One Website or Many: the Fear of Duplicate Content in a Franchise Age

A study by BIA/Kelsey revealed that 97% of users said that they look online before buying or spending locally. This is why there is a clear necessity for franchise businesses to get their local franchise locations to appear in local search.

Free Whitepaper: 3 Reasons Franchises Should Deploy Websites For Each Of Its Locations


Deploying websites for each of their locations put franchisees in the best position to compete in local search, but despite the benefits of local search, the most pervasive fear that Bridgeline Digital has run into in our franchise projects is the fear of receiving a duplicate content penalty.Now, every SEO expert has been taught that duplicate content can negatively impact a website’s rankings, as it is generally considered that Google has a ‘duplicate content penalty’.  However, local websites work and rank differently than a single corporate website and can be successful even with standard, boiler plate content.

Moz.com is a large and well respected SEO & marketing website.  Here are the issues Moz sees with duplicate content:

  1. Search engines don't know which versions to include/exclude from their indices
  2. Search engines don't know whether to direct the link to one page, or keep it separated between multiple versions
  3. Search engines don't know which versions to rank for query results

 

It’s not that these issues are not valid – in fact, they are – but one thing to keep in mind is that we are talking about franchisee websites that compete at a local level.  A franchisee in Portland isn’t going to have to compete against a competitor’s corporate website, which is good because that’s a fight they can’t win.  A franchisee’s website has a sole duty of trying to rank at the local level, so their competition is going to be against local mom & pop stores and competitor’s franchisee websites.

In this case, duplicate content just isn’t all that bad. Noted Google employee Matt Cutts states that duplicate boiler plate content is not a severe cause for concern.  “I wouldn’t stress about this unless the content that you have duplicated is spammy or keyword stuffing.”  Franchisee websites in unique locations offer value to customers by offering location specific contact information; therefore, this information is not seen by Google as “spammy.”

Let’s take a look at an example of location specific franchisee websites, how they are ranking, and how they are successful.

duplicate-content-october-search-data-local-websites-2.png

In the above screenshot you can see the Google search traffic of five franchisee location specific websites in October 2013.  The nice thing about this example is that all of these websites have the same boiler plate content on their home pages.  These five franchisee websites have never been touched by their franchisee owners and are still pulling in local traffic.  Local traffic, mind you, which has a high conversion rate because it is the service or product that consumer needs in their own home town.

duplicate-content-local-website-rankings-3.png

The above image shows the local search results of a service that one of our existing clients provides.  This is the first page of Google’s results.  The top 2 entries are Yelp listings (a great resource for local ranking), and below those search results is our client’s local franchisee website highlighted in green.  Below that listing is our client’s local listing in Google Places which is getting blended into this search because the object of the search can be provided locally.  The website ranking in the image is one of the same websites from the traffic data above which means again that this is a boiler plate website that the franchisee has never touched and yet it is outranking all of its competitors in local search.

When it comes time for your franchise to ask the question of one website or many, don’t let the fear of having duplicate content franchisee websites be your deciding factor.  Your organization’s franchisees are only going to succeed in local search marketing if you give them the chance to do so by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

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