the site is fake. At the very least, they’ll be unsure where to book services or ask questions – and they may just contact a competitor instead.

Come (Back) Together

The best way to deal with rogue websites is to connect with the franchisee and ask questions like:

  • What does this website achieve that the enterprise site does not?
  • What resources could have addressed those needs before creating a new website?
  • How can the franchisor be more accessible or supportive of your local marketing efforts in the future?

Tips to Improve Local SEO for Franchisees

Locations rely on local keywords and assets to match. There are several ways to improve local SEO to capture relevant sessions and show franchisees that you’re putting them in a position to succeed.

  • Create unique, localized content. Every location should have a unique homepage targeting city and service-area keywords to improve local search visibility.
  • Provide localized reporting. Give franchisees access to real-time, monthly or quarterly reporting to show them how their page performs compared to other franchises in the region and nationally. This additional context will likely reassure franchisees that “slow periods” aren’t only affecting them.
  • Get technical. Leverage creative site structures, internal linking strategies and content marketing tactics to improve sitewide traffic that benefits the whole organization. A technical site audit is often a smart place to get started.

Let’s Get Everybody On the Same Page

Oneupweb has over two decades of franchise marketing experience. Our fully integrated digital marketing agency can help franchisors establish and maintain an effective brand strategy and create stellar content that points metrics in the right direction – for everyone. Learn how our experts make your marketing more impactful; contact us online or call 231-922-9977 today to get started.

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