I have just encountered something I am not sure about and I really need some advice on this. The site I am working on has the following issue;
It is a business with 100 franchises. The franchisees are complaining they do not come up in any searches. I have checked it and they don’t. Not even when you type in their exact URL into the search engine.
The URL structure for the business’s franchises work like this;
www.clientsite.com/studio/location (actual URL provided)
A related problem may be that there are 3 separate XML sitemaps:
The first is their MAIN sitemap. The other two are sitemaps for all the locations of their franchises (100 in total) These locations and their URLS are not included in the MAIN sitemap. Is having multiple sitemaps detrimental to the SEO.?
You may be surprised, but this is a VERY common issue for franchise websites that are based on a template structure, and you’ll realise that the reason the franchisee pages are not being found in search results is actually pretty simple… But first, I’ll address your sitemap query.
Using multiple sitemaps is not the problem here. If you do a search for site:clientsite.com in Google you will see that the pages in question are actually indexed – which means that the search engines have found and crawled them.
I think though that it is probably unnecessary for your site (with just a couple of thousand pages) to have multiple sitemaps. Multiple sitemaps are recommended (and in fact required) for very large sites, but there is a specific protocol involving a sitemaps index file (that you do not seem to be using). You can find out more about it, with clear instructions and examples on how to correctly use sitemaps at sitemaps.org.
So the issue with your site is not indexing – it is ranking. You don’t specify what search queries you would hope/expect the pages to be found for, but for all the examples I tried, the franchisees pages did come up for a query of their business name itself – which is more evidence that the pages are indexed OK. From what I could see, all your franchisees seem to have a single page of content – based on a standard template, with just the business name and contact details changed. So in effect each franchisees page is one of 100 essentially “identical” pages on the site.
This is a clear issue of duplicate content which is very common for franchise sites based upon standard templates (which provide templated content rather than just the structure or design). In this instance, each franchisee has just a single page within the same root domain (1 of 100 almost identical pages), with relatively little keyword rich content, so I am not surprised (and neither should you be) that it does not rank at all for general keyword phrases. In fact if each franchisee had their own individual domains, with multiple pages of optimised keyword rich content – if they were based on the same template, they still would not rank any better.
I get asked about this type of issue a lot. Excited and enthusiastic new franchisees (and multi level marketers) have setup their website using a template provided by “the business” and pretty soon begin to wonder why the eagerly anticipated enquiries and sales aren’t flooding in from their websites.
Quality, Keyword Rich, Unique Content
One of the very first things that most SEOs learn is that to get good rankings you need quality, keyword rich and UNIQUE content. Using a templated approach is clearly NOT a strategy you should follow to get unique content. For a graphic example try this search query : “incalculable numbers of real people” – which is snippet of text taken from a website template for a well known international “We are Not Multi Level Marketing” organisation (probably not the one you are thinking of).
The above, fairly specific, and you might expect, “unique” query returns over 40,000 results. Is it any wonder that most of these sites will never be found through organic search?
That’s not to say that there is no value in these templated systems – many have been setup to very cleverly guide people through to the signup process – but if you “own” one of these sites you will need to use other methods to get traffic to it (PPC, Advertising, etc) and not rely on organic search traffic.
So Yen, back to your question… If your franchisees want to be found for generic keyword searches, I suggest that they register their own domains, and create their own unique, keyword rich content rather than depending on the corporate “template”.
I don’t know the specifics of the site, but your assessment is certainly relevant in this type of situation. Unique content is key.
The problem that arises is how to generate unique content for each franchisee operation. One of the benefits of the franchise arrangement is to provide solutions for the franchisees so that they don’t have to re-invent the wheel all the time. Unfortunately, this setting hasn’t eliminated the need for the franchisee to invest time / effort in the creation of unique content.
Do you think registering the individual pages in Google’s Local Business Centre may be at least a partial solution to the current problem? Assuming the franchisee operations are geographically separated, they MAY be listed for location based searches. I think Google does provide a means for bulk submission, which the franchiser may be prepared to undertake.
Yes – it can certainly be difficult for Franchisees to create new content on their “corporate” site – as often there are very tight constraints (controlled by the Franchise) over what can and can’t be changed. In many cases there are probably legitimate (e.g. branding) reasons for this, but it does make it virtually impossible for these types of sites top be found organically (which is someth9ong that most franshisees are not aware of until after they have “signed up”.
Local Business Listings can certainly help – and are one of the “other” marketing tactics that should be used to drive traffic to the site. In this particular instance, at least some (perhaps many/all) of the Franchisee sites do have LBLs, but I’m not sure whether these were initiated by the Franchise itself or individually but the franchisee.
Also, many franchisees had created listings in related business directories and other third party sites (which were in fact ranking better than the original site in many cases) – so this did provide them with some opportunity to add additional unique content – but would drive traffic to the third party site rather than to the main Franchise site.
As long as the third party site provides a link to the franchisee page, they may still get the traffic. Plus, as you say, it gives a ready mechanism to add the unique content. In some cases multiple opportunities. There are downsides. Third party sites often require the creation of a user name and password, which requires some management, and you still have the requirement of generating the unique content. I’m not sure this is role all the franchisees signed on for or are ready and willing to accept.
Honestly I’d go with subdomains on the url structure. Will be more work on the begin but it allows for growth and it reaks the triple results rule.
my 2 cents