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The Practical Guide to Franchise Marketing: How People Buy Now

The Practical Guide to Franchise Marketing: How People Buy Now

Posted by MiriamEllis

This post contains an excerpt from our new primer: The Practical Guide to Franchise Marketing.

Planet Fitness, Great Clips, Ace Hardware… you can imagine the sense of achievement the leadership of these famous franchises must enjoy in making it to the top of lists like Entrepreneur’s 500. Behind the scenes of success, all competitive franchisors and franchisees have had to manage a major shift — one that centers on customers and their radically altered consumer journeys.

Research online, buy offline. Always-on laptops and constant companion smartphones are where fingers do the walking now, before feet cross the franchise threshold. Statistics tell the story of a public that searches online prior to the 90% of purchases they still make in physical stores.

And while opportunity abounds, “being there” for the customers wherever they are in their journey has presented unique challenges for franchises. Who manages which stage of the journey? Franchisor or franchisee? Getting it right means meeting new shopping habits head-on, and re-establishing clear sight-lines and guidelines for all contributors to the franchise’s ultimate success.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of articles dedicated to franchises. Want all the info now? Download The Practical Guide to Franchise Marketing:

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Seeing the Shift

Whoever your franchise’s customers are, demographically, we can tell you one thing: they aren’t buying the same way they were ten, or even five years ago. For one thing, they used to decide to buy at your business as they browsed shelves or a menu. Now, 82% of smartphone users consult their devices before making an in-store purchase. Thank you, digital marketing!

Traditionally, online marketing wasn’t something that franchisees had to think much about. And that was sort of a good thing because everyone knew their lane.

  • Franchisors handled national or regional marketing through broadcast, print, and other media. They also handled digital marketing — which, within recent recall, consisted mainly of a website, social media accounts, and paid search.
  • Franchisees managed the local beat with coupons, flyers, direct mail, and other community and word-of-mouth marketing efforts.

Then people started shopping differently and traditional lanes began merging. Customers started using online directories to get information. They started using online listings for discovering local businesses “near me” on a map. They started reading online reviews to make choices. They started browsing online inventories or menus in advance. They started using cell phones to make reservations, click to call you, or to get a digital voice assistant like Siri or Alexa to give them directions to the nearest and best local option.

Suddenly, what used to be a “worldwide” resource — the internet — began to be a local resource, too. And a really powerful one. People were finding, choosing, and building relationships online not just with the national brand, but with local shops, services and restaurants, often making choices in advance and showing up merely to purchase the products or services they want.

Stats State the Case

Consider how these statistics are impacting every franchise:

  • 76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. – Google
  • 88% of shoppers regularly or occasionally browse products online before purchasing them in a store. – Adweek
  • 45% of brick-and-mortar sales in 2018 started with an online review — a 15% year-over-year increase from 2017. – Bazaarvoice
  • According to Google, “near me” mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have grown over 500% in the past two years, and we’ve seen a 900% growth in mobile search for “___near me today/tonight.” – Google
  • Search interest in ”open now” has increased 300% in the past two years. – Google

These are huge changes — and not ones the franchise model was entirely ready for.

There used to be a clear geographic split between a franchise’s corporate awareness marketing and franchisee local sales marketing that was easy to understand. But the above statistics tell new tales. Now there is an immediacy and urgency to the way customers search and shop that’s blurring old lines.



Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks

Even a memorable jingle like this one goes nowhere unless the franchisor/franchisee partnership is solid. How do customers know a brand like Ace stands by its slogan when they see a national TV campaign like this one which strives to distinguish the franchise from understaffed big box home improvement stores?

Customers feel the nation-wide promise come true as soon as they walk into an Ace location:

  • Place located where the internet said it was? Check!
  • Abundance of staff? Check!
  • Friendly? Check!
  • Online purchase ready for pickup? Check!
  • Trust earned? Check!

A brand promo only works when all sides are equally committed to making each location of the business visible, accessible, and trusted. This joint effort applies to every aspect of how the business is marketed. From leadership to door greeter, everyone has a role to play. It’s defining those roles that can make or break the brand in the new consumer environment.

We’ll be exploring the nuts and bolts of building ideal partnerships in future installments of this series. Up next is The Unique World of Franchise Marketing. Keep an eye out for it on the blog at the end of the month!

Don’t want to wait for the blog posts to come out? Download your copy now of our comprehensive look at unique franchise challenges and benefits: 

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New SEO Experiments: A/B Split Testing Google’s UGC Attribute

New SEO Experiments: A/B Split Testing Google’s UGC Attribute

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

When Craig Bradford of Distilled reached out and asked if we’d like to run some SEO experiments on Moz using DistilledODN, our reply was an immediate “Yes please!”

If you’re not familiar with DistilledODN, it’s a sophisticated platform that allows you to do a number of cool things in the SEO space:

  1. Make almost any change to your website through the ODN dashboard. Since the ODN is a cloud platform that sits in front of your website (like a CDN) it doesn’t matter how your website is built or what CMS it uses. You can change a single page — or more likely — entire sections.
  2. The ODN allows you to A/B split test these changes and both measure and predict their impact on organic traffic. They also have a feature called full-funnel testing allowing you to measure impact on both SEO and CRO at the same time.

When you find something that works, you see a positive result like this:

DistilledODN Positive Result

SEO experimentation is great, but almost nobody does it right because it’s impossible to control for other factors. Yes, you updated your title tags, but did Google roll out an update today? Sure, you sped up your site, but did a bunch of spam just link to you?

A/B split testing solves this problem by applying your changes to only a portion of your pages â€” typically 50% — and measuring the difference between the two groups. Fortunately, the ODN can deploy these changes near-instantly, up to thousands of pages at a time.

It then crunches the numbers and tells you what’s working, or not.

Testing Google’s UGC link attribute

For our first test, we decided to tackle something simple and fast. Craig suggested looking at Google’s new link attributes, and we were off!

To summarize: Google recently introduced new link attributes for webmasters/SEOs to label links. Those attributes are:

  • rel=”sponsored” – For paid and sponsored links
  • rel=”ugc” – For links in user-generated content (UGC)
  • rel=”nofollow” – Remains a catch-all for all followed links

On the Moz blog, all comments links are currently marked “nofollow” — following years of SEO best practices. Google has stated that using the new attributes won’t give you a rankings boost. That said, we wanted to test for ourselves if changing these links to “ugc” would impact the rankings/traffic of our blog pages.

To be clear: We are not testing if the pages we link to change rankings, but instead the source page that hosts the link — in this case, the blog pages with comments.

Here’s an example of a comment the ODN modified.

UGC Comment

After we set the test running, 50% of blog posts had comments with “ugc” links, while 50% kept their original “nofollow” attributes.

Experiment results

We expected a “null” test — meaning we wouldn’t see a significant impact.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened.

DistilledODN Null Results

If we detected a significant change, the probability cone at the bottom right would have pointed more dramatically up or down.

In fact, at a 95% confidence interval, the test predicted traffic would either fall 26,000 visits/month or gain 9,300 visits/month.

Hence, a null result.

This validates Google’s statements that using the “ugc” attribute won’t give you a ranking boost.

What should Moz test next?

While “null” tests aren’t as fun as a positive result, we have a lot of cool A/B SEO testing ahead of us.

The great thing is we can now test out changes with the ODN, and when we find one that works, pass that to our developers to make the changes permanently. This cuts down on needless development work and stops the guessing game.

We have a Trello board set up for test ideas, and we’d love to add some community ideas to the mix. The ODN is currently running on the Moz Blog and Q&A, so anything in these site sections is fair game.

We’re also looking at experiments where we use Moz data to inform these decisions. For example, a Moz Pro crawl identified that the Moz Blog titles currently use H2 tags instead of H1. Google recently indicated this likely shouldn’t impact rankings, but wouldn’t it be good to test?

Missing H1 Tags

What wild/clever/ridiculous/obvious SEO things should we test? With each good test, we’ll publish the results. Leave your ideas in the comments below.

Big thanks to the Distilled Team, including Will Critchlow and Tom Anthony, for embarking on this journey with us.

And if you’d like to learn more about DistilledODN and SEO split testing in general, this post is highly recommended.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Shopify SEO: The Guide to Optimizing Shopify

Shopify SEO: The Guide to Optimizing Shopify

Posted by cml63

A trend we’ve been noticing at Go Fish Digital is that more and more of our clients have been using the Shopify platform. While we initially thought this was just a coincidence, we can see that the data tells a different story:

Graph Of Shopify Usage Statistics

The Shopify platform is now more popular than ever. Looking at BuiltWith usage statistics, we can see that usage of the CMS has more than doubled since July 2017. Currently, 4.47% of the top 10,000 sites are using Shopify.

Since we’ve worked with a good amount of Shopify stores, we wanted to share our process for common SEO improvements we help our clients with. The guide below should outline some common adjustments we make on Shopify stores.

What is Shopify SEO?

Shopify SEO simply means SEO improvements that are more unique to Shopify than other sites. While Shopify stores come with some useful things for SEO, such as a blog and the ability to redirect, it can also create SEO issues such as duplicate content. Some of the most common Shopify SEO recommendations are:

  • Remove duplicate URLs from internal linking architecture
  • Remove duplicate paginated URLs
  • Create blog content for keywords with informational intent
  • Add “Product,” “Article,” & “BreadcrumbList” structured data
  • Determine how to handle product variant pages
  • Compress images using crush.pics
  • Remove unnecessary Shopify apps

We’ll go into how we handle each of these recommendations below:

Duplicate content

In terms of SEO, duplicate content is the highest priority issue we’ve seen created by Shopify. Duplicate content occurs when either duplicate or similar content exists on two separate URLs. This creates issues for search engines as they might not be able to determine which of the two pages should be the canonical version. On top of this, often times link signals are split between the pages.

We’ve seen Shopify create duplicate content in several different ways:

  1. Duplicate product pages
  2. Duplicate collections pages through pagination

Duplicate product pages

Shopify creates this issue within their product pages. By default, Shopify stores allow their /products/ pages to render at two different URL paths:

  • Canonical URL path: /products/
  • Non-canonical URL path: /collections/.*/products/

Shopify accounts for this by ensuring that all /collections/.*/products/ pages include a canonical tag to the associated /products/ page. Notice how the URL in the address differs from the “canonical” field:

URL In Address Bar Is Different Than Canonical Link

While this certainly helps Google consolidate the duplicate content, a more alarming issue occurs when you look at the internal linking structure. By default, Shopify will link to the non-canonical version of all of your product pages.

Shopify collection page links to non-canonical URLs

As well, we’ve also seen Shopify link to the non-canonical versions of URLs when websites utilize “swatch” internal links that point to other color variants.

Thus, Shopify creates your entire site architecture around non-canonical links by default. This creates a high-priority SEO issue because the website is sending Google conflicting signals:

  1. “Here are the pages we internally link to the most often”
  2. “However, the pages we link to the most often are not the URLs we actually want to be ranking in Google. Please index these other URLs with few internal links”

While canonical tags are usually respected, remember Google does treat these as hints instead of directives. This means that you’re relying on Google to make a judgement about whether or not the content is duplicate each time that it crawls these pages. We prefer not to leave this up to chance, especially when dealing with content at scale.

Adjusting internal linking structure

Fortunately, there is a relatively easy fix for this. We’ve been able to work with our dev team to adjust the code in the product.grid-item.liquid file. Following those instructions will allow your Shopify site’s collections pages to point to the canonical /product/ URLs.

Duplicate collections pages

As well, we’ve seen many Shopify sites that create duplicate content through the site’s pagination. More specifically, a duplicate is created of the first collections page in a particular series. This is because once you’re on a paginated URL in a series, the link to the first page will contain “?page=1”:

First page in Shopify pagination links to ?page=1 link

However, this will almost always be a duplicate page. A URL with “?page=1” will almost always contain the same content as the original non-parameterized URL. Once again, we recommend having a developer adjust the internal linking structure so that the first paginated result points to the canonical page.

Product variant pages

While this is technically an extension of Shopify’s duplicate content from above, we thought this warranted its own section because this isn’t necessarily always an SEO issue.

It’s not uncommon to see Shopify stores where multiple product URLs are created for the same product with slight variations. In this case, this can create duplicate content issues as often times the core product is the same, but only a slight attribute (color for instance) changes. This means that multiple pages can exist with duplicate/similar product descriptions and images. Here is an example of duplicate pages created by a variant: https://recordit.co/x6YRPkCDqG

If left alone, this once again creates an instance of duplicate content. However, variant URLs do not have to be an SEO issue. In fact, some sites could benefit from these URLs as they allow you to have indexable pages that could be optimized for very specific terms. Whether or not these are beneficial is going to differ on every site. Some key questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do your customers perform queries based on variant phrases?
  • Do you have the resources to create unique content for all of your product variants?
  • Is this content unique enough to stand on its own?

For a more in-depth guide, Jenny Halasz wrote a great article on determining the best course of action for product variations. If your Shopify store contains product variants, than it’s worth determining early on whether or not these pages should exist at a separate URL. If they should, then you should create unique content for every one and optimize each for that variant’s target keywords.

Crawling and indexing

After analyzing quite a few Shopify stores, we’ve found some SEO items that are unique to Shopify when it comes to crawling and indexing. Since this is very often an important component of e-commerce SEO, we thought it would be good to share the ones that apply to Shopify.

Robots.txt file

A very important note is that in Shopify stores, you cannot adjust the robots.txt file. This is stated in their official help documentation. While you can add the “noindex” to pages through the theme.liquid, this is not as helpful if you want to prevent Google from crawling your content all together.

An example robots.txt file in Shopify

Here are some sections of the site that Shopify will disallow crawling in:

  • Admin area
  • Checkout
  • Orders
  • Shopping cart
  • Internal search
  • Policies page

While it’s nice that Shopify creates some default disallow commands for you, the fact that you cannot adjust the robots.txt file can be very limiting. The robots.txt is probably the easiest way to control Google’s crawl of your site as it’s extremely easy to update and allows for a lot of flexibility. You might need to try other methods of adjusting Google’s crawl such as “nofollow” or canonical tags.

Adding the “noindex” tag

While you cannot adjust the robots.txt, Shopify does allow you to add the “noindex” tag. You can exclude a specific page from the index by adding the following code to your theme.liquid file.

{% if template contains 'search' %}
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
{% endif %}

As well, if you want to exclude an entire template, you can use this code:

{% if handle contains 'page-handle-you-want-to-exclude' %}
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
{% endif %}

Redirects

Shopify does allow you to implement redirects out-of-the-box, which is great. You can use this for consolidating old/expired pages or any other content that no longer exists. You can do this by going to Online Store > Navigation > URL Redirects.

So far, we havn’t found a way to implement global redirects via Shopify. This means that your redirects will likely need to be 1:1.

Log files

Similar to the robots.txt, it’s important to note that Shopify does not provide you with log file information. This has been confirmed by Shopify support.

Structured data

Product structured data

Overall, Shopify does a pretty good job with structured data. Many Shopify themes should contain “Product” markup out-of-the-box that provides Google with key information such as your product’s name, description, price etc. This is probably the highest priority structured data to have on any e-commerce site, so it’s great that many themes do this for you.

Shopify sites might also benefit from expanding the Product structured data to collections pages as well. This involves adding the Product structured data to define each individual product link in a product listing page. The good folks at Distilled recommend including this structured data on category pages.

Every product in Shopify collections page marked up with Product structured data

Article structured data

As well, if you use Shopify’s blog functionality, you should use “Article” structured data. This is a fantastic schema type that lets Google know that your blog content is more editorial in nature. We’ve seen that Google seems to pull content with “Article” structured data into platforms such as Google Discover and the “Interesting Finds” sections in the SERPs. Ensuring your content contains this structured data may increase the chances your site’s content is included in these sections.

BreadcrumbList structured data

Finally, one addition that we routinely add to Shopify sites are breadcrumb internal links with BreadcrumbList structured data. We believe breadcrumbs are crucial to any e-commerce site, as they provide users with easy-to-use internal links that indicate where they’re at within the hierarchy of a website. As well, these breadcrumbs can help Google better understand the website’s structure. We typically suggest adding site breadcrumbs to Shopify sites and marking those up with BreadcrumbList structured data to help Google better understand those internal links.

Keyword research

Performing keyword research for Shopify stores will be very similar to the research you would perform for other e-commerce stores.

Some general ways to generate keywords are:

  • Export your keyword data from Google AdWords. Track and optimize for those that generate the most revenue for the site.
  • Research your AdWords keywords that have high conversion rates. Even if the volume is lower, a high conversion rate indicates that this keyword is more transactional.
  • Review the keywords the site currently gets clicks/impressions for in Google Search Console.
  • Research your high priority keywords and generate new ideas using Moz’s Keyword Explorer.
  • Run your competitors through tools like Ahrefs. Using the “Content Gap” report, you can find keyword opportunities where competitor sites are ranking but yours is not.
  • If you have keywords that use similar modifiers, you can use MergeWords to automatically generate a large variety of keyword variations.

Keyword optimization

Similar to Yoast SEO, Shopify does allow you to optimize key elements such as your title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs. Where possible, you should be using your target keywords in these elements.

To adjust these elements, you simply need to navigate to the page you wish to adjust and scroll down to “Search Engine Listing Preview”:

Optimization Options For Metadata in Shopify

Adding content to product pages

If you decide that each individual product should be indexed, ideally you’ll want to add unique content to each page. Initially, your Shopify products may not have unique on-page content associated with them. This is a common issue for Shopify stores, as oftentimes the same descriptions are used across multiple products or no descriptions are present. Adding product descriptions with on-page best practices will give your products the best chance of ranking in the SERPs.

However, we understand that it’s time-consuming to create unique content for every product that you offer. With clients in the past, we’ve taken a targeted approach as to which products to optimize first. We like to use the “Sales By Product” report which can help prioritize which are the most important products to start adding content to. You can find this report in Analytics > Dashboard > Top Products By Units Sold.

Shopify revenue by product report

By taking this approach, we can quickly identify some of the highest priority pages in the store to optimize. We can then work with a copywriter to start creating content for each individual product. Also, keep in mind that your product descriptions should always be written from a user-focused view. Writing about the features of the product they care about the most will give your site the best chance at improving both conversions and SEO.

Shopify blog

Shopify does include the ability to create a blog, but we often see this missing from a large number of Shopify stores. It makes sense, as revenue is the primary goal of an e-commerce site, so the initial build of the site is product-focused.

However, we live in an era where it’s getting harder and harder to rank product pages in Google. For instance, the below screenshot illustrates the top 3 organic results for the term “cloth diapers”:

SERP for "cloth diaper" keyword.

While many would assume that this is primarily a transactional query, we’re seeing Google is ranking two articles and a single product listing page in the top three results. This is just one instance of a major trend we’ve seen where Google is starting to prefer to rank more informational content above transactional.

By excluding a blog from a Shopify store, we think this results in a huge missed opportunity for many businesses. The inclusion of a blog allows you to have a natural place where you can create this informational content. If you’re seeing that Google is ranking more blog/article types of content for the keywords mapped to your Shopify store, your best bet is to go out and create that content yourself.

If you run a Shopify store (or any e-commerce site), we would urge you to take the following few steps:

  1. Identify your highest priority keywords
  2. Manually perform a Google query for each one
  3. Make note of the types of content Google is ranking on the first page. Is it primarily informational, transactional, or a mix of both?
  4. If you’re seeing primarily mixed or informational content, evaluate your own content to see if you have any that matches the user intent. If so, improve the quality and optimize.
  5. If you do not have this content, consider creating new blog content around informational topics that seems to fulfill the user intent

As an example, we have a client that was interested in ranking for the term “CRM software,” an extremely competitive keyword. When analyzing the SERPs, we found that Google was ranking primarily informational pages about “What Is CRM Software?” Since they only had a product page that highlighted their specific CRM, we suggested the client create a more informational page that talked generally about what CRM software is and the benefits it provides. After creating and optimizing the page, we soon saw a significant increase in organic traffic (credit to Ally Mickler):

The issue that we see on many Shopify sites is that there is very little focus on informational pages despite the fact that those perform well in the search engines. Most Shopify sites should be using the blogging platform, as this will provide an avenue to create informational content that will result in organic traffic and revenue.

Apps

Similar to WordPress’s plugins, Shopify offers “Apps” that allow you to add advanced functionality to your site without having to manually adjust the code. However, unlike WordPress, most of the Shopify Apps you’ll find are paid. This will require either a one-time or monthly fee.

Shopify apps for SEO

While your best bet is likely teaming up with a developer who’s comfortable with Shopify, here are some Shopify apps that can help improve the SEO of your site.

  • Crush.pics: A great automated way of compressing large image files. Crucial for most Shopify sites as many of these sites are heavily image-based.
  • JSON-LD for SEO: This app may be used if you do not have a Shopify developer who is able to add custom structured data to your site.
  • Smart SEO: An app that can add meta tags, alt tags, & JSON-LD
  • Yotpo Reviews: This app can help you add product reviews to your site, making your content eligible for rich review stars in the SERPs.

Is Yoast SEO available for Shopify?

Yoast SEO is exclusively a WordPress plugin. There is currently no Yoast SEO Shopify App.

Limiting your Shopify apps

Similar to WordPress plugins, Shopify apps will inject additional code onto your site. This means that adding a large number of apps can slow down the site. Shopify sites are especially susceptible to bloat, as many apps are focused on improving conversions. Often times, these apps will add more JavaScript and CSS files which can hurt page load times. You’ll want to be sure that you regularly audit the apps you’re using and remove any that are not adding value or being utilized by the site.

Client results

We’ve seen pretty good success in our clients that use Shopify stores. Below you can find some of the results we’ve been able to achieve for them. However, please note that these case studies do not just include the recommendations above. For these clients, we have used a combination of some of the recommendations outlined above as well as other SEO initiatives.

In one example, we worked with a Shopify store that was interested in ranking for very competitive terms surrounding the main product their store focused on. We evaluated their top performing products in the “Sales by product” report. This resulted in a large effort to work with the client to add new content to their product pages as they were not initially optimized. This combined with other initiatives has helped improve their first page rankings by 113 keywords (credit to Jennifer Wright & LaRhonda Sparrow).

Graph of first-page keyword rankings over time

In another instance, a client came to us with an issue that they were not ranking for their branded keywords. Instead, third-party retailers that also carried their products were often outranking them. We worked with them to adjust their internal linking structure to point to the canonical pages instead of the duplicate pages created by Shopify. We also optimized their content to better utilize the branded terminology on relevant pages. As a result, they’ve seen a nice increase in overall rankings in just several months time.

Graph of total ranking improvements over time.

Moving forward

As Shopify usage continues to grow, it will be increasingly important to understand the SEO implications that come with the platform. Hopefully, this guide has provided you with additional knowledge that will help make your Shopify store stronger in the search engines.

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New Term: Google Baby Algorithms

New Term: Google Baby Algorithms

Gary Illyes from Google threw out a term, he made up, Google does not use it internally I think he said, called “baby algorithms.” His point with the term is that when SEOs say EAT, there is no EAT algorithm. But rather there are many algorithms, call them baby algorithms, that look at many signals that may interpret parts of EAT.