Originally published in Franchise Times magazine
First Serial Rights
Yesterday’s News Tomorrow
Fresh Content Drives SEO Traffic
If you have not updated your website in the last several months, I have some bad news for you. Your website is out of date.
For those among us who are not Google fanatics, it is often surprising to hear how often Google updates its search algorithm. Last year alone, there were over 500 updates to the Google search algorithm – most of them of the minor variety. Relatively few of Google’s changes, like those Google has dubbed the Penguin, Panda, and the Caffeine Updates are more major – and occur every year or so.
In late September, however, a major overhaul was announced – called Hummingbird – that essentially replaced the entire engine driving Google search. According to some folks at Google, Hummingbird is the biggest overhaul of the algorithm since 2001. And while many of the factors used in determining search position remain the same, the way in which a page needs to be optimized (and the priority given to the various components) has undergone some significant change – altering 90% of search results in the process.
Hummingbird has done a number of things to change the focus of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts. At the top of the list is the decreased priority that is now being given to specific keywords in favor of “semantic” searches. In other words, using the same keyword over and over again on a page is no longer necessary – and can often harm your search results. Google now better understands both your content and your prospect’s more conversational search queries, so the use of synonyms in place of keyword stuffing will now rule the day.
Still, some things remain constant. Approximately 85% of clicks go to non-paid search results. And since 90% of searchers go no further than three pages when searching, a high search rank is vital. And with Google returning more than 33 million results for franchise opportunities, finding your way to the top on any given search remains about freshness and integration.
They Don’t Call it the Web for Nothing
In today’s SEO world, there are four broad factors that influence your position in search results: content, coding, backlinks, and social media. All too often, people focus on one or two of these elements without consideration of the bigger picture.
Their rationale is simple. Franchise marketers generally measure their Social Media, Public Relations, and SEO efforts based on the number of leads generated and their related franchise sales. And often, when franchise sales are not rapidly forthcoming, they will pull the plug. But just as print ad readers may eventually be captured as an internet lead, these integrated marketing tools may have other benefits that are more difficult to measure.
If you are reading an article in a print publication, for example, chances are that you have seen some ads that have motivated you to act. But what action did you take? If you are like most people, your first step was to go to the company’s website to learn more.
As a marketer, that poses two problems. First, from a tracking perspective, how do you capture that lead source? Unless you have a pull-down that mentions Franchise Times (and their readers are particularly scrupulous about filling it out correctly), chances are that you will categorize that lead as a “direct traffic” internet lead. But Franchise Times got none of the credit, when in fact they compelled the action.
But the more important problem to consider is if the ad did compel a visit, but the website itself did not compel the desired additional action (filling out your lead sheet). Not only might the franchise marketer be misled into believing that the print ad failed, but unless they have a firm grasp on their direct traffic “bounce rates,” they might not even understand that a poorly-designed website was the culprit for their overall marketing inefficiency across all media.
Today, more than at any time in the past, everything you do to generate franchise sales leads is interrelated.
Take the increased importance of Social Media in SEO, for example. According to a study by Searchmetrics, which correlates many of the 200+ factors that Google uses in its search algorithm, social media factors now account for seven of the top ten drivers of an optimized website. And since social media needs to be current if it is to be relevant to Google, regular posting of unique content will significantly improve your search outcomes.
Likewise, that same Searchmetrics study found that three of the top ten correlating factors involved backlinks (links to your site from credible, sites). In their study, Searchmetrics found that the number one search result had, on average, 13,358 backlinks. But by the time the study got to the 30th result (the last listing on page three), the average site had only 103 backlinks.
The good news is that the narrower the search parameters, the fewer backlinks are needed to rise to the top of a search. So while you may not be able to create enough backlinks to get to the top of a “franchise opportunities” search, you may well be able to achieve that result when more specific search terms are used.
So how do you get these backlinks? Blogs with fresh and unique content provide one home-made solution. Any public relations efforts that generate online stories (or are carried on the wire services) will generate them as well. But again, the freshness and newsworthiness of your story will weighed heavily by Google.
More important, PR, which was once entirely focused on telling a great story, has also evolved with the internet. Creativity is simply not enough anymore. Today’s PR practitioner needs to be able to tell an SEO optimized story. No matter “who they know” or how creative they are, if they do not understand website optimization, their stories will not be read by the right people and will not drive people to your site.
On the Third Day, Google Yawned
These SEO related factors all serve to illustrate an important point. In order to optimize your marketing efforts, it is important to remember that franchise marketing is a process. In today’s world, SEO is a race that has no finish line.
In order to float to the top of search results in today’s world, you now need to focus on original content. According to Matt Cutts, who is charged with quality control for Google search, re-posting the content found elsewhere on the web can actually reduce the overall ranking of your page. If a searcher can find the exact same content elsewhere from an original source, Google will likely penalize your site at the expense of the original.
Equally important is the freshness of the content. Google has a strong bias toward content that is fresh and websites that are continually updated. But it gets tricky. For example, while reposting unaltered content to your website will be a detriment to your SEO efforts, posting a link to that same content and adding editorial that expresses your unique opinion will help – especially to the extent that your editorial content is again optimized.
Remember, today’s news story is yesterday’s news tomorrow. Post unique content today, and it is new. A week from now, its news value is reduced. And a year from now, it is largely irrelevant – at least where Google is concerned. And if you want to maximize your franchise sales and marketing efforts, keeping Google’s interest should be at the top of your list.
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Mark Siebert is the Chief Executive Officer of the iFranchise Group (www.ifranchisemenat.com) and is on the Board of Directors of Franchise Dynamics (www.franchisedynamics.net) and TopFire Media (www.topfiremedia.com). Their combined consultants have over 800 years of experience in franchising and have worked with 98 of the nation’s top 200 franchisors. He can be reached at 708-957-2300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.